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Develop 2009: Gameplay Not Everything, Says Dyack
Develop 2009: Gameplay Not Everything, Says Dyack Exclusive
July 16, 2009 | By Simon Parkin

"Gameplay is not everything," said Silicon Knights (Eternal Darkness) founder and president Denis Dyack. "If you look at the most popular games today, they are far more narrative-focused."

"If games are to follow the trajectory of films, then the dominance of gameplay will diminish in place of an increased focus and importance on gaming’s stories and the ways in which they are told," he added.

Dyack’s controversial message was delivered during a talk at Brighton, UK's Develop Conference calling for games to be considered as "the Eighth Art." He highlighted the writings of Ricciotto Canudo, an Italian author and one of the first theorists of film who considered cinema to be the Seventh Art.

"Canudo argued that cinema incorporated the distinctive elements of both the spatial arts (architecture painting) with the temporal arts (music and dance)," he explained.

"In a similar way video games synthesize architecture, sculpture and painting with music, dancing and painting, utilizing elements of each but adding interactivity to move art on to its eighth form."

"That video games are art is quite obvious to me," he continued. "The new synthesis is interactivity and gameplay. Instead of moving pictures, that which movies brought to art, we now have interactivity as the glue that brings together all the previous artistic elements."

Dyack drew attention to various elements of Silicon Knights’ most recent game, Too Human, to illustrate his point. He highlighted its architecture, music and poetry, and said each was as important as the next in creating a full experience for the player.

Rather than shrinking from drawing comparisons between film and video games, Dyack urged developers to pursue and embrace the connections between the media. "It’s ridiculous to claim that video games aren’t art because they speak the language of film," he said. "I would encourage us to apply filmic technique to our creations. If you can replicate these techniques extraordinarily well, the your game will resonate with people on a deep level."

"It’s an unpopular viewpoint," he said. "But I don’t believe that gameplay is the most important aspect to games. I have a theory: that engagement is greater than or equal to art plus story plus gameplay plus audio plus technology. It’s all of these things combined, and one is not more important than another."

"While I think that narrative is going to become more and more dominant, possibly superseding gameplay, narrative is not the be all and end all," he added.

"You can have 100-year-old films where narrative is very light and they are still enjoyable. However, I think we will move towards a place where games can be a success because of more than just their gameplay, because of their music, their internal architecture and so on."

When asked why we should care whether games are an art form or not, Dyack admitted that in part his argument is fueled by a desire for validation from the academic and wider critical community.

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Damien Foletto
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The more popular games of today may indeed be more narrative, but at their core they also have great gameplay (no one ever said the gameplay in Bioshock was poor). Gameplay is king in games - period. Denis touts the architecture, music and poetry of Too HUman, but the reality is that Too Human sold poorly and was not a fun game. No one cares if the game is beautiful to hear and see if the gameplay is poor. Make the game fun, first, then focus on making it pretty and artsy. The one statement that I mostly agree with is, "While I think that narrative is going to become more and more dominant, possibly superseding gameplay, narrative is not the be all and end all," I do not believe narrative will ever exceed gameplay. And quite frankly, I'm tired of wannabe high-brow folks trying to make games an "art form." Who cares? Make it fun and they will come.

Tadhg Kelly
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"If you look at the most popular games today, they are far more narrative-focused."

What an odd claim in the days when the Wii and its decidedly back-to-basics games are clearly streets ahead of every other kind of game.

I think there is increasingly a sense of larger developers regarding the world through the lens of how things should be rather than how they are, and this Dyack claim is a case in point. Several of the most popular games on console these days may indeed be festooned with story but there's no evidence that gamers actually want them or don't regard them (as they traditionally have) as something to be skipped through in search of mission details to get them back to the gameplay.

I think there is much to be said for great games having ambience and interesting worlds with which a player can interact, but it will always require that world to support full and interesting gameplay rather than treat it as a launching point for something else.

Armando Marini
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I think you missed the point. He isn't saying narrative = make crappy gameplay. He's saying good game = gameplay + narrative

Too often the term "games" is painted with a single brush. Narrative in narrative games is crucial. Narrative in cell phone variation of break out is not so important. Its a sliding scale. Games as a fun time waster is a different genre of games. As "lesser" platforms allow for more compelling content, the home console needs to have titles that give it value. Numbers matter and they matter more and more as costs creep skyward. NBA 2K9 selling 2 million copies is great for them because development costs are relatively low for a game like that.

The future of big budget titles is multiple core mechanics tied together with a compelling narrative, which of course should never be confused with a story that is "phoned in".

Edison failed many times before he got the lightbulb right. If he'd listened to the naysayers, we'd all be in the dark.

Daniel Page
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I'm a bit confused by what Denis is trying to say. He seems to defeat his own argument. Compare the following:

"The new synthesis is interactivity and gameplay." --- What makes Video games stand out as a medium is the gameplay and what it adds to the previous art forms.

"If games are to follow the trajectory of films, then the dominance of gameplay will diminish in place of an increased focus and importance on gaming’s stories and the ways in which they are told" --- If games follow the example set by films, they will merely become films! They will be nothing more than just "Choose Your Own Adventure" movies.

The way for games to become their own art is not to look like the other arts, but to set it self apart by adding the unique feature: Gameplay. You can't get up on stage and tell them how to act. You can't change the camera angle of a movie.


I also wanted to illustrate the problem with his statement: "I have a theory: that engagement is greater than or equal to art plus story plus gameplay plus audio plus technology." You can remove any part of this statement and still have a game experience. No art? You have a traditional command line game. No audio? I've played many games with the sound off. No technology? D&D. No Narrative (which I believe he means by engagement"), any random FPS shooter. Games come in many different forms, but all of them contain gameplay.

