Wait, what am I excited for?

I just got around to watching the new Far Cry 3 trailer, and like the one that came before it, I walked away from it with awesome shivers. Check it out (warning trailer contains dupstep and nsfw language).

Awesome right? My first reaction was “Now that’s a game I want to play”, but the more I thought about it, the more unsure I became about that statement. That trailer doesn’t feature any gameplay, hints at some, but it’s still all pre-rendered CG. I guess I can assume the gameplay will be kind of like Far Cry 2, even if the tone and story are completely different, and I liked Far Cry 2 well enough. So the question is, am I excited to play Far Cry 3, or do I just want to watch more of that crazy action movie-like drama unfold?

Famed game developer David Jaffe recently gave a talk at a developer’s conference about story in games. As is Jaffe’s style, the talk was blunt and to-the-point. His main argument: games should stop trying to be movies. (I’m paraphrasing his stuff here) Movies and books tell stories, and they tell them well. Games are interactive, so the stories should be too. Jaffe went on to point out how games like Skyrim and Battlefield 3 create stories from rich gameplay experiences. Things happen in those games that might never happen again. You experience crazy stuff you tell your friends about. The story is your own, not what the developer dictates.

On some levels I agree with this, especially after completing Skyrim. While the narrative dictated by the developers was entertaining, the most memorable moments for me in that game came from exploring the world. When I talked about Skyrim with my brother on the phone a few weeks ago, we didn’t talk about the story, or the developer-designed quests. We talked about things that happened while we were out exploring. I told him how I took down a wild mammoth with nothing but a lightening spell and luck. He told me how he got swarmed by frost trolls on a mountaintop while poking around for treasure. The developers created the world and we made our stories by interacting with it.

The original Borderlands was a bit like Skyrim in that stories organically appeared thanks to the nearly endless amount of guns, and the four player co-op. When you talked about Borderlands, you didn’t talk about the thin plot and fetch quests, but what kind of guns you found and what you could do with them. Take a look at the new Borderlands 2 trailer. It is the opposite of the Far Cry 3 trailer (except for the dub step, they both have that). Instead of showing you a pre-rendered scene with the implication of excitement, it shows you gameplay, which is exciting in itself (joy puke!). There’s a story in Borderlands 2, but that’s not the draw, and they know it.

But not every game is like Skyrim or Borderlands, nor should they be. I think there’s a place for good pre-determined narrative in video games. I think it’s possible that the two styles, organic story and pre-determined story, can be combined. The industry is still relatively young and developers are still exploring the medium—there’s a ton of potential there. The biggest problem right now when it comes to marrying the two styles--and this may have led to Jaffe’s speech--is the disconnect between cutscenes and gameplay and the pattern they create.

Remember that amazing Dead Island trailer? It caused quite a stir back in the summer of 2011. It didn’t show any gameplay either, though the developers went on to argue later that that wasn’t the point. The pre-rendered trailer was a tone piece, a taste of what the actual game would be like. It worked too. If playing the game could evoke the same emotions as watching the trailer, I was sold. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. I haven’t played Dead Island, but from what I’ve read and heard, it doesn’t deliver on the trailer’s promise. It’s not a bad game, it’s just not the game the trailer implied it would be.

The point of the Far Cry 3 trailer is to make you think that playing the game will deliver the same rush, the same “ohmygod, ohmygod, what is happening!?” feeling that watching those kinetic scenes creates. They are showing us a dire situation and then saying, “Guess what, you get to play this. You are on the run and a crazy man is after you, this is your dire situation.” That is something only video games can do. But they’re still working out how to do it well.

There’s a good chance that Far Cry 3 will open with a balls-out crazy scene, setting up a situation not unlike the trailer. Your pulse will be pounding, your mind will race at the thought of jumping in the shoes of this man on the run, and then…you’ll shoot dudes with a gun, just like every other FPS game. You’ll creep along through the jungle—just like Far Cry 1, Far Cry 2, Crysis, Call of Duty Black Ops, and countless others— and shoot more dudes. Then there will be a turret sequence, or a sniping sequence, you’ll shoot more dudes, and then—oh boy!—another cutscene!

