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Jaffe: Cinematic narrative focus is a “bad idea, waste of resources”

Thursday, 9th February 2012 22:30 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Twisted Metal and God of War creator David Jaffe’s DICE 2012 presentation accused the games industry of getting too excited about story – and not about gameplay.

According to Gamasutra, Jaffe said an over-emphasis on narrative “is a bad idea, waste of resources, of time and money and worst, has stuffed the progress of video games, to our own peril”.

The designer said games or sequences within games which have “the intent purpose of expressing a story or giving the player the designer’s narrative” fall down. He criticised Batman: Arkham City for a short section which promotes story over gameplay, in which the player is handcuffed and unable to do more than walk around and look.

In contrast, he praised games in which the gameplay itself “is so compelling and engaging that the player by the very nature of playing the game is the story”, name-dropping The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

Those who focus too much on narrative are in the wrong business, Jaffe declared.

“A lot of these people will say ‘I have something to say, I have a story to tell.’ If you’ve really got something inside of you that’s so powerful, like a story you’ve got to share or a philosophy about mans place in the universe, why in the fuck would you choose the medium that has historically, continually been the worst medium to express philosophy, story and narrative?” he scorned, as reported by GamesIndustry.

“Why wouldn’t you write a book, why wouldn’t you make a movie? It’s like being one of the world’s best chefs and working in the world’s best restaurants, you ply your trade in McDonalds.”

“I think we need to adjust our thoughts, we need to change what we think this medium is. We’ve let the gameplay muscle atrophy,” he added.

Jaffe has made similar comments in the past, but has directed them to press and fans rather than trade events.

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21 Comments

  1. Sanwiches

    Well obviously he did not like Mass Effect.

    #1 3 years ago
  2. absolutezero

    In my very humble opinion it should no longer be about cutting one from the other it should be about strengthing narrative while still innovating gameplay.

    Its not about one or another anymore, it should always be about both.

    #2 3 years ago
  3. Peetry

    I agree tbh, video games are not a good medium for storytelling.

    #3 3 years ago
  4. AJacks92

    @2 Agreed.
    @3 Wrong. They can be just as good as a movie or a book (sorta). MGS manifests this.

    #4 3 years ago
  5. DSB

    It’s hard to think of a game with a more basic and less polished gameplay than Skyrim.

    What it has is a fuckload of content, playing on a myriad of fantasy clichés, but that’s about it. There are games from the 90′s featuring smarter AI and more engaging combat.

    Using Arkham City as an example is equally retarded. If anything that’s a game that managed to mix a compelling story with great gameplay, and it certainly wasn’t the only one last year.

    Had he used games like Heavy Rain, Deus Ex or Metal Gear Solid to make his point, that would’ve been valid.

    I don’t think games are useless for telling stories, I just think the vast majority of writers in the games industry are.

    @4 A game that relies on movies (cutscenes) or literature (text) to deliver the story itself isn’t likely to prove itself as an equal to either of the two.

    #5 3 years ago
  6. YoungZer0

    @5: Planescape Torment?

    “In contrast, he praised games in which the gameplay itself “is so compelling and engaging that the player by the very nature of playing the game is the story”, name-dropping The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.”

    Now that’s just ridiculous. I like to remind him of the beginning of Skyrim. Nobody liked the beginning of Skyrim, you literally do absolutely NOTHING.

    I love Jaffe but i completely disagree with him on the subject.

    #6 3 years ago
  7. absolutezero

    Some of the best examples of the power of combining Narrative and Gameplay is Shadow of the Colossus and ICO. Everything you do in those games helps to tell the story and its just a blast to play. Stuff like the Half Life style of basically allowing you free movement in what amounts to a cut-scene is ok but its just talking heads that you can move around.

    Where games can really excel is the combination of everything. Thats where Skyrim is great, player driven experiences, masses of lore and written work inside the game, music and dare I say it ludonarrative.

    @6 I updated my Journal you might want to check it.

