Experienced Points: These Games Were Ruined By Trying to Be Movies

By Shamus
on Apr 7, 2015
Filed under:
Column

My column this week is a list of games that were harmed by their cinematic aspirations. It very nearly turned into a rant against Square Enix. Once I realized they made the list three times, I started thinking maybe the problem is less with the industry and more with a couple of wannabe filmmakers at Square.

I’ve said before that I’m pretty sure Square has a top-of-the-line mocap studio in Redwood City, California. That’s the home of Crystal Dynamics, the developers behind the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot. Without any evidence, I’m suspecting that a big part of the problem is that Square is now a hammer in search of a nail. They have this expensive facility, and so they want to use it as much as possible, whether it makes sense or not. This explains Thi4f and Absolution having such an unwelcome and inappropriate focus on story. Although it doesn’t explain Human Revolution, which doesn’t seem to use full-performance capture like the others. I assume the Crystal Dynamics mocap facility wasn’t available during the development of Human Revolution.)

Then again, this is Square Enix we’re talking about. They rose to power making Final Fantasy, and it’s entirely possible that they’re simply following typical executive monomania: Take something that worked in one context and DO IT EVERYWHERE ALL THE TIME AT EVERY POSSIBLE OPPORTUNITY. Like EA assuming that since DLC worked so well in X, then it will work equally well in ALL GAMES. Same goes for yearly releases. And multiplayer level-grind deathmatch.

Still, if we could spend some of this money on more gameplay and less horrible movies, I’d be happyOr at least, complaining about something else. Which is kind of like being happy..

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Footnotes:

[1] Or at least, complaining about something else. Which is kind of like being happy.


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  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Wouldnt it be easier to just make an empty list of games that were not ruined by trying to be movies?

    • Matthew I says:

      *This War of Mine
      *Minecraft
      *Team Fortress
      *Lone Survivor
      *World of Tanks
      *War Thunder
      *etc etc etc

      • MichaelGC says:

        Those are games not ruined by not trying to be movies, not games not ruined by not not trying. Er. If you follow me.

        • 4th Dimensioni says:

          Yeah at least I do. Those games never tried to be movies. The list proposed by Demian would list games that tried to imitate movies and did not suck at it or at least movieness did not spoil the gameplay.
          I guess the Last of Us would qualify.
          Allthough the question would be what qualifies the game to be labeled as game pretending to be a movie? Cutscenes? The Walking Dead and other Telltale adventures are practically gameplay wise QTE cutscenes the game.

    • Smejki says:

      FIXD
      list of games that were not ruined despite trying to be movies

      Mafia
      Witcher 2
      Mass Effect
      Last of Us

      what else?

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Ill give you the first two,but mass effect tried to be a movie?I mean it did have that movie grain filter,but I dont remember it focusing that much on cool visuals but rather the story.And while the last of us wasnt ruined by trying to be a movie,it got ruined by other things.Though that dlc was quite good(and less of a movie as well).

        • Smejki says:

          True. Mass Effect 2 and 3 got much more film-y. However I liked that ME 1 tried to look as a movie without reducing itself to be played as one.

          That’s a good point really because it shows that definition of “Game trying to be a movie” could actually be quite broad.

          • Aldowyn says:

            I, unsurprisingly, actually really appreciate some of the more ‘cinematic’ parts of the later mass effect games. Reminds me of a review of the Jaws of Hakkon Inquisition DLC I read that said that the reviewer was surprised that they missed some of that stuff from the base game…

            • Joe Informatico says:

              It’d be nice if that stuff didn’t jar so much with its own lore. The codex entries are full of descriptions of how hard SF-y and based on real physics space combat is, and then you have the artillery NCO lecturing his gunners on Isaac Newton. Then you get to the cutscenes, and it’s Star Wars dogfighting in space, with something as massive as the Normandy no less. Sigh.

        • Tom says:

          I think Mass Effect 1 was trying more to be a 70s-80s era, made-on-film TV series than it was a movie (a lot of the visual design, all that curvy white plastic and broad, clean shapes, positively screams “1970s futurism”), or at least one of the very slow-paced, thoughtful sci-fi movies, with occasional modest action as required by the plot, that you used to get back then (Some of the earliest Michael Crichton films, Westworld and the original Andromeda Strain, spring most readily to mind, or maybe some of the original Planet of the Apes films). The 3rd game is definitely trying to be a movie (and, god help us, I think it almost strays into Jerry Bruckheimer territory at times); the 2nd game is a weird mish-mash of some of the best elements from the first game whilst arbitrarily ditching others, and some of the worst that would subsequently be found in the third.

  2. Daemian Lucifer says:

    It’s not like they were once mechanically deep and complex games that were stripped to make room for a movie

    Technically,they are.Both call of duty and battlefield are mechanically competend and complex multiplayer games(well some of the installments are).But their single player parts are…tacked on,to put it gently.

    • Jokerman says:

      Tacked on and marketed to death with a bit of Kevin Spacey on the side. Certainly seems like a lot of effort goes into them campaigns, just misplaced effort.

    • Aldowyn says:

      Once upon a time, not that long ago, Battlefield didn’t even HAVE singleplayer campaigns. I guess after the Bad Company games were well received and CoD exploded they started to chase that?

      • Ringwraith says:

        The irony being, of course, the Bad Company campaigns were fun. They had a bunch of messed-up characters generally acting fairly irresponsibility. Even when they buckle down into something serious, they’re still themselves exchanging jabs at each other and such, rather than interchangeable cardboard cut-outs.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Well call of duty 1 had somewhat interesting single player campaign.And the you die part of it was both original and well executed.But now that everyone is trying to ape that,its just stale,overused,shallow and overall bad.

          • Ringwraith says:

            I meant in terms of the Bad Company campaigns almost being a different genre it feels like, just due to the tone.
            Call of Duty has eventually stuck itself into a rut and doesn’t seem to realise this.

  3. Thomas says:

    Doesn’t it weaken your list to include an excellent game in it?

    And I think it’s super disingenuous to think the boss fights were in service to the cutscenes in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. There’s barely an evidence in game of that, the bosses are barely developed in the cutscenes, the gameplay leading up to the boss fights aren’t cutscene dominated and the story isn’t bent around them.

    There is very good evidence to suggest the story was bent around the boss fights though. The cutscenes had surprise ambushes because they were trying to force the boss fights into the game because games are meant to have boss fights. The custscenes werne’t even particularly cinematic, they rarely tried to do anything more than a functional explanation of why you were there, like every game used cutscenes for the 10 years before DX:HR

    There were boss fights in the game because games are ‘meant’ to have boss fights. They were outsourced because Square Enix was experimenting with the outsourcing model of game development (I’m pretty sure the cutscenes were also outsourced to a different group). The company that made those boss fights probably barely even knew what the story was. I bet their brief was “here are 4 villains make a mechanically interesting boss fight out of them”. And then it failed because the studio making it wasn’t very good and the outsourcing model was horrible.

    The correct title for Human Revolution is “This game was excellent but had some weak segments because of poor development models”

  4. Dev Null says:

    This explains Thi4f and Absolution having such an unwelcome and inappropriate focus on story.

    That… is not something I ever expected to hear you say Shamus. I will say that the focus on story might have been more welcome had it been a _good_ story in either case. In fact, I might have re-worded that:

    “…unwelcome focus on inappropriate story…”

    • MichaelGC says:

      “An unwelcome and inappropriate focus on cinematically presenting their story,” I think is all that means, or “inappropriate ‘cinematic’ focus” – agree there might be accidentally a word, but it makes sense in context. (Although I guess if one does have such a focus, that’ll have a knock-on effect as to what goes into the story itself, of course. So either way the focus is wrong! Bad focus! Bad!)

      As an aside, I’ve lately been watching the Half in the Bag movie reviews, and it’s interesting that one of their mild put-downs is to say of a film: it is like a videogame…

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Generally it is a put down for any art form when it feels like another art form,because it usually means the end result is an inferior blend of the two.You eant your movie to be a movie,and not a book or a vifeo game.

      • Dev Null says:

        Oh don’t get me wrong; in the context of the linked article – about these games shoving so much _non-interactive_ story into their games ruining them – the comment makes perfect sense. It’s just that “too much story” is not a complaint I expected from Shamus.

      • Joe Informatico says:

        Well, Edge of Tomorrow and Source Code are good examples of films that can take a videogame concept (endless respawns) and build a good story around it. Otherwise, I can enjoy a film like Crank or the Death Race remake that just unapologetically embraces a video game conceit and has fun with it.

        But something like the factory sequence in Attack of the Clones or the big action setpieces in the Hobbit trilogy are the flipside of Shamus’ article: movies ruined by trying to ape video game action. (Seriously, the band of dwarven “merchants, miners, tinkerers, toy-makers” almost rack up as many kills in that one scene as the veteran warriors of the Fellowship do before the Battle of Helm’s Deep in the LotR films.)

