This problem has sort of crept up on developers. In the 1990’s, shooters didn’t have much in the way of story. Basically, “Bad guys over there, go shoot them until the world is saved.” At the time everyone complained that this was kind of hollow.
There weren’t plot points, character development, or worldbuilding. There was shooting, and – later on – shooting bigger guys with bigger guns. You know. MOAR DAKKA, basically.
So then developers began injecting stories into games. Once every hour or so the characters would stop what they were doing to give some context to what was going on.
Then the stories grew. We had multi-threaded plots, character arcs, plot twists, lore, and rising action. Sure, lots of it was pretty sophomoric, but… baby steps, right? As games became more about story, the story and gameplay became more at odds. The gameplay has to stop for the cutscenes and the story has to stop once the gameplay starts. It’s like pausing a movie, playing an hour of a game, then pausing the game and watching another five minutes of movie. We’re watching a badly paced movie, and to get to the next scene we have to play a bland game.
I don’t see this as a Mass Effect problem, or a BioWare problem. This is a problem for anyone making story-driven action games. This problem culminates at the end, where the developer has to decide if they want to give you a big long combat finale at the expense of the story’s pacing, or if they want to go into full-on movie mode and make you stop playing your game.
I tried to think of games that did this finale really well. I came up with two. Now it’s your turn. You think up two games that successfully unified the story and gameplay crescendos at the end. I’ll wait…
Okay, so here are the games I thought of:
Deus Ex and Half-Life 2.
I didn’t realize until now just how similar these are. Both games have an unreachable antagonist in a machine, and your job is to kill them. They talk to you during the sequence, while you are silent,. They do this without cutscenes, letting you keep playing while the story moves forward through shouted dialog. You’re mostly fighting mooks and environmental hazards, not HUGE ROBAWTZ or DEMONS. The combat area is built around the antagonist, keeping them at the center of the conflict.
I’m not suggesting this is the ONLY way to design a shooter finale, but I did find it interesting that the first two games that sprang to mind had so much in common.
What two games did you think of?
WAY back in 2005, I wrote about a D&D campaign I was running. The campaign is still there, in the bottom-most strata of the archives.
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