Storytelling in games: How it should be done

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Good story, poor storytelling. Don’t worry, I’ll teach you the difference.

Games can now tell a story on par with your average film. Okay, that’s not saying much, but the medium has certainly come a long way since its humble roots. There is now a focus on delivering not only fun gameplay but also a deep and layered story. Sometimes the gameplay drives the game, its fun mechanics enticing gamers to play “just one more level.” Other times the story drives the game, its complex characters and plot drawing players in to play “until the next cutscene.”

Film writers are now getting in on the action. David S. Goyer, famous for helping write the Dark Knight trilogy and the latest Superman film Man of Steel, helped give the Call of Duty series a decent story in the two Black Ops installments. Book of Eli writer Gary Whitta is one of several people who brought the world of the Walking Dead to the video game world. And the list of screenwriters-turned-video game writers keeps growing.

This isn’t necessarily a good thing.

You see, video games are a relatively new medium. It feels like they’ve been around forever, but compared to movies, television, and books, they’re merely babies. As a new medium, it is still trying to find its place. Right now, there’s a large push to make games as cinematic as movies. Games mostly began life as a gameplay mechanic idea, as some sort of fun action. The story would come after and would serve mostly as a brief explanation as to why everything was happening. “Mario can jump and shoot fireballs and stuff, but why does he do it? Oh! He needs to save a princess!”

Things are changing. Now it’s much more common for a story to be written first and for the gameplay to revolve around the plot. This is much more similar to movies, where the story is king and the technology has to be built to accurately portray what the writer wants. “There’s a princess who’s captured by this monstrous beast, but as the hero searches the castle he’s told she’s not in that one. How does he save her? I guess he can jump really high and sometimes shoot fireballs.”

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Does THIS really need a deep story?

There’s a key difference there and it tends to show in most modern games.

That’s not to say story in games is bad. Not at all. Think of it this way: a game with 100 per cent gameplay and zero per cent story is still fun to play, but a game with zero per cent gameplay and 100 per cent story isn’t a game.

Games still have a fairly good balance right now between story and games. The real problem doesn’t lie in the equal distribution of story and gameplay but in the marriage of story and gameplay. Right now, most games represent a divorce where both parties still get along. One person is the gameplay. Everything is going smoothly, you’re playing your game, then BAM! The other person shows up and it’s their turn to talk. They just kind of awkwardly interrupt and won’t let the first person get a word in until they’re done. You have to sit there and watch the cutscene until they decide it’s okay for you to play your game again.

There’s a serious disconnect between what’s actual gameplay and what is essentially a movie. It can be jarring. Some games have found different ways of telling their story but the vast majority still rely on cutscenes. In games that aren’t heavy on text (hopefully anything past 1999), there are three common ways of telling the story. The first one has the most disconnect between gameplay and story while the third has the least. While none of them are perfect ways of telling the story (nor are any of them bad, by any means), they represent a logical evolution in how games can tell a story in a way far different from movies or television.

The cutscene or: Why is my game all of a sudden a movie?

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Biggest hint it’s a cutscene: better graphics and those damn black bars.

Everyone’s played that game. You know, the one where you’re bombarded with 10-minute cutscenes after every five minutes of gameplay. It’s a bit of an exaggeration with games like Metal Gear Solid 4 and the Uncharted series, but Max Payne 3 is really that bad. Regardless of hyperbole, it’s a bad situation when a game begins to feel more like an interactive movie. It becomes a film that requires the viewer to be marginally skilled at the minigames. Want to watch the next scene? Shoot all these bad guys.

As well, the idea of a pause button during cutscenes hasn’t yet occurred to anyone. For someone who’s following along but really needs to go to the bathroom either has to sacrifice a key scene or a perfectly good pair of pants. Even worse, lots of cutscenes mask loading times. For someone who doesn’t care about the story and is just going along and making up their own, this can be a pain because they have to sit there and hear the characters talk or watch them do cool things they could never do during gameplay.

It’s like the developers are saying, “Sure, Jim, you can play in our beautiful world. But you’ll have to watch this B-list movie at the same time.” This isn’t a problem when the story is compelling, but it feels like for every good story in a video game there are five bad ones. It makes you sit there and wonder why developers even bother sometimes. If they already have a surefire hit on their hands with the gameplay mechanics, why ruin it with a lame story and poor voice acting?