        • Dev Null says:

          Oh sure, but LotR was telling a story, and the Hobbit was selling the soon-to-be-ride at Disneyland. And/or the video game. But I don’t think the movies were ruined by trying to be a video game; I think they were – lets say damaged, since I don’t think they were completely pointless – by trying to be two such dissimilar movies at once (The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, and Indiana Jones and the Temple to Comic Relief.) And then, granted, stretching those two stories across three films, and padding the gaps out with ads for the game, but if they’d chopped all of that out it would still have failed to work on a fundamental level.

    • MrGuy says:

      I disagree, sort of.

      Both Thief and Hitman have always been mechanically focused on solving open-ended challenges by creative use of mechanics. That’s the creamy center that makes them enjoyable. The story in both franchises have always been secondary.

      A great hitman level has you needing to take out a police lieutenant on his way to testify in a crowded courtroom. The fun is in whether you choke him out quietly in the bathroom, or cause the chandelier to fall on him, or place a mine in the bible he’ll be sworn in with, or poison the bottle of water he’ll drink from, or just gun him down. And whether you’ll set this up dressed as a bailiff, or a judge, or a civilian, or a prisoner.

      Why you’re doing this is at best flavor – you’re a hitman. You’re doing it for the money. What other reason do you need?

      This doesn’t mean you can’t have a story, or even a good story. But when the FOCUS is on the story (even if it was a good one), then you’re taking focus AWAY from the thing that’s fun. At best, if you’ve got an amazing story to tell that I want to see, then you’ve broken even. Most of the time, you’ve made the game worse.

      If I’m playing sudoku, and every time I finish a game I have to read a chapter of a novel before I can play another one, the odds of me thanking you are low. Sure, if you’ve got the next Da Vinci Code* as the novel, it might be enjoyable. I just wouldn’t bet on it.

      By the way, in my experience, most of the time, if you have to force me to stop playing the game and focus on your story, it’s because your story isn’t compelling enough for me to want to focus on it.

      * Not a fan of the Da Vinci Code personally – insert your favorite “popular and enjoyable book” here if you prefer.

      • Abnaxis says:

        I would agree with you about Sudoku, but I think it’s not an apt metaphor. Sudoku is essentially just a raw set of mechanics. There’s no role-playing, no characters, no human faces at all. It’s just numbers on a page.

        In contrast, all the titles under discussion are much less abstracted. In Thief, you aren’t just a number collecting other numbers so another number can go higher, you’re playing as a thief who is stealing stuff so he can have more money. Internally, the computer still reads it as a number going up in a convoluted, abstract way, but the facade put on top of the numbers contextualizes these abstract rules into themes and messages.

        While I think it would be unreasonable to have a round of Sudoku interspersed with chapters of the Da Vinci Code, I think it’s entirely less unreasonable to make take the original book, replace every instance where the in-book character is trying to find clues, and replace them with Arkham-esque detective mechanics, I think that would work. The draw of the book is that it’s a treasure hunt with historical factoids and exposition about biblical icons interspersed–let the player do the treasure hunting and reward them with exposition, and you have AAA gold there.

        The difference is that detective mechanics support being interspersed with narrative, while numbers on a page don’t. The problem isn’t interrupting the gameplay with a movie, it’s interrupting the gameplay with a movie wrong. By the same token, if you wanted to (say) make Thief into an episodic game, where you play as Garrett taking job after job, where the narrative focus is on the mark-of-the-week, you could totally make Thief into a cut-scene -> gameplay -> cut-scene experience and the game would be better for it.

      • Kylroy says:

        “If I’m playing sudoku, and every time I finish a game I have to read a chapter of a novel before I can play another one…”

        So…Myst?

  5. Thomas says:

    I actually have similar thoughts about Thief and Hitman: Absolution either. Neither of them feel like games that are trying to be films, they both feel like games which are trying to be the old cutscene-level-cutscene paradigm.

    You can argue that games like Tomb Raider and Uncharted and The Last of Us are trying to be films, because it feels like they’re bending their gameplay to be cinematic.

    Whereas with Thief and Hitman: Absolution, the cutscenes and the levels are almost entirely disjointed parts. I’ve said many times now, Hitman: Absolution feels like they created some levels, and then they separately glued a story around it and finally put some objectives on those levels.

    It’s not that the game is trying to be a movie. It’s a game trying to be a game in a very 2000’s line of thought where the game and the ‘film’ are two separate pieces pushed together. And the ‘film’ part was terrible because they hired bad writers.

    I would almost guarantee, that far from trying to make ‘cinematic’ games where everything was warped around a desire for these cutscenes, I bet the writers were hired after 50% of the game was completed, shown a bunch of half-connected levels and told “make a story that works around them”.

    It’s like the Twine game about videogame writers. The writer was an afterthought and everyone tried to pin their fundamental problems with game design and tone on the writer, using the writer as an after thought who they could blame for their own mistakes

    • Tom says:

      Ironically, one of the greatest strengths of the original Looking Glass Thief games was that, although they have discrete levels with loadscreens and cutscenes between them (a model which even then was getting old-fashioned), the bulk of the story was still revealed in-engine, without stopping gameplay. Indeed, eavesdropping was practically a core mechanic.

  6. Deoxy says:

    Or at least, complaining about something else. Which is kind of like being happy.

    It’s a good thing you put this note in, or you’d be showing a terrible lack of self-awareness. Heh.

    I used to work with someone who was like that… only more. I used to say that she wasn’t happy unless she had something to be angry about.

  7. MadTinkerer says:

    Part of the problem at Squeenix is the success of Final Fantasy VI. Even more than the success of VII and onwards, VI was the game where they didn’t just borrow from Star Wars (and other western movies) but they finally could start to make their own Star Wars. The cinematic bits of VI did add to the rest of the game, and were a great improvement over what had been and could have been done with IV and V.

    If you play the first Final Fantasy, you’ll even notice some cinematic influence there. The entire flagship series has been about mixing games and movies from the very start.

    The relative failure of XII was blamed on focusing too much on making the game parts and not making enough movie parts (FF XII’s plot was unfinished). So with FFXIII they decided they would finish the story and make sure the combat was good and that players could play through the entire story they wrote even if that meant sacrificing things like towns and shops. As a result, 13 is the most horrific failure of a not-even-a-game I have ever decided to stop playing*, and 12 is still my favorite by far even though it’s supposedly incomplete.

    Instead of FF13, I recommend playing Dear Ester for five minutes, then a round of Street Fighter, then Dear Ester for another five minutes and repeat. Also, have RahXephon or one of the other stranger anime series playing in the background while you do this. This will recreate the “cinematic” experience of XIII while not needing to actually inflict XIII on yourself.

    Or just go play FFVI to see a good cinematic RPG done with a tiny fraction of the budget made by competent (former) Squeenix employees who should never have been let go.

    *I didn’t stop playing 13 because it was too difficult or I didn’t have time. I stopped playing because I finally got to Cocoon and decided that it wasn’t worth my time to ever try to finish.

    • Zukhramm says:

      Final Fantasy XIII is not only the best Final Fantasy but one of the best games ever created and I recommend everyone to play through it at least twice.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        If by “play” you mean let it play itself in the background while you do something smarter and more enjoyable(meaning anything else),then yes,everyone go do that.

        Or,you know,dont waste your time and money and just do something else without bothering with ffxiii.

      • theNater says:

        XIII completely failed to engage me, both mechanically and narratively.

        On the mechanical side, I found a first order optimal strategy and just held on to it for the entire game. I recognize that the paradigm system is an interesting idea, but nothing in the game ever made me want to really explore it. This built into a negative feedback loop: combat was boring, so I wasn’t inclined to seek out the harder fights that might have pushed me into other strategies.

        Narratively, I just didn’t care about most of the characters. I found Snow and Lightning boring, with Hope and Vanille being actively annoying(my animosity for Hope is at least partially mechanically motivated; the parts where he was party leader were anti-fun). Sazh and Fang were pretty great, but not enough to carry the game by themselves. Worse was the antogonists; I don’t remember any of them by name. They were all doing weird behind-the-scenes manipulation, so I never really got to know them. Contrast Kefka, who is instantly hateable and, thanks to his clown outfit and bizarre laugh, super memorable. I cared about him, in that I wanted to strike him with magic and steel until he shut up.

    • MintSkittle says:

      Square is definitely a video game company that desperately wants to make movies and tv shows, and has been for a long time.

      Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals, released in 1994, is supposedly a direct sequel to Final Fantasy V.

      Around the turn of the millennium, Square tried to make their own movie studio, Square Pictures, which produced Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, which ended up costing Square nearly a hundred million dollars,and Square Pictures closed shortly afterwards.

