As part of UCSC's Inventing the Future of Games symposium today, veteran developer Graeme Devine (The 7th Guest, Halo Wars) discussed how he tries to draw the player into a game as the lead character.
"I only really got into games so that I could tell stories," said Devine. His game Firebird, which he developed while around 14 or 15 years old, was created because he "wanted to be that film director."
Devine calls his '90s smash The 7th Guest "kind of like the best story game I told. I thought that game really involved the player in the story." Its sequel The 11th Hour was also good in his estimation, but "we really started to have a disconnect between wanting to tell a great story and having a game... there was something wrong there."
In the later game, and his adventure Clandestiny, there was "too much to put on to the player," Devine said. "There is no blank slate."
Devine expressed some dissatisfaction with his work on Halo Wars which he called "possibly the most cinematic game I made," but lacking in story interaction.
"I wanted to pull back to making characters. I wrote 8,000 lines of dialogue for the battle dialogue, but it didn't really add to any sense of story," he said. "In the end I felt I might as well have just made a movie." The characters "aren't talking to me, they're talking to each other."
Even "the best we do", in games such as Mass Effect 2, "in terms of interactive story is incredible, but... I'm still not playing me."
In his work, Devine said he wants to answer these questions: "What does it mean to put me into a game? How do I do that? How do I actually insert the player into the game so he or she feels that 'Oh, my God, it's just me, I have to do this!'"
His rule is this: "When in doubt, you always go back to Star Wars." In the first film, Princess Leia's famous line, "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope" creates tension for the audience, Devine said. Used in the context of the game, "you're inviting the player in."
Currently Devine is developing an iPad game called Super Unicorn Puzzler to answer this question. He admits this "is a terrible game," at its core, but after a brief play session, the crappy puzzler is replaced with a NASA scientist on the moon, who asks you to help her, he explained.
As soon as you do help, though, agents are dispatched to your iPad's GPS location. "You have to physically take the iPad and move or the game is over," Devine said. The game will force the player to go outside, to go to an Apple Store and access its wifi network, and more.
"The game is all about taking you on adventures," he said, and brings him closer to his ideal: truly making the player the main character.