10 February 2011

Story Transplantation: Part 3 - by Josh Foreman

      Posted 02/04/11 07:16:00 pm  

In part 2 I outlined some ways we could move our story telling out of cutscenes and into the game world and mechanics. 

And now I want to prattle on some more. 

Our audience has come to expect certain elements in the products we make, but we should not feel powerless to shape those expectations going into the future.  The fact that there is a demand for the cinematic part of our game/cinema hybrids should not be seen as imperative marching orders. 

If we are marching our industry off a cliff it won’t do us any good in the long run.  As C.S. Lewis said: “If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.” 

To help illustrate my point, let’s carry this game/cinema hybrid theory to its logical conclusion.  At some point we will overcome the uncanny valley and other technical and artistic hurdles.  And let’s say we have cinematics that look as real as any Hollywood movie.  They are well-acted with grace and intensity.  T

hey have well-thought out story arcs that are thematically matched to the gameworld.  Well, at this point let’s look at what we have… a cool movie, with a game interrupting it.  Perhaps “interrupting” is a loaded word.  Let’s say it’s a cool movie with a game punctuating it.  Or we can tweak the values so there is more game than cinema. 

Now we may have a cool game with a cool movie punctuating it.  No matter where the slider lands we still have two incongruous elements.  They may complement each other.  But they are two separate types of experiences spliced together. 

We all long for the ultimate gaming machine that is idealized in the Star Trek Holodeck.  A device that lets anyone become any character in any event or story.  (With the occasional downside of creating homicidal sentient beings who will turn off the safeties and attempt to commandeer the ship.) 

Contemplating this device is a useful exercise for a designer.  Let’s imagine we get to design a holodeck game.  What is it going to be like?  Would we make it like Uncharted or Mass Effect, where the play is stopped for several minutes at a time while your character is puppeteered into doing and saying things you have no control over?  Even with its photographic, perfectly acted glory, these interruptions would seem ridiculous, right?         

So why are we so happy with this hybrid now?  Maybe it’s because there are plenty of other media that have similar kinds of couplings.  Picture books have text and images that complement each other.  Musical recordings often have evocative cover art and lyrics laid out in creative and cool ways.  So if I’m consistent I should be opposed to these combinations as well, right? 

Well no.  And here’s why.  Books, pictures, music, and text all share something in common.  They reside on one side of the Participation Continuum.   If you imagine a line with all the various artistic mediums charted, you can pretty easily see which ones are require more participation. 

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