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Narrative vs. Gameplay, Video Games

Force Echo

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#1 force_echo

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Posted 16 May 2013 - 03:44 PM

http://www.another-c...Game-Narratives

 

I think this is an interesting subject to bring up. Any opinions

I thought this merited its own topic. I think this article's pretty stupid personally. "Game mechanics", mechanisms seperating the cutscenes and the actual gameplay are always going to exist because games suck otherwise. I have no problem with it and I never have. Using the writer's own example, how many people would want to play as a nervous, unresponsive protagonist who dies or is seriously injured from one shot? Gameplay separated from the narrative is a problem, yes, but not like that. I'm ok with playing a soldier who dies in one shot in a cutscene but is a bullet sponge in gameplay.

 

Thoughts?



#2 silversurfer092

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Posted 16 May 2013 - 03:59 PM

I'm 100% in for the gameplay. Story is just an awesome side dish.



#3 RakaiThwei

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Posted 16 May 2013 - 04:10 PM

All I'm getting out of that link is a 502 Bad Gateway.

 

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#4 patrickthekid

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Posted 17 May 2013 - 06:47 PM

I think there's a divide between those who want to play with just a gameplay and the ones who enjoy the cutscenes between movies. Integrating both is tough, though not impossible.



#5 bigballerju

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Posted 17 May 2013 - 07:54 PM

After thinking about it I get what he is saying. Some video games like the Walking Dead one actually allow you to play not only the cut scene but stay true in game play as well. The game does a good job of combining both. It's actually more fun in alot of ways. Depends on the game though. Sometimes I want them separate.



#6 Ruinus

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Posted 18 May 2013 - 12:15 PM

But the thing that bothers me about that article is that he has arbitrarily chosen one aspect of the game, narrative, and judged gameplay by how closely it follows that narrative. He's saying that the narrative is ruined because it's not reflected in gameplay, but you could easily also argue that gameplay is ruined because the narrative doesn't follow it. After all, you are playing a game, so all story should flow from the game. 



#7 force_echo

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Posted 18 May 2013 - 12:28 PM

Exactly. I don't see a problem with that. I mean, yeah, in "other" mediums it would be called a plot hole, but other mediums don't have to make sure that interactivity with the actual character is fun. In Mass Effect cutscenes, a lot of time a person would die or be severely injured after one shot. In gameplay, even with no shields, you can still take a lot more than one shot without dying. Does this affect the storytelling quality in any way for me? Not really. I didn't stop playing Gears and Cod because the protagonists had an inexplicable Wolverine healing factor.

 

There are some things were mechanisms that would be game mechanics are explained in the lore, and yeah, it's cool when it happens. For instance, in Bioshock the Vita-Chambers were actually a "real thing".



#8 Ruinus

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Posted 18 May 2013 - 06:13 PM

Yeah, I edited my comment a few times but I was going to bring up Bioshock because it has a feature of both integrating gameplay with narrative and a disconnect with gameplay and narrative.

 

The Vita-Chambers are, as you say, a "real thing" that exists in the lore and is explained in the narrative of the setting, your deaths during the course of the game are "real things" that occur in the story, it's explained away as you using the Vita-Chambers, which ties into the storyline itself. The entire concept of "a slave obeys!" is also based around the gameplay, you can't go around and explore all of Rapture because, aside from the fact that some parts of them are inaccessible due to damage or flooding, you are a slave that can't choose to go where you want.

On the other hand Bioshock sort of defeats its own message, or at least one of its messages, of selflessness vs selfishness. Rapture got to its current state due to selfish objectivism. Saving the Little Sisters is supposed to be a rejection of this philosophy by living for others instead of living for yourself. The problem is that, when taken in the context of the game both options of saving or harvesting Little Sisters can be seen as selfish acts, one of them just also happens to save a little girl, they both end up giving you rewards in the long run.

LSvsTPA-3.png

 

Searching around a bit it looks like saving the Little Sisters gives you the exact same ADAM amount at the end (which is where this above graph disagrees, but I dunno if he counted the 200 ADAM gift you get every 3 Little Sisters), and you get access to a tonic you wouldn't have otherwise. So you could make the argument that you'd be acting in your own best interest to save the Little Sisters rather than harvesting them.... which sort of defeats the morality of that entire segment of the game. It's supposed to be a choice between selfishness and selflessness, yet the reward for the selfless action is the best one, people could go and save the Little Sisters because they want to be stronger at the end.

A better narrative would be if perhaps saving the Little Sisters did nothing, it was a straight up ADAM lose and made the game harder... the only reward was your own satisfaction for doing the right thing. This is the only time I have a problem with the divide between gameplay and narrative, when the game itself contradicts what it is attempting to say, not the fact that there is a divide in the first place.

