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.

Short Script: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Ah yes, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. What can I say that hasn't been said a thousand times before? Well, this. As in the script, the following post contains spoilers if you're one of the three people who hasn't yet played the game. Anyone talking about Modern Warfare 2 can't help but mention the 'No Russian' level, where you play an undercover operative being forced to take part in the killings of innocent civilians. Going past what others have said, I'm interested in a player's response to this level when that player had no prior knowledge of it. I'd like to hear the reaction of someone who somehow missed all the pre-release footage of 'No Russian', had a wild ride on a snowmobile and suddenly found themselves witnessing and/or participating in a massacre. It's fair to say that the (intentionally?) leaked footage helped in softening everyone up to the idea, if not getting everyone interested on whatever point on the morality spectrum.

Short Script: Deus Ex

This blog will not only serve to disseminate my opinions to whoever might be interested in them, but also as a repository for a series of Short Scripts on games. Some of you may be familiar with The Editing Room, a site that periodically posts abridged movie scripts which poke fun at recurrent flaws in their stories and presentation. I applied this idea to games and wrote up a quick script on one of my favourite games: Deus Ex. Because it was so fun to do, I plan to write more of these and post them here on an irregular basis. The Deus Ex script has been made available and can be viewed by clicking the link at the top of this post. I will also be using each accompanying post to briefly elaborate on (the story of) the game in question, beyond what the script itself touches on.

Opt-in depth

I'm not crying. My biomechanical eyes are leaking servo fluid.
I'm not crying. My biomechanical eyes are leaking servo fluid.
Note: this post was first made on the official forum of the Narrative Designer's Network. I'm reproducing it here with a few minor edits, because it nicely sums up my views on game narratives and flows into the point I made in my previous post. Be warned, it's a long one. [This post is about] the depth of a narrative in a game and how the concept of choice factors into that (I also branched out to characters on a whim). This argument is predominantly geared towards action games, partly because this is the genre I play the most. But since it is also a genre in which story plays a large role, I do not feel I am constraining my points. Throughout this piece, I draw examples from Half-Life 2, Deus Ex and Mirror’s Edge, so there are some spoilers for those who have not yet played these games.

What is Narrative Design?

Since this blog focuses primarily on the theory and practice of Narrative Design, it might be helpful to first explain exactly what that is. The term was first coined by Stephen E. Dinehart, who is a "transmedia designer, writer, artist, and Narrative Design evangelist". Having worked on games as diverse as Company Of Heroes, Warhammer 40,000 and Constantine, he certainly has the professional experience to back up his convictions. Stephen has recently founded the Narrative Designer's Network, a community for burgeoning and established Narrative Designers. A post made there goes a long way to explaining what it is a Narrative Designer does exactly, but looking beyond the responsibilities of the specific function, I'm going to delve into the overarching concept of Narrative Design.

Pages