Category Archives: Television

The Noob Tube.

I watch a lot of TV

There’s a lot of good television running. Currently on my slate is Orphan Black, Person of Interest, Elementary, Game of Thrones, New Girl and Arrow. Previously, I’ve watched seasons of Justified, The West Wing, The Wire, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Scrubs, Generation Kill, Fringe. The list is long and generally varied. If the AVclub covers it, I’ll probably watch it at some point.

Games can learn a lot from the storytelling structure of good television.

My current favourite series

See, television also advertises with Men holding guns.

Games have long been trying to ape film’s more cinematic style in their visual presentation and their storytelling style. In an industry that’s constantly in some sort of visual arms race, drawing from cinematic visual aesthetic is certainly a great strategy. But films are generally two hours long, with a storytelling structure designed to make the best use of that time. The classical Hollywood style is the oft repeated 3 act structure, usually with the mythic journey grafted on.

Games can stretch from anywhere between 5- 20 hours long. A Hollywood three act structure is going to seem limiting when your Act II lasts several hours and your audience might have stopped paying attention, either because the plot was lost in their meandering, or they can’t get pass certain gameplay sections. That isn’t it doesn’t work, and there are plenty of examples to cite with a strong storytelling in games emanating from the cinematic structure of storytelling.

Yet games have much more in common with Television.

Click here for comedy

“You’ve never read a book and 3 chapters in, the book goes, “what are the major themes of the book.”

Note: I originally expanded a bit more on the following thoughts on how games can draw from television’s storytelling style, but each point spiralled out into these massive walls of text. I’ll probably want to expand on them in individual posts on subsequent days then.

Hour Long Experiences

Research has shown that players play their games in hourly sessions, be it an hour or two, maybe three. Those sessions are further divided into 15 mins game play loops, where design feedbacks rewards, teases, plot development in an effort to keep players engaged, entertained and feel like their hour was meaningful. Television is similarly build from 15 min ACTs, usually written to its act breaks in order for ads to do their thing. Stories are twisted and turned based on that 15 minute structure, (A 30 min episode has a somewhat different structure, but the concept is the same, it’s writing to the act breaks) so audiences will stay tuned through the commercials.

Story Arcs and World Building

Serialized television have long story arcs spanning multiple episodes. During this time, they’re laying the groundwork for that story, building their worlds with locations, a cast of characters, and a thematic through line that keeps the premise and the story coherent. Games excel at world building, and arguably is the best medium at allowing its audience to best experience a world unlike their own.

Where television builds their worlds slowly, adding pieces to it when necessary to unfold longer stories, games can adopt the same method when parcelling out information about the world to the player.

Seasons == Sequels

Shows want seasons, sometimes 6 seasons and a movie, and there’s nothing more a publisher wants more than a sequel. When television goes into multiple seasons, audiences will remark that it’s a sign of its quality, and there are some seasons that are just better than others. Often, it takes some shows a season or two before it gets to telling that really great story, using the cast, world, and premise it has long since established to get around to it. Justified’s season 2 wouldn’t be possible with season 1.

Game sequels on the other hand, are more often thought of as milking the cash cow, rarely deviating too much from the original. Developers are more likely to design more of the same, but BIGGER in an attempt to placate, or satiate the fans of the series. There is a the possibility where games can develop it sequels as extensions of the original premise, market them as more seasons, more reasons to spend time with characters you like, game play mechanics you think are fun, and still have the leeway to explore, and iterate on what has been build before.

The Player Character and his Cast

We’re going to be spending several hours in the company of the player character. The best of which we can identify with, relate to, and hopefully feel some empathy for. We’d probably also want to like their supporting cast of characters. Snake and Otagon is probably one of the more famous bromances of games, and Nathan Drake wouldn’t be much of a likable character without Sully and Elena. Establishing a likable ensemble of characters enables the game to fill out more of its world with charm and personality, and attaches the player to the story that surrounds these characters. Good television often has strong ensemble cast; the downside of which is less focus is placed upon the central character. I thinks there’s a balance that can be explored, creating an interesting cast of characters around the PC, exploring their stories and their relation to the game alongside the game itself, and develop more than just 1 interesting character per game.

Summary

It’s probably too much to say that games should be emulating television entirely in their storytelling and conceptualisation. Yet while TV has since evolved multiple storytellings styles in the past decade, games have somehow moved at a much slower pace. Arguably, games aren’t always the medium in which story takes priority, but since television provides so many good examples of long form storytelling, world building, relatable characters, and hours upon hours of entertainment, there’s possibly a lot games can learn from how its done.

