When Stories in Games Work

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

  1. Dasick

    Dasick Well-Known Member

    If you want to tell a good story, you better practice and iterate it a whole ton. In order to iterate a story, you need to nail it down while you tweak certain variables and such. Do you want to argue that something DM pulls out of his ass on the spot can compare to something a writer has been toiling over for years? Maybe, if the DM is a master storyteller who has solved storytelling, and the author is completely incompetent. The same way someone with better tools and more time to prepare and test stuff out is not guaranteed to build a better product, but it's certainly a huge advantage. Whatever story you want to tell, if you want it to have a profound impact on your audience, your best bet is to practice and iterate.

    'Best' and 'better' certainly do have a place in this conversation. After all, the argument is - stories and games should be separated is because you can build a better game or tell a better story by keeping them separate.

    The ability to create or edit the story doesn't change the audience experience of being told a linear list of events, with 0 chance to alter anything at all. The storyteller might adjust the story based on the reaction of the audience, but that's not the same thing as deciding if you're going bio or mech in starcraft. This kind of 'input' you're giving to the storyteller might not even be conscious ("yeah, I'm not gonna laugh at this joke because I want this guy to tell something different" - whoever thinks like that is missing the point of listening to a story. you either laugh at a joke because it managed to get a response out of you, or you don't because it failed). Stories work through a passive audience (being told a sequence of events), and games work through an active audience (interacting with a set of rules).

    I guess if you really don't like the whole 'linear/non-linear' definition, you could call it 'interactive/non-interactive' and all of my/Keith's points still apply.
  2. Senator

    Senator Moderator

    I think you need to stick with "I believe that interactive stories suck. If you think the same way, you should not make them, and you should not try to mix games with any story at all. If you make such a game, I will think that it sucks more than it would have if you had left the story out." Because that is the only valid form of the arguments that you're making here. My uberpoint all along has been that it is not useful to pretend that this has anything to do with logic and fundamental forms, and admit that it's about preferences. Make the argument that way, and you may find that the argument at least makes some converts--or would you? But nothing will piss people off more than finding that what you really mean with all the talk of the nature of stories and such is that you just don't like the kinds of things they like.

    But I still think you'd be better to avoid sweeping statements about what makes "good" stories and instead talk about the sorts of problems that actually have some traction that isn't based on personal preference, things like the fact that it's extremely difficult to incorporate Games into stories without fracturing the user interface, or that the relationship between information and decision is very different for stories than it is for Games.
    vivafringe likes this.
  3. Dasick

    Dasick Well-Known Member

    Saying that story-games suck is a useless statement. I'm trying to explain why I feel that way, because I think that talking about things is much better than going around a circle saying that 'i like X' or 'i don't like X'. In my experience, that doesn't lead to informative, thought-provoking discussions.

    I don't have some sort of a grudge against story-games. I think they're a bad idea because all of the available methods to join the two take away a whole bunch of tools from the author, very basic tools that any storytelling medium, be it oral tradition or one of the younger ones, has to work with, their bread and butter. And they restrict the depth a game has because of the need to account for the 'choices'. Sure, technology and physical components and controls limit the kinds of games we can do, but it's been proven, repeatedly, that even working under these confines games of incredible depth can be made. Every existing story-game proves my point. There's not a single story-game in existence that avoids these problems, and there is currently no solution to these problems. This to me suggests that if every single story-game has these problems, perhaps it's something inherent to the medium.

