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'I just want the game to let me play it already.'
'I just want the game to let me play it already.'
February 14, 2013 | By Frank Cifaldi

February 14, 2013 | By Frank Cifaldi
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    58 comments
More: Console/PC, Design



"I just want to enjoy the game and I think I'm just intolerant of aspects that block that enjoyment. I can enjoy a story in any other form of media; I just want the game to let me play it already."
- Game director Masahiro Sakurai (Super Smash Bros. series, Kid Icarus: Uprising) vents his frustration at unnecessary plot distractions in games in an editorial he penned for Japanese magazine Famitsu (as translated by Polygon).

It's not so much that Sakurai is against storytelling in games, as much as it is that he feels that narrative and design need to work together like a well-oiled machine. It's why, he says, he took on the writing in Kid Icarus: Uprising himself.

"I did it so I could write a story that jibed with the game, one that took advantage of the game's advantages," he says.

"Every character, including the bosses, had their personalities shaped by their roles in the game, or the structure of the game itself. That let me develop the dialogue to firmly match the developments you encounter in the game. If I had had someone else write the story, I'd either have to keep explaining things to the writer whenever anything changed in-game, or I'd have to partition it away from the game and lose on that consistency."


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Comments


Jimmy Albright
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I know this might not be a popular opinion, but I've always felt this was a problem in Metal Gear Solid. Way too much over the top storytelling that seems quite forced. Just let me sneak around and break some necks!

Frank Cifaldi
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Really? I'm pretty sure that that's an extremely popular opinion.

Jimmy Albright
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I really enjoy the franchise, but I see a lot of pitchforks and torches get brought out whenever someone criticizes the work of Hideo Kojima.

Alan Rimkeit
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Sorry, have to disagree. I ply for the gameplay and the over the top stories. I kmow I am not the only one. I guess we are just weird that way.

Frank Cifaldi
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I also play(ed) Metal Gear Solid for its bizarre narrative, but it interrupts the gameplay way too often and for way too long.

A fun exercise is to go play Metal Gear 2, the old MSX game. It's basically Metal Gear Solid with a script about 1/50 the size, and it's just as effective of a story.

A W
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Oh... your opinion is VERY popular. I think is spent more time watching the Hollywood Quality work of MGS4's cut scenes than I did actually playing a game. Every time I think back on wanting to replay it I'm remind myself of install load times and long dialog cut scenes. I'm a victim of the PS3 Phat 7 year YLOD, so I would have to put myself back through that install just to play the game again. One day maybe, but not today.

Ara Shirinian
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I seem to remember being particularly impressed with the way MGS2 unapologetically put a save point in between two ~20 min cut scenes.

Jonathan Murphy
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I've seen similar arguments when people make films that don't follow the -Expectations-. 1 button, no buttons, yelling at your game, or just sitting on your butt viewing it. At the end of the day it's entertainment. That is rule #1 of making games. Make it fun.

Vytautas Katarzis
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^ I'd say make them engaging, and not necessarily "fun".

Saul Gonzalez
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"Keep explaining things to the writer whenever anything changed in-game" sounds to me like the kind of good communication that forms the basis of interdisciplinary work.
Not to harp on Sakurai, but I think this attitude is representative of how Nintendo sometimes underestimates the harm a half-baked narrative does to a game. Nintendo games are masterpieces, but probably the thing that would improve them the most would be for them to have plots and cutscenes done by top-notch specialists in those areas. Pro artists and programmers can adapt to the needs of gameplay, there's no reason writers can't do it too.

Jimmy Albright
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I recently (in 2012) got around to finishing up Metroid Prime 3 on my Wii, and I kind of agree with you on that. The whole metroid universe is fascinating, but having to scan things, pause my game, and scroll through a relatively small text window to read about it kind of took the steam out. On the other hand, I really like how Borderlands/2 does this with the echo recordings. If you want to, you pick it up and you can listen to it while you play instead of having it interrupt the gameplay experience. Little things like that can make a big impact overall.

