Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Storytelling through fragments and situations

Stories are something that is very crucial to us humans and also a crucial component of many video games. In some games the player is the author of the story, for instance in Civilization where you are offered some fundamental commence resources and are then free of charge to decide how your story will play out. In other games the designer has the most manage of the story and the game mechanics do their very best to guide the payer by means of the narrative (which may dynamic or linear).
Even though the player-as-author stories are interesting, what I will talk about right here is the variety of stories that have been designed. Some men and women have argued that games are inferior at telling these type of stories, some thing I do not agree with. Whilst the games out these days undoubtedly do not compete with stories discovered in books and motion pictures, I think that the dilemma is that the medium is just not been utilized appropriately.

Plot-based Stories
Most games that are story heavy tells a narrative using a linear plot in other words a string of events tied together by sections of gameplay. Most games that have been celebrated for their story such as Half-life two and God of War use this design. The notion is essentially to force the player into undertaking specific actions by limiting the quantity of interactivity.

Because this variety of storytelling is based around forcing the player, it often comes with a extremely higher quantity of cut-scenes. Anytime a plot occasion demands an atmosphere or circumstance exactly where the player has also several alternatives, it is no longer attainable to hold it inside gameplay all (or most) player handle is taken away and a cut-scene is employed. Some games (like Resident Evil four) attempt and hold interactivity by making use of swift time events, but this has usually felt like a cop-out and unneeded trial-and-error to me . In other games, like Half-life, these moments are handled by blocking the player in some way until the scene is more than. In all situations, the regular gameplay is restricted and players cannot progress until the game lets them.

I believe that plot-primarily based story telling has reached its limit*. A fusion of gameplay and story-telling the story can never ever take place unless it is some sort of action scene or in other approaches tightly connected to the gameplay. Anytime some emotional and story intense situation is needed it is showed as a cut-scene. Interactive scenes only consists of quite strict and standardized gameplay.

Plot-based story telling is not without having its merits even though. It fits extremely nicely with how it is done in movies and books and a single can quite effortlessly use practices from these. This tends to make it achievable to plot the distinct components of the story early on and have things like characters arcs and tempo quite effortlessly. It is most likely since of this that plot-primarily based storytelling is so widely utilized.

However, I personally uncover this way of undertaking it quite problematic as it clashes directly with the unpredictability of games. For example, when we did the "meeting of Dr Swanson" event in Penumbra Black Plague, it was very challenging to make it all playable and had to have doors mysteriously closing and the like (click here to see, spoilers ahead!!). When creating Penumbra we had numerous other comparable difficulties all due to events that had to take place at specific occasions in a very certain way. Each time we had to sacrifice some portion of the gameplay in order to solve it story-wise.

This is troubling! When the most emotional and story-smart important scenes need to rely on taking away interactivity anything is very wrong. I consider the problem is simply that this type of storytelling is not the best way of performing story in games.

Fragmented Stories

This kind of storytelling is evident in games like Bioshock, Program Shock and to some extent in several RPGs and regular adventure games. It is about getting a certain background story (or equivalent) spread out more than the planet. The player should then discover these fragments and piece them together. These fragments generally come as notes or character dialogs, every single giving a piece of the "puzzle". It is this kind of storytelling that we have largely utilized for Penumbra and are utilizing for our upcoming game Amnesia. It is also where I consider the future of interactive story telling lie.

Fragmented storytelling makes it possible for for a lot much more freedom as it is attainable for the player to choose up fragments in diverse order and even to miss particular fragments with no ruining the story. Some sort of order is generally wanted to even though, and typically it is solved by not obtaining all fragments available from starts, each level/section of the game containing specific fragments. It is also possible to resolve by procedural generation of fragments. This can simply mean that the order of the fragments are independent of the actual interactions (e.g. very first note picked is constantly a specific fragment), anything we are employing in Amnesia. It can also imply a lot more advanced techniques such as producing documents to fit the player, for example censuring certain data in case the player has not located out about other things very first. This type of procedural generation seem very exciting to me, but it is quite unusual in games and I know of no other games that are utilizing it

Fragments does not only want to be text-heavy info such as dialog or notes. It can be graphics in the atmosphere, sounds, character banter, interactions, etc. In Amnesia we try to use as numerous distinct varieties as possible and do our very best to develop a game where playing and exploring brings forward the story with out ever removing handle. The wonderful issue about the fragmented style is that it is by no means in the way of the game and assists the player immerse, alternatively of the opposite (which cut-scenes may well do). When designing Amnesia we have also produced certain that pretty a lot everything is optional and rather of forcing the player to take part of certain story components (fragments) we have created certain to make the most essential issues are really obvious (and challenging to miss) and the less critical much more hidden.