Stray Thoughts

– I’ve tried avoiding the word “Episodic” since that has troubling connotations when we recall what happened with Half Life 2, or virtually what other games promised back in the early 00s. but if Telltale has proven anything, episode gaming can work, and can span stories into a wider set of situations and plot. The Walking Dead is probably the best example of how episodic gaming, with a story structure that owes a lot of televised seasons can work.

– Grantland recently published an exceptional article on how Game of Thrones will change the future of television storytelling. It’s a bit optimistic to be sure, but the success of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Justified in this new era, while network television struggle beyond its few hits is possibly key to the article’s insight. At best, perhaps it’s prescience for future games as well, that we’ll do well to start chasing and consolidating niche markets, as the big mainstream guys dwindle into the few remaining IP.

– Themes are for 8th grade book reports.

– Of course, Television can, and often does work with a much larger ensemble cast, since they can cut away from the main character for quite a long time, and there are plenty more difference between the mediums that a one on one grafting is impossible. Hopefully, I’ll get down to penning my actual thoughts about how it might work.


Planet Fall

I”m going to jot this down fairly quickly. It’s an idea I came up with during my recent stint in reservists and judging from the scope and concept, something is unlikely to see production anytime soon. It is however, a cool little story, or at least I think so. I’m apt to, I came up with it. 🙂

Anyway, the story is set some years in the future where Humanity is beginnig to terraform terrestial planets for colonizations. The main character is one John Keenan Hunter, a veteran of a Plantery Survey Team for the Government Corporation Oxxon Galactic. He has been stationed on the planet Rayinji for the past year or so, with his team as they conduct research, surveys and general ecological and scientific testing for a planet that is soon to be terraformed. The story starts when The huge Terraforming machine is dropped onto the world to begin stage 1 of the mission and Hunter and his team is scheduled to return to the capital ship for psychological and biological evaluation.

Right before they leave, several strange things happen.

First, John and his spotter, Warren (an ex-sniper spec ops soldier) notice movement on the dropped Machine. This is  a future where aliens have yet to make first contact, so in part, the story revolves around the secrecy and intrique of a possible first contact. Not a pleasant first contact, mind you, because the second thing that is out of place is that when John and his team head out to link up with another PST on the planet, they find a deserted outpost, with scattered clues of their whereabouts and little else.

Reporting to their superior, they are told that the matter will be investigated and that they should stay out of it. Here is where I would ahve introduced Commander Eliza Ayami, the captain of the Capital ship, the Resolute Progress. For all intents and purposes, she is the femme fatale of the story.

The whole idea and story was to be constructed as a semi-noir mystery set on a distant planet in the early throes of terraformation. John Hunter is the lead, a fairly typical detective, tough as nails, anti-hero archetype who has to uncover several murders, (one of his team will get murdered early) and the secret of which everyone is hiding. All while the planet is being terraformed and possibly undergoing major ecological and environmental changes.

It was to focus on characters.

The whole thing was a response to having read 5 pages of Peter Hamilton’s Pandora’s Star and being bored out of my freaking skull. It’s probably me, but I’m wondering when Science Fiction as a genre decided to jettison interesting characters in favour of glacial plots and every weird little futurist fetish these authors have. It’s hard to relate to anything going on in the story because it comes from a very weird place I can’t identify with and the characters are all to bland to be intriguing. One could argue that the science-fiction genre is meant to advance futuristic concepts, but all I’m asking for is relatable characters in a genre that has a cornucopia of weird things gonig on. At the very least, I would be able to frame these futuristic concepts with something more contemporary. Yeah, it’s most probably me, maybe the science fiction genre isn’t really for me.

Planet Fall (working title) would have been a noir science fiction story that focused on the characters reaction to the events around him. While effort would have been made to at get the science of the terraformation accurate, as well as as the space travel, isolation dementia, first contact, and various other elements that might help the story, I really wanted to focus it on the characters and the mystery. If I had my way, it would have been a 10 episode mini-series on HBO, told with a more deconstructionist pacing. I have no idea how to pull that off, of course, but this blog is meant for concepts, not execution. I’ll probably get to writing the story again some day, since I do like what I had envisioned for the first three episodes. One of which would have been a homage to Carpenter’s Thing. and the other, a Homage to Peter David’s X-factor issue where the characters all went to see a psychiatrist.

The larger underlying mystery would have involved first contact, a conspiracy of murder, and the general theme of Men escaping their destiny by denying what others claim is their future. In short, ignoring false prophets and all that. Although that could have just been my pretentious ambition going, while the story turns out to be some quirky noir set in a strange location.

It can also be a comic. We’ll see how this new IFS thing goes.