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DICE 2012: Putting story before gameplay 'a waste of time' says Jaffe
DICE 2012: Putting story before gameplay 'a waste of time' says Jaffe
February 9, 2012 | By Kris Graft

February 9, 2012 | By Kris Graft
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    73 comments
More: Console/PC, Design



"I don't have any slides," Jaffe apologized at the start of his DICE 2012 speech in Las Vegas on Thursday. "I've been spending the last few days offending women," he joked.

Known for his outspoken, open approach to interacting with the video game community, Jaffe was in hot water recently for saying in an interview, that if you buy his upcoming game Twisted Metal, your girlfriend would "suck your dick."

In other words, Jaffe is no stranger to saying things that people would object to.

But it's Jaffe's view on story in video games that some game makers and fans would object to, even more than a vulgar remark.

Jaffe said that building a game that is primarily driven by story and narrative "is a bad idea, waste of resources, of time and money, and worst, I think that it has stunted the medium of video games, to our own peril."

He explained that he isn't talking about video games that implement player-authored stories, where the in-game interactivity "is so compelling and engaging that the player by the very nature of playing the game ... is the story." He put games like Bethesda Game Studios' The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim in this category. Those games, he said, don't sacrifice gameplay for narrative.

And he said he's not ordering the industry to return to the Atari 2600 days, with abstracted visuals. In fact, Jaffe said, he believes that it's important to attach a game to strong IP, because that's a way that the player can connect to and relate to a product.

What he objects to are games "With the intent purpose of expressing a story... or giving the player the designer's narrative."

Such games, according to Jaffe, are limiting to gameplay. He used the opening of Rocksteady's recent Batman: Arkham City as an example.

He said at beginning of Arkham City, Batman's alter ego Bruce Wayne's hands are chained up, and taken to the city prison of Arkham City. Walking through the entrance of the facility, Wayne can only walk around, and look around. There's no combat, just walking and looking, until eventually he breaks his chains and is able to fight.

That part where Wayne could only walk, and look around for a few minutes, was done "in service of the story," argued Jaffe, and it sacrificed gameplay. "They lost sight of the gamer mentality of what [the gamer] brings to a game, and what they want out of a game, and let the story take over."

He added, "A design argument is that he can break out of the chains, and now he can fight." But he said that the story took over the gameplay in that instance. Nevertheless, he said Rocksteady's game was "amazing" despite some of the design choices he disagreed with.

Jaffe said some designers are on a path to try to make games "more" than games, and in effect, lose sight of focusing on the things games are really good at. He said games have been enjoyed by people for millennia, and that there's no real history of injecting story and emotion into games with really successful results.

Eventually the CD-ROM came around, which afforded game makers the ability to make games that were more like movies. "We were starting to see more cinematic trappings in our games," he said.

"I think we kind of found ourselves seduced by the language of film," Jaffe said, "...and we started to put the expectations of films on games ... we lost a lot of the fundamentals of what makes video games special."

He questioned game makers that say they have a powerful idea, story or philosophy to express. "If you've got something inside of you that's so powerful ... why the fuck ... would you choose the medium that has historically been the worst medium to express philosophy and story?" he asked.

Though known for being crass and vulgar, Jaffe described himself as a softie who cries at nearly everything. Talking about a yearly Christmas cookie commercial that says "Childhood quickly slips away" nearly had the designer's eyes swell with tears, as he and the audience laughed.

He's aware that he might come off as harsh and cynical, but he confessed, "I'm susceptible to media" and said he "loves being affected by media." When at Sony Santa Monica, where he worked on God of War, he said he personally was seeing firsthand titles that try to push games as a storytelling medium.

But he just couldn't figure out why games, this new, powerful interactive medium, could not evoke the same emotions as a cheesy Christmas cookie commercial.

Perhaps video games just aren't cut out to evoke such emotions, and in that pursuit of story and emotion, developers have "let go" of what makes games special. "I think we need to adjust our thoughts, we need to change what we think this medium is. ... We've let the gameplay muscle atrophy."


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Comments


Keith Nemitz
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Another rant about a particular cluster in the gamiverse. Surely, not all AAA designers are this isolationist.

Ramon Carroll
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Lucky for consumers, not all designers are this isolationist, which is why good story-driven games exist.

Harlan Sumgui
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@Ramon

Really, there is a game with a good story? It seems all the ones I've played are terrible. Is there anything in the gamerverse that comes close to things like Breaking Bad, No Country for Old Men, etc.?

Ramon Carroll
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@ Harlan



It doesn't need to. We are not talking about another book or movie. We are talking about games, an entirely different medium. Perhaps you should reassess your standards.

