When Stories in Games Work

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by EnDevero, Dec 29, 2012.

  1. keithburgun

    keithburgun Administrator, Lead Designer Staff Member

    I think this is very wise and also true. However, I don't think it really goes against what we're saying - or at least what I think we should be trying to say.

    There are FORMS which get discovered. One form is "story". We know a few things already about how to make a more effective story - stuff that has already been discussed here. On this, actually, there's not really room for "preference", because we aren't talking about individuals. We're talking about guidelines for "what works on people, generally speaking".

    So, maybe an individual work breaks these rules - and so we might call it bad, by the standards/guidelines that have been discovered - and yet some individuals could still like it. The two things don't conflict.

    I hope that it's clear by now that this is where we're arguing past each other.
  2. blox

    blox Administrator Staff Member

    Same deal with ME2 and 3. They all took about the same amount of time to play.

    The corridor problem was definitely there in every game. The worst instance that I remember is walking back and forth on the ship (not to mention The Citadel), from the bridge to the operations room to everyone's personal quarters that all clearly need to be a mile apart. The ship has five stories (in ME3), and you are forced to run all up and down it in every game, the same corridors, the same elevator, so you notice, "I'm actually, like actually, walking down this hallway from the bridge for the one hundredth time." Do you realize how small the ship could be? Everyone could be in one room!

    (In Jade Empire, your whole party sat around a campfire.)

    And of course clearing warehouses full of enemies was there in every game. You basically just mindlessly fight enemies for hours and hours; you farm them. Because the combat gameplay is the same in all of them. It's so easy to figure out what the best strategy is given a few spells and an hour's time, it doesn't even matter which difficulty you play on. And often you do all this not even to advance the plot, but for some meaningless side mission, or to collect some shit.

    Speaking of which, the exploration (collection) minigame was there in every game. The rover, the mining thing, and the Asteroids-looking minigame; the rover was probably the worst, but they were all a huge waste of time.

    The main point here is that the majority of the time playing these games is spent doing something other than making story decisions, and that they explicitly drag these things out.

    No, those reviews were from ME1. I mean I listed the source for each quote, but I went to the Metacritic page and looked for reviews from sites I know. If you look at probably any review, the graphics are mentioned somewhere.

    I don't really get the pointed comments about ME1. If we're being honest, these don't look different enough to complain:
    ME1 screenshot
    ME3 screenshot

    Devoted fans indicates that a game fills a niche, not a valuable niche, and so that's almost less of a useful statement than popularity. Just about anything ever is enjoyed by someone, but your example is exactly what I mean: Fate/stay night would be far more popular if it had the type of graphics and spectacle that people expect from video games.

    That's just another way of saying what I said. Entertainment that has no intellectual value, we can only talk about in terms of having visceral value, which is totally outside the realm of useful, measurable things to say about something. But I guess I should make clear: we are talking about intellectual value.


    On the note of FarmVille and smoking and the other obvious examples, that is "hugely relevant data against your claim". You say that story games don't "deserve" to be put in that category, and I don't know that I even agree with that if FarmVille is in there, but let's say I do. It's beside the point because what we're saying about popularity arguments is that they make no distinction.

    You said, "When there's no harm, what you enjoy really truly is completely subjective."

    What you enjoy is subjective whether or not it causes harm. You can't say, "You don't actually like smoking! It causes cancer!" Whether smoking causes cancer or gives you vitamins does not affect a subjective argument, and that's a clear reason why subjective arguments are worthless in this discussion.

    The robot thing is one step removed for no reason, a robot does what it's told, so we're back to the question of how humans measure the objective quality of art, again, guidelines.