It’s a cynical view of game design sure, but if you’ve played games long enough, you’ve seen that exact setup dozens of times. I think that pattern is what Jaffe was getting at with his speech. There’s got to be a better way to tell a story than the current, popular loop of cutscene-gameplay-cutscene. When you step back and look at it, it’s a pretty ugly, stapled together format. All first person shooters boil down to shootin’ dudes. It’s the context wrapped around that core mechanic and the promise of a compelling yarn that keeps us coming back to the controller. The promise of a perfect marriage of organic and inorganic story.

At least that’s what keeps me coming back. I’m a sucker for that promise. I want to see them sustain that excitement created in the unplayable parts of the game to the playable parts. I don’t want to shoot dudes in the jungle. I’ve been playing games for more than two decades; I’ve had my fill of shooting dudes. I want to play that story. It’s possible, and I’m an optimistic guy, so I’ll check out Far Cry 3 and hope they pull it off. That trailer is a doozy, and if they can translate the excitement of watching it into gameplay, they can take my money.

11 Comments
11 Comments
Posted by yeah_write

I just got around to watching the new Far Cry 3 trailer, and like the one that came before it, I walked away from it with awesome shivers. Check it out (warning trailer contains dupstep and nsfw language).

Awesome right? My first reaction was “Now that’s a game I want to play”, but the more I thought about it, the more unsure I became about that statement. That trailer doesn’t feature any gameplay, hints at some, but it’s still all pre-rendered CG. I guess I can assume the gameplay will be kind of like Far Cry 2, even if the tone and story are completely different, and I liked Far Cry 2 well enough. So the question is, am I excited to play Far Cry 3, or do I just want to watch more of that crazy action movie-like drama unfold?

Famed game developer David Jaffe recently gave a talk at a developer’s conference about story in games. As is Jaffe’s style, the talk was blunt and to-the-point. His main argument: games should stop trying to be movies. (I’m paraphrasing his stuff here) Movies and books tell stories, and they tell them well. Games are interactive, so the stories should be too. Jaffe went on to point out how games like Skyrim and Battlefield 3 create stories from rich gameplay experiences. Things happen in those games that might never happen again. You experience crazy stuff you tell your friends about. The story is your own, not what the developer dictates.

On some levels I agree with this, especially after completing Skyrim. While the narrative dictated by the developers was entertaining, the most memorable moments for me in that game came from exploring the world. When I talked about Skyrim with my brother on the phone a few weeks ago, we didn’t talk about the story, or the developer-designed quests. We talked about things that happened while we were out exploring. I told him how I took down a wild mammoth with nothing but a lightening spell and luck. He told me how he got swarmed by frost trolls on a mountaintop while poking around for treasure. The developers created the world and we made our stories by interacting with it.

The original Borderlands was a bit like Skyrim in that stories organically appeared thanks to the nearly endless amount of guns, and the four player co-op. When you talked about Borderlands, you didn’t talk about the thin plot and fetch quests, but what kind of guns you found and what you could do with them. Take a look at the new Borderlands 2 trailer. It is the opposite of the Far Cry 3 trailer (except for the dub step, they both have that). Instead of showing you a pre-rendered scene with the implication of excitement, it shows you gameplay, which is exciting in itself (joy puke!). There’s a story in Borderlands 2, but that’s not the draw, and they know it.

But not every game is like Skyrim or Borderlands, nor should they be. I think there’s a place for good pre-determined narrative in video games. I think it’s possible that the two styles, organic story and pre-determined story, can be combined. The industry is still relatively young and developers are still exploring the medium—there’s a ton of potential there. The biggest problem right now when it comes to marrying the two styles--and this may have led to Jaffe’s speech--is the disconnect between cutscenes and gameplay and the pattern they create.

