Story =/ Narrative?Complications Ensue
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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

FAR CRY 3 has a spectacular case of what Clint Hocking calls "ludo-narrative dissonance." That's a fancy phrase for when the gameplay is at odds with the story. The story is about a callow college boy who is out to save his friends, who have been kidnapped by bandits. The gameplay is about destroying bandit camps so you can clear out more territory and get better weapons, and hunting wild animals so you can upgrade your ammo pouches.

The gameplay is really tight and the bandit camps become puzzles: how do you knock off the maximum number of bandits without alerting them to their danger? The problem is that you are in no hurry to liberate your friends. In fact, you do the story missions last. That way, you'll be maximally geared up when you do them. To heck with your friends! They'll still be there when you get to them, right?

 In Mass Effect 3, I recall, the LND got so extreme that I realized that whenever the game told me that a given mission to save the galaxy from the Reapers was super-urgent, that meant I should absolutely not do that mission until I'd done all the sidequests. Many of the sidequests went away the moment you did the story mission.

 In this Game Informer interview, Mark Thompson, the Narrative Director, says they're going to try to sync up the player's motivation with the player character's motivation. Sounds like a good idea, eh?

In related news, Tom Abernathy and Richard Rouse III made some good points in their GDC talk "Death to Three Act Structure". Their point is that game players experience story differently than movie watches. They remember characters and moments better than they remember plot:
MS User Researcher Deborah Hendersen did a study a couple of years ago that might help to answer that question. She discovered that players really hardly remember the specific plots of the games they play. When asked “tell me the plot of your favorite game” players were unable to talk at length or with much accuracy. However, they were *very* able to recall the plots of movies and TV shows they loved.
And, of course, in open world games, it's not really possible to tell a three act story -- you have no idea in what order the player will encounter your narrative material.

So, focus on great characters and great moments.

The more I know about story, the more I realize that it isn't everything.

Both the interview and the GDC talk are worth checking out. 


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