Games Writing Needs a Battlestar

Number Six and the Cylon Army


The Games Were Created By Man.
They Sucked.
Their Stories Blew.
Many Are Just Copies.
They Look Amazing.
Some Are Programmed To Be Fun.
Eventually We're Going To Need a Better Plan.

"Battlestar Galactica" is important. It's not just a fantastic television show, a landmark series in the history of the medium. It's not just a high water mark for the concept of 'reimagining' older stories. It's important because Ron Moore and the show's production crew absolutely destroy the crufty sameness of what 'sci-fi television is.' The tropes of Star Trek and Star Wars are so familiar, so well-tread, that they're almost played out. Sci-fi TV shows are still being made as if one mediocre show from the 60s is the template for modern storytelling.

In many ways games are operating in the same model.

Most modern games are very story-weak, or attempt to ape past successful story-heavy titles. Our medium suffers even more than television because many of the truly great stories were created so recently. Half-Life is the template for FPS storytelling, and it's only ten years old. The western-style RPG has been largely typified by BioWare RPGs, and Baldur's Gate is also just about ten years old.

Despite these archetypes originating so recently, it already feels as though calcification has set in. Videogames are already mimicking the stodginess of a medium more than twice its age. Sci-fi TV shows have improbable time travel, we have physics puzzles. Crime dramas have the crusty old cop, we have the foul-mouthed space marine. It's flabbergasting that already this limitless palette for expression is being reduced to hackneyed stereotypes.

One of the most dire signs of this is the game remake. How can developers justify remaking a game in a medium as young as this? "Battlestar Galactica" is a rehash of a thirty-year-old show. The upcoming Alone in the Dark is a do-over for a game that was released in 1992. There needs to be some sort of statute of limitations on this sort of practice.

There have been many articles of late decrying the poor state of games writing, but my biggest fear isn't the quality of the writing itself. On the whole I think that the writing is getting very good; even Gears of War was well written. My biggest fear is that increasingly familiar genre crutches will become ingrained components. What we need is a game that takes its story seriously, that shakes up the very foundation of games writing.

What we need is a "Battlestar Galactica." A game that isn't afraid of the hard questions, real emotions, or the fundamental experience of being human. A game that challenges our assumptions of what the medium can convey. A title that cracks the shell on our Oblivion re-rating culture and makes people understand what we've known all along: it's not just magic coins and 1ups. I'd like a pony, too, as long as I'm waving my magic wand around.

That lack of humanity is games writing's biggest hurdle; how do you humanize a space marine? How do you convey the storytelling potential of an art form best known for beautiful bump-mapped babes and gratuitous violence? I think the real answer to these questions is straightforward, but kind of a punch in the gut.

The answer is casual gaming.

Storytelling in casual games began in a very simple place: "That mayan frog really hates those colored balls." As the sophistication level of the audience has risen, the stories have become more elaborate as well: "A woman fed up with her job quits to start her own restaurant." They're still fairly straightforward, but a lot of casual games have qualities AAA titles are missing entirely: empathy, heart, and approachable characters. Who's more human, Marcus Fenix (Gears of War) or Flo (Diner Dash)?

As casual games continue to evolve and adventure games continue their rise from obscurity, hardcore gamers may one day find themselves on the outside looking in. After all this time spent on graphics and high-profile titles, wouldn't it be a kick in the pants for a puzzler or flash game to finally achieve that emotional impact?

While I am personally and emotionally invested in a number of AAA games, I don't see that as a widespread phenomenon. How many people got choked up by the end of Oblivion's main story? How well do you remember the climactic final duel in Jedi Outcast? The answers to those questions, I suspect, are not many and not very well. We complete these games (or more likely shelve them) as quickly as we can. Glazed and uncaring eyes at another start menu, fire and forget, move on to the next title.

I've already gotten misty because of a game. I'm over that, and I think games writing is already there. Now I want my mom to cry because of a game. I want people to be talking about the latest chapter at the water cooler. I want E! to dish the dirt about the next installment. I know it sounds repulsive, but have you seen The Soup? Precious.

