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Gabe Hawkins
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Do you care about story in games? If so, what makes a good story? What game(s) has the best story?
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Gabe Hawkins
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I probably sound like a broken record to some of you at this point, but yes, I love a good story in a video game. In fact, it's one of the most important aspects of a game for me. I've always gravitated towards exciting, mysterious, edge-of-your-seat, and/or thought provoking stories (in games or otherwise, for that matter). I love it when a game's story is like a good thriller novel where every chapter ends on a cliffhanger, and I'm always thinking "just one more chapter!" I'm also a huge fan of unexpected and well-written plot twists.

I've played many games with great stories, so it would be impossible for me to choose just one. But these come to mind:

Metal Gear Solid (the whole series)
Heavy Rain
The Walking Dead: Telltale series
Call of Duty: Black Ops
Red Dead Redemption II
Persona 5
Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward
Danganronpa (series)
Spec Ops: The Line

Dozens of others come to mind as well.
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Krzysztof Zięba
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Stories in games were, for years and years, my main reason for playing them. I loved the aspect of being a hero of an interactive story, and even if there were no choices to make, I still felt more involved than while watching a movie.

Nowadays I still value story a lot, and missed opportunities in storytelling make me kind of sad. There's a bunch of things that Amy Hennig (of Legacy of Kain and Uncharted fame) said in a recent interview that I found resonated with me, with one quote standing out.
https://venturebeat.com/2019/02/22/amy-hennig-interview-surv...

Quote:
Hennig: When we say single-player is dead — and again, I don’t subscribe to that — I think people are also talking about narrative games. Not just a game that you can play by yourself, because of course there’s plenty of that, but whether narrative is still front and center as one of our key tenets of the title. It’s just harder to do. Yes, you can look at Spider-Man and Red Dead and God of War, and they’re deeply narrative. But they’re also really long. There’s also an understanding that a lot of people may never finish it. They’ll only play the first part of a game.

GamesBeat: 22 percent finished Red Dead.

Hennig: Right. We look at that thing, which seems like it’s leaning hard into story and this character and this world, but with the understanding that less than a quarter of your audience will see the story through. That just makes me crazy, as a storyteller. That’s like saying I’m going to write a book and expect nobody to finish reading it, or make a movie and expect people to walk out halfway through. It’s counterintuitive to wanting to tell a good story and craft it for people.


My favourite stories in gaming all either told a really good short story and executed on it very well (Max Payne) or created a world you could really immerse yourself in and understand what your character's role was in it (Planescape: Torment). Increasingly though, I'm more interested in good *writing* than good *stories*. I find that if a story is well written, the characters believable, the world and the conflict well presented, the narrative doesn't have to be especially complex, or deep, or even smart, necessarily.

And then there's the question of how video game writing is different and should be different from the way we write movies or books, and that's another can of worms.
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Lee Dyke
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Have to say Mass Effect and Dragon Age Origins for the big hitters.

But will throw in;
Valiant Hearts: The Great War - a great little story that focused on the personal side of the three characters

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons - a story told without words that was so blissfully enchanting and pulled at the heart strings.
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I love a good story in a game. If there is no scoring system in a game, it has to be based on a good story. Just as important as a good story are the characters that I care about, starting with the self. If I am playing a version of myself, I need to know what motivates me to care about the other characters in the story. If I am playing a different character, I need to care about that character and what motivates him or her. Without characters to care about, a good story is just not good enough.
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p55carroll
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ghostpants wrote:
I probably sound like a broken record to some of you at this point.

And I'm sure I do too, but I'll give my usual reply anyway.

I love a good story. But in a game? My automatic reaction is "Uh, well, maybe--but how would that even work?" Of course I know how it works, having played some cRPGs and point-and-click adventure games and such. Still, it seems odd to me.

That's first of all because when I hear the word "game" I think only of formal tabletop and computer games. If I thought way back to childhood, I'd remember that we used to make up stories and act them out all the time. We called it playing, not gaming, but I guess Cops & Robbers and Cowboys & Indians are kids' games. Stories were very important in those games; we cared about them a lot.

