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Author Topic: Storytelling through gameplay  (Read 1915 times)
Kytin
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« on: September 21, 2014, 05:05:37 PM »

So this is a topic near and dear to my heart. I've seen numerous threads and articles about it scattered around the web, but it hasn't quite yet exploded into public awareness, and even most developers that I know don't seem to think about it too much.

The idea is simple at heart. Games aren't movies or novels. Instead of trying to tell the story, or show the story, we should let the audience play the story. When we do that we will finally start realizing the full potential of our medium.

Of course there are some games that do in fact already do this, but they tend to be the exception rather than the norm. Games like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, LIMBO, and Shadow of the Colossus. Thomas Was Alone and The Binding of Isaac also probably qualify.


Of course just because the idea is simple, doesn't mean that it is simple to do. For example, I have chosen to avoid using text or speech to tell any of the story in my current project because I think it creates a more compelling experience, but it has made conveying certain concepts challenging.

Are there other developers here that are attempting to use the gameplay as your primary storytelling device? I hope so. I would love to see more games like that.
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Miko Galvez
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« Reply #1 on: September 28, 2014, 07:18:10 PM »

Hi, yes hello. I'm all for this gameplay to tell the story. Having cutscenes playable, etc.

http://forums.tigsource.com/index.php?topic=43590.0

I guess you can say I cover some of these in my Design Topic titled "Player Immersion Into Main Character" where the player must FEEL like the character they are playing in order to be immersed with the story.
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rj
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« Reply #2 on: September 28, 2014, 08:02:13 PM »

i think that's different, though; gameplay as a storytelling mechanism is distinctly different from nonplayable/purely aesthetic moments in a game.
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wccrawford
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« Reply #3 on: September 30, 2014, 05:08:18 AM »

I love the idea of this, but very few have managed it thus far.  Games like New Vegas come close, but in the end I feel like they threw the story at me and I just followed along.  I don't feel like *I* made a decision to do things to accomplish goals, I feel like I followed orders the whole time.

I wish a game like Fallout or Elder Scrolls would just set you loose in the world to do what you want, and if you choose to save a maiden from a troll, so be it.  If you choose to kill a dragon to save a town, so be it.  The unnatural ways they coerce you into dealing with these things mean they are no longer your story.

It's like Inception.  If you hint at it, and the person picks it up and it's their idea, it's much, much stronger.  If you just tell them, they can reject it easily.

Portal did this well, I think, with their puzzles.  They all had 1 right solution, and a few had other ways to solve them.  But I felt like *I* invented those solutions even so.  Portal 2 failed at it.  The hinting far too blatant and I felt like I was following instructions.  The plot, of course, was absolutely forced in both.
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jgrams
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« Reply #4 on: October 01, 2014, 06:14:53 AM »

I've always wondered about building open stories by cobbling together some sort of "social dynamics" model which implements it. Outline the story and look at it in terms of the emotional responses driving it. Visualize those as a force field or attractor. Then you can look at how much "force" or impact the player can have and the different directions that could push the story. Then once you have tweaked the model until you're happy with it, you can implement the world, NPCs, etc. according to that model, and just turn the player loose.

I'm sure it would have the usual drawbacks of "physics" and procedural generation: numerical stability, difficulty of modelling illogical things for dramatic effect, having to describe why things happen rather than exactly what should happen, and so on. But I think it could work well for some types of story, and it would be an interesting thing to at least try.

I'm not really a gamer at all, so I'd be curious to hear if there are examples out there of games trying things like this...
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Woodsy Studio
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« Reply #5 on: October 16, 2014, 09:16:27 AM »

I've always wondered about building open stories by cobbling together some sort of "social dynamics" model which implements it. Outline the story and look at it in terms of the emotional responses driving it. Visualize those as a force field or attractor. Then you can look at how much "force" or impact the player can have and the different directions that could push the story. Then once you have tweaked the model until you're happy with it, you can implement the world, NPCs, etc. according to that model, and just turn the player loose.