We're already in danger of a calcified, ghettoized gaming medium. As popular as games are, as many copies of Halo have sold, we're still at risk. It would be so easy to endlessly reuse, remake, rehash old material in the same physics puzzle/space marine/convict with a heart-of-gold ways. Whether it's a casual or a AAA, I want a game to break the chains. I want a design studio to back a gutsy story and see it succeed wildly. We need a plan.

Comments

One of the best posts I've read yet that summarizes the trouble with video games, and the steep climb still ahead in the medium's effort to be taken seriously as genuine art. Great stuff.

A story? Oh, who cares about the story? It's just an excuse for gameplay.

Ultimately it doesn't matter whether it's a space marine shooting invaders, a scientist shooting aliens, or a prison convict shooting the minions of Beelzebub. Whether it's Halo, Half-Life, or Doom, the game is walking around shooting things; everything else is window dressing.

And I'll throw in the classic data point, about the best selling PC game of all time not having any story at all - just those that players themselves generate.

Games without story are still games, but games without gameplay are merely movies. To examine games only through the lens of "story" is to destroy its soul.

(There, I planted my feet firmly on the ludology side. But this narrative/ludology debacle itself is a game, albeit one that's already played itself out 5 years ago... )

While gaming continues to move into mainstream acceptance through titles like Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Wii Sports, The Sims and the like, it has yet to be taken seriously as a storytelling art form. I have a feeling you wouldn't disagree with the sentiment that gaming hasn't yet earned that respect. As you note, while the writing in many titles is just fine - sometimes great - the narrative continues to underwhelm. Aside from a few diamonds in the rough, I think we're still a ways off...

Could the larger issue here be that we have yet to truly define a language of gaming and, therefore, set benchmarks for what is and is not good games writing? It took decades for the language of film to be established, and it is still evolving. The unique difficulty of gaming is that it attempts to present traditional audio / visual narrative with the added complexity of interaction.

How many people got choked up by the end of Oblivion's main story?

Someone finished Oblivion? I find that hard to believe.

Seriously, though, is it really that bad? I finished Psychonauts a few weeks ago, and the genius in that game wasn't in the story, which was original, but was really an excuse to showcase all these powers that they thought it would be fun to put into a game ( along the way they added great art direction, music and awesome level design).

But it wasn't great writing that sets that game apart, and the last time I played a marathon session of Civ 4 (last night), I was the one supplying the plot.

And I've spent years trying to ascend in Nethack, but no one but me thinks the stories about my characters deaths are vaguely amusing but me.

doIhaveto said this better.

I started writing a comment to reply to this, but it mushroomed into a blog post. Suffice to say, I don't think either pure gameplay, self-created story or an interactive movie (one long QTE after another) is the one and only solution.

That settles it, we need a Firefly video game.

A great site for the kinds of games you're talking about is http://www.orisinal.com On that site alone, you have a little girl trying to catch stars in her dreams, a man trying to stop a runaway train, and a giant maniac throwing enormous snowballs at ice skaters.

The "storytelling" is largely implied and up to the player. Why is this rabbit trying to jump to the moon? Why is the teddy bear bungee jumping? Who is this mysterious samurai, and why are so many people trying to kill him? But the art is so beautiful, and the gameplay so solid and simplistic in the best possible sense that you can't help but get drawn in.

I mostly agree with doihaveto. Developers must be careful before trying to emulate other storytelling media. Video Games are unique in their ability to put the viewer into the story, and too many games out there pull the player out of the action to tell the story. How many games have you played where you complete five minutes of gameplay only to sit through fifteen minutes of cutscene?

Half Life did a good job of keeping the player in the story, I think. But I haven't seen a lot of games that do likewise. If games are going to mature as a storytelling medium, the developers are going to have to get used to telling a story through gameplay, rather than through cutscenes.

