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Author Topic: How to tell a good story in a video game: Episodes or no episodes?  (Read 634 times)
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« on: March 26, 2018, 09:30:05 AM »

Hi there, My name is Gozzi
Playing the ReCap adventure in Dark Dawn (you know that theme-park thing, where you relive the previous games?), I'm reminded of how a lot of RPGs seem written as if they'd fit into an episodic structure, as an anime or something.  I often kind of look at that and say "oh, I see what they're doing there," and I think it's neat, but I've never really thought of whether it was a good idea or not.  I mostly wasted too much time being impressed with the fact that mediums reflect each other.  I never questioned whether they should แทงบอลเงินสด

But since y'all are story-driven RPG folks, I figure I'd ask you guys what kind of story telling you like in RPGs.  And I guess I've been thinking about how your "community project" could've been broken up into interchangeable parts (to avoid failures, bottle necks, disagreements, etc.), and I thought: "hey, just break it up into episodes!"  But perhaps that's actually a bad thing when it comes to telling a good story?

Or like a good tv show, do you want there to be both long and short story-arcs?

AND (ugh, I guess I'm just thinking out loud now) I kind of realize how I *love* filler, and atmospheric stuff, but other people hate it.  Are RPGs best when they have lots and lots of filler, or when they have no filler?
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« Reply #1 on: March 30, 2018, 05:08:27 PM »

Having played a number of RPGs, I personally feel that the GS games rank among the lower end of them in terms of story. They generally have simplistic plots, character motivation that is either missing entirely or is handled so poorly as to be unbelievable, bland personalities if they even exist, and a huge amount of effort put into things that, while amazing, have @#$% all to do with the story itself. If I give Camelot any credit at all, it's that they are amazing when it comes to their attention to detail, and they are good with maximizing the capabilities of whatever hardware they are working with. At least for these games anyway. Even simple things, like how walking in shallow puddles will create little splashing or ripple effects, or how using Douse in most cold places will make it snow instead, or how virtually every single generic NPC in Dark Dawn uses a unique model—which sucks, because Dark Dawn is so bland and the story so nonsensical that I bet less than 1% of the people who played that game actually noticed—are good. GS2 actually has battle animations that use legitimate 3D effects and look amazing, yet story-wise that game is the most rushed of the three and there are several subplots that are either botched or are never given the attention they deserve (looking at you, Sheba). I'll go into more detail on this another day.



Yet, of the three, I'd actually say that the first game has the worst story because of how boring it is. DD is much worse overall, yes, but at least there are some potentially interesting things that are alluded to. GS1 utilizes a number of classic tropes that are borderline cliche at this point, and on the whole is the least inspired of the three when it comes to story. It is easier to remember than DD because it is very pretty, which the second game does better anyway.

Ignoring Isaac being mute, which is also one such cliche that is used horribly, I can think of a number of things just in the prologue/tutorial part of the game that are taken directly from other games that performed well:
- Isaac is woken up out of bed;
- By his mother/parent/guardian;
- During a really bad storm;
- He meets up with his childhood best friend;
- He loses a parent/guardian;
- Time skip: He, his childhood best friend, his other friend/love interest, and his teacher enter a forbidden/sacred area and unwittingly steal the precious artifacts there;
- His love interest gets kidnapped;
- Disaster [almost] befalls his quiet, peaceful village;
- He is tasked with stopping Saturos & co. from lighting the elemental Crystals of Light lighthouses.

And I want to be clear, I'm one of the few people on this site who doesn't mind mute protagonists. You just need to put more effort into giving them a personality, and depending on the style you go for that can be really hard to do. The Mario & Luigi games generally do a really good job with the personality thing despite the fact that it's Mario, and both of the titular characters only ever speak in sound clips like Link in the Zelda series; they have no written dialogue to speak of (not counting when Luigi cross-dresses of course), yet the way they react to situations and show their emotions goes a long way. A much more recent example is some game I found on Steam called Iconoclasts. I found the story to be fairly average on the whole, but the one character I actually liked was the silent protagonist; she reacts to situations and demonstrates emotion, all without dialogue. Yet another example would be Link in Wind Waker; that kid is very emotive!

I also don't mind episodic plots, provided they can be justified. It's often just a variation of the classic 3/4 act structure that has been tweaked to fit gameplay needs. GS does it too, but the first two games rarely justify it while DD's actually decent attempts at justification are still marred by the mixed intentions of the designers. You are supposed to explore to find things, like Haures, Crystallux, etc., yet you are also supposed to follow along with a plot that has the gall to throw in some points of no return without warning you.



Episodic formats are not a problem. Poor or inconsistent justification for why you're doing the things you are doing is a huge one, however.

