Are You Sitting Comfortably?

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  • Luke_Martin_VA 6 Dec 2012 21:05:03 167 posts
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    Is the story of narrative in games a plot with twists and turns or is it still stuck on page one?

    http://voxelarcade.com/opinion/are-you-sitting-comfortably/

    w w w . v o x e l a r c a d e . c o m

  • mothercruncher 6 Dec 2012 21:11:45 7,880 posts
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    I'm not, since you ask. My back is aching.
  • Luke_Martin_VA 6 Dec 2012 21:16:55 167 posts
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    Ha! I hear you - wooden chair + writing articles = pain!

    w w w . v o x e l a r c a d e . c o m

  • Deleted user 6 December 2012 21:37:00
    The main issue with narrative is mostly that it simply can't find its balance. Take Mass Effect, for instance - it's unclear whether it desperately wants to be a Hollywood movie or a deep sci-fi novel, and basically fails at being both.

    But even the best "game" stories and narrative are pretty tedious and unwieldy. The fact that if someone says a game's story is good, it's still usually suffixed with "for a game", as even the best narratives are fucking trash compared to even the mid-to-lower end of the literature spectrum.

    They either need to find a way to integrate narrative with gameplay rather than relying on cutscenes or expanded universe shite to fill in the gaps, or give up trying.

    (note - IF is excluded from this discussion as it's easily created narratives that could be heralded as "great" even when compared to literature, but the argument as to whether they're actually "games" rages on)
  • L0cky 6 Dec 2012 21:55:04 1,559 posts
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    Maybe the mistake is that writers for games presume it must have the same narrative structure as a book or film; with a beginning, middle and end.

    The only way to do arcs like that in games is via cut scenes; but that isn't really a game and they've always felt out of place. As if the story is an excuse for the game play.

    There's games out there that have a narrative story that grip the player, but don't follow this structure. Usually no context is provided, and it works because the game world is the context.

    Some examples of narrative without context I'm thinking of are Another World, Fez; Link to the Past; even Limbo. You start the game and you just are. There is no explanation or back story; you have to go find things out for yourself.

    In this sense it is the game, and your interaction with the game, and the designers' answers to your actions that form the narrative; and that's when it works really well.

    Edited by L0cky at 21:55:46 06-12-2012
  • Rusty_M 6 Dec 2012 22:03:08 4,944 posts
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    @meme
    What's IF?

    The world is going mad. Me? I'm doing fine.
    http://www.twitch.tv/rusty_the_robot
    http://twitter.com/Rusty_The_Robot

  • Mr-Brett 6 Dec 2012 22:06:44 12,897 posts
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    You fixed the logo, good stuff.

    Level 37 Social Justice Warrior

  • chopsen 6 Dec 2012 22:08:14 16,290 posts
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    Interactive fiction. Old fashioned text adventure games. Why did we change the name?
  • Deleted user 6 December 2012 22:12:50
    Text Adventures are a subset of IF. IF also covers visual novels (those waponese manga shit) and HTML choose-your-own-adventure things which has hyperlinks instead of typing "get lamp" and so on. The term's been around for decades.

    Edited by meme at 22:13:23 06-12-2012
  • chopsen 6 Dec 2012 22:17:41 16,290 posts
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    ..and I kind of disagree with your article.

    Narrative is not about the background novel in Oblivion or the PDAs in Deus Ex. It's the exact opposite, in fact.

    In terms of games, narrative is just about giving things a sense of direction and a cohesion. It's the *point* of the game. Lots of gamers will play just for the sake of it, to get a high score, progress, leveling up. Narrative in a gaming context is about giving a purpose to play a game beyond competitive considerations. SO it's not about about being a good story, or being cinematic. Games are borrowing conventions from know forms of entertainment, and your average gamer who is familiar with those tropes understands what is going on. The cliches and conventions of sci-fi and hollywood represents the vocabulary that Mass Effect uses to get you to engage with the game and care about what's going on and keep playing.

