Monday, June 23, 2003

Story Complexity

Been playing Vagrant Story and Silent Hill lately, doing a sort of retro thing, catching up on PS1 games I missed because I was a PC gamer. One thing these two games have in common is a story so complex that I don't understand either of them. But some modern games' stories are complex, also: Metal Gear Solid 2, Splinter Cell. When I play games like these I often don't even know why my character is doing what they're doing; I just follow the next goal on the mission screen or whatever.

My question is, why does this happen? I have a number of theories:

- the people who write the stories for these games are not good writers. They're people who have contacts within the gaming world, and lucked into a writing position on the strength of other talents. They're under the mistaken illusion that complexity and quality are related.

- the stories are made purposely complex to give the player yet another way of interacting with the game. The story is purposely complex so we have to use our imaginations to make sense of things; the story is a mystery that we gradually uncover as we progress, and the more complex the story is, the more story points we have to uncover.

- although gameplay testing is done on these popular titles; "Did the player get stuck?" "Did the player get frustrated?" we don't test the story. "Did the player get it?" "Did the player know what the hell was going on?"

- the stories actually aren't that complex, and the problem is actually that I'm too lazy to pay attention to cutscenes full of exposition. I don't think this theory is particularly likely, because I am be able to follow the somewhat complex Nintendo stories in Zelda, Eternal Darkness, and Metroid Prime.

- maybe complexity is what the people want. I've overheard people say, of MGS2, "Man, that story is tight! It's totally unpredictable! Nothing you think turns out to be true!"

Whether most people like complexity or not, I'll take a game like Out of This World, where they don't even need text or dialog to tell a completly clear and compelling story.

[Note from later:] Too lazy to play the last third of the game again, this time conserving enough resources to beat the final boss, I read the plot on gamefaqs. And I still don't get it. So there.