storytelling

Pushing Limits

Part 2 of 2

Immersion and Structure…

 

Immersion is crucial and so few game titles get this right.  The moment my companions in Modern Warfare 3 were oblivious to the hundreds of slain innocent people that littered the streets we walked on; immersion was broken.  I cannot connect with characters that are void of human traits.  That connection to characters is vital.  It’s why the Harry Potter series sold 440 million plus copies.  Give me characters I can relate to and make a connection with and I will go with them wherever you want to go.  Break that connection and I won’t care what happens to them.

Interactive storytellers must come to the realization that the setting of a game is on the same level as any other character.  Just as much time and effort needs to go into creating its personality as any other person I might meet.  Bioshock did a fantastic job of nailing down this concept.  I am immersed within the rich story in Bioshock partly because of the world that the underwater city ofRapture gives me to explore.

Cut-scenes and quick-time events can easily break immersion.  As can any scripted event.  Every story needs structure.  And the structure for an interactive story is far different than the story written for a novel.  However, the trick is to make staying within that frame as seamless as possible.  Herein is the first of the three major balances in interactive storytelling: immersion versus structure.

Story and Gameplay…

 

Story should never be an after thought.  Nor should gameplay be forgotten.  Graphic novels are a marriage between artwork and writing.  When the marriage works, you get something that is beautiful, pure, and wonderful.  Get it wrong and it ends up rather ugly.  The same can be true in games if the balances of story and gameplay are not adjusted properly.

Games can consist of voice acting, musical scores, sound effects, gorgeous visuals, and present ample opportunity for incredible tales to be weaved.  But games are also games.  They are not read like novels nor watched like movies.  People play them.  Broken gameplay can sink a fantastic story.  A terrible story can mar outstanding gameplay.

Player Choice and Theme…    

 

Games are interactive because they allow the player to make choices that can affect the story and game world.  Giving the player choices without any real consequences is akin to treating your audience as if they are stupid.  Player choice creates a tremendous challenge to the writers and this is understandable.  The key is to allow for player choice but ensure the theme of your tale is left intact.

Theme is the real takeaway value of the game.  If a game has no real takeaway value, then it cannot be considered art.  Nor can it really be considered a story.  The quality of any story is judged by the impact it has on its audience.  This doesn’t mean every story needs to be teaching a lesson.  This does mean that every story should leave me touched in some way.

Business and Creativity…

 

In order for interactive storytelling to get through its growing pangs it must learn to properly balance these three measures.  The final balancing act is one that is seldom discussed but is perhaps most paramount.  Of course, that is the business versus creativity.  In the end, gaming is a business.  Publishers and developers need to make money to stay afloat.  The trick is to not let that need to survive drain you dry of your creative juices.

The novelist writes that book because the story is begging to be written.  To deny that creative drive would lead to insanity.  Light that kind of fire into the hearts and imaginations of interactive storytellers, and the industry will be well on its way to pushing past the limits of infancy.

 

 by D.L. Timmerman

writerofthings1@gmail.com

 

Pushing Limits

Part 1 of 2

A Game of Balances…

 

Are video games an art form?  The question is sure to stir up debate and needless strife.  I wish to avoid such banter and get right down to the real issue that is often overlooked: interactive storytelling is our generation’s new medium of writing.  And like films were in the 1920’s, storytelling in games is still very much in its infancy.

Novels may forever be the greatest medium for telling stories.  It not only narrows the cooks allowed in the kitchen to one, but gives something no other medium can: a look into the minds of the characters.  Film, television, and plays can be flashier, absolutely.  They consist of moving pictures and sound.  However, what you cast on a screen or place on a stage will never equal a person’s imagination.  Nor is there a way to film a character’s thoughts.

Graphic novels and comic strips are a hybrid of sorts.  They present still pictures and thought bubbles; bridging the gap between novel and film.  Albeit, a bridge with flimsy construction.  The art form also dates back to Egyptian hieroglyphics and the superhero tales told today (i.e. Batman, Superman, etc) can be rightly labeled modern day mythology.

Interactive storytelling can be described as a hybrid to a degree.  It has the potential to present thought-provoking stories that engage your mind and capture your imagination.  It consists of moving pictures and sound, but can go far beyond what graphic novels and films are capable of.  It offers a key advantage over any other medium: the ability for the reader (player) to interact directly with the story.    This becomes both its blessing and curse.  Indeed, interactive storytelling is really a game of balances.

Stuck in Neutral

 

Most games that are published today are suffering from an identity crisis.  Games like Uncharted 3 and Modern Warfare 3 can’t decide whether they are a game or a movie.  Some take being a game too far, like Saints Row The Third, and sacrifice story altogether.  Others, like Alan Wake, go in the opposite direction.  Games like Infamous mix in comic book elements.  Many more are simply made as gimmicks to make money off licensing.  Very few games today are doing much to advance the actual medium.

The quicker developers and publishers come to the realization that games are not movies, comics, or novels, the better.  Writing for television and writing for games are two entirely different things.  Rather than attempting to copycat what other mediums are doing, interactive storytelling needs to put on pampers and grow up.

This doesn’t mean that every game needs to be Shakespeare.  Just as each novel carries with it the individual voice of its authors, so game writers must learn to find their voice in the stories they write.  I believe the sooner that can be accomplished, the better.  And it really begins with learning how to balance.

 

by D.L. Timmerman

writerofthings1@gmail.com