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Fool: you for wanting to play a game for its gameplay, apparently. It ain’t 1985 anymore.

Gamers are used to cutscenes to tell large chunks of the story. It’s something the audience has been conditioned to accept. That doesn’t mean it’s a good way of telling a story. We’re now at a point where most game developers realize they’d never make it in Hollywood so they stay in the game industry and practice their techniques here for 60 bucks a copy. The stories themselves have gotten exponentially better. Games like Alan Wake and The Last of Us tell amazing stories. They don’t tell them well, however.

The experience is disjointed. One minute you’re fighting deadly creatures, the next you’re watching a movie scene of your character finishing off said creatures. It’s not as big a problem when the gameplay itself it solid, but when playing the game sucks and the only thing stopping you from returning it is the story, then there’s something wrong with this picture. You’re watching a movie you can fail, a movie that can make you mad because it locks out the next scene until you complete a mundane task.

In these cases, wouldn’t the story be better told in movie for? These game makers are not taking advantage of the medium. They know their story is only worthy of a direct-to-DVD release at best, so they turn it into a dull game. The story will get praised because there isn’t as much greatness to compare it to in this particular medium, but in the end it isn’t a good game. Hell, it may even barely be considered a game.

And speaking of barely being a game…

The quick-time event or: Why is my movie all of a sudden a game?

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Just when you thought you were safe… BAM! Waggle your Wii remote.

The only thing worse than getting to a cutscene after an annoying and easy-to-fail gameplay sequence is that very cutscene allowing you to die. Yeah, what? Welcome to the world of quick-time events. First seen in Dragon’s Lair, popularized in Shenmue, and turned into a cancer of the gaming industry in Resident Evil 4, quick-time events allow players to perform daring and bold actions they’re incapable of doing during normal gameplay.

There are many kinds of quick-time events. Some are quite obvious in when they’re required. The God of War and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed games use them primarily as finishing moves for bosses and other tough enemies. The player is still in normal gameplay but the game takes control of the character briefly, showing some flashy moves while the player must quickly input certain button combinations or rotate control sticks. In addition, not every quick-time event is mandatory. In The Force Unleashed, quick-time events for non-boss enemies can be ignored, allowing you to finish them off in a traditional manner. In this case, the QTE merely speeds up the process of defeating them. It’s mandatory for bosses, but there usually isn’t a way to fully fail them. The boss may regain some health and the process starts over.

Then there is the unexpected QTE, most commonly seen in Resident Evil 4. These QTEs don’t have a lot of build-up and are commonly seen in actual cutscenes. Think you’re safe from dying so you munch on some popcorn? Better hope your fingers aren’t too buttery because you have to start pushing random buttons. Oh, and if you fail, have fun redoing that whole scene. This is the more annoying kind because not only do you have to always be prepared, even during cutscenes, but failure means repetition. It’s not the kind of failure where you can assess the situation and learn from it. It’s the kind where you just have to put up with the same cheesy dialogue and random controller actions.

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I have nothing clever to say. Screw this “game.”

Oh, and then there’s Heavy Rain. I can’t name any other modern game that consists entirely of QTEs. Dragon’s Lair did, but that was decades ago and it was an arcade game. This is from 2010 and it’s on the PlayStation 3. This isn’t even a real game. It’s a movie that offers slightly branching scenes and requires you to keep pressing the “play” button every few seconds. Except “play” might be “triangle,” or three rapid presses of “x,” or it could be shaking the whole damn controller.

This is not how you tell a story in video games. This game should have been a movie all along. The player has very little choice in what happens. They can barely explore, they can’t take things at their own pace, and they can’t even have a brand-new experience the next time they play. All they can do is press a button and hope it was the “succeed” button and not the “fail” button. But don’t feel bad if you press the “fail” button. That’s exactly what the developers did when they made this.

While the experience is slightly less disjointed due to blurring the lines between story and gameplay, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Except for Heavy Rain, which is arguably a step back, games with interactive cutscenes from time to time are taking better advantage of what the medium has to offer.

