Rage 2 Part 10: Writing Matters

By Shamus Posted Thursday Mar 26, 2020

Filed under: Retrospectives 86 comments

I’ve spent the last nine entries explaining the plot of Rage 2 and how I’d have done it differently. We might not agree on what needs to be fixed, but I think we can at least agree, in a broad sense, that it wasn’t very good. I don’t think this was actually a surprise to anyone. Properties created by id software aren’t known for their stories.  Developer Avalanche has never been known for their storytelling prowess. And over the last decade publisher Bethesda Softworks has become infamous for making story-heavy games with atrocious and cringeworthy stories. When it comes to storytelling and Rage 2, the publisher doesn’t value it, the developer doesn’t know how to do it, and the fans aren’t expecting it. Frankly, it would have been a miracle if this story turned out to be any good.

So why did I write this series? Why did I waste time whining about a story that was never going to be worth experiencing? Why not just skip the cutscenes like everyone else and move on?

But Nobody Cares About Story!

If story doesn't matter, then why did Avalanche spend millions of dollars (and twenty-five minutes of my life) trying to set one up when I started the game?
If story doesn't matter, then why did Avalanche spend millions of dollars (and twenty-five minutes of my life) trying to set one up when I started the game?

Over the years I’ve gotten needled by people claiming that story doesn’t matter. Perhaps it started with this famous quote from John Carmack:

“Story in a game is like a story in a porn movie. It’s expected to be there, but it’s not that important.”

That thinking seems to be so common that we have a large chunk of gamers who balk at the idea that anyone would care about a story, and take offense when anyone has the audacity to criticize one.

  • It’s an online game, so the story doesn’t matter!
  • It’s a co-op game, so the story doesn’t matter!
  • It’s a shooter, so the story doesn’t matter!
  • It’s a platformer, so the story doesn’t matter.

And so on. 

While I understand where this thinking comes from, it’s wrong. Just because the story isn’t the focus of the experience doesn’t mean that the story is irrelevant to the experience.

They’re looking at a game with a lame, boring story and comparing it to a hypothetical game with no story whatsoever and concluding that the second one would be better. That’s true, but it misses the point. They should rather be comparing this game with a lame boring story to a hypothetical game with a story that connects emotionally with the audience. 

Money is on the Line

My plan to get rich is to spend as little as possible on a script, then spend as much as possible turning that script into a movie, then stick that movie into an expensive video game where nobody will care!
My plan to get rich is to spend as little as possible on a script, then spend as much as possible turning that script into a movie, then stick that movie into an expensive video game where nobody will care!

While publisher Bethesda Softworks hasn’t shared sales data with us, it’s easy to see that Rage 2 did not do well in terms of reviews. Bafflingly, the PC version is rated higherA few months ago, it was rated 10 points higher. Now I see they’ve leveled out a bit. than the Playstation version on Metacritic, even though the PC version has all the problems of the console version plus all the stability, UI, and performance issues we’ve come to expect from Bethesda’s recent PC ports.

The scores are in the 63 to 73 range, which is the critical equivalent of a shrug or a halfhearted clap. The game vanished from the conversation just a few weeks after release and not even the post-launch updates managed to get the game back into the news. 

My point here – and the reason I wrote this entire series – is that I think the slapdash writing is what killed this game. I realize this claim comes off as horribly self-serving. Of course a writer like me would assume that if the team had just hired the right writer the project could have been magically saved. 

The thing is, there’s nothing wrong with Rage 2 in terms of mechanics. I’ve certainly seen many games with far less interesting gameplay that scored much higher. The gameplay is really good by the standards of the genre. It’s really fun to rush an enemy, slam into them, and shatter their armor so the pieces fly in every direction. It’s incredibly satisfying to leap up in the air to create a black hole that pulls in all your foes, then slam back down and turn them all into paste. It’s hilarious to tag one foe with the fire pistol, then literally snap your fingers to ignite them with a fire that will spread to anyone else nearby. The super-running is exhilarating, the car combat is pretty cool, and the double-jumping is… Well, it’s double jumping, you know? That’s basically always fun. 