Mass Effect has three layers of disconnect. But do I really care that a Krogan can take several shots from my assault rifle on INSANE mode, be killed by a single pistol shot in cutscenes, or require anti-tank weaponry to defeat in the Codex? No, not really. Halo's depiction of SPARTANS also has this between gameplay, books and cutscenes. But that's fine if the gameplay itself is fine. In fact I wonder what this author would say about, say, Soul Caliber, Street Fighter, TEKKEN, Dead or Alive or similar. Do people bitch when they have to fight that liquid Kasumi at the end of Dead or Alive 3, which is supposed to be a hectic showdown, life or dead... and then the fight starts and the two fighters do a best 2 out of 3 and fight on a timer and have an announcer start each round. Do people bitch that the narrative is destroyed when Ryu's final showdown with M. Bison occurs with an omnipotent announcer that demands they fight at least 2 rounds?

I think the problem is that people complain about this disconnect in games that "seem" like they would be movies. The new Lara Croft game would make a cool movie... and so people complain about the disconnect in narrative and gameplay because they start treating it as a movie that you control rather than a video game that occasionally has story cutscenes. Tactical shooters have almost no disconnect between narrative and gameplay, so some video games already provide the scenario the writer above wants... but not everyone wants that scenario and not every game needs that scenario.



#9 Kate Awesome Is Awesome

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Posted 21 May 2013 - 05:44 PM

I think the problem the article brings up (and one I agree with) is the fact that they tell one story and frame it around a game that flies in the face of that story.

 

I think Uncharted is the ultimate example of this. You're presented with Nathan Drake, a character with dashing good looks, a cheerful disposition, is charismatic and works as an explorer/adventurer/archaeologist. So what game does Naughty Dog out him in? A 3rd person cover shooter where he becomes more a less a cold mass murderer hunting for idols.

 

Now there's nothing 'wrong' with this, I love the hell out of Uncharted so obviously I enjoyed the game, but it does beg the question of "could it have been done in another way?" Could they have made a non violent stealth based Uncharted Game where, instead of ducking behind cover and firing assault rifles, Nathan instead used his wit, cunning, charm and stealth to overcome his odds which are more in line with his character?

 

I kind of have an issue with this narrative dissonance for a variety of reasons. One, we're "above" that in every aspect of game design. Hardware wise, experience wise, finance wise the game industry can grow beyond simply making "good games." Good games were being made in the 80s so if you're satisfied with games being simply good in gameplay then go retro and play a lot of solid games with 0 narrative.

 

Another big issue is the fact that games these days just seem to be about "shooting something." The first and third person shooter genre stifles the available narratives we can have for games. Sure you can have someone deep like a Gordon Freeman and the cast surrounding him but more or less if a character in a shooter isn't some gruff he commando like Marcus Fenix is does feel odd.

 

I mean I just don't think it's a crime to ask a game to have its gameplay reflect its character. Great gameplay or not it still FEELS weird in Tomb Raider to have Lara cry about her first kill then go through the rest of the game murdering en masse. There's tons of non AAA titles that design the game around their character like Professor Layton, Lee Everett in "The Walking Dead,"  Travis Touchdown in No More Heroes, the explorers in Journey and Bayonetta. So how come Lara, written as someone who has never killed anyone and is distraught when she does so, be shoe horned into a game where she kills lots of people? The only answer really is laziness amongst developers of AAA titles afraid of deviating from tried and tested game formulas to ensure that their big budget game makes a profit. And while it's not necessarily a bad thing it does stifle the ability to grow interactive narrative.



#10 force_echo

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Posted 21 May 2013 - 06:13 PM

Because IMO, there's no way I would play a game where the protagonist has a mental breakdown every time I shoot a person. Obviously, there's no right or wrong thing because how much it matters is purely opinion based, so I can definitely see where you're coming from. Yeah, you could make up some crazy gun that shoots knockout pellets or something, but that comes with a whole host of narrative problems by itself. Half Life 2 is considered one of the best games ever (why? I have no idea, but whatever). Why the hell is Gordon Freeman ok with killing legions upon legions of people, when he's probably never even came close to harming another person in his entire life. How the f*ck does he even have the ability to kill these people? Does he even know how to shoot a gun, much less maul people with a crowbar in close combat? I didn't care or think about any of these issues playing Half Life 2. 

 

I do understand the problem you and Ruinus pointed out though when a game specifically calls this to your attention, and then completely disregard it. I can see it as a bit jarring, sure. To Ruinus I would say that I'm pretty sure no one draws out a line graph about net ADAM accumulation via harvesting or saving, they see the payoff right then and there, more adam for harvesting, less for saving, and it's on that that the choice is made.



