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Tell me a Story

By Russell "RadPipe" Lauzon
Vol. 2, Issue 9
January 24, 2000

How about those other games?

loonyboi, my esteemed Editor-in-Chief, boss, bearer-of-the-whip, and lover of fine guiness, once wrote a story that appeared on Planetquake called, Waiting for Casablanca. I remember when it first appeared and read it from start to finish. In it he criticizes storytelling in games and talks about the degeneration of the art. It was one of his most popular pieces to date and generated tons of feedback. One of them, as mentioned in the review I quoted above, was from an anonymous source at LucasArts who tried to convince him that this new game they were working on, Grim Fandango, would change all that. And it did.

My next question revolved around other games that the 3 designers have played and enjoyed. Were they story-rich in content? Did they think it was more difficult to tell a story through a First Person Shooter?

Tim Schafer: It's no more difficult to tell a story with a first-person. It just takes a little imagination--like in Half Life. That game illustrates what a lot of us need to figure out--how to develop a story in interactive ways, not just through cut-scenes. That's something I aspire to do with every game, and still feel like I have a long way to go.

Justin Chin: I'd have to say my favorite story game is, Full Throttle. I just love that game. I think it's difficult to tell story in first person shooters because there is a lot of people who think you don't need it. Other than that, I think it's the perfect way to tell a story. I love the first person perspective, it's engrossing and real. Generally, I think some might consider it difficult because television and movies have a lot of editing and visual camera work to tell their stories. But one must remember that computer games are a relatively new medium, and that it also demands a new way to tell stories. If that's what you want to do. Remember not all games need stories. I still play a lot of UT and Quake.

Incidentally our current game, New Legends, is a third person shooter. I know I've said that I love first person shooters, but we made this decision for game-play reasons. This is the only way we could conceive to play New Legends and get the most out of the combat system. It was purely a game-play decision. I know everyone is grumbling as they read this, but in the end, when the game is released, everyone might understand why.

Marc Laidlaw: I haven’t been drawn to RPGs in any major way. It’s taken me a long time to get comfortable with the basics of the form: character stats, modes of combat, etc., etc. My lack of mastery of those elements has made it almost impossible for me to get into the story of any RPG. I prefer to play games where the best possible experience has been worked out in advance and is delivered to me as long as I feed energy into the system. I’m willing to trust that the designers already waded through all the possible storylines and shaped them into the most powerful basic form. So I guess I prefer my stories handed to me on a platter!

Post A Comment

Ultimately it is the gaming public that has the last word on any particular game. I asked Justin, Marc, and Tim what were some of the most interesting comments they’ve had on their games.

Justin Chin: It was from a post on alt.games.jedi-knight, "I found it very disturbing that my character killed that girl who was his friend. Why did he do that and why didn't I have the choice to keep it from happening?" He continues, "I feel like I'm a part of it. I feel really bad about killing the girl. She was a babe. I just have this bad feeling of guilt. The dark side has taken me over."

I hope more people felt that way. After debating on that dark/light story point for the whole project, I think we did the right thing. And, yes, I agree, Jan Ors is a babe.

Marc Laidlaw: I like it when people recognize that story is just one ingredient among many. If they say they enjoyed “the story” as much as they enjoyed the levels or the AI or the art, that’s saying a lot.

Tim Schafer: Women really like Glottis. I thought they'd like Salvador. Go figure.

Rad Says

If you haven’t yet guessed, I’m a big proponent of putting the story into the game. I feel that, before a story can be told, whether it’s in a book, in a magazine, on TV, or in a game, there needs to be at least 3 times as much information carefully compiled in terms of background and story development. Sure, write your science fiction story, but I want to see a 5,000 year future history leading up to it.

The second most important part of putting your story into the game, is developing it. I’ve seen way too many games that have a story leading up to the “Select New Game; Select Difficulty; Start Cinematics...” then suddenly die. Have you ever played a game where you come up against a door that won’t open but will helpfully tell you, “You need the red key.” Sure you have. I have too. It’s akin to running across a non-player-character who tells says, “You need to see your Uncle Leo about the book first to get the key.” And you start thinking, I need a key? What book? I have an uncle? When I get to this point, I usually quit the game. Chances are my interest was lost about 20 minutes ago.

And third, if you are a game developer, get yourself a person who can tell a story. Someone who can describe a scene and make your mappers, artists, coders believe they’re there. Someone who can put some dialogue together and make it real.

Until next time, this is RadPipe, looking for Casablanca...


- Russell "RadPipe" Lauzon is currently exhausting all his free time researching Beer Goggles.



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Credits: Illustration © 2000 Durrenberger David (dines). This article is © 2000 Russell Lauzon. All other content is © 2000 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited. So don't do it, or we'll make you cry, sissy.