      Released around the same time was Final Fantasy: Unlimited, a more traditional anime intended to have two seasons, but also underperformed, and was cut short after the first season.

      In 2008, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children was released. I’m not sure how this one did financially, but overall reception seems to be YMMV.

      • Felblood says:

        Advent Children is actually a texbook example of the non-erotic fanservice that they was trying to define in the last Diecast.

        The entire movie exists so that people like my 19 year old, past self could go, “Ooh, It’s that guy! –and he did the thing! I can’t beleive they actually used the thing. Ooh-ooh! He’s wearing the Ribbon! It’s not just a ribbon, it’s the actual Ribbon! Oh, man, it’s that guy! I didn’t think they would bring that guy back from the dead just to be in this. I think I actually like this version of him even more! Oh! It’s that evil guy! I hate that guy! Yes! Kick that evil guy’s ass with that one move! Right! Now, have him say the thing that he says! So, great! 10/10! Would watch again even if I had to pay for it this time.”

        This movie was the first one that I pirated so I could get the subbed version before it came out in English, and I bought a legal copy as soon as I was able. I was a lot less cynical then.

      • Stu Friedberg says:

        Final Fantasy Unlimited was an appallingly bad anime on several levels. Cheaply animated, poor integration of (grossly overused and recycled) CGI with simplistic cell-style animation, a story that didn’t know whether its audience was supposed to be 6 years old or 16, on and on and on. IIRC, one of the worst examples of the “Male: Yells female’s name. Female: Yells male’s name. Repeat ad nauseum until viewers puke, or one character is forcibly dragged out of frame.” trope for expressing anguish and grief in a frustrated romantic relationship. Feh. One of the very few anime series I immediately removed from my library, and truly regretted spending money on.

        The Spirits Within suffered from poor pacing, very slow story development, a bad case of uncanny valley in human characters (but pretty much state of the art for the time), typical Square Gaea-eco-mysticism that didn’t emotionally involve the viewer (despite, or because of, the pacing issue). I was bored, bored, bored. But at least I didn’t discard the disk the way I did for FF:U.

        Advent Children was, indeed, fan service of the highest kind. I honestly don’t know how it would be viewed by someone unfamiliar with FF7, but for most FF7 players it rocks. :-) I bought it, and then I bought the enhanced edition when that came out.

        So, you could argue that Sqeenix is getting better at this.

    • Dev Chand says:

      Playing that instead of Final Fantasy 13 sounds like an interesting experiment. I like the idea of playing a beat em up with an oddball and possibly hyper active cartoon airing in the background.

  8. Bloodsquirrel says:

    I disagree on the military shooters- Call of Duty II was much more open with more content than it’s successors. Even when it was linear, it took pains to hide the fact with level design- trying to make you feel like the battlefield gave you more options than it really did. I felt the shift in focus immediately playing Modern Warfare, and I’ve hated the series ever since.

  9. Retsam says:

    While I won’t disagree that many games are ruined by trying to be movies, e.g. the games on this list, I don’t like it when the “lesson” learned from these examples is “games should never try to be cinematic”. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with cinematic games when done well.

    FFX is, as ever, one of my favorite games, and definitely one I enjoy more for the story than the gameplay; it always irks me when someone says something that amounts to “games like FFX shouldn’t exist because games should never try to be cinematic”.

    But yeah, cinematics shouldn’t undercut the gameplay and cases like the ones listed here, where it does definitely suck

    • Jokerman says:

      “unwelcome and inappropriate focus on story”

      I think this is a pretty key point of this post, Shamus picked games where it was extremely out of place for the series (Bar GTA, i feel since they went 3d, this is what they have always been going for.)

      I really liked Uncharted, It might be trying to be a movie… but it’s a pretty fun movie with a good sense of humor and great set pieces made from the ground up to emulate a big dumb blockbuster… it wasn’t show horned in to a gamplay, systems based series.

    • Syal says:

      Final Fantasy has had an emphasis on being cinematic since the NES days.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Cinematic game is not the same as a game with good cinematics.Wouldnt it be more correct to say that ffx is a good game that has good cinematics,rather than a cinematic game where the cutscenes trump everything else(like recent spunkgargleweewees)?

      • Retsam says:

        Why wouldn’t FFX be a “cinematic game”? Not only does it have “good cinematics”, but it has a heavy emphasis on story told almost exclusively through the cinematic parts.

        Forgive me if I’m putting words in your mouth, but it seems like the only reason you wouldn’t call FFX “cinematic” is because FFX happens to be good. (Or arguably so at least; I love it, but I get that not everyone does) And it seems counterproductive to talk about “cinematic games” but exclude any good examples from that category.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Well I didnt play it,so I cant comment about it.If its like call of duty,where you get only limited interaction to shoot stuff,follow the objective,and everything is on hard rails,then it is cinematic.If its like wolfenstein new order*,where you get plenty of interaction both in choosing where to go and how to do it,with cutscenes popping up just to deliver exposition or to show you something cool from time to time,then its not cinematic.And from what Ive heard about ffx,you have a bunch of side quests,combat is engaging,equipping your characters is a big part of it,etc,making the game not cinematic.

          *Using that because its a recent shooter,not because its the best.This makes it easier to compare to cod.

    • Abnaxis says:

      Hear, hear!

      It always makes my teeth grate whenever I hear someone say games shouldn’t try to be movies. There is a lot that can be done to enhance a “movie” experience through added interactivity, and saying “games should not be movies” prematurely invalidates any attempt at doing so.

      I don’t think the problem is games trying to be movies, it’s games trying to be movies wrong. In all the examples listed in the article, the problem wasn’t that Thief or Hitman wanted to be a movie, it’s that their executions sucked. Trying to make them movie-like was not an inherently flawed design parameter.

  10. Groboclown says:

    I’m thinking a bit that Square Enix thinks of the cinematic cut scenes as its studio trademark; a bit of “when you buy a Squeenix game, you buy Cut Scene! Now with mechanics!”

  11. Jordan says:

    What’s worse is that they’re always exclusively *really bad movies* with terrible youtube-amateur cinematography (i.e. overblown colour correction, ANAMORPHIC LENNNNNSFLAAAAAARE, and either really jumpy cuts or no cuts at all) and plots that make no sense or are horribly by the books (Battlefield 3’s nuclear missile bomb took the cake for me).

    That’s not even touching on how the game bits also tend to be really bland and boring too.

    You could take the formula and make something fantastic if you blended a genuinely great story with fun, albeit short, gameplay segments interspersed. But instead we just get a shallow imitation of both ‘a movie’ and ‘a game’. Always makes me sad that a $50,000,000 cutting edge project can’t afford a decent scriptwriter and someone with actual experience in directing shots. Only Naughty Dog seems to make the actual effort to bring in talent when it is aping movies.

  12. Zukhramm says:

    I don’t know about these. The movie parts where the best thing in GTAIV (not that that’s saying much), and Metroid Other M’s problem is bad characters, which is an issue whether you’re trying to be a book, a movie or a game.

  13. Neko says:

    The thing is, Thief games can absolutely support an awesome narrative. It just has to be one that (on the surface) doesn’t revolve around the player. Thief does exposition and plot best when you just happen to stumble on glimpses of it through notes and servant’s gossip, when there do seem to be Big Things Happening but it’s to other people in the city, things that don’t concern you – just steal some more stuff. And then that one weird guy who you stole that sword for gives you another job to go steal some shiny rock? Okay, sure. I don’t see any point in focusing on why he wants it, let’s just go get it AAAARGH.

    The later levels in Thief Gold actually feel less Thief-y to me, and I think the reason is that the plot is now very much about you and there’s no time to just bum around stealing shit anymore. That’s okay when it’s the last few levels, but you can’t base an entire game around Garret being some sort of hero – it’s just not him.

    I think the same comparison works for Blood Money vs Absolution. Plot should be hinted at, not explicitly shoved in your face.

  14. I floated this theory in another thread, but I’d like to see if Shamus or any other programmer-types agree.

    Part of the whole cinematic (and therefore linear) concentration has to do with these newer engines being developed for games like Hitman where the AI is poor or not completely understood by the devs. By that I mean, they can’t reliably make the AI behave as it should if they let it off the leash, resulting in NPCs not being where they should be, fleeing when someone knocks over a vase, or going hostile when someone bumps into a wall. Perhaps they just think they need to save themselves the headaches of working all of that messy stuff out which would put them behind deadline, so they clamp the game as firmly to rails as they can.

    It occurs to me this could be why we’re not seeing announcements for the next Fallout or Elder Scrolls game. It’s very likely that Bethesda is revising its engine for new consoles, the Steambox, more powerful PCs, etc. and it’s not like almost a decade of coding for XBox 360 specs resulted in a glitch-free experience, often from odd or unpredictable NPC behavior.

