Inside the Minds of Gaming’s Master Storytellers

GameSpot has published an article entitled “Everything is Possible: Inside the Minds of Gaming’s Master Storytellers”, in which they speak with a few well-known RPG creators including Obsidian Entertainment’s Chris Avellone (Planescape: Torment, Star Wars: KotOR II) and Irrational Games’ Ken Levine (System Shock 2, Freedom Force, Freedom Force vs. the Third Reich). A snip from their conversation with Ken:

Q: Can you remember one of the first times a story in a game really struck you?

A: Let me say this: With few exceptions, I’ve always hated cutscenes. I hate sitting through them. I hate the generally terrible writing. I hate the notion that most game developers want nothing more than to make public the dramatic machinations of their D&D characters from high school.

I’m a big fan of emergent storyline. I remember growing my squad of beloved characters (who never had a single line of dialogue) in X-COM and watching with bated breath as they entered the treacherous corridors of the final boss with only a single blaster launcher missile left. Why? Because it was a scenario conceived by a partnership between myself and the game. It was a moment that existed uniquely in my gaming experience and not shared the same way by any other soul on earth.

But as a designer, it’s hard to give up that control. We want to craft moments of gameplay. I’ve done it myself—hey, I’ve written my share of cutscenes. But what we conceive as designers is never going to be as good as what the partnership of gamer and game creates.

Again, for me it’s rarely story per se, but the unique moments of gameplay storytelling. I loved the beginning of Beyond Good and Evil and how they defined Jade’s character. You meet her by seeing her environment. She’s living under an alien dictatorship, and she’s built her home into a makeshift orphanage. As you walk around her house you see why she’s a hero, how much the kids love her and why her life is important. By the time any real gameplay happens, you want to protect her, you want to help her succeed.

And the whole thing is done with almost no actual dialogue.

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