While a great majority of games continue to use cutscenes to tell their stories, the emergence of significant new narrative forms has given game developers plenty of food for thought in 2008.
At the forefront of this is perhaps Ubisoft Montreal's Far Cry 2, which has an extremely dynamic world, with enemies that help each other to safety when wounded and an incredibly complex fire system, alongside ambitious narrative system that reacts to player actions in its sandbox world by dynamically reassigning dialogue to available actors.
According to the game's narrative designer, Patrick Redding, "If we had tried to not support that dynamic approach, what we would have ended up with is a story that really felt like it was kind of progressing along more or less independently of player action... And we felt there was no point in doing that."
With all kinds of artful, amazing events dynamically created by the randomness inherent in the game world -- such as bounding African fauna causing enemies to crash their vehicles -- it creates an expansion that's new and different almost every time.
But as the game underperformed at retail, a question that probably needs asking is -- do players really want a living world, or do they just want scripted events that convince them they are playing in one?
While there's debate about how long games have to make an impact on store shelves before being pushed aside by bigger, shinier, and newer releases, six weeks has been thrown around as a rule of thumb. It's a problem.
We're currently in the midst, as of this writing, of a retail season so choked with high-quality releases that it's difficult for any company to feel confident about its success in the face of all the competition. And the stakes are getting higher all the time, as higher-end development continues to increase in cost and the shelves are filled with more and more competition.
The solutions to the problem seem to lie in some of the related trends we've already been discussing. Robust downloadable content is vital so that people may return to consider buying the title, months after it first debuted -- something that seems to have been working with Burnout Paradise.
EA/Criterion's Burnout Paradise
But it may be that a robust online community to build buzz before a game's release is the ultimate arbiter of its long-term sales -- especially if it's less of an evergreen product such as the Carnival Games-style titles which will sell long-term to new console buyers, whatever. A unique proposition plus a robust fanbase equals a long-term winner.