Let's look at another example. I'm going to talk about a game I first played in 2015. It's a certain RPG that captures some of the same spirit that EarthBound had (another fantastic RPG). It is a game in which your choices matter, unlike in GS. It also stars a certain character who is lost in a land of monsters and wants to return home, and it boasts a colourful cast of quirky characters that are generally quite memorable.

I'm talking about LISA: The Painful. This game is essentially broken up into three broad sections and is almost episodic on its own. The main thing that ties everything together is that you always have one primary goal; find your surrogate daughter, who is possibly the last women in a world of perverts. There's a real motive there, and almost everything you do ties in to accomplishing your goal or is related to the central themes of the story.


Contrast this with the GS games:
- GS1 has two main reasons for doing what you are doing. Stop the end of the world (snore), and rescue Jenna. The Jenna angle is completely dropped by around Mercury Lighthouse, and the last person to even remember that you have the star is Alex. Before you leave Mercury. This was one of a few characters who proposed taking Jenna as a hostage for said star, and nobody even remembers the trade proposal when you're there. Then you go to Altin, Fuchin, Xian, etc. because a bridge is out... Yeah. In fact, GS1 doesn't even try to justify the middle third of the entire game, aside from a bridge south of Vault being ruined. The text never explicitly tells you that this is why you're bothering with not-China, aside from a very brief mention during the Hammet escape sequence that, again, has nothing to do with the main plot despite the setup given to it. It would be intuitive to think that you should go after Ivan to help rescue Hammet at the start of the game, because you just helped him recover the Shaman Rod, you have been informed that Hammet went north to Lunpa, and you are not given any other answers for what to do next. Later still, Layana tells you about Hammet's hostage situation when you visit her in Kalay.

Hammet is relegated to being an optional sidequest that you can't do until after Colosso.


- GS2 has a few. Rescue your parents (which is stated as if that nuke was already established), to save the world, and because Alex and his party are suggesting you consider lighting the lighthouses in the next year or two. Kraden or someone also suggests doing it to replenish civilization. Okay. The parent revelation, while poorly handled, is at least a more interesting reason for doing things than simply saving the world. I question if this was even intended when they first released GS1 though, but I can go into that another time.

The biggest issues with this game, however, are that it's very directionless and incredibly rushed. I've been working on an essay to go into more detail on the rushed aspect, which I'll save for later.


- DD also has a few. Isaac and Garet need to do research, and lacked the foresight to keep some spare gliders around. Mt. Aleph is huge, do they seriously take turns? You go to Southern Angara because the bad guys put a roadblock up and you needed to rescue a friend; actually a good justification. Everything you do, at least up until the Eclipse, ties in to your two central goals of finding Kraden or going to Kolima for the feather. Even if the inciting incident, the reason the story begins after the intro, is dumb. However, when the Eclipse happens, your goal shifts to stopping the apocalypse.

This apocalypse, by the way, is completely mitigated by light. Three entire towns survive relatively unscathed because of ancient lighting in their walls. Many of the citizens of Belinsk, the town where it started, also survive. Obaba survives in a town that is free of monsters because they lit some things on fire. In Kaocho, the generals and the town's children presumably survive by going in the main palace where it is lit up. On that note, everyone else here dies, yet most people in Belinsk survive? What?

All Matthew really needs to do is just go to each town and tell them to keep everything lit up, since it's implied that the Eclipse will end when enough light has been absorbed anyway. Barring that, they could at least discuss the possibility of evacuating people with the boat they have at this point. This game also adds a tonne of lore that, again, has @#$% all to do with the story. Much like how Camelot was great at giving considerable attention to detail in the GBA games, they gave it to lore and backstory at the expense of the story we're supposed to care about. Which we can't anyway, because none of the characters we would want to care about are in any real danger. It's a shame too, because the potential for having everything stand out was really high with this one.



So while the story and gameplay are masterfully interwoven with each other in LISA, they are much less so in GS. It is worth noting that DD is perhaps closer to being a classic 4 act structure than either of the GBA games, yet that still didn't save the mediocre story from bad design principles. As an aside, DD tries to balance mildly darker themes and lighthearted humour together and fails. LISA manages to blend lightheartedness and some genuinely messed up themes together and succeeds. DD even sterilized some of the themes it wanted to cover some time after footage of the E3 press demo came out, and it suffers immensely for that. They had some genuinely interesting ideas too, like Tyrell being emotionally stunted from losing his mother at a young age, and people at large distrusting adepts because of the Golden Sun and perceived power imbalances. Played well, and that second one could have served as an interesting allegory for racism in a genre that generally misses the mark.

