Sunday, 6 December 2009

Storytelling in Games

Within the world of computer games, story lines came about after the introduction of home consoles. Before, video games were arcade and could not really introduce a storyline because gamers would be only there for a short while. Now games can have vast, expansive stories full of imaginative characters and twists. But does a strong story line make a better game?

This comes down to the genre, sports and racing games don’t tend to have plot lines, with the exception of games like Need for Speed, a racer with a very vague plot line. These games are much more reminiscent of the arcade classics and do not need a storyline to be entertaining and enjoyable.

Adventure and role playing games are the most likely to hold a good story line because that’s what the whole sales perspective is about, like a film or book, they feature a hero and the story of which you follow till the end. The idea that you are writing the story as you play is what makes games different from other forms of visual entertainment, where as in a film you watch the plot unfold, in a game you act it with consequences. Games now like Mass Effect are starting to incorporate your consequences into the plot line and change the story as you play, ultimately changing the whole story and possible outcome of the game. These kind of games really immerse the player presenting him or her with real questions that could inevitably change the course of the game. Bad responses can cause ‘would be’ friends to now hate you and visa versa.

I would not say all games have a story, but some games with no initial or primary plot line can evolve with the player, and the player finds themselves creating a story based around them. World of Warcraft is a Massive Multiplaying Online Role Playing Game where the player creates a hero who rises from the small villages and becomes a mighty warrior. This to imaginative and inventive players will become a story that they act out as they play even though the game its self is not directly informing so. So yes, you could say in a very lose sense, all games have a story, whether it be created in the minds of the player or laid out in a beautiful visual cinematic.

The Art Director

The art director is the main man when it comes to the art side of game development and design. They are responsible for assigning tasks to crew and keeping the budget and schedule on track as well as covering quality control. The art director will answer to the production designer. I think the art directing role is very similar to that of a film role because it is for the same visual aesthetics even though they are made using a completely different process. I would imagine an art director would have to be extremely good at multi tasking and be a very ambitious and self motivated leader. They will be under a lot of pressure dealing with deadlines and budgeting and will have to be good at managing people and processes. This role will be very creative and highly demanding, I would have thought, getting to this position would require a lot of enthusiasm and they will have had to prove themselves in areas of not only team work and leadership but in artistic taste. They will be responsible for most of the visual side so sticking to a stylised and fresh look should be top priority.

An introduction to Game Design

I think games are leaving the original idea as they become more and more advanced. The idea of game play is to make the game fun and addictive as well as being simple to understand but the way in which new games go about it is completely different to the past. Before, when games were arcade style their graphics were simplistic and they offered a drop in yet fun game play. Now games still stick to the basic rues of scores, win and lose conditions and a goal but now with improvements in other fields it can offer a much deeper and rich story and structure. Modern games can take on a more simulative role bringing games closer to reality.

The design process will obviously vary between designers and companies. One way is to start with an initial concept from a previous product they have designed and from this create a game design document. This is to act as a basic outline of game content and plot which will be updated throughout the project. The role of designers may not be down to one person but each person must be able to take on various roles. These can consist of prototyping, level design, and writing. They then develop a pitch to present to publishers, a lot like with a film. The designers now make sure the game sticks to the ‘plan’ and ensures game play remains similar yet diverse.

I find game play to be the most important factor in video games. A game can have the most amazing graphics in the world but if it’s no fun, it’s a waste of time. I find games like space invaders and asteroids fun and addictive even with such little graphic quality. The important things for me when I play games are game play, plot, and visuals in that order. The plot must be gripping and the game play must be immersive and addictive with the graphics pulling it all together to truly make its fantasy world seem real.

New Games Journalism

I’ve always bought review magazines for games. I even bought one for film once but that was a once off. Every holiday or every time there was a new exciting game of interest I’d be there buying the latest copy of X360 or OPSM to keep me occupied and hyped until the games release. I love flipping through the reviews searching for epically hyped games and also the ones that should have never been made. Reading about them getting ripped from page to page about how ‘buggy’ or ‘stupid’ the mechanics where. Reviews like that nearly made me want to be a game journalist.

Now I still buy the odd X360 magazine because I find it honest and extremely entertaining. I am also subscribed to EDGE, a less bias but more punishing magazine that I enjoy for the technical articles about the future of gaming.

I have not as yet come across a NGJ or a New Game Journalism article. After reading an example I was unsure how to respond. The article was written in the form of a story with the reviewer talking about one instance with one fellow gamer. I see this as no way to review. Basing a review around one scenario sure is entertaining and engaging but offers little in specs or quality of the game its self. The fact the story was based on another player’s response was even worse as it in no way points out game play but instead picked at the social problems the multiplayer had to offer.

I really am against this for of writing, it may not be for promoting sales or scores like other styles but I don’t think it goes deep enough into the games structure.

This is why I find EDGE magazine good, because not only does it review every console so as not to be bias, it does so in a structured way, sure it may not be as ripping as X360 and may be more serious and harsh but it supports its reasoning. All magazines and reviewers are going to face some form pressure from games companies and consoles to promote their games but they should try to keep this minimal just to be fair. In the end it is just one persons opinion about a game, and I always trawl the internet even if I have magazine to hand.

Just to be sure.