Now if only there was a way to tell a story through gameplay…

The uninterrupted gameplay or: They kept my game a game!

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Important scene but it’s all in-game. That’s how you do it.

Would you look at that, some games can remain games the whole way through. This is most common in first-person shooters (Half-Life 2) or more recent Western roleplaying games (SkyrimFallout 3). These games exemplify how a story can be told without dragging the player completely out of gameplay. Important conversations happen to and around the player as if the non-playable characters actually recognize you. To get to a new area the character actually has to travel there, whether on foot, by vehicle, or other means like teleportation. Here, there are no convenient cutscenes that do all the work for you.

It isn’t perfect. The first time a player experiences Half-Life 2, they’re probably amazed at the game world reacting around them as characters address them or include them in conversations. Soon the player realizes many of these events will occur regardless of where they are. Two NPCs talking to you in one corner of a room? You can stand in an opposite corner and everything will transpire as if you were right beside them. They’ll still turn to where they think you are and address you directly, even if you’re busy jumping on a desk in another area.

What’s great about this is you’re always in-game. There isn’t a sudden cutscene popping up or a QTE for you to get things done. Everything happens in-game, helping to maintain a consistent atmosphere. And how does the story pan out? Through conversations with characters, screens or monitors with video, or radio chatter. All of these things are in-game and can either be found or missed by the player. They can seek out the story or ignore it.

Final thoughts

This is the closest the medium has come to telling a story in a way movies or books can’t. The next steps in video game storytelling will be based on the few shortcomings of this method. Walk away from a character while he or she is speaking to you? Maybe they’ll call you out on your poor manners or they’ll follow you to continue speaking. Maybe they’ll yell from across the room. The next step is making the game world more reactive to the player’s actions and making the story less linear. The Walking Dead and even Black Ops 2 are small steps in the right direction in allowing player choice to influence the story, but the player can still only choose a certain action when the game itself chooses to let them do so.

The future of story-driven games needs to have less linear stories and more reactive game worlds. Technology’s evolution has given us more realistic graphics and animations, more people onscreen at once, and slightly more sophisticated artificial intelligence. So why can’t it give us better storytelling?

If games are part of a different medium, shouldn’t they tell a story in a unique way? It would be like if movies merely showed the text from a book on the screen. Sure, the screen is unique, but the overall experience has not evolved. That’s how the majority of games are. You can play in a different world and experience things you’ve never experienced before, but only in ways the developers let you.

It’s time to break the rules and make stories based on the player’s input more common. Scripted stories are fine too, but it’s time the script was made much less obvious. I’m tired of being told playtime is over and now it’s storytime. I want playtime and storytime to be one and the same.

I want the divorced couple to get back together and give me a reason why video game stories are completely different from other stories.

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66 Comments

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66 responses to “Storytelling in games: How it should be done

  1. This is why I love games that toy with storytelling ideas like Bastion; In which a storyteller narrates your actions while you play. .

    • Thanks for the comment! I’ve never played Bastion but I’ll have to look into it. I really like that idea of a narrator, and I’m glad you shared an example of a game that does it differently.

      I’m sure there are a ton of exams of unique storytelling in games that I missed since I tend to play the same types of games, so I certainly look forward to hearing more from people!

  2. I don’t play a lot of video games (I think the last one was a Star Wars game I played 3 hours straight to become a Jedi Knight), but I understand how hard it is to tell a story in a video game. After all, I’m a writer. Merging a complex story with something as simple as gameplay can’t be easy.

    • Ah, Star Wars games. Some of my favourite gaming memories come from those games.

      I imagine it must be very difficult to tell a story on its own. I’m not particularly good at fiction. It must be even more difficult telling a story in a brand new way. I don’t exactly blame game creators for relying on old techniques (cutscenes that are separate from gameplay), but we’ve seen a lot of progress in terms of interactive storytelling in a variety of game genres.

      I know I’m very excited to see what’s in store for game storytelling.

  3. Unfortunately, I don’t see the game companies doing much to increase replay value. If you don’t want to replay a game over and over, you have to keep buying new games. That’s one problem Nintendo had with the Wii. People would buy Wii Fit and keep playing Wii Sports and buy nothing else.

