Over at game Industry biz there was a recent interview with the Head of Narrative design at Arenanet, Leah Hoyer and while I was ready to read and create another rant aimed at the inadequacy of GW2 and its “living” story it made me think of the genre’s approach overall.
Now I do believe story is important for games, pretty obvious really. Even mmo’s benefit from having a base of lore as well as context to player actions, it creates better engagement in activities and immersion within the game world.
“But the bigger they get, and the more expensive the budget gets, you start to realize how important it is to have characters and a story world that people are excited to be a part of.”
I do get more excitement in knowing about the world and the actions I’ve been tasked with and at times. In recent times it seems narrative in games has gotten more important throughout the industry with most big budget now having extensive stories and backgrounds behind them. It’s a great thing to see and we have seen some far better, and more cohesive games in recent times because of it. Games where we feel more connected to the world and characters.
Even with MMO’s and their focus on being the one true savior of whatever current quest hub you’re in at the moment, killing wolves and collecting trinkets is kind of comforting at times. It’s just sad that that has been the main style of providing context for way too long. There was talk through the article of how ambient storytelling is being used throughout to more effect nowadays. To tell the narrative through the environments and mechanics rather than through text and cutscenes
“But the thing that games have going for them is they have even more ways to tell a story. They have all the ability to tell stories like books and TV and film, but now they have this way to really immerse people in the telling of the story. And I know there are a lot of game companies out there, ours included, that are really excited to find ways of building and shaping a story along with the player.”
And that’s it really, the ways of building a narrative are incredibly broad with being able to use methods from other mediums as well as many of their own when building engagement with the player. I know that’s how she feels but is that really the reality of the situation with Guild Wars an mmo’s. I see far too much of a reliance on the same mechanics; the same ways of telling, directing and progressive a narrative. Often with the same overarching narrative but have we really learned anything at all.
Single player games seem to have learnt a lot over the years. The breadth of narratives and the diversity of how they are presented really is amazing. It might not be what everyone enjoys but it’s moving the industry forwards. MMO’s though seem to be stagnating, in many ways really but how they approach narrative is just one.
I don’t know really but it’s pretty obvious that Leah Hoyer is making the same mistakes many others have made in mmo’s and is not thinking about how they genre is different from other games. MMO’s have been trying to copy SRPG’s in many ways. The telling of stories and the themes but they just aren’t suited in that regards to a large online and multiplayer space. There is room for different ways of telling: TSW did well with trying a more focused and of course people do enjoy the regular theme park approach but there is more there to explore.
Lately I’ve been thinking about what it is that actually creates that sense of engagement for me and it’s not necessarily the quality, or even how it’s told although those certainly help. It’s making the story your own. I felt this during my Mass Effect plays with making decisions that would shape my own story. A story i could recount and was, for the most part unique… at least to me. I understand the anger now too in that it was the removal of everyone’s personal story into one the developers had crafted for them. It was relinquishing individuality and this is what mmo’s tend to always do.
You get to play your way to a certain extent and build your stories but when it comes to most of the content it’s forced onto you. It’s not your adventure, not your individual experience. I think this is why I was so conflicted about GW2, it was a game where leveling and even afterwards that I felt I was making my own story within in the, more open style of world and then had that taken away. I think this is what I enjoyed so much about Archeage. After getting through that level grind I was kind of making up my own story once again. I also get now why people are so hooked on the experience in Eve, the premier game for making your own story within the game in many number of ways. A game where each player will pretty much have their own unique collection of experiences to tell, to get invested by.
All these storytelling techniques are still useful whether they be directed cutscenes, exposition text dumps or ambient it’s whether they give the players the ability to make their own experiences and narrative based on the worlds foundation rather than take it away by forcing their own.