Pablo Simbana
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@Harlan: I think Chrono Cross and Chrono Trigger have great stories that kept me coming back to the game

Philip Daay
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If story was so unimportant, why would the gaming industry have evolved to be this way in the first place? Believe me, if the market didn't want stories, there would be no stories. Human beings want to be told stories. As children, we beg our parents to tell us a story when we go to bed. Our schools make us study the Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest written story on Earth. We love stories because they spark imagination. If a game sparks our imagination, we're not bored with it. Gamers have been known to slog through the worst gameplay for the sake of finishing the story. Efficient storytelling is another topic though.

Dedan Anderson
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hmm i wouldn't use the market to justify any movement (milli vanilli or mc hammer pop in to mind for why popularity means very little), but if you WANT to do that it would actually contradict your point that stories are important... where's the major growth in our industry right now? browser games and mobile games. The more popular games in these two fields are not story driven at all.



as a child we begged for stories because we had no video games lol.



Narrative stories i think are totally anti-game, there was an article in gamedeveloper many moons ago that made the argument that a game can tell a story with out having a narrative structure, for example a real life sport event can have the come-back story occur... this of course could also happen in video games, there was a street fighter 3 video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtuA5we0RZU) where a player parried every move and come back from behind and won, the crowd went crazy, this was an example of game that created a come back story by mechanics alone.



basically design your games to create opportunities for "stories" like to occur, or at least to create art from play...

Bob Johnson
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Well it evolved that way for the same reason McDonalds put toys in their happy meals.

Adam Danielski
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Honestly - this coming from a guy whose games make the player sit and wait 15 minutes in order to play the game? Sounds like we should be looking for a reply from the Kettle in the next news installment.



I love Twisted Metal and the story that goes along with it. The fact of the matter is that the Twisted Metal gameplay doesn't add to the story. I could say the story is a bored gamer sitting alone on his couch and gets a car and decides to have fun by adding guns. That story goes to the same gameplay channel. I think designers are given too much credit for the games that are out. These are collaborative efforts by a team and credit should be given to the team, not one individual.

Ramon Carroll
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Yeah, I was getting the same vibes as I read this article.

Jonathan Murphy
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Rule #1. Rule #1! The game has to be fun. I had FUN playing Indigo Prophecy(low gameplay), and no FUN playing Final Fantasy 14(all gameplay). The real problem is many larger studios replace FUN with ADDICTION. Story isn't the problem.

Ivan K. Myers Jr.
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I agree with Jaffe completely. Too many times have I played an action game and my character was doing more cool stuff within the cinematic than I could actually have him do IN the game!



I'm not saying story has no place in games, but that the game industry as a whole isn't very good at creating static narrative (see Bayonetta, God of War 3, Metal Gear Solid 2, etc... all great games with terrible stories).



Games are at their best when engaging players with interesting decisions; and we can't do that while a 3-minute, non-interactive cinematic is playing. Why not keep it short and sweet just to show context or do it the Half-Life way and get rid of the cinematic altogether, tell all the story through gameplay?



@Adam D. - I played alot of Twisted Metal Black back in the day, and while I liked the intro's and endings, me and my friends played the heck outta that game first and foremost because it was fun to play.

Adam Bishop
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I loved the beginning of Arkham City. I thought the restrictions placed on the character made for an interesting change of pace from the first game and did a great job of conveying the mood and the setting. In fact, isn't that scene, which allows the player to control Batman at virtually all times, exactly the kind of story-telling that anti-narrative people often claim they want more of?

Felix Park
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"One of the most emotional video games I've ever played is a Flash game called 'Passage.'" -David Jaffe, GamePro, January 16, 2008.



"He questioned game makers that say they have a powerful idea, story or philosophy to express. "If you've got something inside of you that's so powerful ... why the fuck ... would you choose the medium that has historically been the worst medium to express philosophy and story?" he asked."



Because sometimes it's worth it, David.

Michael Bilodeau
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Though I completely agree that you should never sacrifice game play for story, and the game play must be first and foremost important along with graphics acceptance. I think you could make arguments to say that the Call of Duty games often fall into this category. For example in COD4 Modern Warfare where your crawling along the ground while a Nuke goes off (and that's all you can do). Was this bad simply because it pushed the narrative? It served no other purpose but provided impact of the story. But yet everyone who played the game remembers that scene and though wow that was intense!

I think your cutting yourself off at the knees by saying you shouldn't push narrative under the right circumstances without game play leading the way. If it works and gives the game more richness, then do it. Honestly I liked the starting to Arkham City, it lead you in well, and gave a sense of presence in the game world, plus it broke up the game play. Perhaps I'm alone on this opinion.

Michael Bilodeau
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Uh also the point about "why the fuck ... would you choose the medium that has historically been the worst medium to express philosophy and story". Because the story suited the medium because you want the player to play a part of the story, which you can't do with movies. Apply that same premise to this idea "why write a comic with drawings versus making a movie of it?". Because the media is best fitting the idea. Sorry movies and/or books aren't the definitive medium for storytelling. Though the movie industry would like you to believe otherwise.

