How important are stories in video games? Personally, I don't think they're important at all. Of course there are many variables, but I've played great games with bad storylines and I've played crappy games with good storylines. A story doesn't make or break a game. Even a meandering RPG storyline that seems like it's being made up as you go along won't kill a game. Gameplay kills a game. A bad story will just make you pray for a quick death.
One of my favorite games of all time is Splinter Cell, and I still don't know what it's about.
In Splinter Cell, all I really cared about was my upcoming mission. In many real-world espionage operations, such soldiers and spies are on a need-to-know basis. They don't know the whole picture, and that's so they can't divulge sensitive information if captured and placed under torture. So don't bore me with the details; give me a gun with some neat futuristic stuff on it and a head to shoot with it, and I'm happily on my way. A lot of details do not a good story make.
Compressing a ton of details into a cutscene is annoying, frustrating, and oftentimes counterproductive. I always experience some anxiety entering the next level after a cutscene. I can't remember all that crap. Should I have paid more attention? Am I going to lose everything because I forgot that the Soviet Minister of Agriculture enjoys his decadent Western Coca-Cola and may hide codes in the empty cans he keeps in the storage room down the hall from his office?
What could be more simple, direct, and effective than, "Rescue the Princess?" That's the story; that's the premise; that's the directive. It worked for Mario.
I like when the story is revealed through the actual gameplay, not crammed into cutscenes. Whether it's the amnesia formula used in horror survival games or the piecing-of-the-puzzle in action adventure, the story is part of the gameplay, not a separate element.
There are only a handful of story templates; everything is just a variation. There's the fight between good and evil, the adventure story, the mystery, the fish-out-of-water, the love story, the comedy, and the tragedy. Recall a few games and movies and see what category they fall under. Some may have combined elements. As in music where there are only twelve notes, it's the ability of the creative person to make something unique out of these finite elements. A great craftsman has the ability to make stories or music sound fresh and original. Like a great melody, a story should flow and introduce dynamics in a natural way, with a few surprises along the way.
When it comes to writing, we need more magicians and fewer journalists. End of story.
Senior Contributing Writer
Date: May 18, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*