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Video Games as a Storytelling Medium

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The ARPG mechanics and visual style of Bastion can throw people, but there was a point where the gameplay just clicked with me, and it was all gravy from there. I thoroughly enjoyed how each level, challenge mission, weapon, and difficulty tweak had a story or cultural aspect associated with it.  You found something new, and learned how it all fit into the world that once was. And as much as people complained the visual style was 'cluttered', I appreciated how it was used with the level design and mechanics to showcase a world in the process of falling apart, bit by bit.  The narrator aspect of the game directly responding to player actions and thus adding those player actions into the narrative being told was a brilliant touch too.


In a lot of ways, your review on The Last Remnant does remind me of FF6, Salem. There's also this reverse design doc on FF6 that digs deep into what that particular game does right, both as a game and medium for a story. It was quite the read. Helped, of course, because I had experienced what it's dissecting. Very insightful on game design and such in general, tho'.  Your review also makes me think you would enjoy Disgaea 1: Hour of Darkness.  As a side note, you may appreciate Zero Punctuation's take on FF13, Salem, and it compares FF6 to the newer titles in the series.


When I say 'Witcher', I really mean Witcher 2. Never played the first, myself, so there was quite the learning curve at the beginning, but once I got over that, enjoyed it much more than Skyrim.


There are two endings in Today I Die that I recall. One involves acting at the very end, the other requires inaction.


And I forgot to mention the 13 something multiple endings to Chrono Trigger. Given time travel, you get a different ending if you manage to beat the game at specific moments or during specific eras. Puts a fun spin on player action determining the outcome of the story, far more than you usually get.


The reverse to that idea played out in Radiant Historia, which I felt was like a Chrono Trigger light (high praise from me).  The way Radiant Historia works is that you constantly hit a point where you 'lose' the game, the story ends in a fail state, and then you have to go back in time to change events and circumstances so the story can progress past that fail state towards a 'victory' kind of ending.  A bit repetitive if you don't master the skip button, but a very interesting take on telling a story and expanding out events for the player.


Much of the above speaks to the question of how video game developers can integrate stories with player action, but there's one bit I wanted to highlight -


I often feel that there's a choice to be made between assigning a quest and giving a personal story involving the character. I think it's EXTREMELY hard to make a personally involved story-line for a player-made character. 


It's less a choice between a quest and personal story and more how those two things are presented and developed. The 'quest' of today's games is basically the easy way of throwing any character into a situation and have some sort of consistent narrative. As a game design concept, it's intentionally made to work independently of the player's character. That method is easy, but is not nearly as rewarding as a narrative that is dependent on the player's character.

For a story with a completely player made character, you basically would have to design a system that reacts and changes itself according to the player character's actions and presence in significant, rewarding, meaningful ways while still funneling them along a plot structure and towards an end state of the story being told.  There's a couple ways to do that, but all of them quickly grow into massive, complex undertakings.


One is to create NPC characters that react realistically to the situations the player is allowed to present them, and rather than default the end state of those reactions to a very limited set of possibilities, let those reactions build naturally and cascade throughout the game system. The problem here is that the NPCs become obvious machines (guard types) most of the time because it's very difficult to developed them enough to properly tell a story through.  Civilizations in strategy games, often represented by some avatar, typically pull off this trick better, but still fall short because there's no overarching narrative entity guiding those reactions along some predefined plot structure. That 'overarching narrative entity' is the piece most often missing in this formula, but I believe games like Left 4 Dead are playing with the concept.

A second is to massively expand a finite state narrative structure - the writers account for a specific set of player choices and write in how those choices effect each part of the story. This second option is like a choose your own adventure type novel, only a very, very big one, or the Mass Effect approach.


In short, difficulties abound the moment you put a computer in the seat of a human GM type.

Edited by Rythe

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