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2, Issue 9
January 24, 2000
The Learning Process
When Jedi Knight
was released in 1997, it became an instant classic. Finally
here was a game capable of rivaling the champ of FPS games, Quake,
and some might argue it had even dethroned the king. Well, I wont
call the shot here, but suffice to say I love both games. And
all the kudos go to the designer on the project, Justin Chin.
They say that hindsight
is 20/20, and its very applicable to game development. When
you make a game, successful or not, you have a pretty good idea
of what worked and what didnt. I asked Justin and his peers
about the learning process. What is the best thing theyve
learned from putting games together? How will it change the way
they make their games?
Justin Chin: I
don't think I've changed the way I do things. I'm just more
experienced, and thus better able to see through problematic
issues. I'll say one thing, a lot of people consider me just
a story person, but I've always thought that every game doesn't
need a story. Though, I also believe that every story can make
a game. I can't really get into that without a lot of time and
effort, but it's just something I believe.
Tim Schafer: Think
about interactivity more. Try to pose the story as a sequence
of events instigated by the player, instead of a sequence of
scenes. With the latter method, you end up with a bunch of long,
non-interactive cut-scenes. Which we always do anyway. But the
goal is to bring those down over time. Hopefully, we will eventually
get rid of cut-scenes all together.
Laidlaw: Doing Half Life, we really had no blueprint. We just
had a vision that was very hard to pin down or communicate except
intuitively. Now that we have a clear, tangible sense of what
this new form can do, we can continue to innovate and start feeling
our way into more interesting areas.
No one can deny the
overwhelming success of Half-Life. How do you know when
youre successful? When you see that big fat check arrive
from the publisher. Now count the zeros at the end of the number.
Do you have a nose bleed before youre finished counting?
Congrats, youre successful. But is that all there is to
Where did the success
come from? Was it a great story? Stunning visuals? Gameplay rock
your world? I posed the question to my victims, and asked how
much story attributed to the success of their games.
In the class of single player action games, stories have
gradually become more important, but I can still easily imagine
forms of single player gaming that are successful and totally
addictive without much more than the most rudimentary story.
From the designers point of view, a story helps you make
all kinds of decisions about what goes in and what stays out
of the game. From the players point of view, I guess it
depends on your mood or your nature. People naturally like to
be told stories. Books and movies make it as easy as possible
for the story to get told. But many games make it harder than
it ought to be to get sucked into a story. A bad or overly complex
interface can kill a fragile thing like a story quite easily.
If I have to read a 200 page user manual first, the odds are
low that Ill ever make it to the story.
How do you define success? In terms of creative success, story
scores a 10. In terms of sales, I can't really prove that it
has any effect at all. The benefits of having a well designed
story are that the story gives you an organizational structure
that segments and guides your production, and it gives you confidence
that the little animation or puzzle your working on will add
up to something worthwhile when it all comes together. When
you're really into production, you can't see the forest through
the trees, as they say, so it's nice to know that some point,
somebody planned out the forest really well.
allows the solitary person in front of their computer/console/settopbox/gameboy
to experience, what some might say, an indelible element of our
human psyche, the heroes journey. You can't beat that with a stick.
But a bad story can kill my desire to finish a game or a good
one can make me want to play again. As for the story contributing
to the success of Jedi Knight, I'd say it contributed greatly
to it's success, with one caveat. Those levels where awesome,
they told the story just as much as any cutscene might. Mostly
in a way that they TOOK you to those different worlds. I think
that story development has only just begun to develop in games
there is a lot more that can be done.