Posts Tagged ‘narrative’

How multiplayer makes Divinity: Original Sin 2’s singleplayer great

mech_dos2_1

This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites developers to discuss the inner workings of their games. This time, Divinity: Original Sin 2 [official site].

It’s the holy grail for RPGs, right, that perfect mix of a strong story and freedom to do what you want. But if players can do anything, how do you tell them a story in the right order and without bits missing? What if they kill some plot-important character or sell the magical thing that does the special thing?

Quite a few RPGs do a good job! Planescape: Torment, for one, presents a fantastically dense and interwoven set of characters and scenarios which you can approach in many different ways. But Divinity: Original Sin 2 goes a step beyond, telling a clear story and allowing – even encouraging – you to do all kinds of dumb things, all without completely breaking. How does it succeed? Well, through a feature that you’d never think is related.

THE MECHANIC: Multiplayer

Very mild spoilers follow, but nothing actually spoiling, promise. Read the rest of this entry »

How Tacoma tells a non-linear story with ghosts

tacoma_mech_1

This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites developers to discuss the inner workings of their games. This time, Tacoma [official site].

Fullbright is running out of things to steal from the Shock series. “Like, we made a game that is basically about audio diaries for Gone Home, and now we’ve made a game that’s basically about the ghost sequences in System Shock 2 and BioShock with Tacoma,” co-founder Steve Gaynor tells me. “We’re running out of things to rip! What are we doing next?”

He’s laughing about it, but it’s only half true, since Tacoma is really about taking audio diaries and making them into a game. You don’t find and passively listen to them, you’re an active observer of augmented reality recordings of the crew members of a now-deserted space station. The distinction makes a huge difference, and had a profound effect on the way Tacoma’s story was written, because it posed complex puzzles of fitting dialogue and direction into both space and time. All because in Tacoma you can:

THE MECHANIC: Pause, fast-forward and rewind ghosts Read the rest of this entry »

How Little Choices Make Sorcery! Feel Epic

This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites developers to discuss the inner workings of their games. This time, Sorcery! [official site].

From Warlock of Firetop Mountain on I was pretty much obsessed with the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. Of course I was: they presented richly drawn fantasies in which I could play a part, my imagination spinning on their words and illustrations. (My favourite illustrator? Obviously Russ Nicholson.) Inkle’s Sorcery! series, four text-based games adapted from Fighting Fantasy co-creator Steve Jackson’s original gamebooks, capture all that made Fighting Fantasy special and add a magical extra: the dynamism of videogames.

In fact, Sorcery! often feels more dynamic and alive than videogames. As you progress through the books, your adventure keeps getting richer, the world more responsive to your passage. It’s partly down to the increasing freedom you have to explore, but more, it’s because each book is filled with choices that feel like they have consequence; that the game is watching and remembers your every move. Sorcery! is fluid and feels player-directed, and yet it’s strongly authored. It’s like Steve Jackson is writing it for you as you play, reacting to your every action.

There’s no AI here, though. Sorcery!’s magic is down to a system that’s far simpler, but yet results in at least as much intricacy. This fantasy epic is actually just a lot of:

THE MECHANIC: Little choices

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How Virginia’s Cinematic Editing Works

This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites developers to discuss the inner workings of their games. This time, Virginia [official site].

Virginia is a new game from studio Variable State about two FBI agents investigating the disappearance of a child. But its story is less about that mystery than it is about the lines you draw between the fragmentary events, images, locations and characters you witness, as well as lines you draw towards things you sense you haven’t.

Like Brendan Chung’s Thirty Flights of Loving, Virginia tells its story through a technique that’s absolutely native and everyday to filmmaking but it’s novel to games, at least outside of cutscenes. Games are meant to be unbroken realtime, right? And yet powerful and subtle dramatic effects are possible through:

THE MECHANIC: Cutting

(Light spoilers and references to events in the game naturally follow.)

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How RimWorld Generates Great Stories

This is the final conflict that ended my colony, Henry's Indolence. Read on for the story of how it fell to ruin. (Spoilers: it was kind of Henry's fault.)

This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites developers to discuss the inner workings of their games. This time, RimWorld [official site].

