During GDC there were a couple
of articles about storytelling
I won't attempt to truncate or provide analysis on these forums and seminars and interviews. But the sense I get from all this talk and group think is that in general there seem to be two popular methods of conveying plot, thematic messages, and character development in modern video gaming.
The first method can be described as telling the story between the interactive segments of a game. This could be labeled teh "Cut Scene" method and it seems that a trend is forming to pin this type of story telling on games that can trace their lineage to the japanese school of game design (J-RPGs, SHMUPS, and Platformers).
The second method can be described as immersive "in world" storytelling. This method attempts to convey all of a games plot, character development and themes through NPCs or found objects within the game world. Usually this type of game play is attributed to more Americanized Genre's like First Person Shooters (Bioshock, Half Life, Portal) and American RPGs (World of Warcraft, Oblivion, ETC).
Of course I'm generalizing here. There's a lot of grey area, like the Grand Theft Auto Games, which I think do a pretty good job of conveying a lot of the story (such as it is) "in game". There are still establishing cut scenes...but a lot of the action in the missions helps to convey plot and character development. Additionally you have games like The suffering and to a lesser extent Halo which have cut scenes but also have characters you can interact with and objects in the game world that help the gamer connect with and better understand the world and their character's place within it.
The most compelling argument I've heard for this split in story telling techniques is the advancement of technology. It has been said that as games progressed in terms of their audio visual fidelity they became far better at conveying story in and of themselves. Where as in the days of 8-Bit and Arcade games the crude graphics did not lend themselves well to complex story, which usually led to text heavy games, and eventually grandiose cut scenes that served to further add wow factor.
Additionally for some gamers cut scenes were seen as a reward for finishing a level. In other games (like twisted metal or Silent Hill) an alternate cut scene might be reason enough to play through an entire game several times.
But which method is better? Is one really better than another?
My girlfriend hates cut scenes. She furiously button mashes her way though them. She hates useless talking and text. Because of this she has a strong dislike for J-RPGs and simply can't understand what I see in the Pheonix Wright Games.
I've always liked cut scenes. Mostly because I ascribe to the school of thought in which a cut scene is a "reward" for beating a level. It's kind of like a break in the action.
But that isn't to say I didn't LOVE BioShock or Half Life. Those games were totally great. But would they really have been any less enjoyable if they had had Doom 3 style cut scenes?
I don't think so. The core gameplay was so good that if I would have enjoyed them. Now would they have been as good if all the story elements had been stripped out of the game and placed in cut scenes instead? I think they would have suffered. I loved how in bioshock you could pick up the diary's and listen to them while yo ucontinued to walk around and interact with the game. Total Genius. Wouldn't have worked if all that stuff was in a cut scene that my girlfriend was skipping through. The diary's was like the best of both worlds. I could nerdily listen to every single diary and my girlfriend would never have to stop filling splicers full o' lead.
But it's kind of hard to imagine a game like Devil May Cry without cut scenes. I mean I can 't image conveying Dante's over the top personality with out the camp cut scenes.
Would it ahve worked to have NPCs running around talking to a silent Dante a la the humans do to Gordan Freeman in Half LIfe? I think something would have been lost.
And what about games like House of the Dead or Ikaruga. In an arcade style game I don't want a bunch of NPCs yapping at me...I just want to play. In both of these games the brief cut scenes let me stretch my fingers and take a breath.
So how bout you? What types of story telling do you prefer? Do you ascribe to this whole Japanese cutscene vs American Silent Protagonist theory? read