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Old 03 January 2010, 01:32   #1
pubzombie
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Great storytelling games

Hi Folks,
thought i would start a new thread about this.
I have a new job teaching games development and i am running two courses about games narratology. One course covers storytelling in games in general and the other course looks at storytelling in RPG's and MMOs.
I am going to take an amiga 1200 into work as i believe the miggy years were the high point of narrative games. I think we had better story based games then, before we all became sidetracked by graphics technology and big budget mainstream gaming.
I have already decided to use some miggy classics such as Beneath a Steel Sky, Alien Breed games [they borrowed so nicely from cinema and the success of Aliens] and the Cinemaware games It Came from the Desert and Wings.
i want to run these on some original hardware rarther than emulation but will give the students the option to emulate just incase too many of them want to play on the miggy.
the 1200 is unexpanded [ ican use my expansion card from my 'new' amiga technologies miggy if needed] and i have a pcmia flashcard reader and workbench lite boot disk. I also have a paid up version of WHDload so I can use that if needed for compatability issues.
Just wondering if any of you guys in EAB land could recomend any games that were innovative in their storytelling tecniques or were just special for some reason that you think younger gamers who want to work in the industry should be aware of??????
cheers for your time chaps
steve
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Old 03 January 2010, 01:58   #2
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The best storytelling games have always been adventure games of the point n click variety like Monkey Island and ESPECIALLY RPGs, most notably the ones that allow you to modify certain plot points, essentially writing your OWN story to a degree.

I can't agree with the Amiga being a high point for narrative. That is for PC (Day of the Tentacle aka D.O.T.T etc!, Fallout, Planescape) and for console RPGs like Chrono Trigger (SNES) and Xenogears (PSX).

The biggest problem with story telling in games these days is what I call the "Rail Road Effect", which is basically the player sitting their passively being TOLD what's going on and not having any choice in the matter (most JRPGs). I guess my opinion is "narrative in games is over used" (cutscenes = the suck!).

Most of the greatest games don't need stories of course; they're just have great game play. See - shmups, a fave genre of many hardcore gamers. :-)
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Old 03 January 2010, 02:23   #3
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Interesting.

i guess game narratology is kind of a tricky flavour, since the story telling in games suffers of more bumps than any other medium i know of.
i mean, there's the obstacle of the interfacing, with wich the user must push the story on, and that's harder than to make your eyes wander on a book or just being attentive enough to have a narration told or played to you.

plus the story happens by means of smoke and mirrors (the hardware and software in front of you) always a bit wobblin in place and that's a bit of a distraction.

computer storytelling suffers also a dis-unity of play that is not chosen by the user: while the reader chooses to interrupt reading or a watcher can pause a movie at will, the story in a game is interrupted each time the player does not know the next move.

therefore, i assume that the values in game stories must be those that allows the narration not really happening on the monitor, but in the fantasy of the player unrelatedly to when he's playing or not (plus of course a generally good storytelling): the creation of a believable background for a conflict imho appears more important than in other media.

then as for consistency of the whole packaging, the details and the whole shebang that makes the game fruition almost not being interrupted by whatever may be distracting, i would suggest Perihelion.
a good, simple story, conveyed almost only through player actions / choices, plus a great coherent coreography of visuals and sounds to the short but effective story texts.

At that, It Came From the Desert too, that you mention, is a great choice!

what else? about good ideas in RPGs there were the journal entries on paper for the whole gold box saga, by SSI. those were much better than modern journal entries inside the games, in an aspect, they were structural to the solution of the game, not mere accessories like in Bethesda games, for instance, and they were better readable, at a easier pace, more curious, a bit like the "choose your adventure" kind of games.

I cannot identify many good story teller games on computer, however, i have a hunch that the more self restrained, contained, the better they are.

For instance, i'm not sure Lucas Art games are examples of great storytelling, even if they may be great games. They looks more like collections of genres' commonplaces, or situations, with often unclear directions. maybe with the exception of Loom.

anyway, just my 2 cents.
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Old 03 January 2010, 07:11   #4
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I find the best most deeply burned stories are those that were minimal - and not just in the sense that they didn't have much story - imagination is the most powerful tool devs have at their disposal and they hardly ever use it these days

Old games are fondly remembered for their great presence in our mind but it's not always the great playability that has preserved them

More is definitely less in the form of the majority of games these days - not likely to change either
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Old 03 January 2010, 10:10   #5
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I find the best most deeply burned stories are those that were minimal - and not just in the sense that they didn't have much story - imagination is the most powerful tool devs have at their disposal and they hardly ever use it these days
I don't think minimalism is key (Planescape is an example of the opposite that still sears the mind; it has lots of dialogue but many choices off set that). But I do believe in player input in game stories.

