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Author Topic: role of story in the game  (Read 34957 times)
genjix
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« on: June 18, 2007, 09:00:32 pm »

Last time, one of the biggest criticisms of Elephants Dream was its lack of seeming story.

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The final message is not easy to see due to the abstract nature of the movie and therefore some viewers criticized it as pointless and random, and worthy of attention only if seen as a demo. Other people have widely different interpretations of its meaning.

What is your view on the role of the plot in the game?

Mine is that it would be a bad idea to ignore popular commentary, and that a good story does often contribute to making a good game, and that it increases the social aspect that many people like to find in games by engaging them in an immersive world they end up caring for.
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psa89
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« Reply #1 on: June 19, 2007, 10:59:28 am »

In my opinion the importance of a good story depends on the genre of game and its focus. RPG, FPS, Adventure, Horror are some examples that should not pass without a good story that involves the player.
But if it is an arcade game, well, the story may become just a simple background for the action. In that case the player must be "occupied" with the gameplay and immediatly accept whatever reason you give him.
The last option, for me, is not the optimal solution because it can cause some emptiness during the game.
So this leaves the first option. The story in an adventure game is one of the elements in the central core of the game (the other element is varied gameplay). Has I said it has to involve the player in a way that he should identify himself with one of the characters. Also it should have some branches, it doen's need to be something big that affects the whole future story but multiple paths (like you can do this or that, it's your choice and both end up in the same story line), small differences when talking with a NPC (for example if the player has done a secondary objective, or not, and the npc refers it) are small details that the player always like to see.
Those small details are important but you should also include one "big choice" in the game (for example: you choose if the girl dies or not in the end, take the example of Metal Gear Solid for PSX, not GameCube).

One last suggestion: if the game is based in the Peach Project (the movie) I advise you not to use the same story of the game directly. Because people when see the movie create their own world based on it where they more freedom in their mind, and that's the objective of the game, to explore the world, you should base the story in a parallel way. Something with the main characters but before or after (or even in between) the movie events. In my opinion you should work tightly with the story writters for the movie to create an extended world of they projected (or will project) in the movie.

This is just my opinion, and I know it's not perfect but I hope it helps.
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Metsys
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« Reply #2 on: June 25, 2007, 05:52:59 am »

The role that story plays in the game is really dependent on what you want the core experience to be. If the whole point of the game is physics puzzles, a strong emphasis on story during the game would likely get in the way. An explanation of why you are doing silly physics puzzles is a good idea, but aside from that the player might not need any more incentive to continue playing than simply advancing though each stage and improving their time/score.

And there are of course some games that are all about telling a story, where developing a strong milieu, compelling characters, and engaging plot are critical. But it really depends on what the core experience of the game is. Thinking of it in terms of what we want the player to experience is important to putting the right emphasis in which devices you are going to use to entertain or teach, such as story, graphics, sound, gameplay, and everything else that makes a game.

Half-Life 2's story was there simply to support the pacing of the gameplay. You got new weapons, vehicles, and environments just before you would have started getting bored of them, and they were introduced in such a way so that you'll know how to solve problems in the future (the Zelda games do this really well too, everything you learn in the dungeon and the items you get are so you can defeat the boss at the end). That is what they focused on, and they used the story and settings to make those transitions from gameplay mechanic to mechanic make more sense. That pacing of the gameplay is what gave me those strong emotional responses while playing the game: that warm fuzzy when I finally got to take down that chopper with a newly acquired add-on to my air boat, after it had been shooting at me for the past hour was a welcome experience. As for the story, I didn't really care that Eli got captured, except that I thought, "Sweet, I'll get to go to the Citadel and blow more stuff up." The core experience was really about combat and using the physics in clever was to defeat foes or advance. Everything else was just to support it.

I've been working on a project that I originally intended to be a series of video games. After about the first year into the project, I realized that what I was creating would be better experienced as a show, rather than a game. It was a shame because there where some events in the story that would have a very strong emotional impact if you were playing the main character, but most of what I created was humorous dialog and interaction between the five main characters. I started the project with the purpose of creating characters that you would love to watch interact with each other, create unusual circumstances that they would have to deal with, and in short create a really good story.

