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 Fallout: New Vegas  scribe knows when gameplay trumps writing
Fallout: New Vegas scribe knows when gameplay trumps writing
November 30, 2012 | By Staff

November 30, 2012 | By Staff
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More: Console/PC, Design



"There've been so many times where any story I've attempted to tell will get trumped by some action the player can do in the game systems, and it's a better story for that, and I can't argue with it."
- Obisidian Entertainment creative director and writer on acclaimed RPGs Planescape: Torment and Fallout: New Vegas Chris Avellone on narrative design in RPGs.

Avellone now believes in brevity and emergent narrative -- and doesn't look back on the fan-favorite 1999 RPG Torment as the right way to handle story anymore, describing its storytelling as "just the flat-line vomit of text."

"Which we had to do at the time," he admits, "but that's more of a novelistic approach to writing, which isn't necessarily the best fit for games."

He also thinks that emergent narratives -- when AI interacts with gameplay systems to create unplanned situations -- is a crucial part of narrative design now, too.

"Sometimes I get into an argument with designers [about whether] it's better to provide a narrative story arc, or is it better just to provide a bunch of system mechanics and let the player derive their story from that? There's been so many times where any story I've attempted to tell will get trumped by some action the player can do in the game systems, and it's a better story for that, and I can't argue with it."

To find out more about what Avellone considers a "better story" and what other thoughts he has on narrative design, as well as Obsidian's plans for its successful Project Eternity Kickstarter, read the full feature interview -- live now on Gamasutra.


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Comments


Chris OKeefe
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I doubt I am fully grasping his meaning, but until we have AI capable of grasping a new situation, responding to it sensibly, and drafting novel narrative from that, any player-created narrative is going to exist in a vacuum.

How many games do we have no where you could murder an NPC's spouse and they fail to react to that in any meaningful way? Unless the murder is anticipated by the designers as a possible plot point.

It harkens to Spector's One Block RPG, where interactions can be perfectly faithful. That would be an ideal, a game where you really could create your own narratives because the simulation would be in-depth enough. But even in that case it would the developers trying to anticipate every contingency. If the NPC is robbed then have them do X, Y, and Z. Etc.

I dunno. I enjoy playing Skyrim and foregoing the main quest to create my own stories, but while doing so I am always accutely aware of the fact that the game is oblivious to my attempt to craft a narrative. Once you stray from the beaten track of the main story quest you lose all sense of meaningful feedback. Which is fine, and it's an experience in itself, but I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say that makes it a superior experience.


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