Joshua Darlington
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I think linear narrative games with heavy use of cut scenes should be thought of as expanded cinema rather than reduced games. If you look at them as an evolution of cinema, they are awesome!

[User Banned]
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Joe McGinn
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I agree though I would argue it's the lack of interactivity - cheap book-ending of levels with movie - that makes for a "crappy game story" rather than anything about the story itself.



Take a Half Life game. The story is pretty minimal in terms of plot development, the story itself is mostly structured around things you need to do like get to a location or shut down an overloading power source. But the game resonates with emotional impact because it's always interactive ... I feel like Alyx is interacting with me and other characters, that's what gives it the punch of a great game story.



If I never see another non-interactive movie in a game again I will not miss it.

Bob Johnson
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@Dave



I always say why put up with shoddy game mechanics just to see the good story when there is no reason they can't just give you the story and let you skip the shoddy mechanics.



We actually have a name for this. It is called a CGI movie.

[User Banned]
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Bob Johnson
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I don't see how shoddy mechanics make you feel like such a star. They make me feel like such a sucker.



Next time you watch a move bring your controller along and press a few buttons during the show. Maybe you just need need that Pavolian response trigger.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Bob Johnson
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Yeah but you admitted you don't need it all when you said you put up with shoddy gameplay to get the story bits.



I think what you really desire aren't games at all, but interactive movies. Change camera angles. Control the camera. Swap out lead characters. Alternative endings and branches.

Omar Gonzalez
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A million buck in donations to see the next double fine adventure game kinda disagree with Jaffe thou.



I can easily consume both good stories and good games, I see no problem.

Simon T
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Any storyteller knows you can change the story to fit your needs; you're rarely, if ever, completely hamstrung.

Joe McGinn
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Why does it have to be one or the other? I love story in games ... when it's part of the GAME. Like in the Half Life series, for example, or Skyrim. The lesson is not "less story". The lesson is "no cheap-ass bookending your level with movies and call that a game story".

Adam Bishop
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Then there are people like me who often enjoy games that are heavy on the cut scenes, like Metal Gear Solid or Final Fantasy. So maybe the lesson is really "Make the game you want and you'll probably find an audience if you make it well."

Ramon Carroll
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If you are talking about Guns of the Patriots, most people tolerated its bad story-telling, atrocious voice-acting, and over-dramatized cinematics because the gameplay was so awesome that it made up for it. I'm all for story-driven games, but I don't think that the latest Metal Gear or Final Fantasy games are a good example of well-executed story-driven games.

Bob Johnson
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Games are terrible story telling vehicles.



First one often feels frustrated when playing a game because it is a game and requires some level of dexterity and some level of problem solving for lack of a better word. Movies don't elicit frustration from viewers at least like games do. This makes it more difficult for a game story to elicit the desired emotion from the player.



Second you need to strike lightning in the bottle twice. You need to have a great story and then you need great gameplay. The latter makes the former irrelevant. The former means nothing without the latter. Often great gameplay creates the illusion that the story is great. And a great story with mediocre gameplay might as well be a movie or a digitally distributed CGI movie. Tough enough to strike lightning once.



Third games aren't efficient story telling mediums. I played a game that was funny and had a great world etc, but so-so gameplay. The control of your character never felt great. None of the actions you could pull off with your character felt good. Nothing you were asked to do was all that fun. It was very creative though and so why not just make this "game" a movie? That is what I thought. Or why can't I just skip ahead to the next story bit and forgo the gameplay if I am only playing to see the next part of the story? Why can't I treat the gameplay like a commercial and skip it?



The so-so gameplay ends up adding many many unnecessary hours to a story.



And as many games treat the game part as something anybody should be able to do (make it easy so as to not frustrate the player) the more it becomes unnecessary.



Thus story should be in the paraphrased reworked words of Carmack nothing more robust than a story in a Porno.



Rescue the princess. Defeat the dragon. Assassinate the king. The story or lack of one will seem spectacular if the gameplay is awesome.

Harlan Sumgui
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Great post. Further, playing a game for the story alone means the replay value is zero. Good games can be played hundreds of times because each time is unique.

Adam Bishop
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"Second you need to strike lightning in the bottle twice. You need to have a great story and then you need great gameplay. The latter makes the former irrelevant. The former means nothing without the latter."



I'm assuming that you prefer instrumental music for the same reasons, right? After all, why muddy up a great melody or riff by trying to put words on top of it?

Dedan Anderson
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I don't see the music analogy working, both voice and instruments are actually the same, they play by the same rules, they are both harmonic-based mediums - story (and i mean narration) is by definition passive while games are by definition interactive. You can have a great story interleaved with great interactive experiences but that's about it. They are actually separate experiences while the voice is just another instrument, tho it's usually accompanied by the restraint of rhyming i don't think there is anything fundamentally different between a violin and a voice musically...