Perhaps this isn't exactly what you're looking for, but what you're describing is my favorite part of Crusader Kings II.  You play as the family line of one of hundreds of nobles across Europe, all of which act (relatively) independently as you play.  Each one has certain stats and traits.  They marry, form alliances, have children, maneuver in court, and try to assassinate each other.  Random events pop up affecting your characters and the NPCs. 

As such, storylines seem to emerge from the way the events and NPCs intertwine.  Sure, the player has to fill in the gaps since the game only gives you so much information about each character's motivation.  You can spent in-game years with your little brother trying to usurp your title even though you married him into a more wealthy family because the RNG decided he really wanted your dukedom.  But that just means the story you experience is different each time you play.

Check out the Idle Thumbs videos and the story of Ragnar to see just how weird the dynamic storytelling can develop in that game, with a little creativity on the part of the player.
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jgrams
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« Reply #6 on: October 19, 2014, 05:16:37 AM »

Haha, that does look pretty awesome. I was definitely thinking about going a step beyond that though: asking how we can tell a particular story (or family of stories) in that sort of open setting.

It's probably extremely difficult in a long-term game like CK2, but in a shorter term thing, maybe you could set up the initial conditions (NPCs likes/dislikes, alliances, etc.) so that the story would "want" to go a certain way, even though the player still has free choice. Could you avoid needing the game to arbitrarily decide, "Oh, you can't do that?" Would it feel more legit if fighting the storyline too much resulted in death as a natural consequence of the way the game world works?

Or maybe you could have a "story overseer" component that would try to tweak the random odds so dramatic coincidences would be more likely to happen (like Ragnar dying on the day he would have been created King of Ireland in part 6 of the Idle Thumbs playthrough you were talking about). Or you could have a "canon" of stories (myths, legends, fairytales) that are part of the game world's culture, and it could try to nudge the odds to create stories that match those shapes.

Anyway. These sorts of approaches might well be too difficult or too limited, but I find it fascinating to think about and experiment with how we might make tools to make this sort of thing possible...
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lore
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« Reply #7 on: October 23, 2014, 08:30:49 AM »

Maybe IMHO the story as dialogue for a game is very important but depends about that game type.
For example in some AAA game like Quantic dream game for example the story and the dialogue are very important (dialogue in beyond or heavy rain is more important than gameplay because dialogue and story is gameplay), instead in other game types link indie or other type dialogues are not so important.

quote John Carmack :
Story in a game is like a story in a porn movie. It's expected to be there, but it's not that important.
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Kytin
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« Reply #8 on: October 23, 2014, 02:36:15 PM »

I hate the attitude that that quote represents. It's basically saying 'Games aren't real art, so we won't expect too much of you'. I particularly hate that so many game designers seem to buy into it.

Dialogue isn't the same thing as story though. Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons is a game with a powerful story and not a single line of non-gibberish dialogue. The game I'm currently making is likewise story focussed but lacks dialogue.
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Jason Rohrer
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« Reply #9 on: October 23, 2014, 03:51:12 PM »

A Sad Tale, by Lurk was a great example of this:

http://forums.tigsource.com/index.php?topic=9488.0

I think the idea of stories told by players through the game is really important.  On the other hand, I think it's a dangerous area to explore as a designer.  It's a potential rabbit hole that you can enter and not come back out of for 20 years with nothing to show for it.  You know, making a full-blown simulation of social dynamics...  Many great minds have tried.
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Philip Bak
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« Reply #10 on: October 28, 2014, 03:19:19 PM »

I'm coming to the end of development on my first game (only six years) and have spent a lot of time wrangling with 'storytelling through game play'. It is a simple blaster with my own story but to emphasize the strong motif of 'love' in each Zone (there are 15) I took a different romantic play of Shakespeare and used it as the template for the enemies.

So characters enter and exit based roughly on the text. At one point I had the enemies blurt out random lines but it was just too distracting. However using these plays as a backbone subtext driving through the whole game, it really helped tell my story on top. Of course there's a lot more to it than just that: what I ask the player to do in each zone, the order wasn't random and there are twists along the way. The cost was all the research and meticulous scripting involved.