I understand the Eighth Art sentiment, and totally agree. It could possibly be called the Final Art, since it combines all the previous ones with the glue of Gameplay. It can not lose this focus, however. The maturity of games and evolution of art lies within better gameplay, not narrative.

Tadhg Kelly
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Two other thoughts also.


Dyack seems (from this piece anyway, I wasn't there) to regard the arts in a sequential form, so the seventh art is the inheritor of the sixth, and thus the eighth is the inheritor of the seventh. I think this is false. The forms of art aren't an evolutionary history of art, they're a classification system. In seeking to position games after film, he is clearly making an argument of inheritance to support his stories idea, but his core assumption is dodgy.


>> "It’s ridiculous to claim that video games aren’t art because they speak the language of film," he said. "I would encourage us to apply filmic technique to our creations. If you can replicate these techniques extraordinarily well, the your game will resonate with people on a deep level."

If you'll allow me: Videogames don't speak the language of film. They speak the language of games. In film for example when a camera focuses on something important to the plot, it is a message delivered on a visual and emotional context. In videogames when a camera focuses on something it is a message of gameplay objective.

The 'mode' or context in which the image is being delivered are completely different, and applying the techniques of one when the mode demands the other is what results in that feeling of watching a game-maker act out his personal fantasies in a game (Hello Metal Gear!) and effectively obliging us all to wait until the cinematics stop pontificating.

Eighth Art:

If you're looking for a more direct correlation for art's sake, I have long thought games are much more closely related to architecture than any of the other arts. Architects essentially design spaces that are meant to instill moods and encourage certain kinds of uses, and videogames are broadly similar. The main difference between architecture and games is that one is physical whereas the other is largely conceptual. Architecture is bounded by natural rules where games are bounded by conceptual rules. Games often instill a need for progression and success which architecture rarely does, and that is perhaps where they diverge most.

We often call ourselves Game Makers or Game Directors as a way to establish credibility. Perhaps we should call ourselves Game Architects to get in the right frame of mind.

Whatever, the key point is that cinematics do not seem to be the answer. Trying to be more like film only results in bad games, whereas trying to establish a credo for an Eighth Art that is broader and looks at the other arts as a club rather than a sequence seems to be the way to go.

Tadhg Kelly
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"Narrative in narrative games is crucial."

Is it really? I think not as much as Dyack and a variety of game developer CEOs wished it was. Successful use of narrative in games tends to boil down to two kinds of components:

1. Mission-describers

2. Ambience

Mission describers are the most common use and they are often best when short, to the point, and flavourful in quick bursts. This is because games invariably have much repetition of gameplay and it is boring to watch the same long gameplay clips twice or three or ten times.

Ambience is things like side-dialogue by NPCs, discoverable objects (like an e-mail you break into in Deus Ex), music, visual style and so on. All these elements serve to construct the passive theme of the game world but it is very important that they do not get in the way of a player and his goals.

Outside of those two fairly well-understood uses, narrative in narrative games is generally a waste of time. It's forthy, pretentious, boring, never lives up to its supposed potential and always shows its cracks all too readily. From their earliest inception through to the very latest blockbuster games this basic mode of interaction has remained the same.

So narrative is only crucial in so far as its ability to tell me where B is when I'm standing at A, or as a sort of backing vocal to support or contrast what I am doing. It doesn't serve any other purpose and, I think we can safely say after several hundred thousand games having been released, it likely never will.

How's that for controversial? :)

Tadhg Kelly
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"watch the same long gameplay clips twice or three or ten times"

That should say story clips.

Bob McIntyre
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If I had seen Dyack's statement and not been told who said it, I wouldn't have guessed that it's someone who actually works in games. To be blunt, I think his statement is wrong and ridiculous. If I want a movie, I'll watch a movie. There's no need for me to buy a game in order to experience a linear narrative. Narrative elements in games came after gameplay mechanics and are a supporting mechanism. They have become increasingly important, but they do not and will not supercede gameplay. It's pretty simple, few people would choose a game with bad play and good story over one with good play and bad story.

Good game writers know this. They layer their stories so that the bulk of players, the ones who skip cutscenes and don't pay attention to their objectives, will be forced to have just the minimum of information to know how to win (e.g. "where do I go and who do I shoot?"), and then they layer on additional narrative themes and elements for players who want those things. But story is always an accessory.

Damien Foletto
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Another thing I'd like to add is an argument against "I would encourage us to apply filmic technique to our creations. If you can replicate these techniques extraordinarily well, then your game will resonate with people on a deep level." Films are a passive form of entertainment, while entertaining games rely completely on player interaction to move the story forward. Techniques to create a passive entertainment medium like film are completely contradictory to creating game narratives. In games, the story and design need to revolve around what the player can and might do, and it needs to be presented to the player in an entertaining and interactive way. In film, it doesn't matter at all what the viewer is doing, the narrative will move forward regardless. Bottom line: Film is passive and games are interactive. The two require two different techniques to create successfully.

Joshua Sterns
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Do people who make games, or Game Architects, really feel this burning desire to be "accepted" in a more academic setting?

Don't let the snobby know at all's get you down. They are more then likely jealous that their latest theory or book isn't selling. Video games are the bee knees, and they usually get more attention from the public then the latest academic breakthrough. They also incorporate more academic disciplines then many people realize. So don't be sad. Be glad! Game Architects are a regular Renaissance Man/Woman.

