Coherence and cohesion are key to creating dramatic, emotive and immersive games, according to Lionhead audio producer Georg Backer. He stressed the importance of ensuring all game elements -- from story and dialogue to mechanics and level design -- come together to create a flowing and seamless whole.
"Games are trying to be more like films, and films are trying to be more like games. But there are huge differences between the two categories of drama," said Backer at Brighton, England's Develop Conference today. He has worked at Lionhead since 1999, and on most of the company's major releases.
"We're still trying to adopt a lot from the other industries," he continued, suggesting that games have much to learn from other forms of drama. But he also stressed the importance of treating video games differently, deconstructing and understanding those differences in order to create a game for which all the essential elements come together.
The aim, Backer said, is to eventually move completely away from games in which sections of gameplay are interspersed with sections of drama. Developers, he claimed, need to instead be ensuring that everything is working together in harmony at all times -- a target he believes the industry is quickly approaching.
Coherence and Character
And Backer pointed to two games in particular that excel in this respect: Irrational's art deco-themed BioShock, and Valve's innovative puzzle game Portal.
"BioShock is completely coherent, in the art style, in the audio, the setting - it's so coherent that the game mechanics are part of the core story. It's not just plugged in as a meta thing: it's part of the core experience, which I thought was just brilliant," said Backer.
And in games such as Portal, he said, a story isn’t even an essential component of the experience. But because of its presence, and the ways in which Valve integrated the narrative with the core game itself, "it worked so much better."
Backer pointed in particular to Portal's heart-adorned Companion Cube as an example of character design that combines with the game in a way that creates an emotional response in the player. "It's basically just a box with a heart on it," he told conference delegates, "but it created such an emotional response in players, with only four or five lines. And they're not even spoken by it: they're spoken by GLaDOS.
"It doesn't do anything. And there are other cubes in Portal. But they don't have the heart, and they don't have the introduction from GLaDOS."
Cohesion and Iteration in Fable III
Indeed, Lionhead has been examining drama in other games -- and in other media -- in order to hone its own abilities in crafting Fable III, the company’s recently announced RPG sequel. In particular, the game will use AI systems to help create an immersive and believable world.
“We have 32 different AI types, all speaking,” he told the Develop Conference. “They’re all distributed throughout the world to give you the impression that, when you’re walking around that world, there’s always something going on.”
The team has also been working on a new Sanctuary system, via which the player can travel to a particular area in order to change their character’s appearance, or get hints and tips from other in-game characters -- all the while maintaining the coherence and cohesion of the game world and its systems.
And through staging procedures and forward planning, Lionhead is attempting to iterate without the need to revise vast areas of the game. “Imagine ahead and don’t iterate to the left or to the right: iterate forward,” said Backer. “You have to be able to see [the final product] all the time, without having to change things around it.”