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Why Stories in Games Suck
Why Stories in Games Suck
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New Stories for New Platforms



Stories in PC and console games are nothing new, but handheld and mobile gaming platforms are more likely to test your reflexes than your emotional intelligence. Adrian Hon examines how we might bring extended stories to these new platforms, who will make these games and how they will be funded, while exploring how player-generated stories can gain wider appeal on the new gaming platforms of today and tomorrow.

New Stories for New Platforms

  1. 1. New Stories for New Platforms Adrian Hon @adrianhon Six to Start
  2. 2. Why do stories in games suck?
  3. 3. Do stories in almost every game suck?
  4. 4. Yes!
  5. 5. “It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that, were this a film, some of the ‘performances’ would be Oscar-worthy.” Gamespy
  6. 6. “A Scorsese-quality narrative” Eurogamer
  7. 7. “But I long ago lost count of the number of videogames I've played whose in-game economies, storylines and character motivations made absolutely no sense.” IGN on Resident Evil 5
  8. 8. 9/10
  9. 9. “All [the characters] could have been drawn from any shooter of the last five years... The script certainly doesn't help much, since most of it seems to consist of people barking "F*** dis shit!" and "Go! Go!" over and over.” Eurogamer on Killzone 2
  10. 10. 9/10
  11. 11. “Other than featuring the voice of Jack Bauer, the story is mostly forgettable...” Game Informer on Call of Duty 5
  12. 12. 8.8/10
  13. 13. Games with bad stories still sell fine
  14. 14. Interactivity?
  15. 15. Risk & Distribution, Funding, Tools
  16. 16. Funding
  17. 17. Zombies, Run! Trailer m
  18. 18. Designer / Developer / Writer
  19. 19. Tools
  20. 20. Distribution + Funding + Tools = Crazy Awesome
  21. 21. Stories are important
  22. 22. @adrianhon Six to Start


  • Intro. Less of technical talk.\n\nQuick survey. How many of you have made games? Made game with stories? How many devices do you own that can play a game?\n
  • Appreciate this topic gets dealt with a lot, and it’s normally very theoretical. Take you on a whirlwind tour that starts with a single question.\n
  • Don’t think we’d be here speculating about new stories without the implicit question of whether they would be any good. And if they were already good, there’d be nothing to worry about, and I suspect many people here think they are fine. But I feel like every time there is a game with a great story, we alway seem really surprised.\n
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  • OK, so there are clearly other good games with stories out there. Things like Planescape Torment, Yakuza 3, things like Phoenix Wright. But...\n
  • Well, I wanted to test this, and I found the answer was...\n
  • Example I want to use is GTA 4\n
  • Fun game. Amazing technical achievement. Still amazed how I could fly the helicopter everywhere. Stereotypes of italian, jewish, black, irish people. Most cliched dialogue and characters ever. Some people claim that this was done on purpose, to make a statement - I disagree, and in any case, it even approaches the quality of movies and TV shows like the Godfather, or The Wire, or The Sopranos, or Goodfellas.\n
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  • Really? Are you serious? Because I don’t think it really is as good as \n\nOK, what about other games?\n
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  • We do not care enough, so we get what we deserve. It is as simple as that. What about other media though? They’re full of crap as well. Like movies. But at least movies with good stories also seem to do well.\n
  • Great structure. Everything is set up beforehand - why he’s running around barefoot, who his wife is, his character. John McLane, he’s smart. But so is the - admittedly stereotyped - villain, Hans Gruber. No deus ex machina, no cheats, just very enjoyable and surprisingly intelligent action movie.\n\nSo while there is plenty of crap in movies and books and TV shows, there is also plenty of great stuff. Linear media with good stories are frequently - although not always - rewarded commercially, and there’s no shortage of it. \n
  • Often, faced with this challenge, we come back to the same refrain. Games are about interactivity. Stories aren’t. Being forced to listen to a story is the worst thing you can do. The best thing is letting people make their own. Minecraft, Sims, Civilization, that sort of thing.\n\n
  • I wrote fanfic. Really immersive. Also did it for Civ. Story generator is unique to games since it requires interaction and feedback. But they’re *also* authored. And they’re not the only way of telling stories, and not ‘better’. Just different, and people want different things. So I want to come back to authored stories, more linear stories for the moment.\n
  • But it *is* possible. So why doesn’t it happen more?\n
  • Question of taking risk. Lately, we’ve had to go through publishers. Publishers filled an important role - they helped fund and distribute games, they served as filter to get rid of worst stuff, and they also pooled risk. That’s great. But they got lazy and short-sighted, cranking out endless sequels and only worrying about profit. That’s what business is about, making profit. But it’s not what we’re about at the end of the day, otherwise we wouldn’t be here. It’s risky to make game with good story. Clearly people don’t want it.\n\nBut now things are changing.\n
  • Lets people go to market with no filter. Lot of crap, but also a lot of great stuff that would’ve been stopped or had edges sanded off if gone through publisher.\n
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  • New devices also expand the audience. Plenty more people out there interested in playing games. Good for us all. Every person who plays Smurf’s Village might be tempted to play something better than that piece of crap later on.\n
  • Spy Party, Minecraft. Again, lets people experiment with new ideas. With new devices and distribution, you don’t need to just target consoles - you can make great games for phones or PCs with not a lot of money, meaning you can approach funding in a different way.\n
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  • Even with funding and with distribution though, you still need good vision. Someone who can understand all the parts. Smokescreen writing anecdote. \n\nHard enough to do good story with games - even harder with new kinds of games. \n
  • Unity, Cocos2D, Unreal, Source, all these engines are essential\n
  • These are three key things to making new stories for new platforms. So there you go, no theory. I didn’t even shill my own game that much. But things are changing, and we need to grasp it and show people there is an alternative to endless rehashes of 80s arcade games on new platforms, and that games of every kind can have stories every bit as good as what we see in other media. \n
  • Stories are important. Not just as form of entertainment - one of the oldest (but probably not the oldest) - but as a way of learning about the world, and about other people. It’s important that young people have ability to tell stories to each other in the medium that is important to them - games - and not just other existing ones. We should welcome new platforms. And I think with triple support of new distribution, new funding, and new tools, we’ll be there.\n
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