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What Is A Good Game Story?
by Jeff Spock on 06/25/09 12:37:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


It has been the case -- or the assumption -- since time immemorial that a good story is something universal. A good story in a play will be a good story in a book or a graphic novel or a podcast or a movie. This is, of course, assuming that it is not a ham-handed adaptation from one media to another.

In other words, the theory is that a well-executed story in any medium, if it is taken up and placed down in a well-executed way in another medium, will still be a good story. Sufficient adaptations of Shakespeare plays exist to partially validate this. When they are well done, they are good stories. "Macbeth" becomes the Japanese film "Throne of Blood," "Romeo and Juliet" becomes the stage musical "West Side Story." It seems that good stories have been (and I shall repeat the critical caveat: "If well executed") good stories in other media.

Yet with video games I am no longer so sure that this assumption is valid. How would one make the Macbeth game? Start off hunting ingredients for the witches, then accepting or not their interpretation of your fate? Having a choice of whether you kill Banquo or let him live? And if you let him live, what happens during the feast scene?

In other words, here is one classic story that simply may not be feasible as a video game. Is this the case, and if so, why? There are other examples that come to mind -- the difficulty of making the film "Adaptation" from the book "The Orchid Thief" is one, and let's not even talk about trying to film Proust or Joyce.

So I should narrow the target of 'good story' to 'good mainstream entertainment story.' Which may be a cop-out, but is also a protected sandbox to play in while I try to figure out some of the basics. While "Johnny Got His Gun, the Game" ought to be made, that's not the market that I am addressing here.

I need to think about this because developers, players and critics all clamor for 'good stories' in video games, and I am one of those who is paid to deliver it. The question could be broken down into a few sub-topics:

    * What is a good traditional (non-video game) story, and why?
    * What is a good video game story, and why?
    * Are there common elements, and if so, what are they?
    * Based on the common elements, what should we be writing?

I will try to develop these thoughts during the course of the summer (with time off for vacation, of course). Any and all comments are welcome.

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Louis Varilias
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A good story is something universal. But how to best tell a story depends on the medium.

I think you're analyzing it backwards.

*What do I want to write?

*What are are the elements that make up a story?

*What is the best way to tell my story: movie, novel, video game?

When you know what makes a good story, you'll realize that a story can't come further on in development. A story will never be good if the medium comes first.

An Dang
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Maybe the problem is that people think about "story" before they think about "narration."

A large part of what makes a story good is how it's told. That's the narration. And the medium can be utilized for different types of narration. Certain mediums allows certain types of narrations. Some folks argue that because games allow interactivity, we should utilize it to have a more interactive story (a choose your own adventure kind of deal). While this is a legitimate type of narration, I find it annoying when people think or say that it is the only way we should tell a story on video games. Just because you can make a choose your own adventure, doesn't mean you have to.

Christiaan Moleman
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Interesting characters.

Christiaan Moleman
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... which for both games and other media means: characters that respond in unique and interesting ways to the things that happen around them.

Ranger McCoy
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The best stories are about heroic characters rendering ideals real in the serice of truth, beauty, and freedom.

This was Aristotle's view.



A video game method and system for creating games where ideas have consequences, incorporating branching paths that correspond to a player's choices, wherein paths correspond to decisions founded upon ideals, resulting in exalted games with deeper soul and story, enhanced characters and meanings, and exalted gameplay. The classical hero's journey may be rendered, as the journey hinges on choices pivoting on classical ideals. Ideas that are rendered in word and deed will have consequences in the gameworld. Historical events such as The American Revolution may be brought to life, as players listen to famous speeches and choose sides. As great works of literature and dramatic art center around characters rendering ideals real, both internally and externally, in word and deed, in love and war, the present invention will afford video games that exalt the classical soul, as well as the great books, classics, and epic films-past, present, and future.

What is claimed is:

1. A method for creating video games and virtual realities wherein ideas have consequences.

2. The method in claim 1 where said ideas are rooted in classical, epic precepts such as those found in the Great Books and Classics, and exalted at the pinnacles of Western culture and history.

3. The method in claim 1 where said ideas are manifested in the words the player or non-player characters, write, speak, read, disseminate, congregate about, fight for, and/or associate with.

4. The method in claim 1 where said ideas are manifested in the actions the player, non-player characters, and/or monsters act out.

5. The method in claim 1 where said ideas spread like viruses, by being spoken, written, or disseminated in some other manner, transforming characters who come in contact with said ideas into vampires, zombies, or other forms of monsters.

6. The method in claim 1 where said ideas spread like viruses, by being spoken, written, or disseminated in some other manner, transforming characters who come in contact with said ideas into vampires, zombies, or other forms of monsters, and where said vampires, zombies, and monsters may be saved or converted back to normal by coming in contact with ideas that oppose the ideas that made them vampires, zombies, and other forms of monsters.

