All About damnstraight003
I'm always hearing guys like Molyneux and Will Wright talk about how excited they get about players' stories that come out of their games, Wright more so than Molyneux simply due to the more open-ended nature of his titles. Now, I'm no professional editor, but I do like to consider myself a writer, and I'm noticing a trend in gaming that characters are becoming less and less believable, and the quality of storytelling is on a rapid decline. If you don't understand what I mean, pick up a New York Times best-selling piece of literature and compare it with the majority of the stuff at www.fanfiction.net (though I admit, a few rare gems on that website are pretty quality). I remember a time when gaming stories were a lot closer to the former, but now they are getting dangerously close to the other end of the scale. A prime example for me of the few good storytellers out there is BioWare, though they, too, are getting dragged down by the industry's lack of imagination.
One thing Peter Molyneux said, back when talk of Fable 2 was just getting started, that really stuck in my mind was about great story. "A great story, that's what you want to do... a fantastic story which is big, and sprawling, and epic, and has really the most terrible bad guy of all time... That's not going to get an emotion out of you, is it? ...I realized, what it really was, the big thing I wanted everyone to experience... it is love." Dear God, when I heard those words come out of that man's mouth my expectations for Fable 2 just soared. Perhaps because of that, the game for me was a let down in a lot of ways; however, there was that one moment, with the dog, on top of the Bower Lake hill (those who have played the game know exactly which moment I'm talking about), which moved me deeply. I don't think I can express how excited, sad, and angry I was all at the same time. It was for me the mark of a great game, stuck into one that didn't deserve to be called it. But it showed me that writers do have the potential to make me feel things.I don't care if a dog would actually do such a thing, that hardly matters. The important part was that Lionhead grew some balls and wasn't afraid to violently cut the player off from an important game mechanic in order to make their point.
The one game I compare every game I play now to is The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. Some might say that's unfair, and setting a very high standard, but I really don't think so. The Ocarina of Time was a work of art. All games are pieces of art and literature in their own way.But why has this been so forgotten by writers?Well, one reason is that the poor souls are forced to cater to a base that actually believes real literature is boring. People crave exciting action and visceral combat, vivid graphics and a hundred DLC packs to boot. With the possible exception of DLCs, all these things have their place in games. Interactivity and player input are what separate games from other kinds of art, like books or movies. The problem arises when writers let the screaming of the retarded masses drown out their own ideas and goals, or draw them away from their intended theme, or cause them to change a character because they aren't 'fun' enough.
Now, I'm sure plenty of people reading this have either never heard of or have long since forgotten about things like theme, character, and plot, but in fact these literary concepts do have their place in games. Here, theme in a nutshell: the theme of a literary work is typically the author's intended message, or the concept that the story revolves around. For example, the theme of Fable 2 could be stated as "Often, developers try too hard to create driving stories based on those of popular games, and this can lead them to forget what it is that made those games great: emotion." Obviously, this theme never crosses the minds of Theresa, the Hero, the citizens of Bowerstone, or the Hero's companions, because in Fable 2 the theme is implicit. We have to look at the clues left in the story, and what Molyneux has said in interviews to see what point he and Lionhead are trying to get across with this game. The presence of this theme, which is intended to deepen our understanding of the gaming industry, makes Fable 2 a work of interpretive fiction. We are supposed to come away from it with some kind of insight or lesson learned.
The problem with outsourcing the story of your game to your players, as in Spore (which is a sandbox game and therefore is not supposed to have a linear storyline with predetermined plot, characters, theme, or any other literary concept), is that the game's point or intended insight is lost, often due to the fact that most players are not writers, and also simply because players do not have access to the resources of developers. This is not necessarily a bad thing: fiction which is not intended to broaden our understand of something or provide us with some kind of insight is called escape fiction, and is simply intended to help us pass the time agreeably. Escape fiction is not necessarily of a lower quality than interpretive fiction, but it certainly tends to be. Do I expect all games to be fantastic, deeply metaphorical pieces of interpretive fiction? Absolutely not. Do I expect at least a few of them to be? Absolutely.
Don't get me wrong, there are some great games that have come out in recent years. I think of Bioshock, Assassin's Creed, Resident Evil 5... these are some real quality titles. I also think of some titles which were not received so well by the public... for example, Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, which I maintain to be a decent piece of escape fiction. Then I think of titles that were loved by the masses and game critics alike, but were really shallow when looked at from an artistic standpoint. Case in point: Halo 3 and Halo 3: ODST, Call of Duty 4 and 5. These games, while visually impressive, having decent gameplay, and in the case of Halo having some really cool and original material, fail to deliver when it comes to artistic depth. This, to me, pretty quickly lowers their rating from GameSpot's 9.0 or 9.5 to a 7.0 or a 7.5. I don't deny that they are well-made games, but the fact is, these titles are made by developers with a budget big enough to fool you into thinking they're better than they are.
Some games are simply not intended to tell a story, and it's games like these that separate themselves from the standard of literary excellence I hold games with a story to. Consider Tom Clancy's EndWar (which did technically have a story, but really shouldn't have), or better yet the Forza Motorsport series. These games can be weighed on the values of their control scheme, how well their difficulty scales (which is a big problem with Halo and Call of Duty, I'll get to that in another blog), the amount of skill required to play, how graphically impressive they are... all the things that games with story are weighed upon at story's expense.
All I'm saying is, if you're going to make a game with a story, PLEASE, I'm begging you, make it well! Give it an insightful theme, some kind of commentary on society, symbolism and metaphor, a well-lain plot... or maybe something completely different! Don't forget that you as a game designer are supposed to be an artist. Don't let the technical aspects of your game get in the way of the artistic! Capture me like I was captured by the first time I saw Sheik in The Ocarina of Time, or when I finally defeated Bowser in Super Mario 64. Manipulate me! Force me to feel what you want me to feel, not what you think I want to feel.
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