    By concentrating on spectacle, cutscenes, particle effects, etc., which are relatively easy from what I understand, trying to navmesh an NPC that has ties to fifteen different quests, can be a companion, and has specific triggerable events as well as giving them things to do which make them seem “alive” has got to be a coding nightmare. Testing that kind of thing under all possible conditions has got to be like telling a 10-year-old to go and eat broccoli in the room at the end of a hallway where the walls are made of candy.

    • Ingvar M says:

      I’m not sure, but…

      My understanding is that the “AI” isn’t part of the engine, at all (the engine provides a way of “put models on screen”, probably “animate models”, “get input from player(s)”, maybe “deal with input from other instances of game/server”, maybe some scripting interface, …).

      But I’ve never written a game using an engine, though.

      • Perhaps a poor choice of words. For the Bethsoft games, it’d be whatever one would call the GECK. For other games, it’d be a “level editor” or whatever it is that lets you see all of the behavioral ties between elements, the scripting, etc.

      • Ahiya says:

        Sort of.

        AI is complicated (in most than just building it), and the terminology not really standardized.

        IME, pathing and understanding locations are generally considered part of the engine, because it interacts with physics. Dialogue handling is also often part of the engine, because it interacts with the UI and player-choice-handling. NPC ‘personality’ is often handled separately, but still at a lower level than a typical level editor, unless the game is Bethesda, because Bethesda is weird.

        Bethesda uses their own engine, and from my experience with Morrowind mods I think they just pulled everything into one blob and called it the engine.

  15. Kagato says:

    There’s the flip side to this as well.

    There are so many games I see these days, where I see the cinematic trailer or a custscene and I think, “I have no interest in playing your game. It’s not a play style I enjoy, and I do not have the 80+ hours spare you expect from me to get through it all. But the concepts and designs are fascinating and I would happily watch this if it was a movie.”

    And I don’t mean “loosely adapt the game’s plot into a live action film”. Take what you’ve got, run it past a decent editor to get the essential story, and animate some additional fight scenes or montages or whatever to replace whatever gameplay sections remain.

    (Case in point — stripping all the gameplay from Tron: Evolution leaves you with an hour long movie that’s only missing a few fights and bridging scenes.)

    Most of the big studios have amazing animation departments. Honestly, in many cases their talents seem wasted by being tied exclusively to games. (No criticism of the games themselves, but aside from some asset sharing the devs and animators must be pretty much independent teams.)

  16. Jarenth says:

    If your theorized mocap studio was did play a part in Human Revolution, that would go some way towards explaining that game’s drawn-out and overblown Jensen-take-down animations.

    “Look at how cool this guy looks! Here, let’s watch him stab one guy with another guy!
    “Yeah, it’s… it’s cool, I guess. But can we skip it now? I’ve seen all of this stuff a dozen times no-”
    “WE PAID GOOD MONEY FOR THESE CUTSCENES AND YOU’RE GONNA WATCH THEM EVERY TIME”

  17. Smejki says:

    “Although it doesn’t explain Human Revolution, which doesn’t seem to use full-performance capture”

    DXHR was technologically too old to use it I guess. Which makes me a bit nervous about the next DX.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Deus ex:Invisible devolution

      Now with greater emphasis on jensen folding his arms and stabbing people through chests.

      • MrGuy says:

        The designers had originally planned DE:HR to have a series of elaborate, mocapped, sequences with perfect facial animation where Jensen asks for various things. Sadly, the technology wasn’t up for it, and after multiple failed attempts, all the asking was cut from the final game very late in the process. If you pay attention, you can still see the seams where this content would have gone.

        I just hope the technology for the next installment lives up to this bold vision.

  18. Kdansky says:

    I’ve been converted to the “ludofundamentalist” (a derogatory word used by its opponents) way quite a while ago.

    The central theory works like this: Story and Gameplay are basically oil and water. They never truly mesh well, and every game that has both needs to make concessions at some point, in either one or the other. The reason for this is very simple: For a story to be great, the writers need to enforce linearity, and for that to happen they need to control the player, which in turn results in worse gameplay. On the other side of the spectrum, the more game choices a player has, the less an authored story works. Note that emerging stories like Boatmurdered (Dwarf Fortress) are not part of this reason.

    At best, we end up with shallow choices for the story and a restricted game between the cut-scenes as in Mass Effect or Last of Us. But that’s not really what we wanted, is it?

    http://www.dinofarmgames.com/games-hurt-stories-stories-hurt-games/ explains it better than I could.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Oh dear god!So many misconceptions in such a small place,I think my head will assplode!

      Ok.Lets start from the beginning:

      They never truly mesh well, and every game that has both needs to make concessions at some point, in either one or the other.

      Untrue,as can be seen in many games,like the original half life*drink*,or the recent brothers:the tale of two sons,or bastion,or a bunch of games where gameplay meshes with the story seamlessly.

      The reason for this is very simple: For a story to be great, the writers need to enforce linearity,

      This is completely false.Stories are not inherently linear.In fact,in their origin they were quite non-linear.Linearity of a story depends on the medium used to tell them,and has zero impact on the quality of the story.Whether it will be good or bad depends on how the medium is utilized,not which medium will be used.

      So if you are making a movie,you have to tell a linear story(though it can be told in a disjointed fashion).But if you are telling the story orally to a live audience,you can do it in a very nonlinear fashion,changing details depending on the reaction and possible participation of your audience.

      With video games,you can tell both linear stories(half life)or non linear ones(fallout)and still have both the story and the gameplay be good.Now obviously,the non-linearity of a video game story is not as vast as with an oral story or with a tabletop rpg,but it still can be pretty large.

      and for that to happen they need to control the player, which in turn results in worse gameplay.

      The freedom you give the player has zero impact on the quality of the gameplay.Again,half life is a very linear game that greatly limits player freedom,but it is quite enjoyable.Contrast that with the plethora of open world survival games that have flooded the market these days,most of which are utter crap.Yes they give you freedom,but they have disjointed,repetitive and often broken gameplay.

      Ultimately,the quality of the gameplay depends on how well you implement your chosen level of freedom,not how large it is.Quality over quantity,as with everything.

      On the other side of the spectrum, the more game choices a player has, the less an authored story works.

      Again false,as Ive detailed above,and as can be seen in a bunch of crpgs,primarily fallout(s),baldurs gate 2,planescape:torment and hordes of the underdark.

      At best, we end up with shallow choices for the story and a restricted game between the cut-scenes as in Mass Effect or Last of Us. But that’s not really what we wanted, is it?

      No,at best we end up with half life,fallout,spec ops:the line,planescape:torment,braid,bastion,….basically any game where the elements are so well put together that the weaknesses of one part are masked by the rest of the work,instead of being exposed by it.

      Im seriously baffled why people keep bringing up these false dichotomies.In movies we have action vs story,in music we have vocals vs instruments,in video games we have story vs gameplay,and Im quite positive similar falsehoods exist for books,paintings,architecture,basically any form of art.Can we please stop it and accept that the whole work in the end is only as good as its creator,and not based on the chosen elements for the work?

      • Abnaxis says:

        We’ve had this discussion a few times before, but I enjoy it so let’s have it again :p.

        Untrue,as can be seen in many games,like the original half life*drink*,or the recent brothers:the tale of two sons,or bastion,or a bunch of games where gameplay meshes with the story seamlessly.

        “Seamlessly”? How many times have you replayed Half-Life? In those replays, how many times have you wanted to say “just shut up already!” during the scripted scenes because you’ve seen them already? That’s gameplay making concessions to story.

        This is completely false.Stories are not inherently linear.

        I agree with this. However, I can understand a rational basis for stating “great stories must enforce linearity.” Specifically, I don’t think it’s wrong to say that, generally speaking, the quality of a story is directly correlated to how linear it is.

        Yes, audiences interacting with storytellers is a thing that has been going on since time immemorial, but no bard would ever have been able to pull The Odyssey out of his ass on the spot in response to the audience in one sitting. I’ve seen the same thing playing DnD–if you play on forums, there is much more depth to the story and the writing than if you play in person, because players can spend more time thinking about and proofreading responses. That not to say both experiences aren’t a ton of fun, for different reasons, but that it takes careful planning, revising, and preparation to make a story worth repeating except for a rare few lucky exceptions.

        The freedom you give the player has zero impact on the quality of the gameplay.

        Erm…the freedom is the gameplay. When Agent 47 kills a target in a cutscene instead of letting the player murder them as they chose, that is less gameplay. The definition of “gameplay” is “the player’s ability to interact with the game in a meaningful way”–is the extent of gameplay available to the player not synonymous with “freedom” in this context?

        All other things being equal, more freedom is always better for gameplay. At issue, is that it is impossible to keep all other things equal while allowing more freedom–rather, narrative is always made worse by increasing freedom.

        Im seriously baffled why people keep bringing up these false dichotomies.