7. The method in claim 1 where said ideas must be fought for via words and dialogue, before they have exalted consequences.

8. The method in claim 1 where said ideas must be fought for via deeds and actions, before they have exalted consequences.

9. The method in claim 1 where the player can fight for said ideas in word and deed, and witness the exalted consequences of those ideals, including liberty, freedom, and justice, when they succeed, and the dire consequences of tyranny, domination, and intimidation, when they fail to render exalted ideas, as ideas have consequences.

10. The method in claim 1 where the character can fight for said ideas such as marriage, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and right to life in word and deed, and witness the exalted consequences of those ideals, including a stable and enduring society should they succeed, and a declining, bankrupt civilization, should they fail.

11. The method in claim 1 where the character can battle for said ideas that are based upon classical moral and economic principles of famous philosophers, prophets, poets, statesmen, and economists including Plato, Moses, Jesus, Gandhi Sun Tzu, Buda, Jefferson, Aristotle, F. A. Hayek, Martin Luther King Jr., Homer, Ludwig Von Mises, Adam Smith, and others, and witness the consequences of both their success and failure of their battle, as the consequences are rendered in the game's physical world.

12. The method in claim 1 where the character can battle for said ideas via both word and deed, using a combination of words and action, witnessing the consequences of their balance between word and deed, between reasoning and partaking in violence, thusly bringing to life epic classical works of film and literature wherein the hero must balance word and deed.

13. The method in claim 1 where fighting for said ideas in word and/or deed will have consequences regarding the operation of a weapon, which will operate at its full potential for the players and characters who are the most successful in serving ideals and ideas, and rendering them in word and deed.

14. The method in claim 1 wherein said ideas may be based upon Constitutional ideals and ideas underlying the American Founding, including the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, sound currency, the right to bear arms, the freedom of speech, the right of the artist, author, and inventor to own their creations and inventions; and wherein the player could fight for sound money in word and deed and witness the consequences of their successes and failures, including liberty, wealth creation, capitalism, freedom, private property, peace, and prosperity or rapid inflation, deflation, theft via the inflation tax, massive debt, empire, long lines, wealth transfer to the rich, depressions, corruption, and war.

15. The method in claim 1 where the said ideas will be supported or opposed by in-game characters, and the player will have to choose how to interact with the said in-game characters, based on their ideas, including but not limited to whether or not to befriend them, agree with them, disagree with them, ignore them, recruit them, shoot them, save them, judge them, or forgive them.

16. The method in claim 1 where the said ideas are based upon the pivotal plot points of the great books and classics.

17. The method in claim 1 where said ideas spread like viruses, by being spoken, written, or disseminated in some other manner, transforming characters who come in contact with said ideas into vampires, zombies, or other forms of monsters; and when bad ideas have infected too many in-game characters, the consequences are dire, including the loss of life, liberty, happiness, freedom, and security.

18. The method in claim 1 wherein said ideas may be related to economics and monetary policy, and wherein the player could fight for sound money in words echoing the classical economists and deed and witness the consequences of their successes and failures, including liberty, freedom, peace and prosperity or rapid inflation, deflation, theft via the inflation tax, massive debt, empire, long lines, depressions, corruption, and war.

19. The method in claim 1 wherein moral ideas have moral consequences in the evolution of the gameworld.

20. The method in claim 1 where said ideas in the video game world are founded upon the natural ideas and ideals occurring at the plot points in great works of literature and film where a character must choose whether to serve an ideal or not serve an ideal, thusly rendering or not rendering ideals real by their actions, and influencing the greater outcome and state of the game world, as ideas have consequences.

21. The method in claim 1 where said ideas in the video game world are used to exalt the classic hero's journey, and where a player's success and progress at every stage or step or plot point of said hero's journey is defined by said player's service or disservice to said ideas and ideals, and where by said player's serving said ideas and classical ideals, said hero's journey advances towards ultimate victory and triumph, while by said character's failing to serve said ideas and classical ideals, progress in said hero's journey is retarded or reversed.

Eric Carr
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It may just be me, but I like a 3 act structure. I like it because it works and it allows room for character development. The problem applying it to games is that the 2nd act becomes the bulk of the gameplay and generally, the 2nd act is the weakest. So to fix that I think that a good game story is either short, or broken up into smaller stories, each with their own internal 3 act structure.

For example, Dragon Quest 7 had an entire mechanic built out of doing self contained quests, each of which was it's own story with conclusions, and more importantly, outcomes that affected the world. In contrast to a GTA title, where the missions rarely have individual story structures and so feel incomplete by comparison.