I don't judge how good a story in a game is by how bad it makes me feel-- if I wanted a good cry I'd read an Amy Tan novel-- but I do judge a good story by how much it makes me feel like I'm experiencing the story, rather than just watching it. Video games make it possible to tell a story completely in the second person. You open the door, you see fifty ugly beasts from the pits of hell (TM, apparently), you break out the chainsaw and go to work, and so forth. My favorite game stories do that to some extent.

This isn't a hard and fast rule-- some perfectly good game stories have come about through cutscenes. But ask yourself; if I'm getting the whole story through cutscenes, do I really need the game? Various Final Fantasy games are lauded for their stories, but at the end of the day I feel like I could have gotten the same amount out of the story if I'd just watched the cutscenes strung together on youtube.

Bring me a game where I feel like I experience the story first hand. One where choices I make affect the outcome of the story, if only on a trivial level (good ending versus bad ending, or certain later side missions/quests/interactions are unavailable because of previous bridges you've burned while in game)

I love The Soup.

as much as I wanted to, I couldn't finish Oblivion either, but I do like the game. I'm just overwhelemed with stuff to do in it. I much prefer the linear nature of NWN2 which after about 13 patches is now a very good game.

NWN2 story has been very good so far, at least once you get into Neverwinter City.

Gearbox's upcoming Hells Highway is suppose to be very grounded in the harsh reality of war and how it affects everyone in Bakers platoon.

However specific examples aside. I think by nature the entertainment industry rehashes successful formulas because it makes money. I remember late 90's and early 2000's when we were deluged with the "Girls that Kick Ass" genre. Now you rarely see it, and when you do it seems trite. Or it's been mocked so well in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. It's just the cyclical nature of the business

For me I think an interesting story starts with the characters. I'm liking NWN 2 partly because the party NPCs are interesting. I like their side stories and how they react to events around them. It doesn't matter that the events are pretty tried and true CRPG fare.

just to add for fun http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/2ad... - video game conference 1979

doihaveto wrote:

A story? Oh, who cares about the story? It's just an excuse for gameplay.

Ultimately it doesn't matter whether it's a space marine shooting invaders, a scientist shooting aliens, or a prison convict shooting the minions of Beelzebub. Whether it's Halo, Half-Life, or Doom, the game is walking around shooting things; everything else is window dressing.

But why buy a new game if it is just a rehash of the last? To me, story is the biggest factor to a good FPS or RPG. If I just want to play a FPS for the sake of shooting at things, I would play Counter Strike. If all that matters is "walking around shooting things" why not just play duck hunt? Story does matter as it makes you relate to the character, gives you a reason to want to continue playing.

doihaveto wrote:

And I'll throw in the classic data point, about the best selling PC game of all time not having any story at all - just those that players themselves generate.

Isn't Myst still the best selling PC game of all time, which is 100% story driven. If you were referring to WoW, player generated story is still story.

doihaveto wrote:

Games without story are still games, but games without gameplay are merely movies. To examine games only through the lens of "story" is to destroy its soul.

I completely agree. Gameplay is very important to a good game, but a game with good gameplay and no story gets boring very quick.

But honestly, whose story do you want to hear about, Flo or Marcus? Unfortunately casual gaming is the answer. But is that going to bite me in the ass. Am I going to get a deep thoughtful tear jerking look into Flo's life, at the expense of never hearing from Marcus again?

Can't we just encourage good companies to learn to make good game stories for gamers? We drive sales after all right?

I know some Mom out there bought a Wii, and she is all happy with what that cute little guy on the screen did, but here is your controller thingy back because she has to go check on her casserole. Mom probably doesn't care about story. Mom might have played Frogger or Pong 15 years ago, and this Wii thing is so cool, but she doesn't know who developed any games. She surely isn't going to go back to a store and buy one based on the developers last opus. Chances are she is happy with Wii sports and will never get another game.

In the mean time make games for gamers. If you make a game with a story for 'Mom' I guarantee you will be disappointed. Chances are Mom won't buy it because she doesn't know its out, and her gamer kid would have to tell her. Do this instead, refrain from making my games casual, wait 10 years when we are dads and moms and a casual night for 75% of people between 10 and 40 IS gaming. Then make those games for us and our matured tastes.

