A few weeks ago, Obsidian lead creative designer Chris Avellone told us that story is an important game component, but it’s not as important as systems or level design. While a rich never draws players into a game universe and compels them forward, it operates the best as a mechanic “divorced” from everything else. The lead writer for Dragon Age: Origins, David Gaider, agrees with Avellone: story is important, but it’s not that important. Players want satisfying mechanics and systems more than they want to be told a story.
“Here is the thing,” Gaider begins. We’re sitting on a hallway floor at Gen Con ‘09. A man with a pirate hat is screaming in the background. “Story cannot be the first consideration. And I know there are a lot of fans who really believe that story should rule overall. But I don’t know how many times,” he pauses, “we would come up with a story, and then comes time to do the gameplay or the instrumentation of it, and you recognize that there’s things you have to take into consideration when you’re putting it into part of a game because it’s not just a story,” he says.
“There has to be a directive element. There has to be just parts of the gameplay that are supposed to tell a story themselves,” he says as two kids run down the hall. “Not all the story can be told in words or interactions, right? And those need to be fun. But, really, for the player, it would be presumptuous of us to think that they’re just there for our story, that our story is so awesome that it grabs them by the nose and forces them down that path. We want them to experience our precious story. Well, you know, a lot of players — matter of fact, I would say the majority of players — are really there to play a game and enjoy it and most of that’s going to come from the gameplay. If anything, the story should be there to enhance the gameplay.”
It’s hard not to agree. A game tell the greatest story this side of the Illiad and it wouldn’t matter if the mechanics were utterly broken or crippled by something like a choppy frame rate.