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Thursday, May 26, 2005

Comments

Scott Miller

Without plummeting into the perilous pit of definitions, I merely see story as that which gives connective meaning to a linear sequence of events. And a successful story strongly motivates players to continue the game. (Much as successful gameplay does.)

The best successful stories don't come across like a separate layer, like icing on the cake. Instead, the icing has melted into the cake, and becomes indistinguishable from the cake itself.

We should *never* watch the story in games -- this violates the fundamental uniqueness of games: interactivity. Story should *always* be integrated within the playability of a game. (Max Payne violated this, but we felt that the unique presentation -- graphic novel screens -- was so cool that we took a chance and broke our own rule.)

Greg Findlay

If we want to be really precise about the definition of story then going to the super market and getting milk isn't a story. Coming home and telling someone you did is. How long or interesting the story is is irrelavent to it's meaning. Writers use structure (like the Hero's journey) to help them tell better stories. And I totally agree that having that structure helps make stories better. But structure isn't what MAKES a story. Which I guess we've come full circle on because I think that is what Tadhg was getting at by suggesting that the Hero's journey isn't an instant success button. It's just a tool writers can use.

The long and short of it is this. Did you understand in the posts above that what was being described was a distinction between the sequence of events that the game designer sets up for the game and the sequence of events that the player plays through the game? If you did, then the use of the word story was effective despite what the definition of story is.

Pag

The danger of extending well established definitions is that it leads to illogical arguments based on confusion between the two definitions. For example, I've been in a few arguments about story in games that sounded like this:

Some Other Guy: Story is really fundamental to making good games.

Me: Not really, lots of good games don't have any story.

SOG: By story I mean "everything the player does or sees".

Me: Ok, by that definition you're right. If what the playe does or sees isn't good, then the game is bad, that makes sense.

SOG: So if the story is essential we need better writers and to make our games more like interactive movies.

Do you see the subtle switch in definition for that last argument? SOG changes the definition of "story" to make an obvious point, then changes back the definition and continues as if the logic still applies.

Most of the time I think this type of error of reasoning isn't conscious, but I see it a lot when it comes to story in games. The definition just keeps changing to what is most convenient to the speaker at that particular point in time. That's why I don't like people changing the definition of words, it just leads to confusion and bad logic.


On a somewhat off-topic note, I wrote an http://www.pagtech.com/Articles/ANewDesignProcessforMoreR.html>article on why I think separating the designer from the game director is a good idea (I talked about it earlier in this thread). It's on my http://www.pagtech.com/>blog.

Charles E. Hardwidge

The best successful stories don't come across like a separate layer, like icing on the cake. Instead, the icing has melted into the cake, and becomes indistinguishable from the cake itself.

In principle, we agree. Where, I think, we differ is in the concious versus unconcious reasoning behind the principle, and that if you dig a little deeper, the argument I've made may snap into place. I'm not going to beat anyone up if they don't get it. If anyone's at fault here, it's me for my poor attempt at explaining it. Still, it's worth another shot.

I can't even begin to fathom how story (" An account or recital of an event or a series of events, either true or fictitious") is a perspective on strategy ("The art or skill of using stratagems in endeavors such as politics and business." or "The science and art of military command as applied to the overall planning and conduct of large-scale combat operations."). Unless you redefine the words I don't see how the two concepts are related, much less the "GUT" of gaming.

Definitions of story, gameplay, and strategy are important, as the point can only be adequately conveyed if we're speaking the same language, so I'll give a run through here. Rather than redefine, my definitions are expansions of a more careful reading of the definitions you've been good enough to supply.

Stories can be lists or more carefully constructed affairs. The only difference is presentation. One is structured and edited, the other is not. Books and films are static mediums, while plays and games may be dynamic mediums, where the actor has varying degrees of improvisation capability.

Strategy or, more specifically, the way of strategy, is about achieving goals and, more importantly, how to achieve those goals, which is a topic beyond the scope of a single post. In summary, it's achieving strategies by way of intellectual and emotional sub-strategies, and may apply to any endevour, regardless of size.

Now, how is a story a strategic exercise? Every element of a story, from the book to the word, to the combination of words, is an attempt by the author to persuade or coerce you into their strategy, which may touch on a number of intellectual and emotional buttons, including; buying the book, finishing the book, loving the book, learning (new strategies) from the book, being entertained, and so on.

You think a book is an entirely static exercise? Nope. Books are as dynamic as anything else and this can best be seen where the book stimulates a concious dialogue on the part of the reader, whose direct equivalent can be seen in the intellectual, emotional, and physical responses to a game. Where the book and reader differs from the game and gamer is in range and flexibility, which is itself a strategic principle. One isn't responsive, the other is.

So, there you have it. A game is an attempt by the designer to bend the gamer to their will, and the gamer responds by trying to bend the game to their will. Both are exercises in strategy. Both are locked together, as surely as the world and a person living within it, and every element, or strategy, of their combined existence forms a story. Now, whether it's bad strategy or a bad story, is a matter of judgement and presentation.