I really think this will happen on its own at a pace that may be slow but will be natural.

@Burton: You're underestimating how hardcore some casual gamers are.

Folklore wrote:

Seriously, though, is it really that bad? I finished Psychonauts a few weeks ago, and the genius in that game wasn't in the story, which was original, but was really an excuse to showcase all these powers that they thought it would be fun to put into a game ( along the way they added great art direction, music and awesome level design).

Psychonauts was primarily a game about characters. It's not just something they happened to do well, it's the game's raison d'etre. The entire point of the game is exploring characters, not just through writing and dialogue, but through level design. Bioshock did a similar thing; Rapture is Andrew Ryan. That's why the dichotomy between gameplay and story is a false one. You can explore characters (and themes) through gameplay, just like traditional storytelling is about exploring them through plot.

Hell, I'd love to see a new design that does for games what BSG has done for Sci-Fi, that is, combine enough of the familiar with enough of the new to reinvigorate a stagnant art form. Still, I think the post both overstates the so-called innovation of BSG and the role of story in games.

Games are a new media, and in many cases the media IS the message. That is to say, because games are very different from passive media like books, tv, or film; the stories they tell will be different. Half Life and Bioshock are great examples of this. Both are among the best examples of story telling in games precisely because their wasn't a whole lot of story in either. Read what the writers of both have said about the process of writing for games and you'll see something very similar. In both cases elaborate back stories were written to help with the continuity, art direction, and character development. In both cases most of what the designers know about the story did not make the final cut of the game. The story exists, but we only see it through artifacts. The designers built a huge world and history for Rapture, but we only see the rubble that was left when they tore it down. We believe that the 310th splicer we kill has a history, but we only are given enough hints to know that story is there. We are not told the story. Similarly, there is more information about the world of Half Life 2 to be found a board of press-clippings in Dr. Kleiner's office than in the rest of the game. They wrote the story, but only in order to give us enough hints so that we believe it exists. The story exists more for consistency than for exposition. The gamer is an explorer or a detective, the gamer is *not* an audience.

I think games *are* changing how we tell stories. Story is becoming both more and less important. Consider Portal, which I think of as one of the best examples of storytelling in recent games. Here is the story:

Portal wrote:

A test subject wakes up in a lab, and finds herself performing a series of experiments and / or training exercises. As she progresses she realizes that the voice giving her instructions is manipulating her for unknown reasons and may not be sane. She discovers traces of other subjects before her who have escaped from the test. Upon completion, the voice attempts to kill her, but she escapes and finds her way out of the complex following the trail left by the mysterious other subject. Finally, she discovers the voice is an intelligent computer system. She confronts the computer, defeats it, and destroys the lab complex. It appears as though she dies in the explosion.

That is all there is. However, the way the story was woven into every cell and molecule of the game is what makes it a success. It has been said before by many folks, but the problem with traditional plots in games is that if the game allows the players to make decisions, the writers cannot predict what those decisions will be. For a game to be successful, the player usually needs at least the illusion of controlling her own destiny. For example, if CoD4 was a book or a movie, the nuclear explosion would be a climactic moment. In the game, since the player could not change the outcome, it was just another pretty cut scene between levels. Games change not just the way stories are told, but the kind of stories told.

What it comes down to is that games don't need better plots any more than silent pictures need better pipe organs. Story will continue to evolve in games, but I think the interactive nature of games requires more to come from the player. We will tell our own stories with our choices and actions, rather than passively experiencing someone else's vision. In games, the player has the opportunity to make Hamlet love Ophelia, Rhett Butler give a damn about Scarlett, and Tom Joad successfully start a family farm in California.These plots would make lousy theatre or novels, but fun games. The medium is the message.

We're not there yet, and the genius designers know that. The best bits in Bioshock were the way the designers made the lack of freedom the center of their game play. "A slave obeys, but a man chooses." That was the catch, as gamers we are all still slaves to the writers' stories. The potential exists for us to become more. It will just require a new kind of story, story without set plots.

