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Story or Gameplay?

Fri 14 March 2014 13:12

This is not a question I would personally be comfortable answering (I enjoy a wide variety of games, from straight up gameplay driven games like Doom, to in-depth story based experiences like Bioshock or Metal Gear Solid), but it's now one I need to ask.

Why?

The past week has been a very exciting time in the Ninjas' dojo - after meeting a few new people, doing a LOT of reading, video watching, conversing and organizing, I have shifted my focus back onto the game and level design aspects of Subnet. This has brought with it some necessary changes in direction, specifically in the level design areas.

I initially intended to make Subnet as open-world as possible. However, due to the sheer workload involved in that (to the level of detail we're aiming for, at least), I have decided - as much as I abhor linear games - to make this a more linear experience. However, before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, let me qualify that by saying that I am still aiming for "Freestyle", or hub-like gameplay - and each "level" or "hub" will still offer a considerable amount of choice and freedom in how you approach each problem. Personally, this realigned focus has the team and I very excited indeed - and if things go as planned, I will have some very cool news to announce on here soon.

The story for Subnet is not finished. I purposefully stopped writing it in order to focus on the proof of concept coding, and it was a good decision at the time - especially considering that a lot of the content I wrote needs to be changed / reimagined now anyway. With the exception of the story, nothing else we've done has been wasted. Which is great news for all involved.

In my opinion, a good story will give us direction, and will seriously help us to plan out the levels, assets and resources we need. Also (on a personal note) I really enjoy an interesting, compelling and twisty storyline in a game - but the gameplay HAS to be able to back it up. If the story in a game I'm playing is lacking, then I will pretty much put up with it and ignore it. If the gameplay is lacking or boring, I'll just stop playing the game entirely.

How?

So, the issue with a linear game is that you will always need a story of some sort - unless it's an arbitrary puzzle game or has an arcade style of gameplay. Not only that, but the public have come to expect a certain level of quality and polish - and that polish inevitably includes quality story writing.

On the other side of the camp are the gung-ho gameplay advocates - "Fuck the story, just let me play the goddamn game". I can relate to this - and can even extend my occasional story-based frustrations out to things like repeatable cut scenes and animations (i.e. "You got a star!" in Mario, opening chest animations in <every game with a chest, ever>). Taking the control away from the player just serves to frustrate, especially if they are a seasoned gamer and their time is precious.

I have been toying with the idea of rewriting the story in Subnet entirely - and making it a parody of story based games. The problem is, a lot of time and effort has been put into the background and history of the world, and everything else is entirely serious - we're putting a lot of effort into the atmosphere of the game, and a mock approach may just feel shoehorned in. Not only that, but I'm not a particularly good comedy writer - I'm more functional and technical in my approach.

What?

Let's take an example. I played Gone Home a few weeks ago, an indie game which is almost exclusively story-based. The experience was entirely different from any other game I've played, and it was very well done, and interesting to play. For a first person game, the mechanics were very basic - but for that particular game, complex mechanics aren't needed.

I'm playing Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag at the moment. Some of the AC games have done a great job with story, retaining my interest for the duration. However, the story in last installment (Assassin's Creed III: Fuck off Connor) was just mind-bendingly boring - coupled with the gameplay bugs and lack of new features, I could have very easily just put the game down and forgotten about it entirely (if it wasn't for my insatiable desire to complete every game I buy these days). In fact, I did just that with LA Noire; a brilliant idea under the hood - some of the technicalities and gameplay ideas were genious, but the story was too drawn out, and a lot of the open-world gameplay was boring and completely unnecessary.

Comment

This is the first time I'm going to specifically ask for people to post comments below - I'd like to hear your opinions on story vs gameplay, and why you have those opinions (game title examples welcome :))

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