It seemed that it just wouldn't work out as an interactive experience. Yes, at first it was to create interesting gameplay scenarios, but the story evolved into something else. The story was too character driven to become a video game with our current knowledge of devices we can use to make in an interactive experience. We didn't want to use cinematics, and to make the story work we had to use a lot of them. We also didn't know how to handle character development in an interactive way, since the focus of the story is how that main character changes. The way the project evolved dictated that it was supposed to be a show, and not a game.

A lot of games do start out as stories. Tim Schafer (Psyconauts, Full Throttle, Monkey Island), says that "games are wish fulfillment". His process is to make a really cool world, and then create the coolest person in it; that is the person that you are going to play. Then the story is created so that it evolves around you. The core experience to him is wish fulfillment. For my story, it was different. I like making things that "you can enjoy with you friends and family at the same time". That project I spoke of earlier sort of did that, in that it's fun to watch and multiplayer was planed, but to really stick to the core value of what we want people to experience, it had to be a show, because that is something that everyone can enjoy together. Even though we currently believe that it's not going to be a video game, our process still worked and it's going to be a better as a show than a game.

In short, you as a game designer are trying to communicate something for the player to experience. Story isn't everything. Graphics aren't everything. Heck, even gameplay isn't everything. Final Fantasy has the most boring gameplay of any series I know. But all of that combat and exploring is just a bridge to the wonderfully detailed world and cinematics--the device they primarily used to tell the story. So, decide on what you want the player to do: explore, fly, blow stuff up, rhythm exercises, quest with friends, race, do silly things with a Wii-mote infront of your family, whatever. Then realize that everything else that you do, from the gameplay, visual representation, and story are all part of that communication and aiding in the core experience. If any of those things distract from the core experience, then it needs to be taken down a few notches. In the case of my project, the gameplay interfered with the story and so we chose to dump the gameplay.

Thinking about games in this way also helps you creatively. Don't think of games that you want to create as platformers, FPS, RTS, RPG, and so on. Think of what you want the player to experience--preferably something that they can't experience in real life and especially something that isn't available in the gaming market today--and then use story, and everything else, in such a way that will support it.
« Last Edit: June 25, 2007, 02:39:38 pm by Metsys » Logged
Metsys
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« Reply #3 on: June 25, 2007, 06:07:52 am »

Now here's a question, since I'm done with my big schpeel on story in games and I like discussions on this kind of stuff:

I've noticed that a lot of people comment on wanting more story in games. Do you feel that many games don't have very good writing or implement story poorly, or do you want more story-centric games?

Providing some examples of what games have done it well or poorly would be good for discussion so we can critique what's been done.
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genjix
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« Reply #4 on: June 26, 2007, 03:08:25 pm »

Some really cool answers.

Now here's a question, since I'm done with my big schpeel on story in games and I like discussions on this kind of stuff:

I've noticed that a lot of people comment on wanting more story in games. Do you feel that many games don't have very good writing or implement story poorly, or do you want more story-centric games?

Providing some examples of what games have done it well or poorly would be good for discussion so we can critique what's been done.

Well for instance if you look at the simplest games there is some vaguest attempt to include some kind of backstory which serves little purpose as it doesn't enhance the gameplay. Remakes of Atari classics and old school games (like Tetris) try to invent a reasoning as to why you are playing but the characterisation of what is essentially blocks personally puts me off- especially if the style isn't too good to begin with. On the flip side is highly stylised games like Wip3out (and others). The game is sooo coool, and reading the well written manual text about the future of the industrialised world really does implant the stylistic vision of the world in your head, enhancing the games mood- especially combined with its distinct aesthetic.

In the PSX reincarnation of Pacman the game was re-orientated into a whole different game retaining only the main character in a genre where plot plays an important role. This is a valid use of plot since the whole gameplay mechanics changed (moving through a world environment). This brings to mind games where plot is the central gameplay provider in the form of quests and travelling (like FF), and these games remain the very memorable since their plot events have a key impact.