I Think Skyward Sword was a big step in the right direction as far as Nintendo narratives go, I'm interested to see what they have planned for the next game.

A W
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Do not want. I don't mind if developers want stories in their games, and I don't mind if a company wants to spend more money on coaching motion actors, script writers, screenplay, and voice acting than they spend on the actual tech of the gameplay itself. But if it don't work for your gaming philosophy, cut the fat and make a great game. Games have never depended on story to sell. Most of the best selling games have no story at all. As a consumer that is fine by me. Story doesn't determine my purchase of a game, mechanics do.

Saul Gonzalez
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@AW: I agree with you on the sense that I'd rather have no story at all than a mediocre or uninspired one.

@Jimmy: I actually think Skyward Sword showed how far behind Nintendo is when it comes to narrative. Save for a few high points, the plot and cutscenes were consistently underwhelming for me. Not to mention it exhibited the very "stop the cutscenes and let me play already" syndrome discussed in the article.

Again, I'm not talking about spectacle and budget here. I don't want "more" story, voice acting, etc. I'm asking for narrative to be treated with the same care aesthetics and programming are.

Christian Nutt
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That's a fair criticism -- that true collaboration requires dedication -- but Kid Icarus has quite an entertaining story and it's well-integrated into the action, so his approach worked just fine, too.

Jimmy Albright
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@Saul well, in comparison to the actual Legend of Zelda timelines, Skyward Sword actually made sense of all the different games. I felt the biggest downer about it was fighting the same (very uninspired) boss 3 times. I don't remember a lot of the story interrupting the gameplay, only after a boss fight, which is pretty standard.

A W
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@Saul I see what you are saying.

I think he may be talking more about how it is delivered to a player which may be the bigger problem. There seems to be two ways to deliver a story, one is by visual cut scenes, the other is by making them read it. Both are conventional ways and the oldest ways to make a story. I don't know if games can break that model, but I think he voicing his frustration in saying, why can the gamer just play the game and let the story deliver itself without having to completely take the gamer out of the gameplay to deliver an explanation as to why this part is the way it is. I can see him having a hard time trying to convince a writer why the game is not pausing after the action to deliver animation and lines the player will have no control over for 5 to 15 mins.

Russell Carroll
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I'd echo what Christian said Saul.

I think before harping on Sakurai it's good to have a frame of reference. Kid Icarus had control issues, but the story and banter between the characters that happened without the game stopping AT ALL, but going on while the game action occurred was wonderful not only in presentation but also in quality. It's quality stuff through and trough.

I get the point, but I also think Sakurai is the wrong guy to harp on in this regard.
He mixed the best of both worlds very well.
...now if we could just get a Wii U release of the 3DS game with Wiimote pointer controls so I wouldn't have to aim on the touch-pad it would be perfect :).

William Johnson
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So I just started to play Skyward Sword. And I hate it. The game is constantly ripping control away from me and showing me something obvious or useless. And lots of annoying walls of dialog that doesn't seem to add anything. The game is constantly breaking flow. It forces me to solve a pointless puzzle for an NPC when I want to explore first. UGH! Its so poorly designed. Nintendo is usually so good, I don't know what happened with this game?

Now on the flip side of things, Dark Souls is a great way to have narrative in a game. It seems like something you can ignore, but then it starts to be slowly revealed through a few conversations with NPCs and on flavor text on items you find. It starts to paint this over arching narrative and you start to piece together a much larger picture. It also lets your imagination run wild making connections between all the events. Basically interactive story telling.

Now I don't want all games to be like that. After all there are some games were the plot is front and center, like Analogue: A Hate Story. Where there isn't too much interaction, but the narrative hooks are just too strong for me to stop playing.

So it depends on the game, I guess. There is no right way to tell a story, but there are a lot of ways to make story break flow and make a poor experience.

Jimmy Albright
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@William Johnson

Dark Souls doesn't *Really* have a narrative. There is a world there, there are some stories but it's through subtle things like item descriptions and rambling/borderline incoherent NPC's.