A crap game with a great story is still a crap game and most players would only play through a crap game once for story.



I do think games can be made to create stories as you play, and every time you play a different story detail will emerge. Games like any other medium are good at doing certain experiences, the come-back story is very natural in games, and systems can be set-up to encourage this (think rubber banding in racing games)... these "stories" are not narrative stories however, and the weakness of a narrative story is that it doesn't make much difference how you play, it's a finite outcome (even indigo prophecy like games have a finite outcomes) while created "stories" have infinite versions... to focus on narrative stories is detrimental to our art-form, the focus should be on creating mechanics that allow new stories to emerges...



if we look at why stories even exists it's because we want to impart an experience on our audience, well guess what, games do this and we can do it in spades, because not only are you the audience you are the participant. Something that stories can only awkwardly achieve we can do so in spades. Of course games can't draw the same type of emotions that novels can, but neither can movies. Each medium has it's strength and our strength isn't the passive narrative experience, it's the interactive. Certain emotions come easy for us, while others are awkward.



We can have a game with no story and still have a game, but you can't have a story with no game and still call it a game. Interaction is paramount.

Ramon Carroll
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Another example of an old-timer who refuses to evolve, yet insists on throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Why people can't accept that there is room for all types of games (story-driven, mechanic-driven, whatever, etc.) is beyond me. This view usually stems from an unwarranted and narrow-minded view of what games are, what they should be, and what they can be. You'd think that such arguments would be dead by now.



The reasons for failed storytelling in story-driven games (Some games, not all, mind you. There are many story-driven games that turn out pretty well) are a lot more complex and varied than the oversimplified (and tired) argument about the uniqueness of the medium. These reasons can range from:



1. Giving the story-telling job to unqualified designers (when they could be focusing more on levels, systems, or mechanics) rather than qualified story-telling professionals (granted, there are some designers and programmers who also happen to be gifted storytellers, but this is rarely the norm), to

2. Failing to involve the writer in the ENTIRE design process, or

3. Tacking on the story after most or half of the game is already feature complete, or

4. Accepting contracts for half-baked AAA games that are based upon popular movie IPs, and have to be developed in less than a year... (-pulls out hair-)

5. and so on....



If games are bad story-telling mediums, then perhaps the guys at Naughty Dog should hand back those "Game of the Year" rewards…

Bob Johnson
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You further illustrate why games are terrible story telling vehicles.



Now remember that is different than saying no one likes games with cutscenes etc. Millions watch Jersey Shore and like Soap operas so obviously there room for all kinds.



But imagine on top of making a great game you have to involve a writer in the entire process and make your game around the story and vice versa and do both justice? How about just deliver a great game around a simple premise? That is really all you need.



Otherwise you will tend to be forced to include gameplay just because the story calls for it not because the gameplay is good.



Tough enough to do one or the other.



That is one reason stories are often tacked on too.

Ramon Carroll
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No, my post did not demonstrate "why games are terrible story telling vehicles". It merely gave some examples as to why many games fail at stories. That simply means that developing games with engaging gameplay and compelling story is difficult in light of the current popular development/publishing practices. None of that means that its impossible though. I am speaking against the over-simplified argument that games just "aren't able to tell good stories". You would think that someone who works in the game industry, like Jaffe would know that there is much more to the problem than this.



There are enough successful story-driven games to cancel out this argument altogether. The fact that we are still having this discussion in 2012 is ridiculous.

Bob Johnson
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No one said impossible. It is just not a good bet type of thing.



More wise to concentrate on what makes the games medium unique. Not on what is done better in other mediums.



I think that is the message.



Oh and if you think further about your examples you might see that they are a result of the nature of game development and the reality of the business. As in maybe there is a reason writers aren't commonly involved in the entire design process in the first place. I would say that is because they would just add an extra layer of complication that isn't likely to pay off.



What I also want to add is if folks want story in their games like cutscenes etc then why not sell the story parts separately?



It would be an interesting experiment to see the percentages of yay vs nay and where the line would be drawn between story and basic premise and serviceable dialogue.



I also say if you are only playing to see the next part of the story then why play? Why not skip the gameplay like you skip a commercial?



There is a name for this too. In the US we call them movies. More specifically CGI movies.

Bob Johnson
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@Guerric



You are right. You can do anything you want. If you want to dig that sprinkler trench with a 6" garden spade then go ahead. Not a crime.



If you want to use your Yugo to haul lumber and make 20 trips to the hardware store then more power to you.



But let us recognize that there is efficient and inefficient. That there are better and worse tools for the job. There are strengths and weaknesses.







And your mistake is to assume games are related to movies, comics or books. They aren't.



That is why they are inefficient at telling stories. Create a burden for lightning to strike twice. And often elicit emotions that have nothing to do with the emotions the story is conveying. And thus make for terrible story telling vehicles.