Do you remember Aeris death? Smiley

The role that story plays in the game is really dependent on what you want the core experience to be. If the whole point of the game is physics puzzles, a strong emphasis on story during the game would likely get in the way. An explanation of why you are doing silly physics puzzles is a good idea, but aside from that the player might not need any more incentive to continue playing than simply advancing though each stage and improving their time/score.

I think unless that reasoning is awesome then I need not care either. If the game is trying to set a specific setting by the use of story then it is a reasonable allowance. Often through the use of silly characterisations or stereotypes along with a commonly recognised theme you can subtly hint at some undercurrent of whatever so if its a party game, the plot is essentially Pickup & Play. Usually the problem with plot seems to be when it tries to rationalise ludicrous gameplay.

And there are of course some games that are all about telling a story, where developing a strong milieu, compelling characters, and engaging plot are critical. But it really depends on what the core experience of the game is. Thinking of it in terms of what we want the player to experience is important to putting the right emphasis in which devices you are going to use to entertain or teach, such as story, graphics, sound, gameplay, and everything else that makes a game.

Half-Life 2's story was there simply to support the pacing of the gameplay. You got new weapons, vehicles, and environments just before you would have started getting bored of them, and they were introduced in such a way so that you'll know how to solve problems in the future (the Zelda games do this really well too, everything you learn in the dungeon and the items you get are so you can defeat the boss at the end). That is what they focused on, and they used the story and settings to make those transitions from gameplay mechanic to mechanic make more sense. That pacing of the gameplay is what gave me those strong emotional responses while playing the game: that warm fuzzy when I finally got to take down that chopper with a newly acquired add-on to my air boat, after it had been shooting at me for the past hour was a welcome experience. As for the story, I didn't really care that Eli got captured, except that I thought, "Sweet, I'll get to go to the Citadel and blow more stuff up." The core experience was really about combat and using the physics in clever was to defeat foes or advance. Everything else was just to support it.

All the ingredients that go into a good game seem to be good components. Good story, graphics, sound, and gameplay help achieve that fulfilling experience and increase immersion.

Quote
"Chrono Trigger was supervised by a group referred to as "The Dream Team", consisting of Hironobu Sakaguchi (producer of the Final Fantasy series), Yuji Horii (director of the Dragon Quest games), character designer Akira Toriyama (of Dragon Ball and Dragon Quest fame), venerable producer Kazuhiko Aoki, and Nobuo Uematsu (music composer of Final Fantasy fame)."

Chrono Trigger is considered by many as a classic game, and each department of that game was led by a notable.

I disagree with your analysis of Half Life that the plot took a backstage to the action and was only a simple device for advancing gameplay. Half Life 1 was an innovator in narration using no cutscenes in which the controls where locked or camera moved away from the player (no cinematics) and no time discontinuities. This limits the amount of backstory you can find out, but I guess Valve expects people to play Half Life 1. Also there is a secret tramp Vortigaunt who makes future predictions.

The plot if anything in Half Life is taking central stage with the saga of the G-Man playing out. Certainly the gameplay is an amazing experience and it is a very well done polished game. But to say the plot is insignificant is a faulty analysis in my opinion considering the amount of effort that seems to have gone into the story writing there. Notice that the tutorial sections are integrated into the gameplay itself without breaking the third wall in order to keep the immersion there.

I can't comment on Zelda since I never really played it, but indeed storylines are quest givers when they exist- otherwise these commonly remixed quests (they are essentially all the same gameplay mechanic with some minor variations) would just be boring and dull. When its a immersive virtual reality setting seemingly real events are happening... this is when the adrenalin starts to pump and it becomes thrilling. Would you find some cubes damaging you, as entertaining as zombies eating you?

I've been working on a project that I originally intended to be a series of video games. After about the first year into the project, I realized that what I was creating would be better experienced as a show, rather than a game. It was a shame because there where some events in the story that would have a very strong emotional impact if you were playing the main character, but most of what I created was humorous dialog and interaction between the five main characters. I started the project with the purpose of creating characters that you would love to watch interact with each other, create unusual circumstances that they would have to deal with, and in short create a really good story.