    I feel like the last few pages have all been about this topic of subjectivity. You even said at one point that you "have been giving an indirect argument", and really, you have yet to give a direct argument. It seems to me that you're sort of refusing to participate in the discussion. We're talking about it like, "Is this good or bad?" and you're coming in like, "Can we even ask that question? Can we say if anything is good or bad? What is 'good' anyway?" It's almost like some philosophical question that was invented to derail conversations. And I don't mean to be nasty, it's just that everyone has been repeating their arguments.
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  3. Nachtfischer

    Nachtfischer Well-Known Member

    It's worth adding, that we didn't draw the conclusions about "what works" from anybody (or tons of random people) "liking" anything, but from the (mechanical) nature of a story. So, we ask: What's the kind of system about we're looking at and what could be guidelines to strengthen that core quality? Just saying... because I actually already saw an answer coming up in my mind like "well, story in games obviously generally works on people". And that really wouldn't lead us anywhere.
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  4. Dasick

    Dasick Well-Known Member

    ME1 and 2 didn't attempt to resolve anything. They waved a big sign "THE OUTCOME OF YOUR CHOICES WILL BE RESOLVED IN PART 3", and people went along with it. Then came ME3, and guess what? They failed to resolve the plotlines people have set up. Because there were too many separate plotlines, and coming up with a satisfying resolution for each and everyone of them is nearly impossible, because even ONE satisfying resolution is incredibly hard to pull off, and most writers can't do that reliably. This isn't just a problem with Mass Effect. You take any story-game with branching paths and multiple endings. There's always a 'good' ending that works best and the 'bad' endings that are completely unsatisfactory. Even in ME2's suicide mission, if you let anyone die, you're doing it WRONG.

    Sure you could say that all fiction is illusionary. But the thing is, good fiction stands up to scrutiny. A New Hope worked back in the 80s, and it still works today. You'd be hard pressed to find something about it that doesn't work. It delivered a satisfying resolution, and the resolution still makes sense to this day. It's a single story that has been slaved over for a long time, and as a result it's a cultural phenomenon. Whereas these rapid-fire CYOA stories fall apart even as you experience them, and have to be held together by willful suspension of disbelief (any given VG story needs tons of that to work) and Dora asking you if can see the square hole to put the square peg into. And all that is void, because they cannot account for all of your choices and deliver a satisfying resolution.
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  5. vivafringe

    vivafringe Well-Known Member Staff Member


    Well, my posts recently have been an effort to not only discuss this subject, but to discuss how you are going about finding truth in general. I believe that your current thought processes are leading you to make systemically bad conclusions - not just in this thread.

    That said, I've pretty much said my piece on that, so sure, we can try to break down the logic of your claims here. However, reading this thread... I can't see where you made a logical argument. It's possible it's in one of the links somewhere, but in this thread I just see a bunch of disjointed claims, like "story naturally conflicts with games." If you haven't done so already, it might be helpful to state exactly what you are trying to claim in a more rigorous format, to make it easier for me to attack the actual logic. Here's an example:

    Premise 1: The goal of chess is to checkmate the opposing king.
    Premise 2: Your pieces start on the home row, while your opponent's king starts on his home row.
    Intermediate step: From the premises, a successful checkmate will involve you moving pieces from your homerow towards their king.
    Conclusion: You should always move your pieces forward if you want to win.
  6. vivafringe

    vivafringe Well-Known Member Staff Member


    The long hallways are there to increase immersion in the world. I think they were *mostly* worth the tedium? Hard to say, I could be convinced either way there.

    The "clear rooms of enemies" part of ME got way way better as the game progressed. ME1 had all sorts of awful stuff:

    - Broken pistol of doom in the second half of the game.
    - Pause your FPS game to use abilities and aim (???).
    - Idiot squad members.

    As the series progressed, the combat system got quicker, more streamlined and the above problems were mostly fixed. I remember going from ME1 to ME2 and thinking, "what? the combat is actually fun now???" And then ME3 had combat that was genuinely awesome. I had a blast playing it; it was the first iteration where I really didn't feel obligated to pause to use my abilities (although I think it was technically still possible).

    And yeah there were the awful rover missions in ME1, and the silly probe launching in ME2 and ME3. In ME3, however, they cut down *a lot* on how much of it you had to do to progress. So I don't consider it a huge flaw in 3, just sort of a curious minigame that added neutral value. But I guess YMMV if you don't like the core concept. Bigger issues were the multiplayer + IAP to get a higher military score or whatever for the ending, but I mostly just ignored that shit. Ironically, the fact that the endings were half-assed actually helped make the IAP stuff less offensive. As a whole, ME3 and ME2 were both huge leaps ahead of ME1. They're some of my favorite games of all time, warts and all.


