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Amnesia designer: ‘Why haven’t we advanced storytelling in games?’

Friday, 17th August 2012 10:05 GMT By Nick Akerman

Frictional Games’ co-founder Thomas Grip had a good old rant over at gamescom 2012.

With storytelling on his mind, Grip began by outlining, “story is not just the plot.”

He suggested interactivity is key to any tale being told through games: “We want the player to play through the story, not just sit through it.”

Grip proceeded to underline how games haven’t changed in over 20 years. We still play through a section, complete minor tasks and sit back to watch a cutscene.

“This is weird… why haven’t we advanced?” He continues, “The main culprit is how most of these games are designed.”

Speaking of his own titles, he challenged designers to, “Tell stories where you play all the way through the games, not just the bits where the designers tell you to.”

This is something Grip tries to do in his own work. Titles such as Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Penumbra often opt for minimal interruption, allowing the player to completely soak up the experience. For the former, such techniques make the title so insistently terrifying. With this in mind, Grip concluded:

“Don’t try to beat the game, try to live the game.”

Thanks, Indie Games.

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21 Comments

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  1. Gigabomber

    The gap between gameplay and cinematics has never been smaller: WTF is he talking about? Look up the uncharted series.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. CycloneFox

    There are good examples and bad examples of games doing this…

    On one hand, you already have your Zelda A Link to the Past, Half Life, Portal or lat’s say Penumbra/Amnesia, which have no cutscene at all but still manage to tell a good story. I’d say Portal 2 has one of the best story-telling, I’ve ever seen so far.
    Then there are games like Shadow of the Colossus or Silent Hill 2, which have few cutscenes which tell just the plot, but the real story is so deep, that it uses the gameplay to tell it’s story and what it wants to tell beyond that in alot of different layers via gameplay. I’d say in such games, you begin to see the cutscenes as some kind of reward.

    That somehow leads to Uncharted. The game has a medicore amount of sequences, and gives the player action similar to Shadow of the Colossus with the difference, that Shadow never takes the control away from the player. Uncharted let’s you run into a small sequence, you don’t really notice until you fall and hangle somewhere and get the control again. (This also influenced alot of other titles to do the same)

    The games with the most sequences might be Metal Gear Solid 3&4 and the Xenosaga Titles, which have about 8 hours of sequences per game. (That makes 24 hours for all three Xenosaga titles) Those titles, take alot of time to advance the story’s plot and the progression of it’s characters. Personally, I wouldn’t want to miss any single minute of those sequences. With those games I tend to see the sequences as some kind of reward for beating a hard boss for example. Also, it makes me feel, that those games have a high standard of quality, as most games tend to give alot of sequences at the beginning and end up with only half-assed short sequences at the end, while those two series both give more and more sequences towards the end of the games. For example: Xenoblade had by far too few sequences for my taste. That made the story less enjoyable for me, even with all the other qualitys the game had, that I knew from the last Xenosaga.
    Actually, Metal Gear Solid 1 back in 1998 is the game that influenced the next big group of games with it’s kind of movie-like storytelling:

    Then, there is a big mass of games like the later Zelda titles, where you just want to skip the sequences and come to gaming. (I don’t like people who want to skip sequences in a game)

    There is also one example on this end from the west: Indigo Prohercy and Heavy Rain. I think those two try to use gaming and movies to develop a third medium. The games tell alot of story, but also make the player feel like the protagonist, or make the player feel even guilty for shooting a guy, or if the protagonist doesn’t succeed, or for what the protagonist says, if the player missed something, the protagonist in the “movie” does.

    Since Donkey Kong, games must have a story. Sadly, there are alot of games where you could as well forget about the story, and where the developers themselves don’t take the story seriously themselves (Or sometimes, take themselves too serious…) and don’t really think about what they want to tell, just appoint expensive actors and equipment for sequences, that are just stringed after one equal gameplay passage after another and then name that a good story.

    But on the other hand there a few examples of developers who really think about, what they are trying to say. Sometimes you need only some minutes to tell the plot, like for example in Shadow of the Colossus, but need all the gameplay of 16 colossi to put something across to the player, that’s more than just one layer of a story. Or there are storys where the plot, world and characters is so important, that you need your eight hours to tell it. But then please, give me nice sequences for it, I got steadiness and popcorn.

    So I wouldn’t say games haven’t advanced when it comes to story-telling. Maybe most games still try to emulate Metal Gear Solid’s movie-like storytelling. It might also be true, that the big development in storytelling, that influences other games, like MGS in 1998, Half Life also in 1998, Uncharted 2 in 2009 or Portal 2 in 2011 is pretty rarely, and there are only few game developers which really think about what they want to do with there story, but not everyone can be a genious, who inventes the whole medium anew.

