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One of my solutions to the issue of "Competitive Storytelling"

by Zachary Silk on 10/31/13 07:18:00 pm

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Recently, the YouTube show Extra Credits make a video about the issue of narrative in competitive games. Its a really interesting topic and I invite you to take a gander to get a better idea of what I'm about to talk about.



The issue, if you didn't watch the video or require a quick summarization, is about how to deliver a narrative or story in a competitive multiplayer game. This is not to say there aren't stories to be told about the events that happen in a online match. Heck, I remember a game of World of Tanks where I quickly ducked my E-50 into the line of fire of an enemy Maus so that I could take a hit for my allied T-95 that was reloading its cannon.

Now, that last story may not have made much sense to everyone reading this blog; but to people who played the game, they know exactly what went on and could picture the scene in their heads. But it's experiences like the one I just described that are at the core of what most competitive multiplayer games are trying to deliver. However, when the match was over, the terrain reset, the tanks were repaired and reloaded, and teams were reformed into their respective corners to start the next game. Almost every match competitive match of Call of Duty, League of Legends, Pokemon, or Chess follows the same formula; fight, wipe, reset.

The cycle is designed to give both sides an equal starting point and to ensure a level of fairness in the match. If you were to play a new match of Starcraft right after a game had just be played, skipping the wipe phase, how would the map look or the match play out. You'd probably have a lack or resources on the map or at least around your starting point. You'd also have the leftover buildings from the previous match, and with it, most likely, one fully functional base, ready to go, and the other decimated to rubble. Your style of play changes and your experience would be radically different the what the designer could have planned for. Sure, you could for a story about how the Zerg rushed the Marines base and overtook the facility, but the fairness balance would be lost and the aspects of what makes the game fun could vanish with it. 

I know I'm pretty much summarizing the video with the examples changed at this point, I'm going to leave it at that and now go into one possible solution that I came up with.

The first was an idea I came up with while playing Battlefield 1942. (Yeah, an idea I had while playing a game over 10 years ago). BF:1942 was the first in the franchise and the one that set the tone for large map, versus, FPS games to come. While every remembers that game for its great multiplayer with 32 vs 32 matches, an unheard scale in 2002, it did have a single player campaign mod. It was mainly the player on a team of bots vs another team of bots and followed one of the two major campaigns of WW2. Whether you won or lost, it didn't really matter as you would then move on to the next map, and if you were an Axis soldier and you won every battle you fought in, you still lost the war because that was how history played out and it was the source material, so you can't really change it.


No how many times Japan takes Wake, the nukes are still going to get dropped.

As a, oh gosh, 12 year old gamer, I thought it was stupid and dumb and not worth the time to play. I bet thats how most people viewed it and just went on to the multiplayer. (Apparently DICE and EA thought the same way as we didn't see a single player campaign until Battlefield 2: Modern Combat, a full 3 years and 3 games later.) But, being a proactive kid and wanting to improve rather than remove the Campaign mode, I worked out an idea on how to make a story campaign in the framework of a Battlefield experience.

The idea was to have a sort of Tug-of-War style campaign mode, where your army moves along a line of succession as you win (or lose) matches. The setting would have to be of a modern or futuristic timeframe as setting a battle in the past may lead to overuse and abuse of historic events. Basicly, a fictional plot where army A and army B square off and have to reach an objective that would defeat the enemy. So they square off at the start of the campaign, a neutral site where neither team has a defencive advantage due to fighting on homeland, nor are they at a disadvantage due to a lack of resources as you lose territory. Now, if Army A wins that battle, the two move into the direction of army B's nation, moving them ever closer to defeat. The exception is that army B is now fighting on home territory and has better defences while army A, now in possession of the neutral map gain more resources and can draw on more troops to attack with. Eventually, the game will try to push the two armies back to the neutral zone as the two forces fight it out.


Kinda like this... no, not really.

Now, this was an idea to bring a single-player campaign the kind of action and moments that a multiplayer match would bring, but I feel it could also work in the reverse. Having 2 factions of players compete for land and resources, all the while using each battle as a way to push the story deeper, almost like how a dialog tree would play out in a narrative. You may encounter a map several times in the course of a campaign, but the premise and narrative could change from whether your team just lost that piece of ground after so many attempts to take it or it is a highly disputed piece of territory that has changed hands multiple times.

Mechanically, it could operate much the same as a traditional game of Battlefield, with each side having X number of respawn 'tickets' and teams have to conquer certain command points, or hold a specific point for an amount time, or just simply have a war of attrition. It doesn't even have to be in the grandioso FPS style, you could use this Tug-of-War campaign framework to put narrative into an RTS or a Turnbase-Tactical, or some other combative setting. While it may not work with all game types or settings or player-base, it could lead to some interesting ways developers deliver narratives into a competitive multiplayer games.

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