Mark Auer
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The desire for games to be dominated by a narrative - rather than gameplay- based focal point is quite misleading for the video game genre. Without a doubt the driving force for the immense popularity of video games today comes not from the fact that they tell a story, but from the virtues of spot-on gameplay which equals fun and entertainment. Games such as NHL 09, Madden, or even Unreal Tournament will never exist with any sort of meaningful narrative. And I'm sure their popularity will be sustained regardless of narrative and its influence on games. Does the Mario universe really need narrative driven games? Would Mario games be "better" with a convoluted story full of twists and turns in stark contrast to the simple princess rescue? More does not necessarily equate to better. Narrative cannot exist at arcades. Ultimately the lasting appeal and popularity of a game is not determined by the quality of its narrative, but by the entertainment value found in its gameplay. There are countless examples of games that prove this. In the end, narrative will always serve as a sidekick to gameplay. It serves to support and adhere by it, not overshadow it.

Maurício Gomes
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Gameplay IS everything...

The all other stuff that we cram into games are supposed to enhance gameplay...

Derek Bentham
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"few people would choose a game with bad play and good story over one with good play and bad story."

You could say that's true, but at the same time, as a long-time gamer, I've experienced many many games with good gameplay and bad story. But in all my years, I've maybe played 1 game in which I was entertained by the story more than the gameplay. My point is, I really haven't much of a choice, as video game story-lines have set such a low bar. Even as a kid I can't remember being particularly impressed with game story-lines.

One could say that gameplay trumps all, but do we say that because it's true, or because it's just what we're used to? Or because it's what we've come to expect, and what we've always known?

My belief is that no singular component trumps all. What's most important IMO, is that, by whatever means, you grab the player, and give them a compelling experience.

Ted Brown
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I think most folks can safely ignore Mr. Dyack's pronouncements. The market has proven him wrong many times before.

Tadhg Kelly
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The proposition in this and other presentations is often actually about selling technological capability. So a developer of note will get up on a stage, be it GDC or Develop or E3 or even TED and show fancy footage that they then use either the narrative- or experience- passion statement to twine it together.

I think self-promotion is fine, but I also think this particular tactic is working less and less as consumers seem to plumb for other, smaller, simpler kinds of games and the various business and investment oriented parties (whom these presentations are supposed to impress) are starting to take notice.

David Crespo
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Although I agree with this mainly because it can be seen in many games of recent release, that have focused more on the graphical and epic adventure than an innovative game play feature. I do believe gameplay will be the only aspect of which to define a game in an age of high calibur graphics and unending sagas. Diminishing gameplay will result in mediocre interactive films which games are not, you do not create an experience by merely shooting everything in a room, it has to be done with a little but of finesse, choice and consequence. Gameplay created the industry diminishing it would create something entirely different.

Richard Cody
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"Art" games need to be an experience and engaging (as Dyack said), not necessarily fun.

Some of the most artistic games feature nothing in real plot, take Passage and Gravitron for example, just gameplay.. However, on a larger scale, I'd say the acceptance of games as art lies in improving the already accepted arts. Right now we're in a big period of gameplay refinement and technological innovation, defining the core of our art.

We should decipher the difference between "game" and "experience" though. Because Unreal Tournament is a game, like Monopoly, like Risk, or shooting basketballs at an arcade. Just like a story based on the game pieces in Risk wouldn't make a deep, engaging story nor would UT.

Silent Hill 2 however is an experience. It's about your character, in a nightmarish town, 'straightening out' events in his life.

Even Dyack's own Eternal Darkness is an experience, reading about/playing through supernatural events and experiencing how people lose their sanity and its effects until the supernatural forces eventually work their way up to the main character. (but this game is the perfect example of a game that would fight its way to even greater status with better technology and tools and improved gameplay.)

With improving technology games stand to gain an unproportionate amount in comparison to film. Some of which can help it gain widespread acceptance as art and some of which will further distance it from every other medium.

Richard Cody
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I don't think it was totally clear, there doesn't have to be a story arc for there to be an experience. I disagree with Dyack there. When your actions can tell the story or plot that's the experience. Silent Hill has scary set pieces that set you up in this man's demented world, as does ED for its main protagonist but I'd argue Shadpw of the Colossus, Passage, and Gravitron are more true experiences and true to the art that can be found in games.

Adam Piotuch
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I think what it comes down to, is if games are to be considered an art form, then narrative needs a higher focus. To me, games are already an art form, they have embedded themselves in popular culture enough that people take inspiration from games and express them in their own work. How many bands mimic 8 bit era music? How many shirts and accessories mimic game content and controllers? These are just a couple examples. Games are the 8th art form.

Robert Rhine
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Narrative should never supersede gameplay. That is true. However, don't discredit the impact of a good narrative and the ability of player imagination to make their own experience. The original Super Mario games had little in the way of explicit storytelling, but they sure told a story. And that story was largely expounded upon by the player; each player brought their own experiences into creating a narrative all their own.

The best fighting games have some sort of story behind them. GTA is story based, MMORPGs are story based, Platformers are story based. Pong and Asteroids have had its share of fanfic written around them. There have even been games that were never released but achieved a following due to their expanded story content.

Games are an art-form, except that the artists creating the game includes the audience itself. Art can be industry based. It can be indie and it can be mainstream. It can tell a story, invite thought, and even user interaction.

Games are interdisciplinary by their nature. Their creation encourages and requires collaboration between a large amount of skill sets (either within an individual, or, more likely, as a team).

Gaming is becoming everyday. Many of the activities people do simply as a part of life can take on a new aspect when being considered as games. People love stories, they love interacting, and they love feeling like they have had a part in creating something. Games provide all of those.

It doesn't make sense to say that all games should exhibit the same amount of all of the different factors that make a game good. But it is human nature that Narrative is one of those factors.

Tadhg Kelly
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"However, on a larger scale, I'd say the acceptance of games as art lies in improving the already accepted arts."

