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Why does game storytelling have such low standards?

Richard Naik's picture

BioShock Screenshot

Storytelling is an art form in and of itself, just like painting or music. And of all the art forms that comprise video games, story is often at the low end on the totem of importance. This is perfectly acceptable to me-games are more often than not held up by mechanical and/or aesthetic components, leaving the story as icing on the cake. However, this does not mean that any game that even attempts to have a deep and/or dynamic story can automatically be heralded as storytelling mastery. To do so belittles the craft. You could have a fantastic cake that gets topped with shit, and while the cake itself might be a perfectly fine baked good, you still need to contend with the fact that there is shit on your cake.

A game's story need not be an epic tale or some groundbreaking piece of fiction, although it certainly can be. The story simply needs to compliment the game's other components and bring a sense of coherence to help keep the player immersed. A sudden jolt of "WTF is going on?" can shatter a playing experience, whereas a good one can possibly overshadow the game's other flaws.

So what makes a good game story? Well, obviously there's no concrete answer to that. What I can do however, is go through some games that I think did it right, and some that I think made it seem like they did it right when they actually screwed it up hardcore.

BioShock's main story concerning the ramifications of a (theoretical) objectivist utopia is thought-provoking and haunting at the same time. The motivation and fallout of Andrew Ryan's vision are all around the player, and virtually everything revolves around dealing with his influence. Even the smaller subplots all revolve around Rapture's ideals in some way, showing how Ryan's larger plans and their ultimate failure impacted all of the normally faceless citizens. BioShock takes an idea, shows how it might have come to fruition, and then slams the player with the horrifying results. Getting thrown into a dystopia is a common occurrence in games, but fully understanding why it came about is not. BioShock manages to present us with something that could have been a run-of-the-mill FPS (which it certainly is in gameplay terms) but was much more due to some fantastic writing.

Half-Life 2 is one of my favorite games. It's also one of the most influential, counting BioShock among its spiritual offspring. However, I never understood why it gets accolades for storytelling or for Gordon Freeman as a character. It doesn't really do anything that's outright bad, but it just...doesn't tell much of a story at all. And then the player is expected to connect in some way with all of this while knowing virtually nothing about what is happening. I understand that leaving the player in the dark is intentional on Valve's part, but I think their plan really failed here.

Half-Life 2 Screenshot

There are several moments throughout the game that are meant to be emotional, but most of them just aren't simply because I had no clue what was happening. Most of these have to do with scenes involving Gordon and Alyx's growing "affection" for each other, and the lack of any real background information or any interaction on Gordon's part just makes things awkward. I like to think I understand what Valve is going for here with the "aura of mystery" concept, and maybe it's just me, but the "mute physics expert is somehow the savior of humanity" thing never really worked in my eyes.

To date, Dragon Age: Origins is the only perfect score that I have given in my time writing for GameCritics, and its writing is what propelled it to the top. A clinic in how to craft an epic, overarching tale that keeps the player interested for all of those 60 hours, Dragon Age nails every note, crosses every T, and dots every I for what a RPG story should be. Great opening setup? Check. Interesting characters that are a joy rather than a chore to interact with? Huge world with interesting side characters and tons of backstory? Check. Steady buildup to an exciting and potentially excruciating endgame? You bet. No matter which path through the game is chosen, the experience is almost always together beautifully.

I liked Kingdom Hearts 2 overall (mainly due to some of the best 3D combat I've ever seen) but it has quite a few problems. The pacing is awful, re-used content from the first game is everywhere, and there's a huge difficulty spike at around the halfway point that sends the game's mood from "Man, are these things ever going to fight back?" to "GODDAMN YOU SPEAR GUY". However, the game's story is where it fails the hardest, resulting in an incoherent mishmash of Disney material and the worst kinds of JRPG tropes.

It leans a little too heavily on the notion that the player has played Chain of Memories, the GBA prequel that sets up the main game's narrative. Without knowing what happens in that game a lot of things in Kingdom Hearts 2 are fuzzy to say the least. Things like why Sora was stuck in that chamber, why Organization XIII is bothering to screw around with the other worlds when all they want is Sora to kill things, why they suddenly decide that killing him is OK, and what happened to their five missing members are all pretty much left unaddressed. It doesn't matter if it's explained in the journal or not-exposition needs to be sewn into the narrative as much as possible, and in Kingdom Hearts 2 it's as if they drew some guys in black cloaks and then fired the writing staff.