    Yeah, sure, what you enjoy is subjective regardless of the harm it causes. My main beef here is your claim that something can grant a huge amount of enjoyment to a large amount of people, not be causing noticeable harm, and be bad. You need some sort of crazy backwards elitist version of "good" vs. "bad" for that to be true, which is why I've been discussing that ad nauseum with you. As a note, I'm not saying "what is good anyway?" I'm making some pretty clear claims here.

    Also notice that Keith has taken a more reasonable position here (albeit one that I still contest): worthwhile story+game combos exist, but that we could increase our enjoyment even more if we separated the two.

    As for intellectual stimulation being the *only* thing of value in a game: I think that's a crazy assertion? I mean that disqualifies all sports ever, for one thing. In general you and Nachtfischer seem to have overly narrow views on what can make a good game. I guess it might be true that you guys only enjoy cerebral challenges, as opposed to games that try to elicit a feeling (Shadow of the Colossus) or games that are visually stimulating twitch contests (Super Hexagon). But it's certainly not true for humanity in general. One thing that Keith has begun to say, which I really appreciate, is that his game* theory only applies to his particular form of game and isn't the *only* worthwhile form of game that we can make.
  7. vivafringe

    vivafringe Well-Known Member Staff Member

    Nachtfischer: I have three comments.

    The first is that I think the notion that a one-off game is automatically "bad" is fallacious. I guess buying a vacation to Hawaii is also worthless, because you can't repeat that over and over? Life is filled with valuable one-off experiences, and my claim is that story+game combos are in that group. Evergreen games that you can devote your life to and still enjoy are also good to have in the world (obviously), but hey can't deliver the same kinds of positive emotions that more disposable games are capable of.

    My second comment is that "Go is a masterfully designed game" is somewhat ironic, because like chess it probably wasn't consciously "designed" at all, but slowly evolved by many people over a long period of time. Granted, we can't know for sure because most of the history of the game happened prehistorically, but from how chess came about, I think it's a fair bet. In general, dogged iteration is the secret to making awesome games. You can see Keith iterating on rogue-likes, and you can see Bioware iterating on CYOAs. I think *something* is there in what Bioware is doing, just like I think *something* is there for what Keith is doing. But I'd say that it's dangerous to brainlessly apply the principles of one to the other, because they are different forms that are evolving separately in their own niche. It would be like putting gills on a dog, or something.

    My third comment is that at the end of the day, I'm often tired and rude. As such, yesterday I was dangerously tempted to make a troll post along the lines of, "just because we all agree Go is good doesn't mean it's actually good. I mean, look at Farmville." But thankfully, I was able to restrain myself, and only made a half-rude post instead (sorry about that, btw).
  8. vivafringe

    vivafringe Well-Known Member Staff Member


    I'd definitely disagree that ME1 and ME2 "didn't resolve anything." They were more or less complete plots that had a few unresolved strings in there to get you to play the next game. I would definitely view them as a narrative success. I guess there are tons of other self-contained examples if you still don't agree; for instance Fate/Stay Night was very good. It's also worth mentioning that ME3's failure certainly wasn't unavoidable. The ending was laughably bad at incorporating your choices, even compared to ME1/ME2. Especially once you watched the alternative endings and figured out it was mostly "pick the color that destroys the world." My bet is that if ME3 had launched with the story addendum patch, they wouldn't have had such a massive backlash. No, I view ME3 not as proof that the form is flawed, but as evidence on what you need for it to be a success. It turns out that maintaining the illusion of choice is more important than all of the spectacle money can buy.

    I guess YMMV on how much willful suspension of disbelief is necessary to enjoy a VG story. I got sucked into Braid/Shadow of the Colossus/ME/etc. pretty easily, though. It didn't require effort on my part short of just playing the game. Again, there may be a subjectivity issue here.
  9. Dasick