Even though the fragmented story design is utilised fairly a bit (specially as notes and dialog), I feel that its possible is severely underused. There is a lot a lot more stuff that can be carried out in this way. For instance, by interacting with the planet the player can find out issues, not just about the atmosphere, but about the character as well. How will the protagonist react when you try to eat meat (vegetarian?), why does she gets scared when in confined spaces, and so forth. It can also be about the atmosphere itself, for example how various factors function (machines in a sci-fi story) or how the ecology behave. It does not require to be associated straight to the background story either, but can be a way of displaying character motivations, enhance understanding of the game world or just basically to set a certain mood or convey a theme. In books and films this normally take up massive element, practically always utilizing plot-based story telling, and I feel that a large difficulty lies in designer trying to copy this design and style (anything I have discussed just before) as an alternative of making use of strategies more appropriate for games.

Plot-based story telling does not need to be thrown out although and can still be used effectivly. The problem with fragmented story telling is that it only is only about the previous and by no means about the present. Right here plot-based design can help to spice up the story telling. For example, Bioshock, an otherwise quite totally free-roaming game making use of fragmented story-telling, has an essential cut scene (verify right here, spoilers of course) that even use the lack of interactivity as element of the story. The identical is true in Penumbra where the infection-with-voice, Clarence, at times take control more than the protagonist in reduce-scene-like sequences.

Situations alternatively of events
As stated above, the issue with fragmented storytelling is that it is just covers factors that HAVE taking place and not what IS taking place. This does not imply that one particular has to resort to the plot-primarily based design and style though and rather of forcing on specific events, a single can create situations alternatively. Producing a circumstances is large portion of our story telling style considering that Penumbra and way of thinking we have located very powerful. It may appear a truly fine line amongst an event and a predicament, but I consider it is a truly important 1 and will explain why.

In an occasion (as in a plot-event) 1 wants something very distinct to come about, often including a protagonist action. For example, if a monster enters a space the protagonist hides in a closet. In a scenario, one particular creates a some sort of outdoors pressure and then it is up to the player on how the protagonist must act, never ever stopping the regular mode of gameplay. The line among the two can get quite vague, because a scenario can be about obtaining the player to hide in a closet when monster enters a room, though in a situation this is never forced. A scenario is not just a reduce-scene + the interaction even though and it is far more about exposing the player to something and letting them deal with it. Also, circumstances are far more complicated to setup as one particular does not want to lock down the player and let the typical gameplay stay intact.

If there is a certain section of the game where the player should be exposed to a new enemy, but in no way come too close, this will be carried out differently utilizing events or situations. In an event, it can be that the player notices one thing in the shadows and then a cut-scene shows how the player hides. Employing circumstance design and style, this creature can be roaming particular components of the map, making sounds and usually staying a particular distance. This means that the player might sometimes spot the creature but in no way face it directly, achieving the very same objective. The map can also be set up in such a way, that when spotting the creature, there is usually a area nearby where the player can hide, trying to indirectly "force" the player into behaving in a certain manner.

By using conditions as an alternative of events, manage does not want to be taken away and it is achievable to add story elements that happen in the present (and not just in the previous). When designing Amnesia, adding exciting circumstance that connect with the story has been a big design and style purpose. Normally entire maps have been used as the location for the scenarios and developed around it. We have only began scraping the surface of what is feasible although. By focusing on situations as an alternative of plot-events we have come up with numerous factors that have a lot much more freedom than events we did in Penumbra, but still communicate the identical feelings and story content material. We will continue to use this sort of design and style in the future as it has been extremely beneficial so far and we feel that there is a lot far more to explore.

Making use of conditions is a bit of a gamble even though and 1 can in no way be certain that all players will get the intended expertise. That is just one thing a single has to reside with though. When it comes to interactivity, threat are usually involved as it is not possible to strategy for each and every feasible outcome. A single should of course make positive that the player cannot get stuck, but I feel it is effectively worth sacrificing some safety for higher interactivity and possibility of a deeper knowledge.

End Notes
The far more game designers start off going away from creating stories that emulate books and movies, the a lot more the medium can evolve. It is only by focusing on the strengths of the medium that we can make make stories only games can tell!

What is you thought on stories making use of the fragments design and style? And how are your feelings with regards to situations vs events?

*It is most likely worth mentioning that Heavy Rain is creating some sort of progress in the plot-based design. Even so this is done at the expense of player interactivity.

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