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Why The  Starhawk  Studio Looked To Film For Story Direction
Why The Starhawk Studio Looked To Film For Story Direction
September 27, 2011 | By Mathew Kumar

September 27, 2011 | By Mathew Kumar
More: Console/PC, Design

As part of Fantastic Arcade in Austin, Texas over the weekend, a Gamasutra-attended panel of filmmakers including Nacho Vigalondo and the developers behind the upcoming PlayStation 3 online action title Starhawk discussed the differences between storytelling in film and games.

Dylan Jobe, president of Lightbox Interactive, explained how his team's interest in storytelling stemmed from the realization that although its games were multiplayer focused, the team "couldn't just be systems- and mechanics-based."

"With [Starhawk predecessor] Warhawk, the mechanics were crazy fun but the universe was just hollow," he admitted. "A good story and a hero makes the whole thing more compelling, and we brought in talent from the film industry to work on the universe of Starhawk before we even began to think who the characters would be."

"Writing is something video games still need to improve on," he continued. "There's a lot of really bad writing in video games and also in the way that the story is integrated."

Vigalondo, the Spanish director of Timecrimes, Extraterrestrial and the Spanish Academy Award-nominated 7:35 de la Manana agreed.

"I feel frustrated when I play a game like Dead Space that has great mechanics, but a lack of ambition in the story," said the director, who's not working on Starhawk. "If it was a movie, with its plot it would be a B-movie, not a big-budget film."

Jobe agreed, but noted that this was something that games often "got away with."

"You can have plot holes, but camouflage them with the distraction of 'we're throwing more zombies at you!'," he said.

Jobe argued that rather than use that as a crutch, developers should more deeply consider the way their storytelling structure matched their design.

"It's something that we had to work on, as before when we had our traditional storytelling 'three act' structure in place, we also had all of our timing for the 'mechanics payout' in place -- when new vehicles, new structures would appear. So we had to consider our need not to just hit our storytelling goals but also the 'macro structure' of play."

In turn, Vigalondo praised the original Halo for its clever story arc in which locations were re-used without seeming repetitive.

"Halo has a really neat, clear story," he explained. "You almost don't realize that you play each of the stages twice, because if at one point you're escaping a ship, the next time you are there is for another reason, and you don't feel cheated because the script changes the nature of the experience."

Jobe admitted that tough decisions have already had to be made in the development of Starhawk in order to "pair up" the story arc with gameplay as best as the team could.

"We pulled an entire mission out to be part of one of the cinematic story moments," he said. "It actually worked to make the game flow better and more naturally push the player into the next mission; it wasn't that we're trying to make a film or remove the player's control, but it's important to understand how story moments can benefit your game."

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Eric McVinney
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Agreed with the article. While I praise Gears 3 for it's wild and fun gameplay, I really can not get past the mediocre storyline. And yes, I did beat the game, and no I did not tear up at the end. Dead Space had a pretty good and solid story (IMO), but DS2 felt hollow and a shadow of it's predecessor.

Tomi Hanzek
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I've been saying this for years. Even the original Halo is just gaming's version of Starship Troopers, not exactly the pinnacle of artist merit in film.

I enjoyed Dead Space enough but the plot was lifted from Event Horizon, another sci-fi film that boarders on schlock.

Thankfully there is only one way storytelling in gaming can go, so I'm optimistic for the future.

Eric Geer
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I think some parts of Dead Space may have been lifted or are similar, but I find the game to be quite different than Event horizon.

Michael Joseph
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Books get written because a story wants to be told.

Games usually get written because a type of gameplay wants to be experienced. (That's not necessarily a bad thing btw)

There arent many games that are conceived by a desire to tell a particular story. Most games aren't really trying to say anything.

I wonder how the Portal story came to be. Seems a perfect fit for what is ostensbily a 3d puzzle game. Player must solve puzzles in an environment that is itself puzzling. Nice synergy there.

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Is there a case in which stories in games actually worked, or is his just one genre that is being pick apart as an aspect where stories in game don't work all the time? I would like to argue that the plot of many modern FPS games these days degenerate into NPC becomes zombie-like because of an external and you musk kill them.