    I also fail to see what they give back, if anything at all, but that's the more subjective part. Even then, discussion is certainly possible. Like, if pushing X to make a character do something really evokes something special from the audience, how is that different from pressing Pause and Play on a DVD player? Where is that line and why does it have any sort of effect in the first place? Why does it have effect on some people and not others? etc etc
    keithburgun likes this.
  4. vivafringe

    vivafringe Well-Known Member Staff Member

    It's okay to try to explain why you feel that way. But it shouldn't be construed as "logic." It's just trying to elucidate your preferences so that I understand them better.
  5. Dasick

    Dasick Well-Known Member

    so it's bad to use logic to explain things?
  6. keithburgun

    keithburgun Administrator, Lead Designer Staff Member

    Other people already said most of the good replies, but I would like to say that right now this is what we have going on:

    - Group 1, that is making a positive claim about how it is when you combine story and interactivity, and a positive claim

    - Group 2, that disagrees, and is either being dismissive ("you can't make such an argument"), other meta-conversation stuff, OR making some side arguments that don't directly approach the argument of Group 1

    This latter group needs to focus on attacking the positive claim being made. Totally drop the "preferences" crap, which could JUST as easily be leveled at them (probably far easier). Like, it's to Nacht, Dasick, Blox etc's credit that they have never accused you guys of something like "oh, you guys just like Mass Effect and you're all swept up by the romance of the spectacle and are making excuses", yet you guys seem very comfortable repeatedly using this cheap tactic.

    Really it's almost like an ad-hominem. "Oh, he just dislikes X. Therefore, we can just ignore his argument."

    The prevalence of something historically has ZERO weight in deciding if we should do it in the future. We used to do a lot of very, very bad things. All games and stories used to just be folk traditions, but once we move into the "specialists" phase, we can start doing things better.

    Also, story is still linear, and still works the same way, whether or not it's being improvised. Like, plot arcs, timing, value changes all function the same way on a listener. It's just that an author who is allowed to really plan his stuff will be able to do it BETTER than someone making stuff up as they go. Is this really such a hard thing to address in this conversation?

    Disagree with this too. Actually, if the viewers don't know the rules of the universe that characters are operating in, it's extremely lame. A good example is "magic", and how in order to ever do magic well on-screen, it has to be VERY tightly limited. If we don't know what the antagonist is capable of at all, then there's no tension.
    Nachtfischer likes this.
  7. blox

    blox Administrator Staff Member

    Stories have no alternative possibility space except when they are being written (which is the same thing as being improvised, like oral storytelling or a DM changing things on the fly). Just like how there's a difference between designing a game and a designed game, there is a difference between writing a story and a written story. When we talk about "a story already having been told" and "a game not having yet begun", we are talking about the finished product of both systems.

    What you referred to as "a game not having yet begun" is really just the non-linear idea of a game in general. Within that, there are various levels of unfinished matches where previous moves are linear but the rest of the match is not, and then also the linear state of a completed match (like your linear notation of a chess match). But a completed match is only one of several ways to talk about a game. Whereas it's the only way to talk about a story. Changing your linear notation would produce a different match within the game of chess. If you change a story, it's not the same story with a different outcome or something, it's a new story.
    keithburgun likes this.
  8. vivafringe

    vivafringe Well-Known Member Staff Member

    Keith, the problem is I don't see a logical argument. If you had presented one, I could try to refute it. But Dasick's thing is just a nice story about how story and games might interact. You might as well replace "linear" with "elves." There's nothing there to convince me he is right. So yes, it's quite valid to accuse you guys of falsely using the term "logic" to mask your personal preferences.

    To repeat my request from earlier, please state your assumptions and give me a step by step walkthrough of how your conclusion follows from the premises.
  9. Dasick

    Dasick Well-Known Member

    It's not how they MIGHT interact. It's how they interact in every single story game. To disprove that claim you only have to bring up one example.

    1. games are interactive
    2. stories are non-interactive
    3. the two don't work well together because of that

    Here is the sub of point 3 for both games and stories

    1. Stories abuse their context for depth and impact (scene X sets up scene Y sets up scene Z etc etc. MEGA COMBO)
    2. Interactivity means scenes can be experienced without proper context (ie, scene Z before scene X makes no sense)
    3. Therefore, interactive stories lose opportunity for depth and impact

    1. Creating story nodes (gamestates) is hard/expensive
    2. To have a deep game you need a lot of nodes
    3. A story-game loses opportunity to be a deep game

