Thursday, May 28, 2009

Storytelling and Interactivity

We're all pretty used to video games telling stories by now. I've gone at length about the topic before. But one aspect of game storytelling I didn't cover in that lecture is how games are equipped to tell stories in a completely unique way.

Games have told their stories using several methods: cutscenes, scripted events, texts scattered across the world, NPC dialogue and others. Our medium has taken narrative conventions from literature, cinema and theater and used them to great effect.

But games are more than just a combination of other media. What makes games a truly unique medium is interactivity, and games rarely take advantage of that feature when telling a story.

I should qualify that statement: a certain level of interactivity is usually present. You aren't just sitting there watching a story being told from beginning to end. You are fighting the battles, navigating the world and interacting with the characters. You are accomplishing the goals necessary to keep the story moving forward. But outside of this common system, interactivity is rarely taken advantage of. And I think that's a shame.

Enter Hideo Kojima of Metal Gear fame. Now, I won't deny that Kojima has his flaws. He direly needs an editor to trim down his dialogue, but I am perfectly happy to overlook that shortcoming because of what Kojima does right. Though his games tell stories in an almost purely cinematic fashion, he uses interactivity at key moments to tell stories in a way no other game does.

Let me give you an example. I'm about to go deep into spoiler territory, so if you haven't played Metal Gear Solid 3 yet, beware. Also, shame on you.

At the end of Metal Gear Solid 3, there is a scene immediately after the final boss fight where Snake stands over his defeated enemy, a woman who is very dear to him: The Boss. Though Snake cares very much for this woman, he is duty-bound to end her life. After they exchange some parting words, Snake lifts his gun and prepares to fire. We cut to an overhead camera shot, looking down on the tragic scene and we wait as Snake hesitates to fire. And we keep waiting.

And then we realize: I have to do it. I have to pull the trigger.

Suddenly, the already somber event is even more painful. Snake doesn't want to shoot and neither do we. But neither of us has a choice. We can't complete his mission or the game until the act is done. With just a small measure of interactivity, a merely saddening cutscene becomes heartbreaking.

That is a glimpse of the potential this medium has. That is something games can do that no other storytelling medium can. If game designers and storytellers can learn to harness that potential, video games could become something amazing.

I enjoy games as they are now, but seeing glimpses of true potential like this makes me very excited for the future.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Q.T.E.'s Advocate

So we're finally getting some more details on David Cage's upcoming title, "Heavy Rain," and already we're hearing the predictable complaint. Like Indigo Prophecy before it, Heavy Rain will feature a very familiar gameplay mechanic that has become dreadfully unpopular over the last year or two.

Ah, the Quick Time Event.

I never have figured out exactly when we began to hate the QTE so much. I know that it can certainly be a frustrating feature when not implemented properly. The "cool factor" of certain Resident Evil 4 cutscenes is diminished somewhat after seeing the first half of the scene eight times because you suck that much. Some titles (Tomb Raider: Legend, for example) only throw a few QTEs in the entire game, so they pop out of nowhere and you're never expecting them. Some games make the "PRESS THIS" cues too quick or too difficult to see.

Suffice it to say that Quick Time Events have been done poorly in quite a few games.

But it frustrates me that some gamers would dismiss an entire game over this feature. It's become another one of those words that gamers hear and immediately roll their eyes: "Quick Time Events", "Linear", "Motion Controls." I think we get so caught up in our bandwagon of cynicism that we begin to forget the potential these features have when used properly.

Think back to the game that started the QTE craze: God of War. The boss battles in this game were already epic set pieces, but it was the inclusion of Quick Time Events that took the fights to the next level. These sequences took the battle beyond the stock set of fighting animations and static cameras and gave the fight a brutal, cinematic flair. I don't see any way those battles could have been nearly so engaging, brutal or satisfying without using the Quick Time Event.

This feature does have potential. Rather than demanding that developers STOP including this feature, I suggest we start asking that they use it BETTER.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Update: Script in progress

And now for what this blog is really for: progress updates on the latest video.

The script for the next lecture has been sitting at 90% complete for a few weeks now. I wanted to get some feedback from various people before making a final draft. But most of that feedback has come back now and I plan to finalize the script and record the narration by the end of the week. Then it's just a matter of putting the video together (which may take a week or several, depending on how busy life gets).

I'm especially excited about this next video. Not only does it have a great topic, but it will feature our first ever "special guest." Or "second." I don't know if James counts. He's pretty much a regular. Speaking of James, he has several more topics in the pipeline, so rest assured that there are plenty more videos to come!

Also, I'll probably be making an official video announcement for the blog by next week.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Let's DO THIS.

Well, here we are.

If you're here, you're probably already familiar with my little video series. You're also probably well aware that each episode seems to take me forever to release. So I've decided to start this here blog.

I'll be using this space to post updates on episode progress, discuss various video game issues and, occasionally, share my impressions on whatever game I've been playing. I'll be trying to keep this blog updated semi-regularly (to compensate for my slow video release cycle), but I want to be sure maintaining the blog doesn't slow my video schedule down even more.

If you have some suggestions or ideas for what you'd like to see here, please shoot me an email:

floydo_animation at yahoo dot com

However you ended up here, welcome aboard.