    Oh well, that’s gotten by far to long for a comment. Anyone who readed until here, thank you.

    @2: You express exactly what I mean about uncharted 2. That one was the last big influence to other games.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. Maximum Payne

    @ The Wolf is that you ?

    #3 2 years ago
  4. Stoopid_Snot

    And there are the Quantic Dream games

    #4 2 years ago
  5. Ireland Michael

    Why is it that the worst writers are the one who keep pining for better storytelling?

    First David Cage, now this guy.

    @4 Good games, and they have the right idea about where to go, but their stories are plot-hole ridden messes.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. absolutezero

    Well he said this “He suggested interactivity is key to any tale being told through games: “We want the player to play through the story, not just sit through it.””

    Which is what Amnesia does. So I, yeah I dunno the actual script in Amnesia might have been laboured but his point still stands.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. Ireland Michael

    @6 The point can’t really stand if even he can’t make it work at a level of high quality.

    Kudos for him for trying, but why exactly is it so hard to get good writers, good actors and good designers together in one package? With the millions being spent on developing video games nowadays, there really is no excuse.

    #7 2 years ago
  8. freedoms_stain

    “We want the player to play through the story, not just sit through it.”

    Wow, that quote should be framed and mounted in the office of every single game developer in the planet.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. Ireland Michael

    @8 Its a design that has been known for well over a decade, and dozens of games are influenced by that approach… and yet we can still barely get the story part of the whole storytelling thing right.

    Why is this? There’s obviously more to it than simply improving interaction.

    #9 2 years ago
  10. absolutezero

    Frictional are a team of programmers more or less, theres an art designer in amoungst them that creates the look of the game but they don’t have enough money to employ a full time writer.

    When you scale everything up into full AAA development having teams of people working on each disperate part of the game it falls to a director to tie everything togethor, thing is while in cinema theres just a few different skills needed in game development theres far far more.

    Imagine the number of people that have to sit about in conference rooms with piles of work from team members underneath them trying to connect it all togethor.

    It just needs time I guess, that or a radical change in how games are created.

    #10 2 years ago
  11. viralshag

    @9, Maybe it’s a lack of truly talented writers for the *games industry*. I imagine writing a script or story for a game is very different to that of a play or film.

    #10 said it better than I could.

    #11 2 years ago
  12. Ireland Michael

    @9 That’s pretty much it.

    The problem also lies in the fact that the wrong people are being held up as our “champions” for creativity. When the likes of Hideo Kojima are touted as the pinnacle of video game storytelling, that tells me that it’s a sign that the industry lacks any sort of maturity whatsoever.

    It’s a bunch of kids in the kiddie pool who want to play in the big people’s pool.

    #12 2 years ago
  13. absolutezero

    I always find it odd that instead of trying to actually come up with ideas to fix this problem its always just “This needs to be better” or “This should not happen anymore” no suggestions to try and fix it.

    Take something like the original The Killing, would it be possible to make a video game of the same subtle serious storytelling inside a video game? Right now no one is even attempting it because that would not make anywhere near enough money, instead we have Game of Thrones with boobs and rape and heads getting cut off. Thats the video game idea of maturity and I agree its pretty damn depressing.

    Theres such a complete lack of anything approaching reality in most video game stories, no one seems to have the vision to tie something serious, adult and realistic to gameplay mechanics. Like the very existence of interaction means that stories have to explode into the ludicrous every 5 minutes.

    #13 2 years ago
  14. OrbitMonkey

    Well I really thought Deadspace 1 told it’s story very well. Very immersive, no cut-scenes I remember until the end and I really liked how all the plot development’s were in-game.

    #14 2 years ago
  15. Ireland Michael

    @14 Dead Space was a really good idea of how to do it right.

    Too bad EA basically fired all of the creative talent behind it and turned into it a generic pile of crap.

    #15 2 years ago
  16. OrbitMonkey

    ^ Yes… Where did the they end up?

    #16 2 years ago
  17. absolutezero

    They created Sledgehammer and make CoD now.

    #17 2 years ago
  18. AJacks92

    @2 Well said, especially about the part with the long sequences. I like being rewarded with more revelation of the plot when I defeat a boss.

    #18 2 years ago
  19. CycloneFox

    @18: Thanks for reading. ;)

    #19 2 years ago
  20. stalepie

    deleted by author

    #20 2 years ago
  21. stalepie

    deleted by author

    #21 2 years ago