    Viva, your original point was that the above points don't whether they're true or not, because there's something you're getting out of the combination, the illusion of choice. Where is the line between choosing to save rachni and choosing to play a DVD movie in Spanish? Or one of those movies that comes with a director's cut/ theatrical cut and alternative endings.
  10. EnDevero

    EnDevero Well-Known Member

    Haha I love that. A good story is like a good combo!
    Dasick likes this.
  11. keithburgun

    keithburgun Administrator, Lead Designer Staff Member

  12. Dasick

    Dasick Well-Known Member

  13. Nachtfischer

    Nachtfischer Well-Known Member

    Wow, I don't know what's worse. This or the recent comment on Keith's blog, saying: "If I have two games, and one is superior aesthetically, then it is fucking better. No mechanical or logical analysis required!"

    Btw, the best comment on the article I read yet was one not even addressing it directly: "I think there could be made strong points against the article, but I only see bile and off-the-mark insani"
    Well, and one on reddit/ludology. Seems like people there are vastly more mature than elsewhere?
    keithburgun likes this.
  14. keithburgun

    keithburgun Administrator, Lead Designer Staff Member

    I actually had to ban the hell out of that guy. Between the two comments he left on my page that were SUPER abusive, dismissive, and mean (not to mention really, really awful in the arguments department), I also looked at his comment history and he's like trash-talking feminism and basically just abusive to everyone. Also I found his blog where he apparently regularly just trashes everything I do. http://causticvg.blogspot.com/2013/06/bullshit-alert-system-of-forms.html

    That game made 500K on kickstarter? *Cry*
    Dasick and Nachtfischer like this.
  15. Nachtfischer

    Nachtfischer Well-Known Member

    It also strikes me, this pkt-zer0 guy is a slightly more intelligent version of a troll.

    Oh and this Caustic-whatever from the blog's comments is even worse. He will surely try to post another comment/blogpost about how fucking stupid it is to seriously talk about anything and how his comments got deleted just because they didn't agree.

    EDIT: After having read most comments on the article: We probably shouldn't have gone with "story" and "game". Peope get really hung up on the mere words. If we just invented compeltely new words, there would be far more agreement, it seems to me... or at least (more) worthwhile discussion!
    keithburgun likes this.
  16. Dasick

    Dasick Well-Known Member

    English language is a mess. To avoid this kind of vocabulary bickering we'd need to invent a new language or move the conversation to a language that is not retarded.

    On the other hand, specialized jargon using normal everyday words exists for every field but once you try to make some for games people flip out. Like, what does the definition of 'normal' in geometry (an imaginary line that would connect at 90 degree angle with the line/plane/whatever) to the normal definition which essentially means 'within the bounds of expected values'? What about the difference between precision and accuracy in physics that no one outside physics cares about? Ridiculous.

    There's already terminology evolved, sort of. There are sandbox games (toys), and strategy games (games) but the rest makes no sense.
    Nachtfischer likes this.
  17. keithburgun

    keithburgun Administrator, Lead Designer Staff Member

    The fact that we don't have clear words for stuff is THE biggest problem. Even trying to construct better language is near impossible because we don't have the language to even do that.

    We kind of just have to wait for better language to evolve. I am doing my best to point the evolution in a direction I think is productive, but no one can force it.
  18. Nachtfischer

    Nachtfischer Well-Known Member

    Funny how some people bring up Amnesia as the "definitive story game" or something. The developers actually think about narrative pretty much exactly the way the article describes.

    Edit: Btw, how does one get the idea the fear in Amnesia has anything do to with the story? I don't understand that. It's purely mechanical. The story is weird gibberish layered on top. Look at all those recent Slenderman games, they work exactly the same way in frightening people and don't even pretend to include a story of any kind.
    keithburgun and blox like this.
  19. blox

    blox Administrator Staff Member

    I think this writer comes to a lot of bullshit conclusions but at the same time, he's taking a surprisingly big stab at understanding it.
  20. Nachtfischer

    Nachtfischer Well-Known Member

    Yeah, he seems to take the Jon Blow route of analyzing the problem well and then laying out pretty weird consequences.

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