"I think what it comes down to, is if games are to be considered an art form, then narrative needs a higher focus."

"And that story was largely expounded upon by the player; each player brought their own experiences into creating a narrative all their own."

These three are examples of what I would call thinking in the wrong direction, and what I meant when posting about looking to other arts. What they actually say (as I read them) is "Games must be movies" in one way or another. You're all essentially subscribing to Dyack's (and many others') "inheritor" idea of artforms (that each supercedes the previous) and you have it wrong.

Richard: How does making one art more like another get it accepted as an art itself rather than just a sub-set? Cinema didn't really become cinema until it stopped pretending to be theatre. Poetry doesn't try to be music. Why can't games be accepted as games? More to the point why can't game fans accept them as just games?

Adam: Why does narrative, the most alien part of the game (because it's essentially pausing the playing) need more focus? What purpose does it serve other than to say that the game part itself is somehow embarassing and what the game is really about is the movie bits, especially if the people who play the games are uninterested in them? It's a bit like a sculptor becoming more obsessed with hat poetry is being read at the time of a statue's unveiling rather than the actual statue.

Robert: Isn't saying players bring their own experiences another way of saying "players play". I've heard this logical contortion of the self-instantiated story many times before and all it is is a trick of language. What's actually going on is players are picking up controllers and playing. There's no need to dress it up any more pompously than that. Players play. So if the narrative elements of a game somehow stop that simple relationship working then we have a problem. Players not playing is a bad thing.

I'm not meaning to pick you out singularly guys, but I found it interesting that all three of these posts came closely together. I think a lot of intellectualising around games and stories is really just a smoke-screen for people who feel that games will never get any street-cred until they essentially become movies in which you play the actor, but the more I look at games and how they actually work and flow the more I'm convinced that this is an essentially paradoxical notion and doesn't at all describe how and why players actually play.

It's an easy notion, very futuristic and it gives journalists something unusual to write about at conferences, students to debate in college and the forums of the IGDA to look busy pondering over. The only problem with it is that nobody real is interested.

Thomas Grove
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Guys like this are killing the game industry :(

Peter Bartholow
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The dude had a good thing going, with that whole "media silence" thing.

After Microsoft's experience with him, I don't envy his next publisher's PR people - I can see the headlines already: "Silicon Knights Announces , Gameplay Not Everything."

John Petersen
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Let's see... How much would it cost to buy your way into calling something art? I'm sure someone is willing to sell you a place in the heirarchy.

You will know when games become art, right now they are not art. But they can become art.

I knew there was a reason why games were coming unglued... Games are made to make money, they're not from the heart and soul of a single creator for the sole purpose to express themselves.

Just keep making better games, and the art will come... Eventually, but maybe never in your lifetime.

Glenn Storm
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I am no longer surprised to see a prominent figure of the industry make a provocative claim (and prediction) that causes the community to argue semantics and hypotheticals from the extremes of a very broad spectrum, while the middle ground of the issue, where most games and game designers live, with all its subtleties and nuances is largely ignored. This reoccurring situation appears to be more concerned with hubris and self-gratification than furthering the discussion of game design / game development issues.

Luis Guimaraes
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So that's what experience in the industry will bring me? :/

Henry Harris
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Oh, come on guys. Let's get real. Video games are a medium just like music. Music is distinguished by its approach to rhythm, choice of instruments and tonality. Would you really argue that only rock is music? Of course not. Personally, I don't play any games that don't have a strong narrative. A game without an interesting and compelling story is not worth playing in my opinion. Does that mean I don't understand why some people prefer a strong game-play element? Of course not. That's the really interesting thing about games, the thing that puts it on an equal footing with music. It's infinitely variable, and as time goes on new forms of games will almost certainly evolve. So everyone chill and realize there's room enough for everyone's taste.

John Giordano
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Given the success of the Wii and iPhone, I think the formula goes more like this:

Technology + Audio + Narrative < Gameplay < Accessibility

It seems that heavy narrative throughout a game can almost be a turn-off to general audiences. While core gamers itch to escape into those worlds and stories, most people are just looking for something easy-to-get-into and fun.

Evan Combs
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What it comes down to is balance. If you are creating an experience driven game you need a balance between story and gameplay. If you have great gameplay you can get by with just an adequate story, but that game will never be held in the same esteem as a game with both great gameplay and story. As well you can have a great story and adequate gameplay. As long as you excel in one area, and are at lest adequate in the other you will have a good game on your hands.

Maurício Gomes
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Note: His statements may explain why his most current games suck.

Chad Irby
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"Stop playing the game and pay attention to my deeply-involved narrative, dammit!"

Game first, narrative second. Or third. Or not at all.

Yeah, game designers can learn things from all of the other arts. Scene design from the theater, use of camera angles and movements from film, pretentiousness from bad poets, unemployment from artists, et cetera.

If you don't know the others, you won't know when you're reinventing something from one of them - or when you won't have to.

...but every art should be itself first, not a half-assed copy of the others.

steve roger
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Stupid thing to say that the narrative aspect is more important than the gameplay. That is just an excuse for a wonky control system. I seriously doubt that developers shoot for story and then say well the control system and interactive gameplay needs more work, but we have a great story so let's ship now. Rather, the developer is saying I want more time to make great game play to compliment this awesome narrative.

And I disagree, plenty of people has wished that Bioshock had better gameplay. I am fully expecting that that Bioshock 2 will improve that aspect greatly since they are moving into multiplayer.

Amir Sharar
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Ted Brown said: "I think most folks can safely ignore Mr. Dyack's pronouncements. The market has proven him wrong many times before."