In giving the player a choice, I don't like it. I far prefer the illusion of choice since it allows me to keep control from a design and writing perspective and I think, deliver a stronger narrative.

Erik Moser
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One factor that is missing is that stories in other mediums are generally delineated into established genres that define the audience's expectations for the story. Romeo & Juliet is an excellent drama, but it's a weak action story; Macbeth is a good psychological thriller, but a poor musical. However, the stories are excellent in their original genres. It seems like too frequently outside observers, and even industry experts, lump videogames together as a single genre, and that is almost always as an action thriller.

Recently comics and graphic novels had a similar perception problem as mainstream audiences thought that being in comic form was the story instead of a narrative device (I may not be using those definitions correctly). Over the last few years, there's been more recognition for the types of stories told in comics, and the various genres they encompass.

So, by limiting to just 'good mainstream entertainment' stories, are we limiting ourselves to action/thriller stories? 'Johnny Got His Gun' could make for an amazing, frustrating game that exemplifies Joe's powerlessness; 'Romeo & Juliet' can make you hammer the triangle button to try and wake up in time, but make it an impossible goal (a variation of MGS4); and Macbeth can borrow from F.E.A.R. and always keep that spot in view. These adaptations could work, but they'd only work as presented for the right genre; and the audience's expectation for that genre.

Nathan Hill
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Well fundamentally there are a handful of recognised basic 'universal' narratives, yes but when you look at classical examples like Shakespeare that's just the application of narrative theme derived from far older works, the stage is the medium - Shakespeare did not exist in a literary vacume and pull things out the hat. All stories have fundamentally been told - the Greeks nailed it, we just re-arrange and distort for contextually different audiences. The question becomes one of layering a story within the mechanics of a game. A good game is increasingly something literarily shallow with lots and lots of money thrown at it to hide the limitations of immersion.

Writing for games is just like everything else - writing to a structure. The problem is games as an emerging medium bring the big layer of interactivity to the cinematic tradition and that increasingly means variables, the illusion of choice - which can't really been structured by a writer on paper unless you are going for the blatent scripted cinematic approach like Cod4 (not saying its a bad thing). A good game is one that resonates with the player by either offering them the ability to experience a narrative first hand eg. Metal Gear Solid (the first) allowed the player an interactive action/thriller cinematic experience on an immensely personal level. The story was by no means ground breaking but in context of the gaming genre - quantum leap forward.

One of my personal favorites is Final Fantasy 8, an epic story of love, hate, war and civilization. FF8 isn't a new narrative, but its take on many classical epics, combining cultures, blending artistic practice, design with sandbox exteriors and painted interiors overwhelmed the user with the illusion of potential choices. It's broad cultural strokes meant pretty well every audience found something they could relate too, and then after being slowly lulled into security were challenged with things like the moon made of demons didn't seem so disruptive. I know that was poor and compressed but I hope you get the idea.

Common elements of narrative in gaming... I think that's the wrong approach. What you want is to broaden your understanding like any good author of a medium - understand your historical placement and steal. Film is the most obvious synergy as an accessible form of mass media, gaming is taking similar conventions and applying lower standards for the trade off of player interactivity. Consumers basically want immersion and gaming is the next step forward.

As to what you should be writing... That's in one sense an excellent question and a very silly one in another - depends how strong your position is. A good game, like a good film is rarely an imitator. Just because WoW and Halo sell well doesn't mean that's your entire audience wants - it just means they are well made. Look at that whole WW2 fps cycle we had a few years back - the industry kept churning them out because people bought them, because that's all there was to buy. If you can honestly make something good enough it will stand on its own. Look at the original Sims, Tim Schaffer's stuff - initial niche concepts that gain increasing mass because they do what no one else will - they offer new fresh experiences and polished layers of immersion. Look at the genre, look at what people are buying, then based on all your experiences as a professional and a gamer, gauge your resources and the market and try and predict what will people want and what is no one else making in the current cycle. If you offered an alternative competing product in a swamped market, chances are people will give it a go for the sake of variety.

At the end of the day if you could make something with a really strong narrative, not just the usual gaming trash, something potentially on par with film and more importantly (an area I have no experience in) try and actually get to work with the team making your product I think you are in with a much stronger chance. Game design like film is a team effort, meshing is essential - I don't think you can just hand over a script and serialise it off like a novel or a TV soap.

Ranger McCoy
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Imagine a video game engine which could bring 1984, Animal Farm, A Brave New World, Atlas Shrugged, Dante's Inferno, and the American Founding to life! Imagine a video game which could render classical principles real and exalt games with with story--the "soul" of art, as Aristotle stated.