Im not sure that you can use Galactica as the high point in TV storytellingness. Their make it up as they go along and everyone's a cylon approach is as bad as a lot of video game writing.

As far as paragons of game storytelling, I would go with Star Control 2, Monkey Island and even Leisure Suit Larry over more recent examples

E: n/m

Some reactions I had while reading this article:

- Analogy is always suspect, but if we are comparing the gaming to TV, wouldn't it be more fair and instructive to compare the two mediums at similar points in their development? This would put gaming of today in the late 1940's to early 1950's of TV. There were probably good shows back then, but a lot of these shows appear (from sixty-ish years later) to be derivative and stale. Shoot, even the most hackneyed TV writer would blush to re-hash most of the ideas from this era. But this idea that TV has "calcified" since then is rubbish. Otherwise we wouldn't have BSG (or the Sopranos, or Deadwood, or Rome, or (insert your favorite TV show here)). Developing archetypes is not a bad thing because, if nothing else, they define progress by givin a measuring stick to go against.

- BSG is a "...landmark series in the history of the medium"? Really? Good show, I'll grant you that, but "landmark"? Come on...

- I think part of the reason we see so much technology in games and not enough story or characterization is that the technology has always been really hard to do. If most of your development budget (dollars and time) is in developing technology, it makes sense that there is less on other things. Like characters. Or story. But as technology gets easier to do, or, perhaps as important, the rate of change of technology lessens, more and more cycles open up for better characterization.

- I've never understood why people feel like games should be considered art or that they be taken seriously. I mean, they're games right? Sure, sometimes a game will transcend being "just a game" to something higher, but should everything strive to be that? Wasn't it enough that Oblivion was a cool place to do interesting stuff in without needing to be "moved" at the end? Did Bethesda strive to make it "art" (whatever that means)? I would suggest that that there will come a time when there is a culture of game criticism just as there is one of literary criticism and music criticism, but that time is not now. Right now, there is not enough history upon which to build a basis for criticism, nor has the medium been stable for long enough that value judgments can be made across time. How would you compare Oblivion with Ultima II given that one was written for a 32-bit, multi-megabyte, true-color platform and the other for an 8-bit monochromatic platform with 48 Kb available. How do we criticize one or the other? Until a platform emerges where meaningful distinctions not based on technology can be made, I don't see how one could compare and contrast different games.

- I don't see that there is a problem. Perhaps gaming will become ghettoized and stereotyped; it has in the past and it will again. Then someone extremely smart will come along and break the mold, starting another run of innovation. Actually, I think that they future looks pretty bright, on the whole, despite some dark clouds. The availability of tools to make games has never been greater. The means to distribute has never been greater. Even though the AAA title may become scarcer than we have seen in the past decade other forms will take its place.

- The Soup rocks

Anyway, just some thoughts.

Nightmare wrote:

- I've never understood why people feel like games should be considered art or that they be taken seriously. I mean, they're games right? Sure, sometimes a game will transcend being "just a game" to something higher, but should everything strive to be that?

And yet, here you are writing a rather erudite post about games that I think most outsiders would consider a serious discussion (Yay us by the way, god I love home.)

I think the false dichotomy the wholes "games as art" thing often brings up is the unspoken and generally unsupportable adjective: all. Of course not ALL games are art, nor are they serious, nor are they any good on any angle. Muzak and REM live in the same world of music. So do CNN, America's Next Top Model, Nova and infomercials.

Of course not ALL games need story, need writers, need anything. What I get from Michael's piece (Yay us, again!) is that he longs for games that go a step beyond what we're seeing most of the time. I think the idea that the casual - read, non AAA really - market is where to push that envelope is intriguing. After all, Myst is launching on DS this summer (grin).

rabbit wrote:

And yet, here you are writing a rather erudite post about games that I think most outsiders would consider a serious discussion (Yay us by the way, god I love home.)

