Telling stories: The next hurdle for story telling

Jason Dobson
J. Dobson|12.29.08

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Telling stories: The next hurdle for story telling

As games have evolved, so too has the role of storytelling in the titles we play. As we turn the corner on 2008, we asked multiple industry personalities across all walks of game development on titles such as Dragon Age: Origins, Bionic Commando and Guild Wars for their thoughts.

What's next for in-game story telling? In this, our final segment looking at video game narratives, our collective of industry professionals offer insight into what they believe is the next big challenge facing the evolution of story telling in the games we play.

David Gaider, lead writer on Bioware's Dragon Age: Origins and author of the first Dragon Age novel, The Stolen Throne

I think the next big hurdle is the technology. We've got all these wonderful graphics, now, but at the same time it's made everything exponentially harder to do. You have to show everything and leave nothing to the imagination – in essence, we've become part-time filmmakers in addition to game developers.

There are some people out there who lament that this is a terrible direction for the industry to take, and while I agree that it often seems like the technology is the main event itself there is also the potential for it to become something more. If we keep learning how to use that technology, how to make storytelling with it easier rather than more difficult, then I think that hurdle will have been overcome.

Jeff Ross, Resistance Retribution game designer at Sony Bend

It would be easy to blame hardware and technical constraints, but the biggest leaps in story telling will come from breaking from conventional thought; by widening the scope of the word narrative to include everything from interface, sound effects, controller inputs, and more. The obstacle is for game developers, not games, to overcome.

Ulf Andersson, GRIN co-founder and Bionic Commando game director

Next hurdle is story telling itself over the a longer game, We've got a lot left to do with this medium, so yes, it can be solved. The question is, in how many ways?

Joe Morrissey, senior game designer at MMO publisher NCsoft NorCal

It's the same obstacle we've always faced - telling compelling stories to our audience. This isn't going to get easier with new technology or higher res models or more interesting gameplay. Those are merely tools and techniques. Our audience wants to be told a story they care about. They want to believe in the impossible.

It doesn't matter if we're developing on the newest game engine or standing on a table spouting our tale to the masses. Can we do it? Sure, we've done it before, we'll do it again, but it's not going to get any easier. If anything it's going to get harder because our audience expects so much from us.

Jeff Grubb, designer and writer for Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2

Creating choice without sacrificing the experience of the game itself. In earlier games, we've seen a lot of very linear plot lines. In adding more plots, we create a situation where there is missed content which is generation (time and money spent), but not shown (sort of like outtakes for your personal story). I think this will be where the growth in storytelling in games will be – as we learn how to tell stories using the new tools available to us.

Brad Wardell, CEO of Galactic Civilizations developer, Stardock

I think the next big hurdle facing games is overcoming the uncanny valley. The production values on games have become so high that we're reaching a level where the expectations of players may take a jump that game developers aren't prepared to go. If we look back at some of the classic story-driven games in history, some of them were actually quite cheesy. But hey, it was a video game right? But now, with the production values so high, our willingness to suspend disbelief is greatly reduced.

Dan Tovar
and Mark Brown, co-producers on Splatterhouse for Namco Bandai

Choice is always the problem and therefore being able to provide for all the possible outcomes given a certain number of choices in a realistic and satisfying way. That is a tremendous challenge on the part of dev staff. It also gets expensive. So finding a reasonable way to portray the freedom of choice with realistic consequences in a real time situation would be the next frontier in story telling.

Jools Watsham, owner and game director of Moon developer, Renegade Kid

I think the hurdle is, and always will be, the challenge of creating interesting stories, well-developed characters, and making them work with an interactive medium. Some developers have proven to have approached these challenges with success, and let's hope other developers can learn from these examples and take them further.

Tom Gaubatz, producer for publisher Mastiff

This is more of a hurdle for game design than for narrative per se, but it's strange that most of the games with strong stories are hardcore games. Narrative is an obvious characteristic that games share with books and film, so I would expect that good stories would be a way to bring games to a broader audience. In fact it's usually the opposite: people are drawn in by casual games with simple gameplay and turned off by serious stories. This is probably because good stories are usually attached to long games in core genres with sophisticated game mechanics.

I'd like to see more casual games bringing in new users by the strength of their stories. This is already happening, especially on mobile platforms – Surviving High School is a great example, they have great writers – but if we want to games to become a more mature medium, we need to find more ways of pairing sophisticated stories with accessible gameplay.
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