The patent and "The Gold 45 Revolver" are already generating buzz:

"The basic concepts and ideas in this invention will have far-ranging implications for the realm of video games, for the greater culture, novel video games, greater commercial opportunities in the realm of games, greater and enhanced opportunities in merging games with film and literature, greater opportunities for games with deep and profound souls and storytelling, and new opportunities for games with vast educational potential. The ideas and embodiments described herein may be modified, extended, and improvised upon in countless ways. The present invention can bring both the external hero's journey, that Moses and Odysseus traveled, as well as the internal hero's journey, that Jesus and Socrates walked to life. "

Let us consider the top ten zombie games of all time:


The "Gold 45 Revolver" mod of Left for Dead would be described with:

Set in a modern day survival-horror universe, the co-operative gameplay of Left 4 Dead (L4D) casts four "Survivors/freedom fighters" in an epic struggle against hordes of swarming zombies/communists and terrifying "Marx Infected" mutants. A new and highly virulent strain of the Marxist virus emerges and spreads through the human population with frightening speed via words, both spoken and written. The pandemic's victims become grotesquely disfigured widely violent psychopaths, attacking the uninfected on sight by handing them pamphlets and espousing Marxist philosophies. As one of the "lucky" few apparently immune to the sickness, as you have been reading F.A. Hayek, Ludwig Von Mises, and Thomas Jefferson, you, unfortunately, are also trapped in a city crawling with thousands of the bloodthirsty Infected. Alone, you're dead. But together with a handful of fellow survivors, who you can identify and recruit via dialogue trees wherein you quote Hayek/Jefferson/the Constitution and assess the responses, you might just form a fellowship and fight your way to safety. Players can play as a Survivor or as one of four types of Boss/Marxist Infected, each of whom possess a unique mutant ability, such as a 50-foot tongue lasso or a giant belly full of explosive methane gas. The gameplay of L4D is set across four massive campaigns. The zombie population of each mission is choreographed by an AI Director that monitors the human players' actions and creates a unique and dramatic experience for them on the fly. Zombies may be transformed back into humans by quoting Hayek/Jefferson/et al. to them; but the further they have devolved--the more collectivist literature they and their peers have imbibed--the harder it is to save them. Early on in the game, some Vampire/Zombies may appear to be normal humans, and the only way to find out would be to quote Hayek to them and see if they respond with Lenin or Mises. Some of them can be reformed via dialogue, but for others, they can only be reformed by death. And in the end--only those players who have done their best to reform the Vampires/Zombies in word and deed--only those who have acted morally throughout the game, can truly wield the Gold 45 Revolver and realize its true power as it shoots Zeus's Lightning and levels the Zombie masters and their hordes.

Now wouldn't you want to play that?

Such simple methods/innovations could be applied to any basic Zombie/Vampire games, with far-ranging consequences both deepening and exalting gameplay, while generating buzz and novel educational opportunities.

Field of the Invention

[0004]This present invention pertains to video games and virtual worlds created by an electronic means. More particularly, this invention pertains to novel, exalted video games that present deeper gameplay, meaning, character, and story. Contemporary and prior video games have yet to incorporate all the exalted subtleties of mythology, which of course is the roadmap to our human reality, and thus games fall short of human reality and exalted art, as they fall short of ideals, idealism, and the reality that ideas have consequences. The present invention pertains to video games which have characters possessing ideologies, philosophies, and souls, wherein said ideologies and souls are manifested in the character's actions and the evolution of the game world, as ideas have consequences. This invention proposes a novel form of video games wherein characters speak words reflecting ideologies and philosophies, and wherein said ideologies and philosophies may be rooted in historical ideologies, classical philosophies, the philosophies of our American Founders, the wisdom of the Great Books and Classics, and/or philosophies and ideologies that counter the wisdom of the Great Books and Classics, which favor lying and hyping over truth and justice. The player's choices in the game depend on whether or not they take the classical wisdom and advice to heart, and whether or not they render ideals real via action. For instance, in The Odyssey, Odysseus states "Fair dealing leads to greater profit in the end," and upon hearing those words in a game based on The Odyssey's moral precepts, the player can choose whether to deal fairly and fight for justice, or jack cars, pensions, and savings as the fiatocracy does via the inflation tax. The entire American Revolution could be brought to life, wherein after hearing a speech from George Washington, players could choose to either follow Washington, or do nothing. The Civil War, and all historical conflicts could be brought to life, where the player first hears the ideas and arguments of both sides, and then chooses what to do, and who to fight for.

