mandag den 22. februar 2010

... but you can have a bad story.

"Another World" ... anyone remember that one?

"Another World" is Eric Chahi's Amiga masterpiece from 1991 about a scientist who is transported to a world in a parallel dimension, when an experiment with a particle accelerator goes wrong.

I just saw the start of a play-through on youtube and it's still mesmerizing almost 20 years after it was originally released.

One of the lessons learned from that game is that story doesn't mean dialogue - there isn't one line of (English) dialogue and still you have a very strong sense of story.

Which brings me to one of my favorite discussion topics:

If you put a character in a game and this character has a goal, then you have a story whether you like it or not. Even if this goal is finding out what is going on or just escaping the place - the game has a story. It doesn't have anything to do with dialogue or written text.

You can't escape the story in this type of games ... but you can have a bad story. Eric Chahi had a very clear idea of what story he wanted to tell, even if there's no dialogue or written explanation in the game.

However: if you say that your game needs no story - it's just "Space Marine on Mars something-something with monsters" - then you actually have a story; a bad story.

"Tetris" hasn't got a story - a lot of puzzle games of that type doesn't have or need a story. But there's a lot of games out there with bad stories - and I suspect that the stories in many cases are bad, because the developers didn't think their game needed one.

So ... if you're doing a character driven game, your game will have a story no matter what you want. What you can do is make sure it isn't a bad story.

fredag den 19. februar 2010

Do NOT press the big red button

I didn't get to play "Bioshock 2" last night. It still sits comfortably at the post office, because I haven't yet received the little slip that allows me to go get it.

Instead I got to try out the new "Yakuza 3" demo. I've always been curious about the Yakuza series - it's supposed to be the spiritual successor of Yu Suzuki's "Shenmue", a game that I really liked.

To call "Shenmue" a game would be missing the point. It's more about ambience than about game play. It's "Grand Theft Auto" set in a small Japanese village in the 1980's - no irony in sight, just fond memories. I always viewed it as Yu Suzuki's tribute to his home town.

I can certainly see why "Yakuza" is compared to "Shenmue" - it might not be as charming, but it too is a simulation of a small society - this time a part of a modern city instead of a village. If the demo is anything to go by, then "Yakuza 3" has a lot of issues - it looks dated, the camera is almost broken and the control of the main character (especially during fight sequences) is rather sucky.

But the worst thing is the way the story is handled. Not the cut scenes as such (although they also kinda suck), but the character dialogue following the cutscenes - this is where the story is actually told. And I completely miss it, because I'm frantically clicking the "x"- button to skip it. And as I do it, I know that I miss out ... and that really pisses me out.

I could, you might argue, read the damn thing instead of clicking past it. True - but I'm playing a game, not reading a book.

You have to respect that the player is in "act"-mode. I am, as a player, in no way involved in the dialogue sequence.

So I press "x". Just like a character from a Tex Avery toon that can't help pressing the big red button. Why? Because it's the only thing there is to do.

Writers: if you want me to listen to your words, then let me into the conversation. Let me act. Ask me what I think, and give me a consequence to my action. And let the characters around me react to my actions. Fool me into thinking that my actions have an impact on the story. Then I will listen.

To be honest, I can't really remember if "Shenmue" has the same boring dialogue-click-through ... but that was 10 years ago; games like "Mass Effect", "Heavy Rain" and "Uncharted 2" has shown us that there are other ways to tell strong stories, and still give the player the illusion of being in the driving seat.

torsdag den 18. februar 2010

Would you kindly?

Bioshock (2007) has one of the best openings in a computer game ever and it has some of the sharpest writing of any game. Yes, I know the ending didn't work and the whole "moral choice"-thing was a bit shallow. But the way the back ground story was conveyed and the way the "Would you kindly"-meta layer clicked at the climax really blew me away.

Now, as I write this, "Bioshock 2" is waiting for me at the post office. Ken Levine and his Irrational Games team had nothing to do with it. The question is if the new developers "get it" - I will look into this ... stay tuned.

Starting out

So - Giraffe Games, eh?

I know ... it sounds like something out of a human ressource manual, and I'm sorry about that. It's just that I really like giraffes and I really like games - "Giraffe Games".

These are scary days: I've just started out as a freelance writer/ game designer after 10 years in the games business. When you're going freelance, you will need a blog, or so I'm told. So this is it.

The purpose of this blog is (for know, anyway) to discuss how stories are best used in games. Where it works and why this is ... and where it doesn't and why this is. I will discuss games that I have played from the writer/game designers point of view. The ultimate goal is to come up with some kind of toolbox, which will make it easier to convey stories in games.

Those were the words - lofty ones, I know. But don't worry ... I'll probably change my mind a thousand times.