I've been heartily signing Aquaria's praises since I reviewed it last year, and I have every intention of continuing to do so until all of the GameCritics staffers get off their butts, get the game, then get back on their butts and play it. Aquaria's narrative is simple and elegant, just like the game itself. The player explores and learns along with Naija, experiencing her hopes, fears, and dreams throughout the game. Every now and then a little moment of introspection or backstory is thrown in but not enough to bog the game down in the slightest. The skill with which Naija's story is told is a big reason why I liked the game so much. If a good story is just icing on the cake in a 2D action game, that's some mighty good icing.

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots Screenshot

Metal Gear Solid 4 (MGS4) is the absolute grandaddy of narrative train wrecks. Now granted, it is hamstrung somewhat by developments in Metal Gear Solid 2, but that's an excuse for being bad, not for being an utterly ridiculous piece of shit. It's even more of a shame considering the level of storytelling in the original Metal Gear Solid. In MGS1 we see Snake as a disillusioned warrior constantly questioning if he believes in what he's fighting for. The enemies and even his friends constantly deceive and betray him to try and get him to do their bidding and hope that he never finds out. The intrigue surrounding all of this kept me interested from beginning to end. Then you take your shirt off and fistfight the guy that voiced Leonardo in the old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. That, my friends, is a game story.

MGS4 is a mess of holes, bad characters, and overly drawn-out cutscenes all wrapped up in a vague political message that never quite makes itself clear. I personally have no problem with cutscenes as a method to tell parts of the story that just can't be expressed by the in-game engine, but god dammit they need to be good, especially if they're this long. And to be clear, this isn't even an exposition problem-the game's final hours are a veritable exposition orgy. It's that everything being explained has been twisted and contrived around so many times that it begins to resemble the narrative equivalent of a Jackson Pollack painting. The problems with MGS4's story could be (and probably have been somewhere on the internet) a 10-page essay on their own, so I'll stop here, but if someone wants to bring up the finer points of MGS4's WTFness in the comments, I'm all for it.

As far as old school adventure games go, The Longest Journey is an exclusive platinum card member. And since an adventure game is so heavily tied to its story, you can guess that this has a top notch effort in that department. Following the story of April Ryan as she slowly learns of a parallel world in which magic exists, we get to see one of the best narratives ever to grace gaming. April's thoughts and feelings are conveyed with the utmost sincerity, the feeling of shock when transitioning from one world to the other sticks every single time it happens, and the steady drip of plot advancement is worked exquisitely from the beginning to end. Sure it's got a few problems, like awkward "fight" scenes or April being able to walk right into the main antagonist's office without anyone noticing, but none of those things matter in the face of all the game does right. That's something I wish I could say for Heavy Rain.

So there you have it. Seven games, all of which I've seen receive accolades for storytelling, but only four of which deserve it. What about you? What games have taken an unrelenting crap on your cake?

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I think there's an element

I think there's an element in your analysis that you're forgetting here -- how is the information given to the player? This is also a big part of storytelling, and it's a crucial element in games, where the delivery moreso than other media is more uncertain; audience controlled.

To my mind, Bioshock is a pretty poor example of good writing. Its story is told too often in clumsy fashion; use of audio diaries, ghost sequence flashbacks, etc. By contrast, I'd give Half-Life 2 much higher marks, where its storytelling does come in dialogue, true, but more often than not in the motion around you, broadcasts from Dr. Breen, etc. It's much more fluid and well controlled.

That said, neither would be in my top shelf marks for great game storytelling. Those three would be Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, and Far Cry 2.

Ico and Shadow of the Colossus both get the exact same thing right: The story is small, but delivered upfront and then told, endlessly, in the gameplay itself. Ico creates its premise swiftly: The story of two people, trapped in a castle, come to rely upon each other. Then the entire game devotes itself to reinforcing that idea; the usual lack of enemies (and that those enemies who do appear try to separate the two characters) and wide empty spaces, the way that the models are animated to emphasise their togetherness (notice the way save points work, with the characters waking up after having fallen asleep on each other's shoulders; or the way the girl looks at the boy's hand if her hand is held). Shadow of the Colossus creates its faustian bargain (Sixteen lives in exchange for one) and then depopulates its world into only those sixteen, makes those creatures beautiful, and visibly degrades its main character upon each death.