But then I learned to play "real" games like checkers, chess, and rummy. And the closest I ever got to a story in those games was while playing something like Careers and imagining I was simulating a life story. Or playing Clue and imagining we were enacting a detective story. Such games were few and far between, though. Most didn't have stories.

After that I spent a couple decades playing board wargames. Some speak of a narrative arc or story elements in those, but I never saw it in all the years I was playing the games. Yeah, they re-created historical battles, campaigns, and wars, so there was a series of events. But heck, there's a series of events in checkers or backgammon too. If that's all it takes to make a narrative or story, then the most abstract game in the world has a story to it.

RPGs grew up alongside wargames, but I almost entirely avoided RPGs. For one thing, they required too many players; it was a pain to get that many people together. But for another thing, I wanted to command my "chess pieces" in a game; I didn't want to be a hero in a party of adventurers.

Same when computer games came along. I played some of the Gold Box RPGs, but all I could relate to was the combat. When Civilization was released, I had found my kind of computer game.

I guess Civilization tells a story in some sense--the story of the human race from a gods'-eye perspective. To me, that makes a nice backdrop for a game--but that's all.

As far as getting immersed in a story, the way I was supposed to when I played Planescape: Torment or Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars, no, I don't care much about that. It makes me feel too confined--stuck in a linear plot that I'm able to experience from only one perspective. I end up being somewhat amused, but I never identify strongly with a character or pay much attention to the dialogue or unfolding story. Sometimes I think I should, but it takes effort for me to do it, and I can't sustain that effort for long.

I guess there are god games and hero games. Some people (like me) want to play games like Populous and be gods issuing directives from on high. Other people want to play games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and be heroes immersed in an adventure. And of course some people like both kinds of games.
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maf man
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I care about storyline when the game has more to offer than just a straight up challenge as some games I play just for the kill count or high score or whatever.

I think what makes up the best stories are the ones that take care in how its told. When the set up is believable and the the tone that the story takes matches the game.

I often call out Golden Sun as one of the few JRPGs that get me hooked because of how well it deals with selling the main character in the setting. Your the only one doing this journey not because your the chosen one but because you were personally attacked. Every time you complete some mysterious rite of passage or whatever its not so much that you were the chosen one but more the fact of you being a talent filled group in the right place at the right time. Its obvious that the world would turn without you.

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is another unsung hero. Your playing through a embellished story as you tell it. A great way to make the unbelievable reasonable to play.
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It depends on the genre. I'm more about the gameplay for FPS and strategy games. A good story is a plus for those 2 genres for me but if the gameplay is good, I don't mind how bad or the amount of story content in these 2 genres.

RPGs, on the other hand, matter a lot to me. If the story is great but the gameplay, not so good, I'll just play it for the story.

However, with hybrids, things get a little murky. For example, srpgs. Most srpgs have very little story and what little it has, is not good enough for me to get immersed in the setting or deep enough to connect with the PCs. I usually enjoy the gameplay enough that I can overlook the story however, to keep my interest long term, one or the other has to be great to keep my interest in that game.

Games with great story:
Dragon Quest V~ You control the lives of 3 generations of characters and their friends and family. I really liked that you started off with a bang. You start by controlling the uber father who end up sacrificing himself for his preteen son. You then take over the adult son and later his son. In between, you meet other adventurers on your quests, fall in love, and raise a family.

Halo 2~ As you play, you uncover more about the world and more about Master Chief. I loved that the aliens were more fleshed out especially digging deeper into their motives.

SMT Devil Survivor~ I really loved how the story unfolded through the different paths you took throughout the story. Going through the story multiple times felt like you were peeling away more layers of the story.

999~ A puzzle adventure that had you on the edge of your seat because you never knew what the consequences of your choices would do to the people you come to know more about as the game progressed (A lot of gory deaths...).
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Ryan Ahr
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I most certainly do, and I feel that the story is best if it's immersive, allows the player to discover as much lore as it feeds you in the main storyline and, obviously, if it's well written.
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John Carmack had the right take on the topic:
Quote:
Story in a game is like story in a porn movie. It's expected to be there, but it's not that important.
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Lord_Kristof wrote:

GamesBeat: 22 percent finished Red Dead.