    Dasick Well-Known Member

    ME3's ending WAS laughably bad at incorporating your choices, and it couldn't have been any other way. How many choices are there to incorporate? Let's say you killed the rachni queen in ME1. Now she doesn't get indoctrinated, and you were right not to trust her. Except, there goes an enemy type. Fuck. Now you need two versions of all the levels, one with indoctrinated rachni, and one without. You could simply run a boolean check that removes all rachni, but that leaves the level design in tatters. All of a sudden some parts are super easy because they don't have those mini-boss cannon dudes that spawn little annoying dudes when they die, or super hard, depending on what was the 'control' version. And that also means that you need to either remove all reference to indoctrinated rachni, or create two dialogue branches with and without mentioning them. This is accounting for just one choice. Let's say we want to account for there being geth. Again, an entire faction of baddies you can/cannot use and can/cannot mention. But the problem is exponential. If you want to account for one choice, that's two paths. You want to account for two choices, that's 4 paths (rachi+geth/no-rachni+geth/rachni+no-geth/no-geth+no-rachni). 3 choices means 9 paths. 4 choices is 16 paths. etc etc. So yeah, of course they couldn't incorporate your choices. Too much work and money. It was disaster waiting for happen, and there is no way they could have incorporated player choices and stayed under budget.

    ME1 did not resolve that many things (it's not bad for a trilogy to have unresolved arcs going from part 1 to 2 and 3. Good actually, point of trilogy).
    • For one thing, the reapers aren't stopped, they're just delayed. The reaper arc is meant to be continued by later games.
    • Krogan and Wrex arc was nowhere close resolved. Like, I could tell that the whole genophage business would come up again and be important (and it was), but nothing was resolved regarding that in the first game.
    • Tali and Quarians/Geth. You give her a bit of Geth tech and she says 'thanks'. Not resolved.
    • Garrus... kinda? I guess you have your influence over him and turn him Paragon/Renegade, but it's not something that is shown in ME1. You only see the effect of your actions in ME2
    • Ashley + Kaiden - ok, one of them dies, pretty resolved. But I'm gonna be nasty here and say that it was TOO resolved for a trilogy and the survivor really had no place in later installments
    • Liara + Protheans - she only gets closure with her mom if you take her with you to the Noveria mission. That's a pretty clear-cut example of a 'right' path for the story. So I guess resolved if you did the right thing. None of the prothean stuff is resolved in the first game, even though it is important to the reaper arc. I'm putting it down on Liara since she's the resident prothean nerd.
    • Rachni queen. You travel to a planet, meet some hostile aliens, blast them, then get to blast/release their queen. It's implied that they suffered some form of indoctrination which made them hostile but none of that is explored. No.
    • Throian - pretty resolved, even though it was pretty much what happened with the queen and not very satisfactory. Also, didn't BioWare do that plot, several times?
    • Cerberus. It's a terrorist organization that you DIDN'T get to expose and put in the slammer. What gives? Not resolved.
    • Moon mission / rogue AI / EDI - not resolved, obviously
    • Conrad Verner - not even close. A lot of little stuff like this, like that reporter. You punch a reporter in the guts, and ... nothing happens? No news reports, no slander, no defamation of character, no court hearings? You hear nothing until next games, no matter what options you picked.
    • Humans on the council - pretty big theme, only really relevant towards the end. Not resolved.
    • Council decision - ditto.
    This isn't a couple of loose threads (ok two of them are but most aren't). This is all the important plot points, most of them only getting a conclusion (or a promise of one) in parts 2 and 3.
    blox likes this.
  10. blox

    blox Administrator Staff Member

    If that's immersion... I don't understand the video game world's idea of immersion.

    I agree that it became more streamlined. RTS games 15 years ago had awful pathing; we've since corrected obvious issues and SC2 is much more streamlined. But just like how SC2 is destined to have most of the problems that SC1 had, the same core problems of ME1 are there in ME3. Like pausing to use abilities. I know you didn't use it, but it's the optimal way to play and I definitely used it, especially because of that ability where you dive into an enemy. I also think that shooting and abilities with CD don't mix very well: shooting (and melee-ing) is essentially a free action in a system otherwise about managing abilities (apart from the Soldier class). Also squad members still do nothing and constantly die if they're not micromanaged, so I tell them to stay back and only let me use their abilities; basically, they're there for their abilities. But can squad AI ever be useful? It's not AI technology that's preventing it, it's that useful squad members would do work for you. Yet another problem is overpowered weapons as I think you were talking about with the ME1 pistol, but it's not just ME1. There are several weapons in ME3 that are ridiculous - especially with the RPG system upgrading everything, you just get more and more powerful. Etc etc.