Far Cry 2 understands this model and subverts it slightly by only revealing its point in words halfway in. None the less, it's all told in the gameplay: Give you a clear objective, and then set none of your missions as leading you to completing it, while ramping up the game's brutality and violence in every possible fashion. The player comes to realise the story not through the cut-scenes (which are mostly red herrings) but in gameplay itself. Its Heart of Darkness inspired journey to the dark side is left entirely to the player to realise.

Neither of these have complex storylines, deeply realised characters or plotting twists of the games you praise above, but they resonate thematically, and the more and more I think about it, the more I think this is what games do well. I think we need to think about what good storytelling is in games, because I think it's going to wind up being wholly different to any other medium.

ps. Aquaria, which I have not played, sounds very much like what I would admire. The Path almost got there, but I think the game designers meager programming skills actually got in the way -- The flat forest floor and awkward controls destroyed what would have been an exceptionally powerful theme the game strove to develop: The joy of disobedience.

I agree w/Sean about

I agree w/Sean about Bioshock.

MGS4 I think just spent too much time in production to be coherent. Flavorless cacophony.

On more playthroughs, I got that the central theme of the game was of a detached intellectual horror. Horror that the machinery of war is so completely woven into the fabric of all technological society that humanity is being consumed by it and being spat out as monsters (immortal fighting men, insane broken cyborg women). But they completely fumble with it.


Richard, I could have accepted your criticism of MGS4's story if you had disliked MGS1's as well. However, by praising the story of the first game (albeit with a wink and a nod to the poor voice acting), you've made this critique of MGS4 almost incomprehensible. You say the game is hamstrung by MGS2's overblown plot. That's very true. But it's also hamstrung by MGS1's ridiculous set of war film cliches, thickheaded espionage, underdeveloped relationships, and laughable villain.

The sheer number of loose ends MGS4 had to tie up given the roller coaster of craptastic storytelling in the series is staggering. It was handicapped by having to do double-duty to fans of the series' action+stealth cliches while satisfying anyone who somehow managed to follow MGS2's plot. Given that difficult assignment, I'd say that Konami succeeded admirably in the storytelling department.

Did they finally make Snake someone with whom the player can empathize? Check.

Did they redeem Otacon's incessantly whiny character by actually giving the guy a purpose (let alone a love interest)? Check.

Did they do justice by the tragic undercurrents of MGS3's misshapen love story? Check.

Hell, they even paid tremendous fan service in their bringing back of "Mr. Diarrhea" Johnny Sasaki and Meryl from MGS1, just to show the audience that, by hell or high water, they WOULD resolve every conceivable relationship and in-joke in the series.

They even managed to make Raiden somewhat likeable and, more importantly, damned cool.

Did MGS4 manage to make complete sense of a ridiculously overcomplicated plot, or to lessen the cheese factor? No. But it never could have done that in 20 hours of resolution. No game could. So they made the plot slightly more palatable (even if it took nearly 2 hours to resolve the plot holes during the epilogue) and made the cheese factor something that worked for, not against, the game's hyperbolic cutscenes. All of this while actually hitting on some good points regarding war economies.

The drawback to this, of course, is that to even come close to digesting this pastiche of in-jokes, cheesy characterization, obscure references, and plot resolution, you have to have followed the series VERY closely. But then, that's the kind of gamer at whom MGS4's story (if not its mechanics) is aimed: the hardcore fan. If MGS4 were the first game in a new franchise, it would be a debacle.

On the other hand, if you're going to make the final (timeline-wise, anyway) entry in a series this broken, you can't hope to do much better than MGS4. Its cutscenes are exciting and spectacular, its relationships are actually interesting for a change, and its sense of cheese is so deliciously over-the-top that you can't help but smile at all the little pop-anime-style coincidences and conflicts.

If you come in expecting Hemingway from MGS4, then you probably don't appreciate the Herculean task with which the game was saddled. I'll give you that it's Kojima's own fault, but hey, he knew he had a tall order in front of him and he said, "What the hell; let's do it."