[0008]The present invention will foster a new era of exalted gaming in multiple formats and forms, including RPGs, FPS, an MMORPGs, and too, it would provide enhanced means for bringing successful films and dramatic art to life in the realm of video games and gaming. Producers have failed time and again to translate movies into games and games into movies, and that is because they do not comprehend nor grasp the secret--the classical ideals which have consequences and the simple moral premise must be woven into the fabric of games at very level. For the classical ideals are the most efficient and natural and simple way to unite the plot and the subplot, the dramatic action and physical action, the love interest and the battle. Most fanboy producers, who came of age in a declining fiatocracy, are used to arrogance, hypes, and doublespeak as methods and means for producing movies, which ultimately suck. So it is that this present invention would exalt and foster novel video games that would in turn exalt and foster a cultural renaissance; wherein one would be able to battle the snarky fiatocracy producers head-on, both in the context game and beyond it, finally avenging all the innocent civilians, prostitutes, children, cops, and unborn who have been killed by the fiatocracy's fanboys, while the artist's natural rights have been dismantled and debauched, and the home and family destroyed along with the currency. So often it is that the poet and hero know not what they do, and this game humbles itself before the epic poets, prophets, and heroes of all ages; even as Socrates' ultimately, and reluctantly humbled himself before Homer, who was exalted by Aristotle. This patent humbles itself before the secret of epic storytelling. This patent does not drive down Sunset in a Ferrari, as fanboys and failed producers do, screaming and hyping their lackluster creations--lackluster movies based on video games, or lackluster video games based on movies--as exalted art; but rather this invention simply states that all epic story derives for living for, speaking for, and sometimes dying for higher ideals. Such is the way it has ever been, and will always be; and this invention will exalt a higher realm of games and gaming by returning this central tenet to modern art, leading with Character and Plot based on Virtue as did Aristotle, and introducing all these soulful, sacred, moral agents in the realm of video games.

[0009]This present invention is penned in the context that this is going to sound crazy to all the fanboy experts, and counter their expert fanboy opinions, but in contemplating story in the realm of video games, why not turn to the greatest stories ever written--Homer, Shakespeare, and the Bible? I understand that we live in a declining fiatocracy, but get over it. This fiatocracy won't be around forever, and someday people will be free to act upon their desire to play games founded upon classical ideals and idealism, wherein ideas have consequences, and where they can engage in meaningful gameplay, such as protecting and defending the Constitution, and protecting the unborn and borders of an empire, instead of fighting random fiat monsters on foreign shores. I know that many fanboys insist that games should have no intellectual content, and that they should merely exist to satiate the fanboy fantasies of hiring and killing hookers, jacking cars, killing cops and civilians, and doing drugs, and that is fine and good for their era and realm of gaming. But the times, they are a changin'. Surely, as we live in an open-ended world with freedom, the fiat fanboys ought stop opposing exalted games with classical soul and spirit. They can keep their close-minded, conservative ways--that is fine by us--but the world will know a renaissance in classical liberalism in the realm of video games, wherein one gets to battle for the US Constitution--the one that the Founding Fathers wrote, and not the one interpreted by the fiatocracy's feminized/dumbed-down fanboys.

A New Realm of Exalted Gaming

The Autumn Rangers Video Game Engine

[0010]Imagine the Autumn Rangers video game--a game where being in love was as important as fighting in battle, just as it was in Homer's Odyssey, Braveheart, and 300. Imagine a game which let you speak out for liberty's ideals before fighting for the US Constitution, as did the Founding Fathers, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., and the countless brave men and women in uniform. Imagine a game which let you defend the spirit of The Declaration of Independence in word and deed, and which united the internal dramatic action and external conflict en route to Aristotle's third act--the thundering, epic showdown.

Brandon Davis
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Totally enjoyable discussion! Aristotle is not a bad place to start, whether one is writing a dramatic piece or a game. Reductively, translating a story into video game becomes a function of identifying the plot points and attaching consequences to same. The latter are issues that should be consistent with heroic drama. Macbeth would be fun! In all of Shakespeare's plays there is a natural human interaction that lends itself to gameplay. James Joyce & Proust--fugedaboudit!

Adam Bishop
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I'm not sure that there's such thing as a template or model for a good story, and I'm not sure that there's necessarily a huge difference between forms. For example, I think "The Idiot" by Dostoevski is an excellent story, and I think that "Fight Club" by Chuck Pahlaniuk is an excellent story, but good luck finding many significant similarities between their story-telling. Good stories take advantage of the medium that they are in - "Breakfast of Champions" by Kurt Vonnegut succeeds largely because a novel allows the author to comment directly on the proceedings in a way a movie wouldn't. At the same time, "Before Sunset" succeeds as a film because it allows us to pick up on facial and vocal expression. But the story of "Before Sunset" could also be told quite well in a novel, it would just have to be delivered a bit differently.

It's strange that so many people talk about how games must have stories that are interactive, and Half-Life 2 is almost always the example people bring up of a game story done well. But all Half-Life 2 does is let the player walk around during cut-scenes - they're still cut scenes! Even worse, Half-Life 2 falls victim to perhaps my most hated videogame trope - the silent protagonist. Silence may work as a character trait under specific circumstances (Clint Eastwood in "The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly"), but as a general rule it's dumb and *breaks* immersion, it doesn't reinforce it.