    Now that games have the memory capacity to implement variations in the cutscenes, I wish the game companies would bring back character selection like we had in the original Final Fantasy and in Dragon Warrior III. (Yeah, I like the old school RPG style.) Even though the story never changed, you could still play Final Fantasy repeatedly and have a new experience each time because your new group of characters necessitated a different strategy for everything.

    That died when cutscenes and more expansive stories were added.

  4. Favourite game ever??

    • My favourite game ever? Probably Star Wars Jedi Outcast. Great single player mode and I poured hours into its online mode when I was younger.

      And what’s yours?

      • Without doubt Zelda Ocarina of time. Loved that it took a while, the story, the imagination, all of it. The last game I got properly excited about was Fallout 3, I remember skipping a lot of lectures dedicating days to sessions on there!

  5. Batham: Arkham Asylum is another example of gameplay continuing as the story unfolds. There are more secrets to unlock which expand the world and backstory, but it is up to the player whether they want to check them out or not.
    The hope of the next generation games – at least from what I see – is to create open world, open story games, where there are more choices, and less of a linear plot, and multiple possibilities. The challenge for game makers is how different can those plots be when hundreds of hours are spent designing the game, and the game play within it? How many random events can be added within a reasonable, programmable world?
    Two other quick points: 1. Earlier games do have rich, cinematic stories i.e. Chronotrigger and Final Fantasy 6 – all without voice acting and super-real detail.
    2. Part of what makes the games Journey and Shadow of the Collosus spectacular is they have very sparse stories, and focus instead on a particular feeling and evoke a world. In other words, while I love stories, narrative may not be the only future for video games.

  6. My exact thoughts with ‘Last of Us’ – it’s forgotten how to be a game. I’m glad I am not alone in these thoughts.

    • I won’t lie, I really wish I had a PS3 just to play that game. I’m sure it’s still fun when you DO have control of your character.

      But it’s practically a movie. Again, why make a game without much gameplay?

      • Two things: Oh there’s gameplay alright, and you need to rent/borrow/buy/steal a PS3 to experience this game, especially after having written this.

        I found “The Last of Us” to be the best storytelling I’ve ever come across in a game. There’s plenty of tense, engaging, fun gameplay to keep you occupied, so it’s not lacking in that department. A little repetitive, sure, but never once did I feel like the gameplay was lacking in lieu of story, or vice versa.

        The cutscenes do well to further the action, develop the characters, and serve as almost a welcome break (the action in this game can be draining, sometimes). The real strength of this game lies in its characters. Through the little conversations that happen in gameplay, and the longer cutscenes, these become fully realized characters that you truly care about. It’s a story that made me actually panic that my AI sidekick was getting attacked. What would normally be seen as an annoyance and a elongated escort mission, turned into a companionship, and a story of survival. One that I was thoroughly upset to have finished (only because I wanted to keep playing).

        Find a way to give “The Last of Us” a go, because I’d love to hear your thoughts about its storytelling.

  7. I think we will have VR soon. Then we will literally be able to be in the game world. That would be totally fun don’t you think?

    • VR is a somewhat frightening idea, though I can’t say I’m not excited for it. As long as we know what’s real and what isn’t. Sort of like the Matrix.

      • If you’re into anime @ladysoket take a look at ‘Sword Art Online’, it’s all about a VR gaming world that removes the option for players to log out until they beat the entire game. Put me off my year-long lust for VR gaming to say the least, but a very interesting watch.

  8. It was interesting to read another perspective on cut scenes in video games because I for one am a big fan of them if done right. Metal Gear Solid 4 is one of my favourite games of all time and I didn’t actually play it. Before I got into gaming myself I would watch a friend of mine play on his Xbox and got totally immersed into the MGS4 story without having to touch the Xbox pad. Despite not playing the GAME the GAME was thoroughly enjoyable to me, if that makes sense? I guess it depends what you’re looking for from game play. MGS4 was almost like a film yet I don’t think that discredits it’s value as a game. I do agree that a lot of games get it wrong though, and your view on how Skyrim gets the in-play story right is right out of my head! Great read and has reminded me to find a friend with a Ps3 so I can give The Last Of Us a try! Thank you for posting.