I would also argue that the very definitions of games and narrative are at odds.

Ramon Carroll
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@ Bob



“No one said impossible. It is just not a good bet type of thing.



More wise to concentrate on what makes the games medium unique. Not on what is done better in other mediums.



I think that is the message.”



That was not Jaffe’s message.



Jaffe’s actual message (at least from reading this article) is two-fold. 1) Story-focused games harm and hinder good gameplay design. 2) Games are the “worst medium for expressing philosophy and story”.



I wholeheartedly disagree with both of those. If your story hampers your gameplay, it’s because you have failed in your execution. It’s not because you should have just “focused more on gameplay” instead of your story. It means you failed to blend your story and gameplay effectively. I’ve given some of the most common reasons for that in my initial post. Regarding games as a story-telling medium, movies, games, or books are no better than each other in telling a story. They all have their own unique advantages that make them special. NONE is better at telling a story than the next. It comes down to utilizing those strengths and making the best of them. There are enough story-driven games in the industry to prove that it’s possible to develop a game with good gameplay and a compelling story without sacrificing the story.



But from your post, you seem to be speaking of something entirely different. You’re implying that it’s too risky to design a story-focused game because of the currently bad development practices of today, right? Look, if you are talking about AAA games, then there is more than enough money available to hire a good story writer (or team of writers) to work alongside the designers and artists throughout the process. It’s about doing things the right way. There are enough good video game stories to demonstrate this. There are many publishers and developers that take story very seriously. Ask Rockstar, Valve, and Naughty Dog (among many others). Did their games suck? Just because a small corner of the game developer community has this weird antagonism towards stories in games, as if they are the bane of good gameplay, the majority of the industry, including its consumers, feel quite differently. In fact, for most of the consumer-base, a well executed story is expected these days.





“Oh and if you think further about your examples you might see that they are a result of the nature of game development and the reality of the business. As in maybe there is a reason writers aren't commonly involved in the entire design process in the first place. I would say that is because they would just add an extra layer of complication that isn't likely to pay off.”



No, actually it’s the reality of bad develop practice, and while it can be pretty commonplace, its not universal with every game studio or publisher. That is why there are a lot of companies that are starting to include the writers in the development from beginning to end. If you are going to involve a story, then you should execute it well, not just “focus on the gameplay”. Otherwise, don’t include a story at all. This is how games end up with stories that just feel “tacked on”, or have gameplay and story elements that feel disconnected. This is how games get bad review scores. If we are talking about AAA games, we are talking about games where you’ve got enough money to focus on every area, not just on gameplay.



“What I also want to add is if folks want story in their games like cutscenes etc then why not sell the story parts separately?”



Maybe because consumers want more context and meaning to their GAMEPLAY, rather than just a basic intro and ending? Is that really too much to ask? Apparently, most of the game industry doesn’t think so.



“I also say if you are only playing to see the next part of the story then why play? Why not skip the gameplay like you skip a commercial?”



Who said anything about “ONLY playing to see the next part of the story”? You speak as if it’s not possible to have an engaging story and fun gameplay at the same time. I don’t agree.



“There is a name for this too. In the US we call them movies. More specifically CGI movies.”



The problem is not in the use of CGI movies in games. It’s in the over-use or misuse. In other words, bad design.

Bob Johnson
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@Ramon



You say it just execution. Oh just hire a great writer and voila, great story and game. Just execute.



I say though that what makes for a great story doesn't make for great gameplay and vice versa. I say you just increase the odds of making a great game if you plan out a story and then have to fit and integrate the gameplay into it.



I also say if you really need a lot of exposition in between gameplay then you are admitting that your gameplay isn't enough of an incentive to continue. And so I say why not just make a CGI movie? Or why not allow us to press the fast forward button and skip the gameplay?



But as I said millions watch Jersey Shore. So anything does go.



But that doesn't make that show the pinnacle of tv just as GTA sales doesn't mean games aren't a terrible story telling medium.



afaik the percentage of players that actually finish a Rockstar game like GTA is extremely low. And I bet the percentage of those that finish that paid attention to the story is a small percentage of that small percentage.



I think for movies it is the completely opposite situation.



Thus another reason why games are a terrible story telling medium.



Also really in many cases are these even games? Or are they movies with gameplay commercials inserted?

Ramon Carroll
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“I say though that what makes for a great story doesn't make for great gameplay and vice versa. I say you just increase the odds of making a great game if you plan out a story and then have to fit and integrate the gameplay into it.”



I’m aware of what you have been “saying”. I’m just “saying” that I disagree



“I also say if you really need a lot of exposition in between gameplay then you are admitting that your gameplay isn't enough of an incentive to continue. And so I say why not just make a CGI movie? Or why not allow us to press the fast forward button and skip the gameplay?”



