Monday, November 4, 2013

Story: What is it really about?

Upon hearing the word story, most folks most likely consider of a chain of connected events. For instance: "A princess is kidnapped a brave knight rides to save her the knight faces a dragon, the knight slays dragon and saves the princess finally the knight gets half the kingdom and marries the princess". Most likely, one also thinks of even smaller particulars as integrated parts of the story the way in which the princess is kidnapped, how the knight struggles against the dragon, and so on.

This is not the appropriate way to believe of stories. The chain of events is just the plot, and it is a device employed in order to get the story across to an audience. What truly lies at the core of the story are themes, locations, emotions, and so on. Pretty a lot all stories we have heard in our lives have been plot-based, but this is simply because this has been fairly significantly the only way of telling them. Now that we have videogames as a widespread medium this is no longer correct. Still, the concept that story equals plot remain sturdy. It is a frequent belief that when a game becomes significantly less linear, it is significantly less about the story. I do not believe this is accurate and if we want to advance the storytelling of the medium, this view requirements to go.

By the Campfire
Humans have been telling stories for a lengthy, long time, well ahead of the dawn of civilization. These stories were not written down, but spread by becoming told over and more than, never ever repeated exactly the very same way. These sort of "camp fire stories" nevertheless stay, traveling from particular person to individual, continuously evolving and altering. However, although the way the stories are told modify, in a way they still stay the very same. Any person who has ever told a story like this knows that you often by no means know the exact words. As an alternative, you know of certain critical items the story is supposed to "say".

It is very frequent that you adjust a story like this based on your audience. If the people listening do not look impressed by the hero's strength, you add more particulars, much more events, descriptions and dialog. Your objective when telling the story is not be give an precise replication of how the story was told to you. What you are trying to do is to copy the impact the story had on you and any modify you can do in order to accomplish this is a valid 1.

The moment you do one thing like this, you have realized, despite the fact that maybe unconsciously, that the essence of the story its not the words that make it up. Alternatively, the story is about anything on a larger level.

Peeling an Onion
When a section of a story is trying to convince the audience how robust a hero is, it is something that exists above the words that make it up. Nevertheless, this "powerful hero" theme, might not be at the highest level either and simply be a vessel for a however greater goal. Possibly it sets up an overarching theme of how even the strong will ultimately fall. The levels may well not stop even there and sooner or later the essence of the story may be boiled down to a couple of essentials. These essentials is what the story is actually about. Remove any of these and the structure collapse and the original story is no more.

It is also important to have in thoughts that some levels may possibly be connected. Something that is at a higher level may not manage to stand on its personal. A specific component of the story may possibly be about the hero overcoming overwhelming odds and is meant to provoke sympathy. At the identical time it is about the hero getting subjected to torture and treated extremely badly by some folks. If you remove the torture portion, then what you have left is only two quite fuzzy themes and not one thing that alone can build the story. As a result it is not usually so that the essential pieces of a story are all on the highest level, but they may possibly spread out in a hierarchy. And although this might truly continue down to the really lowest level, it can only do so if removing the element destroys the story. It is not a way to justify that every single detail is crucial.

I think most folks already have these layers in their thoughts when considering up a story, but then along the way give fantastic weight to the specifics on the lowest level. This is specifically damaging when making games, one thing I will address shortly. Very first I must go over what I imply by the essence of a story.

What is the Essence?
One particular may possibly argue that a particular story is not possible to distill into a handful of higher level concepts. It could be argued that a particular scene have to be in a quite particular way that a single can not merely describe it as some flimsy themes. I think this happens if one thinks that the themes should be deep, believed provoking, artsy, or whatnot. This is not what I imply with the essence though and it can be any number of factors.

