Designing story in games, from the perspective of a player.

I love game stories. Probably one of the biggest draws into gaming originally was story. It's easy to make one, even making a better one isn't that hard. Guy goes psycho over family problems, friends band together over disaster and look for treasure. Great stories are easy, telling them is hard. People more recently have been using the scripted model a lot, I can't really think of a game that's completely non-scripted. Even Fallout has a storyline you follow, despite having some light control. In that I wonder if to really make your own story you have to design a game. I don't really believe that though, My dream game is completely unscripted, and I can imagine it working. But off topic. Games are really about being just that, a game. Something you play. And with that in mind a story in games is something to engulf you in the experience. Whether you get into it or not, that's the purpose of it.

With that I want to talk about how I see the stories, I find there are different amounts of scripting. Uncharted, where it's normal shooter/puzzle/climbing gameplay intertwined with extremely scripted action sequences. All have been done before, but not in such a cinematic way. There are games that try to use the story scripting as a way to drive you forward through the gameplay. Off the top of my head I'd say Scott Pilgrim vs. the world for one that has a light story, but really is only a way to advance your gameplay and doesn't intertwine well. As I said earlier I haven't found a game without scripting, but the Elder Scrolls series might come the closest. It focuses on letting you explore the world. And it has many scripted sequences inside that world, but it lets you experience them in any way you choose. You can even break the scripting. And this lets you make your own story to a degree rather than being told one. I find that all of them are different approaches, and valid ones at that. Games should be messed around with, and we should keep trying to find how to include story the best we can. The best scripted game would intuitively react to the player's actions and either find ways to continue the story(Heavy Rain is a good example) or script it in such a way the player has almost no chance of not knowing what to do unless they're not taking the game seriously(and in that case it's their fault). The best non scripted game would have no story, instead dropping you into a world(Tutorial first?) where you would create your own story. Random events would be commonplace and more rare ones would happen less often. Kind of taking the random events of GTA IV and making it at an extreme level. Even better would be chain events, making the world more lively, and leading to mini stories including you or sometimes not. This would still be scripted to a point, but in the sense that you could control it. True nonscripting would have nothing happening other than what you do, and that doesn't work in most game models. Of course this is just conjecture, as I'm not an official designer. These are just my thoughts, and shouldn't be taken for the end all answer.

Reading David Jaffe's interview, I thought about player experiences. These are less of a story and more of an experience. They have no plot or meaning often. They're more a series of events. Even just one. And like a completely unscripted event it makes your own story from the tools you have. Not in a traditional sense, but one of actions leading into each other. You hear these stories all the time, but few of them from each person. And that's because they occur based on everything fitting together in just the right way to cause something great to happen that's not usual in game. You don't hear about every match despite how great they are, you hear about the best ones because something happened. I feel eventually someone will figure out how to make that experience happen everytime, and that'll lead to the next level of best game stories, and so on. But I'm really saying that these on essence aren't stories, they're experiences.

But on how stories integrate into games I find the most interesting. I often use this as an argument for how games can be art, yet very few have succeeded in it, but I'll save that for later. The games I find that represent this well(That I've played) are God of War(not the franchise, but the original) and Braid. Both are amazing games that take the gameplay and give it meaning in response to the narrative. Why is Kratos so powerful AND Angry? It gives a real emotional reason, not the overly ridiculous twists of the others(Not bad, just not driven how the original is). And Braid gave vague context to the gameplay, yet still had puzzles that worked. They gave explanations not to further the story but to explain everything about the game from how you played to why you were killing monsters through it. And furthermore both expanded into works made for you to think, to reflect upon. GoW being a modern greek Tragedy, and Braid being well...meaningful through being unclear. These are my high points of Story in games of today. They intertwine and that's what makes them work.

Others might say Half life 2 or Bioshock are good examples. Silent Hill 2 maybe(Haven't played it and can't say). I would agree with Half Life being a good example, maybe not having too much meaning and I dislike a lot of it for reasons I don't know myself, but Bioshock is more an expansion of narrative in games rather than a great example itself. It's story is interesting, and it tells the story of the world more than it's own but in the end it's that fact that it in itself does not tell the story well, or have a good one. It's expanding new ground and created an amazing world(and I love it to death), but the story it makes isn't great in itself. Half Life on the other hand tells it's story well, and explores a continuous narrative traveling across a great landscape, with it's lack of loads or scene changes being different from what we knew at the time.

A more recent game made me rethink scale and how design of worlds changes the narrative. That game was Dear Esther. I don't think it's so much a game as an experience, so I won't go into too much depth, but the way the world was designed made me realize that most games have redesigned scale. The world has been redesigned to allow you to traverse things that seem large in very little time. It's not that your path is shorter or you are faster but the world appears different than it is. I also should probably comment that if the narrative and experience style of Dear Esther was communicated to a game designed to be played as a game not just an experience, then we might find new ground in narrative.

Anyway, I'm done rambling. Hopefully this'll make some of you guys rethink the essence of story in gaming. It's not an easy thing to just say as it is, and even while writing this I found myself editing past sections to make my thoughts more understandable or expand on them. There's much more to learn from storytelling in games, and to me it's one of the best things about them. I don't think gaming should leave things behind but rather take what we know and expand on it to get stronger and stronger.

also sorry for no pics.

