Story and gameplay

Who needs character development when there are EXPLOSIONS!
Who needs character development when there are EXPLOSIONS!
There’s a great deal of articles floating around which deal with the gap between story and gameplay and the efforts made to bridge it. Having assimilated quite a few of them, I’d like to see if I can't synthesise a common denominator to build on. The main point of contention which returns pretty much everywhere is the diametrical opposition of what story and gameplay want to do. The authors of this article mention that “a game writer looks for brief moments -- cutscene or otherwise -- when she can take control of the game so that she can create throughlines, pacing, conflicts, character development, plot twists and thematic meaning, while a game designer looks for ways to give control -- not to the writer, but to the player”. Henry Jenkins confirms that opposition in this publication, which opens with a selection of quotes illustrating the different approaches to games: “Ludologists want to see the focus shift onto the mechanics of game play, while the Narratologists are interested in studying games alongside other storytelling media”.

Short Script: Splinter Cell: Conviction

The BioShock 2 Short Script has taken a bit of a backseat, since I simply couldn't resist writing one for Splinter Cell: Conviction while playing it. There was more than enough for me to work with, to say the least. Most of my frustrations with the game stemmed from the nature of the PC version, which is prone to uneven performance and framerate issues. A quick Google search reveals a plethora of users suffering similar problems. At times I found it to be a genuine chore to play through the game, and while I finish all games I purchase on principle alone, I dare say it was the accompanying Short Script that helped to propel me to the end. It's a shame, because the game does get a lot of things right.

Short Script: Mass Effect 2

In this post, I've already touched upon the differences in gameplay between Mass Effect 1 and 2. After having completed Mass Effect 2 a second time (without importing a character this time), I can safely say that I don't have to go back on my words. Its Short Script is now available, and it manages to eclipse its predecessor's in length, but only just. It helps if you've read the Mass Effect script first.

Short Script: Mass Effect

As I mentioned in this post, I recently played both Mass Effect and its sequel back-to-back. Having now finished both games, I present the Short Script of the first entry in the series, which is currently the longest one on the blog by a wide margin. This is a testament to the amount of content in the game, especially when considering all the things I cut or didn't put in. Casually talking to Wrex about saving his species after destroying the cure to the genophage on Virmire, some flying turrets looking like three sticks glued together, Matriarch Benezia's overacted melancholy... all aspects that were initially included but ultimately removed for pacing reasons.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

After 18 seasons, David Caruso just had retractable sunglasses grafted onto his face.
After 18 seasons, David Caruso just had retractable sunglasses grafted onto his face.
Some new information regarding the third entry in the Deus Ex series has recently surfaced. Eschewing the standard tradition of naming sequels, the game is now called Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I don't have to tell you how much I love the first game, so my interest is more than piqued. With regards to Deus Ex: Invisible War, many fans of the original would like to pretend that it doesn't exist. The Deus Ex: HR developers jokingly do the same, as mentioned in this article: "Going back to the original was very, very important. We all started playing [Deus Ex] thoroughly, and then somebody voluntarily played the second one, just to make sure".

Global Game Jam 2010

 not me, not me, me, not me.
From left to right: not me, not me, me, not me.
I was a participant in this year’s Global Game Jam (GGJ), which is an annual event organised simultaneously by many countries. It marked the second time that Belgium participated, and this year’s attendance of 40 more than tripled that of last year. GGJ’s goal is to create a functional game based on a single theme in a timespan of 48 hours (this year the theme was “deception”). At first I was somewhat daunted as the room slowly filled up with programmers and 2D/3D artists. Introducing myself as an aspiring Narrative Designer elicited some worries in a “getting-picked-last-at-gym” sort of way, but fortunately enough I was quick to glom onto a team in which all necessary skills were accounted for.

Short Script: BioShock

To celebrate the release of BioShock 2, I present the Short Script of its predecessor. BioShock is an example of a very specific type of story which lends itself exceptionally well to being told through the medium of videogames: an aftermath story. This typically involves the player being thrust into a game world where many things have happened which are not immediately made clear, but are responsible for leaving said game world in its current state. The System Shock series, to which BioShock is a spiritual successor, also uses this story model. It allows for many different narrative techniques, from obvious means (audio logs, wall scrawlings, survivors) to less than obvious ones (the appearance of certain rooms, corpses). In this case, dead men do tell tales.

Welcome

Welcome to Playthroughline! Regardless of how you found your way over here, the content of this blog assumes you have a healthy interest in videogames, or more specifically, the design thereof. With a strong focus on story and narrative and how these concepts are linked to gameplay (or how they unfortunately are not), I aim to collate my thoughts and impressions here. Naturally, this will not preclude me from branching out to other topics as well.

The title is a combination of two terms: playthrough and throughline. A playthrough is a gaming session from the beginning of the story to its conclusion, though not necessarily a continuous one. A throughline is generally regarded as the spine of a story in the field of narratology. As such the title combines my interest in both games and story and segues nicely into the field of Narrative Design.

Short Script: Kane & Lynch: Dead Men

The hype surrounding Kane & Lynch: Dead Men got me genuinly excited, and while the game had an interesting story, intriguing characters and inspired set pieces, its gameplay mechanics were average at best and derivative at worst. I found myself annoyed at times and I really had to trudge through some of the later levels to see the story play out. Put simply: it wasn't fun. And as an esteemed cohort of mine said: "A game with bad gameplay and a good story will get trumped by a game with good gameplay and a bad story". However, Kane & Lynch's narrative does present a few interesting traits, a few of which I'm going to delve into here.

Rethinking "No Russian"

When this gun goes up, you guys are so dead.
When this gun goes up, you guys are so dead.
Note: this post does not mean I wholeheartedly condone Modern Warfare 2's linear narrative structure because I choose to work inside its confines. It's simply an interesting exercise to write within a predetermined framework, something game writers unfortunately have to do entirely too much. I recently reread Tom Francis' brilliant reimagining of BioShock's ending, and it got me thinking about my previous post which detailed my views on Modern Warfare 2's "No Russian" level. My main complaint was how the linear narrative of Modern Warfare 2 isn't suited for such a set piece, yet it was limited to just that: a complaint. Everybody can point out problems, but only a few go that extra mile and come up with a solution. So I aim to provide an answer to the narrative problem presented by the "No Russian" level.

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