I'd say Dark Souls approaches story with pure obscurity. It works really well for atmosphere and theme, but at the end of the day dark souls doesn't really have a coherent story. Quite often you don't even know why you're even fighting a particular enemy.

Michael Pianta
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To me it just depends on the game. I like Metal Gear, for example, and when you sit down to play one of those games you know that you're going to see a lot of long cut scenes. They are an expected and probably necessary part of the experience and it would be smart to have a specialist work on those scenes, to make them as high quality as possible.

Then again, probably the best handling of narrative in a major AAA console release that I can think of is Shadow of the Colossus. That narrative is clearly communicated and impactful but it is so terse. Because of playing that game I came to believe that in games less is usually more with regards to narrative. In such a case, I don't think a specialist is needed generally presuming of course that the team is already staffed with intelligent, literate people.

Bob Johnson
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Spend the money on the gameplay or adding more game. Game stories are nearly universally boring. And never jibe with the gameplay. This developer backs up my thoughts on this and on just wanting to get a game and start playing. You don't want to be lectured about some lame back story.

Zelda was pretty bad at that this last time around. Too much narrative and I guess handholding too. I just want to play.

Stories should always be enormously concise in games. Let what you do in the game be the narrative

Kujel Selsuru
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If I want to hear/watch a story I'll turn on my computer and download something but when I play games I want to play them. Game michanics are what makes or breaks a game and story really makes no differnece.

Jimmy Albright
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I'd argue that in some cases, it does. Look at Final Fantasy 7 for example. Although being the first Final Fantasy title in 3d, it looked horrible. Horrible blocky figures prancing around. Final Fantasy 8 and 9 looked almost a generation ahead in comparison. Combat mechanics weren't anything new at all. The materia system was pretty cool, but not good enough to REALLY sell that game. What sold it (my opinion, of course) was the massive story that unfolds at just the right pace. There's enough twists and turns to keep the player hooked, and the cherry on top is playing as a 'broken' protagonist. All in all I'd say story is 90% of the reason FF7 is considered by many to be the best game in the series.

I'm not arguing that story trumps gameplay, but in some genres it can make or break them. A good example of a bad, deal breaking RPG storyline is FF13.

Kujel Selsuru
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@Jimmy: some feel story is important but I'm not one of those. I wont complain about a game's stroy too much unless it disrupts the gameplay like MGS4. Nintendo gets a lot of praise from me for it's gameplay focused approach where as sony a lot of critisim for their narrative approach.
I'll leave you with this awesome lillte quote "It's about the f***ing gameplay stupid"

PS: I found FF7 very over rated and don't hold it in high regard, in fact it was my younger brother who bought it for PC back in the day, I'd never even heard about it until he got it.

Jimmy Albright
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Hey, different strokes for different folks. A lot of people tend to say 6 or 9 are the best in the series. Whether you agree with it or not 7 is on almost every gaming establishments top 100 list.

At the end of the day, you're right it is about gameplay but for a lot of people story can really impact the gameplaying experience, getting the player emotionally invested, etc.

Dean Boytor
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In a way, I can respect this idea in design. Its not to say you want to get rid of the story all together but if the player is just not into the story at all, it can be quite a deterrent to the enjoyment you get out of the game.

Bioshock 1 did this very well. If there was ever any dialog via that radio, it rarely made you put down your wrench to listen to what Atlas was telling you.

in one of the Irrational games podcast[1] for Bioshock infinite, Guillermo del Toro and Ken Levine talked about this aspect of a game. Guillermo said right off the bat that he just button mashes through dialog because he doesnt want to take a break from game play.

In my design the personalities and narration need to be a part of the game play without taking a break from what your doing. Walking and talking can be accomplished in games.

I can understand Masa's point, It does need to work as one and not be a section you just ignore.

[1]http://irrationalgames.com/insider/irrational-interviews-9-guille
rmo-del-toro-part-2/

Maria Jayne
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I was shocked how little of the BLOPS campaign allowed me to play it, I gave up playing half way through. Seemed like I spent half the game watching set pieces.

