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Jobe Talks Storytelling Progression In Video Games

Video game storytelling is getting better, if it's only taking small, incremental strides.

Certain developers are seeing the importance of better stories and plots, too. Take Dylan Jobe, Lightbox Interactive president, for instance. In speaking to a panel (which included Gamasutra journalists), Jobe said that games can't just be "systems- and mechanics-based."

Although it's true that his last project, Warhawk, was an online-only action game with no story, this new project features a lengthy single-player campaign. It's one of the reasons we're plenty excited for Starhawk. But Jobe's comments are clearly general and apply to all interactive productions:

"With [Starhawk predecessor] Warhawk, the mechanics were crazy fun but the universe was just hollow. A good story and a hero makes the whole thing more compelling, and we brought in talent from the film industry to work on the universe of Starhawk before we even began to think who the characters would be.

Writing is something video games still need to improve on. There's a lot of really bad writing in video games and also in the way that the story is integrated."

Filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo, a Spanish director, agreed and elaborated, mentioning EA's popular Dead Space series:

"I feel frustrated when I play a game like Dead Space that has great mechanics, but a lack of ambition in the story. If it was a movie, with its plot it would be a B-movie, not a big-budget film."

Jobe added that developers need to "more deeply consider the way their storytelling structure matches their design." Basically, it's all about incorporating a great story with the mechanical aspects of a game, and that can prove difficult. Apparently, though, we can expect something special from Starhawk's campaign, right?

Tags: starhawk, lightbox, dylan jobe, game stories

9/27/2011 9:00:26 PM Ben Dutka

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Legacy Comment System (10 posts)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011 @ 9:49:37 PM

Really good point. The only think left in video games that need to make a huge leap is storytelling. Mechanics and graphics I don't see drastically changing ever again.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011 @ 9:59:51 PM

That's funny because I seriously doubt Starhawk's story is going to be any huge leap forward even if it is a fantastic game no matter what Nacho Libre says.

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Warrior Poet
Tuesday, September 27, 2011 @ 10:16:31 PM

I don't think game storytelling has improved since the SNES. At all. What we're seeing is just games that use movie storytelling to break up gameplay. That's not a bad thing; remember those lovely silent movies in the PSX Final Fantasies? But I digress.

A game can tell a story no matter what kind of game it is. Obviously Fire Emblem's story is different than Mega Man X's, but the difference is that they tell their stories as games. Movie cut scenes can be incredibly good, but they're not really forward progression, are they?

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011 @ 11:18:17 PM

Yeah they are. They use cinematic elements to bring us further into the world be fleshing out details about the story, revealing character aspects meant to endear fictional characters to us, answering plot questions, giving you reasons to press on, and foreshadowing the conclusion.

SNES games were mostly gameplay oriented.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011 @ 6:24:24 AM

If you by "movie cut scenes" means playback of pre-rendered files then I agree with you, Poet. I think that will be a thing of the past too, it served a purpose when the hardware could not produce anything on that scale in realtime - now they can.

The more integrated those parts of telling the story is with the actual gameplay the better, imo. In that respect I think the Rockstar games do set an example. All cutscenes where this matter are as far as I can recall made with the game engine.
That enables us to enjoy details like crashed cars in the background being from the collision we did right before the cutscene, you character wearing the clothes you put on and so forth. The obvious way of doing it imo.

Last edited by Beamboom on 9/28/2011 7:52:04 AM

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011 @ 9:16:20 AM

nonsense, the prerendered scenes in FFXIII couldn't be done in any game engine. I'll miss them.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011 @ 10:07:29 AM

Yes and no. I think it's comparable to hollywood. You have a stark difference between artistic storytelling and entertainment. For example, the highest grossing move of the summer of 2010 was "Hot Tub Time Machine". Nobody in their right mind would compare that or something else famous like "Twilight", to incredible titles like "Forest Gump", "Gone with the Wind", "A Beautiful Mind", etc. etc. etc.

What I mean to compare is the story telling. Obviously, comparatively speaking, the story in Hot Tub Time Machine is absolute garbage compared to artistic gems. BUT... the entertainment value was apparently quite large.

We have games like CoD, for example, that don't have especially good stories, but have very high entertainment values. It's also the best seller out there. It's also why so many non-gamers don't see gaming as an artistic experience.

But we do have amazing stories in some FF's, Xenogears, Legend of Dragoon, Heavy Rain, and LA Noire. We also have some incredibly artistic works of art like Flower, and soon to release Journey.

Let's not forget about the musical scores some of these titles have.

I guess what I'm saying is, like Hollywood, we have games with incredibly deep stories that grab the gamer so tightly, they can't stop until they move the story further. Games with fantastic scores and incredible imagry, as well... Games that thoroughly examine human brokenness... the most beautiful, yet simplistic approach to art of any form.

But, also like hollywood, we have games meant purely for entertainment. Games that don't try to make any real commentary. It's like any slapstick comedy or action oriented movie.

But it's always been that way since the SNES days. Take FF6... Setzer overlooking the ocean with the sunset behind him... Celeste on that island with her regrets and inner conflict while caring for Cid... Terra desperately searching for her own identity.... Cyan, Shadow, Saban, Locke, Edgar, Strago, and Relm were also complex and incredible characters.... honestly, that game had more depth from a character development perspective than arguably any other game made since then.

So no in the sense of story telling.

However, as World pointed out... we also have a much better medium to work with now to further include the gamer into the story. So an overwhelming yes in terms of the potential we have in front of us.

It's a complex topic... personally, I hope entertainment doesn't outshine the potential for art. My only fear is that as we move forward and gain more and more potential for greater mediums of expression in games... we will instead use that potential strictly for entertaining "wow" factors... again... not unlike much of hollywood.

Most games will have little redeeming qualities beyond the entertainment, but there will be a few gems. Remember... there are far more exciting movies without real content than there are incredible timeless stories.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011 @ 3:50:56 AM

hes right, ive always said story is one of the most important things in a game!
but looking to hollywood for good story telling is like looking to the koreans for supercars!
out of all the entertainment mediums they choose movies?
not comics, or novels the 2 most popular and oldest and by far best mediums for story telling.
oh lord..............................

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011 @ 4:44:45 AM

One of the biggest failings in game storytelling IMO is that there is frequently a disconnection between the story and the gameplay. A simple example is how characters appear differently in pre-rendered cut scenes than they do during gameplay. A more profound example is how the design of levels or the objectives of missions run contrary to the overall fiction (e.g., power levelling when your party is supposed to be rushing to the rescue).

Unless the storytelling is fully integrated with the gameplay design, games will always fall short of purely narrative media in terms of how well they convey a story. Games like Uncharted, Heavy Rain, and Mass Effect give me hope, because those teams seem to be trying to use the medium to tell stories rather than attaching story elements to gameplay mechanics.

Still, pretty much every recent game at least has lines of dialogue that are intelligible. You couldn't say that 10-15 years ago.

Last edited by Fane1024 on 9/28/2011 4:50:02 AM

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011 @ 6:34:59 AM

Exactly. Those moments, where the pre-rendered clip so obviously mismatch the actual ingame events looks so stupid.

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