    • Thanks for the comment! It’s interesting to hear of someone who watched a friend play a game yet still enjoy it as if they had played it themselves. I see what you mean about cinematic games and why we shouldn’t discredit their more film-like qualities. I loved the game Alan Wake a heck of a lot despite the fact it was a lot like MGS4: heavy on cutscenes to tell the story.

      I just get worried that more games in the future will focus far too much on cutscenes and not enough on actual gameplay. If story and gameplay are both plentiful and high in quality, however, I have no problem with that. It’s when one influences the other too much that’s troublesome.

      But again, that’s just what I think. I’m so glad people are commenting because I’m really curious what people have to say, whether they agree or disagree!

      • Thanks for replying.
        I feel like you’ve contradicted your main point of the whole post in this reply but I agree with what you’re saying about getting it right being the main concern. As for the future of gaming I believe there’s a lot more to come with variety of game play – QTE’s like Heavy Rain are relatively modern and were looked upon favourably by the players, (you’re the first person I’ve heard who didn’t enjoy it) BECAUSE it was something different. You can’t forget that gamers won’t just play one game and it’s nice to be able to switch between a variety of styles.
        You speak about games so generally when if you look at it from an RPG perspective for example, without a compelling story you’d have no reason to want to immerse yourself in that world. FPS lack the need for a story the most in terms of having a reason to play, but the reason the Halo series is so successful and Master Chief is so relatable is because of the story around the game play which puts it aside from the other shooters. It’s coined one of the best FPS for a reason and I believe that is it.
        I don’t think you should look at it as one ‘influencing’ the other because game play and story work together and every single game involves both.
        I usually wouldn’t comment on something I didn’t agree with but I felt you raised some interesting points and I’ve never heard a view like this before on story telling in games.

  9. rosesonwaters

    I like MGS and Silent Hill, games with detailed and good storyline. Personally feel that it is good to have a strong story in a game. though most importantly, give us the option to skip the cutscenes at a hit of the button. Win win situation for us all.

  10. One thing you’ve got wrong is your assertion that cutscenes are unpausable. Almost every game I’ve played since 2000 that had cutscenes enabled pausing in the middle of them. However, what some games still haven’t done is allow you to skip cutscenes and just get on with the game. It’s frustrating as all hell when you’re replaying a game whose story you don’t care about, but whose gameplay you love, when you can’t skip cutscenes.

    Otherwise a great article about this necessary balance of gameplay versus story.

    I personally loved the way Prince of Persia (the one with Elikah) handled (most) character development and world-building. The key scenes were cutscenes, but if you wanted to learn more about the characters or world you could, or you could just ignore the prompts and get on with jumping around and climbing on stuff.

    • derp Elika has no H on the end of it.

    • I must be unlucky with the games I normally play. Most of them don’t have pause buttons for cutscenes. I’m glad to hear most of your games allow you to pause though. I wish every game did this. In fact, I seem to have the opposite problem you do with games’ cutscenes: I can’t pause them but I can skip them. But skipping them only results in loading screens.

      I’ll have to try out Prince of Persia. The art style looks amazing and I heard it’s very fun, although a bit on the easier side. I don’t have a problem with that though. Thanks a whole ton for reading and commenting!

      • It’s the 2008 Prince of Persia. And yeah, it’s definitely pretty easy. I actually think the combat gets in the way of the game sometimes, but when you’re just roaming about and climbing on stuff it’s super fun (if you’re into that sort of game). It also has some amazing setpieces.

  11. Your point of view on storytelling in games really opened my eyes to this subject! How you went into detail, and explained elaborately with examples made me really like reading this post. Keep it up! 🙂

  12. I really enjoyed your post, very well thought out. I agree with a lot of it, but disagree that gaming should follow a certain path for storytelling.The thing I love about gaming is the diversity of how stories can be told because of the interactivity that can’t really be found in any other medium, and I would argue that games like Heavy Rain, in a way, could not be a movie because of the vast amounts of different endings that are possible (I heard a rumored 22).