    Bad as in not intellectually valuable, as you said. I don't think it's weird or elitist to come up with guidelines for judging entertainment. As one example, we should be able to easily separate seriously crafted entertainment from churned out monotony, no matter how popular either thing is.

    I'm not really saying anything different from that. I'm barely even interested in arguing against linear story games like SotC or Portal. I don't think they're an especially good use of either medium, so I agree we would be better off separating them in the future, but it's much less offensive to me than something like ME.

    It doesn't disqualify all sports from this discussion but in general, yes, sport lacks intellectual value - again that only seems like a crazy assertion because it's popular. But I mean, whether or not intellectual value is the only thing of value, it's the thing we're talking about, mainly.

    I think discussions about visceral value are generally fruitless, and I have long given up on them.

    Sure that was an exaggeration, but I was trying to say that that sort of tone is how your popularity argument comes across.
  11. Dasick

    Dasick Well-Known Member

    Ok, and since it's taking Keith a while, I'll explain the reason why stories and games inherently hurt each other (ie, they hurt the potential of the thing to be a good story, good game and they do not mix).

    Stories are inherently linear. Not "chronological", they're linear in the way we experience them. For example, in a movie, all the shots follow one another in a pre-determined order. This property allows storytellers to do incredible things, because they can rely on the audience to know X when Y happens and whatever. It also allows for tight shot/attention control, only letting the audience focus on what's important to the story and whatever (Chekov's Gun / law of conservation of detail). There's also a whole bunch of other stuff storytellers can work with to achieve really impressive levels of storytelling.

    Games are inherently non-linear. You might have an end, but if you get there in 3 turns or 300 is unknown. If you think of it as traversing gamestates, you can skip stuff and come back to it later in the game. You experience the elements in a whatever order, and you can play the entire game without seeing certain stuff (like say, play a game of SC as terrans and not build any firebats). After playing a game, you will end up with a sequence of events, a story if you want to call it, but it most likely will be different each time.

    So... inherently linear medium meets a medium that is inherently non-linear. That alone is a sign that it's a bad idea to mix the two. And, it points at an un-mixability. You can't use gameplay to tell a story. Well, you could, but much like a picture communicated with text, it's gonna suck something hairy. There are tons of such 'oil+water' situations across many mediums. Like, it's a bad idea to use text to describe something visual. Or a movie scene 'showing' people in deep thought is not as effective as some people think it is.

    Ok, fine, but you can have a multimedia project. You can have comics to do the graphical aspect of an ideological story, or an internal monologue in an otherwise visual movie. Let's try out some actual, real ways stories hurt (the potential of) games and games hurt (the potential of) stories.

    Remember how authors can rely on the audience knowing certain things when showing them some other thing? Well, not when you've got interactivity they don't. If the player controls the camera, she may be looking away when something important happens. If the player can see Scene X before seeing scene Y (and scene Y only makes sense if you see scene X first), then scene Y will not make sense to people who skipped over scene X. This isn't bad storytelling. You can make scene Y a lot more meaningful and deep if you off-load some necessary exposition to scene X, but then that makes scene X necessary to see scene Y. It's kinda like university/college/high school prerequisites and stuff. Calculus is just not gonna make sense if you don't have a good grasp of advanced functions first, which are not all that useful unless you can do 'solve for X' operations. So, the storyteller loses a whole bunch of very useful tool for telling her story.

    You might think this only applies to CYOA type story-games, but linear story-puzzles get hit by this as well, pretty hard. If you ever listen to developer commentaries of any Valve game, they'll mention how hard it is to get players to look where you need them to look. And they'll mention it again and again. If the player misses some sort of subtle sleigh-of-hands by one character, then the player is left in the dark regarding some aspect of the plot, leading to dissatisfaction (or not as much satisfaction as could have been). Sure you could just not use subtle sleighs of hand, or any subtlety for that matter, but that's another tool you've taken away from the storyteller. I can keep going if you need more examples of how interactivity takes away even more tools from the storyteller, and how it leaves the storyteller unable to tell a subtle, deep story.