In the gaming community's defence Red Dead Redemption II is gigantic! There's a good chance the reason only a small percentage of RDRII players have completed it is because they simply haven't had the time to get through it yet!
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Ryan S
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Story is very important to me, and a remember getting really into a number of good JRPGs.

I remember getting goosebumps whenever the chapter titles would appear in Final Fantasy Tactics. They had really good chapter transitions.

I've noticed a lot of games in recent years have the easy mode labeled as some kind of "Just give me the story without a ton of difficult game play" type option, and I always select it.
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Chris McDermott
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It depends on the game but mostly I like a good story. It can have a large impact on the game.

Some abstracts, sandboxes and shooters... well in those cases it doesn't really matter.
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I do, but I mostly care that it's not done badly, rather than needing it to be executed with a high level of craft. Story is often a total and complete failure in videogames. A decent chunk of the remainder is passable. A story that is intriguing in terms of plot and conveyed through effective structure and pacing is exceedingly rare. It's almost never the case that a game can succeed primarily via compelling story.

Gone Home has both a great story and great storytelling, but is also pretty effective as, more or less, an old-fashioned point-and-click adventure with a hint of Metroidvania.

The Last of Us has a great story, mostly because of the way it takes a saturated genre, makes the rest of it look silly, and is fully committed to an ending that doesn't follow videogame expectations. The fact that they are making a sequel at all is an insult to the original game.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves has unusually good structure and pacing, which make the otherwise standard story quite good. It gets the key players on the field very rapidly, and has just the right twists and turns in a context where all three members of a love triangle are capable people in their own right.

Final Fantasy Tactics probably has the highest level of story-craft I've seen in any videogame. Matsuno's work could be downright Shakespearian, and Tactics represented a rare moment where he could deliver that kind of intensity without getting bogged down in empty-calorie-cutscene bullshit. It's not a surprise that he's a perfectionist who was not happy remaining in videogame development, much like kindred spirit Fumito Ueda (Ico, Shadow of the Colossus).

Occasionally, I think the more submerged storytelling in a game is riveting. The overall scenario (what happened here? who am I?) in the Portal games is fantastic, which is narrative of a kind.

Some games are so big that specific moments are akin to short stories. I don't think Red Dead Redemption II really succeeds at the level of grand narrative. What happens to the Van Der Linde gang is ridiculous at times, uninspired at others, stretches credulity at key moments, etc. But, the compact little narrative of Arthur in middle age, trying to do right by his past lover Mary Linton, is more interesting and more tightly crafted than the entire story in 80% of games.

Storytelling can often be quite a mess in the Final Fantasy series, but I think it his a peak in FFVI, with its tale of failed rebellion against an Empire being usurped by its own worst elements. However this would be quite meaningless without the game's numerous other strengths.

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Gabe Hawkins
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JohnRayJr wrote:
I do, but I mostly care that it's not done badly, rather than needing it to be executed with a high level of craft.


Now that I think about it, I feel the same way to an extent. I'm not too hard to please, so as long as the story is interesting enough to keep me engaged, I'm usually good with that. Really great stories stand out in my mind, but decent stories are usually enough for me to get by as well.
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Caroline Berg
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It is one of the things I care most about - doesn't matter what media I'm involved in, be it books or movies or games, I stay for the story.

What makes a good story for me are the characters. If you have great characters, you have a good story, even if they are doing the most mundane of tasks. It's one of the reasons I love The Legend of Kyrandia, Book Two: The Hand of Fate so much - Zanthia, and how she delivers her lines, makes that game. Sure, she also is off to save the world (and there are some great twists along the way) but it is how she handles everything that makes it worth playing even after beating it the first time.
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Gabe Hawkins
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adularia25 wrote:
It is one of the things I care most about - doesn't matter what media I'm involved in, be it books or movies or games, I stay for the story.