    As long as the game does that, the narrative works. It doesn't matter if when you write the story down on a piece of paper the story is shit, because the story does not have to stand up to scrutiny on its own. It's background.

    Agree with not reading books/pdas, etc. Fuck that.
  • Deleted user 6 December 2012 22:24:17
    I sort of disagree with your disagreement, but only partially. Narrative is primarily how the story is told and presented. If it's actually presented in the form of optional static text you have to read, that's part of the narrative. Depends on whether it's actually plot driving stuff or just shitty side-lore, I suppose. The only example I can think of off the top of my head is Doom 3, you could completely miss the (granted, paper-thin and utterly shit) plot altogether by avoiding the PDAs and audio diaries and the like, so they're ostensibly part of the narrative. But yeah, broadly speaking, journals and PDAs and the like are just background lore and not any sort of cohesive narrative.
  • L0cky 6 Dec 2012 23:05:24 1,559 posts
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    I think that type of narrative only serves as unrequired background because they write them that way; they know if they forced the player to read a novel instead of play a game then they will put off 99% of players.

    I don't think it's a good technique anyway. As Luke says, it's lazy. Not lazy in creativity and writing; but lazy in game design.

    I disagree with Chopsen. I see there being two types of games: challenge games and story games. Challenge games are about mastering a skill and "beating" the game; and therefore yes, the narrative doesn't add much whether it's well written or not.

    Story games on the other hand are about escapism and immersion. Bad narrative kills the immersion.

    Edited by L0cky at 23:05:50 06-12-2012
  • magicpanda 6 Dec 2012 23:08:44 13,486 posts
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    Off track a bit from the article but the best narrative in games I've ever experienced mainly come from emergent gameplay. Games that give you the tools and scope to create your own story.

    Eve Online for example.

    Edited by magicpanda at 23:09:12 06-12-2012
  • Deleted user 6 December 2012 23:10:19
    L0cky wrote:
    they know if they forced the player to read a novel instead of play a game then they will put off 99% of players.
    Feh to that. I say go back to the days of including copy protection in the extra novels that come with the game. Having to read through the Encyclopedia Frobozzica in order to make sense of Return to Zork was part of the charm.
  • L0cky 6 Dec 2012 23:16:15 1,559 posts
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    I'm not sure I'd call IF games though; it's something else. When I play Mass Effect, I don't want to play a text adventure, otherwise I'd play a text adventure.
  • mal 6 Dec 2012 23:49:47 22,842 posts
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    meme wrote:
    The main issue with narrative is mostly that it simply can't find its balance. Take Mass Effect, for instance - it's unclear whether it desperately wants to be a Hollywood movie or a deep sci-fi novel, and basically fails at being both.
    Surely you're better off ascribing Mass Effect as falling between the two stools of a sci-fi novel and a sci-fi miniseries, given the screen time involved in such a game.

    I can't really argue with you regarding Mass Effect though - it was the shonky gameplay, not the shonky story that stopped me playing it. I was actually enjoying the story as far as it went, but perhaps that's the key - most games with stories I've enjoyed have fallen apart in the last hours of their gameplay, the scales falling from my eyes for them to become just a game again.

    I loved all the hints Metroid Prime dropped in the opening levels, of an epic space opera even while the actual gameplay demanded backtracking all over the place and respawning enemies, but then came the fire level, the ice level and fucking space pirates. Enslaved suggested a proper post-apocalyptic vision and a story written by a proper author and scriptwriter, and it held my attention all the way up to the payoff movie at the end, which revealed it all to be a fairly simple riff off the first Matrix movie, and all the movies that film riffs off.

    On the other hand, more than a couple of games have entertained me with both their story and their gameplay. I guess most people enjoyed the first few Zeldas they played, with their simple twists and about a novella's worth of story in between dungeon quests. Similarly, Alan Wake built its story around a flashback and a fairly common twist, enough to fill a short film albeit with quite impressive fx, and finished with a satisfying reveal. And Driver:SF seems to have been written as a cheesy cop show, with the twist supporting the gameplay which riffed off themes in the story, but ultimately allowing the story and the gameplay to live out their lives independently.