Remember that amazing Dead Island trailer? It caused quite a stir back in the summer of 2011. It didn’t show any gameplay either, though the developers went on to argue later that that wasn’t the point. The pre-rendered trailer was a tone piece, a taste of what the actual game would be like. It worked too. If playing the game could evoke the same emotions as watching the trailer, I was sold. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. I haven’t played Dead Island, but from what I’ve read and heard, it doesn’t deliver on the trailer’s promise. It’s not a bad game, it’s just not the game the trailer implied it would be.

The point of the Far Cry 3 trailer is to make you think that playing the game will deliver the same rush, the same “ohmygod, ohmygod, what is happening!?” feeling that watching those kinetic scenes creates. They are showing us a dire situation and then saying, “Guess what, you get to play this. You are on the run and a crazy man is after you, this is your dire situation.” That is something only video games can do. But they’re still working out how to do it well.

There’s a good chance that Far Cry 3 will open with a balls-out crazy scene, setting up a situation not unlike the trailer. Your pulse will be pounding, your mind will race at the thought of jumping in the shoes of this man on the run, and then…you’ll shoot dudes with a gun, just like every other FPS game. You’ll creep along through the jungle—just like Far Cry 1, Far Cry 2, Crysis, Call of Duty Black Ops, and countless others— and shoot more dudes. Then there will be a turret sequence, or a sniping sequence, you’ll shoot more dudes, and then—oh boy!—another cutscene!

It’s a cynical view of game design sure, but if you’ve played games long enough, you’ve seen that exact setup dozens of times. I think that pattern is what Jaffe was getting at with his speech. There’s got to be a better way to tell a story than the current, popular loop of cutscene-gameplay-cutscene. When you step back and look at it, it’s a pretty ugly, stapled together format. All first person shooters boil down to shootin’ dudes. It’s the context wrapped around that core mechanic and the promise of a compelling yarn that keeps us coming back to the controller. The promise of a perfect marriage of organic and inorganic story.

At least that’s what keeps me coming back. I’m a sucker for that promise. I want to see them sustain that excitement created in the unplayable parts of the game to the playable parts. I don’t want to shoot dudes in the jungle. I’ve been playing games for more than two decades; I’ve had my fill of shooting dudes. I want to play that story. It’s possible, and I’m an optimistic guy, so I’ll check out Far Cry 3 and hope they pull it off. That trailer is a doozy, and if they can translate the excitement of watching it into gameplay, they can take my money.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

This is a great write-up. I'm pretty okay with the way stories in games are told - it's more the stories themselves that I want to evolve. We've seen huge leaps and strides this generation in great stories (and great ways that they're told), so I'm super stoked to see where games go in the future.

Also? Even though I wasn't a huge fan of Far Cry 1 and never played 2, I'm sort of stoked to see how 3 turns out. And Borderlands 2 is almost assuredly a day 1 purchase for me, perhaps the first of the year.

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Posted by AhmadMetallic

This was a great fucking read. I've been growing to hate story because of how it replaces gameplay and allows developers like Bioware to get away with shitty gameplay just because they made us care about fictional characters, but the ending paragraphs in your post reminded me that no, I don't hate story, I love it, I just hate the fact that developers aren't doing anything to implement it more in the gameplay. 
 
You're absolutely right in what you said. The reason Crysis and Max Payne blow any other shooter out of the water for me is because while I played, I felt the story progressing with my actions. I didn't shoot dudes waiting for a cutscene to move me forward, I moved forward and somehow felt like I created the story..... 
 
Wait, what the hell am I saying? This whole story/gameplay debate has been munching away at my mind for too long, the words are losing their meanings to me, I can't figure out what I want or what I like anymore :/

Posted by HarlequinRiot

I've always felt like the main problems with games is a lack of deliberateness and perspective. If you're trying to make a game then make one. I think people understand well enough how to do this. But if you're trying to tell a story, then put the story first and make sure that the gameplay elicits and embodies the tone and meaning of that story. If that means making a first person shooter, fine (obviously for some stories, that works best), but don't just make it a competetive death-match against AI with cutscenes in the middle. I wish more people took a step back and though about what kind of experience they wanted their game to be before making it (but then again, I understand how that's not how the money works).

Posted by believer258

Far Cry 3's trailer at last year's E3 had gameplay in it, and some other gameplay has been shown at other places.