No, that does not automatically follow. The gameplay can be totally engaging, yet a well flushed out story can make it all the more enjoyable. It just depends on the game, what the developers are trying to do, and doing it well. Why is that so difficult for you?



“But as I said millions watch Jersey Shore. So anything does go.”



Serious critics think shows like Jersey Shore are garbage. It is not that way with story based games in our industry. There are many journalists and critics that take stories in games very seriously. It is utterly ridiculous for you to relate some of this industry’s most successful story-based games to the mess that is Jersey Shore. If you are equating this crap with the passion and devotion that goes into crafting deep and engaging stories like that of the Mass Effect series, the Legend of Zelda, Uncharted, Red Dead Redemption, Resident Evil, and so on, then I feel insulted on behalf of the men and women who are responsible for such works.



“afaik the percentage of players that actually finish a Rockstar game like GTA is extremely low. And I bet the percentage of those that finish that paid attention to the story is a small percentage of that small percentage.



I think for movies it is the completely opposite situation.”



Are you just speculating, or do you have any actual data to discuss here? If not, I’m not sure how you are expecting me to respond.



“Thus another reason why games are a terrible story telling medium.”



And what reason did you give? Your speculation about whether or not people have finished GTA?



“Also really in many cases are these even games? Or are they movies with gameplay commercials inserted?”



Do you seriously feel that way about the GTA series, or are you just talking? What is your definition of a game anyway?

Bob Johnson
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@Ramon



There is a difference between games being a terrible story telling medium and the quality of a story in games.



We should recognize that distinction although I also believe there is a link there.



All the reasons why games are a terrible story telling medium are cold hard truths independent of whether you or I like story in games.



These facts don't prevent a game from getting a good story anymore than a hand shovel prevents you from digging out a basement for your concrete foundation.



It merely makes the job more difficult and less than ideal. Hence just as a shovel would be a terrible way to dig a hole for a basement, games are a terrible story telling medium.



I believe it is common knowledge that games aren't finished by most people. I have read that enough in articles over the years to recognize it as such. Don't take my word for it. Google it. Ask around.



I also believe that a large percentage of folks do not even pay attention to story elements in games. No evidence other than it seems fairly obvious because forums are littered with folks wanting to skip cutscenes and not have to watch them and many if not most games nowadays let you do this. And because I have seen this firsthand on countless occasions.



Last replace games with Porn and then make your arguments. Should be a good exercise.

Nathaniel Marlow
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@Bob

Alright, let's talk about porn. Porn's medium is film, if you were curious. Some filmmakers decide to make movies with no meaningful story and people fucking. These films are called porn. Other filmmakers decide to make movies that have complex narratives and attempt to give the viewer new insight into his or her own world. These films are generally called art.



Oh, holy shit! I just realized that the medium is ultimately unimportant and you can tell great stories or watch people fuck in any medium!



Also, stop equating your hunches and anecdotal evidence with universal fact.

Ramon Carroll
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@ Bob



I'm sorry, Bob, but that's not how things work. Casually passing off your opinion as the "cold hard truth" or "common knowledge" doesn't automatically validate it. Just stick with your "I believe" or "I say" phrases, because it’s more honest, and demonstrates that you are just speaking from your position and not representing the bulk of the industry. Telling me to "go Google it" sounds more like a copout than providing links or actual statistics to support your "cold hard truths". Having said that, just because you may be able to pull up a random blog post or journalist article that supports your stance, it doesn't cancel out the majority opinion in the industry that favors story-driven games just as much as mechanic-driven or art-driven games.



The fact that there are (at this point) over 70 comments here that vary in opinions and stances should be enough to totally negate your claims that your viewpoint represents the official stance of the industry or its consumers. I don’t even know why you are still pushing your view as “common knowledge”, despite this bold-face fact.

Joe McGinn
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Ramon - you make excellent points about story-telling in games, I agree with all of it. But don't blame is on "old timers". I'm older than the pyramids and I get it.

Aaron Casillas
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Often in my opinion we over simplyfing the word "Story", it's being used like the Smurfs use well the word "smurf."



I can't think of anything in existence that doesn't have a story attached to it, with a beginning, a middle and eventual and potential ending. (Sh*t we start wars over whose story is the "True" story, political or religious).



From my undestanding there is great care taken in games like Betheseda's to create a Mythopoeia, similiar to what Rowlings and Tolkien used to create the world before the books. This is a great excercise to go through in some fashion when creating a space and it helps inspire mechanics.



On the otherhand, I think what David is talking about here is breaking the rules of normal gameplay in order to get the player from point a to point b while forcing them to watch some type of exposition. I guess it would be like watching a football game, when suddenly a network executive runs down to the field and moves the ball to the 1 yard line, because it makes a better story (and maybe a better game as long as its consistent for the other team?). Where as within the game of Football this mechanic already exists, but not on demand.