Of course, but I have no real life. Hence, I think about this sort of thing way too much. Seriously, rabbit - this comment made my day. The best adjective usually used to describe any of my writing is "turgid". Or maybe "vomitous".

rabbit wrote:

I think the false dichotomy the wholes "games as art" thing often brings up is the unspoken and generally unsupportable adjective: all. Of course not ALL games are art, nor are they serious, nor are they any good on any angle. Muzak and REM live in the same world of music. So do CNN, America's Next Top Model, Nova and infomercials.

I would agree with this. Not all paintings are art nor should they be treated as such. Sometime a pretty picture is just that. Same with games. But I think when people write about this subject, they do not emphasize that there is a false dichotomy, so they come across as ranting about why all games are not "art". Which tends to detract from their point.

rabbit wrote:

Of course not ALL games need story, need writers, need anything. What I get from Michael's piece (Yay us, again!) is that he longs for games that go a step beyond what we're seeing most of the time. I think the idea that the casual - read, non AAA really - market is where to push that envelope is intriguing. After all, Myst is launching on DS this summer (grin).

I think anyone who has been in this hobby for any length of time would like more "meat" (for some definition of meat). And casual games may be the thing that allows for more depth across more games. Anything that lets more people write games increases the chance that we will get better games. This is one reason I don't like consoles, because they are a closed ecosystems that have a high barrier of entry (Microsoft's XNA may change that for the XBox/Windows family). I don't know if casual games solve the lack of "human-ness" in games as Michael suggests, though. One can hope.

Did anyone else become disturbed and then saddened when reading all the writing on the walls about the companion cube in that behind-the-wall area in Portal? That one area had more genuine, emotional story in it than the majority of other games combined. Made it really hard to kill the companion cube. I felt like I was murdering someone's family.

I don't have a point to make.

Mecha: I think the answer is "yes almost everyone" - it is in a nutshell all of why Portal was so freakin' brilliant.

Games writing is getting better, no question about that - it's just that it's scared of taking the next step. (Which is what Michael is saying here, I think.) It may well be that with mainstream gaming, it would be resources wasted to go that length: the guys buying Halo 4 might not appreciate it.

Call Of Duty 4 was brilliantly written. I have no idea what the plot was about and I don't care, but it managed to get some emotion out of me, despite being a very basic military FPS, seen a hundred times before. I feel that it didn't need to be any "deeper" than that: it exceeded what's expected from an FPS by a wide margin, like a good action movie might.

So we've gotten far enough to write well. Now it's a question of where we want to go with the writing. Games seem to be afraid of making a point, probably because all games are targeted to the whole gamut of gamers who are into a genre. You don't want to alienate anyone. But there is a middle ground to be tread here, where the Halo 4 guys won't feel like protesting being treated to "art" and where the jaded gamers have some more substance to think about.

So yeah, we need a Firefly of videogames.

I agree with your point in almost everything except the following

one mediocre show from the 60s

Star Trek was an AWESOME show, not mediocre at all dood!

rabbit wrote:

Of course not ALL games need story, need writers, need anything. What I get from Michael's piece (Yay us, again!) is that he longs for games that go a step beyond what we're seeing most of the time. I think the idea that the casual - read, non AAA really - market is where to push that envelope is intriguing. After all, Myst is launching on DS this summer (grin).

I don't think that one should necessarily bemoan the industry if we see titles more on par with "Barbie vs BRATS: Shopping Spree Splashdown" or even "M.E.A.T.H.E.A.D.S." It's pretty much a law that in any form of media or communication, the mediocre or commercial will outnumber the sublime. How many reality TV shows exist to counter the BSG love? For that matter, you can look within the channel that provides BSG itself and see a curious amount of "Mansquito" type movie-of-the-week schlock (seriously, I saw a commercial for a Sci-Fi original called "ROCK MONSTER"). It's also not uncommon for an artist to rely on a few safe, commercial films in order to bankroll some stuff that's more out of left field. I think that was the case with Terry Gilliam's "Brothers Grimm", which was used to get some cashflow in to support "Tidelands".

It strikes me as somewhat schizophrenic that we've got an industry where we demand better, more complex stories and characters, but also has industry leaders saying "no one cares about your stupid story". I believe the problem that Levine was addressing in that comment was that there needs to be new ways to implement the story without getting in the way of the player. But anyway...