I think the biggest advantage that games have in terms of story-telling is not interactivity, but that players become much more deeply connected to characters because of the way that you exercise a degree of control over them. We should be trying to make players feel empathy for our characters through the connection between the player's actions and the characters'. If we can succeed in that, if we can make players feel a connection to the character on the screen, it doesn't make much difference what form our stories take. I think empathy is what we should be developing, not creativity.

Adam Bishop
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Whoa, I'm not sure what happenned there! The last word in my post should be "interactivity"!

Ranger McCoy
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Yes--Aristotle is mentioned all throughout this patent!

"This is the greatest videogame patent I've ever read"


[0296]When movies forget the thundering third act whence justice is rendered, they shall cease being art. In the original 3:10 to Yuma, the good guy lives and the bad guy goes to jail. In the recent Hollywood remake, the good guy dies and the bad guy gets away free, as postmodern producers get away with murder. Again, "life imitates art," and modern mutual funds and financial institutions also get away with billions upon billions of dollars derived from financial "engineering," "sub-prime" accounting standards, and transaction fees; as if trading stocks is more important than creating products; as if Casinos generate more wealth than factories; as if gambling and subterfuge can replace long-term wealth generation via entrepreneurship's classic integrity, as if spectacle shall forever trump character and story. Well, in his Poetics, Aristotle ranked the elements of dramatic action in order of importance, placing story and character first; and spectacle last. Again, "when storytelling declines, the result is decadence," and in the original Beowulf our hero slays Grendel's mother, but in the Hollywood remake, he sleeps with her. The present invention would exalt video games over the current fanboy films and games; and allow the player to play for higher ideals, a higher score based on Character and Morality, as implied in an earlier patent application of mine, and exalted art.

[0297]Bogle laments our modern taste for spectacle over substance--for bread and circuses--and he calls upon us to join Odysseus in putting our house in order: [0298]I get right to the point in the very first paragraph: "Capitalism has been moving in the wrong direction." [0299]The introduction that follows doesn't let up. I start off with a remarkably light revision of the classic first paragraph of Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, adapted to the present era. Compare the two first sentences. Gibbon: "In the second century of the Christian Era, the Empire of Rome comprehended the fairest part of the earth and the most civilized portion of mankind." Battle: "As the twentieth century of the Christian era ended, the United States of America comprehended the most powerful position on earth and the wealthiest portion of mankind." [0300]So when I add Gibbon's conclusion--"(Yet) the Roman Empire would decline and fall, a revolution which will be ever remembered and is still felt by the nations of the earth"--I'm confident that thoughtful readers do not miss the point. But of course I hammer it home anyway: "Gibbon's history reminds us that no nation can take its greatness for granted. There are no exceptions." As one of two reviews--both very generous--of The Battle that appeared in The New York Times noted, "Subtle Mr. Bogle is not." [0301]No, I'm not writing off America. But my certain trumpet is warning that we must put our house in order. "The example of the fall of the Roman Empire ought to be a strong wake-up call to all of those who share my respect and admiration for the vital role that capitalism has played in America's call to greatness. Thanks to our marvelous economic system, based on private ownership of productive facilities, on prices set in free markets, and on personal freedom, we are the most prosperous society in history, the most powerful nation on the face of the globe, and, most important of all, the highest exemplar of the values that, sooner or later, are shared by the human beings of all nations: the inalienable rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."--John Bogle, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, [0302]

Christopher Wragg
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Squeee! A good story is a good story regardless indeed, but considering the media it must be delivered differently. Sadly though part of what makes a story good, is where it goes with what it tells; and if your game is but a sandbox, then the story is no story at all, rather it is a narrative awaiting it's conception by the player.

Perchance it is harder in a game to take an old story and fit it to the medium, because the illusion of choice is expected to be present, whereas traditionally linear mediums put no such presumption upon the viewer. The issue with game story is rather than watching from afar you are in a pivotal role, and it is more than possible for your choice to degrade the quality of a story if all freedoms were given to you. But here lies the crux of the matter, for to remove all choice makes the game a poor game indeed; and unless handled carefully the player feels as though they're watching the movie rather than starring in it.

For a game to portray Macbeth it must needs set me, the player, up as Macbeth, it must twist my frame of mind to mirror his, it must construe itself in such a way that I will make his decisions as if they were my own, and it must not let me see that it is doing so. In such a way our medium is deeper, more personal than watching a movie from the outside. But it is also far more open to failure. For sadly if we were to deviate from the course of the story it is no longer Macbeth, but an entirely new adaptation of that story. It is no longer the tried and true formula, but something else that has yet to be tested and weighed against all that has stood before it.