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Old games are fondly remembered for their great presence in our mind but it's not always the great playability that has preserved them
Honestly, the great presence could just be "youth". Experiences in youth can leave and often do leave much deeper impressions in the mind than experiences in adult hood, though it is not always true, because it depends on the intensity of the experience. I read a rationalist once called Spinoza who said something like, "one intense impression that becomes strong in the mind can only be over ridden by a more intense impression, that pretty much replaces it." Umm, or something. :-)

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More is definitely less in the form of the majority of games these days - not likely to change either
So you mean it should be "less is more" as in "less narrative can be more narrative because the player has the oppurtunity to augment his/her imagination with the story line", instead of that "rail road effect". In which case this is what I said, just put another way.
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Old 03 January 2010, 10:11   #6
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one word: Anachronox
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Old 03 January 2010, 10:22   #7
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more words: Deus Ex.
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Old 03 January 2010, 11:13   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Falcon Flight View Post
Most of the greatest games don't need stories of course; they're just have great game play. See - shmups, a fave genre of many hardcore gamers. :-)
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Originally Posted by Adropac2 View Post
More is definitely less in the form of the majority of games these days - not likely to change either
Actually this morning i was thinking about it, and i guess that the best stories in computer games are the ones where the narration is non existant. which pretty much is the purpose of a game, not tell but play.

for instance, Xenon II has a better story, more consistent, driven and better told than Cruise for a Corpse.

if a story is the movement in wich a character is presented to the conflict, struggle with it and solve it, in Cruise, an adventure game, the player is as i was saying in the other post, experiment all sorts of false starts, pauses, but most of all back and forth movements.
those micro-stories (ex: go talk character A, get info regarding character B, go back to A) are what a human is trained to see in real life every second to distill a sense out of it.

but in a proper story, one where it's the same player the one to move on the action, they simply differ and dilute the sense of the story.

So, if the only expressing way of game is that, with its constraints in regards of storytelling, for instance Xenon II is a great story telling exemple because the conflict is pretty much straight forward: if you dwindle in some decision, the story finish almost instantly with the ship exploding.
the narration goes through different settings, in a chronological way (the different levels, from protozoa to machines) and almost not a word is written down except from the merchant character acting as secondary character.

the mood in Xenon II is what strikes the game as a great story, with yet again a consistent playing ambient (visuals and sounds that do nothing to distract the player from the climatic innuendo in the play, where the conflict gets frantic just before the solution.

The final is in tune with the rest of the game, almost no word at all, and that is a bit of a failure in regards of the dissolution of the sentiments experienced (and energy spent) in the game play, which is a bit too abrupt and unsatisfactory.

Last edited by Marcuz; 03 January 2010 at 12:01.
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Old 03 January 2010, 11:57   #9
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another thing I just thought of about these older Amiga classics, like Xenon 2, is that, in the MANUAL, there's a story of sorts, something about Xenites or whatever in this case.

Lots of old school gamers loved their well presented manuals, many of which contained BACK stories, and read them before playing (not like today, where no body RTFM!), and played the game with what was written in the manual, in the back of their mind.

