13 August, 2006
This challenge will be brief but incredibly challenging, I think. To put it simply: name a vital step that must be taken in order to tell stories in games.
This step should be something that will specifically help tell stories better in games. It can be something that has been done before, but perhaps isn’t done very well. I’ll also allow things that should stop being done.
My answer below.
Note that this isn’t the place to discuss whether storytelling is possible or desirable in games. There is another thread for that. Even if you’re against story in games, put that aside and do some thinking about what it would take to put story in games. It can be a fun thought exercise.
I think the thing we can stop doing is relying on cutscenes in our game. These are a cheap way to put story in, but they do not fit in games. Creating a passive cutscene may make the Hollywood wannabes feel better, but it can be jarring for the player. It’s not interactive, and removes control of the game from the individual.
But, what can we do? I’m going to steal a bit of what Lee Sheldon talks about in presentations. We need to realize that stories do not need the linear structure we are used to. (Notice the name of Lee’s domain? Anti-linearlogic.com. Yeah, he’s big on this idea.) Think about that for a moment: something so simple to say yet so mind-blowing if you’re used to traditional linear media. Trying to force a game to support the traditional linear forms of story has some of the problems I talked about in my previous blog entry.
Lee’s idea instead to create a series of scenes with not particular pre-determined order. The player can visit an of the scenes in any order they want and still get a good story from it. Of course, each scene may change depending on the actions and consequences from previous scenes. For example, you might be able to open the bound chest in the basement if you got the brass key from the bell tower. Or, maybe the village is burning by the time you get to it if you didn’t visit the orc horde and stop them from attacking. Many different possibilities without forcing players into a very linear path.
One thing I think is most interesting about this idea is that it has some basis in literature. The novel Rayuela by Julio Cortázar (translated as Hopscotch in English) has a very fluid structure where you can read some of the chapters in a different order and still get a story. This isn’t quite as ultimately flexible as we need in our games, but it’s an interesting example of the direction we could go.
So, what’s your ideas for introducing story into games? What initial steps do we need to take in order to make it happen?