I wouldn't use the market as an indicator of whether or not someone has clout or understands game design. Superman 64 was considered one of the worst games of all times but was a sales hit. Many factors are at play when it comes to the market's reaction to games, including hype, genre, timing, price, and availability.

It would be best to counter his argument with contradictions. There have been many that have posted thus far, and I would include one more.

Mr. Dyack said: "If you look at the most popular games today, they are far more narrative-focused."

Many of today's popular games (not all, of course) feature a popular online multiplayer component. Games like Call of Duty 4, Halo 3, Gears of War 2, Killzone 2, etc. are still being played long after the completion of the single player campaign. Gamers can put a hundred times more hours into multiplayer than in single player. Obviously, multiplayer is devoid of any storytelling or narrative. Many of these games sell mainly due to their online component. Some popular games feature ONLY an online component (CounterStrike, Quake 3 Arena, UT series). In a game like World of Warcraft, I'd garner that narrative and story aren't the main reasons as to why it's doing so well. The recently released Battlefield 1943 has no narrative, yet is selling very well. Dyack's opinion is based on a shakey premise.

My personal perspective is that the end goal is to entertain the user. This can be as a result of any combination of factors. Some users are primarily entertained by elements such as gameplay and challenge, others are entertained by story and narrative. Some demand both in their games. Some demand only one (ie. some people like to play Pac Man, others like to watch TV/movies). So I think the opinion that "narrative should never supersede gameplay" is incorrect. It does in movies...movies are popular, and many people enjoy them. Even gamers enjoy movies. Netflix is doing well on the 360...gamers enjoy all sorts of entertainment experiences, even when they are completely devoid of gameplay. Games like Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, prove that narrative/story dominated games can be fun experiences.

Henry Harris: I like your analogy. There exists music without vocals or lyrics, and there exists music without percussion, and there exists music that contain only vocals...but the end result is are songs that people can enjoy. Games exist in the same way. There could be factors or elements entirely missing, yet the experience can still be an enjoyable one that will be appreciated by many. Sometimes some genres are more popular than others, and so if you were looking at being a commercial success you may want to adapt. This part of the analogy could also extend to games...but I'm digressing so I'll leave it at that.

Ken McCulloch
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Some people seem to forget that games are an amalgam of other disciplines and their success is based on the synaesthesia created by their combination. Sure, you can leave some of the things out, but you'll only lessen the experience that could have been attained if you do. The real art of game design and development is making those disciplines work for the game.

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This relates to that Jenova Chen article the other day so I'll repost what I posted in that article. I'm saying kinda what Dyack is saying except that the ratio of gameplay to narrative needs to be adjusted, not necessarily that you need less gameplay and more narrative. Most games now days have 90% gameplay 10% narrative. I think more of an even relationship would be a good thing, like a 60/40 or 50/50. Doesn't mean you need cutscenes for half the game, but a narrative in some way. Here's what I wrote the other day about it.

The main problem is that too many people creating these games are close minded. Unless you have 10 years experience or more in the game industry, you can't design a game. As games get easier to make so that anyone can do it, which will happen, we'll see a lot more of these emotional games. Until then the industry is too closed, too private, and mainly filled with technical people, not artists. Like Nintendo tasked some artist, Miyamoto, with creating a game back in the day with no real experience, more of that needs to be done.

As for movie-like emotional games, they're easy to make. What is a movie? A story. What is a story? Characters, plot, and setting. What is a game? Interactivity. What is an emotional game? Interactivity and story. The majority of movies are emotional because of the characters. The games Jenova Chen seems to want to make reminds me of an old video I used to have called "the mind's eye", I never found that video emotional, but I've found other story and character driven movies emotional.

Look at comedy movies, they usually start off funny then as the story needs to be told they get boring. This is a pitfall that many comedy movies suffer because movies rely so heavily on telling a story. It is kind of the same pitfall that the game industry suffers because we rely so much on interactivity. How do you make a comedy movie? Put the story on the back-burner. How do you make an emotional game? Put the interactivity on the back-burner. You don't have to take interactivity out, but you have to have some kind of ratio where if you x amount of interactivity then you have to have y amount of story telling. I know people don't want to hear that, but the only way to make something emotional, truly emotional, not "heeyyy dude, I love you man, oh and by the way I'm on drugs" emotional (Jenova Chen's "emotional") is to have a well thought out story with well thought out characters.

Another thing to note is that for a game to be emotional that story has to have ties to the real world in some way, so people can relate. Even movies that have no ties to the real world aren't emotional. Monsters, zombies, etc, unless there is some theme there like evil, fallen from grace, revenge, they're not emotional overall. Final problem is that since story is characters, plot, and setting and often people can't relate to a computer generated character, all that is left is plot and setting. So at this point in games the story has to make the most of that plot first and foremost before anything. It needs to consider the theme that it is trying to convey as a top priority because until we can identify with a computer generated character that is the most emotional story telling device we have. Other alternatives are real footage in some way (Metal Gear Solid games). Or to make the game first person with limited "other" character contact (i.e. Portal). Or to make the game with archetypes or entities with human-like emotional states despite not being human (i.e. Last Guardian).

Jenova Chen's idea of emotional to me isn't what I view as emotional. His view is more like the movie I mentioned early, the mind's eye, it takes advantage of whatever thoughts you're already having to create the illusion of emotion, druggy, psychedelic emotion.

Henry Harris
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Thanks Amir. I've been a bit of a technologist in my career(s), and the recent disclosure by Microsoft of their new game technologies really blew me away. Talk about control systems. The ability to recognize the players face, words, and hand gestures spun, for me, all kinds of dreams of future games. It speaks of a time when the player is tightly integrated into the game in a way that's far beyond merely operating a controller. As the old curse goes, we will live in interesting times. I suspect that, at the very least, the word "game" may be inadequate to describe the experience of future players.