It seemed that it just wouldn't work out as an interactive experience. Yes, at first it was to create interesting gameplay scenarios, but the story evolved into something else. The story was too character driven to become a video game with our current knowledge of devices we can use to make in an interactive experience. We didn't want to use cinematics, and to make the story work we had to use a lot of them. We also didn't know how to handle character development in an interactive way, since the focus of the story is how that main character changes. The way the project evolved dictated that it was supposed to be a show, and not a game.

Yes well, film has been around for a century and as such has perfected and developed to a high degree its devices. Theater has been around much longer. Story telling even more so. Too many times, trying to mix gameplay and movie just ends up being interactive video (which is dull!). Just because games are young, and the techniques to use story telling aren't there (as well as all the technology!), this doesn't mean that it shouldn't exist. Games have the potential to be a much more powerful medium encompassing story telling, visual art, music, interaction and motion video to create an encompassing engaging reality. Creating an attachment with the main player and the main hero in which feedback from the game goes to the player is interesting. Some RPGs classically have had silent protagonists for this reason, even with empty dialog where the player can fill in their own gaps (Chrono Trigger, Suikoden, ...).

As for your game, maybe it just didn't need objectives? Like The Sims for example.

A lot of games do start out as stories. Tim Schafer (Psyconauts, Full Throttle, Monkey Island), says that "games are wish fulfillment". His process is to make a really cool world, and then create the coolest person in it; that is the person that you are going to play. Then the story is created so that it evolves around you. The core experience to him is wish fulfillment. For my story, it was different. I like making things that "you can enjoy with you friends and family at the same time". That project I spoke of earlier sort of did that, in that it's fun to watch and multiplayer was planed, but to really stick to the core value of what we want people to experience, it had to be a show, because that is something that everyone can enjoy together. Even though we currently believe that it's not going to be a video game, our process still worked and it's going to be a better as a show than a game.

In short, you as a game designer are trying to communicate something for the player to experience. Story isn't everything. Graphics aren't everything. Heck, even gameplay isn't everything. Final Fantasy has the most boring gameplay of any series I know. But all of that combat and exploring is just a bridge to the wonderfully detailed world and cinematics--the device they primarily used to tell the story. So, decide on what you want the player to do: explore, fly, blow stuff up, rhythm exercises, quest with friends, race, do silly things with a Wii-mote infront of your family, whatever. Then realize that everything else that you do, from the gameplay, visual representation, and story are all part of that communication and aiding in the core experience. If any of those things distract from the core experience, then it needs to be taken down a few notches. In the case of my project, the gameplay interfered with the story and so we chose to dump the gameplay.

Thinking about games in this way also helps you creatively. Don't think of games that you want to create as platformers, FPS, RTS, RPG, and so on. Think of what you want the player to experience--preferably something that they can't experience in real life and especially something that isn't available in the gaming market today--and then use story, and everything else, in such a way that will support it.

I don't think theres any ABC to constructive game design as with most design. All these things needs to be considered in their interweaving details. Genre classification is not as evil as people always make out to be- there are a few well established genre's out there with a body of knowledge that has been developed incrementally over the years and to start from that is not stupid. All the new ideas are simply just remixes of old ideas. It also helps the gameplay designer/developer who can examine the task analytically starting from a genre.
« Last Edit: June 26, 2007, 03:16:16 pm by genjix » Logged
genjix
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« Reply #5 on: June 26, 2007, 03:26:53 pm »

In my opinion the importance of a good story depends on the genre of game and its focus. RPG, FPS, Adventure, Horror are some examples that should not pass without a good story that involves the player.
But if it is an arcade game, well, the story may become just a simple background for the action. In that case the player must be "occupied" with the gameplay and immediatly accept whatever reason you give him.
The last option, for me, is not the optimal solution because it can cause some emptiness during the game.

Indeed the most popular games seem to have some social element to them and a good story lends this to the game. Shadow of Colossus is interesting though to note- the game is very empty but in a well done way.