        They keep bringing it up because it’s not a false dichotomy. Every game is the culmination of countless design choices made with regards to mechanics, narrative, and visual arts. Those choices are invariably going to affect different aspects of a game in different ways. Many of the choices that positively affect engaging mechanics have the unfortunate side-effect of making it more difficult, if not bordering-on-impossible, to make a compelling narrative. The converse is also true. That’s where the “dichotomy” comes from.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          How many times have you replayed Half-Life?

          Just the original from start to finish,not counting partial plays and the black mesa remake,about half a dozen times.Yes,including xen.It is,after all,my second best game of all time,after starcraft.I only bring it up more often because the people sharing my love for starcraft are not as numerous.

          In those replays, how many times have you wanted to say “just shut up already!” during the scripted scenes because you’ve seen them already?

          0.But Ill be the first to admit that Im not the norm.

          That’s gameplay making concessions to story.

          No,because:
          1)You can pick a chapter,thus skiping most of the longest speeches and,more importantly
          2)Replayability is not the barometer of the quality of a video game.Some games are made with high replayability in mind,some games are made to deliver a specific first playthrough.Both can be good if you make them well,both can suck if you botch them.Heck,Shamoose declared papers please as his best game of that year precisely because he never wanted to play it.

          That not to say both experiences aren’t a ton of fun, for different reasons, but that it takes careful planning, revising, and preparation to make a story worth repeating except for a rare few lucky exceptions.

          But a story worth repeating is not the same as a good story.I will never ever experience spec ops the way I did the first time,and Im ok with that,because my memory of it is quite satisfying(well,as much as satisfying can apply to that game).Some of the funniest jokes I remember came to be because the unique set of events occurred at the time,and if I were to tell those to anyone else,a bunch of stuff will be lost because those events are gone.Its perfectly ok for some stories to be told to someone exactly once and never again.

          The definition of “gameplay” is “the player’s ability to interact with the game in a meaningful way”–is the extent of gameplay available to the character not synonymous with “freedom” in this context?

          No,because interaction is the keyword for gameplay,not freedom.Any time you see an element of a video game not used at all is a time where freedom to do stuff adds nothing meaningful to the game,thus not impacting gameplay at all(or even negatively).And tied to this,the following example:

          All other things being equal, more freedom is always better for gameplay.

          Not true.Here,add a crafting system to half life,allowing gordon to craft med kits and ammo from the corpses of enemies,but leave all the drops the same.Will you gain anything meaningful?No,you will just be tacking on a pointless mechanic for no reason other than giving the player more stuff to do.

          Heck,you may even hurt the gameplay by doing so,because Ive started enjoying half lives(all of them)more once I amped the difficulty and had to constantly switch between the weapons,conserving ammo and picking the right tool for the job instead of just going everywhere with the assault rifle.Here,the restriction is what makes the gameplay more enjoyable.

          They keep bringing it up because it’s not a false dichotomy.

          But it is.Yes,fitting some parts together can be extremely difficult,but it is never impossible.If people making the video game are good enough,they will ultimately succeed.Games are a composite medium,meaning that the end result is more than just the sum of its parts.You need to utilize them in order to complement one another.If you fail,it doesnt mean the two parts can never mesh together,it only means that YOU couldnt do it.

          • Abnaxis says:

            1)You can pick a chapter,thus skiping most of the longest speeches and,more importantly
            2)Replayability is not the barometer of the quality of a video game.Some games are made with high replayability in mind,some games are made to deliver a specific first play through.Both can be good if you make them well,both can suck if you botch them.Heck,Shamoose declared papers please as his best game of that year precisely because he never wanted to play it.

            You are confusing “negligible effect” with “no effect.” You might not care if scripted scenes are unskippable. You might not care if a game is less replayable. However, all other things being equal, a more replayable game is unequivocally better than a less replayable game. All other things being equal, a game that lets a player do what they want to do more often is unequivocally better than a game that allows the player fewer freedoms.

            The gameplay *is* made objectively worse in countless little ways by the presence of story, regardless of whether the detrimental effects on the gameplay are within your expectations. It’s the game designers’ job to minimize the damage of the detrimental effects, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

            But a story worth repeating is not the same as a good story.

            I understand the misapproriation, but I meant “repeating” in the sense of “sharing or telling to others,” not so much as in “experience multiple times.” Unless you get a monumental bout of well-timed inspiration, you aren’t going to craft a narrative that will speak the the hearts and minds of generations in an afternoon. That’s not to say you can’t have a great time throwing ideas around, but there’s value in creating art that is more broadly applicable and thematically tight. That’s what is sacrificed as your decrease linearity, and that’s what I see people snubbing their noses at when they say “games shouldn’t try to be movies”.

            Not true.Here,add a crafting system to half life,allowing gordon to craft med kits and ammo from the corpses of enemies,but leave all the drops the same.Will you gain anything meaningful?No,you will just be tacking on a pointless mechanic for no reason other than giving the player more stuff to do.

            Note that I said all other things being equal. You aren’t holding things equal. You’re sacrificing one mechanic (fixed item locations) for another (craft-able items).

            If you kept absolutely everything else the same about Half-Life, and introduced a crafting system, I would say the game is better for it. Why? Because if you’re keeping everything the same, the player can just choose to ignore crafting if it really offends their sensibilities. Nothing says you *have* to craft medpacks if they’re available from other sources.

            Conversely, another player can choose to ignore the static placements if they would rather survive on crafting. Adding the mechanic allows players to pick what they find more enjoyable, and thus is unequivocally better than leaving the mechanic out. Ideally, the developers would put in some work required to make crafting actually engaging, to maximize the benefit of its inclusion, but the inclusion of the mechanic itself would not detract from Half Life if all else is held equal.

            If you fail,it doesnt mean the two parts can never mesh together,it only means that YOU couldnt do it.

            It isn’t a question of whether its possible to bring the elements together. Sure, you can mesh the two together, but are both story and gameplay served by the marriage? My contention is that it is virtually impossible to put gameplay and story together without one of them being worse off than it would be if it had been left alone.

            I agree that a game is more than the sum of it’s parts–the corollary I put forth is that the sacrifices need to serve a purpose. The (unavoidable) sacrifices that have to be made to conjoin narrative and gameplay should work to reinforce the developers end-goal. In my ideal world, those developers would decide, before they spend exorbitant amounts of money, what they want to make–a timeless story or an addictive interactive experience–and shape their sacrifices accordingly.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              However, all other things being equal, a more replayable game is unequivocally better than a less replayable game. All other things being equal, a game that lets a player do what they want to do more often is unequivocally better than a game that allows the player fewer freedoms.

              Untrue.First,because its art,so it will always appeal to some,and not appeal to other.Some people enjoy replaying games,some people enjoy playing them exactly once.For the first,games that offer replayability are better,for the second they are worse.

              Tangent:I feel I should point this out now,Im not talking about “some people will still use it”,because no matter what we are talking about,some people will find value in it,and some people will find no value in it.During this whole discussion Im focusing on the target audience,because focusing on the whole human population would be meaningless.So whatever I said,I was talking about the reaction of the target audience and not the reaction of every human ever.Also,I get that what the developer believes to be the target audience can end up being untrue,but for simplicity lets just not go into that.

              Second,you are going by the false assumption that if you enjoy X,being able to do X over and over and over will always bring more joy than just doing it once.But emotions do get dulled by repetition,some faster,some slower,but they all get dulled.Heck,numerous essays have been written about why quiet time is actually a good thing and why you cant cram your movies and video games with just action and expect them to be infinitely better.

              Constraints can and do improve gameplay in just the same manner.Being able to take everything not nailed down in fallout is no fun,but being able to steal everything despite npcs trying to stop you from doing so is tons of fun.Again,an example of restricting the action being better.

              The gameplay *is* made objectively worse in countless little ways by the presence of story

              Objectively?Really?Ok,prove it empirically.

              Meanwhile,I have given you examples of tons of games where the story has actually improved the gameplay.I mean imagine papers please without the dialogue and the screens talking about your family.Just a sterile set of what to look at and a score in the end.Would it gain half the praise then?

              I understand the misapproriation, but I meant “repeating” in the sense of “sharing or telling to others,” not so much as in “experience multiple times.”

              Again,plenty of good stories are unique.Read the gazebo story,and tell me,has gazebo become your injoke as it is for the group this happened to?I have plenty of such stories myself.I can share it,but youll never get even the fraction of enjoyment I get from it,simply because you werent there when the unique set of circumstances happened.I too cannot enjoy your injokes like you can.Does that mean all those unique fortuitous stories are worse than any movie or book or video game?

              but there’s value in creating art that is more broadly applicable and thematically tight.

              Definitely.But to say that such value is always better is wrong.Just as it would be wrong to say that there is no value in it.

              That’s what is sacrificed as your decrease linearity, and that’s what I see people snubbing their noses at when they say “games shouldn’t try to be movies”.