Christopher Enderle
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There certainly aren't many examples that would give Dyack's claims credence, but I'd say you could point to a game like Silent Hill 2. It might not have been the greatest hit but it found its niche and warranted sequels. That might just be an exception to the rule and it's an older game, but I can't think of any other game that is regarded to have generally poor gameplay but is still loved for its narrative.

Whether the niche Silent Hill 2 struck is worth pursuing by publishers/investors could also be debated. From personal experience, though, I've had non-gamer family members enjoy and play through the game, so I think similarly directed games certainly have the potential to expand gaming audiences.

Luis Guimaraes
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I ahev a lot of friends taht don't speak english and loved Silent Hill 2 without understanding a sentence of what was being said, simply because it was a scary game featured by game magazines back in those old days where no player knew too much about gameplay...

Christopher Wragg
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lol wow

@ Tadhg Kelly

no offense, but is there a chip on your shoulder?

I do believe what he's saying in this is that the engagement of a game is greater than or equal to the sum of it's parts. He even directly states that while he think is will, he doesn't think that narrative "should " supersede the other aspects of a game. He's not saying at all that narrative is the most important aspect.

Also you state that narrative is "effectively pausing the gameplay", damn is that a limited perspective. It's not progressive in the slightest, and often it's such a viewpoint that leads to the tedious sort of narrative you seem to expect from a game, why can't narrative be expressed through gameplay elements? (In fact I could liken that viewpoint to the old concept that a book shouldn't tell a story, back in the days before novels). I also get annoyed at the constant attacks people of, again no offence intended, "your camp", declaring that the only reason we feel narrative has a place in games is to give them "street-cred". Not at all! I personally subscribe to the concept, that like everything else that ends up well recognised, the only thing required is it's existence and time. As long as it's around and more people begin to use it, eventually the arguments die out because it's so common it doesn't need to be argued about. EVERY form of media has done this (except music, that pre-dates everything it would seem), the written word (especially novels), stage play, paintings, sculpture, film, etc.

Rather a lot of us want narrative in our games, or for people to recognise their artistic potential, because all it can do is improve the quality of the games we make. Just because you understand abstract art and the concept behind it doesn't mean you can't paint a portrait. But understanding that other part of your art (painting), becomes crucial in understanding how your painting is different, more importantly it helps you know when abstract art is more appropriate.

Also to counter your annoying position on inherited does indeed work like that. Music existed, the written word existed, people combined these added another element and called it theatre. Someone took a look at technology, took all these aspects and added the ability to pre plan, to get everything perfect and to edit in ways not possible before in a live performance, and called it film. Games have just taken filmic techniques, and added a new aspect that has evolved from a computing environment, and that's the ability to interact and manipulate the media (while this is simplified it holds true nonetheless). I also remain constant that none of these things did anything singularly important to be considered art, even though we like to apply such thinking to them. The general community simply became more aware of them, they became common knowledge, and their evolution into art followed naturally, much the way language evolves.

To take a different tack, lets look at a more progressive viewpoint. So narrative in a game makes the game dull? What if it's used to heighten tension, making game play more furious and adrenaline charged. It's narrative in games that make your choices more engaging than, I'll press X now. Instead it becomes "I'll shoot the soldier". Note that the simple fact there is a soldier, and you're shooting him, is a narrative element. In fact without narrative, why have images and music in your game?? Why not click at amorphous grey blobs as opposed to shooting zombies. Why not have some monotone tune playing in the background all the time, rather than cleverly composed pieces targeting a specific set of emotions, or rather just mere silence. In fact lets reduce puzzle games to mere math, because without narrative there isn't much left apart from math. In fact using science puzzles would still inherently carry too much narrative for your tastes.

No, I'd say it's the views of people much like yourself, who believe games aren't art, can't be art, and wanting them to be art is pointless, that are causing so much shovel ware to be produced these days. A view like that can only limit our medium, limit our understanding of it, and prevent us from doing new and interesting things beyond finding new and interesting ways of pushing buttons. Such views I think stem from a lack of understanding about what narrative is, and how it rides the coat tails of every art form, every form of entertainment, that has ever existed.

Anyways, sorry to attack your views, but they annoy me, as do the large number of people who seem to have started flaming without reading the article in the first place. If they did read it, I recommend they go back and do so again, and this time actually use that oft misplaced skill known as, understanding the English language.

Christopher Enderle
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@ Luis

I can understand that. I'd say that a good narrative doesn't need to rely on the spoken or written word (ballet's have narratives). I just threw out Silent Hill 2 because despite everything else it still stands out as a solid example of a generally well regarded game (on the whole) with generally poorly regarded gameplay, which ultimately backs up Dyack's comments, as I understand them.

Tadhg Kelly
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@ Christopher Wragg

:) Nope, not at all.

My quest is to get game makers thinking beyond this very limiting 'narrative' trap. As long as developers only define themselves in relation to movies they will always be the poor second cousin of the movie industry and no more.

In one of my other posts I said that effective use of narrative has always boiled down to two things: Mission-enablers and background elements such as ambient dialogue and discoverable objects that help paint the game universe more. Beyond that narrative has no useful function in a game. Never has had, never will have.

Acceptance is not just a function of time. There is also an element of naturalism to consider. By naturalism I mean that even in its most basic and simplified form the basis of the artform is still apparent. Game developers remain unique in insisting that the only way their artform can become an artform is if technology continues to improve at a radical pace, but despite all the claims what they produce invariably follows exactly the same forms as the earliest games. The naturalism principle holds true, in otherwords, and what it shows is that games can use narrative elements but are not becoming interactive stories. All that's happening is, like cinema, that developers are finding ever-increasingly lare budgets to spend making more elaborate versions of the same ideas again and again.

