Tag Archives: games

Two Storytelling Camps?


I think I may have hit upon why I become so frustrated when I read what other developers are saying when they talk about storytelling in video games. I mean, even people that I really like, people who want to tell good stories with video games.

My theory is this—there are two camps of people interested in the storytelling potential of video games.

The first camp believes that Video Games are Platforms for Storytelling. This is the largest camp and the vast majority of AAA titles released today are created within this camp. This camp wants to use the medium of video games to tell stories. It’s an outside-in approach that inherits all the baggage of traditional video game design, along with all the conceits that stories are linear constructs. Despite all their very different outputs—Bethesda, Bioware, Double Fine, and Konami are all in this camp. Looking Glass was in this camp as well, but were really freaking good at making it work. I actually place Tale of Tales in this camp as well and believe they try to resolve the “design baggage” by leaving it at the station when the train pulls out.

The second camp believes that Game Mechanics Communicate Story. This is a rather more niche approach and the best examples of it can be found among indie games. This camp examines how game mechanics themselves convey meaning. It’s an inside-out approach that often breaks the “rules” of game design and runs the risk of alienating traditional gaming audience and being accused of “not being a game.” Daniel Benmergui and Gregory Weir are in this camp. I believe that Peter Molyneux himself is in this camp, even though Lionhead Studios and their output is not. Will Wright is probably in this camp as well.

Clearly, my sympathies and focus lie with the latter camp. I don’t feel the former camp is “wrong,” but I do feel they’re not advancing the art as much as they’re iterating past successes and failures.

Flight from the Dark

Two weeks late, but I’m finally able to get around to a short post about my previously mentioned pseudo-perma-death CYOA playthrough of the Lone Wolf books.

I started out in a blissful cloud of nostlagia.  Outfitting my character (always my favorite bit), choosing special Lone-Wolfie super-powers (not really, but almost) and turning the first page, or in this case, clicking that first link.

My notes are a bit fuzzy about what happens after this, but I’ve tried to piece it together as best I can from my “screenshots”.  This may be an amalgamation of all the times I’ve played through this book, my mind being the giant, soupy vat that it is, but hopefully it’s as close to my most recent foray as can be.

Apparently I crossed a bridge at some point.  My notes make no mention of it, but I must have thought it important enough to save.  Huh.  Nice bridge, though.

This is me.  Sadly returning to the ruins of the monastery.  I was out collecting wood as a punishment.  Note the axe.  And the wood.  That’s how you can tell.

Ironically, the most misbehaved Kai is the most ALIVE Kai.

So starts my perilous journey to the capital to warn the King of the impending invasion of mean, evil, unpleasantness.

According to my notes I headed south and met some refugees whose children were then, astonishingly, attacked by some flying beasties with other ugly beasties on their backs.  Since all the adults ran-away, I valiantly sped to their rescue with my meager little axe.  Much to my bemusement, I won.  My first dangerous encounter didn’t end up with me dead.  Is this CYOA broken?

I fled to the woods, to avoid the moral responisibility of protecting someone else’s offspring, er.. to cut more wood.  That seems to be my best survival instinct.

While hiding logging, I met some soldiers who were appropriately impressed by my logging skills.  That or my pretty green Kai cloak.  They kindly gave me a horse to sped me along to the King.  Thanks, guys.

Then the shit hit the fan.  I came across a raging battle.  In the midst of this battle was this giant, pissed-off looking lizard mumbling something about “…the tapping, oh god, the tapping…”  It looked like he was going to eviscerate the Crown Prince, whose dad I needed to talk to, so of course I ran to help him out.  A truly remarkable battle ensued.  or so I think it did.  My notes aren’t the most complete.  I lived, that’s for sure.  Truly Dangerous Situation #2 survived.  Maybe this CYOA really is broken?

After being given a sword and thanked profusely I took off for the city again and made it to the outer reaches without any trouble.  Now there was ANOTHER raging battle between me and the front gate.  I was offered three choices here.  Swim the channel, race to the gate or go into the (probably) haunted Catacombs.  So what did I pick?  Yep, the Catacombs.

I had survived most everything up to this point, so I was feeling pretty good, pretty sure of myself.  As I descended into the dark, dank, utterly creepy depths of the Catacombs, I remembered what “catacombs” meant: “an utterly dark, dank creepy depth.”

I was having second thoughts now.

Out of nowhere I was attacked by a winged demon, which now that I think about it was rather appropriate.  I killed him, or whatever happens when you destroy demons and ventured further.  Soon, I came across an ornate lock.

I didn’t have the key it asked for, but, due to my earlier successes, I felt that I could pick it and live.  I didn’t. I died.

This CYOA is definitely not broken.

Had this been a real perma-death playthrough this post, this project, would end here.  But, taking into consideration the pervading meanness of CYOAs, a little fudging is in order.  So, I restarted.

After picking the “Race to the Gate” option I made it without any further mishaps, talked to the king and was sent on an errand to find a mythical sword that (surprise) was the only thing that could help win the coming war.

Phew.  Well, hopefully it won’t be two weeks before my next CYOA post and given enough prodding, TheAutumnalCity will do his.

The Return of CYOA

Inspired by Ben Abraham’s instigation of the recent Far Cry 2 Permadeath playthroughs, TheAutumnalCity and I have decided to go old school and jump into the seminal and nostalgic Lone Wolf series of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure (CYOA) books.  In the summer of 2007, Project Aon made the entire series of 28 Lone Wolf books freely available online.  That coupled with some stat tracker software and a heady air of nostalgia has made this foray into CYOA-land all the more enticing.

Travis and I both played/read these as kids and I’m excited to go back and see how they’ve held up.  We’ve agreed to play a book a week and post our summary/thoughts on either Sunday evening or Monday morning.  We’re not quite going to stick to Ben’s strict permadeath rules as there are some deaths in CYOA that you just can’t anticipate.

Over the next few weeks we’re going to explore the nature of the CYOA as a game and literary format.  This oft-dismissed hybrid deserves some serious reflection and failing that, at least it’ll give us some hilarious situations.

Let the games begin!