              I dont know about others,but to me(and I assume to Shamoose and plenty of people here as well)its not linearity but lack of interaction that makes me go “games shouldnt try to be movies”.

              Note that I said all other things being equal. You aren’t holding things equal. You’re sacrificing one mechanic (fixed item locations) for another (craft-able items).

              But thats exactly what Ive said:have everything else equal.And that conclusion of “you can just as well never do it” is why I say adding crafting to half life would have zero impact on gameplay at best,and negative impact at worst.Heck,you yourself wrote the definition of gameplay as “meaningful interaction”.If an element can simply be ignored,how does it give meaningful interaction,and subsequently how does it improve gameplay?

              It isn’t a question of whether its possible to bring the elements together. Sure, you can mesh the two together, but are both story and gameplay served by the marriage? My contention is that it is virtually impossible to put gameplay and story together without one of them being worse off than it would be if it had been left alone.

              And I say that no matter what the story and gameplay are,a skilled developer can stitch them together well so that they complement each other.Mind you,I do admit that the task is a difficult one,which is why games where the story and gameplay complement each other are rare.They do exist,and they are gems in the industry,but compared to all the rest they are under 1%.

              Its easy to point to hitman absolution and say “they shouldve just nixed all the cutscenes”.Its much harder to point to last of us,or alan wake,or fallout 3,or human revolution and say “they shoudlve tweaked the gameplay/story a bit and it wouldve worked much better”.And I mention those four specificialy,because all four had an add on(dlcs and expansions)that did just that:tweaked the gameplay/story just the right amount(or almost the right amount),leading to a way better mesh than in the original(not perfect,not the best possible,just better).Also,the tweaks were different for each game,from less weapons in the last of us to more freedom in human revolution.

              • Abnaxis says:

                Re: Tanget: Sure, let’s talk in terms of “target audience”.

                Second,you are going by the false assumption that if you enjoy X,being able to do X over and over and over will always bring more joy than just doing it once

                That’s not a false assumption at all. I realize it’s not exactly in Webster’s, but isn’t the very definition of “replayability” in this context “the capacity for a game to be enjoyed on repeat playthroughs”? When you are saying a game is more replayable, you are saying, by definition, that it has a higher capacity for inducing enjoyment on subsequent experiences than a game that is not replayable. Even if the extra enjoyment is only a fraction of the first run-through it is still greater than zero. Therefore, holding all other factors equal, a game that can be shown to have a higher replayability is unambiguously better than a game with lower replayability, because all segments of the target audience will have non-deterministic, non-negative change in enjoyment. In other words, some people will enjoy it more, and nobody will enjoy it less (because we’re holding all other things equal remembers?) so the effect is always net positive.

                When you’re using something like “target audience” as your basis for analysis, the only real thing you need to prove is that something can’t make it any worse to show that it is an improvement, because statistics says there are at least a few random players that will enjoy the game more. I can’t quantify the exact improvement, and the “all other things being equal” assumption is an entirely theoretical construct, but this all theory we’re talking about anyway…

                Objectively?Really?Ok,prove it empirically.

                Objective != Empirical. As I have shown above, just because I can’t put numbers on a thing, doesn’t mean I can’t say anything objective about it. So, with the caveats that A: I’m not saying that narrative always has a net negative effect on gameplay, just that it will invariably have detrimental effects on gameplay that must be justified somehow by positives in other aspects, B: I keep using “story” as shorthand for “narrative,” even though I know they’re not the same thing and should be more careful about proofreading, and C: you’re not just being rhetorical; then sure, I can show, objectively, that adding in a narrative always has some sort of detrimental effect on some aspects of gameplay.

                Definitely.But to say that such value is always better is wrong.Just as it would be wrong to say that there is no value in it.

                The whole thing that brought about this issue, is the statement from the article that “For a story to be great, the writers need to enforce linearity.”

                This is not saying that the gazebo, or the Head of Vecna, or pleather armor don’t all enrich the lives of the people involved. They just aren’t great stories. Great stories are things that shape society through collective sharing. the fact that you have an in-joke that you and your gaming group share is a great experience, and it certainly helps contextualize the group dynamics of your circle of friends, but it will never be a great story in the sense that the author of the article intended.

                Dicking around with your friends in an afternoon will not get you the Citizen Kane of video game narratives. Narratives that can hold profound meaning on a large scale take deliberate crafting to make. The article contends that the deliberation required is entirely incompatible with the interactivity required for good game mechanics–I disagree with the scale of the statement, though I agree that deliberate narrative crafting and interactive freedom do inherently conflict in many ways, and designers are better off if they decide which how they will resolve these conflicts before they start coding. As developers, they need to know whether they’re trying to make a game that engenders “gazebo” experiences, or a game that will tell a great story.

                I dont know about others,but to me(and I assume to Shamoose and plenty of people here as well)its not linearity but lack of interaction that makes me go “games shouldnt try to be movies”.

                …the definition of “linearity” IS “lack of interaction.”

                If an element can simply be ignored,how does it give meaningful interaction,and subsequently how does it improve gameplay?

                Because we are talking about “the intended audience,” which includes a lot of people. Some of those people will like the crafting system, and some won’t. If the ones that don’t have the capability of ignoring it, or switching it off, then the feature is a net positive because it doesn’t hurt anybody’s experience while increasing the enjoyment of a portion of the “intended audience”. If all else is being held equal, the new feature doesn’t have to be meaningful for everyone, it doesn’t even need to be meaningful for a majority, it just has to be meaningful for someone in order to qualify as an improvement.

                And I say that no matter what the story and gameplay are,a skilled developer can stitch them together well so that they complement each other.

                I still don’t think you understand what I’m trying to say. I also think a developer can leverage a narrative and a gameplay design together to make a better whole than if they only made tetris or only made a movie. I’m not saying that they cannot make a coherent whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

                However if you were to, say, make a movie with the same dollars you spent on the narrative in a AAA video game, you would be able to make a much better movie. Either that, or if you took the same budget to make the game with all the narrative cruft, and focus it on polishing and playtesting mechanics instead of authoring audio logs or crafting scripted scenes, you will craft more enjoyable gameplay. Or, as is the case for most AAA dregs, both the game and the movie would be better if you stopped trying to shoehorn them together.

                When I see the train wreck that is Hitman, I see a developer that wanted to do both, and wound up with neither. They had a game with a unique, engaging set of mechanics and figured “wouldn’t this be EVEN BETTER with an epic story?” and wound up with the worst of both worlds. They would have been better off focusing on the mechanics that made Hitman famous, and working from there to create a story that is less ambitious, but provides context and rewards exploration while not standing out with its flaws.

                I’m not saying “nix all the cutscenes.” I’m saying “nix the idea of making a J. J. Abrams story.” Know what you want to do with the game, and adjust you expectations for the narrative to fit. Or, know what you want to do with the story and adjust the expectations of the gameplay to fit.

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  That’s not a false assumption at all.

                  Yes it is,and Ive already said why.The oversaturation with a good thing can happen even with good gameplay.Heck,it happened to me during just a single incomplete playthrough of kingdoms of amalur just because there was waaaaaaaaaay too much of it.And I really did enjoy the gameplay of amalur in the beginning,very much so.But after something like my 7th or 8th complete respec I just couldnt do it anymore.Heck,it soured the whole genre of action rpg games for me for a few months until I manage to cleanse.Therefore your whole notion of “and no one will enjoy it less” is faulty.

                  As for great stories,um are you measuring them just by quantity?Because if thats the case gangam style is the greatest story in our whole civilization,because it has touched more people than anything else ever.

                  …the definition of “linearity” IS “lack of interaction.”

                  In the most strictest sense,yes.But again,its useless to use the most strictest sense because I doubt anyone would seriously argue that half life or spec ops are not linear,yet those are both games with great stories.

                  Some of those people will like the crafting system, and some won’t.
                  .
                  .
                  .

                  And Ive already given one reason why it will actually be worse for some people.Because the scarcity of ammo can improve the game for some,and having crafting will make that thing nonexistent for them,thus actually making the game worse.So again,it will impact few people positively,few people negatively,but ultimately it wont make the game better overall.

                  However if you were to, say, make a movie with the same dollars you spent on the narrative in a AAA video game, you would be able to make a much better movie.

                  Disregarding the fact that making the narrative of an aaa game is amongst its cheapest components,the fact that you could make a better movie doesnt mean that you would.Cant think of a video game/movie example right now,but take Stephen King and shining.Unsatisfied with the movie,he decided to make a mini series of it,and it sucked.Some people say its even worse than the book.Here we have a man doing the same story in two different mediums,excelling in one but failing in the other.