    All of these games have sufficed with a short story, padded with entertaining gameplay, and that's enough for me. But they've taken a pretty big gamble in spending so much of their artistic credo (and development budget) in the story and its finale, while stats (and personal experiences) show that most of us don't complete most of the games we start. I guess that's the real reason most stories peter out before the end of the game.

    Cubby didn't know how to turn off sigs!

  • chopsen 7 Dec 2012 00:36:27 16,290 posts
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    L0cky wrote:
    I think that type of narrative only serves as unrequired background because they write them that way; they know if they forced the player to read a novel instead of play a game then they will put off 99% of players.

    I don't think it's a good technique anyway. As Luke says, it's lazy. Not lazy in creativity and writing; but lazy in game design.

    I disagree with Chopsen. I see there being two types of games: challenge games and story games. Challenge games are about mastering a skill and "beating" the game; and therefore yes, the narrative doesn't add much whether it's well written or not.

    Story games on the other hand are about escapism and immersion. Bad narrative kills the immersion.
    I think though that what constitutes bad narrative in a game is a lot more forgiving that what you'd call bad when watching a TV series or a film. Like I said, if you actually wrote out the story from any story type game it would show most narrative games to be quite paltry.

    I don't think it's like meme says, that it's qualified with a "The story is good...for a game" type rider. It's just that it really isn't the main focus. It just needs to serve its purpose. Bit like continuity doesn't matter so much in TV as it does in movies.

    I don't think you disagree with me much, or at least we have a lot of overlap. I absolutely agree that there are challenge games (which is what I meant by the "for their own sake type" games) and story games are about immersion. The narrative in those needs to make sense of what's going on in terms of making worthwhile to engage with the experience and immerse your self. It doesn't have to follow any kind of established received wisdom in terms of story-telling, or even particularly make much sense. It just have tie the whole thing together to something coherent.

    What I'm trying to say is that gaming narrative doesn't have to be about story telling in the traditional sense, but more about providing a sense of direction and coherence to the experience. That can just include a "move to the arrow to trigger the next QTE and FMV" type linear approaches, but it's not limited to that.
  • Syrette 7 Dec 2012 00:39:50 44,254 posts
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    Think I just accidentally sat on a colon snake, so no not really comfortable if I'm honest.

  • Deleted user 7 December 2012 00:41:27
    Chopsen wrote:
    I don't think it's like meme says, that it's qualified with a "The story is good...for a game" type rider. It's just that it really isn't the main focus. It just needs to serve its purpose. Bit like continuity doesn't matter so much in TV as it does in movies.
    This is true, but by the same token if they're taking that angle they shouldn't be talking about it as a bulletpoint feature and a high point of the game (again using the ME series as an example).
  • chopsen 7 Dec 2012 00:42:01 16,290 posts
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    mal wrote:
    All of these games have sufficed with a short story, padded with entertaining gameplay, and that's enough for me. But they've taken a pretty big gamble in spending so much of their artistic credo (and development budget) in the story and its finale, while stats (and personal experiences) show that most of us don't complete most of the games we start. I guess that's the real reason most stories peter out before the end of the game.
    I have a vague memory that Vavle used to collect stats on which parts of their games people tended to give up on, and then try and work out why. The idea being they wanted people to see the whole thing.

    Your point is one of the reasons I quite like shorted games. I'd rather spend money on something short lived that has some kind of satisfying conclusion (e.g. Portal) then feel I've bought something that represents amazing value for money in terms of hours but I just give up and never get to see how it ends (Disgaea).
  • L0cky 7 Dec 2012 01:12:19 1,559 posts
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    Chopsen wrote:
    What I'm trying to say is that gaming narrative doesn't have to be about story telling in the traditional sense, but more about providing a sense of direction and coherence to the experience. That can just include a "move to the arrow to trigger the next QTE and FMV" type linear approaches, but it's not limited to that.
    I think there can be a mastery in that, a game can do it badly, or it can do it well. QTE, FMV/cut scenes and diaries would be bad ways of doing it (cut scenes can be ok if they're not ham fisted); while answering to the player's experimentation would be a good way, because that gives the player a sense of discovery, and allows the player to frame the narrative in a way that they want to - even when the results are predefined.

