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GC: Stories are complex enough

Says GCDC panel.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

Two of the industry's leading storytellers have said games shouldn't try to develop more complex stories because designers haven't figured out a way to make it work yet, reports.

The Storytelling Panel at this year's Games Convention Developers Conference, which featured Oblivion designer Ken Rolston and veteran adventure author Bob Bates, outlined some of the problems that face game narratives today.

For Rolston, when asked about whether games should try to be less linear and more complex with their storylines, it was "the worst idea I ever heard," because "games aren't any good at it."

The reason for this is down to "our inability to pay off on all the choices that there should be available. It's so difficult to make a genuinely complex dramatic choice."

Bates echoed the sentiment, and compared the problem for videogames to that of a fiction novel.

"As an author of a story you have to push a character into doing things it wouldn't want to do in order to grow the character. As a game designer it's not fair to make the player have to do that."

When pressed on whether there was a place for a real dilemma in games, or sense of choice, the pair also agreed that it just wasn't that straightforward.

"We have to have content to support that choice for the rest of the game," said Bates, which would present something of a logistical nightmare.

They went on to admit that interactive dialogue, seen in many role-playing games throughout gaming history, is a necessary evil.

"There's no chance that I'll ever be able to do without it, but I'll spend every resource not to use interactive dialogue," lamented Rolston.

The pair generally agreed on most points raised in the session, although they did disagree about the best way to furnish a game with a backstory.

For Rolston the most effective method comes with the use of ambiguity - a history suggested by non-specific ruins or artefacts, for which the player is able to supply his or her own narrative.

But Bates was sceptical on that point, and was critical of most backstory execution today.

"What passes for story in most games is just revealed backstory, and that is really that. It can provide some context, but fundamentally it's uninteresting. I want what's in my mind to poison your mind, and that's not going to happen with ambiguity."

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