I feel like they were planning something like that with the lore about the Jenei and Fori, but I would also be willing to bet that the story went through some rewrites at the last minute. Especially given how the story gets far worse in the last quarter of the game.



I hope this isn't too much to take in! It's also worth highlighting that, if the first two games were structured better story-wise, they could have served as an interesting deconstruction of the classic JRPG. The first game adheres to a number of tired tropes and cliches, while the second actually subverts a lot of them while also introducing the revelation that the GS1 party was in the wrong. Every game in the series also has a pretty consistent theme regarding loss and/or abandonment, especially involving loved ones. It's a shame they never do anything with that theme, but it is there.

This is a very interesting subject that I've been thinking about a lot lately; thanks for posting it!


Edit: I just realized that I forgot to say something. LISA's "story and gameplay are masterfully interwoven with each other" in a cool way. Everything Brad can do is based on his current state. If he loses a limb, then he loses a button he can make combos with. If he's suffering from withdrawal, then his stats suffer. Every enemy you fight, barring some exceptions, is unique; they are either just ordinary people who are in your path, sometimes just as bystanders, or they are the mere shadows of their former selves.

GS does this to a lesser extent, in that you do have psynergy both in and out of the field but they are relatively disconnected. Jenna can learn Flare in her base class, yet can't use it to light things on fire? She has to get Blaze, which is basically just a Deku Stick with limited range. Garet's worse off because he can't even get that despite being otherwise eligible.

I would argue that the best way to tell a good story in a game would be to make the gameplay and the story linked together. EarthBound does a bit of this too, as do the other games/series I've mentioned. GS is fun because it does this to a point, but it doesn't fully commit to the idea; psynergy is generally just a means of solving puzzles, like in Zelda, but 90% of the time the puzzles only amount to matching pegs to their respective holes. One of the few times it ties in directly with the story, it is an automatic anti-Tret barrier that only works there and is autonomous, directly contradicting the idea that psynergy needs intense training to hone. Otherwise, you have Mind Read and Ply as the standard cutscene powers; Ply in particular is bad because it's not the only healing skill you have access to, yet the story treats it as if it is (even when in a class that doesn't have it).

Contrast with the abilities you get in Superstar Saga, where anything you learn in the field translates directly to a thing you can do in battle. Same deal with several Metroidvania games, where that is generally one of the main features of that genre. Or LISA, which I just talked about.

I feel like this is the same reason for why a lot of people hated the execution of HMs in Pokemon games too. Not only were they abilities that are difficult to remove, you also can't use your Pokemon to do other things in the field most of the time. GS is the same.
« Last Edit: March 30, 2018, 06:04:20 PM by Salanewt » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: August 22, 2018, 03:28:20 AM »

Very fun   Mercury Djinni
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October 13, 2018, 03:23:06 AM
Salanewt: Updated it to provide more info that I forgot to mention.
October 13, 2018, 03:16:48 AM
Salanewt: I'm still trying to iron out IQ 2 but I'm pretty sure it's entirely random targeting.
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Salanewt: Oh yeah, I posted some more info about enemy IQ.
October 12, 2018, 09:51:27 PM
FoxThe HTML5 project is too small to count
October 12, 2018, 06:19:48 AM
Luna_blade: there is jjppof's html5 project...
October 12, 2018, 06:19:17 AM
Luna_blade: Though Momo rings a bell it seems I came here after you left
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Fox: (If that makes sense.)
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Fox: Yeah, I guess so.  More just saying that's a good place to get answers to GS related questions at the moment.
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Crystal Sonata: I did before, but I guess I could try it again
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Fox: Not much at the moment. This forum seems pretty quiet. Perhaps you'd be interested in joining the Discord for GSHC that seems to have more activity?
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Crystal Sonata: Any projects going on? I need a distraction from the daily grind and I'm interested in hacking GS again.
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Fox: Thanks, and good to see you too!
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Fox: A few people I'm sure... Most likely the regulars of the past. Such as Atrius, Charon, Role, Salanewt....
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Crystal Sonata: I find myself wondering who still remembers me here. Obvs you do (Good to see ya Tea)
October 10, 2018, 12:46:11 AM
Fox: On second thought, it might be because you haven't posted much as Crystal Sonata.
October 10, 2018, 12:41:12 AM
Fox: And your intro isn't that bad. - I imagine most people would say the same about theirs?
October 10, 2018, 12:39:39 AM
Fox: :O - You've been gone so long, I think I forgot you were Momo.  Interesting.
October 09, 2018, 10:23:39 PM
Crystal Sonata: I just revisited my dark past on here and ouch. Someone delete that introduction thread please, the cringe.
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Crystal Sonata: Aaaaand, she re-appears yet again. My life keeps dragging me away from the internet sadly.
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