A gameplay purists would say there has to be a state heuristic which causes the player to be in a reduced interactive situation. Otherwise that portion might look like a game, but it's not a game.



There's probably no solution to this one, it might just come down to a matter of style...

Bob Johnson
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It is not 0% story vs 100% story. But is about less story vs more story. Or story driven vs story after thought.



Obviously nearly all single player games have some sort of basic premise or simple story.



so yes it is about being forced to watch a bunch of exposition drivel. And on another level it is about where the resources of a game should go? To the narrative or to the gameplay? Or where the tilt should go towards.



I say success in both of these areas at the same time have inherently long odds. And that the definition of game vs narrative are at odds with each other as well.



And that any drive towards better movie and book stories in games is ultimately futile.

Florian Garcia
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Each components of a game are equally important. If your game needs a story, it has to be treated as importantly as the rest. If you don't, the players will feel it. Same goes for the inverse. If you only have a story, better make a movie than a game. Most players will be bored without gameplay.

Bob Johnson
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Games don't need stories though or not any more story than a Porno has. It has been proven.

Ramon Carroll
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Sure, Bob, you keep to that. In the meantime, I'll continue to enjoy my Uncharteds, my Red Dead Redemptions, and my Resident Evils.

Florian Garcia
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It's only been proven to me that most game makers are very bad at making deeper stories than porno movies, not that game can't come with great ones.

That being said, it has been proven that games can come without story but can also become great experiences with deep stories.



After all, a game is an interactive experience created by one or more people for other people to enjoy. No one is to say what it has to be or should be. As long as you can play it, it's a game.

Bob Johnson
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@Ramon,



Love RE4. Could care less about the story. It was mostly garbage. And btw didn't quite finish the game so so much for that great story telling medium. Sure my non-finish is probably in the majority. But hey did watch all the RE movie. One of them.



So much for games being a great story telling medium.

Bob Johnson
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@Floria



You are right. It is possible for games to have a deep story. But let us face the reality that in many cases if not most the game stories are exposition cut scenes in between gameplay or gameplay commercials in between movie sections or worlds where you are just moving around a dude and pressing a few buttons not much different or better feeling than pressing the buttons on your tv remote.



And let us face the fact that most games go unfinished by most people. And getting a story from a game means many extra hours if not tens of hours are needed because of any gameplay. And let us recognize that games all require of us to fight with the UI, menus, controls, puzzles, .... Which often bring about negative reactions and emotions most times probably not something the story is trying to convey.



I haven't seen any deep game stories though that I would put on par with the best movies and books.

Ramon Carroll
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@ Bob

"Love RE4. Could care less about the story. It was mostly garbage. And btw didn't quite finish the game so so much for that great story telling medium. Sure my non-finish is probably in the majority. But hey did watch all the RE movie. One of them.



So much for games being a great story telling medium."



You're just one person Bob. You're opinion does not make you the single arbiter for whether or not a story in a game is good. The consensus among professional journalists and critics, however, does carry more weight. I don't know what your standards are, but you're obviously in the minority when it comes to games like Uncharted, Red Dead Redemption, and Resident Evil.

Ramon Carroll
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Anthony, I value your input. The very fact that you are able to act as a critic of a game's story elements implies that there is something that can be done better. This is far different than the idea that story-focused games are a waste of time. Story criticism makes developers think harder about these elements, because it indicates that its consumers are taking it seriously. That's all I'm pushing.

Tora Teig
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Thanks Ramon! I totally agree with you. Of course we can make a storydriven game, and it certainly can be done without straining player interactivity, just look at Amnesia. But I get Jaffe's point too, it's just a little more poignant in the headline than what he is saying in reality.



What I do disagree with however, is that he praises Skyrim and then critizise Batman when they did the exact same thing - keep the player in chains until the story had unfurled. Skyrim DID sacrifice game for narrative. I mean, the similarity is ironic when he uses those titles as examples.

Ashlyn Sparrow
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Yes Tora! I thought the comparison with Skyrim and Arkham City was very odd as well! They had EXACTLY the same opening.



Although, I don't feel that they sacrificed game for narrative. I believe they effectively blended gameplay and narrative, especially for Skryim. The opening scenario was a great way to link together, camera & movement tutorials, character customization, the main goal of the game, getting use to the UI etc. I felt that a story, gives these things context which (for me) further enhances my immersion.

Aaron Casillas
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Great observation Tora, you're right.



I wonder if the player has a different anxiety being Bruce Wayne knowing that he's Batman and chained up versus an unknown sipher aka unknown prisoner in Skyrim?

Paco Mahone
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I appreciated you pointing this out. Also, that mouse on your head, it looks like the same mouse my oldest son sleeps with. I call it the Ikea mouse but oldest son has named it Templeton.

