Would you call Heroes of Might and Magic IV a great game ? It has great music, great story, and pretty good graphics (combat graphics are actually some of the best in the series, especially the Dragon. And the unicorn FINALLY doesn't walk like it has a hip implant. It actually runs.). It also has many good or at least interesting game mechanics. But it's mostly a single-player game, and its own developers call its AI 'lobotomized'.
There are exceptions to this, and I'm fond of games where the exposition is more carefully integrated into the game than just a series of cut-scenes. For me the System Shock 2 style of having much of the plot explained through items found in the environment is a device that is much better suited to games than the talking heads of a game like Mass Effect.
It's not a bad thing that we clearly like different things. Just... interesting.
A movie with good plot and good visuals is a classic.
A movie with good plot and bad visuals is a cult hit.
A movie with bad plot and good visuals is a blockbuster.
A movie with bad plot and bad visuals is a waste of fifteen million dollars.
I can think of a game with good mechanics and bad story, and it was shit: Fallout 3.
Fallout 3 doesn't have particularly good mechanics.
I think Fallout 3 is a really good game, although it has a sudden drop in fun at some point. But I wouldn't say the mechanics are particularly good, apart from VATS and some decent minigames. I wouldn't say they're bad, they don't detract from the game, but they're not the principal attraction, they just get the job done.
1) How you would even start to tell those stories in a book or film;
2) Why they would be better that way.
Because the world had this conversation when movies first turned up. People were like "why not just make them a book unless you're doing on-screen spectacle?". Then people realised that the two mediums have different pros and cons in terms of story-telling, and that saying one or other is the best medium for telling stories and the other shouldn't even try is now considered idiocy of the first order.
The same thing will happen with games, eventually. I've tried to explain why, he's another go:
The book and film of Sophie's Choice show you someone making an awful choice. They invite the reader/viewer to put themselves in her shoes and think about what they might do. But a game can force you to make that choice. If you don't understand the power in that trick (just one of the things you can do in games that no-one else can do) then you've never written a story in your life. The fact that you can also demonstrate the consequences in a branching fashion is secondary to the power as a writer you wield in terms of forcing that decision on to a player.
Like in The Walking Dead, there's a few decisions that people have claimed have 'no effect'. Like one character dies regardless, but you chose how they die. Does that affect the story? No. Does it affect you, the player? God yes.
It's simple shit really. It's the author grabbing the book off you and quizzing you on what you'd do before he lets you read the rest of the book. It sounds silly and insignificant. But if the point of art is to let people feel something or learn something about themselves, it's everything.
Also, given how sketchy digital sales numbers are at present ... and how much of PC sales depends on digital distribution ... I really don't know how much to trust those numbers. At the top, it says digital distribution doesn't count and for MMOs non-retail subscriptions don't count. Imagine how much of a difference that makes for games like Skyrim and World of Warcraft?
P.S. How are you deciding that a game is "about" gameplay? More to the point, what would you say is a game that isn't about "gameplay?" I can think of games that aren't about button pressing, cross-hair aiming, accurate timing, and sprite/model navigation ... but I struggle to think of games that aren't play focused. Mass Effect for example is play focused. It tried to make narrative a central mechanic of play, and tried to present narrative as an essential element ... but it's in no way abandoning gameplay in order to pursue story telling. Monkey Island is much loved for it's comedy and it's characters ... but it's still an experience of gameplay. It's not an experience that would have been fundamentally the same if rendered through other mediums.
Additionally, by way of example: Half-Life 2 is very much a game about shooting things. While I don't agree, I'll suppose you're right in that as an experience it might be about the Gordon Freeman story and the path of it's various other characters in approximately equal proportion to shooting things and having a rioting good time. But hopefully you see why I want to draw a line there--between the focus of the game and the focus of the experience. The developers might want you to care just as much about the characters as the pressing of buttons properly, but the mechanical incentive is quite clearly to shoot things really well.
I can see the case for ambiguity in things along the lines of The Crystal Key (the pain), things like the now-a-genre Hidden Object Games, things like fantasy gamebooks/CYOA books (is it a game with a lot of text and the ultimate pause button, or a book with optional sections?). But things like Mass Effect? Half-Life? These have ambiguous status as games to you? Please explain.
Could someone please explain why a developer being bad or even just less good at gameplay design compared to other aspects of design renders a developer's product a bad game? Or how they define gameplay such that it doesn't involve story, visuals, sound, or anything else the player directly experiences other than the control sequences? Or why the indirect aides to gameplay are somehow unimportant in the overall experience? Because I'm at a bit of a loss.
The Tetris thing was a joke. Please don't put words in my mouth. Stories are present in games in the simplest sense. "Why does this game play out this way instead of that way?" is an essential question of game design and it invariably frames the narrative that the game creates. Just because you might not be interested in the stories a game has to tell doesn't mean they don't exist.
It's not that a good story makes a game unequivocally good. But a good story can make an experience great even if some of the parts of that experience don't measure up by themselves--and this sort of experience can still be fundamentally and essentially gamey. Some of the all-around tightest works in any medium wouldn't quite work if one or more of the components were extracted. I can imagine Memento as a comic, but not as a game or a radio play. Cinematography isn't the strong-point of Memento ... but Memento is still fundamentally reliant on some very basic elements of cinema (the black-and-white vs. color discrepancy, the ability to jump instantly from one scene to the next without resetting the stage).
That's the crux of it for me. A good game uses the fundamentals of gaming as building blocks for a good experience. How well the various components are implemented matters to me as a critic, but as a player it is the integrated experience that I actually encounter and engage with. Maybe this scene would be boring and unimportant without the fictional setup ... but because of the fictional setup I enjoy the simplistic control scheme and the on-rails nature of the sequence--the payoff of which relies on the fundamentals of gaming whether or not it could also have been designed to rely on the fundamentals of another medium.
Let's try this. Sometimes the fictional setup of a game primes me as a player to enjoy things I wouldn't otherwise enjoy--maybe the mechanics are really simple, but they have interesting fictional consequences. If the story is effective in using the conceits of gaming, whether it could have effectively used conceits of other mediums isn't particularly important. The experience I am having is still a gaming experience as it makes use of fundamental gaming conceits; the fact that these conceits are merely means rather than an end doesn't change that nor does it matter if the story could be reformulated in another medium in a similarly effective way.
Just to make it clear - I don't have a problem with games having a narrative per-se, but when that narrative is both the focus and is as poorly written as it is in practically every game I have ever played then I have trouble understanding the attraction.
If a game tells a worthwhile story in a way that is is genuinely not possible in another medium then I think that is fantastic! But it is not representative of the current state of game stroy-telling.
And just to be clear, this is the bit in the OP that I agree with wholeheartedly:
I don't see the need to entirely do away with text (or exposition), but the issue is both the quality of the stories/writing and the total lack of imagination in how they're told (generally). My comment about going and reading a book isn't just to say that the story could be told better in book format (though it quite possibly could), but that you could go and read a good book instead of the tripe that passes as story in most story-focused games.Quote:
It’s just a waste of time. I’ve read a lot of science fiction. The science fiction in Mass Effect is not something I would consider even passable for a high school paper. It’s horrible. But if you put in a game then it’s praised for being so great. It’s especially so because in the context of video games, stories are fucking awful.
So attempting that is a worthless endeavor. Games are really fucking awesome. We can tell stories through entirely interactive ways, with no text.
3 posts. I think I might have got carried away there :)