                  Then theres also the peak of excellency,meaning that if you polish your gameplay to the maximum of your abilities,no matter how much more time you dick around with it you wont be able to improve it any more.In that case,nixing the narrative in favor of having more time and resources for the gameplay portion would do you no good(disregarding the fact that its not the same people doing both).

                  As for the hitman itself,I agree,if they focused more on the gameplay they couldve improved the game.But thats the case for this game and this developer,not for all the games and all the developers.

                  I also agree that you should know the strengths and weaknesses of your team and adjust the project accordingly.But those arent binary even in this simplified case of just story and gameplay.

                  What if your team is equally good at writing characters and gameplay,but sucks at trying to write a good situation for these two to merge?Would you cut the funding to guys who made mordin so you could balance the classes?Or would you cut the funding to guys who made the fighting engaging and fun so you could write more dialogues?

                  What if your team is equally good at writing lore and gameplay,but sucks at dialogue.Would you cut the funding to those who wrote the all the books in skyrim so you could make the magic more useful,or would you cut the funding to those who made crafting so you could fill the world with more books?

                  • Abnaxis says:

                    Yes it is,and Ive already said why.

                    No, you haven’t. You’ve tried to portray “replayability” as a fault by ignoring the definition of the word as it is understood by pretty much everyone. Yes, you can have too much of a good thing, but that is the point at which a game ceases to be “replayable,” and thus you have shown that a game that is not replayable…is not replayable, and therefore not good. That’s not saying anything.

                    In the most strictest sense,yes.But again,its useless to use the most strictest sense because I doubt anyone would seriously argue that half life or spec ops are not linear,yet those are both games with great stories.

                    …Eh? I am genuinely confused by this statement. I am using “linearity” in the strictest sense of the word, to mean “lack of choice given to the player.” Furhter, a repeating thesis in my replies has been “quality narratives require more an increase in linearity (i.e. fewer choices) to be presented to players,” so I don’t see how you liting off highly linear titles serves to do anything but provide evidence for my position. Also, I would caution that “linear” is not a binary condition–one game can be “more linear” or “less linear” than another.

                    And Ive already given one reason why it will actually be worse for some people

                    No, you haven’t. You’ve given reasons why an option would not contribute to your enjoyment, but you have not shown any way in which you have actually been harmed by the developer adding the mechanic. If you can ignore it, or even better, click a bubble to remove it entirely from your experience, how is your play in any way affected?

                    Disregarding the fact that making the narrative of an aaa game is amongst its cheapest components

                    !!!!

                    We have a very different view of how AAA development works if you think all the shiny cutscenes are the least expensive part of making a AAA game.

                    I’m also going to need some sort of context for this “peak of excellency” you speak of, especially with regards to how the heck you think developers are anywhere close to a point where additional time bugfixing and polishing won’t have a noticable impact on the products they deliver.

                    As far as “could” versus “would”: absolute, definite answers with exact numbers aren’t going to be forthcoming in this discussion, because “what would have happened” is never answerable.

                    However, this takes me back to my old stand-by, “all other things being equal.” What this means, is we have some writers with some cool ideas for a story noodling around in ther heads, and we have some developers with some cool mechanics rolling around in their gray matter, and we have infinite money and time to make these guys put out something quality. AND they are going to do their best to put out something quality and not milk us for all our infinite cash.

                    Given these conditions, I state, right here, that one or the other team, is invariably going to put out something that is worse when they come together to make a collective video game, than if they had just worked in their own separate teams. That’s not to say that the end result won’t be great, maybe even better in the sum than if each team had worked separately. However, one of those teams is going to have to compromise, and those compromises are going to cut deep into the quality of their output.

                    This is a statement that lives out there in Theory Land, where cats ride on skateboards and Buicks follow perfectly parabolic trajectories when launched from trebuchets, but I think it’s justified enough when you look at the actual process of making a story versus making a responsive interactive system. The design philosophies for making high quality instances of stories and mechanics lead to diametrically opposing design decisions in too many places for a work that tries to do everything to keep it up. If you took those two theoretical teams and asked them to do it, they would never, ever finish and would milk your infinite resources dry trying to make software capable of writing engaging, insightful, broadly appealing narratives on the fly, or something…

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      No, you haven’t.

                      Yes,I have.Your whole notion was that if X was good,more of X was even better.Which Ive shown is not true.More replayability is not better by default.It can be in certain cases,but not always.

                      …Eh? I am genuinely confused by this statement. I am using “linearity” in the strictest sense of the word, to mean “lack of choice given to the player.”

                      Well like youve said,its not binary,its a gradient scale.You can still tell a linear story with some choices offered to a player,meaning a linear video game.Furthermore,saying that such a video game by definition has better (premade) story than one with less linearity is false,as can be shown by contrasting fallout with call of duty 3,for example.

                      No, you haven’t.

                      But we are talking all things being equal here,meaning you wouldnt know beforehand that the option could be ignored.And like Ive said,the scarcity of ammo in half life doesnt hit you immediately(well it sort of does in 2,but still not that much on normal).Thus you dont get how fun switching weapons can actually be from the start.Adding crafting from the get go would decrease,or even completely remove that scarcity,thus completely removing that point when you get to realize how fun switching weapons can be,thus actively decreasing the fun you can have with the game.

                      Rules and limitations can be fun,and quite often are.There is no point and no fun in trying to break a limit or overcome a difficulty that dont exist.Hence adding more options is not by default a good thing.

                      We have a very different view of how AAA development works if you think all the shiny cutscenes are the least expensive part of making a AAA game.

                      We arent talking cutscenes,we are talking story.And as aaa games have shown us,they dont need a story in order to “film” something cool.Story writers do not take a big chunk of the budget,and thats a fact.

                      I’m also going to need some sort of context for this “peak of excellency” you speak of, especially with regards to how the heck you think developers are anywhere close to a point where additional time bugfixing and polishing won’t have a noticable impact on the products they deliver.

                      Simple:Just check the bug fixing they do after the game is released,and how often major bugs linger for months.

                      .
                      .
                      .
                      AND they are going to do their best to put out something quality and not milk us for all our infinite cash.
                      .
                      .
                      .

                      And here you disregard the middle of the gradient,meaning people that already have an idea for a story and gameplay that would intermingle,like braid.Braid is a great example of a mechanic flowing naturally from the story(going back in time to fix a mistake you regret),and a story flowing naturally from the mechanic(fixing a mistake you regret by going back in time).Those people are the ones with best chances to make a video game where gameplay and story mesh the best,just how a good movie director can envision how a scene with dialogue should play out much better than just a book writer or just a movie editor.

                      And I say that its that kind of thinking we need the most in video games that tell stories,because currently its mostly just talent that breeds that kind of thinking instead of being taught.Just how you can learn to write a good script that will look well when filmed,you can learn how to weave your mechanics and your story together.

    • Abnaxis says:

      I agree with a lot in that article (game shame is most definitely a thing…) but at the same time I fundamentally disagree with a lot of what is said.

      I have a lot of nitpicks with minor issues (I would define “game” slightly differently, though the author’s is close enough to mine to wave it off), but my biggest problem is that idea that story unequivocally will always make a game worse off. I agree that the needs of a linear narrative and the needs of an engaging game often conflict in a myriad of ways, but I think the real problem comes when a work both tries to make a story and a gameplay concurrent priorities.

      Games can very well be served by including a strong narrative within their reward structure. If, instead of getting +100 score for completing objective X, you get rewarded with an engaging story, that enhances the gameplay. Or, if the game gives you a chance to knock the crap out of some BBEG you really hate because of the story, using whatever murderous capabilities the mechanics provide–again, the experience is enhanced. I think this is part of what people mean when they say they want to include story “because it is deeper”–it’s not just game shame talking, story actually can make game mechanics feel better.

      By the same token, I think the series that Telltakes makes are a case study in how interactive mechanics can enhance a narrative experience. Taken on their own, the mechanics of The Walking Dead are complete shit, but they serve the narrative well (for me, at least) in making the audience better empathize with the main character, and the challenges they face.

      The trick is, from a design perspective, to pick one. Either try to make a supremely engaging interactive experience first, (which I would dub a “game”) or work to make a compelling narrative first (don’t think there’s a good term for this yet). Don’t try to do both.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        It doesnt have to be a binary thing.You can choose to have zero story and be all gameplay.Or add just background stuff,descriptions of items,history of the world,etc.Or simplify gameplay to the extreme and have a bunch of story,characters,background,etc….But ultimately,you should pick the one you are good at,and not just shove in one of the elements because “everyone is doing it these days”.Adding multiplayer to spec ops was just as dumb as spending money on the single player campaign in a bunch of spunkgargleweewee games.Or having crafting in your game because its the trend now.