I certainly did. :-)
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Old 03 January 2010, 12:03   #10
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yeah! me too! i was always trying to read between the lines for something useful in the play. but that aside, well written manuals with a bit of backstory or introduction, were a great thing! i remember for instance Utopia' one.
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Old 03 January 2010, 16:56   #11
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Hey hey,
thanx for the input chaps.
@falcon - yes you have a point there bro. The PC saw some truly impressive storytelling games. i agree Fallout [and fallout2] were truly awesome and moved games into a new area. I will be using Fallout and Fallout 2 as the students will all be aware of Fallout 3 without ever playing the first games, and fallout tactics. Thank you. However, i think we had a period in earlier gaming history that was characterised by the freedom and willingness to innovate in games development. It was a time unfetered by huge corporations trying to emphasise the fact that their games had the best graphics - my point perhaps is that the less technologically driven era saw devs free to experiment, and that during this time technological limitations meant that there had to be more emphasis on gameplay and as a result there was more experimentation in storytelly methodology. For me - and this is personal opinion due to my gaming experiences - this period was best encapsualted in the commodore years. It was during this period that the seeds were sown from which the mighty oaks of Fallout etc were grown - errrr,,, i think I have not played DOTT but will look it up.
I also agree with you regards the 'railroad' effect and cutscenes. emergent narrative [ie player created narrative] always feels more satisfying to me. cutscenes have to be very good to work [ie rockstar and GTAiv etc] but even then feel like they are trying to borrow to hard from other established forms of narrative like film. And games aint films - the whole point of games is that they are not linear. The film industry is old now, and established, its had many years to develope form and method, gaming needs to catch up and break away from copying narrative methodology from other media - wonder where we will be in 100yrs and gasming has had as long to develop as film has now? Again perhaps there was more of a gap between gaming and other media back in the day when graphics and technology were weaker - again just throwing mud at the wall here and seeing what sticks. In terms of emergent narratives and player created stories MMOs such as World of Warcraft must be pretty near the top of the list? I mean people play WoW religeously and make their own stories that the developers have nothing to do with? Making and crafting? playing the economy? falling in love? even getting married etc etc?
@ Marcuz - yes I agree, game strytelling is hardwaork for player and developer and the complete packaging does effect this. I mean look at the original Elite! Braben and Bell wrote a massive booklet to go with the game that included instructions that had no bearing on actual gameplay and were just there to emerse the player in the narrative that they [ the player] were constructing. I cant think of many more games that did this? perhaps Wastelands and its make your own adventure type booklet [forrunner to Fallout] and Mass Effect? Yes i remeber the SSI bits of paper too, also I used to love the stuff that used to come with microprose games too. Funny you should mention the make your own adventure series as I was going to use a whole load of these in the workshops to help teach the principle of emergent narratives and get the students thinking about quest and story arcs. this i feel would work well with examining the Fallout 3 game and startegy guide - the collectors edition is over 600 pages in lenght and really opens up the soul of the game for us to see.
Never heard of Perihelion. Going to look it up now.
agree with you regards Lucas Arts - especially the starwars games.
Monkey Island may be a good one however? was it LA? or did i dream that?
@Adropac2 agree with ther too matey.
Are when we talk of good old retro games just 'old men drooling over their youth?' i dont know sometimes when I load up an old game i feel that way but then other times i feel totaly the oposite. Especially when i play old multiplayer games, multiplayer games that require you to actually be sat next to the other player and create stories together. Alien Breed? Speedball2? Super Skidmarks? Archon? Adept? - even a game of Chess tells a story - a minimal one, but surely its still a narrative of a war or battle?
never played Dues Ex because i never had a pc to run it at the time.
will get a copy asap
Never played Anachronox either - will look it up now too.
I really do miss the loving presentation of manuals and boxed goodies we used to get with games.
we still get them! however, they are called strategy guides these days and we have to pay a lot extra for the pleasure.
Thanks for the input guys you really have given me a lot to think about and have made some really pertinent points. When i have written a few lectures i will gladly make the slides available if you pm me.
Thanks for your time dudes and feel free to chip in - us retro gamers have a wealth of experience that younger gamers simply missed out on.
to all us drooling old men
cheers
steve
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Old 03 January 2010, 17:28   #12
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hmn... I know its not really "narrating" as such, but maybe "Elite 2: Frontier" is worth a mention? Theres little "story" as such, but you make your own up... "Sandbox" at its maximum... oh, and 512kb ram needed ^-^ .... lets say 1mb eh?
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Old 03 January 2010, 17:30   #13
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Frontier is an awesome game... I think I have that on pcmia flashcard. I have the original too Think I am missing the starmap however
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Old 03 January 2010, 18:06   #14
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Sounds interesting, if something comes out of it, like a YT vid or something, please share

Quote:
Originally Posted by pubzombie View Post
I am going to take an amiga 1200 into work as i believe the miggy years were the high point of narrative games. I think we had better story based games then, before we all became sidetracked by graphics technology and big budget mainstream gaming.
I got tired of adventures about the same time as Leisure Suit Larry; I was age 16; I'd read thousands of books and could see through my anglophilia to see that the stories weren't very well-written. I think a lot of people just got tired of the pace of the game; picture+scene description+at the mercy of some programmer who wants you to do illogical stuff to get to move on.