I'm ok with cut scenes but once I'm in the game, I want to be playing the game. Max Payne 3 was another game that persisted in taking control away from me during gameplay.

Joe Zachery
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Why does it seem when I read articles like this on here. It's presented in a way that feels. Oh the Japanese is attacking the way the west develop games again.

William Johnson
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Personal bias, I assume. I didn't read it like that.

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Ara Shirinian
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I disagree completely. Instead I think these observations speak to the reality of how extremely different such activities are in this particular context and how differently people find the reward value of games. I think it's safe to assume Sakurai is not intolerant of reading a book, for example.

Expectations go a long way as far as this goes. It's unpleasant to have to read paragraphs or sit through exposition when you are expecting an action game, in the same way that it's unpleasant for your hand-eye coordination to be challenged when you're expecting a story. Some people are happy consuming both at the same time too.

The issue is exacerbated when a very deep, mechanically- heavy game brings with it lots of noninteractive exposition that doesn't actually have any relation to the mechanical play besides supplying a narrative context.

Bob Johnson
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Or some minds are so developed they recognize the folly of putting stories into games.

Lewis Wakeford
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@Ara You've basically hit the nail on the head there. Though I think games can cater to both types of player by integrating the story and gameplay instead of segregating them.

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Lewis Wakeford
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@Dan The walking dead is not advertised as an action game, players that buy it are expecting that sort of gameplay (or lack of gameplay). It's different to put excessive cutscenes in a game like, for example, Max Payne 3. Because people bought it mostly to shoot bad guys.

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Luis Guimaraes
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I watch movies when my brain is too tired to play a game.

Adam Bishop
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"I can enjoy a story in any other form of media; I just want the game to let me play it already."

This is why we only listen to instrumental music and only watch silent movies; we've been getting words from books for centuries! Who wants those pesky stories getting in the way of the melodies in music or the images in film? Not I!

Bob Johnson
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If only we had 3 minute stories in games like we do in songs.

Ara Shirinian
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I don't think that's a fair comparison, listening to lyrical music or watching talkies doesn't demand any more performance or cognition from the player than your examples.

Jeremy Reaban
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I think a better musical analogy would be between self contained songs and concept albums that tell a story.

While there's certainly a place for the latter, they can suffer from a lot of problems - heavy handed, tedious, and lacking staying power. All of which are things most modern games suffer from as well...

Adam Bishop
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If the dialogue in the movies you watch doesn't demand increased cognition vs just watching the images then I would suggest that there are a lot of great movies out there that you're missing.

Luis Guimaraes
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Surprisingly, in most of the cases, the melody of the song and the cut of the film keep going on while words are delivered.

Dan Felder
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As long as people continue to attempt to differentiate "story" and "gameplay" there will continue to be dissonance between them. I'd rather developers just focused on what experience they want to create for their audience, just like every other medium does without nearly so much debate about its components.

Michael Ball
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This x1000

Matthew Dickinson
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Video games can't tell stories. There's no way to interact with a story... the power of what happens to characters on screen or in a play, a book, etc., it's out of your control which is why it's so affecting or amusing... if you're making the comical character do something funny yourself then you're laughing at your own joke.

Vytautas Katarzis
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Definitely disagree. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with games that prevent them from telling great stories, bus as Dan Felder just said, games often differentiate between story and gameplay departments so badly, that they become disconnected too much. Great stories in games are weaved into gameplay, into game events. When gameplay has nothing to do with events happening in story department, this disconnection becomes so vast that either story or gameplay suffers in player's view.

Also, I really don't think that games can't tell stories simply because you *play* them and not *passively experience*, as a book or movie. If anything, assuming that players role in the events shaping the story in strong, games have greatest potential in telling excellent stories.

David OConnor
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I'm 100% with Masahiro Sakurai. For me it is the gameplay that interests me in games, ideally the story doesn't interfere with me 'getting on with it'.

marty howe
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Games are such a new medium compared to cinema and literature, they've had a long time to get it right. They even have established formula's for telling a story like rules, narrative structure etc. We don't have anything like that for games, so we just do the best we can.