Jeff Spock
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Thanks to everyone who has been keeping this discussion active while I've been chasing deadlines...

Louis, my whole premise is based on artistic constraint. Bach did pretty well even when he decided that he would limit himself to a concerto format. I am assuming that certain types of stories don't adapt well to games; so when we think about game story we need to start within certain limits. The other way, where the story comes first, is what I do when I write fiction.

Stephen, your link is great, but for me is a more academic debate than what I am trying to work on. Pragmatically speaking, I am trying to answer questions more along the line of third versus first person, romance versus vengeance, vision quest versus philosophical reflection. But I like very much your concept of the "complete experience," which had not occurred to me.

An, the narration techniques are, for me, the second part of the question. I'd like to try to figure out story and its structure, and then go into the detail of delivery. This may be out of ignorance, but to me it feels like a more natural flow.

And again, Stephen, I definitely agree. At the moment I am not trying to work out how I as an auteur should express myself, however, but more why sometimes a Philip K. Dick novel works brilliantly as a film, and sometimes it does not. Certain works are generally accepted across the majority of any market demographic as good stories: Huckleberry Finn, Harry Potter, The Empire Strikes Back. In some cases, the combination of the 'reading' of the story 'text' results in an internal narrative or story that seems to be universally pleasing.

Christiaan, just a big YES. Characters have to lead the story, they are the hook by which the consumer enters the story. I definitely agree that this is the fundamental building block.

Ranger, I was not aware of that work, and many of the ideas that I am trying to work out are in there. However, I have a fundamental beef with some parts of it, such as the uselessness of the Hero's Journey as a narrative structure, the fact that it is a method, not a story, and the fact that it is about game implementation rather than story creation. On the other hand, if such a system ever actually sees the light of day, it would be the perfect tool for creating truly epic interactive stories. My other beef is its generality; I can see three generations of academic debate over just one of the 21 statements: "The method in claim 1 where the said ideas are based upon the pivotal plot points of the great books and classics."

Eric, I agree. 3-act is the structure that I end up using the majority of the time, and it ties well into the structure of a game as well. In fact, I based an entire game conference presentation on that. On the other hand, it is also part of how to do the story, not what the story should be.

Erik, that is precisely what I am looking for. I think that there is something very important in the link between genre in the literary sense and genre in the game sense. In certain cases, they are completely antipathetic.

Nathan, that's a great discussion of game story. The structure does end up being important, and it is something of a conceit to pretend that it is not. However, I think that game story is too often, as you say, a watered-down version of film. I don't think that this is the right way to go, and the only explanation that I have found for consistent attempts to pair them is that they both have moving pictures... As far as art forms go, games come closest to improv theatre (or LARPing, if that's your thing :) in my opinion. The difficulty (as you say) is the narrative, and the narrative must be tied to the mechanics or else we're just watching cutscenes. That is why I think that there must be important links between story genre (story action) and game genre (game mechanics).

... and no, I don't take WoW or Halo as examples of great game story :)

Davneet, it goes without saying that for a game story to be good, the writer has to be involved from A to Z. I would go further and add that this constraint is necessary, but not sufficient. The question on internal monologues is the tip of the iceberg; in reality when a writer writes for a game he not only loses control over the character's thoughts but also her looks, gestures, setting, voice, and a host of other things. The cooperative nature of a game development project simply requires that the writer be able to either convince or adapt.

Brandon -- I think you dropped a key nugget: Human interaction. Obvious, maybe, but certainly on the list.

Adam, I think you are precisely emphasizing my point, which is that the story must to a certain extent be a function of the media. Transformers 2: The Novel would be, well, pointless. Text doesn't do explosions as well as Michael Bay :) "The Idiot" may or may not make a good game, but personally I would have no idea how to approach it. Part of the fact is that I am a writer first, not a game designer, and I am regarding the argument from the viewpoint of 'how to develop a story that lends itself to gameplay' rather than 'how to take a given story and build a gameplay around it.' But you are making me realize that there are a lot of undiscovered game mechanics out there that could be fascinating storytelling devices for non-traditional game stories. And in my personal pantheon Half-Life 2 remains the high water mark in terms of writing quality, regardless of story and delivery.

Christopher, I hope to figure out how to create new stories, not adapt old ones. The key for me, though, is figuring out which old ones are great, and why, and what subset of those are good for what type of game genre, and why. I like Macbeth as an example, due precisely to linear decisions like killing Banquo. Without that, everything changes. And I am not convinced that the correct answer is: "Develop technology that allows you to do that anyway." When that happens we are building a sandbox, not a narrative.

