It’s been a year, a year since I joined up with Ubisoft Singapore, to work on Assassin’s Creed. A year in which fantastic games have been released, and ideas have percolated in my head. A year where I actually taught a university master’s class in storytelling.
So I’m back here to focus some of the thoughts I’ve had so far, and as a more sustained attempt to journal my thoughts, stray or otherwise, about games and storytelling into something cogent, structured, meaningful. This year, I’m supposed to be embarking on a project where I can delineate the vocabulary of game storytelling, and various approaches to initial conceptualization.*
There’s a lot of misunderstanding regarding story and storytelling in the games industry. I can’t even begin to speculate why that is, without probably taking flak from my initial statement. Suffice to say, various designers, artists, animators and all sorts of developers disagree on what story actually is in the process of making of game.
Games, after all, historically aren’t an entirely narrative driven medium.
There have been great game stories, great games with barely a story and good stories in games that are just above interactive. As a medium, games develop and iterate so fast that it has yet to settle into any recognizable form and structure that you easily hang storytelling upon. The storytelling in Uncharted and Dark Souls are two very different beasts, and yet they both work.
Games need to develop it’s own storytelling vocabulary; perhaps stop borrowing from the language and aesthetic of just film, and branch out to other medium, such as comics, television, short film, and even novels. It’s getting there, as I suspect that we can point to various games that have unique styles of storytelling to them, that draw from all sorts of strange influences.
As games continue to grow, we’re going to have to find new ways to communicate bigger and better ideas to our audiences. We cannot keep circling the drain of good vs evil, human vs aliens, action movie plots that recycle the same basic idea over and over again, while neglecting the themes and story that inform the game world as a whole, and developing systems that steal attention away from our thought processes. Games are a system of mechanics and dynamics, but that’s not all they can be.
But I’m probably worrying too much.
We’ve seen some fantastic narrative games lately. Telltale’s Walking Dead, the beautiful elegiac Journey, Irrational’s ambitiously flawed Bioshock: Infinite. Even the rebooted Tomb Raider was a solid story told fantastically, rooting its narrative in empathizing and understanding its title character.
The indie scene also continues to churn out some interesting gaming experiences such as Kentucky Route Zero, and Proteus, and Kickstarter continues to give hope for the revival of those epic RPG journeys full of ideas, themes and strange imaginative concepts.
I’d just like some common way for us to be able to discuss the future of game storytelling.
– I seem to have been beaten to the punch about creating a storytelling vocabulary. Ernest Adams tries to solve the interactive storytelling problem by laying down the smack on misguided preconceptions about what interactive storytelling can be. I’ve read through the article, while nodding my head in agreement, but have yet to really delve deep into his massive PDF thesis statement.
– Back on Gamasutra, the Death of LucasArts, once a premier interactive storytelling studio, sparks a few nostalgic reminiscence. It’s been a while since I played any of those, and I have fond memories of Full Throttle, and Monkey Island, but I wasn’t playing games when these were at the height of their popularity. I feel like I may have missed out.
– I really hope that I’ll be writing more in the blog, if I’m not too distracted by building netrunner decks and constantly losing on OCTGN. 😦 I need netrunner tips.