    magicpanda wrote:
    Games that give you the tools and scope to create your own story.
    Or give the illusion of it. Like Half-Life or Zelda or Fez. I actually can't think of any good narrative gameplay that doesn't follow that model. Even games like Fallout do that to some degree, just with a lot more gap filling mixed in.
  • PazJohnMitch 7 Dec 2012 04:34:05 8,735 posts
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    Not all QTEs are bad. Asura's Wrath is a story lead game based 50% on them. (And if I am been brutally honest the QTEs are far, far better than the combat which forms the other 50%).

    Thoroughly enjoyed that game. (And I generally hate QTEs). I think it is because if you fail a QTE you do not actually fail the game. The game just gives you a different outcome.
  • Phattso Moderator 7 Dec 2012 08:27:07 13,947 posts
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    Shikasama wrote:
    Are we going to get one line posts with a link to your blog for every article you do?
    This was actually bugging me also but, you know what? It engendered a pretty lengthy and detailed discussion here on EG. And a civil one, too, which is even rarer.

    So I'm gonna file this one under "doing bad for the greater good". For now.

    \stern glance
  • Luke_Martin_VA 7 Dec 2012 10:05:32 167 posts
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    Phattso wrote:
    Shikasama wrote:
    Are we going to get one line posts with a link to your blog for every article you do?
    This was actually bugging me also but, you know what? It engendered a pretty lengthy and detailed discussion here on EG. And a civil one, too, which is even rarer.

    So I'm gonna file this one under "doing bad for the greater good". For now.

    \stern glance
    I've supported EG for many, many years so it's nice to know that it's (begrudgingly?!) returning the favour! Point taken though. I promise to only invite you to link to things that might generate a similarly positive discussion!

    \puppy dog eyes

    It's not really a blog, either, Shikasama - it's a fledgling site and I'm one of a few writers doing it just for fun and a bit of relaxation.

    Edited by Luke_Martin_VA at 10:06:18 07-12-2012

    w w w . v o x e l a r c a d e . c o m

  • Luke_Martin_VA 7 Dec 2012 10:07:29 167 posts
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    Back on topic -

    I suppose it begs the question: is narrative in games held back because there's so little chance that the majority of your audience will appreciate it (given so few complete games - as has been said above) or do the majority of your audience give up because it's not that gripping to begin with?

    w w w . v o x e l a r c a d e . c o m

  • Razz 7 Dec 2012 10:10:05 61,661 posts
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    NERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRDS

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  • Luke_Martin_VA 7 Dec 2012 10:57:59 167 posts
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    Says the dude with almost 57k posts on a gaming website?!

    Liking it ; )

    w w w . v o x e l a r c a d e . c o m

  • Phattso Moderator 7 Dec 2012 11:49:47 13,947 posts
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    Luke_Martin_VA wrote:
    I've supported EG for many, many years so it's nice to know that it's (begrudgingly?!) returning the favour! Point taken though. I promise to only invite you to link to things that might generate a similarly positive discussion!
    A few thing to note:

    1. I'm not The Official Voice of Eurogamer (tm).
    2. You're on an account registered a week ago. If you want to be taken as a member of the community, please post as such.
    3. I'm not sure what "support" you've lent, nor how that is expected to be reciprocated, I'm reacting only to the stuff in front of me.

    Generally, people coming into a community and then self promoting is bad form. EG certainly don't instruct mods to kill the competition, and I think apart from the regs calling anyone new the c-bomb it's a very welcoming place. But it's just polite not to come in and drop a link-bomb and then naff off.

    Food for thought. :) Best of luck with the site. Have this post as a free bump for the thread, the discussion, and the link.
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