    #7 3 years ago
  8. YoungZer0

    @7: Your journal? Do i know your journal?

    #8 3 years ago
  9. DSB

    @6 There are always nuances really. With Planescape Torment I think you can rightly question whether you’re playing a “Make your own adventure” book or an actual RPG. It almost feels like a pen and paper RPG with a graphical interface, and I always feel like I have to be in the mood to read a novel to play through it.

    @7 Can’t say I agree on Skyrim. It contains all of those things, but I haven’t really found any of them to be worthy of greater scrutiny. If you had books that were actually a critical part of the game or essential reads, then fair enough, but to me they’re just pointless stat boosts.

    The music and the visuals are really compelling, and the world feels really alive though.

    I think Half-Life, ICO and SotC are a lot closer to it. In my opinion “proving games” is about keeping you in the game, instead of taking you out, with things like walls of text or movies. To me those feel like easy ways of compensating for something that you haven’t been able to communicate through the game itself.

    #9 3 years ago
  10. absolutezero

    Sorry YZ the Jounal thing is a shitty Planescape joke.

    Say that the books in Skyrim did become a quest critical part of the game, thats just become something akin to a cut-scene force imparting narrative without any direct interaction.

    The benefit of the reams of lore inside the books is that you can read about something out in the wider World of the game and then go out and find it. Thats exciting.

    #10 3 years ago
  11. TD_Monstrous69

    I believe that equal attention should be paid to both aspects of game development, not one over the other that he seems to be talking about. Though one game that I will say that definitely fits in with what he’s speaking of is L.A. Noire. Though not a negative thought, because it was a great game, but it did have a huge emphasis on narrative, and not so much with gameplay. Also, I’m trying to remember what section he’s talking about in Arkham City, can anyone help me out with that?

    #11 3 years ago
  12. DGOJG

    Aww Jaffe Cake that’s so cute; “I can’t write a decent engaging story so no one should!”. I’m so glad you stuck around for the launch of next big game oh…oh

    #12 3 years ago
  13. DSB

    @10 In my opinion there are better ways than books to do that.

    Of course it’s charming to be able to keep your Red Eagle book next to your Red Eagle sword, but it feels like a gimmick to me.

    I’m more impressed by games from the 90′s that came with printed manuals written like the protagonists private journal.

    I think it would be cooler if those hints came from people and quests that tied into eachother (like people telling stories, or rumors). I always loved when people told rumors or legends in games, and developers signed by actually making them part of the game.

    And it doesn’t make me rummage through a book to pick up on it!

    #13 3 years ago
  14. xino

    people seem to be forgetting that video games are evolving and becoming something MORE than just an entertaining gameplay.

    I can understand where Jaffe is coming from however he is dead wrong.
    I can complain and say narrative storytelling are not done right in most games, for an example Battlefield 3.
    What is the point in putting you in first person view, all you can do is look around but you can’t move.
    It was a stupid decision and this is why Half Life invented the scripted cutscenes and has always did it right.

    I mean using scripted cutscene is good because it makes the story telling more immersive, its more of a way for making the gamer listen to the dialogue and not run off while NPC is talking. It’s still a dumb decision.

    Story telling is quite and VERY important in games. Ironic that he is complaining about this yet he’ll be making casual games in the future. Casual games are a piece of f***ing sh*.
    Why should I pay £1 for Fruit Ninja and all you do is slice fruits..WTF is this sh*!?
    I don’t want my developers ending up making that garbage. Jaffe is right, games are getting too big to make like others said, in the end this is why Story and other bull people complain about MATTERS.
    Games are getting bigger and more expensive, why should I pay £40 for a game with no story?

    This is why I applaud Kojima Productions for their long cutscenes in MGS4 and other of their games.

    Without story and other proportions people complain about, therefore games are not worth £40!

    #14 3 years ago
  15. Amaterasu

    Sorry for going on another of my rants, but I’m getting sick of this “games are less capable of doing this and that than other media” business.