Paul Laroquod
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If Michael Bay were to say that putting story and acting before filling every possible moment with big exploding robots and groaning metal sound effects, is a 'waste of time', you would have to admit that from his own perspective of the progress of his career, he is probably correct. But that doesn't mean that anyone should listen to Michael Bay or that his artistic choices should be elevated, because what Michael Bay is trying to accomplish with his time (fame and fortune) is not the same as what an actual artist tries to accomplish (shedding light on important truths).



Anti-story attitudes are rampant in modern times, in both the movie and the game industries. The difference is, the movie industry doesn't try to pretend that their rich but ignorant rubes are auteur heroes. They know the difference between the goals of art & commerce. There are auteurs and there are journeymen. The auteurs are elevated and the journeymen who make the biggest budget fare are merely respected but not venerated. This arrangement makes sense.



Gaming culture, however, is not yet that sophisticated; practitioners still try to pretend as if the sausages feeding the masses are the highest form of game art. Therefore, since stories suck in games right now, the importance of story must be shat upon by these disciples of the dollar, in order to maintain the fiction that the modern AAA game industry is anything but a sausage factory: to preserve the belief that they are doing Something Important.



Well, they aren't. And fortunately, nobody worth mentioning is really buying it.

Harlan Sumgui
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There is a market for story driven games, just like there is a market for Twilight movies and shows like 2 1/2 Men. Jaffe's not arguing that.



What Jaffe is saying though, is that playing a game is fundamentally a different activity than experiencing a narrative. And that by shoehorning gameplay into a narrative, with the narrative coming first and being the focus, the actual gameplay will suffer.



Although, story can be part of the gameplay like in Skyrim. But cutscenes and non-particiapatory exposition are never gameplay because they are non-interactive, linear, and unidirectional. Many people obviously like cut scenes, and their bastard offspring qtes, but that doesnt make them part of the 'game' part of a videogame.

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Aaron Casillas
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"But cutscenes and non-particiapatory exposition are never gameplay because they are non-interactive, linear, and unidirectional" yes and are out of the ecology of gameplay rules...



The strongest story that a game can tell in my opinion is the emergent narrative from playing the game ( ...and the indicative object placement in a level which can lead to a greater imagination of the world.

Altug Isigan
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"A game is a fundamentally different way of experiencing a narrative" may be a better way to put it. The problems you mention here are not caused by story getting in the way of gameplay, but by bad design. I think bad designers are in first line those who look at games with the story/game divide taken for granted. If you can't grasp that a rules and mechanics create fiction, then you ponder on ways to tell the "story" seperately from what you call gameplay/interaction.

Synthesize.

Alexander Cooney
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I agree with this rant completely. It took me a while to accept the plain fact that video games are fundamentally systems, not stories. It's only in the interaction with a those systems that stories are created. Games like MW3 are barely even games. They're action films that outsource camera work to the viewers.

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Steven An
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yeah and you know what? the 5 million or so people that bought MW3 don't give a flying fuck what you think about it.

wes bogdan
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So story,naritive and the like take away from gameplay and player choice in "games" where you walk from one room to another going from 30 minute cut scene to another 30 minute cut scene yes i wholeheardly agree but overall story's enhance gamers attachment to the gameworld and characters in it.



Funny then the most pollished f.p.s's hang a weak story on gameplay.



Uncharted is worlds better than cod because there's an interusting world,humor,chemistry between characters and it's a great ride as well indy style.



Imagine if cod was to get infused with uncharted style storytelling but not be indy like but more like black hawk down.



Gaming can take over where film left off but we're not there yet....but imagine if we were.

Dedan Anderson
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Gaming should ignore film and in large part it has, this argument is only relevant on HD consoles and some Handhelds, the growth industry, browser and mobile are not trying to chase film at all... angry birds, tiny tower and farmville (eww i know) have not one cinematic bone in them... proving that story is not as important to games as some would like to believe.



Funny because story telling films are one part of a cinematic palette, there are other forms of cinema that don't tell stories, to be blunt commercials and music videos don't need to tell a story to be interesting and yet we hang on to stories like games NEED them to be great.

Steven An
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Who. Fucking. Cares.



Play, make, and buy what you like.

Moses Wolfenstein
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Blunt, but after reading the rest of the comments (found myself unable to look away, like watching an accident happen) perfect.

Ramon Carroll
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I fully agree. Why can't you just play, make, and buy what you like? Instead, we have oldschool wannabe visionaries who think they have the ultimate answer to our industry's problems, and those answers usually end up setting us back 10-20 years instead of pushing the medium forward.



Instead of throwing out story-driven games, we should be seeking to apply a more critical analysis of the subject, so that we can continue to discover better ways to design these types of games without sacrificing any gameplay.



Innovation and iteration is what we should be pushing as this industry and medium continues to evolve and grow.

Altug Isigan
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Ok, I'm confused. What's a narrative story? Something like a play game? :P


none
 
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