I didn't talk about the convoy assaults in this game, where you have a high-speed battle with a formation of enemy vehicles. They're really good. This is one of the best parts of the game, and it's completely detached from the story.
I didn't talk about the convoy assaults in this game, where you have a high-speed battle with a formation of enemy vehicles. They're really good. This is one of the best parts of the game, and it's completely detached from the story.

The art is pretty good and the team did a great job of getting a lot of different environments – badlands, swamp, jungle, rocky wastes, etc – into the game and making it visually plausible. The marketing grabbed everyone’s attention. The vocal performances are solid, and the animations are fine. Sure, the game has some bugs, but the Rage 2 bug list is nothing compared to the swarms of bugs unleashed by sister studio Bethesda. 

The only thing wrong with this game is the narrative. The game leads off with 20 minutes of tedious cutscenes, and those 20 minutes create a horrible first impression.

I can’t prove it, but I really do believe that a wittier version of Rage 2 would have fared much better on the sales charts. If the story didn’t get in the way so much at the start of the game, then people would have gotten to the fun combat sooner. If there were a few well-drawn characters in this world, we could have connected with them and come to care about their struggles. 

In the grand scheme of things, Doom 2016 wasn’t that cleverIn terms of story. There’s a lot that can be said about the gameplay, but that topic would need a series of its own. . It had one good joke that it told a half dozen or so different ways. But those moments were charming enough to be memorable and to encourage the player to press forward for the next one. People are still talking about the moment where the Doom GuyOr if you must, the “Doom Slayer”. Ugh. smashed a computer console like an angry child. That scene wasn’t long, complex, deep, or profound. It was just a funny surprise. That brief moment of charm was enough that people are still talking about it four years later.

Like I keep saying: You don’t need a lot of story, you just need to make sure the story you do have is solid.

The problem with Rage 2 is that the story didn’t offer any emotional engagement. It’s an open world game that can’t get us to care about the world. 

Story is The Fuel of Engagement

Michael Bay movies are PACKED with scenes where badass people destroy an environment by shooting badass guns, and nobody remembers or cares about those scenes. If you want to capture the magic of the Matrix lobby fight, then your work starts long BEFORE anyone starts shooting. It starts with the characters.
Michael Bay movies are PACKED with scenes where badass people destroy an environment by shooting badass guns, and nobody remembers or cares about those scenes. If you want to capture the magic of the Matrix lobby fight, then your work starts long BEFORE anyone starts shooting. It starts with the characters.

Think back to the lobby gunfight in The Matrix. It’s a fantastic scene and it works just fine as a showcase of cinematography, choreography, stunts, and special effects.  Someone who’s never seen The Matrix could watch that scene and have a fun three minutes watching the fireworks.

But that scene becomes massively more impactful when shown in context, because the story has done a tremendous job of establishing characters, creating stakes, generating empathy, and maintaining suspense. We know Neo and Trinity are walking into the very heart of the enemy stronghold. We know that nobody has even dreamed of doing something this crazy before. The life of their friend and mentor is on the line, and by choosing to rescue him they create a situation where all three of them could die, and the rebellion would be crushed foreverWe’re ignoring the change in perspective brought about by the sequels, because a first-time viewer of The Matrix wouldn’t have that information. Also those movies aren’t very good, despite their lofty intentions.. We know they’re up against impossible odds, but we also know that Neo might have some sort of extraordinary ability. We’re worried about the characters, we’re curious about the opposition they’re going to face, and we’re looking forward to the reveal of what Neo’s deal is. 

People watch the scene and they talk about how exciting that fight was, but they overlook how they were already on the edge of their seat when the fight started. The fight didn’t create tension, it was a payoff for tension that already existed thanks to all the setup in the previous scenes. The action scene gets the attention, but a lot of the magic of that scene is the result of the excellent setup provided by all those “boring” talky scenes.

That's a really cool fireball explosion, but I can't escape the notion that more total hours were spent on this one explosion than on designing the personality and motivations of our central villain.
That's a really cool fireball explosion, but I can't escape the notion that more total hours were spent on this one explosion than on designing the personality and motivations of our central villain.