    Let's try out something that I've mentioned in my other post. Ok, so you decide to get around the limitations of the linear story-games by making it branch. Only things that make sense happen. Well, we're back to the exponential problem. For every meaningful decision the player makes, you need to account for those game state with a storytelling device of your choice. If a game has n decisions in it, that's n-squared stories you need to write. Can we agree that writing just ONE functional story (not a good one - just functional) is hard work? But that's not all. Let's say that if you change scene X it will make scene Y in branch 23 work better (it's more impactful, emotional, deeper, whatever). BUT if you make that change, branch 14 is not going to make sense anymore. Because the different stories are related, there are some things you cannot do - another tool you've taken away from the writer (I'll stop now).

    Imagine writing a short story blurb for Go for every single possible board arrangement - already maddening. Imagine to write it in a way so that by the end of it all, the story blurbs tie together into a story that explores the depth of human condition or something like that. You can't (practically speaking) and there's no reason to even try, because Go is deep enough and interesting as it is. I don't even get what you're supposed to get out of the marriage. Illusion of choice? Game-games have already demonstrated that they can have deep and enriching illusion that stands up to thousands of years of intense scrutiny.

    So far, the solution of CYOA story-games like Mass Effect has been to reduce the number of decisions in a given game to a "manageable" amount. This is... stupid. On so many levels. Let's take a simple game like tic-tac-toe. 9 squares, 3 possibilities for each - 9 to the power of 3 is ... 729. You could probably take away half the number cause it's gamestates that are never reachable, so we're left with ... 364 posibilities (square root of that is 19, so that's 19 choices to make. which is consistent with tic-tac-toe example. If you play to a draw, crossess makes 10 moves and naughts make 9 moves). So a CYOA game needs to account for 350-ish states to be as deep as tic-tac-toe (not a very deep game). In terms of strategy games, this kind of 'depth' is just no acceptable, but in terms of story telling that's an overwhelming amount of possibilities to cater to.

    And again, what is it that we're getting out of this?
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  12. keithburgun

    keithburgun Administrator, Lead Designer Staff Member

    Sorry, ya'll! Busy with the game, will definitely make some time to get back to this conversation in a couple hours.
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  13. vivafringe

    vivafringe Well-Known Member Staff Member

    Yes, please *do not* take time away from Auro to talk here. If you do I will leave this thread forever, haha.
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  14. Nachtfischer

    Nachtfischer Well-Known Member

    Well said, Dasick. Won't add to that, as I actually put it quite similar on my (German) blog about a week ago.

    So, I'll quickly answer the two relevant points addressed to my last post:
    I didn't mean to imply that. I mean, I think Ben already addressed it above. We're talking about criteria for intellectually valuable things. And we argue story holds back gameplay and vice versa in that respect. Yeah, I'm just repeating stuff here basically.

    I don't think that even matters. Let's say we only made bridges out of paper. Then a guy punches a tree because he's angry, the tree falls across a canyon and forms the best bridge mankind has ever seen. Completely random stuff. But why shouldn't we be able to derive the guideline, that wooden bridges are probably better than paper ones? I mean, people have drawn very valuable conclusions from randomly happening things in the past. So, if Go just fell from the sky, it would be equally valid to analyze it and learn from it as if one guy designed it in his basement.
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  15. keithburgun

    keithburgun Administrator, Lead Designer Staff Member

    Yep, Dasick basically nailed the argument. Also someone posted earlier (might have been me) with Greg Costikyan laying out the argument pretty well (before then saying "uh, but... nevermind that!"), and then there's my old article (which I gotta make an updated version of).

    Regarding the Mass Effect stuff, I can't really comment on those, because so far no one was willing to pay me the $300 which I would need to be paid to play such a god-awful pile of trash. I've seen gameplay videos and I did actually play the first 15 minutes of Mass Effect 2, and it was kind of like solitary confinement to me. The only other time I was so bored in my life was the 3 separate times I tried to play this other really terrible application called World of Warcraft. It's a profound, panicked kind of boredom where I start feeling like I can't get enough oxygen. Seriously, I almost start hyperventilating. I know it sounds like a joke, but I mean it with full sincerity that I would have to be paid to play most of these AAA things. I think the reason is because I've just spent soooo much time of my life playing them. Also I've just gotten more and more critical about how I spend my free time, and at the same time, games have been coming out which are SUPER EFFICIENT with it, which makes the giant "hallway-walk simulators" less and less acceptable. Actually by like 2005 for me they were already 100% unacceptable, and now they're just like, an affront to my entire being.
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  16. Senator

    Senator Moderator

    Dasick, that explanation of the role of plot is much better than Keith's. It dispenses with all the mysticism and explains exactly what the role of plot is in a way that many folks would actually agree with: plot helps the viewer understand how events are linked in a causal chain. (I think this has the byproduct of doing away with all of the primacy over elements of story that Keith ascribed to plot, but that's neither here nor there.)

