Archive for the ‘Video game’ Category

Posted: April 1, 2013 in Link, Video game
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One of my e-zines on Flipboard: Video Game Narrative < http://flip.it/8Wr32 >

Video Game Narrative

☞ Should racing games have stories? Why? Shouldn’t they be storyless and plotless instead? As this blogger explains, there are advantages to having narratives in racing games… not merely narratives, one should add, but well-told (or well-designed?) ones.

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“Why are there no racing games with stories? No, wait, scratch that, why are there no racing games with good stories? Or at the very least well-told stories?

It is surely not a difficult thing to do. You take the basic game structure from Wing Commander and replace all the space combat with racing cars around tracks and/or city streets. Then you profit. Why has no-one done this?

The few racing games out there that do have storylines of sort are generally half-assed efforts where all the plot is delivered through badly-written text put into the game as an afterthought, or they simply don’t carry their potential through far enough.

I can think of a few recent examples. Motorstorm Apocalypse, though I didn’t play it, reportedly had a plot of sorts, but it fell into the former category above. Motorstorm Apocalypse, lest you’re unfamiliar, had you racing around a city that was blowing up and falling to pieces — surely an ideal situation for a rudimentary Michael Bay-style plot with some characters and shouting. It wouldn’t have to be a complex plot, just something to break up the racing with some motivational scenes that gave it some meaning.”

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❝…the truth is that everyone’s right and that game narrative is all of those things: it’s organic magic, it’s a manufactured product; it’s the soul of a game, it’s trivial and unnecessary; it’s profound, it’s stupid fun. It’s words you write, it’s sound, it’s scripted, it’s environmental, it’s unspoken interaction, it’s a feeling, whatever.❞

— Robert Yang, “More Talk, More Rock…

☞ Although often taken together, narrative and gameplay do not always work together perfectly. One possible dissonant relationship between the two may result in narratives with bad endings, which, according to this article from the International Business Times, was especially noticeable in the year 2012.

“A thriving indie scene produced stunning and challenging works. Games like “Spec Ops: The Line,” “Dishonored,” and “Mass Effect 3” told their players breathtaking stories. And “The Walking Dead” broke new ground in interactive fiction and episodic content, showing zombie fans that a game adaption of a popular comic book and TV series could actually be a good thing.

The narrative pieces of video games still have an uncomfortable relationship with their more game-like properties, however. As the game critic Tom Bissell wryly noted, its hard to believe that Max Payne is an “incompetent failure” when, moments after drinking himself into a stupor, he starts “leaping in slow motion from a speedboat while shooting an incoming RPG out of the sky and then single-handedly massacring an entire army of Kevlar-encased Brazilian commandos.” The technical term for this is “ludonarrative dissonance,” and it’s rarely more glaring than in the final moments of a game’s story. Game designers, or at least the marketers and PR managers around them, often tell players they are the true owners of the stories that unfold before them. As players, we want to believe them. And we can, for the most part, until that final moment when the narrative designer has to step back in and remind us of their vision for the direction the story was meant to take.”

“I don’t mean to fault games like “Mass Effect” for having sloppy endings. Many of the games that had the worst endings I could think of were also the best games that came out this year. But as games become more self-consciously cinematic, and as CGI inches ever closer to the uncanny valley, their so-called “ludonarrative dissonance” is only going to become all the more glaring in turn. With that in mind, I present for your consideration some of the silliest moments where story and gameplay butted heads in 2012. …”

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☞ Choices may be a factor in our response to narrative. But these choices are in a way determined by the writer or the producer of the narrative. Are video games different? Are the choices in a game authentic or are they actually illusory?

“…the choices given to the player are almost always an illusion to make it seem like they matter. But what makes them matter is not that they are there, but that they allow the player to feel the impact of these moments through the story. It is within choosing the Stormcloaks over the Imperials, in curing the Genophage over tricking the Krogan, in saving Doug or Carley, where the narrative takes shape depending upon our choices. But because of this seeming betrayal of trust in the audience to distinguish the two styles, the theme of choice have become a pariah of sorts thanks to this perceived notion of railroading storylines.

In actuality, that is nothing new or against the mechanical design of the choices given in video games. For story-driven games, the choices will always be tied to a plot written by the developers, but controlled by the players. The real value of this is not that the story eventually doesn’t matter, but that the journey the story takes, the changes in the narrative because of how the player controls the story, will make the experience worthwhile. It is a gamble each time, and this past year we have seen many games succumb to the wrath of players because the plot ended a certain way.

Ultimately, we need to take to heart the fact that in the end there are no true consequences, no fully changed outcomes to be gained in a fixed plot. But there are consequences in the choices made because of our attachment to them, to the characters and the often moral implications of their predicaments, that allow us to shape the eventual narrative we experience. It is through this illusion of choice where we see the crux of the narrative that gamers become attached to, and in the end the choices matter only because we made them that way. We control the illusion by making the choices, which in turn help us tell the story, the emotional meat of the experience.

So don’t blame The Walking Dead or the next game following the buzzwords of “choice” and “consequences” for eventually removing the facade of the choice in an instant. What truly matters in a narrative is not that the plot can change, but that the circumstances of the plot, the actual story behind your actions, dictate the tone of the overall experience. In doing this, Telltale Games, along with many other industry leaders can craft stories with hard choices and consequences for them. But a little give and take regarding what can be influenced, and what can’t needs to be recognized for the illusion to work its magic.”

[Slightly edited] Read more…

Narrative in RPGs

Posted: December 20, 2012 in Video game
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☞ The importance of narrative in RPGs:

“It’s safe to say that the RPG has taken over every video game genre out there, but this domination shouldn’t surprise us. The RPG is founded on a handful of core principles, including the telling of a story and the growth of a character or group of characters. These principles pervade human desire — not just video games. Tracking a visual representation of progress satisfies our most fundamental needs, and the joys of following a story go back as far as storytelling itself.”

from: “RPGs Took Over Every Video Game Genre” by Ryan Clements