Monday, June 12, 2017

There are no shortcuts in interactive storytelling.

Anyone who knows anything about storytelling and writing, knows that it's not an easy craft. It's not easy to come up with a story and characters that your audience is going to find relatable and worth following.

This is especially true when it comes to storytelling that has to do with gaming. It's not easy to come up with a story based pc or a console game that has the ability to keep you entertained throughout its 10 hour plus length. 

So knowing that creating a story driven game isn't easy, it shouldn't come as a surprise that there have been attempts at finding new solutions to the craft. There have been attempts at finding new ways to tell a story in games.

Very likely the most 'ambitious' new approach to storytelling has had to do with 'choices' and how we as gamers are supposed to be more in charge of the story. We are supposed to be able to make decisions that affect how the game turns out.

What this basically means is that when we're playing the game, at some point we'll face situations where we get to choose what happens next. We get to choose between a couple of options that have to do with what our protagonist does.

This means that during the game, perhaps our main character wants to make a decision where he saves another character's life. Or perhaps he simply decides to take another route to a destination, thinking that it would be the best way to solve the problem.
  
When it comes to this kind of approach to gaming, it needs to be said that it hasn't been met with universal praise. Lots of gamers have pointed out how this 'let the gamers choose' doesn't work nearly as well as one might hope.
 
For example, gaming companies tend to exaggerate how much players can actually affect the storylines in their games. In most cases the important parts in the story can't be changed at all, no matter how we choose over the course the game.

Yet, a much bigger problem with this concept has to do with how the writers and the producers might get too preoccupied with the concept. They might get too invested in it and forget the basics of the game and how storytelling really works.

For example, when I played 'Quantum Break' last year, it was obvious that the producers had forgotten the basics of storytelling. They didn't pay enough attention to their story and their premise so that the characters and the storylines would have worked.

Instead of making sure that the story as a whole was coherent, the writers were too obsessed with how 'precious' their idea and concept was. They kept micromanaging their story threads and 'choices' that we as gamers would be making.

Not surprisingly, Quantum Break tanked when it came to both its critical reviews and its sales. Despite a massive push by Microsoft, the game didn't manage to sell even 10% of the copies that Uncharted managed to sell on Ps4.

In that sense, when it comes to writing and producing games that have to do with interactive 'choice' storytelling, we should be cautious about how we approach the concept. It's a challenging idea that requires a lot of effort and talent in order to work.

As far as I'm concerned, letting gamers 'choose' what happens too easily leads to writers cutting corners. It too easily leads to muddled storylines that feel derivative and contrived instead of feeling organic and natural.

Even though it's true that the concept might require a lot of effort and planning from writers, that by itself doesn't mean that much. It doesn't automatically mean that the end product is going to be any good or that it's going to make sense. 

On the contrary, we shouldn't forget that quality storytelling always has to do with simplicity and making things as easy and as enjoyable as possible. It's about coming up with storylines and characters that are clear, well motivated and relatable.

In that sense, if you're not willing to take these aspects of the craft into consideration, things aren't going to work out for you. Your 'ambitious' project won't work, no matter how hard and no matter how much you're willing to work.

Instead of creating a solid product that almost everyone can enjoy, you'll create a disappointing and a lackluster game. You'll create a game that lacks quality, because you didn't pay attention to the basics and because you didn't pay attention to things that matter.

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