So that's a really long, drawn-out way of saying that if you have a problem with MGS4, whose storyline undoubtedly features the most polish and adoration for its followers of any game in the series, you should really be criticizing MGS1 and 2. By all accounts, those games are the culprits (and I think MGS1 is hideously overrated in more areas than just the storyline). It's also unfair to assume that MGS4 was ever *supposed* to be touted as the zenith of video game storytelling. That's like saying that Bastard! and 3X3 Eyes were aiming for the same level of substance as Grave of the Fireflies.

Sometimes pulp wants to be pulp (or in this case, has to be). And there is a place for that in gaming. Not every film strives to be Citizen Kane, not every game tries to be The Longest Journey. But those films and games can satisfy their chosen audiences in different ways. Surely, you can recognize that.

If you had said MGS1 and MGS2 aimed high and failed, I'd agree. But if you're saying that MGS4 aimed just as high and cast its net as widely, I couldn't disagree more.


@Sean Riley

The audio diaries in BioShock didn't bother me, and I actually wishe there had been more of the ghost sequences. The concept of so many tapes just being left sitting around is a little awkward, but it doesn't slow down the experience and it gets the game's point across.

If you like SoTC then I imagine you'd like Aquaria, although there's a lot more dialogue than in SoTC. SoTC kind fell flat for me at the end too story-wise, since it wasn't clear why the girl was alive after the demon possessed the prince and was destroyed, or what exactly the baby was supposed to be. Although I haven't played Ico either, so maybe I just missed something.

Half-Life 2 had some good individual moments, but it all kind of runs through the cracks so to speak since there's not really an overall story being told. I played The Path's demo and was intrigued, but yeah the controls plus that "collect like a bazillion coins while walking super-slow" minigame turned me off of it.


I completely disagree with everything you just said.

First, I empathized waaaayyyyyy more with Snake in MGS1 than in any of the others. The rest of the series is less about him and more about the message, especially 2 and 4. Personally I never cared for Otacon, and the side-story with him and Naomi made it even worse. I could believe the romance with him and Wolf in MGS1 since they were trapped together for so long, but him falling for Naomi when both he and Snake have every reason not to trust her was too big of a stretch.


On the other hand, if you're going to make the final (timeline-wise, anyway) entry in a series this broken, you can't hope to do much better than MGS4.

Can you elaborate on this? This seems like a contradictory statement-if it's broken how can it be considered successful?


If you come in expecting Hemingway from MGS4, then you probably don't appreciate the Herculean task with which the game was saddled. I'll give you that it's Kojima's own fault, but hey, he knew he had a tall order in front of him and he said, "What the hell; let's do it."

So that's a really long, drawn-out way of saying that if you have a problem with MGS4, whose storyline undoubtedly features the most polish and adoration for its followers of any game in the series, you should really be criticizing MGS1 and 2.

I can't possibly disagree with this more. First, I guess you and I have different opinions when it comes to the definition of "polish", since to me MGS4 was about as unpolished as you can get. And as I said MGS2 was certainly a hindrance, but that by itself is not an excuse for a train wreck. While it's true that not every game needs some grand tale behind it, a game that tries to focus this much on the story and makes the player sit and watch so much of it rather than playing absolutely needs to be more than simple nostalgic fan service and acknowledgment of past mistakes.


It's also unfair to assume that MGS4 was ever *supposed* to be touted as the zenith of video game storytelling.

Why is that unfair? It was consistently touted as such, and Kojima's own propensity for film making lends itself to lots of focus on an intricate and complex story. It doesn't necessarily need to be the zenith, but it damn well better be close.

I can't fathom how any of the final three main games even approached MGS1's character driven style. The sloppy message takes over, Snake becomes a bystander in 2 and 4 (sometimes literally), and the convulsion eventually just collapses on itself and breaks everything regarding the plot.

Return of the MGS4 Debate: The Sequel, Part Deux!

Well, as they say, opinions are like assholes. Everyone has them, and they all smell like clowns. :)

With regard to your first comment, I said the *series* was broken, not the game.

