Sunday, May 29, 2011

Story and Restraint in "Aldea Lenta"

So let me talk about story in "Aldea Lenta."

I have previously said that I am not a fan of story in games. Let it be known that this does not mean that I am saying that games should avoid having any narrative. Video game design is about making entertainment and millions of people around the world have found enjoyment from the different stories that have been told through games. There is something to be taken from this. And I love to create fictional worlds, full of imaginative places and interesting characters. Games need context and theme. But linear narratives clash so ferociously with the infinite space of possibilities presented by meaningful interactivity.

Perhaps I should say that I am not too keen on how stories are integrated into games today. I do not enjoy starting a new game only to find that the first hour or so consists of mostly cutscenes, dry dialogue, and very little gameplay. That is a huge turnoff that I personally want to avoid in my designs. "Aldea Lenta" is going to behave in a way similar to the single player experiences developed by Valve (Half-Life, Portal) in that the player never loses control of their avatar. While this solution is far from perfect (dialogue heavy scenes can allow the player to jump and run around frantically, ruining the tone of the current story thread), I believe that if I set in place a few restraining rules most issues could be fixed.

The story structure of "Aldea Lenta" is in some ways similar to that of the original "Legend of Zelda." In "Zelda," the player is dropped into a large, mysterious world with a singular goal; collect all the pieces of the Triforce and defeat the evil Ganon. How the player went about accomplishing this was up to them; there are an endless amount of ways to approach this goal. Over the years the Zelda games have became more and more guiding due to the recent trends of popular game design, but I still believe that the original was the most effective in allowing the player to explore the themes of adventure and discovery. At the beginning of "Aldea Lenta," the player is taken through a 30 minute, linear intro to the gameplay, game world, and the game's goals. After this, they are released into the expansive wild, out to fend for themselves and complete the game. Finally, at the end, they are taken to another 30 minute, linear conclusion that closes everything that they have experienced.

One of the my previous examples of failure in game narrative is dialogue. I am going to solve this issue for "Aldea Lenta" by restraining to use any character dialogue. They characters will simply make express sounds, like the androids of other science fiction works. There is no expository text, and there is only a few briefly spoken announcements from the on board computer. This makes it more challenging to express certain things to the player, but the visual is just as powerful, if not more powerful than the written.

Story is to be told through gameplay, not around it.

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