Think of the final duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi. The fight choreography and special effects aren’t nearly as impressive as the fan-made Ryan vs. Dorkman 2, but that doesn’t matter. RvD2 is a charming little demo of micro-budget technical prowess, but it doesn’t have the huge emotional punch of seeing Luke cross sabers with his father for the last time. 

Typically, the big exciting action scene gets credit for creating the excitement, but the real root of those successful moments stretches back to the non-action scenes where the writer spent the time crafting characters and motivations that pulled us in and made us care. That’s the main reason that so many people can actually find themselves bored at a Michel Bay film despite the brilliant choreography, solid stunt work, top-notch computer FX, energetic cinematographyNotwithstanding Mr. Bay’s horrendous penchant for shaky-cam., and wonderful practical effects that go into them. It’s all sizzle and no bacon.

We have the same problem in video games. People talk about how fights are “tense” or “exciting”. The gameplay ends up stealing credit for things the writer set up.

I know it’s hard to envision a Rage game where people care about the world and the characters, but it is possible and I’m convinced it would propel the series to greater success. Not only that, but I think that a well-written version of Rage 2 would have been a best-seller. The only problem with this game is the writer’s complete inability to engage the player on an emotional level despite the cutscene-heavy design. The player doesn’t care about the characters or the world, which means the gameplay falls flat. A boss fight isn’t thrilling when it’s bookended by cutscenes that ruin the mood. The game ends up showing people I don’t care about, struggling against villains I can’t take seriously, to save a world that doesn’t feel real in the first place. 

Writing is hard on an individual level, but on a financial level it’s one of the easiest things a team has to tackle. Based on the end credits of games over the years, the writing staff is typically minuscule compared to the groups of programmers and armies of artists required to bring a game to market on a AAA scale. Designing a big-budget game atop a sophomoric script is like building a mansion on a pile of sand. 

Dear publishers: Please put the same time and attention into your scripts that you put into the graphics, environments, marketing, character designs, weapons, and gameplay. It really does matter. Not just artistically, but to your bottom line. Hire people who know how to write, and hire people that can appraise the resulting work. Literally millions of dollars are at stake here. 

So that’s about 20,000 words on Rage 2. If you’d like to support my efforts, please consider joining my Patreon or maybe throwing a few bucks to my PayPal:

Thanks so much for reading.



[1] A few months ago, it was rated 10 points higher. Now I see they’ve leveled out a bit.

[2] In terms of story. There’s a lot that can be said about the gameplay, but that topic would need a series of its own.

[3] Or if you must, the “Doom Slayer”. Ugh.

[4] We’re ignoring the change in perspective brought about by the sequels, because a first-time viewer of The Matrix wouldn’t have that information. Also those movies aren’t very good, despite their lofty intentions.

[5] Notwithstanding Mr. Bay’s horrendous penchant for shaky-cam.

From The Archives:

86 thoughts on “Rage 2 Part 10: Writing Matters

  1. Alex says:

    It’s an ‘X’, so the story doesn’t matter!

    If the story didn’t matter, there wouldn’t be enough people saying the story mattered that this rebuttal could become a cliche.

    1. Hector says:

      That, and games have more or less required some kind of story-driven context to become a major success. People might reasonably argue against this idea. After all, games in real-life don’t require story.

      Well, take Pong. It’s fine, if a bit simplistic, but there’s no story. It simply is, but nobody cares about Pong. But a similar game in real life does have, if not story, then at least context. If go play a round of table tennis with my friend, we bring ourselves to the match. We might be competitive, bored, impatient, friendly, rude, or a combination of all of those. Our skill levels may be wildly different. One of us might be thinking about an upcoming date while the other is annoyed by the lack of focus.

      A video game innately lacks all that, and part of the job of design is incorporating context to engage the player. Super Mario Bros is about as simple as games get in practice, but it has a clear story: Italian* plumber Mario battles the evil Bowser to rescue Princess Peach. (*Possibly Italian-American? No clue.) The plot doesn’t make sense in any other context and it doesn’t matter objectively. The gameplay would be identical if the entire thing was grayscale and the characters abstract blocks. But while people liked the game, yet they *loved* the characters. There are hundreds of platformers, but few if any had the kind of success that Mario has had.

