Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Story in Games

David Jaffe, the creator of God of War, is ditching story games. (Yes, I know; it's old news) He declared that he has "...really lost interest in making any kind of game that does not fully and only embrace interactivity in the most purest sense." He doesn't want to tell stories with his games anymore.

For those of you that haven't played God of War, it has one of the best stories I've seen in a game. It is based (albeit loosely) off of ancient Greek mythology. Perhaps I'm a bit biased because I love Greek mythology. The opening cutscene reveals an event that happens later in the game. The player passes the location where this event will happen at least once during the game, and the anticipation builds each time the player's journey takes them back closer to that location. It has excellent pacing and the gameplay begins in media res. Kratos (the protagonist) is somewhat of an anti-hero. While anti-heroes seem to be the trend in video games, Kratos pushes the archetype of the anti-hero to an extreme that most games don't match. He's not out to save the world - he just wants revenge.

Whether or not story belongs in a game depends on the game. For example, I don't need a single page of back story to enjoy Tetris. The story of the original Doom can be articulated in a sentence or two -- You're a marine killing zombies and demons on Mars. However, a game like Day of the Tentacle or Gabriel Knight is uninteresting without a story; they are story-driven games.

Depending on execution, story can either help or hinder gameplay. In Dreamfall, interactivity was sacrificed for the sake of story. Dreamfall was the first game that made me angry when I beat it. I suffered through my characters' poor decision making skills to get to an endgame that consisted of walking short distances between cutscenes. Not only that, but the game ends giving the player a feeling failure rather than accomplishment. It is merely a setup for a sequel. Cliffhanger endings may work on television shows, but they aren't a good way to end a game.

On the other hand, story enhances the gameplay of Trauma Center. I find most timed puzzles boring, but the story of Trauma Center: Second Opinion kept me motivated and gave me a reason to keep playing. I kept wondering "Where will the story go from here?"

If we put a story into a game, how should the story be structured? Some of the best stories of all time have been linear stories such as the Odyssey, the Iliad, the Poetic Edda, Lord of the Rings, and The Tempest. A linear story can be entertaining. I find myself, and many others, returning to the stories that move us. A good friend of mine reads the Lord of the Rings again every year. So why don't most games with linear stories have as powerful an affect as a medium that has traditionally been both linear and non-interactive?

I think it's because the bulk of video game stories are hackneyed. They pale in comparison to Poe, Thoreau, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Hawthorne, etc.

If you take too much control away from the player, you frustrate and alienate them. For example, Dreamfall angered me when I beat it. However, if you give too much control to the player, then you frustrate the development team. A branching story in which several decisions have a significant effect upon the story can increase the content exponentially. More content usually means a longer development time and a bigger budget. Fable has two endings which hinge on a single choice after the final boss -- an evil character can get the "good ending" and vice-versa. Deus Ex has three endings which all hinge on how the player chooses to complete the final level. Chrono Trigger has 14 endings (15 if you count Lavos killing the party and destroying the world) that change depending on the player's actions and when they defeat Lavos. Star Ocean 2 has 86 endings that are determined by the characters' emotional attachment to one another, which is altered through the course of the game through choices in the story and actions in battles.

Is it overkill to have 86 endings? How about 14 endings? Deus Ex and Fable detached the ending from the rest of the story. While that worked pretty well in Deus Ex, it broke the cohesion of the story in Fable. Chrono Trigger and Star Ocean 2 connected both the story and the gameplay to the ending, which ultimately makes the player feel that they co-authored the story.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Life: A Verbose Update

It's been quite a while since I posted a substantial update. I figure that now is as good a time. I just finished moving and getting things unpacked. Finals week is not a good time to move.

I've returned to using Marius as my primary practicing name. I've conquered the condition that prompted me to use Perdurabo. There is, however, a noticable effect on my grades. I don't have straight A's this semester! I emailed the instructor of the one class I don't have an A in to ask if I could hand in one of my assignments late. He hasn't responded, but I'm going to finish the assignment and hand it in anyways. The difference ought to be enough to bring the grade up to at least a B. I hope I can salvage the grade. It's a C, and it doesn't meet my expectations. I hope to graduate with no less than a 3.9 GPA. This C knocks me down to a 3.71! I want summa cum laude!

I'm really psyched about how I did in LAW370 and how much I enjoyed it. I only missed one question on the final. If I ever burn out of the game development industry, I might consider persuing a career in law. Game law, to be more specific.

I really enjoyed the ENG305 final. For the final project, I wrote a modern myth plus commentary. In retrospect, I'm disappointed with the myth that I wrote. I know I could have done much better. This is what happens when you try to move during finals. Don't do it.

