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geekmarine

Exploration-based Gameplay vs. Narrative

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So I recently picked up Tomb Raider because, of course, Steam sale and all that jazz. Now, I've never been very interested in the series, but the reboot has been friggin' great so far. The story is solid, the gameplay is fun, combat is satisfying, and I love the puzzles. My problem is, I haven't been doing very much raiding of actual tombs. And it's not for lack of tombs to explore. There are all kinds of secret areas in the game with nice rewards for completing them. My problem is, I try to immerse myself in the story, and from that point of view, it's hard to justify to myself exploring some dank, dusty cave for treasure when, say, I'm supposed to be hurrying over to rescue someone before they're brutally murdered.

Obviously the game takes this into account, and doesn't do anything like set hard time limits for completing objectives, so if I really wanted to, I could explore tombs to my heart's content and get all sorts of cool bonuses and upgrades. My problem is, it breaks the flow of the narrative if I decide to go looking for treasure and power-ups when people's lives are on the line.

I dunno, it just seems like a difficult balancing act, and one that I don't really have an answer to - how do you tell a compelling story in a game while at the same time allowing players the freedom to explore the world you've created without feeling like they're breaking the flow of the story? I mean, the only two options I can see is either you force the player down a linear path without any choice but to follow the story, and then you might as well just be a movie, or you make the story so crappy that the player isn't invested, and so has no real incentive to complete it/

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geekmarine said:

how do you tell a compelling story in a game while at the same time allowing players the freedom to explore the world you've created without feeling like they're breaking the flow of the story?


I think you should not tell the story, but show it integrated in the gameplay (records, scenery clues and so on) so that it doesn't matter what the player does, it will find out much of the story by itself.

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Going from large, open-ended areas to smaller linear areas would help a lot with that Tomb Raider pacing issue. I've never played it, but it sounds like the level designers gave you too much to do in that level for that supposed time limit.

Angry Saint said:

I think you should not tell the story, but show it integrated in the gameplay (records, scenery clues and so on) so that it doesn't matter what the player does, it will find out much of the story by itself.


Please god no, we don't need more Dark Souls vague-as-shit "stories"

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I also find it underwhelming if a game implies that you should hurry up, but allows and even rewards you for not doing so. This is a particular example of dissonance between gameplay and story, but I'm convinced it should be avoidable. Since timed puzzles easily get annoying and I can imagine reasons why a game developer would want to avoid them completely, the other logical solution would be to modify the narrative. If the meaning had to be preserved, perhaps it would suffice to change the timing or the order in which the player gathers information. For example, keep all instances of "imminent action required" narrative for non-interactive cutscenes and for short time events like boss battles where it's intuitively clear. For the rest of casual gameplay, let the player have no reason to hurry up, neither a direct threat nor an informed one, just make him feel that now it's a good time for exploration.

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Mr. Freeze said:

Please god no, we don't need more Dark Souls vague-as-shit "stories"


I didn't play Dark Souls so I don't know anything about such vague stories...

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IMO the role of the game isn't to tell the player a story. Thats what books and movies are for. A game's purpose is to provide a setting and motivation for the player to create a story themselves. Though not all games seem to follow that philosophy, the games that do are usually the better games.

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40oz said:

IMO the role of the game isn't to tell the player a story. Thats what books and movies are for. A game's purpose is to provide a setting and motivation for the player to create a story themselves. Though not all games seem to follow that philosophy, the games that do are usually the better games.


Movies can't tell a story as well as videogames can. Not in a medium where a 3-act, 2-hour narrative is the norm- it simply won't have the depth that a game can provide

fite me irl

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40oz said:

IMO the role of the game isn't to tell the player a story. Thats what books and movies are for. A game's purpose is to provide a setting and motivation for the player to create a story themselves. Though not all games seem to follow that philosophy, the games that do are usually the better games.


I tend to agree with this. Games that force a story on you always seem to feel sloppy and restrictive in the gameplay department.

Besides, personally I find most stories in games to be pretty lackluster or forgettable with very rare cases. Games with heavy reliance on story, that dump it on you or restrict your freedom always make me roll my eyes and think "they should have just made this a movie". Kills my motivation to get through the game.

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