      Or take something like League of Legends. They’ve got a *lot* of characters, but even though I played the game for about an hour, I can name and/or describe way too many of those guys, and explain their allegiances, rivalries, and friendships. They stick in the mind even though the gameplay just wasn’t quite my thing. Or for an FPS example, the game Ion Maiden doesn’t have anything that would be called a story, and the technology in the game is practically antique. But they compensated by making sure that the story they did have is entertaining, the main character has lots of quips and they’re not obnoxious, and the environments work overtime.

      1. Trevor says:

        Pong and Mario are not the best examples because they’re old games. You just didn’t have the space on the literal cartridges to put in a story beyond Mario needs to go rescue the Princess. Nowadays you have SO MUCH computing power that there’s an obligation to put a story in. It would look weird (or intentionally retro) to have a game that gives you a screen of text explaining who you are and what you’re trying to accomplish and then shoving you off into the game.

        Where Mario is interesting is in to the tone/texture. Crash Bandicoot tried to be Sony’s answer to Nintendo’s Mario and Sega’s Sonic but it didn’t catch on. You could even argue that the Crash Bandicoot games are mechanically better than Mario, but the tone and the way all the pieces fit together in Mario (Super Mario World or Mario 64) hold together much better than they do in Crash. And this has nothing to do with story. Mario World has basically no story or character development but is incredibly compelling due to the tone or polish of the whole thing. I’m almost positive Crash’s game presents more about the villain’s motivation than we have learned about Bowser, but I can’t even remember Crash’s villain’s name.

        League of Legends is just weird. They have so much detail about all of their characters and the history of the world and their relationships but I know none of it. I know so much about Rumble’s abilities, his matchups, his builds, but literally nothing about the character and could not care. But I think it’s fascinating that they’ve poured so much detail into it which resonates with you.

        1. Hector says:

          I chose old games deliberately because they’re (A) widely known and (B) occurred in an environment where the difference between games with no story and games that did was stark and obvious. However, I think your statement here:

          “Nowadays you have SO MUCH computing power that there’s an obligation to put a story in.”

          I don’t really agree with this. Every city-builder, and most strategy games, in general do this. They have context but not story. Many simulation games are oozing with personality but don’t have even a “screen of text”. Sports games are kinda the same way, in that you can only create stories for yourself. Or even take something like Stardew Valley, which *sort of* has a story, but not really; the point is that you make things happen, or not, by your actions. Story is an optional element, but character isn’t.

          Now, as far as League goes – characters and worlds will always resonate with some people but not others, sort of divorced entirely from any mechanical considerations. That’s just sort of the nature of the beast. But something will get you to really invest emotionally.

        2. Agammamon says:

          Mario is actually a *perfect* example – because we *don’t* need to put a story in. Mario’s story is irrelevant. You can enjoy the gameplay solely based on the gameplay, no story needed.

          Now, imaging Mario with 2 hours of dialogue heavy cutscenes. Would the *game* be better?

          Today, Path of Exile has very little story and you only get a few bits of exposition as you go through. Just enough to set up the stakes, explain the important stuff about how the world works. Its not even necessarily high quality storytelling.

          1. Asdasd says:

            Furthermore, there are plenty of Mario games with story. There’s two whole distinct lines of RPG, and Galaxy, probably the series’ highlight, was a game with a developing story, although it wasn’t Mario’s. In the latter case it was a pleasant adjunct, but the Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario series are story heavy games. I like them, but they’re weird, because you can feel the difficulty/challenge of telling stories about these characters and this world, which are more a collection of colourful visual motifs than fleshed out concepts.

            Mario has also existed in other narrative media. There was a cartoon, a series of choose your own adventure books, and an surreal dystopian cyberpunk movie that nobody at Nintendo would ever want to admit exists. There’s another movie in the pipeline (sorry), which I suspect will illuminate exactly how tricky it is to tell a story with a mascot character. The Sonic movie shows you can make something that will be received quite well, but Sonic always had a bit more definition as a vaguely anti-authority icon.

