Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Narratives in games

Task 1

After some careful thought, I have decided that these games are probably in my top ten favorites:

Bioshock Infinite
Zelda: The Ocarina Of Time
Fallout 3
Batman: Arkham City
Resident Evil 4
The Secret Of Monkey Island

Half Life 2
Portal 2
Max Payne 3

Broken Sword: Shadow Of The Templars

Out of these I feel that these are the ones that had genuinely good storylines - this is of course a matter of personal opinion, but to me these were the stories that I found really engaging.

Bioshock Infinite
A story of science, race, conflict and personal destiny. I loved it - admittedly there are a few holes in the plot but I think any science fiction can be found to be lacking in some areas. I thought that Bioshock Infinite's setting, details, atmosphere and characters were so well rounded and developed that I was prepared to forgive any shortcomings in the plot. Plus it had a really satisfying and emotional ending. It was sad, engaging and brave but left you with the game living on in the memory for months afterwards. 

Zelda: The Ocarina Of Time
Funny, bright and smart this also had a really decent story that felt more epic than previous Zelda games. I think that it is an interesting example of sound also being used to move the story along - each part of the land has its own theme that serves to enhance the narrative. For example the sandy Gerudo Valley has a distinctly Mexican theme that feels hot and dusty. The Lost Woods have gentle pan pipe and flute melodies that put you in mind of nature and trees.
In terms of the tale it tells, there is a distinct sense of Link growing through the events that unfold around him. I think that any good story should have a series of revelatory points that give the main character the chance to develop. Link literally grows up in front of us as the game goes on, learns what it takes to save Hyrule and returns to being a boy at the end of the game. This helps us the player to really care about the character -we spend so much time with him that we become committed to investing emotionally.

Batman Arkham City
Being a huge fan of DC and Marvel comics, and Batman in particular, I had high hopes for this game and it never once disappointed me. The fact that the story was written by Paul Dini, an established DC comics writer  served as a major factor in my wanting to play the game. As far I was concerned the story had everything - it understood Batman's character, motivations and backstory. The villains were all there and shared important roles in moving the story along. The twist ending which bought in one more unseen villain was amazing and one which I never saw coming. Looking back I should have done as the clues were all there!  
I liked the fact that the game was non linear and allowed you to go off and discover even more villains, mini stories and side quests. This approach served to create a richer, more believable Batman universe.

Task 2

Many puzzle games do not seem to have stories. Titles such as Tetris have absolutely no narrative whatsoever as the gameplay is concerned purely with the stacking of the blocks. There is no reason to stack them other than the fact that it is the only activity available to the player in the game.
Certain shooters like the original Doom also have absolutely no story. Occasionally narrative details are alluded to such as finding fallen soldiers but on the whole there is no story 'hook'.
Some racing games such as Super Mario Kart also have no real sense of a story progression. Competitors race around a track, win, lose or fall somewhere in between, but do not develop as characters. Perhaps the main similarity between all the games mentioned is that they are designed to be 'pick up and play' games. These kind of games focus on gameplay as opposed to story. No demands are made on the player to become involved in a plot as the time spent playing a game is often quite short. They are designed for largely casual gamers who want to experience some gaming excitement without sacrificing hours and hours of their week.

Task 3

A story that is used in a game has the advantage of being largely interactive which can determine how the story plays out. Multiple endings can be achieved along with NPC's responding differently to you through the story's duration. This can offer greater replay value and a chance to create different ways of playing or completing the adventure.

The story used in a film or book offers the viewer the chance to experience it in a passive, voyeuristic way. They view the tale from the position of an onlooker rather than an active participant, drawing enjoyment from seeing the story unfold as opposed to influencing it.

Film has the distinct advantage of being able to offer us several viewpoints at once. This term can be interpreted in the sense of multiple camera angles, characters, narratives and a distortion of time. It is difficult for time and relative narratives to be played with in a book, although it has been done. Two large sections of one of the 'Game Of Thrones' series view the events of a large battle from two opposing sides. The reader sees one perspective and sequence of events, then in the next chapter sees the same events from the other side which create different emotions.  

Both films and books are linear experiences, whereas many modern games allow the player to leave the main storyline and venture outside of it. They can offer opportunities to discover new experiences and craft a story that is totally unique to the player. However, I do think that this system comes with a downside - the main storyline can sometimes become confused and muddled due to the plethora of events all happening at once; Skyrim and the Grand Theft Auto series have, in my opinion, occasionally been guilty of this. I also think that games storylines can be so far reaching and ambitious that they overstay their welcome. There is a trend amongst developers to create a huge amount of content in games, but not all of it worthwhile. The Assassin's Creed games have very interesting stories, but a lot of repetition and unnecessary quests and events. The player has to sit through a lot of uninspired quests to get to the truly inspirational events that the games offer. In story terms, this can slow the narrative pace and create feelings of irritation and impatience. It is a difficult task to create a game that ticks all the boxes of playtime length, story, feelings of engagement and emotion, and a sense of achievement / excitement / fondness. Game stories needs to be created and edited to contain a satisfying sequence of charcaters and events. Game stories often feel overly extended to warrant the price of the game and offer a large amount of 'content' to the player. 


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