So it's time to stop looking at games as they art they supposedly should be (with all of the expense involved) and instead look at them as the art they actually are, and build on that. Games haven't done anything like what you are saying with filmic techniques, nor have they inherited some great mantle of culture from them. Similary your piece about how narrative makes choices more meaningful. No, it doesn't. That is just rationale-fulfilling bullshit.

What makes the choices more meaningful is the tests of skill, the music, the pace, the logic. The gameplay and its attendant mood, in otherwords. Players aren't nearly as interested in context as game theorists believe they should be because they're spending too much time actually playing.

From Space Wars and Pac Man through Sim City and Doom and on into Bioshock and Fallout 3, what we're seeing here is the same kinds of naturalism, just layered with further complication and production values to generate experience. These are not bad things, but some of us (like yourself and apparently Mr Dyack) are misinterpreting what that experience actually is and ascribing values to it (like the contextually emotionally engaged hero-player, which is also a figment of the theorist imagination) that do not exist.

I really should write a book about all this at some point.


PS: Anybody who thinks from what I've said above that I think games are not art has not been reading closely enough - and also shows to me that their own perception of 'what is art' is woefully limited.

John Giordano
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@Christopher Wragg

I believe what annoys me and others about what is being said here is that there is a suggestion that narrative and gameplay have some kind of equality within a video game.

A video game can live without narrative. Just look at Bejeweled, Tetris, or Wii Sports and Wii Fit. These are some of the most successful and popular games of all time! And yet they have narratives that are either very abstract or may not even be there at all (and really how awful would it be to try and squeeze some kind of story into these).

The fact is, in a video game, gameplay is king. Just as in a film, story is king. We have to understand that these are very different mediums. Video games didn't evolve from film, they evolved from games! The point of a video game is not to tell a story, but to present the player with set challenges and feats that they may overcome to the effect of having fun and being entertained. If someone wants to effectively tell a story, then simply creating a film would be a more effective way of doing that.

And yes, narrative, technology, and music are used to enhance video games as a medium (just as technology, music, and film may be used to enhance storytelling), but ultimately it is all wrapped around a core element which, in video games, is solely gameplay.

Alan Jack
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Gameplay is an abstract derision of narrative in the same way cinema is a moving picture. In a way, Bejeweled, Tetris or Wii Sports and Wii Fit DO have a narrative, its just not one you'd want to make a movie out of.

What we need to do is start exploring how we can make Gameplay deeper, more meaningful, and make it more directly relate to life as we know it, without the crutch of tacking on narrative elements to make it feel more meaningful.

Anyone who wants to leverage more narrative techniques into games ought to, in my humble opinion, piss off and make movies, and let the rest of us make games.

Altug Isigan
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I think the glue isn't interactivity per se. It's the way in which the computer-aided video game medium can position the subjects presence and interpretative action into the emerging art object. It's the video game medium that lays bare that art is a process, that the symbol is an event, that sense and sentiment cannot be easily seperated.

Joe Elliott
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What do you guys think of the lenght of the games?

I think there are a bunch of good narative type of games out there, for example I am excited about the story and characters of the upcomming Final Fantasy game. But the 40 hours I might have to spend on it is a turn off. No wonder so many people run through games on easy just to "see" them.

Bart Stewart
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The responses to Dyack's comments seem pretty typical of most game discussions these days. Any time someone questions the supremacy of rules-based play in designing "fun" into computer games, that person can expect criticism ranging from "you don't know what fun is" to "how dare you threaten my gameplay!"

These concept conversations are hard to have as long as people aren't willing to allow that playstyles other than their own are equally valid as "fun." If some people are entertained by gameplay that's wrapped around exploring a detailed simulation, or on experiencing an emotionally engaging narrative, then those are valid forms of fun in computer games even if yet other people find such forms not-fun. If a game is intended for a mass audience, why in the world should it not try to satisfy multiple definitions of fun... which is, I think, all that Dyack was suggesting?

And to the larger notion that interactivity can allow games to be an "Eighth Art" beyond the passive Seventh Art of movies, music, mobiles and other art forms that are experienced over time: why is that such a controversial perspective?

John Giordano
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@ Alan Jack

I wouldn't consider these games to have narrative. Yes, they may have a setting and theme to support the basic gameplay, but they are not trying to tell a story. When I speak of narrative, I'm mainly thinking of storytelling.

But I do agree gameplay has to have more depth. The question is, what "gamic" techniques (I've always hated the word "filmic") do we have or can we create to enhance that depth?

Tadhg Kelly
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@ Bart

No, it's really not as simple as that. There are many genres of novel, but none of them are an excuse for bad writing, even if on the basis that the target readership is interested in reading for other reasons. A good example are hard science fiction fans who will often read untold dross in search of that sense of scientifically authentic imagination. Hard sci-fi fans understand that what they are reading is, strictly speaking, badly written but they are essentially holding their noses to get to what they consider to be the good stuff.

I see a similar analogy with games. Nobody is saying that all play should be the same or that all we all play in one unison way. However what I would say is that for many gamers interested in certain aspects of a game they hold their nose at the rest.

In short, whatever the gamer is looking for they are willing (to a point) to tolerate the bad bits. For hard science fiction the bad bit is usually the writing. For epic games it's usually the overwrought boring tedious repetitive story. As with writing, there is such a thing as objectively bad game design, regardless of genre, and over-use of narrative is always one of the dead giveaways.

Luis Guimaraes
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@ Tadhg Kelly. Agreed.