          2. The Puzzler says:

            I’d like to see a long-form analysis of the plot of the original Mario. “And once again, we are told that the princess is in another castle. This creates a sense that you are not making meaningful progress, because by now we have no confidence that the next castle will be the correct one either. It is around this point that Story Collapse begins for many players. Why does Mario not have a better plan that visiting random castles?”

            Old stories were pretty bad, but they were commendably efficient.
            Secret Service Agent: “President Ronnie has been kidnapped by the ninjas. Are you a bad enough dude to rescue the President?”

            1. Hector says:

              I still want to see a gloriously cheesy retro 80’s movie where that is the entire plot.

  2. Asdasd says:

    Great article Shamus. I’ve been nitpicky during this series but I agree with the argument here completely. Getting people to care about what happens in your story, and the people to whom it’s happening, really is fundamental. Presumably it’s also very difficult, but that doesn’t excuse the alarmingly high proportion of fiction that doesn’t seem to even try.

    I didn’t really like or enjoy The Matrix Reloaded the first time I saw it. The second time, it occurred to me that, on some level, it seemed to be a sequel to a popular story that was about the difficulty of making a sequel to a popular story. I don’t know if that was the Wachowskis’ intention, but I found having this angle to hold onto helped me to get quite a bit more out of the experience.

    1. Geebs says:

      I assume that Matrix: Revolutions was a stark warning to posterity about the dangers of continuing a franchise two sequels further than necessary.

      1. Asdasd says:

        Well, kind of! It does involve Neo doing a lot of wondering out loud about what’s driving him on his continued adventures after all :D

      2. Ninety-Three says:

        Clearly the lesson wasn’t learned because they’re making another one, to release next May.

      3. Echo Tango says:

        The Animatrix was better than both of the non-animated sequels. So obviously the rule is that every third sequel is good.

    2. krellen says:

      Watch the Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions WITHOUT re-watching the Matrix first. The two movies together weave a coherent and even solid story – it’s just not the story that was promised by the first movie.

      1. MelTorefas says:

        [blockquote]it’s just not the story that was promised by the first movie.[/blockquote]

        100% agreed. I don’t remember the sequels too well, but I do remember thinking that some of the stuff was pretty cool and would make a good story, but didn’t make any sense — because it followed on the first movie.

      2. Taellosse says:

        The Wachowskis have said in interviews over the years that their original plan had been to make the 2nd Matrix movie a prequel, roughly covering the content of those first 2 cartoons in the Animatrix, and then a 3rd movie covering the events in the 2 sequels we did get, but the studio nixed that plan, supposedly on the grounds that a prequel was too risky. So it got shoved into the background with the Animatrix, and the plot outline for the climax got stretched out to fill the space of 2 movies (which, I think, is why Reloaded feels like it meanders so much in the middle, filling time with sophomoric ethical debates and weird fanservice).

        Depending how different those 2 scripts would’ve been in the end, the 3 might’ve tied together a lot better than what we got.

    3. Cubic says:

      Matrix Reloaded ended in a potentially very interesting way which suggested that they were actually in a matrix-in-matrix scenario. But nothing came of that, unfortunately.

      (I see that I was not alone in this speculation: https://matrix.fandom.com/wiki/Matrix_in_a_Matrix_theory )

      Such a twist would at least have made Matrix Revolutions a lot more engaging.

  3. camycamera says:

    I do agree that a good story can go a LONG way to make an otherwise good game to become an all-time favourite.

    Wolfenstein: The New Order is my go-to example of this. If the game didn’t have the most surprisingly poignant human story in recent memory in an FPS, then it would’ve just been remembered as an alright shooter with some broken stealth mechanics… GOD it sucks that TNC was such a disappointment narrative-wise. But anyway…

    I am not gonna play Rage 2 anyway partly because the first didn’t grab me, and partly yes because as this series has shown the story sucks… But before I even learned of the story, I personally avoided it because of the Ubisoft open-world, collect-a-thon nonsense with a map filled with useless icons slapped on top of seemingly every AAA game these days.

    I yearn for more shooters like Doom Eternal (which I am playing right now and it’s a masterpiece), that are tightly designed and pace out the combat in well-designed levels.

