GS: How important is storytelling in games? Recently David Jaffe from Sony, the God of War designer, was blogging about how he's come to the conclusion that it's just not all that important, that the real sort of meat of games is the play mechanic, the gameplay itself.
DG: I think you're talking about two separate things, almost. I mean, some kinds of games are just fine on their own. But I think that telling a story with your game makes it more interesting. If you put Doom out, you kind of do that once or twice, and people have done it way more times than that, and it's kind of like oh, I'm playing Doom again, only the characters look different than they did before. And I think something like that is a really good platform for doing something that has a lot more story, elements about a little more complex character interaction, about being able to actually stop and talk to people while people are talking to you. But you can still do a lot of the same sort of mechanics. And I think cross-pollinating those two types of games can create something that's better than either of them.
GS: What do you think of cutscenes?
DG: I like them in very small doses. I kind of learned my lesson on that, Day of the Tentacle had one of the most notoriously long beginnings in any game I can think of. And in fact, we cut it in half. There's kind of an interactive part in the middle where you kind of get to the mansion and it's like, 'oh, let's find the tentacles' and stuff. Well, that was just put in there to actually break up the original cutscene that was something like seven minutes long!
My actual favorite beginning of any game was the one from the original Secret of Monkey Island where Guybrush walks out from out of nowhere up to some guy and just says, 'Hi! I'm Guybrush Threepwood and I want to be a pirate!' And you're off and running, and that's all you need to know to play that game. I'm very much a fan of just giving people the minimum they need to start. You can fill in the rest later. It's good storytelling technique, I think there's a penchant on the part of inexperienced writers to try to say everything upfront.
GS: So cutscenes, not necessarily at the beginning of the game, but in the middle, setting up exposition and stuff like that…is it a shortcut? Or is it a necessity to telling your story?
DG: My life would be a lot harder if there weren't any cutscenes, like if I couldn't ensure that I couldn't get at least two lines of dialogue off without the player running away. If I didn't have them, it would be something where…I could get used that, it would just be a different kind of storytelling experience. You could still do some interesting things. I think of The Sims, which I think is an interesting vehicle for storytelling. It's vague as it is, and kind of playboxy, but you can get more direct with that, with the same kinds of mechanics, and have a more movie-like experience with it without doing cutscenes.