That's enough about school for now. Let's move on to other news.

Shortly after the break up with my ex-fiance, Maureen, I began trying to get involved in the local Pagan community. I was also looking for a good store for tools. I don't own an athame or a chalice, and I'm also looking for a couple of specific tarot decks. This is how I met Tiffany. She invited me over to watch movies one evening, one thing led to another, and now we're dating.

I didn't expect to be in another relationship this soon. The break-up had a devastating effect on me apart from the depression I've overcome. I'm hesitant to trust anybody at all - not quite to the point of paranoia, but close enough. I find myself questioning people's motives, even when they're doing something nice for me. It's disturbing. Imagine my surprise when I let the L-word slip last night. There had been a couple times I almost said it before, but I stopped myself. It's a word I don't use lightly or without much forethought. Tiffany makes me happy...happier than I've been in almost a year.

I've had a fairly exciting semester break so far. I was hoping for a more relaxing break. Oh well. First of all, I went to see Snakes on a Plane on Friday. It was a lot better than I expected it to be for a B-movie with a campy title. After the movie, I stopped by the school to get information for an article for Error404, but I ended up being too late. On my way back to the apartment, I got rear-ended at a stoplight. I just love hit & runs. Thankfully, there is no damage to me or my car.

I spent the last couple of days at Tiffany's apartment. My car got towed out of the parking lot yesterday morning. I wasn't able to get to the towing company until today. It's in the middle of nowhere! It cost $125 to get my car back! Money is really tight right now -- I still have to buy my books for next semester.

There is so much that I want to do in my free time, and not enough time to do it over the break. I've been playing with a 7 day trial of Dungeons and Dragons Online. It's much more fun than any other MMORPG I've played. There is much less grinding (you actually have to do more than click the attack button!) and it's easy to find good groups. I want to brush up on my understanding of Spanish. I also have several different languages I want to learn, such as Latin, Italian, Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, and Assyrian. I want to be able to read the myths and scriptures of various cultures & religions in their native languages. I also intend to attempt my own translations of each after I read through them in their native languages. I'm also looking up reliable information about the A∴A∴ because I don't trust the Wikipedia article. Depending on what I find out about it, I might consider applying to be a student. My theological beliefs are more Wiccan than Thelemic, which is why I'm looking for info about the A∴A∴ instead of the O.T.O.

Which brings me to another topic. The Pagan group I attempted to start last year will be starting this year. There has been a sudden increase in interest, including from Pagans outside the university. I'm looking forward to our first meeting. I'm excited about taking on more students and answering in-depth questions about my beliefs (assuming such questions are asked, that is).

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Simulated Neural Network

So, I've spent a good chunk of my day working on assignments. Apart from that, I'm looking for a good simulated artificial neural network. I miss the one I had on my old hard drive. Unfortunately, I don't have access to the download because I'm no longer a computer science student at ISU.

I want to use it to help with the analysis of a paper prototype for GAM170. I'm experimenting with Joone right now, but I don't think it's what I'm looking for. I'm more interested in the results than I am in the analysis process itself.

Friday, July 28, 2006

The University of Advancing Technology

I'm a junior at the University of Advancing Technology. Right now I'm finishing up my third semester at UAT. I'm in the Multimedia college working toward a bachelor's in Game Design. I love it here; the university suits me perfectly.

I used to be interested in programming, but I decided on design instead of programming before I transferred to UAT. The specific parts of game design that I am most interested in are designing the rules of the game and writing. I also enjoy level design, although my experience is limited. I've made a few levels and a couple campaigns for Warcraft III and I did some scripting for an Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion level. I have no experience with 3-D modeling yet, though I plan to take some classes on it sooner or later.

Finals are coming up pretty soon, and schoolwork consumes the majority of my time. I'm also an editor for Error404 Press, the recently formed school paper. I absolutely love working on the paper. I also hope to either start or work on a game project within the next couple of semesters.

Monday, July 24, 2006

A New Blog

I figured that I'd give Blogger a try. My first blog was a Livejournal, which I don't post on as much anymore. It's friends-only now, so the majority of my posts are hidden from the public. My second blog is on my myspace account, which is also a relatively private blog. My most recent blog is my 1up.com account. It's a much more public blog than the previous two. This blog will probably share a lot of content with my other blogs (except, of course, private entries). This blog, along with my 1up.com blog, will be the most public of my blogs.

I have a broad range of interests, and it's likely that I will cover a lot of them in this blog. I hope you enjoy reading this drivel as much as I enjoy writing it.