    Open-world FPS games can have their place, sure, but like… Does the game benefit for being an open world? Does it benefit for having all these convoluted xp and currency systems, this map filled with do-em’-once-you’ve-done-em’-all missions? The bloody icons everywhere? The bandit camps in samey copy-paste locations over and over?

    My point is, IDK if writing was the sole reason it didn’t do well, although if someone said “omg this game actually has a really amazing story” then admittedly I would be curious. But I think many like me avoided it because it had the same open-world nonsense and didn’t do enough to differentiate from that, I guess. Like, I wonder if Rage 2 was a more linear experience, it would’ve sold more? I might’ve gotten the game then. Because a more linear experience means a more well-paced and curated experience, that likely isn’t going to waste as much time.

    1. Sartharina says:

      I’m gonna piggyback off this comment since it mentions Doom Eternal – in the context of this article, Doom 2016 and Eternal actually manage to nail the emotional connection by building on the myth of the original games. They’re a retread of Doom 1 and 2 respectively, complete with major boss fights. But brought to awesomeness. Sure, they have some fancy new heavy metal lore about ancient knights and demon civilizations and legends and stuff like that, but it’s all a side-show in unvoiced datapads to pique those who love that sort of thing.

      The real writing and hype is all in the myth. When you boot up either of the new Dooms, well… There’s a demon-slaying party like it’s 1994. There’s a reason Doom Eternal’s promotional material hyped the returning demons. The emotional investment is in taking on old legends in a gory new skin. The verbal dialogue in the game is servicable, and emphasizes Doomguy’s “I’m here to Kill Demons and Not Give A Shit About Your Drama Bullshit” (to the point where Doomguy kneeling before a king is controversial because it clashes with the expected characterization), but the real masterstrokes of ‘writing’ in Eternal comes from things like the first non-trash demon being the final boss from the last game, and an early Slayer Gate containing TWO GODDAMN CYBERDEMONS AND A BARON OF HELL. And, it builds up to the first boss fight by showing you the creature under construction throughout the mission And then when you beat it, you have to take on TWO MORE – and then they start showing up as normal Elite Demons.

      … It’s actually kinda cool how Doom Eternal builds up every new demon – The Dread Knight is the boss of the first Slayer Gate, in a mission after you’ve danced with a few Doom Knights. The Doom Hunter gets a mission dedicated to it, while the Whiplash is a medium demon with a bunch of “PAY ATTENTION TO ME” mechanics that can be infuriating to fight against, offset by some of the most beautiful Glory Kills. And then there’s everyone’s least favorite enemy, the Marauder… but I think the annoyance from these new demons is designed to create a personal grudge against them – You’re SUPPOSED to hate the newcomers, and want them every bit as dead as the old vanguard.

      In fact, the degree to which the myth of the Original Doom games is reflected in the game’s one “Walking Simulator” level halfway through, where there are no enemies to fight (Except a gratuitous boss at the end), where you get to admire the scenery, see flashbacks, and pick up codex entries, all for one narrative purpose: Establishing the Doom Slayer as the original Doomguy, complete with the classic armor and personality from the comic.. A lot of the game’s environments are also strongly reminiscent of the original Doom and Doom 2 – There have been SEVERAL parts where I was looking down a corridor and was like “… I’ve seen this place before, This is the same architecture as one of those bonus missions from Doom 1… And hey, this looks is that city street mission! in Doom 2!”

      Of course, the new stuff is also pretty metal, like the Doom Fortress and the hellpowered Double-barreled laser crossbow that can shoot swords at enemies, and from what I’ve seen, the new lore about Vega, Argent D’nur, the Makyrs, and Samuel Hayden has been pretty well received by the lore fanatics, while everyone else is content to just Be The Original Badass.

      I don’t think these games would have worked 10-15 years ago, when Doom was seen as just an outdated precursor compared to its successors, rather than the Settraesque legend it’s become since then.

      To me, it sounds like Rage 2’s writing and hype were focused on the wrong stuff. Mad Max: Fury Road is amazing, and the game should have told a completely different story, with emphasis on the open world’s awesome stuff like convoy chases.

  4. Mattias42 says:

    Agree on the rest, honestly, and great article as others have said… but I disagree that Doom 2016 isn’t well written.