    I also don’t have a problem with cut scenes, as long as they only progress the story, I also don’t like it when they use cut scenes to show off fancy moves that make you long to be able to do that in game. I think The Last of Us is an excellent example of how cut scenes should be used because most of them are only there to show better show off character relationships. TLoU also uses story elements through game play with Ellie constantly commenting on the environment around them, as well as with all the notes and detail that are placed throughout the game. I also believe that, if done correctly, game play and cut scenes can work really well together because together they can add a lot more immersion to the experience than a movie ever could.

    I guess my overall point is that I don’t think there is a need to pigeonhole how game’s story’s should be told, because I believe the beauty of games is there is a bit of everything for everyone. Personally, I enjoy cinematic games just as much as others with no elements of film involved at all. Just my thoughts, feel free to share how you feel about them.

    • I’d say your comment is worthy of its own blog post. That was very well said! I don’t hate cutscenes as long as there is ample gameplay to back them up. I just find a lot of games don’t take true advantage of the medium by telling a story in a way that only a game could do.

      I suppose Heavy Rain may be like that, since it’s not quite a movie. However, the label “video game” might not fit it either. Perhaps “interactive experience” or something like it?

      As long as these types of games make it clear they don’t contain the same kind of gameplay you’d normally expect out of a $60 game, then it’s fine by me. Different kinds of storytelling is fine as long as it doesn’t become a trend to move towards narrative over actual gameplay.

      • Yeah I see what your saying, personally, I really enjoyed Heavy Rain and Uncharted that focus more on story, but that’s just the way I am so I think we’re starting to get into subjectivity land at this point.

        I can completely understand what you mean though, I agree that gameplay should be at least fun and a huge part of games. Also, you might enjoy The Swapper, it came out recently, and I think you may like the way they told that story.

    • “I guess my overall point is that I don’t think there is a need to pigeonhole how game’s story’s should be told, because I believe the beauty of games is there is a bit of everything for everyone.”

      I’ll piggyback off this comment and add that games allow you to tell stories in ways you would never be able to with another medium. The great “Journey” comes to mind as a story that would have trouble getting traction in any other way. As is, it’s a pretty remarkable experience. Braid is another one that comes to mind. It is through your involvement and input that you can appreciate the way the story unfolds.

      I feel like these types of experiences are going to increase, because, like was said, the medium is very much so a fledgling one. With the increased support of indie games this last generation (and even more so with the next), I hope to see some real innovation, which hopefully carries over to the AAA titles as well.

      • I effing love Journey! It’s also crazy, and almost scary, to see the strides virtual reality has been taking lately, the Oculus Rift looks very promising.

  13. Half-life was the best … then again, it’s been a while since I played that kind of game. It was classic though & you make some good points.

  14. Pingback: Storytelling in games: How it should be done | The Becca Booger

  15. A well stated case, very nice. I think game story telling is very much genre dependant as some genre’s are far easier for allowing a good narrative then others. I think also there is a difference between story telling and immersion such as with “Skyrim” I very much enjoyed the story however I found the immersion very poor and once again I feel it is partly dependant on genre but also on the mechanics and therefore how you interact with the world as such I feel they are to an extent symbiotic in some cases. I very much agree with your point of gameplays vs mechanics. As gaming is an interactive form of media (more so then movies and music anyway) story shouldn’t come at the expense of gameplay mechanics, I acknowledge there might have to be some minor trade offs but there is a line. I do find quick time events and similar mechanics in most games to essentially indicate developers being lazy. I’m curious on views about the “game” “Dear Esther”? .

  16. I think the pattern of improving storytelling began way back – the original Half Life set new standards for in-game storytelling, including satirising cut scenes and uni-linear game play – that ‘On A Rail’ sequence. To me it was as big a step forward in FPS games as the orgiinal Doom had been over everything that went before, purely because of the storyline. But for a long time the game was quite unique because nobody else quite followed.

    Immortalised now with the Half-Life 2 engine and the ‘Black Mesa’ add-on.

  17. thronespartan

    Reblogged this on thronespartan.

  18. Lily in the Nova

    Wow, this was really interesting! The story has always been the main reason I would play a game, but I had never thought about the actual ‘telling’ of the story in this much depth before! Great analysis, this’ll keep me thinking for a while 🙂

  19. krazyslayer187

    I hate long cut-scenes that you can’t skip (especially if I already watched the scene first play-through) and I despise most QTEs.

