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October 10th, 2010, 05:07 AM
So I've been thinking a bit lately about how stories are told in video games (I'm a PC gamer in particular), and about the quality, immersion and enjoyment of these stories. I've not played any of the classics that are constantly referenced - like Zelda, for example - but I've been gaming since around 2003, and I've had a fair bit of experience with games since then.

I was wondering if anyone would like to discuss theirexperience with games as stories - not the gameplay or the graphics, but the tale being woven. I don't just mean stories you've enjoyed, but also stories that stuck out as being particularly corny or poor. Also, on a more general level, what do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of video games as storytelling? Obviously, games don't exist purely for storytelling, so some narrative elements may suffer in favor of gameplay - but others may not, or may be enhanced.

One of my personal favourite gaming studios is Bioware (I've played their Mass Effect, Dragon Age: Origins, Jade Empire, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic). These are heavily RPG games; of course most of the interactive gaming is combat, but I find Bioware games have a comparatively heavy emphasis on dialogue and storytelling. The storylines are branching, but sometimes I felt that the branching was illusional - in effect, the story remains the same regardless of how you play, with a few key points being different here and there (especially with regards to the ending).

All in all, however, I've always found Bioware games to have among the best stories I've experienced in video games, and most of them are, I find, Hollywood-quality (I enjoyed the story of Mass Effect or Dragon Age more than the story of most comparable sci-fi or fantasy films). However, as far as narrative goes, I think that Bioware sticks closest to traditional closed stories - the choices in the games aren't freedom so much as determining what kind of movie you want to watch. Another point that sticks out is that Bioware makes (comparatively) interesting characters, and obviously spend quite a bit of time developping them. I'm anxiously looking forward to their next games, and fondly remember the playthroughs I had in their previous titles (I generally only play through once or twice, though).

I compare this with games like Bethesda's Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, or Fallout 3, which seem, to me, to place less emphasis on a great story (though the Fallout 3 story is certainly enjoyable), and more emphasis on some of the narrative aspects that games, in my opinion, do better than film or books: immersion, and freedom. A lot of what you can do in Fallout 3 (to pick my preferred of the two titles) is narratively inconsequential - stealing from people or saving them from dehydration by handing over some clean water, listening to recordings from before the nuclear holocaust, listening to the radio and simply wandering the Capital Wasteland - but all the little details and inconsequential things add up to build a powerful atmosphere and a sense of really being a rag-wearing, gun-toting survivor in the post-apocalyptic 23rd Century.

That's what I like about these open-world, sandbox-games - they don't do the whole characters-and-plot story quite as well (though Fallout 3 does it well enough, I'd say), but they do something that movies and books can't do nearly as well, by creating an atmosphere and immersive world you can explore on your own terms, which makes it feel all the more real.

I could talk more about games I've played and liked, but I'd like to hear from others first - what games have you played, where the story has entertained you more than any other? What are the differences in the narratives spun by games and by books or films? What are some really, really crappy stories out there in the gaming world? :p

October 10th, 2010, 11:33 AM
RPGs lean naturally towards storytelling. The game that really sticks out to me in the storytelling department because it just seemed leagues ahead of the games that I was familiar with before in the storytelling department would be the U.S. Final Fantasy II. The storytelling used in those classic Square Soft games became repetitive over time and you realize it's still low quality in comparison to other mediums if you look at the movie flop Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within which was basically written following the same formula as the video games. The stilted dialogue and predictable plot could be overlooked in a video game but not the movie. On the other hand there is Betrayal at Krondor which is FAR better as a video game than a book. Conversion doesn't seem to work well. Some other games of note when it comes to storytelling: Planescape: Torment, another RPG with an excellent story. It's more story than video game. Secret of Mana. The Longest Journey, an adventure game, that's basically a story with puzzles. In many cases I think the puzzles detract from the experience. The Last Express, another adventure game, a personal favorite and grossly overlooked gem. Very different kind of story from what one usually gets from video games, more what you'd expect from a movie. Ninja Gaiden is an example of an action game with cinematic cuts between levels that I found interesting.

Really crappy video game stories had none to begin with, are really forgettable, or belong to games that had promise but fell apart at the end. Final Fantasy 8 is an example of the last. Star Wars: KOTOR II didn't stumble as badly but was noticeably rushed towards the end.

October 11th, 2010, 07:54 AM
The Spirits Within didn't highlight the weakness of FF storylines, it was a 2 hour piece of crap where they did nothing but shun the story elements that make the games great.

I've played so many version of Final Fantasy 2/IV I have it pretty well memorized. It's not the greatest story (it does have my favourite cast of characters ever in a video game) but it's very enjoyable and at the time it came out it was absolutely groundbreaking.

FF 3/VI has the most ambitious storyline in the series (well granted,I haven't played some of the newer ones but from what I hear this claim still holds water). There's no TRUE main MAIN character and the whole cast is given a pretty decent turn in the spotlight and talk about groundbreaking, I wish I could go back in time and play that game without knowing about the Land of Ruin. Stupid Nintendo Power.

Really I think it's a mistake to dismiss linear storylines in video games. There's absolutely nothing wrong with a linear storyline if it's a GOOD linear storyline.

Great stories aren't the sole province of RPG's though. Metal Gear Solid and God of War are the first two examples that spring to mind of action games with great stories. MGS "reads" like a weird hybrid of the tactical espionage action promised in the title, hard-bitten war story and bizarre sci-fi elements with some over the top anime staples thrown in for good measure.

God of War is as linear as you can get, is mostly about just one character but damn what a story. Proof that there's more to video game storytelling than what the characters say and the plot.

I want to mention the Resident Evil games too. Video games are a terrific medium for horror storytelling. When I think of RE 4 it seems like a great story to me, even though I know the "story" for the most part is pretty silly, the course of the game, the terrible things you face and the settings you move through are all very compelling. The setpieces with Krauser were pretty damn brilliant too. RE 2 was pretty epic also.