Imagine a following scenario; you are in a restaurant expecting your order to arrive. After a long time it finally is set in front of you and you see a great set of the most beautiful knives and forks you’ve seen with the finest crystal glass you can find. But the food, it looks like any other food or worse, and tastes like somebody had eaten it few times over already. The drink is rusty tap water. Naturally you demand to get a dish that is actually edible and demand to know why the hell this kind of meal exists. They explain that making good food is hard, and you as the customer should appreciate the cutlery and the setting because that’s what the restaurant specializes in, but even they can’t get around the fact that they are a restaurant and they need to serve food on their plates.
Let’s use another scenario as well; Imagine a scripted TV show, say a science fiction show. The first episode airs, and you notice that outfitting is pretty decent, props less so and the science is awful and inaccurate, goes against shows’ own logic. On top of that, the story is worst shit you’ve ever seen to the point that it has no cohesive narrative. In all regards, it fails. The creators then come out and say that they enjoy making the outfits and science fiction props, but it is a TV show and they need to write a plot because they can’t get around that it is a TV show.
Or take this; you go buy a race car and all you’re offered is a skateboard with race car paint, because making a car is hard.
This is what the developers at Ready at Dawn are doing with the upcoming game Order 1886. In a recent interview with a demo for their E3 demo, the game’s director Dana Jan emphasizes that the story and visuals are the main thing, the highest point of their new game to show the potential of future games. Then she says this;
“Gameplay is something that… it’s a game, we make games, we can’t get around it. We love games, but we also love telling stories, so I think story is always going to be at the top because it’s what we start with. It’s at the top of the pyramid and everything else supports that. I think it’d be more challenging to make a game for the gameplay’s sake, then try to make a story that fits in there.”
Then why the hell didn’t you make this into a goddamn movie or visual novel? If you don’t want to, or are able to, make a game then you don’t make one. This person thinks that making a game for the sake of game would be hard, and thousands of people before these people have been successful in making such a product. Take Nintendo, who made their entry into video games with games with nil plot and all gameplay. Check CAVE’s shooting games to see games for the sake of gameplay. Minecraft is all about gameplay and its popular as all hell even after it has sold millions. Fucking Farmville was nothing but addictive gameplay and was the hottest shit that ever existed for a time.
These people are in business of making video games and they don’t want to make any. They are a selfish bunch.
When asked in two extremes if games need or require a good story, the answer should always be a definitive No. What games need to be is, to nobody’s surprise, games. What kind of story does chess have? Should chess have a story? Fuck no, it’s chess. You enjoy it because it’s an intelligent and fun game to play.
However, world does not work in extremes. An electronic game, be it arcade, console or computer game, can have a story and a good one at that. However, that and the visuals can’t never be the main thing, just like the cutlery and plates can’t be the main thing with a dinner. You can’t approach a game with the intention of telling a story foremost, because that’s not what games are meant to be. If you want to be a storyteller, tell that story where its place is. Make a film, a comic or write it into a book, or perhaps make into a play or make it an oral story, told by you and you alone.
Video games are not a medium for storytelling first
What developers need to realize that games are related to tabletop games and games like cup-and-ball, not to films or books. Electronic games are continuation to classical game and play culture, not films, books or other storytelling media. Shoving a goddamn plot to your hide-and-seek would piss everybody off. Making the story the main thing hide-and-seek would make people quit and wanting to punch you for spoiling the game.
Regarding the rest of the interview is trite. There’s nothing new. Even after checking out the footage for Order 1886 we can tell that it’s going to be a mediocre, uninspired and derivative game. Technically the graphics may be pretty, and yet they look dull. How many times we have seen this kind of visuals already? Even the character and costume designs look very, very dull. There’s also a lack of colour, again to nobody’s surprise.
If games don’t need to a story, then what does it need next to gameplay? The answer is in world content. There is a simple thing with film and TV that games should follow because of the visual format they share; show, don’t tell. This applies to games even more; let the player play it, don’t video it. Games are for playing, and most often we all skip the awful clip because we’re not playing; the story is keeping from me playing the game. Even thou Mass Effect had mediocre gameplay, the whole Choice selection wheel thing was one way to give control to the player, but having characters discussing for ten goddamn minutes about fucking nothing that has impact on you shooting the bad guy. A video game story should follow D&D example at best; a DM has the overall plot in his hands, but it’s the players who weave the story and affect every aspect of it. That is, the actions of the player is the story, and this is what developers need to embrace and not the other way around. Nobody likes a DM that rails the story, and developers pushing story first is exactly like that.
If this is the future of electronic games at large, I’d gladly give up on my hobby and find something else, where the service providers still care about the product and service their giving out.
If you want to have a good story, read C.S. Forester’s books of Horatio Hornblower. For video games, the story is there only to complement the game part. Having it the other way around is, to quote, Doing it wrong.