  20. Great post! As a game developer, it is a challenge to balance story with gameplay. With some games, it is easy to get caught up in the story or vice versa.

  21. I totally get your point. I kind of miss the old games that have more gameplay and less cut-scenes because most games today are more like animated movies rather than a game. Still, I enjoy playing them.

  22. Interesting post
    I loved the Uncharted games but I see what you mean especially with regard to Uncharted 3. Too many times you were made to play through dull scenes that in a film may have been interesting but to a game player are boring. Is it any wonder that gamers return to simpler format games? Most likely because they are simpler. One of those simpler games was Mega-lo-mania on Sega Megadrive (Genesis for the North Americans) which I thought is one of the best games ever made along with Tie-Fighter, Streets of Rage, Sonic the Hedgehog, Golden Axe and Pro Evolution Soccer.
    I wrote a post on my memories with computer games in the 80s. I would be chuffed if you would take a look and comment on which ones you remember or if you remember different ones.
    http://lawrenceofcanadia.wordpress.com/2013/05/12/computer-games-of-the-eighties/

  23. Oh my god I’ve been saying this since cutscenes started. I am all for great storytelling, and I love me some adventure games and FPSes, but seriously….let me play the game already! Ok some old games don’t count like Indigo, but I think we can all find a happy medium that suits us. It is kind of why there are game genres in the first place. Some lend themselves to (not overused) cutscenes, while others should be left simple. Great storytelling doesn’t require the writers to show everything; they should be in charge of setting up the universe while the gamer navigates through it. It still requires a great story…just with more restraint and finesse.

  24. Oooh I have to add this. I think Bioshock Infinite does a great job of telling a story without taking away from the gameplay. But, I will admit that I am biased for Bioshock.

    • ataugustine

      I’m not biased for Bioshock, and I can agree with you. Bioshock was masterfully done in terms of storytelling.

      • You can tell tell the game was made specifically with the players in mind; it’s strange, but I don’t think all game providers and creators do that.

  25. The MGS series is legendary. Mass Effect, some of the older FF titles. Great stories

  26. ataugustine

    Wow, Brooks! This article was awesome, My blog (ctscribe.wordpress.com)is about exploring storytelling in all it’s different forms. I was going to save my video game post for a month from now, but after reading this I’m tempted to put it up next week. You’re absolutely right when you say these screenwriters heading to the video game industry is not necessarily a good thing. I don’t believe they understand the potential of Video Games as a storytelling medium. There’s something it can do that no other medium can, not music, books, television, movies, or theatre.

    Due to the interactive nature of Video Games, our investment of time and effort virtually guarantees that we will feel SOMETHING as we play. However, it still takes an artful presentation of characters, relationships, and plotting to give us an experience beyond those other mediums. Even though the cinematography and dialogue have exponentially improved over the years, very few games have managed to make us feel… I mean really feel in the way a good story should. The two greatest examples that come to mind [spoiler alert] are…

    The opening sequence of Max Payne, where you control Max as he walks through his house and witnesses the murder of his wife and infant child.

    The iconic and heart wrenching death of Aeris in Final Fantasy VII. In response droves of fans sent angry letters to Square Enix (then Squaresoft) to which they responded with a simple “Good.”

    Very few games seem to achieve this to this day, that perfect storm of good circumstances, good player investment due to interactivity, good graphics (for the time), good story, and other factors. I’m going to shut up now before I post my whole article here. I guess that’s how much you inspired me to write, Brooks.

  27. Enjoyable article. Have you ever played Deus Ex by the way? It’s getting on a bit now, but that has to be the best example of a story that’s told through the gameplay. Best dialogue of any shooting game too…

  28. well,i do believe that storyline is very important in nowadays games n specially RPG games..for me i nearly can’t play a game with no good story! and i guess AC series got a very impressive collection of stories.

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  30. Pingback: Storytelling in games: How it should be done | Ben Arnold's blog

  31. one problem I have with film writers getting into the video game industry is the fact that, over the last few years or so, Hollywood has stopped having original ideas. if the movie isn’t a remake, it is based on a book or a comic. it is like film makers have lost their originality.
    I know gary whitta wrote episode 4 of the walking dead, but, again, he is writing for an established comic and not writing something original, and episode 4 was the weakest of the series. my point? maybe video games (a rising star in the entertainment industry) shouldn’t go looking to Hollywood (a stagnant pool of originality right now) for better written stories. I think they’re doing fine on their own. nice post.