Meanwhile, I agree with Jaffe's stance on story.

And if Far Cry 3 just turns out to be another shooter, I will be happy. Unlike many, I seem to never tire of shooting dudes for long. I can get a little oversaturated, but a week's break and I'm back to playing FPS games.

Posted by yeah_write

@HarlequinRiot: Very true. I used to be a reporter and I remember an editor telling me once that before I wrote a story I needed to know why I was writing it and what I wanted it to achieve. I'm helping with the art for a game (made by some students in Chicago) right now, so I know now more than ever that games are a collaborative process, and sometimes story and design elements are changed during development to fit changes in gameplay, not the other way around. That being said, I think it would be refreshing to see a developer truly put story first. What if every gameplay section was in service of the story? What would that look like? Dear Esther? Honestly I'd be fine if Far Cry 3 was a four hour game if that meant it sustained that excitement all the way through the experience.

Posted by HarlequinRiot

@yeah_write: I've though about what that type of game would look like and I really don't know. I guess there's a lot of routes you could take, but it's hard to tell what would be interesting and what would just be annoying/boring. You could remove most of the control from the player to let you focus on only certain inputs and give yourself strict control on what was going on. That would, at very least, let you make something that consistently flowed well. But then you always run the risk of just making a quick time event collection, and no one wants that. It's a really tough problem, and I'm definitely not creative or smart enough to solve it. I just think that games offer a really unique opportunity to make interactive, non-passive experiences but we've gotten saddled into certain control schemes and formulas that are making that goal hard to reach.

Posted by Oldirtybearon

@AhmadMetallic said:

This was a great fucking read. I've been growing to hate story because of how it replaces gameplay and allows developers like Bioware to get away with shitty gameplay just because they made us care about fictional characters, but the ending paragraphs in your post reminded me that no, I don't hate story, I love it, I just hate the fact that developers aren't doing anything to implement it more in the gameplay. You're absolutely right in what you said. The reason Crysis and Max Payne blow any other shooter out of the water for me is because while I played, I felt the story progressing with my actions. I didn't shoot dudes waiting for a cutscene to move me forward, I moved forward and somehow felt like I created the story..... Wait, what the hell am I saying? This whole story/gameplay debate has been munching away at my mind for too long, the words are losing their meanings to me, I can't figure out what I want or what I like anymore :/

Man, I love you, but I hate you.

The reason people love Bioware games is that if you excel at one area, people are willing to forgive shortcomings in others. Bioware excels in letting you participate in the story. Mass Effect has never had Gears of War caliber gameplay (I'm you won't argue that those games are mechanically, the most sound TPS this generation), but it didn't matter. People were doing exactly what you and the OP describe; living the story. Shaping and bending it to your will, at least, that's the illusion. A lot of these types of games are, when boiled down, binary by nature... but that doesn't mean it's not a hell of an illusion. I think you should realize this. Bioware doesn't just create fiction and slap it into a game - they mold the game itself around the fiction. Whether that's dialogue wheels (which were revoutionary for ME1's launch), or choices from one game impacting the story of the next, leading to a cohesive universe that never feels disjointed, they've succeeded in the areas they focused on. As cool as it is to hate Bioware at the moment, you can't forget that Mass Effect, beyond being an amazing universe and consistent (and amazing) story, it's also revolutionized what is possible with player's choice impacting sequels. Not to mention the writing has been very strong, the characters memorable, and the gameplay on top of it all, serviceable. It won't be Gears of War, but that's okay. It doesn't need to be.

Posted by yeah_write

@Oldirtybearon said:

@AhmadMetallic said:

This was a great fucking read. I've been growing to hate story because of how it replaces gameplay and allows developers like Bioware to get away with shitty gameplay just because they made us care about fictional characters, but the ending paragraphs in your post reminded me that no, I don't hate story, I love it, I just hate the fact that developers aren't doing anything to implement it more in the gameplay. You're absolutely right in what you said. The reason Crysis and Max Payne blow any other shooter out of the water for me is because while I played, I felt the story progressing with my actions. I didn't shoot dudes waiting for a cutscene to move me forward, I moved forward and somehow felt like I created the story..... Wait, what the hell am I saying? This whole story/gameplay debate has been munching away at my mind for too long, the words are losing their meanings to me, I can't figure out what I want or what I like anymore :/

Man, I love you, but I hate you.