Michael bemoans the retread of Alone in the Dark, but to be quite honest I remember playing a DEMO for that game back around 1998, when I was still on my Apple Performa computer (which sported a 33Mhz processor, lacked an FPU coprocessor, and was completely devoid of any graphical acceleration). AitD is one of those fondly looked upon stepping stones in the timeline of modern games, and it's arguably one of the predecessors of the survival horror boom that was popularized on the PSone, but I can't honestly expect its flat polygonal environments and characters to hold the interest of anyone that didn't have to go through the growing pains of the early years of computer gaming. Indeed, I think one of the hallmarks of video gaming is the reluctance to go beyond a generation or so to look at what predated some of the current trends. I suppose it's a lot like the kid who can't suffer himself through Shakespeare because of the language differences, or watching black and white movies because of their limited acting range. I'm not saying it's an excuse, just a reality of the mainstream.

At the same time, I don't think it's quite fair to link the risky reimagination of a TV series that spent some 30 years being dormant with an update of a well-remembered gaming landmark, especially when Hollywood is undergoing a remake frenzy now. Things are all but set for shooting to begin on "Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li", and the original film was made in '94. "The Departed" was damned popular, despite it being a rather apparent remake of "Internal Affairs" (2002). "Abre los Ojos" ('97) was turned into a Tom Cruise vehicle under "Vanilla Sky" (2001). And lets not get into the endless Hollywoodized Japanese horror films we've seen of late. Sometimes the use of a remake can be valuable in getting the word out about the original. [I noticed that the Wikipedia summary of the upcoming AitD game mentions that this Edward Carnby is the same as was in the original game, which is a nice nod to the fans who knew of/played the series]. This also allows the dev crew to include advances in gameplay and (obviously) graphics to make the original relevant to a new generation. [I'd place the SF:HD project in this bag]. Yes, we get a lot of tropes and setpieces and cliches reused, but it's not as if the landscape of gaming for the next 7 months is "WW2 shooter", "SciFi Shooter", "JRPG with crazy grind", "JRPG with effite boy", "God of War Ripoff", "Mario Party Ripoff", "Generic Action game", "Generic Racer". We're far from the kind of unimaginative and insulting cash-ins and copy-pastes that ruined the market during Atari's heyday.

Anyway, we do get some very creative things from people, but they're often not appreciated in their own time. Impressionist painting, one of the major artistic movements of the modern era, was initially thought of as "unfinished, wallpaperlike" amateur work. Hell, FIREFLY, which is viewed as a nice series that was killed prematurely, wasn't understood by the studio that birthed it. Killer 7 was quite the trip, but it failed to make a big show. Likewise for Okami, which tried to go for a somewhat unique way of presenting your interaction with the game. ICO was one of those rare things that was an experience, and thankfully Shadow of the Colossus was given a bit more merit and attention. At the end of the day, however, some of us just need some mindless entertainment. I don't need, nor do I expect, that every film I catch be the equal of "There Will be Blood" or "No Country for Old Men". That would turn my film time into a draining, yet fulfilling, experience. I would argue, however, that we do see some strong hints of movements toward more complex characters in current games. Can you honestly tell me that the reveal at the end of Metal Gear Solid 3 was just banal action-gamer crap? It raises some fundamental questions about the concepts of patriotism and duty that are pretty surprising to see alongside a game that involves Rambo-like machismo and lightning-spewing bisexual communists. For all the pseudoreligious blabbing that was found in Xenosaga, you could somewhat appreciate that the team behind the series wanted to seriously try a sprawling epic in the game medium.

The idea of a "watercooler game" is a little misguided, because "watercooler" events are linked to their availability. Anyone can tune into Smallville and see Clark Superpunch a pregnant Lana in the belly. Anyone can check SportsNight TV and see the 79 yard touchdown that decided the playoffs. You can check TMZ and hear about The Rock giving Saddam the People's Elbow. A controversial or hyped movie is $7-14 away from being mine to experience. And the latest office rumor is but an utterance away.