  32. “The future of story-driven games needs to have less linear stories and more reactive game worlds.”

    I definitely agree. This is one of the reasons why I love MMOs so much– typically there is a lot more variety in content. I’m one of those MMO players who is not focused on end-game content because I think it makes the storyline too linear. I prefer to enjoy the journey, not the destination. 🙂

  33. CFB

    Reblogged this on Commerce & Arts and commented:
    Storytelling in the gaming world —

  34. I’d only casually played my boyfriend’s PS but I became totally hooked on Red Dead Redemption. The story line was amazing and at the end I was genuinely left really angry (in a good way!). The GTA’s also have great story lines. It’s funny when you see people analysing the themes in them.

  35. You have a very good point, man. Now, I do belive you are being a bit too harsh on a, lets call it “formula”, that is still evolving. It’s not easy to leave cinematics behind nor adapt them fully to go fluid with the gameplay. Remember that cutscenes are ment to give a visual strong impact that catches the player’s atention, as well as giving a better understanding of the story.

    Skyrim, Fallout 3 and Half Life 2 did make a really good job in that matter, I loved those games. But I noticed a slight problem with the narrative in them. The player’s character lacked explaining as such, deepness, description. Sure, they told you where you were from and what you were doing the moment before the storyline began, but nothing else. Bottom line, you feel like a random guy who just got dropped somehwere and decided to save the world, all in a time lapse of 10 minutes.

    The ones who “managed” to correct this problem where the guys from Bioware with Mass Effect, where you would actually build your character’s past life, limited as it was.

    Don’t get me wrong, there ARE lots of games where you either pay attention to the story or sink yourself into the gameplay because If you try to follow both, you’ll go nuts and smash the controller against the wall. The original Call Of Duty series has this problem. They try to explain you stuff while you dondge bullets, rockets, tanks, robble coming down, granades and shoot people just to make it pass the block. ” Oh, you busy? Doesn’t matter, let me explain you the complex political events that led this situation to happen and how they will develop. Watch out for that chopper while you’re at it”.

    My point is: Have a little faith on the game industry and their capacity to evolve. Even though the formula has led to an ongodly amount of failures, there are some sucessfull outcomes here and there.

  36. Absolutely wonderful article. 5 stars.

  37. Reblogged this on Cybersmart ISP and commented:
    Loving the Gaming world

  38. Great article. My husband and I usually have very different taste. He has been obsessed with The Last of Us since it came out and I am sadly not a fan at all. The reason I play games is to have fun killing fake things or solving puzzles. If I wanted to watch a movie, I wouldn’t be playing a game. Some cut scenes are certainly great and can add to a game, but overall they are getting worse and worse. The Uncharted games are some of my favorites and I was sadly surprised with Naughty Dog when they released The Last of Us. My husband would talk me into oblivion about how wrong I am but to me it is relying on everything BUT gameplay. I felt the same kind of frustration not being able to skip the cutscene before the final boss in the first Dead Space (“Yes, I would just love to watch this over and over after every single time I die.”)

  39. liamnolan

    I whole heartedly agree. Forced cinematic cut scenes have always felt to me like the game makers saying “I get that you’re too stupid to sit down for two seconds and watch, so you don’t get a choice. This is now a movie.” Way too many have even taken out the skip button that was present in so many early cut scene heavy games. The sixteenth time you have to watch a cut scene after dying to a particularly powerful boss, you really just want to snap your disc right in half.

  40. I do like games that gives importance to stories first.

  41. Different people, different opinions. I play Mass Effects, just for the great story along with the game. A game without a story is nothing like shooting bad guys until you get killed/tired. But the fun parts begin when stories come along. Like Mass Effects, the story changes according to the decisions you make on the game play.
    Your biggest complaint is that to watch the cut scenes, man you can skip it by pressing a key in most of the games. But, those are the things which make game colorful.

  42. Pingback: The Next Great Storytelling Medium | Crown Town Scribe

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