    Jaffe fails to recognize that brilliant stories can be told regardless of the medium of choice, it’s all in the way you make use of that medium’s properties. It’s not like filmmakers at the outset of the 20th century immediately came to leverage the new medium’s possibilities. On the contrary, it’s a slow and arduous process and this industry is still in the middle of finding its own creative language(s).

    Absolutezero is right; Shadow of the Colossus is a brilliant example for a game that drives home a narrative argument convincingly, brilliantly and without backing down from what is arguably the medium’s unique selling point: Interactivity. Merge that with the narrative you want to convey and you’re onto something.

    But let’s be perfectly clear: There’s many ways to leveraging interactivity successfully and integrating it into the way that stories are being told, and open world games are not the only approach to achieve this by a long shot. Jaffe wrongly says that more storytelling equals less gameplay rather than assuming that both are not mutually exclusive. Ideally the two domains work together in creating a narrative that is unique to the medium and works for the game as a whole.

    And of course it’s only natural when trying to find a genuine expressive language for a relatively young medium that there should be failed experiments on the way. I look at you Metal Gear Solid, Assassin’s Creed, Heavy Rain…

    #15 3 years ago
  16. Amaterasu

    Addendum: Mind you, that’s not saying that MGS, Assassin’s Creed and Heavy Rain were not fun experiences to play. They just sported ridiculously contorted and prententious plots that showed no understanding of coherent and stringent narrative storytelling.

    Compare many of the plots of triple a video games to the best in tv series and movies and they often fall catastrophically short. However, the squalid state of storytelling in games RIGHT NOW does not mean that games as a medium lack the expressive power that movies and tv series or, mind you, books have. It’s just that games work differently than movies work differently than books work differently than episodic tv series. And in each case it’s about finding out how to best deal with the restrictions and possibilities offered to you by the medium.

    Oh and finally, I want to give a nod to those figureheads of the industry that are actually pushing the envelope with each new release and have really made some terrific progress when it comes to the way games successfully tell stories. Fumito Ueda, Jonathan Blow, Jenova Chen are only a few worth mentioning. And yes, games like fl0w have narrative elements, and they work beautifully.

    #16 3 years ago
  17. Christopher Jack

    Ultimately, I believe he is right, although there are exceptions that are more or less interactive movies, such as Heavy Rain. But you look at the best selling games, how many have much of a story? Although quite frankly, I think most heavy budget games should have a nice balance between gameplay & narrative, neither has to be 100% innovative so long as both are good.

    #17 3 years ago
  18. Da Man

    No character made in 3d modelling package will ever come close to Gregory Peck’s level of performance, which is why interactive computer programs will never be remotely as good. It’s not even just narrative, let alone ‘story’.

    #18 3 years ago
  19. DrDamn

    @5
    “It’s hard to think of a game with a more basic and less polished gameplay than Skyrim.”

    Absolutely agree here. I do really enjoy the game but that is because of the scope and the world in general, and in spite of the majority of gameplay mechanics. Combat engine, interface, AI, scripting, cut scenes are all a bit woeful.

    #19 3 years ago
  20. ManuOtaku

    For me gameplay and game interactions, should come first rather than story, both are important dont get me wrong, but gameplay should be the main focus and the top priority for a developer, then go make a solid story that can convey emotions,a good example of this will be enslave and indigo prophecy over heavy rain, the first two told a good story but with good tradional gameplay aspects too, obviously story didnt came first than tradional gameplay and IMO it did work,solid gameplay with a solid story, unlike in heavy rain where the tradional gameply was almost non existence and the main focus was the story rather than traditional gameplay, for me heavy rain was not as a good as a game as the former mentioned tittles, because of this story focus issue, i did enjoy it but nothing more.

    #20 3 years ago
  21. absolutezero

    @18 Then again nothing Peck performed was comparable to the greatest works of literature.

    In my opinion something does not need to have the same level of nuance in its performance as a great real actor in order to do its job well. Like animation for example, I would never look upon animation as some sort of lesser medium because it lacks real life actors.

    #21 3 years ago

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