    In being clear, your argument also reveals its own great logical problem: two different frames of reference are being used for analyzing story/plot vs games. You are discussing story's nature from the point of view of the story's already having been told, whereas you are describing the game from the point of view of it's not having yet begun. In other words, the way you are saying that story is linear is a trivial one: all human experience is linear. Our experience of having played a game is just as linear as our experience of a story. Here is a game that has been played (a complete game of chess):

    1. e4 e5​
    2. Qh5 Ke7​
    3. Qxe5#​

    There is nothing nonlinear about that!

    When we experience a story as readers/viewers, we don't know what's going to happen next--the possibilities open before us in much the same way that a game does (but the difference is instructive--more on that below). Wait, you'll say, that's just the illusion created by good storytelling--it only works because it's not already set in stone. But this is where yoking your model to novels and movies and these other young forms of storytelling blind you. Because in oral storytelling of the sort that has dominated the world since people have existed, the storyteller is also free to adjust his story in real time. You have done this yourself, I am sure, in a minor way, e.g. noticing that your listener isn't really that excited about the story you're telling and speeding it up a bit, editing it on the fly to cut out the bits that you see as great color but that don't seem to be working for this listener. But there are also much less minor variations: storytellers adding whole new episodes to folk stories on the fly to draw them out for an engaged audience. Such oral storytellers inventing brand new stories starring old characters on the spot. That very ancient form of storytelling is still important over much of the world. Things we might be more familiar with include improv theater, whether performed by multiple actors or just one, or story games (D&D is the best known of these, but there are many others that dispense with the dice-rolling and the combat to focus on story better than D&D does).

    I don't think I have to spell out how the existence of these other forms of storytelling (which historically have been far more prevalent than novels and movies) causes major problems for the claim that as a matter of logic or the essential nature of the forms, storytelling is linear while games are not. In any case, I'm not going to, because I value my time and I think it's pretty clear.

    So again, I just don't see the argument from the nature of story as logically compelling--the opposite in fact. But I think there is another argument that this analysis kind of throws a light on that is a better argument, and I think also accounts better for the feelings you guys are expressing (i.e., how much you all hate stories with choices), which is:

    The relationship between information and choice is fundamentally different in games and stories. (Let's make that capital-G games, to indicate that we're using Keith's narrow definition of "game"--I don't think that this necessarily applies to other forms.) In a Game, each decision makes sense only in terms of a system of rules that is known to the players in advance. In a story that has been written to account for interaction from the audience, the rules are not known the audience, and the decisions that a "player" makes therefore have a very different sort of meaning from the decisions that are made in games. The logic--logics, for there are many--by which a "player" makes a choice in an interactive story may in some cases coincide with gameplay decisions, but that can only ever be coincidence. I don't move my queen forward because she loves the opposing king, I move her forward because it allows me to fork the opposing player--he now has to move his king out of check, and I get to take his bishop.

    That, it seems to me, is a much stronger argument for the fundamental incompatibility of stories and Games that doesn't require anyone to assent to any dubious propositions about the nature of storytelling. Instead, it is based on a pretty clear difference in the structuring of information and choice in the two endeavors.
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  17. Nachtfischer

    Nachtfischer Well-Known Member

    I definitely see what you mean. But I don't think we're talking about any single instance of a game, but the game as a system of rules. Sure, for an already played out game there's no ambiguity whatsoever. But the game (Game) was made to create that interactive system, in which the player makes decisions with less than 100% certainty about what is the best alternative and where it all will lead. The more interesting these decisions, the better the game. So, as a system, the game is this absolutely non-linear web of possibilities.
    A story on the other hand basically is a single instance. While games are ideally meant to be played over and over again, stories are usually experienced once or just a few times. Now, calling a story an "instance" seems weird, because there's really no "class" or "type" the story could be an instance of (unless you enforce that by something like CYOA). And the fact, that we might not know what will happen the first time we experience a story, doesn't change the nature of the form. The story was created to be told exactly the way it will be told (yeah, in "live storytelling" you can change it a bit "on the fly", but it's actually the same, just that there was less time between creation and telling).