So this leaves the first option. The story in an adventure game is one of the elements in the central core of the game (the other element is varied gameplay). Has I said it has to involve the player in a way that he should identify himself with one of the characters. Also it should have some branches, it doen's need to be something big that affects the whole future story but multiple paths (like you can do this or that, it's your choice and both end up in the same story line), small differences when talking with a NPC (for example if the player has done a secondary objective, or not, and the npc refers it) are small details that the player always like to see.
Those small details are important but you should also include one "big choice" in the game (for example: you choose if the girl dies or not in the end, take the example of Metal Gear Solid for PSX, not GameCube).

Story branches are dubious to say the least. They exist to remove the linearity in the game, but when you plainly see that changing some gameplay elements, changes the ending, then it is clearly linear- especially when you either get Octagon (bad), or Meryl (good). Then you have to replay the whole game again to get the good or full ending (make sure you get those 99 rings/gems/mudokons!).

In fact linearity can be an assuring thing, in that you can focus on being hand guided through a cinematic (then you can jam pack the game with action as a developer, you being sure of the games state).

One last suggestion: if the game is based in the Peach Project (the movie) I advise you not to use the same story of the game directly. Because people when see the movie create their own world based on it where they more freedom in their mind, and that's the objective of the game, to explore the world, you should base the story in a parallel way. Something with the main characters but before or after (or even in between) the movie events. In my opinion you should work tightly with the story writters for the movie to create an extended world of they projected (or will project) in the movie.

This is just my opinion, and I know it's not perfect but I hope it helps.

Maybe something like interweaving some elements from film and game together, so when taken as a whole they convey some message of 'meaning'. Like a plot in the bigger picture where you see stuff in the film and game to understand everything.
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Hoxolotl
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« Reply #6 on: August 16, 2007, 09:03:01 am »

The story in a game is best suited to explain to the player what he is doing and what the motivations of the character he is playing are.

This can be used in a good way, creating a good suspension of disbelief, or in a bad way leading to a break of the game by 2 dimensional characters who react in totally unrealistic ways.

When writing a story for a game people often forget the purpose of it:
 lets say you are playing on a computer, and there is a lot of human figures played by the AI... how do you get the player to believe those are really people he should care about instead of just some algorythmes? How do you get people to "believe" in the game?

My answer has often be to tell a good story... but don't be afraid of changing it if the gameplay warrants it, if your AI co-pilots keep dying, is it "awfull everytime" or is it "meh! I didn't like that pilot anyway!".

IN a game, more so than in a book or a movie, one should take care of the fact that not only the protagonists in the game change, but also the people playing the game, they get better at jumping/strategy/fps during the game, and this changes the way they play the game, and also the way they see the game.
If the game is very difficult in the start, a soothing story line might calm the player, encouraging him. Later on, in the frenetic end of the game, when the player has mastered the game, you can add some pressure story-wise because the player will be better suited to cope with it.

It's this abaility to reflect not only the character but also the experience of the player in a game which makes for a good "make believe" story, because that is what stories in general are all about.
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Xavi
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« Reply #7 on: September 07, 2007, 11:48:21 am »

Well...
Im really near of the thinking in lasts posts.

The plot (or story) is just one more piece on the game, equal to gameplay, originality, or anything else...
But a game is a complex mix of thousands of things, and plot is essential, maybe because we've seen lots of games, and we can make a better gameplay, if we see that we're goin on a wrong way, or look for more artists, if we need more details on the visuals... But "repairing" a bad plot... its impossible. (just because, a change on the stoy could mean thousands of changes in the aspect of game to get it less serious, or in the focus gamer... )

But what i wanted to say is that the plot has the importance that you want to give to it. Sometimes, if the game is addictive enough, you don't really need to work it a lot, just give a player motivation at the beggining, and some times remind him that plot is not dead, but what a really gets the player inmersed in the game argument is the plot.
¿What gives bigger satisfaction that winning a hated enemy? and what makes the player hate someone? the STORY.

So I think its basic to work hard on the game structure, and looking every phase, wich feelings would have the player, wich sensations... and use the story to move him to that points you calculed. And never forget that story doesnt finish with the videos! that's the bigger lesson of the Half Life masters!
The story MUST be alive during ALL the game! even when you wait a second for reloading your weapon!

