I want to explore some concepts of gaming in a series of articles about what I see as important aspects of any game. The first will focus on what I consider the most important: the story.
Often times an overlooked portion of a game is the story that drives it. In and about the world today it seems that the propelling factor for games is the better graphics, the smarter physics engines, the better multiplayer experience! I see the story as taking a backseat (or even back of a bus seat) to these factors sometimes.
It’s understandable how that perception can be held by some folks out there, and I believe strongly in building a game around a core of three things: story, engine, and gameplay. Drive the balance of one of those three core concepts and you’ll wind up with a broken game.
Games that have excellent story, at least of the ones I’ve played, all have a common theme in that the story draws the player into a world that has familiarity to them, but still accommodates a new vision. An example of this that I like to cite as one of my favorite games is the PS2 great, Ace Combat 4: Shattered Skies. I played that game back and forth, sideways and upside down. I hold that it has that great draw of a story, that of a young orphan’s perspective of a war that features the protagonist (you) fighting to liberate his home, all while hearing the story from the boy while he ventures with the opposition.
I found that the draw of the story kept me playing. I became invested in not just beating the game so that I could add it to the list of games completed, but because I wanted to know what happened next.
Of course there are other games that also have fantastic stories, and even those that don’t. Story is not a requirement for a big blockbuster game. A requirement for a truly great game, but not a blockbuster.
The Mass Effect games come to mind as another good tale in a successful franchise, even with the debacle that was the last installment. Story drove the first two games, and unfortunate choices the third.
Similarly, the absence of a story can also drive a game. My example would be the ever-popular Team Fortress 2. It was only in the last few years that a story was built for the game; upon its initial release there was no driving story for the game, it didn’t need one, it was all about two teams attempting to introduce bullets to the others faces. Or rockets, or fire, you get the idea. The addition of a story to TF2 is a welcome one, and a smart action on the part of the developers to keep hold of that most fickle of player bases in the FPS genre.
Of course we have the bad stories as well, and those do not disappoint in their own odd way. Crysis I would argue does not hold up under examination for a good story by any means, but does stand out well for its graphical content and gameplay, along with, well frankly I’m sure some will disagree, but STALKER has a horrid story, but still manages to be a fun game.
The list of games that uses good story telling to drive the game forward extends and extends with each quality release and the importance that players demand for entertainment.
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