A good game, however, necesitates the appropriate platform. Assuming that the latest epic is a flash game (and hence, most people will have access to it), you're still going to have to overcome initial skepticism about the medium. If we want watercooler games, we're certainly going to need to increase the presence of game machines in homes (and, most importantly, their use by non-gamers) by a very, very large degree. This feels like a separate argument about the popularity of gamers, though. Albeit, it's one that the current casual gaming trend is bridging. I'm not sure that casual gaming is the way to go. Most of the casual folks I know pick up something like Brain Age or Pocket Sudoku. Maybe they'll catch WiiFit because they can convince themselves that they'll use it every now and again, or Singstar because it's a good Karaoke simulator and the roomie owns a PS2 anyway. Largely, they won't be interested in more mainstream games, even if they're easy as pie.

As a final note about remakes, the Resident Evil remake for the Gamecube inserted the Lisa Trevor subplot. That's just unimaginably heartbreaking and is really one of the bigger atrocities in game lore.

I posted this on Dave Goodman's site but thought it would be relevant here too.

The Half-life approach to story telling I think is the best example of effective story-telling through never taking the player out of the experience.

However, the article basically lends to creating interactive movies, which anyone can control. That’s not really going to happen, as the lessons learned with all those FMV games from the 90s show, there is a limit scope as what you can do with the medium.

I reckon this whole issue is partly to have gripping stories woven into the gameplay, but more a PR exercise, to show the masses that gaming can be something that we all can enjoy. The UI would be the biggest hurdle, and I think Nintendo have done the best thing with the controllers on the Wii to that end, and that would be the direction to follow for the masses.

The answer? Gametap, or some equivalent. Look at the Sopranos and Battlestar Galactica. They exist because of Cable and subscriptions, and they don't need a huge audience to succeed. That's the model that will produce high quality indies.

kazar wrote:

But why buy a new game if it is just a rehash of the last? To me, story is the biggest factor to a good FPS or RPG. If I just want to play a FPS for the sake of shooting at things, I would play Counter Strike. If all that matters is "walking around shooting things" why not just play duck hunt?

Indeed. Which is why I stopped enjoying the FPS genre sometime around Quake 1.

kazar wrote:
doihaveto wrote:

And I'll throw in the classic data point, about the best selling PC game of all time not having any story at all - just those that players themselves generate.

Isn't Myst still the best selling PC game of all time, which is 100% story driven. If you were referring to WoW, player generated story is still story.

I was actually referring to the Sims, which out-sold Myst many times over. But WoW is a great example as well. To be perfectly clear, the article referred to shaking up game writing, not player-generated stories. And neither Sims nor WoW have a need for the former.

doubtingthomas396 wrote:

Developers must be careful before trying to emulate other storytelling media. Video Games are unique in their ability to put the viewer into the story, and too many games out there pull the player out of the action to tell the story. How many games have you played where you complete five minutes of gameplay only to sit through fifteen minutes of cutscene?

I agree. That's probably one of the worst ways to push stories in games.

There are other ways, such as leaving mementos of some back-story throughout the game, making the player go to specific places to learn more about what's going on, and so on. But then that's hardly a story anymore, but rather a setting. Which is even better, because it leaves the player's autonomy unburdened, but not the same as storytelling.

That settles it, we need a Firefly video game

My thought exactly!!!

When I saw the scene where Mal pushed the guy into the engine exhaust I thought to myself "This is a new sci-fi character type!"

Anybody know Josh's number??

PCman wrote:

When I saw the scene where Mal pushed the guy into the engine exhaust I thought to myself "This is a new sci-fi character type!"

Mal = Han Solo. Not exactly a new character type. In fact he even repeats Han Solo's infamous "shoot first" hijink in "Serenity".

No, I think he means the new character, "Reluctant Turbine Repairman."

But we all know Greedo shot first!

Quintin_Stone wrote:

But we all know Greedo shot first!

(kicks Quintin into a turbine)

Move along, nothing to see here.