Will anybody ever notice? Maybe not. But I'm glad I did it.
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Kytin
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« Reply #11 on: October 29, 2014, 09:50:17 PM »

A shooter game with a strong 'love' motif? Sounds like a severe case of ludonarrative dissonance to me, but I haven't played or even seen the game so I can't say for sure. I'm inclined to assume that you are creating this dissonance intentionally based on what little information you have given. Sounds like it could be interesting.
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Prinsessa
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« Reply #12 on: October 30, 2014, 01:31:55 AM »

For my game, the idea is to start the game with a non-controllable sequence that's slightly lengthier (but still pretty short), just to introduce the game with a little bit of a representative and pretty to look at oomph just to drag the player into the experience, and from then on the plan is to barely interrupt the game at all.

Controllers (which I try to keep simple) will be taught at the very beginning, letting the character move through an otherwise empty tube-like section with a couple of in-world floating HUD elements that show the correct buttons and some words for each. From that point on, I will try to keep a HUD out of the game as much as I can, as I feel it breaks the immersion and reminds the player too much that it's just a game.

This does not only mean trying to avoid cutscenes, but also removing the concepts of death or failure from the game, restarting the level and reminding the player that it's just a game where the character is "immortal" – it's in fact a rather important point of the game. Also, if the player fails a task, then that chance is blown. Therefore there will often be a couple of alternative paths from specific points, so that another way can be found if the first plan failed.

Another thing, like I said, is trying to avoid a HUD at most times, and incorporate things into the game world, like for example the gizmos on the armour of the guy in Dead Space.

However, I will be telling a lot of the story through text. The character might have something to say about things the player chooses to examine, or the character might have specific codepoints in the story at which to utter certain things. Another important aspect is two diaries telling the backstory as the game progresses. However, besides the intro (which is going to show text from the diaries), the plan is to just show these texts (as well as the character's real-time utterances) without interrupting the game, at the right point, like when a new area is discovered. The textboxes will contain little text, so that the player has time to read it and still keep playing. They'll just be floating on top of the game without removing control from the character, usually.

Sometimes there will be short sequences where the game may be frozen for a couple of seconds just to show some main event (some cool gate opening while vibrating the controller, perhaps), but they'll be just as baked into the game as anything, and be over in a couple of seconds. I feel that just adds immersion anyway, clearly marking these important effects, again, with a little oomph. The character is supposed to be a bit amazed and stunned at these points in the game, so freezing controllers there makes sense.

I keep getting new ideas about the exact mechanical details of this. We'll see what I can come up with!

P.S. I guess it's important to note that this game focuses on untangling backstories and not as much on telling a contemporary story. There will be developments, of course, but the focus is on understanding what has happened before.
« Last Edit: October 30, 2014, 01:49:22 AM by Prinsessa » Logged

Philip Bak
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« Reply #13 on: October 30, 2014, 12:41:23 PM »

A shooter game with a strong 'love' motif? Sounds like a severe case of ludonarrative dissonance to me, but I haven't played or even seen the game so I can't say for sure. I'm inclined to assume that you are creating this dissonance intentionally based on what little information you have given. Sounds like it could be interesting.

I had not heard of ludonarrative dissonance before. It's not something I set out to do. That's got me thinking now.
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Tom Rijnbeek
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« Reply #14 on: November 03, 2014, 08:43:37 AM »

I am currently doing research in this area actually (more info on my blog right here for context) and of course that meant some literature study. I came across a paper that might be very helpful to you. *rummages through digital stack of paper* Here is is. The title of the paper is actually Story Through Gameplay, so that ties in nicely with this topic I think. A full digital version can be found here, but you could always use Google (Scholar) as well.

There are several other sources I have used, but they mostly go into more psychological aspects. Another source I can definitely recommend though is the book Creating emotion in games: The craft and art of emotioneering™ by D. Freeman. It didn't help my own research a lot, but it is a book full of techniques for storywriting. Sadly the chapter about tying in gameplay with the story is a bit disappointing, so I wouldn't say it's worth buying the book over, but if you can get it from a library, it could be worth a try.

I wish I could tell you more based on my own research, but I decided to go in a slightly different direction, so this is all I have got for you right now.
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