The reason people love Bioware games is that if you excel at one area, people are willing to forgive shortcomings in others. Bioware excels in letting you participate in the story. Mass Effect has never had Gears of War caliber gameplay (I'm you won't argue that those games are mechanically, the most sound TPS this generation), but it didn't matter. People were doing exactly what you and the OP describe; living the story. Shaping and bending it to your will, at least, that's the illusion. A lot of these types of games are, when boiled down, binary by nature... but that doesn't mean it's not a hell of an illusion. I think you should realize this. Bioware doesn't just create fiction and slap it into a game - they mold the game itself around the fiction. Whether that's dialogue wheels (which were revoutionary for ME1's launch), or choices from one game impacting the story of the next, leading to a cohesive universe that never feels disjointed, they've succeeded in the areas they focused on. As cool as it is to hate Bioware at the moment, you can't forget that Mass Effect, beyond being an amazing universe and consistent (and amazing) story, it's also revolutionized what is possible with player's choice impacting sequels. Not to mention the writing has been very strong, the characters memorable, and the gameplay on top of it all, serviceable. It won't be Gears of War, but that's okay. It doesn't need to be.

I have to agree with you on the Mass Effect stuff. Thanks for reminding people how impressive that series is. I mean we're about to play the final part of a story that started in 2007. Two thousand seven! And unlike the other games with 3 on the end (Uncharted, Gears, Resistance), what we did in the previous games will matter in this new one. How much those decisions actually matter remains to be seen, but still, the fact that they're connected as deeply as they are is mighty impressive.

I think the series gets so much flak because of the name behind it. Bioware used to be the Pixar of video games. You could count on the quality of their RPGs. But I think achieving Pixar success in the game industry is hard if you're going to be as prolific as Bioware and EA want to be. They can't afford to make one game every five years like Valve. Some think ME3 is a representation of a developer going downhill, but I think it's a representation of a developer trying to find a compromise between emergent and linear narrative. Deus Ex: HR was pretty good at it--you experienced the same general story every time, but the story of your gameplay, how you got from room to room, could be dramatically different with each play-through depending on how you specced out your character. If ME3 turns out to be more like that and less like KOTOR or even ME1, I'm fine with that. The demo convinced me that they finally nailed the combat. It's pretty solid. The combat in ME3 is as exciting as you wanted it to be in ME1 after a cool scene got you all pumped up for action. I hope the story doesn't disappoint.

Posted by yeah_write

@HarlequinRiot: Yeah the more I thought about it the more I realized there's probably never going to be a game that combines the two story styles perfectly. Because there's no such thing as a perfect marriage. There have to be compromises. Valve is usually pretty good at finding a middle ground with their games, especially Half Life 2. Rockstar is in a constant struggle with the two styles. Every game since GTA IV (when they took a more serious turn in narrative) has suffered from some narrative friction when the two styles don't mesh--e.g. earning a zillion dollars doing side activities and then going into a main quest and hearing Niko and Roman talk about how poor they are. I think the best we can hope for is a harmonious compromise, a game that gives us the best of both worlds. That's part of why I love video games and always will, because there are people out there trying to achieve that.

Posted by stryker1121

@yeah_write: From one ex-reporter to another, very nice read:)

I agree w/ Jaffe in a way, just b/c most games that try to tell a story are simply not very good at it. A game like BioShock is the exception, as it delivered an excellent narrative without taking the player out of the flow of the game. BioShock Infinite looks to be following that same path. In Elder Scrolls games, the world and your place in it serve as the story. Oblivion and Skyrim are fairly generic high-fantasy, but by carving out a niche in the enormous open world those games provide, you're the one propelling the narrative, and everyone who's played those titles has a different tale to tell.