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LONG BLOG

Storytelling in games? Stop worrying and just give me a good story.

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Internet people sure spend a lot of time and words talking about how to tell a story in games. They write articles like this http://www.next-gen.biz/opinion/opinion-games-cant-tell-stories, trying to figure out what developers should and should not do when trying to tell a story in a game, or whether they should even try at all!

But I think I've come to realize that all of these high-level discussions are really just side-stepping the real issue: maybe you just didn't like the story the game was telling. It's not how it's told or how much agency the player has or whether or not the player ruins the story or how much "congruence" there is between story and gameplay and all that high-level crap...you just didn't like the damn story! Maybe the setting was boring to you, or you couldn't relate to it, or you just really disliked the voice acting.

I think we've solved story telling in games. There's a myriad of ways to do it, whether it's through cut-scenes or set pieces or radio logs or whatever. And I can confidently say the problem is solved because I've played many games that are quite successful in their story telling with quite different techniques. Portal 1/2 did a fantastic job just building a linear experience around you as a silent protagonist, and there were some brilliant moments where game play meshed with story beautifully. That's one way to do it. "To the Moon" barely had any game play, but I loved the story so much that the experience was thoroughly enjoyable anyway. That's another way to do it, and it's much like the approach taken by old-school adventure games. Uncharted 2 took yet another approach to the problem.

These games all approached the problem differently, but they were all successful because fundamentally, I (and a lot of others) just really enjoyed the story they were telling. Sure, I will say that Portal 1/2 probably had the coolest methods for story-telling, with Uncharted 2 coming in second, and "To the Moon" being the most mundane in its approach. And I do hope developers explore more cool ways to tell stories to give us cool, new experiences!

But if you just want to tell a good story? Fine - do it. There's so many ways to do it in a game, there's really no need to worry about "the right way." Use cutscenes - as long as they're good, I will gladly watch them! People that say "cutscenes are bullshit and anti-game" are just thinking about bad cut-scenes. And yeah, nothing kills a game's flow like a bad cut-scene. But guess what? Some of my favorite memories from great games are their cutscenes. MGS was hokey as hell but still had some great moments, Warcraft 2 had some seriously badass vignettes between missions, and "To the Moon" is pretty much one big cutscene.

Anyway, I'm just seriously tired of people downing video games and story telling and how there's something fundamentally wrong about combining the two.
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About stevesanone of us since 11:25 PM on 02.22.2008