Michael Rivera
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I think a lot of the "game play is king" people are under the mistaken impression that choosing story over game play means that you have to limit player interactivity or make the game boring. Neither of these assertions are true of course, and I can name plenty of games where "good game play" ruined the story (and thus the overall experience) for some people.

Christopher Wragg
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@ Tadhg Kelly

"Similary your piece about how narrative makes choices more meaningful. No, it doesn't. That is just rationale-fulfilling bullshit.

What makes the choices more meaningful is the tests of skill, the music, the pace, the logic. The gameplay and its attendant mood, in otherwords. Players aren't nearly as interested in context as game theorists believe they should be because they're spending too much time actually playing."

Hrmmm, opinion no? This actually flies in the face of anything psychologists (and linguists) have studied over the last several centuries, give or take. Firstly you need to understand that context is often processed subconsciously. In addition providing us (humans) with a believable and well understood context, allows us to react appropriately without having to consciously consider what we're doing. So for instance, showing a soldier with a gun "shooting" at us, is a recognised and understood threat. It facilitates our reaction, aka, shoot back (or the like), and immediately prompts the emotions expected when faced with a threat. The lack of a recognisable context, for instance the formless grey blobs, doesn't trigger a reaction of nearly the same severity, in fact it often leads to confusion, greater difficulty, loss of immersion, and frustration.

So yes a player might be busy playing, enough so that they do not consciously stop to appreciate that context, but context facilitates that playing. Now don't get me wrong, things like music and pacing are quite important in constructing context, but then, in game terms, they're also narrative elements. This is where I believe you and I come to our greatest misunderstanding. Narrative is not constructed exclusively through cut scene's, and walls of text, rather, absolutely every single element that goes into constructing your game builds narrative. It's more than possible to tell a story without explicitly explaining to the player that your doing so...and believe me if we were criticising the use of cut scene's specifically, I'd be quite vocally advocating the fact that the way they're used now is bad.

As for construing meaning, while music, and a degree of logic do so, I've never seen a players skill or the games pacing, construe meaning. A choice is nothing without some context to base it on, otherwise it becomes a mere dice roll, why do you pick path A over path B, if you don't know where each leads and they're identical in appearance, you don't, there is no reason, it becomes random, and any potential for meaning is lost.

My belief is that narrative and game play are so deeply intertwined it's impossible to separate the one from the other in a game. If you build game play, you end up with narrative, regardless of whether you wanted it (and regardless of it's quality). Improving game play increases the ease with which narrative is delivered, improving narrative (and more importantly how it's viewed) increases both the ease of play, and the quality of the play session. As such both should be equally considered when building a game, sure, you can choose to forgo actively pursuing narrative elements, and just design for robust game play, I'm not saying there isn't room for that. What I AM saying, is that disparaging narrative in games (as opposed to disparaging it's usage) shows a lack of understanding about what narrative is, how it functions, how it can be portrayed, and what it can do to improve your game. For example this;

"In one of my other posts I said that effective use of narrative has always boiled down to two things: Mission-enablers and background elements such as ambient dialogue and discoverable objects that help paint the game universe more. Beyond that narrative has no useful function in a game. Never has had, never will have. "

Is as limiting as it gets, it assumes your way is the right way, that there's no room to negotiate, it assumes that there is no potential for someone to come along and prove differently, and more importantly is incredibly egotistic, because it implies that anyone who does differently is inherently doing it wrong, despite their end results. It's close minded, and is a shining example of the lines of thought that hold back advancements in any field (hence why it annoys me so).

Also along the lines of the entire "game developers wish they made movies"...stop that's really getting tedious, it's merely good to know and understand your roots. Also somehow you're under the impression that I believe games inherited "culture" from film. To some degree I suppose that's true (beside the point though), but I was more going on about how each more complicated art form has always progressively adapted the techniques of the previous arts into it's own. To deny that we use the same techniques as movies is naive. We make clever use of camera angles, we light up area's with careful deliberation (just with software rather than actual lights), we have voice actors, sometimes actual actors doing voices or motion capture. We make heavy use of 3D animations and other visual effects. We get music composed for our games, and we have artists draw pictures and craft models to show us what the end result should look like, and the list goes on.

Anyway to finish up there's one last thing you've said that irks me, and that's this "like the contextually emotionally engaged hero-player, which is also a figment of the theorist imagination". Since when has emotional involvement in a game been a fallacy, (excuse me a moment, I'm about to wax lyrical), since when did we all turn into mindless automatons, was there a study that I missed that proved such? Can I no longer empathise or sympathise with a character that I read about in a book? Did they stop filming Romances because people can no longer identify with the characters? Am I no longer allowed to invest of myself when I play a game??? Games, like I mentioned before have at their disposal all the techniques of other media (well not all but most), and if those other mediums can cause a person to become emotionally invested in their media, then there is no reason that a game cannot either. Immersion is well known, and in no way an imaginary affect. When your killing baddies and you can't tear your eyes away from the screen, I hate to tell you, but you've become immersed, you've become emotionally invested in the game. Sure, perhaps not what you would normally recognise as being emotionally attached to the game, but excitement, happiness, tension, anxiety are all emotional responses, trigger by none other than the game your playing.

Gabriel Lievano
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Games are not meant to follow the trajectory of films. Story may be an important component on videogames but is not everything in games. Games are meant to be an interactive form of entertainment which can be represented as an interactive story or an interactive arcade game. The fact is that in the end the common component is interactivity and this is only achieved in the form of gameplay. If a game fails to deliver a good gameplay it will have failed to accomplish its most fundamental objective. In the other hand, if a game fails to deliver a story it would be other things which determine whether it is a good or a bad game, but it would still have the opportunity.

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