    I like how you put that there! And actually that's exactly one of the major problems of any CYOA-type thing. I wrote a few points about that on page 2, one of which was: "The story [could be] more compelling with another choice, which is obviously bad." The thing is, that exactly because of what you said there, it WILL frequently be the case, that the story would have been better, because players will usually not pick the best "story option", but e.g. the best "character option" or more general the best "game option". Viva also acknowledged that on page 3: "For instance they might think they want the hero to get the girl and ride off into the sunset, when actually a more bleak and ambiguous ending might be much more satisfying."
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  18. Dasick

    Dasick Well-Known Member

    I'm almost literally using Keith's arguments from the article he linked. I've added a bunch of concrete examples (ie taking tools away from author), but you guys should probably read his blogs. First time I was reading some of Keith's claims I was like 'dafuq is this guys talking about??' but after reading all the articles, it made a whole lot more sense. The points Keith makes, it's a complete paradigm shift, that looks like the result of knowledge and experience accumulated over a lifetime. It's such an interconnected topic, that you can't do it justice in a single blog or forum post.

    Senator, that's another great example of how stories and games don't work together very well.

    While I agree with the point Nachtfischer brings up*, here's a more defensible claim - "the best stories are linear". And this is what we care about - making the best stories and making the best games. Setting a story in stone allows for serious iteration work. Improvised oral tradition storytelling isn't all that great, even if you find a good storyteller. Improv might be good, but giving the same storyteller/performer the opportunity to rehearse and iterate their work will result in something even better.

    And again, the question is 'what is the trade-off'? What is it that the author is getting in return to giving up all sorts of useful tools?


    *EDIT: Nevermind. Nacht pretty much said everything I wanted to say.
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  19. Senator

    Senator Moderator

    Nacht, the point is that the existence of these other types of storytelling, in which the telling responds to the audience--or the audience does the telling--clearly indicate holes in the logic of the argument that the fundamental structure of storytelling is linear. Stories are not experienced either by their tellers or by their hearers as being closed off systems--they have alternative possibility spaces that both are keenly aware of.

    "Better" and "best" have no role in this sort of argument. The "best stories are linear" is not a defensible claim, at least not in the same frame of reference as the logical interrelations of forms.

    The issues you guys have been raising with CYOA stories is generally down to wanting those choices to resemble decisions made in games (and their outcomes). The whole point of my argument is that they aren't the same--so you shouldn't expect them to be similar.

    Dasick, I have read all or most of Keith's blog posts. I don't see a paradigm shift, but that's possibly because I'm not a videogamer. There's a lot of interesting stuff in his output, but there's also a lot of stuff that isn't necessarily very useful. This thing about plots is really just one of the latter.
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  20. Nachtfischer

    Nachtfischer Well-Known Member

    I guess what you are talking about, Senator, is e.g. this Pen & Paper RPG-type style, like Dungeons and Dragons? Wherein some dungeon master forms the story on the fly? I mean, those kinds of stories are not really what we're talking about (which again are carefully authored linear sequences of events), but anyways: I guess most people would agree, that the stories emerging from such systems aren't really on par with those in high quality movies or novels. (But let's assume they were. Then the problem WOULD not be fundamental anymore, but now we would basically need an AI on an intelletual level resembling a human being in something like Mass Effect to make it worthwhile? Highly unlikely.)

    Choices in stories are "not the same", because they actually have no place in them. What is CYOA if not the idea of putting the choices from games and the stories from novels together? The worst form is even called "gamebook".

    It really comes down to the guideline thing again, as Dasick put it. If you want to come close to creating a perfectly compelling and effective story, you shouldn't use an interactive environment. And if you want to make an optimal game, it shouldn't have a story.

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