An other thing is ig that story convinces the player... and to make that is basic a good pre-production work, to make all the team work in the same direction, and obtain results with the same quality because player is bad, and if you havent worked the sound enough (to say something) he will pay more attention to this, and less to the great graphics your artists made... but this is another discussion.....

So gengix, work hard on that story! and if you need help with something, i would be happy to help!

Xavi
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Xavi
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« Reply #8 on: September 24, 2007, 05:03:38 pm »

First off allow me to introduce myself my name is Brad. I'm new hear and this is my first post I  wanted to find out more and possibly perticipate in the Open Game project. Is this site going to be the central location for information on this project?

As for the topic at hand... the need for story for falls in to many classes I will give you examples:

Tetris and caual games: Story is non existant or only exist for the purpose of styilizing marketing materials.

Battlefield Series: Story is not pivotal to tha game but it is necissary in to to explain the existnace on one or more items in the game. "teams, vehicles,etc" It also serve to give theme for game and marketing materials

HL 1 and HL2 Story is critical to the game. Story servces all the features above and more. The game cannot exist without the story. It is not a backstory. The games are the story.

PS: if someone can point me in the directionof information on the open game project I would like to find out more and possibly participate.
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Thorgal
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« Reply #9 on: October 31, 2007, 07:38:48 pm »

Hello my dear kids (<<<granny voice). Once upon a time... A genre called "Adventure" ruled the shops... This guy>>> (www.grumpygamer.com) worked at the Monkey Island Series from Lucasarts. Please take a little of your time and read his blog. He have a LOT to say about "the role of the history inside a game".

Personally i hate games that follow the movie history sooo literaly... Don´t forget the Arcades! Don´t forget casual games...! Don´t forget adventures... And don´t forget Wii, it is relly cool.

 
 
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« Reply #10 on: February 16, 2008, 09:09:26 pm »

Orange was a movie with no story. If Apricot goes this way it will be game with no genre. It would be really nice to know what is the genre (if any Sad ) of the game. If the development team lacks story-writers the game should become board or something like that. Is there any info on the genre? As for now it looks like the project follows old good rule of "design is overrated, we will just create all the content and as we put it together design will suddenly appear put of the void".
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« Reply #11 on: December 04, 2009, 11:07:02 am »

I feel that many games have a story which the player can follow to make some sense of whats going on or where they, what the levels quest is all about etc. Even great games like elite which have no real story other then an intro, all benefit from the illustrations of a story.

The weakness is the relying on a story to fill in the gaps of the game play or an ability for the play to shape his own world.

I know people have left this subject and moved on buy I feel there is a lot of room for discussion.

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SSboots
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« Reply #12 on: December 05, 2009, 07:09:13 am »

Story is so very important to soooo many things... but games?  It all depends.  Does anyone remember PacMan?  Not much of a story there... same is true for most of the arcade hits of the 80's which gave birth to the video game industry... there is still room for great, fun, simple arcade games today... these don't require much in the way of backstory or story telling in the game...

However, the modern games we play today on our PC's and Xbox's and PS3's and Wii's... these often do require a compelling backstory and in-game story... especially the adventure type games (duh!), but even the action games do too... i'm thinking of Metroid Prime on the game cube... based on the original metroid 2d side scrolling action game... the story really added to the game play in both the original 2d side scroller as well as the newer 3d version... in fact, Metroid Prime is one of my all time favorites because of the blending of story and action... same is true for any of the Zelda franchise... Nintendo took this concept and applied to the arcade/puzzle genre with Mario 64 (and prior to that... Super Mario) and they kept it going into Mario Sunshine and now Mario Galaxy... do you see the pattern?

does anyone remember how ground breaking Myst was?  what about Duke Nuken 3D and Wolfenstein?  Each was helped by the storyline in some way... 

the story "adds" to the player's experience... that is the bottom line... if the story adds value to the player's experience... then it should be done.  period.
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marthasp6s
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« Reply #13 on: January 27, 2010, 10:37:41 pm »


This is just my opinion, and I know it's not perfect but I hope it helps.

It certainly helps. Thank you for posting it. Smiley
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jamesyevans
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« Reply #14 on: March 18, 2010, 04:35:52 am »

Thanks. It's a big help.
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