What makes a good story for me are the characters. If you have great characters, you have a good story, even if they are doing the most mundane of tasks. It's one of the reasons I love The Legend of Kyrandia, Book Two: The Hand of Fate so much - Zanthia, and how she delivers her lines, makes that game. Sure, she also is off to save the world (and there are some great twists along the way) but it is how she handles everything that makes it worth playing even after beating it the first time.


Agreed entirely!
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It wasn't an absolute requirement, but it did make many games all that much better. For games where this isn't the case, you have "typical" stuff like Super Mario Bros., Pac Man, or Tetris.


For others, you have games like StarCraft and Diablo where their instruction manuals were practically short novels, featuring their games' lore. The Legend Of Zeldas, and Metroids were also big on story as well, which really did immerse me and got me to appreciate their games even more. Ditto the Ninja Gaidens. Actraisers. Various RPGs

In the S/NES days, I probably got into story even though it wasn't important, like with the Megaman series.


Nowadays, internet has spoiled me for story. If I really want to find out how something ends, I can just read about it online, or watch the ending uploaded online. For example, I didn't want to put StarCraft 2 back on my hardrive, but was delighted that people uploaded the FMV cutscenes for its expansions (Heart Of The Swarm, and Legacy of the Void) so that I could "have my cake without eating it". I could find out how campaign mode plays out without having to commit to installing the game, the money to buy it, and the time to play it (although mind you, the last part would've been fun). Plus, plenty of discussions and conspiracy theories about story have created its own form of entertainment!
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I will subscribe primarily to the idea that, if you're going to waste my time telling me a story, it better be a good one.
Fez and Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! are games that I love that effectively completely eschew story and are better for not wasting my time otherwise.

Story is an excellent addition to a game, but I think there are only decent stories right now in video games--and most of those that I most enjoy manage to do so primarily through their atmosphere rather than their explicitly written narrative.
Demon's Souls, and likely the Souls series in general, display a brutal and uncaring world through their bleak aesthetic and dreary minimalist story. The story can be boiled down to: You are another nobody who will die a pointless death in the fog.
Thatgamecompany's Journey is literally the Hero's Journey in interactive form.

The Walking Dead: A TellTale Game Series is one of very few games I can think of that is really carried by its narrative, and it's mostly driven by thrusting Clementine, a young child, into your care in a survival situation--quite well mirrored to players' experience, as Clementine is not Lee's child either.

I think that video games can tell stories in ways that other media cannot by virtue of its interactivity. The fact that this interactivity is so new is one of the main reasons that so few games have accomplished the task.
Shovel Knight has a simple damsel-in-distress plot that is elevated above your Super Marios by these brilliant dream sequences that push the player's focus back to the plot without interrupting the flow of gameplay.

JohnRayJr wrote:
Final Fantasy Tactics probably has the highest level of story-craft I've seen in any videogame. Matsuno's work could be downright Shakespearian, and Tactics represented a rare moment where he could deliver that kind of intensity without getting bogged down in empty-calorie-cutscene bullshit. It's not a surprise that he's a perfectionist who was not happy remaining in videogame development, much like kindred spirit Fumito Ueda (Ico, Shadow of the Colossus).
Of narrative alone, Final Fantasy Tactics within its first chapter is the best written and paced video game ever made. Almost every single battle holds important introductions and major stakes for characters embroiled in different levels of betrayal and desperation in the war-torn Ivalice.
Spoiler (click to reveal)
It loses quite a lot in its second chapter (after Tetra dies). Many minor conflicts are either all but resolved or dissolve into the background. When the Zodiac-stone plot gets into full swing, the narrative degenerates to an uninspired good-versus-evil plot.
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JohnRayJr wrote:
Some games are so big that specific moments are akin to short stories. I don't think Red Dead Redemption II really succeeds at the level of grand narrative. What happens to the Van Der Linde gang is ridiculous at times, uninspired at others, stretches credulity at key moments, etc. But, the compact little narrative of Arthur in middle age, trying to do right by his past lover Mary Linton, is more interesting and more tightly crafted than the entire story in 80% of games.


Damn I couldn't agree more with this. The overall arc of Arthur during the game is beautifully well realised, but the 'main plot' which follows the fall of his gang of outlaws is nowhere near the narrative masterpiece that people often call it for.
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