Story Time: The Blend of Gameplay and Narrative
Narrative has always been in video games primarily to give a reason for the gameplay and a little extra to entertain the gamer. Back during the NES and SNES the story was usually in the background to fill in levels. Some games such as Street Fighter II didn’t have a story while rarities just as Ninja Gaiden had a full narrative. Times have changed, strong narratives have taken a larger role in enticing the gamer and now a good game has to balance perfectly between the story and gameplay.
Amy Hennig is a popular name in the industry and if you haven’t heard of her maybe you’ve heard of the games that she wrote, directed or produced: Uncharted, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, Soul Reaver 2, Legacy of Kain: Defiance, and Jak and Dexter. EDGE called her one of the 100 most influential women in the game industry and she also won a Writers Guild of America award for Uncharted 2.
Uncharted is known for it’s story, characters and memorable action scenes. The game heavily expands it’s characters with realistic animation and witty dialogue. Nathan Drake isn’t your serious adventurer, he tells jokes and one-liners during perilous situations. Each game dwells deeper into Nathan’s backstory, explaining more about his character and his partner-in-crime Victor Sullivan while it moves forward about his relationship with Elena. It’s a series known for it’s superb acting and writing that can contend with today’s Hollywood movies.
Heavy Rain and L.A. Noire are both story-driven mysteries hailed for stunning graphics, animations and story-telling. A lot of people compared the two games for their graphics and likable characters which they both pull off extraordinarily. Heavy Rain follows four didn’t people who as they try to find a missing child and stop a serial killer. LA Noire’s approach shows you the raise of the detective Cole Phelps, a large conspiracy involving ex-soldiers that he fought with in WWII and morphine on the streets of 1950′s L.A.
While gasping with Nathan Drake, helping a father save his missing son, feeling upset about an endangered alien species or just finishing up a series wanting to know how it all ends. Emotion is drawn from the player through the writing. It isn’t just about breakneck cutscenes and heart-pounding moments on the other hand it’s about tying all of those elements together to keep the audience engaged.
Need For Speed: The Run failed at that. Yeah, they wanted fun Michael Bay-inspired action and you got it along with a great premise. Jack Rouke enters a race from San Fran to New York while being chased by the mob over an unpaid debt. You barely know anything about Jack, except he owes the mob a large amount of money. Was he wheel man? How can he drove so many cars so good? You know nothing about his partner Sam Harper (aside a small hint the pair grew up together). Sam enters Jack in The Run and she is getting a cut of 90% out of the $25 million prize if Jack wins. EA could’ve gone crazy with the story but overall it fell flat and ended up as another NFS racer. Hopefully, Black Box’s next try will maintain the excitement with a stronger narrative. Perhaps small chats of dialogue between Jack and Sam during the gameplay like Kane and Lynch. Games that come up short with the story but can deliver awesome gameplay will bore people and if it has a good story and terrible gameplay it won’t be a fun game.
Not everyone seems to agree about having a narrative in video games. During DICE Summit, David Jaffe expressed that storytelling is going too far for the game industry and it’s giving it a negative effect and then he clarified what he meant to 1UP. Jaffe’s background involves Twisted Metal – an insane death racer known for it’s chaotic gameplay and also God of War, that series complimented story and gameplay perfectly.
“My talk is actually a warning about why we shouldn’t tell stories with our video games. I think it’s a bad idea. I think it’s a waste of resources and time and money and more importantly I think it actually stunts, and has stunted over the last ten years or so, the medium of video games.”
Resources are spent up to create over-the-top cutscenes which would make people get bored just as how MGS: Sons of Liberty was panned for it’s long cutscenes. But Jaffe praised games like Skyrim, where the story revolves around the player to the point that they are the driving force for the story. Somewhat akin to the “choose your own adventure” angle.
Being able to “choose” your style is a strong story telling ploy in games these days. Mass Effect stood out from other sci-fi games mainly because of the alternate choices throughout the story. Moral dilemas, relationships and killing off teammates along with enemies are constantly brought up.
Nevertheless there are people who are in the mood to play a game just for the gameplay. Not a movie experience just something straightforward such as the multiplayer feature for a game, Call of Duty is the a prime example. COD is the most successful games to this date. It is great for what it is but it is billed as a quick online-FPS. Fans do follow the series plot and some fans just follow it for the new perks and multiplayer. It’s almost the best of both worlds and that’s where some studios will try and capitalize amongst the competition however it will still be a side-option. No one purchased Elder Scrolls, Arkham City or L.A. Noire expecting multiplayer thrills.