#11 Kate Awesome Is Awesome

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Posted 22 May 2013 - 10:35 AM

 Why the hell is Gordon Freeman ok with killing legions upon legions of people, when he's probably never even came close to harming another person in his entire life. How the f*ck does he even have the ability to kill these people? Does he even know how to shoot a gun, much less maul people with a crowbar in close combat? I didn't care or think about any of these issues playing Half Life 2.

Because Valve knows how to develop a story line and build a character arc. Gordon Freeman is actually an example of how to place an everyman character into a dangerous situation.

 

First off Gordon is a silent protagonist, so in essence he's suppose to be "you." The newness of the Half Life game correlates with the newness of the situation Gordon is in. It makes sense for you to say pick up a new weapon and experiment with it because it's both new to you (as a player) and to Gordon (as a character.)

 

Second Half Life 1 develops in a manner that makes sense of a scientist to become a first person hero (relatively in game sense.)  The first part of Half Life 1 sets up this dynamic. Gordon is given only the pistol and the crowbar early. Compare that to Half Life's contemporaries like say Duke Nukem 3D or Unreal where powerful weapons are available early on. Half Life does a good job at setting up the feeling of helplessness in a desperate situation. More powerful weapons only become available when Gordon builds "conidence" (correlating with the player building more "exprience" in the game world) and there's an arc for Gordon going from nebbish nerd to bad ass science commando.

 

The other brilliant aspect of Half Life 1's early section is the fact that you have companions. The hapless security guards and scientist that Gordon has to assist in rescuing. It's much easier to believe an everyman would shoot endless head crabs to save innocent lives rather then on some random shooting spree. It gives him a reason to remain calm (to save the lives of others who are NOT calm.) It also gives different personality perspectives for various characters in a dangerous situation which makes Gordon's stoicness more believable since, while he's not freaking out, other individuals are.

 

And Valve does this all subtly through a few gameplay elements. They don't bat it over our heads like a game mechanic that causes the character to freak out all the time. The game is themed properly and it enriches both the gameplay and narrative aspects. And that's all I want really. Make a good game but don't put it in some shell where a protagonist freaks out in a cut scene and then spends the next level mowing down bandits with a sub machine gun.



#12 force_echo

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Posted 22 May 2013 - 02:22 PM

I think you're just overthinking it. There are a lot of FPSes which start out giving the protagonist shitty weapons and have them work up, it doesn't mean anything, and it's not really unique. If games gave you access to every big gun at the beginning, there'd be no sense of excitement or discovery. And if anything, it's odd that Gordon is stoic while legitimate security guards are panicking and stuff. I don't think Valve "did" anything. I mean honestly, I think Half Life 2 is a mediocre game, but that's my opinion and it isn't really on topic. 



#13 Kate Awesome Is Awesome

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Posted 22 May 2013 - 03:42 PM

There's lots? Really?

 

Gears of War - Marcus starts with a balanced machine gun that can one shot people with a CHAINSAW

 

Halo - Master Chief start with the Spartan rifle which has good range, speed and power

 

Duke Nukem 3D - In the first level the Chain Gun Cannon and RPG can be found easily

 

Black Ops 2 - You're given a VERY good assault rifle in the FAL as your very first weapon in your very first mission

 

Crysis 3 - Early on you're given the Predator Bow which ends up being the best weapon in the game

 

And you see a similar theme in all the games I mentioned. They all exist to empower the player. The narrative is that of super macho soldier men who can quickly dispatch their opponents. To start them off with pistols and force them to earn assault rifles is about as silly as starting Gordon off with a machine gun.

 

Are there games where you start weak and get stronger? Uncharted is an example and it uses it in its narrative to show the escalating situation Nathan Drake is in. Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite uses the upgraded weapons and special attacks to delve into how the protagonist must go to further lengths to find their truths. These gameplay elements all tie back to narrative that makes sense.

 

Gameplay elements ARE a part of narrative. It's not "overthinking." These parts of the game are developed intentionally to match a mood and a style and a story they want to convey which is my point from the start; it's not a good thing when game play and narrative don't match.



#14 force_echo

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Posted 22 May 2013 - 06:23 PM

Are you purposely only mentioning FPSes? RPG shooters usually start you off with the shittiest weapons in the game. Even in your examples you're wrong. Besides, modern FPSes usually don't have guns that are flat out better than another, they fill different roles, that's the point.