Second, Kojima is head cheese for these games. OF COURSE he's going to play up every entry. He couldn't very well admit that the first games weren't successful stories; it would be a blow to his ego. To my knowledge, he still thinks MGS2's plot was cohesive. That's just delusion! We both know it.

I think you might have hit the nail on the head with your response; we both have different opinions of what makes for polish in the case of MGS4. What you saw as a fragmented, overwrought departure from small-scale story I saw as a brazen, beautifully stylized tribute to fans who had actually been following the story.

My response, however, to your claim about MGS1 is, "What characters?" You never got more than stereotypes from them. Otacon was a scared nerd. Snake was a grumpy veteran. Meryl was a would-be heroine turned damsel in distress and love interest. And the whole Otacon-Sniper Wolf thing is one of the silliest moments in video game history. Love on the battlefield my patoot! Gameplay-wise, there were some neat moments there with the characters (Psycho Mantis' section, for example), but they didn't make for very interesting characters compared to the crazed women of MGS4 or Vamp from MGS2 and 4. I honestly feel that until MGS3, at the very least, most of the characters in the series were just halfassed anime stereotypes. At least MGS4 made those stereotypes DO and SAY interesting things, which gave them a little more texture.

That's my $.02, obviously. You and I will obviously never agree on MGS4's story, but I thought I'd present the opposite side of the conversation on behalf of the millions who actually love the game and its cheesy plot.

Misinformed writer

This article states that MGS4 is a narrative train-wreck.

That instantly discredits the author. I won't be coming back to this site after reading such hogwash.

Major props for pointing out

Major props for pointing out The Longest Journey.

Nerd Rage Inc.

Bioshock is not a spiritual offspring of Half-Life 2. It's a direct remake of System Shock 2, located under the sea. So take all your praise you threw at Bioshock, and bestow it on SS2, where it actually belongs. Kthx.

Danielle wrote: Bioshock is

Danielle wrote:

Bioshock is a direct remake of System Shock 2

I believe you meant to say that it's a spiritual successor to SS2. "Remake" would imply that they share the same plot, which is obviously not the case.

@Danielle I've heard the


I've heard the System Shock 2 /Bioshock comparisons, but I haven't played SS so I can't speak as to any of the similarities. As far as Half-Life 2/Bioshock goes, there are a lot of weapons and items (gravity gun/telekinesis, the bug goo/big daddy attractor, etc.) that I saw in HL2 that made it into Bioshock, which is where (for me) the influence shows itself.


Maybe some saw it as fan service, but what I saw was horribly misdirected attempt to tie up all the loose ends and make sense of the overall story arc. In trying to address every single unresolved plot point it just becomes too messy to take seriously.

And as far as MGS1 goes, we must have been playing totally different games. Yes, Snake was a grumpy veteran, but he was grumpy for a reason. He was pulled into a mission he didn't want to go on, he is constantly being lied to and manipulated by everyone, and in the end it culminates when he bluntly asks the Defense Secretary why he should bother stopping Metal Gear. Compare that to the other games where he just kind of goes along with what he's told for the most part.

Otacon is a scared nerd, yes, but he is meant to represent the scientists whose products Snake has spent a lifetime fighting. Completely oblivious to this, Otacon is a symbol of the "science for the sake of science" mentality that Snake hates so much. That's why I don't understand how they became such close friends. The Otacon-Wolf thing wasn't perfect by any means, but it at least had a tinge of believability to it, which I can't say for Otacon-Naomi.

As for Meryl, yeah she does drop into a cheesy damsel in distress thing at the end, but in the beginning her lust for combat serves as a contrast to Snake's battle-weariness. It doesn't resolve itself very well, but there's at least something there.

The bosses in MGS1 compared to MGS4 (or MGS3 for that matter) had a connection to the main storyline in some way. You got to see them interacting with Liquid or Snake or whoever in some way outside of their respective battles, making the actual fights more meaningful. The BnB Corps in MGS4 has no connection to the main story whatsoever, and we don't know anything about them until after they die. Anime stereotypes? Sure, but that's the whole series. As someone who doesn't like anime, I was able to look past it in MGS1 and MGS3 for the most part, but in MGS2 and MGS4 it just got to be too much.

So there's my two cents. Go nuts.