But it really had nothing to do with quality, more to do with that NEW game types had appeared, which I spent just as much time on, but felt more rewarding.

So I think the story-based games were dying (as in becoming die-hard fan games only) already in 1988 or whenever it was. I mean that other retro games with other interfaces, styles, and pace have ... well, not aged better, since a good game is a good game and adventure style can't really be improved with a big budget or horsepower but the others have kept some part of the gamedesign that still has appeal.

Ie. I don't think that in the case of adventures (and not even all other old games) we got "sidetracked by 3D" or whatever, I think the problem is the gamedevs did And ofc, most of them make games for money and the money went to the "current hottest thing". SNES killed the Amiga!!!! etc.

There's nothing stopping someone from making a nice 2D game or a nice adventure, certainly it would be doable for one person to make an "story-based game engine" for Amiga - or portable - which storytellers and gfx artists can have fun with and plug in content. Why not try to get something like that started?
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Old 03 January 2010, 18:23   #15
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I agree, we dont need to have horsepower to tell stories in games. in some respect horsepower could have been used to make better conversation trees and npc ai than graphics in rpg and point and click games. I am not a programmer but would gladly be involved in any amiga designed product.
I realloy deal in theory, originally history and military based games and have only just picked up the mantle of narratologist.
A guy called Espen Aarseth is currently a leading thinker in this field
anybody who is interested can see his latest work here
http://vimeo.com/7097715
steve

Last edited by pubzombie; 03 January 2010 at 21:40. Reason: spelling
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Old 03 January 2010, 19:14   #16
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that's a nice video, thanks for the link!

it shacres many concepts you can find also on: David Mamet, Three Uses of the Knife
http://www.amazon.com/Three-Uses-Kni.../dp/037570423X
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Old 03 January 2010, 19:31   #17
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thnx marcuz
will order that in for the library
steve
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Old 03 January 2010, 20:35   #18
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I think Charley deserves viewing too
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode...ers_Gameswipe/
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Old 03 January 2010, 20:50   #19
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it doesn't play outside UK
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Old 03 January 2010, 21:05   #20
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Aarseth video is quite interesting, even when my "listening" english only reaches about 50% I can get most of what he's exposing!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Photon
certainly it would be doable for one person to make an "story-based game engine" for Amiga - or portable - which storytellers and gfx artists can have fun with and plug in content. Why not try to get something like that started?
Yup, do existing Amiga adventure-oriented game creations tools fall into that category?

I mean, things like GRAC2, ACS or GRAAL in the graphic adventure field or CAG, ADMS, HATRACK, or VISIONARY in the text-only one. An entry for this Christmas game comp is a GRAC2 adv, and I took a peek into the text-adv tools to see if they were OK for my own project, although I finally opted to go for Amos.

Modern Interactive Fiction authors (you know, those guys making text adventures and hanging around r.a.i.f ) are still debating where their works actually incline to. Being a predominantly textual medium, they are supposed to be closer to story than game, but the closer they go, the less "interactive" and more "static" their fiction gets. That's the kind of issue I had to deal with writting my little text adv from scratch with Amos instead of using any of the available tools. What I did in more than two programming Amos weeks I could have achieved in a couple of sessions with Inform (whose interpreter runs on any 2.x+ Amiga) but then I decided that would make more sense for an Interactive Fiction comp, not an Amiga programming one, and Amos would give me more freedom with display layout.

In order to finish in time (which I finally couldn't ) I had to do a lot of cheating in the plot. Make some objects appear only at certain moments, starting cascade events automatically instead of in a more detailed and realistic way... not to mention it's buggy, crashy, lacking in vocabulary and quite poorly written in broken english!

I don't know up to what point the problems writting the story for a text game are the same for a graphic one. The "language" and the mechanichs involved are really different and what works in one medium is likely not to do in the other.

Any good old Infocom games fans out there?

--

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