The best authors and game designers understand strategy, even if they only apply it unconciously. No? Well, I'll put it another way. The best authors and designers understand psychology, which is underpinned by? Yup, you guessed it. Strategy. Scott's half way there, which puts him way ahead of a lot of developers, but I haven't yet seen a concious appreciation of the underlying principle that strategy is at the heart of thinking behind map, gameplay, or story elements.

Clearly, a sound appreciation of strategy is good for any developer, especially if applied to the areas of getting the box out of the door, negotiation, management, and staff development. Heck, it can even be of assistance in making your personal life and character better. I know, it turned around three decades of depression caused by bereavement at an early age. For me, the principles of strategy work. I've seen them work, and see them work in nearly every aspect of the world around me. All I can say is try it for yourself. If it works, use it. If it doesn't, throw it away.

Dave

I don't feel the article tries to claim "The Hero's Journey" is a guide for making games. It seems like the author is just pointing out that we as humans identify with myths. "The Hero's Journey" is Campbell's way of identifying common events in various myths. It's not that games should be more like "The Hero's Journey". Good games (premise driven) like good myths happen to share similar characteristics.

"We are continuously cautioned against using the Hero’s Journey as a template. This is right. Campbell’s work is descriptive rather than prescriptive."

One of my favorite video game series is Metal Gear Solid. Every one of those games has the Hero's Journey as a part of it's story. It's a great game and a great myth. Even Grand Theft Auto has a great premise. Control the city. At the end of the game the character has evolved. His setting, his transportation, his influence in the game world.

I don't know if there can ever be such a thing as a perfect story or game. And I don't think all those instructional books and other advice you can find pretend to help you create the perfect thing. Quality, in my opinion, tends to be a bell curve. All those instructions, rules, and formulas help you climb the slope. Hopefully with enough hard work, gut instincts, rules, and formulas you can attain quality somewhere near the top of the bell curve. But being to ignorant or arrogant can leave you at the bottom.

Caught this in the article. Seems like the same paragraph twice but once was revised.

"What amazes me is how much we personally identify with heroes, that identification actually exists at all. Identification is this mysterious ability people have to live inside the thoughts, feelings, and actions of others. It’s what allows people to dream the fictive dream. This identification with the hero somehow unites the gameplayer with the hero, and they somehow become one.

What amazes me is how much we personally identify with heroes, that identification actually exists at all. Identification is this mysterious ability people have to crawl inside another person’s head, to think their thoughts and experience their feelings. It’s what allows people to enter the fictional world. This identification with the hero somehow unites the gameplayer with the hero, and they somehow become one. "

Brian

I'd be interested in hearing whether or not the idea of an outside game designer is viable in today's market. Would 3DRealms or other AAA development houses have interest in such a thing?

Scott Miller

Brian, do you mean a designer who works on a project but from a different location? If so, that's very unlikely, at least with more established teams. A designers needs to be available for quick feedback and direction, and this would not be possible from a remote location.

Tadhg

Had a bit of a think about this and compiled my thoughts into a more complete bit. On my blog if you're interested (particleblog).

T

Scott Miller

Tadhg, just read your blog. The bottom-line, though, is that games that involve characters are better off with a story to give meaning to the action. People love dramatic context, and that is the role of a story. The hero's journey is merely a way (not the way) to provide dramatic context.

Lame stories, like lame graphics, can dampen the appeal of a game. Good stories, like good graphics, can elevate the appeal of a game. That's pretty much my end-game argument on this subject.

Tadhg

"Tadhg, just read your blog. The bottom-line, though, is that games that involve characters are better off with a story to give meaning to the action. People love dramatic context, and that is the role of a story."

Well, yes and no.
What I'm essentially saying is that players respond to a changing set of situations in a game, and that the information that changes those situations can take the form of, for example, cut scenes. I wouldn't call that 'story' though.

"The hero's journey is merely a way (not the way) to provide dramatic context."

But what I'm saying is that the Hero's Journey is a story-based structure, in that it presupposes the existence of a central hero and the fluidity of time in drama, and the journey is constructed around the hero. Because the player isn't a reliable hero (as I explained in the post), any sense of such a Journey can be artificial and result in quite didactic attempts to force emotion when none is present.

The thread of continuity should serve the play, in otherwords, not the other way around. I think Max Payne 2 actually captures that sense very well, I might add, such as when the love thread moves into opportunities for play.

"Lame stories, like lame graphics, can dampen the appeal of a game. Good stories, like good graphics, can elevate the appeal of a game."

Oh yes. I'm suggesting that unless we are aware that the game and the story forms contain a lot of fundamental differences, we are likely to fall into some of those differences, which is why I'm inclined to regard things like the HJ askance.

Anyway,

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