I don't think telekinesis is

I don't think telekinesis is really traceable as an influence from the gravity gun in Half Life 2. It already turned up in prior games such as Psiops, System Shock 2, Pariah, Jedi Knight, Second Sight, etc.

I'm not even sure that the big pheremone is a new mechanic that originated in Half Life 2.

To me Half Life 2 was sort of a broad spectrum middleware engine demo first and a coherent game (that advances a plot relevant to its franchise predecessor) second. It showed that you could do shooting in a realistic dilapidated environment, boats, kart-racing, platforming, particle effects, water levels, scripted survival-horror, sneaking, some team-game like escort/defense scenarios, sci-fi bases, big set pieces like the the bridge, physics demos, AI demos(Dog, Alyx), good facial animation during dialogue, etc.

To me demoing features and versatility was it's obvious main purpose: it was created mainly to sell the Source engine to potential licensees (and modders).

Not that it was bad but it wasn't a great story nor was it told particularly well. (In fact I'd say that Vampire the Masquerade:Bloodlines did a much better job of telling a decent story with the Source engine and it came out before Half Life 2 did.)

Thoughts on Half Life 2 Storytelling

I don't think telekinesis is really traceable as an influence from the gravity gun in Half Life 2. It already turned up in prior games such as Psiops, System Shock 2, Pariah, Jedi Knight, Second Sight, etc.

I'm not even sure that the big pheremone is a new mechanic that originated in Half Life 2.

To me Half Life 2 was sort of a broad spectrum middleware engine demo first and a coherent game (that advances a plot relevant to its franchise predecessor) second. It showed that you could do shooting in a realistic dilapidated environment, boats, kart-racing, platforming, particle effects, water levels, scripted survival-horror, sneaking, some team-game like escort/defense scenarios, sci-fi bases, big set pieces like the the bridge, physics demos, AI demos(Dog, Alyx), good facial animation during dialogue, etc.

To me demoing features and versatility was it's obvious main purpose: it was created mainly to sell the Source engine to potential licensees (and modders).

Not that it was bad but it wasn't really a great story nor was it told particularly well nor did the many parts really fit together well except as a sort of 'amusement park haunted house tour' where you go from vignette to vignette with little continuity apart from the park tram you are riding. (In fact I'd say that Vampire the Masquerade:Bloodlines did a much better job of telling a decent story with the Source engine and it came out before Half Life 2 did.)

If you say so

Remake would seem almost more likely. Bioshock blatantly steals the majority of things from SS2. There's even vita chambers, the same exact plot twist in the game, and the same way of telling the story with the logs. Sure, it has a different story.. but.. same exact plot twist.

So, I'm really not far off by calling in a remake.

I agree

Yeah i actully stumbled across this from another site and i have to say it was a good read. i agree with quite a lot of points you made. and i also cant understand why magazines & game sites arnt reviewing games objectively. but definitly a great read. i definitly look forward to hearing what you have to say about other games.

@Richard The problem isn't


The problem isn't so much of the plausibility of the tape decks, though, but that they're adjacent to the actual gameplay rather than a part of it. Bioshock's best efforts at story come mostly from the "A Man chooses, A Slave obeys" plot twist, and the rescue/harvest Little Sisters moral choice. (It's the latter, in the end, that actually sticks with me the most; upon reflection I see how it's the one chance you have to stick it to Ryan's/Fontaine's worldview.)

Games like Shadow of the Colossus, Ico and Far Cry 2 make their story work through their gameplay. When listening to an audio diary in Bioshock, I'd mostly stop moving, find a quiet spot, and listen. It pulls you out of the game so you can experience the story. At its heart, it's not much more than a cut-scene. In the games I'm praising, I'm not pulled out of the game so the game can make its thematic points; rather, it is by playing the game that those points are made.

And yes, the ending of SotC is probably its weakest point. It didn't quite figure out a way to tie its story together.

@Sean Riley I actually

@Sean Riley

I actually didn't stop a lot of the time with the tape decks. There were times where I would find a spot and listen, but I'd also keep moving if I knew I was in a safe area. To each their own I guess.

The average game has a story

The average game has a story written by personnel which is, at best, great at creating the core of games but have no big talent for writing. Maybe with enough time the responsible persons could do better. I don't know. Sometimes it feels like there is potential which isn't utilized fully. Like after the plot was written the game will be polished around gameplay, the fun, and the story is hardly touched anymore.