A film is say 90 minutes, at the beginning you introduce the protagonist, then the problem that must be fixed, then the obstacles stopping you (bad guys etc.) and the ending where everything is resolved and the protagonist has evolved or changed a little bit since we met him at the beginning.

If your game is 10 hours, you have to extrapolate that over the 10 hour experience (match the pacing, the established rules etc.) in order to tell a story successfully. It's hard to do, but if you visualize it (draw a graph or something) and keep it simple (just the key story pillars) it can be done.

Half Life 2 is a good example. Zero cutscenes or gameplay interruptions, because you participate in the story through the gameplay (scripted events, conversations between NPC's, graffiti, television broadcasts etc) It also lets you ignore the story (if you just want to shoot, like me)

We have interrupting cutscenes because we really, really want to make sure the player gets a story in the game (for motivation, context, etc.) so we just stop everything. Tell a chunk of story. Then go back to gameplay. And even then, we should follow a basic formula (pacing)

Michael Joseph
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It's not just the age in terms of years though.

Radio, Film, TV and even Rock & Roll had the benefit of coming _of_ age during a time when the world was not so nihlistic and when there were alot more people trying to change the world through ideas and art. Many people creating new media at least felt like they were doing important work. But games having come of age during the Gordon Gekko era only developed narrow ambitions of entertainment and profit. There's alot of reasons for that but it's not something that automatically makes advances with age I dont think. If that were the case, radio, film, tv and popular music wouldn't have regressed\de-evolved and become as forgetable and disposable as it is now or given rise to things such as infotainment and shock "journalism."

Arrested development, selfishness, shallow ambitions, greed, lack of social consciousness, etc, can last a lifetime and sadly be inherited.

Matthew Dickinson
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Love is easy by the light of day

Gian Dominguez
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I disagree with him on several points. Story(at least for RPG) is a very important point and without it you would have a mediocre game. Granted I can understand some people are impatient and personally I think story heavy games should just have a skip button for long cutscenes or a better way to deliver information(ie things like the radio from Bioshock).

"let's talk about how, in RPGs and things, a character that you spent the game raising dies or leaves your party for the sake of the story. From a gamer standpoint, that's dreadful; it's totally unreasonable."

I remember crying when one of my favorite characters in Suikoden "died"(granted I was a kid back then). Characters dying are a powerful storytelling tool and I think when its done properly the loss can be 1) a great mechanic(fire emblem and SRPG in general) 2) worth the trade off from gameplay.

John Flush
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The first two things I think about when a character dies are Tellah from FF IV and Chrono from Chrono Trigger. Even though I spent most of the time making Tellah stronger, I was somewhat glad to see him go and it made a valid point story wise of what revenge can lead to. In Chrono Trigger, I was so confused at how the main character could die I spent all of my time from then on out trying to figure out how to save him because "that shouldn't even be a thing". On replays, sometimes I just pretend he is gone permanently and push forward. Two best deaths in gaming.

Seems like this interview had a whole bunch of absolutes that I don't agree with. Hopefully developers don't follow his advice because those games wouldn't be the ones I like.

Roger Tober
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The trouble here is that, he's one individual. Not all of us are twitch happy people who abhor language.

Jeff Morin
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I thought he was Miyamoto for a second.

Allaiyah Weyn
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I'm rather fond of interactive cartoons like Sam & Max & story-heavy RPGS, especially episodic RPG franchises. It's the story that separates the games from eachother, otherwise they're all the same & it gets boring.

Robert Swift
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A number of games I never really started because their (non interruptible) intro was just too tedious to endure and I played sth else instead.

Joshua Darlington
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I haven't played "Kid Icarus: Uprising." He seems to be pointing out a few beefs with specific top down story elements.

Is DIY the solution to game story design? Dunno. 3 chord punk rawk is fun. Doodles are fun. Cosplay and fan fiction is fun. You have to be aware of what your skills are and what results you want to achieve.


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