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Everything is Possible-Interviews with some of gaming's leading storytellers by GS


Romier S
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Gamespot has an excellent article/interview session with some of the industry's leading storytellers including Hidoe Kojima, Tim Schafer and Ken Levine. They discuss storytelling in gaming and how today's gamers react to a good/bad story in a game. They also cover some interesting conversations about emergent storytelling, storytelling through gameplay and how awful the writing and performances for most games are today. I found it to be an excellent read and a nicely done article. You can read the entire article here:

 

Everything is Possible - Inside the Minds of Gaming's Master Storytellers

 

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Some interesting comments:

 

Ken Levine:

 

Let me say this: With few exceptions, I've always hated cutscenes. I hate sitting through them. I hate the generally terrible writing. I hate the notion that most game developers want nothing more than to make public the dramatic machinations of their D&D characters from high school.

 

I'm a big fan of emergent storyline. I remember growing my squad of beloved characters (who never had a single line of dialogue) in X-COM and watching with bated breath as they entered the treacherous corridors of the final boss with only a single blaster launcher missile left. Why? Because it was a scenario conceived by a partnership between myself and the game. It was a moment that existed uniquely in my gaming experience and not shared the same way by any other soul on earth.

 

It's an interesting point because I happen to enjoy a well done cutscene in many of the games that I play. There are those games out there that utterly revel in drowning the player in nothing but cutscene after cutscene to tell it's story (Metal Gear Solid 2, Xenosaga etc.) and I would have enjoyed hearing some of these guys thoughts on those experiences (especially considering you have Kojima right at your fingertips!)

 

Ken Levine:

 

The story should serve to unify the game experience and the narrative, not to exist on a separate track.

 

Hate to continue hightlighting Levine's thoughts but I do enjoy how the guy thinks. He speaks briefly about System Shock 2 and how he and his team tried to integrate the emails/logs directly into the gameplay. This style of storytelling is something Doom 3 did quite nicely also. It is of course a borrowed element from System Shock but I think folks underplay how effective listening to the logs in Doom 3 really is. Though that brings up a question. In the case of Doom 3 as opposed to a game like System Shock, does having to move into a menu screen to access the logs and emails disrupt the effectiveness of the storytelling?

 

Tim Shafer:

 

Well, technology helps make the experience more and more immersive to more people. Previously you would have to have quite a good imagination to turn, say, the words of Zork into a real world in your head. But now people who don't have that much imagination can still fall into fantasy worlds because of the increased "realism" of the presentation. But as that gets closer and closer to real, the parts where it's missing (facial expressions, etc) become more and more glaring.

 

I especially liked Shafer's comment at the end there. I've always been fasctinated by games like The Sims for instance. I honestly could never get into playing the game for than a few days before I became bored but the simulation aspects are intriguing. By simulation I don't only mean the areas of gameplay where you are monitoring whether your Sim has to pee or not but more along the lines of the facial expressions, the sim language etc and maintaining the realism of the world the game is trying to simulate.

 

I'd be curious to find out how important it is for you guys as gamers wanting to experience a story, for the "simulation" to be as real as possible. Does lack of proper lip synching pull you right out of a game to the point where you can no longer take anything happening seriously? It seems like an obvious question but when I think back to some terribly disappointing games I have played in the past such as Siren; One of the biggest problems I had with it was the games inability to maintain the reality of the world it was trying to simulate. (british voice actors for Japanese characters, terrible lip synching etc)

 

Ragnar Tornquist:

 

think that interactive--or participatory--narratives will become increasingly complex and mature and that they will reach an ever-growing audience. We just need to get past the gee-whiz-bang stage and dig into the kind of stories that will make people feel. Mix interactivity with emotion, and you've got a very, very powerful tool.

 

My god I think he's got it! A question I've been asked by a great many people is: Why do you love Silent Hill 2 so much? That last sentence is so utterly dead on. The emotional heart of the story in Silent Hill 2 is something I can't get enough of.

 

Silent Hill 2 falls prey to some of the issues I mentioned in above in terms of maintaining the realism of the games simulation but I am able to look past it because of the mix of interactivity with a deeply emotional narrative. It elicits a feeling out of me like any good artistic meduim should. Be it music, a painting, or film.

 

Thinking back over the years what are some of the emotional moments you guys have experienced in gaming? Be it utter excitement, sadness, or joy. Anything moment where a game was able to elicit a real deep human emotion. I wish more games were able to do it for me. Lord knows I'd spend as much time with them as I have with Silent Hill 2.

 

Hideo Kojima:

 

MGS is not about telling a good story. It's about a protagonist who infiltrates and fights some bad guys. The bad guys occupy a certain area. That's why the protagonist infiltrates that area to eliminate the bad guys. That's the whole plot. Well, I do throw in many twists towards the end to surprise the player, but I limit that to a level that is not confusing. MGS is an action game, and I cannot really make the story any more complex.

 

An utterly baffling comment from Kojima really considering the story of Metal Gear Solid 2. It's also somewhat telling of the process by which Kojima came to tell that story. Metal Gear Solid 2 has one of the most complex narratives out there really. Many would consider it to be a jumbled mess of cliches and non-sequiturs and I very much agree with them in some aspects. However, was there method to Hideo's madness though? In the end, was Metal Gear Solid 2 an attempt to bring complexity to a genre that lacked such in the storytelling department?

 

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I highly recommend reading the rest of this article. I was left slightly disappointed that Tim Schafer was almost a ghost throughout most of the interviews. There is a suprising amount of apathy toward storytelling in gaming from many of the participants as well. A definite suprise considering you have guys that have worked on some of the best story driven games out there.

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