    I mean, The Doom Slayer is basically if not A go-to example, then at least mine for writing a character, and showing his personality, skills and believes via actions, not words.

    Throwing the monitor away on hearing Samuel start pouring honey into his ear. How he knows the EXACT button presses on every computer system he comes across to get done with the fiddle things as soon as possible. That little side-glance down at some poor slob when Hyden talks about how there’s been ‘a few mistakes,’ before cracking his knuckles. How about the only thing he cares about gathering is weapons, information on his enemies/situation… and these goofy toys.

    I mean, sure, it’s not exactly the most complex personality out there The Doom Slayer is sporting, but I will stand that I believe that the delivery is genius. In near every action you get some tiny tidbit more about who you’re playing as, and what type of person they are. That’s damn rare in near any medium, but all but unheard about in games.

    Hell, it’s one of the few games I can recall in recent years where the story has a genuine moral dilemma that doesn’t boil down to ‘pat baby on head, or eat the baby’ style writing. IE the exploitation of hell being insanely dangerous and short-sighted… but also humanities last, best hope for sustainable energy.

    That’s some shocking nuance for any game… let alone a Doom game, of all things.

    1. Gargamel Le Noir says:

      It’s even better than that. The way I see it that “smash the computer moment” was meant to work for both readings simultaneously.
      The player who genuinely doesn’t care about setting in Doom enjoys seeing the Doom guy destroy the exposition machine. But someone who pays attention to the story, thin as it is, sees him raging against the callous waste of line if the pursuit of a so-called “greater good”, the main theme of the story as I mentioned in another post.
      This is very clever, and ends up supporting Shamus’ thesis : Just because your game is action oriented doesn’t mean it’s amateur hour for the writing. It just means that they have to be incredibly efficient in smaller windows of narration and mood setting.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        As the player who genuinely didn’t care about setting in Doom, I hated seeing the Doom guy destroy the exposition machine because it was still an unskippable cutscene. “Hey player, do you hate cutscene bullshit and just want to get back to the shooting? Haha, me too am I right? Here’s an unskippable cutscene all about how great it would be to just get back to the shooting. What? No you can’t shoot things, this is a cutscene!”

        1. ccesarano says:

          It’s worse to me because there is a moment later where Pierce is behind a piece of glass and the player – and therefore DOOM Slayer – can’t do anything but listen. It’s a moment where the game suddenly changes its perspective on villain monologues and forces you to sit there and listen to one of two people responsible for this mess without the option to even try shooting through the glass or just walking away.

          I always wondered why no one else pointed the scene out as inconsistent with how the Slayer is perceived elsewhere, since he just patiently waits until the villain is done discussing her plan before continuing onward.

          1. Geebs says:

            For me, the worst unskippable cutscenes in nü-Doom are the glory kills. They’re all at least a second too long, and they get very repetitive. An option to make them shorter would be really welcome.

            1. sheer_falacy says:

              One of the runes makes glory kills faster.

              Admittedly it feels like a poor choice from a character optimization perspective, since you only get 3 runes and you’re invulnerable during glory kills, but it is an option.

              1. Fizban says:

                I think I actually used that one- even though you’ve got i-frames during the animation, you’re still immobile while enemies are bearing down on you in a game where everyone says constant movement is key. I’d definitely skipped some kills because they were too far out of path and would have got me caught, but the sped up version was enough to make me grab more and thus have more health.

  5. Leviathan902 says:

    So I did not purchase Rage 2 because at first glance it looked like another open-world, copy-paste, busy-work game and everything I saw regarding the game since then has proven that assumption correct despite what everyone acknowledges as a fantastic combat system.

    Now let’s imagine that the reviews had come out and the general consensus was that Rage 2 surprisingly had a really good story. Maybe it was really funny or impactful or whatever. In that scenario it would have garnered a lot more interest from me and almost certainly would have been a purchase from me personally, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

    I don’t think it’s a surprise that we’ve been seeing so many open-world ubi-style big budget games seem to fail or at least not become big hits in recent years. There are so many of these games now, and they have to do something to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack. A good story, I think, would have helped alot.