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I think writing for video games is a skill on its own. Just like you would have some novelist who doesn't know the basic thing about writing a movie script and a scriptwriter who would never see him/herself writing the same story in book form, because they can't.

I think it's either you've got the skill to execute a good game story or you don't. And I think the first mistake we are making in the industry is thinking that a group of people can actually write or define a story.

Once the major story writers/plot definers exceeds two, then what we'll have is complete quagmire. The fan wont even realize there's a story in the game becuase it will all appear so subtle. Its like a group of people trying to talk at the same time, at the end of the day you don't hear anybody.

It's often best that one person gives voice to a game's story, then the others try to contribute.

I think that's kind of the first step to getting a good game story. To be practical, tell three young men to come tell the story of a movie they just saw. If they all try to talk at the same time you'll never understand them. But what you'll notice is that two will wait while one does the telling, then from time to time the other two will probably go "hey, you missed this part. Hey you forgot this part."

I suspect this to have happened with Halo 3 b'cos although I enjoyed Halo two's story very much, till today I'm still trying to figure out what was really going on in Halo 3.

John Petersen
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* What is a good traditional (non-video game) story, and why?- Any Ghost stories. because anything can and will happen at any moment, but it's usually a build up.

There are stories about racers racing against ghost mustangs. The movie "The Wraith"- with Charlie Sheen would be a good video game. It's got a really cool story, and good action/racing environment, crazy characters. But to just do the movie wouldn't really be doing anything, adding on beyond the movie or story in a video game helps alot. Maybe add some sanctioned races, players are familiar and comfortable with that.

There are the stories about serial killers, you can see the images in your head when you hear the stories. Like the one story about the wife that finds her hubby hung upside down from a tree and it was his nails scraping the top of the car, and not a tree limb like she thought. That kind of stuff. But good stories aren't really bound to any specific genre, such as ghosts or serial killers.

* What is a good video game story, and why?- The Darkness story makes a great video game because of the way the player and story interact. It all makes sense and the player can indentify with the character on a personal level because they interact as the character doing personal things, like kissing their girlfreind, taking a leak, watching tv, people in the subway know them, they have family that'll stand beside them and responsibilities and showing the emotional value of the relationships between them. Good throughlines.

* Are there common elements, and if so, what are they? The normal elements you'd find in any well written story. Doesn't have to be classic Edgar Allen Poe, but Stephen King is good, real good.

* Based on the common elements, what should we be writing?- I write about the things that interest me. Much of it is nonsense, but some of it is Kobe beef.

And that Kobe Beef is where it's at, it needs to be edited a shaped to fit video games, but it is pure melt in your mouth wonderful.

The reader needs to identify in some way. The more the reader indentifies, the more engrossed they will be.

But you see, there's a catch 22. Even if a developer comes up with the perfect story, or even just a kick azz one, it can be ruined by techinical difficulties that many games suffer from.

If the game is glitchy, graphics stink, or don't match the atmosphere, it just takes the bang out of it. If the system specs are to high for those who are really interested, fail.

More modesty and less greed on the business end of things, and I think you'll see a big difference in how stories can play a significant role in gaming, and attract more of those types of players that look for that, and also cater to the action orientated crowd of gamers also.

Evan Combs
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A good story for a video game requires the ability to have interesting(it doesn't have to be fun) interactive sequences. Which is why most old stories would fail worse than most of today's video game stories if they were video games. It doesn't matter how good of a story it is on paper or on screen if there is no way to make it interactively interesting it is going to fail. (no mashing Y to try and wake Romeo is not interesting) I would argue that you cannot port a non-interactive story into a video game.

To better keep immersion and intertwine story with gameplay you have to consider your in game camera. If your game is in first person it should be in first person during cutscenes no matter if the player has control or not(although I would suggest always giving the player the ability to control head movements). If the game is in third person you have more freedom with the camera, but try to avoid the initial cut into the cutscene. Instead have the camera move into position as the player watches.

If there is only a single character the player actually plays as the player can only know what the player has experienced.

Don't think like a novel or movie writer.

And of course the illusion of choice.

Those in my opinion are the basics of creating an interesting video game story that doesn't break immersion. In my opinion game stories really aren't that bad it is just the execution of the stories. They are treated as being separate from gameplay, and break the immersion which is the most important part of telling a story. The person that is receiving the story needs to be immersed in the story. If the player isn't immersed no matter how good the story is the player won't receive it the way it is intended, and consequently won't think it as a good story.

Really it isn't about what makes up a good story, but what makes someone become immersed in a story? Take Fight Club, it is a great movie and I get so immersed in the story that I don't even realize the voice overs are breaking the fourth wall. When I read "American Gods" I was so immersed in the story that I completely lost track of time. It is the immersion into the story that makes us believe it is a good story, when people are taken out of the immersion you lose them.