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Narrative, Interactivity, Play, and Games: Four naughty concepts in need of discipline (Reflection)

While I agree with the points that have been put forward by the writer, I disagree that the current state of videogames are lacking in the storytelling aspect. As someone who has been playing with videogames, I have to say that the main point about games are not necessarily about forcing stories into games, or vice versa. In the spirit of fun, some experimentation should be warranted, no matter the result. It is also crucial to note that most AAA companies, although heavily budgeted, have higher stakes when it comes to meeting consumer demands. Some companies decide to play roulette and choose the undiscovered path, whereas others use existing formulas that have been known to work. In other words, If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. There are other high risk elements in the form of prototyping. For instance, developers from ID tech were able to make a prototype Doom level in a few weeks, whereas a game like Rage, which relies on megatextures, would take years before the result becomes apparent. Megatextures is basically a method in which textures in the game world aren’t “looped”, but customized.  This allows for a more interesting and unique texture quality, but takes countless hours to make.

I’ve seen the firsthand effects of videogames borrowing narrative structure without properly integrating them into game mechanics. For example, the game “Beyond two souls” is a game that has “quick time element” features that require the player to input a set of keys in a short period of time every now and then. The game developers behind the project “quantic dreams” have done divergent storytelling, as do Bioware in the game “mass effect”. However, doing games with divergent storytelling is an extremely complicated process, requiring countless hours in planning. Thus far, most game developers have solved this problem by bottle-necking the ending into one single conclusion. In “Beyond two souls”, the choices didn’t really matter in the end. People from the gaming community were surprised to find out that the outcome of the game would end the same even without input from the controller during the supposed crucial quick time events. In mass effect 3, EA rushed the studio to provide 3 limited endings (control, destroy and synthesis), knowing full well that if they diverged the story any further, Bioware would shoot over budget. (Mass effect 1,2 and 3 had file sizes of 12,15 and 10GB respectively). In both cases, the studios were given much flak from the gaming community.

Bethesda has somewhat solved the problem of a fun, yet linear storytelling AAA title that was feasible to create. Case in point: Fallout New Vegas and The elder scrolls, Skyrim. Here the gameplay was split into three main sections. Either the player could complete the main mission, or go after side quests. If players weren’t interested in either, he/she could play in free-roam mode. The modding community also gave another gameplay option. Here, players could add characters or game-modes that weren’t originally in the game. (For example, you get to play a bionicle robot saving the world from floating Thomas the tank engine characters by hurling a barrage of cabbages)