Kind of boring gameplay but the story was fine until the obeying moment... then it should have ended, but it had to add another final. ok, the vague outro was good, still the part in between was cheap and stretched the game without reason...

HL 1 to Ep.2
I started to like it beginning with Episode 2. Though i think it is actually quite hollow (thin atmosphere and almost no story) for the long play time, but i spent enough time with Gordon to grow into the role.

I liked those:

Max Payne 1(&2)
The actual plot is quite simple but i love the way it is told. Touching music and comics with fantastic voice!

It just copies a lot of Mafia-movies, but it works very well. A little like GTA but with a much more focused story.

The "twist", the cake, is just awesome nonsense. For a puzzle game it was more than one could except.
Also the tale of the Goos in World of Goo. Epic!

Men of Valor
A friend told me Vietcong 1 is better story-wise but taking all war shooters i played, this was the best so far for me.
Hooray-crap with wannabe drama elements like MW1 is something i hardly can stomach.

World in Conflict (incl. Soviet Assault)
was also a war game were the story was good. It delivered the feeling of 1. being in the 80's and 2. cold war fear.

Vampire Bloodlines
Loved the filthy World of Darkness.

Psychonauts, Grim Fandango, Full Throttle
Tims characters are the best in game industry. I just love every character in his games.

Super Metroid
The intro and the final fight was great. In between it does almost nothing, but that was my first glimpse at were it could go, so i still have to love it.

Maybe the mystic last third was too much of weirdness, but when i really care for the characters it did something right.

It reminds me a bit of Heat (the movie) with its story, locations and characters. And that was Manns best movie so far.

The second one was too much mainstreamed but the first one did everything right, especially considering i actually didn't like the 60's setting.
Also liked the other Monolith titles:
FEAR 1 & 2 and Condemned 1 & 2. Especially the cliffhanger endings are much better than HL ends: they don't upset me.

Storytelling sucked at Cod4:MW1 (with regard to contents), Morrowind, Prey, Far Cry, Supreme Commander...

I don't expect a level that can compete with movies or even books when you look at the story without the actual game but if it delivers what only games can, an interactive experience, stories that would not work in cinema or on paper can be great, e.g. world of goo. I haven't played Heavy Rain so far, but as i understand some of the reviews i dared to look into it is a bad movie, it is a bad game, but as an interactive movie it is great. Wannabe movies like Kane&Lynch or Mafia also are great, when they don't get lost in open world vastness like GTA or FC2.

Gameplay! Gameplay! Gameplay!

I'd say part of the problem is that video games usually focus on gameplay. Who didn't hear the excuse "If I want to have a good story, I read a book" in defense of lackluster story in video games? Usually this comes from someone who doesn't seem to read much in the first place. The so-called 'story' is usually just an excuse to kill tons of dudes.

I have the feeling the story is something the game designers come up with in coffee breaks. And since they are usually not professional writers, they come up with stuff that's familiar to them from cinema or other games. Consequently, this is the reason why movies about video games usually look like a rip-off from a more successful movie.

A Metal Gear Solid movie would be a rip-off from Escape from New York at best. A Dead Space movie would look pretty much like a crossover of Alien and Event Horizon. The inspiration nurturing video game stories rarely comes from anywhere beyond mainstream cinema, which I find sad.

About the examples of yours, which I played myself:

Bioshock - was good and something fresh... apart from the deja-vu for anyone playing System Shock before. But should have ended just after the twist, the last part of the game was the worst.

Half Life 2 - I agree with you there.

Dragon Age - The pacing was pretty bad, apart from that good. Even though the romantic relationships were charming like the excel-sheets they were based on.

Metal Gear Solid - How so many people think this is good storytelling is just baffling to me.

@Li-Ion A game doesn't have


A game doesn't have to have a great or even a good story, which is why it's so often a secondary concern, but it sure helps. Going the extra mile when it comes to writing can give a game that extra little push from good to great in some cases.

Miyamoto says gameplay

Miyamoto says gameplay should be about things you'd like to be able to do, but maybe you can't. Good writing is about being honest. I think the two are often at odds, or being done parallel to one another, rather than organically growing out of eachother.

