Why do stories in games suck?!
Adrian Hon is obviously not a man who beats around the bush, and I was intrigued by this frank presentation about the games industry's general inability to deliver an immersive experience when it comes to storytelling.
Adrian knows it can be done. He cites two of his favourites The Longest Story, and the Portal series, which tells its stories using the environment rather than time wasting cut scenes.
An opposite example is Grand Theft Auto IV. Though technically brilliant, it left Adrian deflated upon discovering that the story was not "amazing", as he'd heard it would be. Instead, it's just hotchpotch of stereotyped characters with clichéd dialogue.
Despite this failure, GTA IV received brilliant reviews, so the lesson here is that games with bad stories still sell. We don't care enough about bad stories to not buy the game, so we get the stories in games that we deserve. Fair enough!
Adrian asks why gamers looking for good stories are left wanting.
One of the answers is the element of interactivity; games aren't one way like other forms of media. Some gamers believe that the worst thing about a game with a story is that it tells you what to do. Real games should be like Sims, Minecraft and their ilk; having the ability to pretty much what you want is better than the story any writer can create.
Being a writer of Civilization fan fiction, Adrian sympathizes with this perspective.
Games which allow you to build your own story are no better or worse than those with a linear story, they're just different, and people want different things from their gaming experience.
So, if we know how, why don't good stories in games occur more often? Adrian believes that's a result of four factors: risk, distribution, funding and tools.
Publishers don't seem to take a lot of creative risks. If you treat video games as simply a way to make money, then that's fine. But that's not what you do it for, right?
We've witnessed a huge amount of change in the way people find, buy and play games - Steam, Facebook, Android, iOS to name a few - which empowers people to put their games in front of an audience without permission from anyone. This of course means you end up with a lot of crap, but conversely, you can discover some fantastic games that no publisher would have wanted to risk.
Developers are going to need money, and their sponsor is going to demand some level of input. These days, a lot of independent developers are going direct to the public. Six to Start successfully used Kickstarter to fund Zomies, Run! (which looks like a very entertaining way to keep fit.)
Adrian also mentioned IndieGoGo, and one member of the audience recommended Sponsume. Do you know of any good crowdsource funding organisations?
Adrian's final reason for the lameness of storytelling in games is that the writer is brought in too late. We need to give developers and writers better tools which will enable them to work on the creative process rather than the technology.
Why should we care? Because stories are important as both a form of entertainment, and a way of learning about the world.
If you want to listen to the full presentation, which includes the question and answer session, here's the podcast.
Adrian has kindly shared his slides from the presentation, which you can find on Slideshare.