        • Abnaxis says:

          I feel there is a miscommunication. The phrasing you’re using reads like you’re correcting me, when you are repeating a point I just made. I am also saying that you can have story and game in the same piece of art and have them work wonderfully together. My entire conceit is that developers should pick what they want their game to be good at, instead of trying to deliver the addictive timelessness of tetris alongside the engaging narrative of The Godfather in the same title. You can only be REALLY good at one or the other, and you’re better off picking which one you want to be good at before dumping the GDP of a small province into making a work.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            I was merely correcting you on the scale.I agree that you have to pick what will be your focus and subvert the rest to that,but I disagree that the focus has to be exclusively story or exclusively gameplay(ignoring the other elements like graphics or sound for simplicity).Your focus can be anywhere in between the two,or even switch from chapter to chapter,as long as you have the skill to connect them well.And you dont even have to be good at either of the two if you can make them complement each other well.

            • Abnaxis says:

              I….think I disagree with you, but agree with you?

              What I’m focused on, is the creative vision behind a game. When a player stops playing, takes the software off their machine, what is the biggest impression they want to have made? Do they want their prospective player to leave thinking “wow, those were interesting mechanics,” or do they want them thinking “man, that narrative is one of the best stories I’ve ever experienced”?

              While execution is something that changes from chapter to chapter, vision should not. If I am writing a tragedy in classic Shakespeare style, comic relief is an integral facet in the pallet used to make good tragedy–I mean, I found Mercutio hilarious in the live production of Romeo and Juliet I saw in school–but the ultimate goal is to make a tragic play, even if a few scenes focus on comedy.

              I think it is the same thing with games. If it is in the developers vision to make an engaging gameplay experience, that doesn’t mean specific sections can’t focus on narrative, or that narrative isn’t important at all. Rather, it means that any sacrifice made to one aspect of gameplay for the sake of narrative absolutely MUST pay off in another aspect. A compelling narrative is important, but only insofar as it enhances the gameplay experience–if you make gameplay less impactful to help the narrative, then it better be a good enough narrative that the reward for finding it outweighs the frustration.

              In other words, a game is ultimately judged by how well it provides gameplay, and it should be designed with this in mind.

              • Daemian Lucifer says:

                Im so glad youve mentioned Shakespeare,because he didnt write just tragedies and just comedies,but he wrote a bunch of tragicomedies.I mean how can you stitch together laughter and sadness and have them not clash with each other?Yet all the way back in ancient greece people have been doing so.

                And yes,the same applies to games.Sure,you can have the vision of engaging gameplay and make super mario,or an engaging story and make gone home,but you can also have the vision of intertwined gameplay and story and make brothers.Or,you can have something on the rest of the scale.

              • Ahiya says:

                You mean, you judge a game based on how much you liked the gameplay.

                There are lots of people who judge games based on completely different qualities – story, art, music, length of expected play session, etc.

                Really, the problem of story in gameplay is that graphic designers and story writers are not the same people. When that happens, the separate products will naturally be badly integrated. Once development methodology switches so that either writers and designers are always, always paired or the same person wears both hats this argument will start dropping off the radar, because both story and gameplay will be better integrated.

                • Abnaxis says:

                  You mean, you judge a game based on how much you liked the gameplay.

                  Well, yes and no.

                  I wouldn’t judge a game solely by its gameplay, any more than I would judge a movie solely by its cinematography. By my metrics, I would also judge a game based on its story, art, etc. (Not seeing the distinction between “gameplay” and “expected length of play session”).

                  However, I would say that at a bare minimum, a game needs to get the gameplay right or it has fundamentally failed as a game, in the same way that a movie needs to get the cinematography right or it has fundamentally failed as a film. The whole reason for making a film is to present moving pictures to an audience–if it can’t do that, the film is inept even if decent sound design or good acting salvages the disaster to some degree. Further, if the experience relies entirely on the quality of the sound the artists would have been better off just writing music and not spending many dollars on video production.

                  • Daemian Lucifer says:

                    Shouldnt that be “a game needs to get the gameplay right for what it sets off to present”?Because you do admit that the walking dead has shit gameplay on its own.It relies on the story to lift it to the serviceable status.

                    • Abnaxis says:

                      I don’t consider The Walking Dead to be a “game” in the strictest sense of the word, and I would say it is much better off without the distinction. If you want to judge TWD purely by its gameplay first you are fundamentally missing the point of the work.

      • Daimbert says:

        I think it’s perfectly possible — and desirable — for game creators to try to create a supremely engaging interactive NARRATIVE experience as their main goal, which exploits one thing that games can provide to a story that movies and books and plays generally can’t: the idea that YOU are the agent in the story, and are participating in the narrative itself. The article, from what I’ve skimmed, claims that the clash is over the fact that in gameplay you have to give choices and a good story ought to be linear, but that’s not true for an interactive story. Interactive stories only improve the more impact — even if it’s only perceived — the player has on the story, or how immersed they are in doing the story (your comment about really wanting to take down the BBEG because the story makes YOU personally invested in taking them down).

        I like how the Persona series integrates the story. The main story in both Persona 3 and Persona 4 is very linear, but the S-links and your daily life are mostly under your control. You can be who you want to be most of the time, and that impacts how you play in the linear main story.

        There are stories that you can tell better interactively than simply passively, and interactive stories work differently than passive narratives. Outside of PnP roleplaying and video games, there’s not a lot of options to tell interactive narratives, and so we should encourage those genres that can do interactive narratives to do that. If anything, we need to point out that they ought to be telling interactive narratives and not trying to make passive narratives in an interactive narrative genre.

        • Abnaxis says:

          Oh absolutely. I love Telltale’s stuff, and I’ve payed my own fair share of PnP games that do a much better job of creating interactive narratives than DnD (though I’ve done a lot of DnD too).

          However, I’m leery about lumping such works in with games, because I think effectively creating an interactive narrative requires a different approach than creating a fun game. I think there has been a stead progression in the quality of (say) telltale’s games since Jurassic Park, because when they first started the approached it with the preconceptions of game designers, attempting to shoehorn in mechanics, systems, and challenges where they don’t fit because that’s what games are.

          I think it’s much more productive to recognize that interactive narratives are different, so designers don’t have to screw up a few titles before they can narrow in on a design paradigm that works.

        • Ringwraith says:

          Whenever Persona 4 and story gets mentioned, special props have to go to the first two hours. You can’t even open a menu* which is a cardinal sin which videogames should never do… and yet it completely gets away with it, because nothing in those opening two hours is without purpose and only seeks to draw you in further, introducing you to characters and slowly unfolding the beginnings of a mystery.

          *You do get a few dialogue choices, and can open the save menu a couple of times, but the main game menu just doesn’t exist.

    • Ahiya says:

      Dwarf Fortress: The gameplay creates the story.

      There are other huge flaws with DF, but the gameplay and story work together very, very well.

  19. TMC_Sherpa says:

    The problem with turning movies into games, or games into movies, is length. Objectively movies are not forty hours long, some of them just feel that way.

    Songs (traditionally) have an AABA structure, books and plays have five acts and movies have three for some reason but games… I don’t know. I don’t think anyone has cracked how to make a story work over that long of a time frame.

    Picture your favorite movie, don’t add any meaningful elements and make it three times as long. “Hey, it’s cool, Jaws shows up in hour five. All you have to do is slog through the three hours of the Brody kids at school and the story really picks up!” DBZ fans are gonna hate me for saying this but you can sum up any of the TV series with “Coming this entire month, two men stare at each other while having narrative flashbacks. Next month someone will get even angrier and maybe the plot will advance! Only on Toonami.”
    Which is how I feel about most stories in games.

    Note for the DBZ fans: Substitute, I don’t know, Gundam Wing or something.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      You can still have short games that are good.Telltale is doing exactly that with their episodic stuff.But,what they are doing is slashing the price as well,because hey you dont pay $60 for a movie either.

      Also,we do have live action stuff of considerable length,and people do enjoy it immensely:Tv shows.But you wouldnt want your video game to be as stiff and non interactive as a tv show.

      • TMC_Sherpa says:

        Yes exactly. I think Telltale can..er…tell its tales because of the length of an episode.

        Folks enjoy reading (citation needed) Game of Thrones or watch it on HBO at any rate but I wouldn’t give the license to BioWare. I’m pretty sure the closest game genre to GoT is match 3. Match three faces, someone dies and more faces come down to take their place :)

        Note: Yes I know Telltale has made GoT games.

  20. Adam says:

    I’m surprised that a “Games Ruined By Trying To Be Movies” thread that has 103 comments (as of this writing) nowhere includes a mention of “Metal Gear: Solid 4.” I guess the series doesn’t get much play from you folks.

    As big an MGS fan as I was when it came out, the total length of the game’s cutscenes was just exhausting, totaling 8 hours and 26 minutes. Kojima had officially lost his mind.

  21. DaveMc says:

    Oh, Shamus … You were so close to having a Buzzfeed-worthy title! “You won’t *believe* how these 10 games were ruined by trying to be movies!” :)

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