In any medium, genre-wise, everything has been done to death, and what separates the bad from the good is a story that takes a different path to get you there, or uses an unexpected POV.

But to avoid being unmarketable, videogames tend to borrow the ideas they're trying to be passionate about. With that unfortunate fact in mind, the question to me is how do you find new ways to create the narrative in a gameplay context, not how to write new, or even good, stories.

The inclusion of the players own feelings and actions overrides alot of story problems- the success of Heavy Rain demonstrates this pretty well. Heavy Rain's story was clunky and dishonest, but the scene to scene involvement with the characters wasn't. Compare this to GTA IV where you can put the 'story' on hold indefinitely, while you run over pedestrians w/SUVs, and are immediately released from jail no matter how many people you kill.

Realism? Plotting? Do gamers really want these things?

My prediction: as virtual acting becomes more believable, so will the need for more believable stories.

Your comment about Bioshock

Your comment about BioShock is understandable if you did not beat the game. However, if you did beat the game then you missed the major plot twist that completely alters the game.

Uh? What's with the RPG dismissal?

I can see in this discussion that it is talk about how games always just steal story telling from cinema, and the only examples of good story telling mentioned are the US FPS and Action games.

What about RPG's like Final Fantasy VI, VII and IX?
These games ignore cinema pretty wholeheartedly and do their best to make their own story telling and progress. They're not based on the standard build ups from movies at all. I find them to be very innovative.

There are also other games like Shadow Hearts Covenant, which in my opinion, in certain scenes, deliver more emotional impact than many of the top rated movies ever released.

So basically.. what I see here is.. ignore the unique ways, accept the standard ways, then complain about how it's standard? Very conflicting.

@Dan For one, American FPS


For one, American FPS and action games are not the only examples of good storytelling I gave. Longest Journey's studio is Norwegian, and it has very little "action" of any kind. Dragon Age also doesn't qualify as a pure action title.

I also don't understand what you mean by "standard way" or the notion that I ignored RPGs. Dragon Age is certainly an RPG, and I did include a JRPG in Kingdom Hearts 2 if that's what you meant. I actually considered discussing FFVI as well, but there were already two RPGs on the list and I wanted to highlight some other game types. I'd give FFVI and Chrono Trigger some plaudits for storytelling if that clears anything up.

Also, JRPG style storytelling isn't exactly unique, as it's really been done to death over the years. I'm not saying JRPGs can't be good at storytelling, but simply being a JRPG doesn't make a game stand out in any way.

I agree. JRPG's story

I agree. JRPG's story elements have been done to death by this day and age. But so has the military approach that US action and FPS games have done and of course the Tolkien inspired shallowness.
I think we're at a cross road where basically everything has been done to death, which is frustrating when approaching new games.

Some of us want cut-scenes to give us the emotional punch, while some wants everything to happen in real time which in my opinion has a lot less impact on the depth of the story. Like with Bioshock; I thought it was very bland the way the story progressed. I haven't tried Dragon Age yet, though I would like to in the close future.
But my first impression is: Ah, another Tolkien leech. But I've been very wrong about first impressions before, like with NIER.

Anyways, I think all games are more of a gamble now than before. It's hard to spot instant quality unless diving into a product.
On a final note, I'd like to say that during the time when Chrono Trigger, FF VI and VII came, it was very innovative, and I wouldn't want to strip something of its uniqueness just because 100's tried to do the same later on. Past titles that were released before something was cliche are the true trophy holders.

@Dan I thought Dragon Age


I thought Dragon Age was another Tolkien rip-off too, but it really is much deeper than that. It's the jewel of BioWare's empire as far as I'm concerned.

And my point regarding JRPGs was not so much that the early ones weren't unique, but that I wasn't ignoring JRPGs as a whole. Like I said, FFVI was on my good list too, but I wanted to expand to other genres and there were already two RPGs in the article.

This Article is Right

MGS4 is a train wreck of plot holes, conveniences, deus ex machina and bad scripting. It got nearly everything wrong, even the game play. The only people who don't realise this are the ones that aren't as intelligent as the ones like me and the author of this article.

It is that simple. The real test of this game will be that of time, and unlike MGS1 (well paced, scripted and presented), MGS4 will die.

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