For instance take the "attack on the village"-scene in the movie Predator, something I am positive couple of men and women would get in touch with deep, believed-provoking or similar. What are the higher level concepts right here? Is it just be boiled down to "mindless violence", "how the civilized planet rapes nature" or something similarly pretentious? Not so. As an alternative its essence is factors like the atmosphere, the oppressing jungle to have a team of sweaty super-humans storm a village, showing off destruction and gunfighting. At a higher level it is also meant to be exciting watching and need to maintain a certain distance to reality and remain away from specific things (like murdering of innocents) in order to keep the audience entertained.

What I want to show here is that a story does not need to have to be have some kind of moral lesson, ask an existential question, or whatever deep meaning, at its core. It can be shallow and just for fun. Even so, there is an essence and it is what actually matters in the story.

Consider any excellent book/movie you have ever read/seen. Is it genuinely the lowest level of events and particulars that made you like it? Was it not the places it took you to? Was it not the fascinating partnership amongst character? Or the way gradually uncovering a mystery created you really feel? I argue that no story, no matter what sort, is not about the precise way in factors occur, but about the essence of these events. This is something that is vital to have in thoughts in video games, as simply nailing down a few specifics that satisfy the essence is not adequate. A video game is a living, breathing globe and the essence demands to be portrayed by way of the appropriate use of the mechanics (such as gameplay, art, sound, and so forth).

Stories in Videogames
Truly videogames currently use this type of story telling! For example, very first individual shooters have not set the precise sequence how folks get shot or homes blown up. The point that matters is that people do get shot and houses do get blown up. Precisely how this occurs is not critical for the story, only that the essence of the action stays the same.

The exact same is correct for portrayal of environments in most games. It does not matter how the protagonist traverse or interact with it, the designer merely constructs a world and the rest is up to the player. By setting up the mechanics of the game a certain way, the designer then quite a lot guarantees that the player will have a certain type of experience and that the essence is kept intact.

Nonetheless, this how far it goes in most the games right now. After a videogame gets to trickier parts of the story, decrease level information are provided a lot more and more value. When it comes to concepts like love, betrayal and grief, quite significantly all existing games rely on a specific set of events, a plot, to convey them. No longer does it consider the essence of the story. Alternatively, it becomes focused on the low-level details. Take God of War as an instance. There is no require to have reduce-scenes showing how angry and prone to violence Kratos is - the gameplay does this for us. But when it is time to bring up other emotions, like showing the reasons behind his rage, the game resorts to plot-primarily based cut scenes.

This does not have to be the case. I consider that just about any essence can be expressed by a virtual planet guiding the player employing different mechanics. This can be conveyed just as excellent, or maybe even better, than what a cautiously planned plot is capable to. I think we are already seeing this with deeper themes such as a fear. As has been proved by games like Silent Hill*, more than ten years ago, video games can be used to provoke fear in a way that is impossible to do in any other medium. Whilst specific sorts of horror lends itself incredibly properly to the video game medium, I see no explanation why other emotions and themes can not operate just as properly. There are of course also games like Fallout and Shadow of the Colossus that touch upon other themes with out using a plot, giving a glimpse of what could be achieved. Nevertheless, this is just the tip of an iceberg and videogames as a story telling medium is still far from exactly where it could be.

End thoughts
Abandoning plot and a linear progression does not imply that one is generating a sandbox game. It simply indicates that one picks out the essence of the story and design and style a virtual globe that delivers just that. I believe that sticking to old fashion cut-scenes is a dead finish if we want video game story telling to progress. Alternatively we require to look at a greater level, figure out the essence of our stories and concentrate on that. When this way of creating a story reaches into places previously reserved to films and books, storytelling in game will be a force to really reckon with.

* A key inspiration for Silent Hill was the movie Jacob's ladder, and this serves as an excellent example of how to take the essence of a story and placing it in a distinct medium. Examine the movie's hospital scene to the otherworld located in Silent Hill and you will find there is a remarkable keeping of its essence. The feeling of getting trapped, the environment, the sound style, the uncertainty of what is genuine and even the style of music. Silent Hill shares extremely small in terms of low-level plot details with the film, and but they handle to be remarkably equivalent.

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