Every player will have stories of their RimWorld colonists. Dramas set amid cabin fever, raider attacks, depressing decor, infected limbs, cannibalism and bloodthirsty local fauna. Personal dramas, tales of threat and victory, of small things and large things, tragedy and comedy. This colony-building game is designed very specifically to generate such stories. But while it feels as if they arise from deep simulation, all watched over by an AI, they’re actually the result of something both more powerful and simple. RimWorld tells great stories because it uses:

THE MECHANIC: Apophenia

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Garriott Says We’ve Not Mastered Storytelling

He's lived on the moon.

Interviewed in the latest episode of Game Theory with Scott Steinberg (below), Lord Richard Garriott of Britain explains that as far as game narratives may have come, be believes they’re still falling far short of those in books and films. He says,

“I don’t think we’ve yet mastered the techniques of true interactive storytelling.”

You can see the full interview, along with contributions from Charles Cecil, Jane Jenson, Bob Bates and others, in the third episode of this new series, this time focusing on game narrative. Oh, and I have a little rant, too.

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Gore Verbinski: Not Useless After All

Look upon my pixel-shaded facial pockmarks ye mighty, and despair

Though the internet gave the director of the increasingly turgid Pirates of the Caribbean movies a gentle roasting for his infamous “You must possess some madness” advice to gamingdom, it rather seems as though he’s thinking along potentially exciting lines for his own flashing pixel endeavour. (Pirates of the Carribbean Online, pictured above, is not it. But hey, you make your bed, you lie in it.) Read on for Gore’s thoughts on “anti-narrative.” Not a pretty phrase, but his intentions sound better.
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A Word Is Worth A Thousand Pictures

This wordthink originally appeared in the Escapist. It’s an exercise in tackling the graphics vs narrative argument, which perhaps occasionally lapses into cliche. As you’ll see as you read through, I don’t necessarily agree with all my arguments – it was written in an attempt to create a thesis which would generate opposing antitheses. Together, we can reach synthesis. Discuss.

Booker's front cover

A Word Is Worth A Thousand Pictures

“It is a curious characteristic of our modern civilization that, whereas we are prepared to devote untold physical and mental resources to reaching out into the furthest reaches of the galaxy, or to delve into the most delicate mysteries of the atom… one of the greatest and most important mysteries is lying so close beneath our noses that we scarcely even recognize it to be a mystery at all. At any given moment… hundreds of millions of people will be engaged [in] one of those strange sequences of mental images which we call a story.” – Christopher Booker, The Seven Basic Plots

Narrative is our link to the universe.

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Hooray For The Writer’s Strike?


COD4’s Captain Price. Everything a real man should be.

Protesting writers may be dragging the US movie and TV industries to an embarrassing halt at the moment, but ever-terse entertainment industy rag Variety (via Eurogamer) reckons distressed wordsmiths may turn to videogames to fill their increasingly empty coffers.

Having slaved through more atrociously-written games than I can remember, that’s potentially very exciting. While a disdainful look at the last few months of similarly atrociously-written Hollywood blockbusters (Die Hard 4.0’s “send all the gas!” lunacy kept me chuckling for months) suggests that this won’t lead to an influx of Bioshock and Planescape beaters, having professional writers attached to games is surely a step up from getting That Quiet Guy In The Office Who’s Good At Apostrophes to do it. The idea of TV writers coming over is particularly exciting – there’s been some incredible US genre telly of late. Read the rest of this entry »

GCDC: Stories Vs. Games

GCDC provides another interesting debate, this time on the subject of story in games. Specifically, that games shouldn’t even try to make them more complex, as they’re simply no good at it. Say the writers of stories in games.

Find her. Save her.

Bethesda’s Ken Rolston and adventure veteran (and man responsible for the frattish Spellcasting series in the early 90s), Bob Bates, both agreed that, “our inability to pay off on all the choices that there should be available. It’s so difficult to make a genuinely complex dramatic choice,” in the words of Rolston. Which is, essentially, an argument against non-linearity in games. Which I strongly argue is a good thing.

In the world of storytelling, non-linearity has only ever existed as a novelty, perhaps a choose-your-own-adventure, or idiotic stunt on the BBC to let viewers call in and “decide” what happens next. But books, television and film have always survived rather well without letting the consumer dictate the story for them. Frankly, if you’ve got a story worth telling, the last thing you should be doing is letting anyone else get in the way. Games find themselves in a more awkward position, as progression becomes rather dependent on the player interacting in some way. And for most elements of a game, from killing to constructing, this interaction is necessary. But leave the story in the hands of the storyteller.

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