 

Gears of War: Oh, a chainsaw, a chainsaw you can basically never use if you're playing on Insanity by the way. Just because it has a chainsaw doesn't mean it's the best weapon. You end up getting the shotgun (which one-shots enemies a lot better than the chainsaw) and the sniper later, the sniper being the better weapon by far.

 

Halo: You get the rocket launcher, sniper, etc. later. And I'm pretty sure you start out with the pistol Keyes gives you.

 

CoD: The fact any gun is better than another is vastly overplayed in the first place. I mean seriously. but if I remember correctly, I'm pretty sure you start out a level in Black Ops with a makeshift knife, work up to a pistol, get a pump shotgun, and then get an assault rifle.

 

Crysis 3: Maybe in 3. In 2, you start out with a basic pistol.

 

Also, it's not tying to the narrative at all. Bioshock, Dead Space, and other games that let you upgrade weapons do so because it's a fun mechanic that lets you pick and choose what you want. Not because it delves into the protagonist finding truth. Adding a blowback chamber to a machine gun to reduce recoil does not represent you uncovering your history and roots in any way whatsoever. I never said it was a good thing that they don't match, I said I didn't care, which implies a neutral tone, not a positive one.



#15 Jason Redfield

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Posted 23 May 2013 - 01:11 AM

Half-Life isn't that great of an example in my opinion. While several of the things you listed are true, it still begs the question how this untrained science geek manages to take on entire squads of hardened Marines and black ops with contemptuous ease in straight-up firefights.

 

For me, it really depends. If one is good enough I'm willing to overlook shortcomings in the other. Point in case, Army of Two. Sorry to any fans out there, but quite frankly Army of Two's plotlines sucked. Especially the second and third games. They were just terrible. Cliched, predictable, with almost zero character development. The first game's story was okay, but nothing amazing. But you know what? I loved playing those games. They were fun, co-op, cover-based shooting games which have given my brother and I many hours of fun over the years. I don't come for the narrative in this case, I come to shoot terrorists and hi-five my bro.

 

Conversely, take... Dragon Age. Both Dragon Age games weren't exactly incredible in their gameplay, IMO. I'm talking strictly about combat, inventory management, etc. The fact is, fights were rarely fun on their own. Navigation and such were sometimes kinda "bleh". But it never once bothered me because Dragon Age has an absolutely incredible story and setting behind it. The narrative is amazing. Not only is it character-driven, it's player-driven.

 

So even though the fights are actually pretty dull, in practice they end up being intense and riveting. You know why? Because those fights don't occur in a vacuum. That's my character there, Aedan Cousland, a guy who's personality, actions, and background I've developed. A guy who's motivations I feel connected to, so I'm pumped when I'm playing as him, jumping into the fray and swinging my sword around to chop through Darkspawn and save Ferelden. This fight matters in the context of the (excellent) narrative, which makes all the difference.

 

Or, to use another example, I've been playing a text-based, decision-making, interactive online zombie story. Sorta like interactive Walking Dead but with words on a screen. There's no "gameplay" in the traditional sense and what little it has is extremely simplistic. Literally just clicking a choice on a screen. But you know what? I got addicted to the story. Because the thing lets you choose your character's background, name, and then develop his/her personality through your actions and relationships. So, once again, those choices I make matter. My imagination takes care of the rest.

 

So, there you have it. Both have their place and concessions must always be made in the narrative for gameplay and vice versa. But I accept it. If I want a great storyline, I'll go and find a game with an intriguing narrative and get immersed. But sometimes I just want to veg out and shoot stuff and have a blast doing it. At that point, I don't care about narrative or how my character is somehow soaking up all these bullets or how one average Recon Marine has superhuman feats and skills that would make Jason Bourne envious (I'm looking at you, Battlefield 3).

 

It is what it is.



#16 Ruinus

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Posted 26 May 2013 - 12:08 PM

Going off of Kate Awesome is Awesome's first point, is that if the new Lara Croft game wanted to actually portray Lara as a young archaeologist who's never been in such a situation before, instead of being a shooter action game it'd be a survival game. You have to avoid the patrols of people, avoid their camps or sneak through them to steal maps or food or similar, killing a random guy here or there might be possible, but the deck should be stacked in favor of the armed guys controlling the jungle rather than the college grad who's experience with nature is mountain climbing.



#17 Jason Redfield

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Posted 26 May 2013 - 09:11 PM

Granted. That would be the "optimal" meeting point between narrative and gameplay, certainly. But for whatever reason, the developers chose not to take that route. I haven't played the new Tomb Raider game, so while it would certainly grind the gears of the realism freak in me to see this untrained girl kicking the ass of a small army of armed criminals, if the gameplay/narrative were good enough in other areas, I'd let it go.







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