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Posted by Xpgamer7

I love game stories. Probably one of the biggest draws into gaming originally was story. It's easy to make one, even making a better one isn't that hard. Guy goes psycho over family problems, friends band together over disaster and look for treasure. Great stories are easy, telling them is hard. People more recently have been using the scripted model a lot, I can't really think of a game that's completely non-scripted. Even Fallout has a storyline you follow, despite having some light control. In that I wonder if to really make your own story you have to design a game. I don't really believe that though, My dream game is completely unscripted, and I can imagine it working. But off topic. Games are really about being just that, a game. Something you play. And with that in mind a story in games is something to engulf you in the experience. Whether you get into it or not, that's the purpose of it.

With that I want to talk about how I see the stories, I find there are different amounts of scripting. Uncharted, where it's normal shooter/puzzle/climbing gameplay intertwined with extremely scripted action sequences. All have been done before, but not in such a cinematic way. There are games that try to use the story scripting as a way to drive you forward through the gameplay. Off the top of my head I'd say Scott Pilgrim vs. the world for one that has a light story, but really is only a way to advance your gameplay and doesn't intertwine well. As I said earlier I haven't found a game without scripting, but the Elder Scrolls series might come the closest. It focuses on letting you explore the world. And it has many scripted sequences inside that world, but it lets you experience them in any way you choose. You can even break the scripting. And this lets you make your own story to a degree rather than being told one. I find that all of them are different approaches, and valid ones at that. Games should be messed around with, and we should keep trying to find how to include story the best we can. The best scripted game would intuitively react to the player's actions and either find ways to continue the story(Heavy Rain is a good example) or script it in such a way the player has almost no chance of not knowing what to do unless they're not taking the game seriously(and in that case it's their fault). The best non scripted game would have no story, instead dropping you into a world(Tutorial first?) where you would create your own story. Random events would be commonplace and more rare ones would happen less often. Kind of taking the random events of GTA IV and making it at an extreme level. Even better would be chain events, making the world more lively, and leading to mini stories including you or sometimes not. This would still be scripted to a point, but in the sense that you could control it. True nonscripting would have nothing happening other than what you do, and that doesn't work in most game models. Of course this is just conjecture, as I'm not an official designer. These are just my thoughts, and shouldn't be taken for the end all answer.

Reading David Jaffe's interview, I thought about player experiences. These are less of a story and more of an experience. They have no plot or meaning often. They're more a series of events. Even just one. And like a completely unscripted event it makes your own story from the tools you have. Not in a traditional sense, but one of actions leading into each other. You hear these stories all the time, but few of them from each person. And that's because they occur based on everything fitting together in just the right way to cause something great to happen that's not usual in game. You don't hear about every match despite how great they are, you hear about the best ones because something happened. I feel eventually someone will figure out how to make that experience happen everytime, and that'll lead to the next level of best game stories, and so on. But I'm really saying that these on essence aren't stories, they're experiences.

But on how stories integrate into games I find the most interesting. I often use this as an argument for how games can be art, yet very few have succeeded in it, but I'll save that for later. The games I find that represent this well(That I've played) are God of War(not the franchise, but the original) and Braid. Both are amazing games that take the gameplay and give it meaning in response to the narrative. Why is Kratos so powerful AND Angry? It gives a real emotional reason, not the overly ridiculous twists of the others(Not bad, just not driven how the original is). And Braid gave vague context to the gameplay, yet still had puzzles that worked. They gave explanations not to further the story but to explain everything about the game from how you played to why you were killing monsters through it. And furthermore both expanded into works made for you to think, to reflect upon. GoW being a modern greek Tragedy, and Braid being well...meaningful through being unclear. These are my high points of Story in games of today. They intertwine and that's what makes them work.

Others might say Half life 2 or Bioshock are good examples. Silent Hill 2 maybe(Haven't played it and can't say). I would agree with Half Life being a good example, maybe not having too much meaning and I dislike a lot of it for reasons I don't know myself, but Bioshock is more an expansion of narrative in games rather than a great example itself. It's story is interesting, and it tells the story of the world more than it's own but in the end it's that fact that it in itself does not tell the story well, or have a good one. It's expanding new ground and created an amazing world(and I love it to death), but the story it makes isn't great in itself. Half Life on the other hand tells it's story well, and explores a continuous narrative traveling across a great landscape, with it's lack of loads or scene changes being different from what we knew at the time.

A more recent game made me rethink scale and how design of worlds changes the narrative. That game was Dear Esther. I don't think it's so much a game as an experience, so I won't go into too much depth, but the way the world was designed made me realize that most games have redesigned scale. The world has been redesigned to allow you to traverse things that seem large in very little time. It's not that your path is shorter or you are faster but the world appears different than it is. I also should probably comment that if the narrative and experience style of Dear Esther was communicated to a game designed to be played as a game not just an experience, then we might find new ground in narrative.

Anyway, I'm done rambling. Hopefully this'll make some of you guys rethink the essence of story in gaming. It's not an easy thing to just say as it is, and even while writing this I found myself editing past sections to make my thoughts more understandable or expand on them. There's much more to learn from storytelling in games, and to me it's one of the best things about them. I don't think gaming should leave things behind but rather take what we know and expand on it to get stronger and stronger.

also sorry for no pics.