    On a personal note, maybe it’s because I’m pushing 40 with a family and have less time to game, but if I’m going to finish a game, I need something to propel me through it. Something to motivate me. Great gameplay goes a long way, but if I don’t care about what’s happening or what’s going to happen next, chances are I’ll drop it and never look back.

    1. Asdasd says:

      As an addendum to this, I think we might be able to see a correlation between the best-received and most popular Assassin’s Creed games and the identification of a well-loved protagonist that people seemed to care about: AC2 and Odyssey, and Ezio and Kassandra, respectively.

      But I’ve never played much AC (got bored half way through the first) so I couldn’t say for sure.

      By way of contrast, Breath of the Wild seems to have attracted acclaim largely on the strength of its open world and mechanics, with the character development and story-driven motivation side of things fairly thin on the ground (I say this as someone who put 100 hours into it and loved it). So maybe there’s a certain amount of swings and roundabouts.

      1. Leviathan902 says:

        Funny that you say that, as I mention Assassin’s Creed in the next comment below as Odyssey seems to be one of the few open-world ubi-games that has found a lot of success in recent years.

        I point out that the AssCreed franchise is sort of it’s own little world in the gaming sector that succeeds in spite of itself no matter what. However, I haven’t played Odyssey and if what you say is true, and it has a compelling protagonist, I think that further bolsters the argument that Shamus is making and that I corroborate below: story is selling these days. And if you make another open-world, task-list game without a good one, you’re going to fail.

        1. Geebs says:

          Thing is, the AssCreed series’ overarching story is complete gibberish, the “family” secondary plot-line of AC: Odyssey is overwrought melodrama with a completely unearned ending, the “romance options” are all horrifyingly creepy, and the most mordant bit of satire in all of the sidequests is the fact that they called a guy “Testikles”.

          I don’t think writing had anything to do with Odyssey’s success. It’s the same thing as New Colossus and, probably, Doom Eternal – sequel to well loved game (in this case, AC: Origins, which was surprisingly good) sells well on the merits of the previous game in the series.

        2. Dalisclock says:

          Odyssey is a wierd case where it doesn’t make the same story mistakes that Orgins did(confusing, poorly paced intro, a story that reaches it’s emotional peak and then proceeds for another hour or so, some wierd time skips near the end, some awful story railroading during the battle of the Nile) but then makes all new ones(The story is spread way too thin for the size of the game and it’s divided up over the 3 main prongs which makes it feel unfocused as well). Bayek in Origins was a cool, interesting character, but Alexios/Cassandra suffers from having the exact same character beats spread across both characters which means neither of them real like actual characters(the dialogue options don’t help this). And there’s the fact the Peloponnesian War is window dressing that keeps trying to shove it’s way into the plot.

          I like Odyssey(mostly for the greek map and setting) but it just feels like it’s just too big for it’s own good and it feels like they couldn’t seem to decide between the history they are trying to depict and the HUGE UBISOFT GAME they’re used to making.

      2. Fizban says:

        Breath of the Wild’s thin on story? I haven’t played it myself, but from trailers/review footage I’d got the impression that they did at least as much if not more with Zelda and the supporting cast as previous games. I guess I should get around to playing it if only for comparison’s sake, if I can get someone to lend me it since open world gives me little interest in buying it.

        1. Nimrandir says:

          I was going to hop in and say something about that. While Zelda is not the player character in Breath of the Wild, she has a legitimate character arc in that game, and I’m not too macho to admit that it had an effect on me. I just watched the final cutscene again to make sure I was remembering things right, and I got misty-eyed at the end. Given that Nintendo isn’t known for its storytelling chops, I was caught off-guard.

          I also found Breath of the Wild’s meta-commentary on its open-world activities amusing. The whole ‘you are literally collecting poop’ thing with the Korok seeds, combined with my pacifist playstyle (I really didn’t need many inventory upgrades), gave me enough reason to walk away if I didn’t find a particular activity or puzzle enjoyable.

  6. Leviathan902 says:

    On another note, I think it’s really interesting if you look at big hits in the AAA space of the past few years, almost none of them are this Rage 2 style of game. By that I mean open-world/busy work/task list games. Outside of the looter-shooters like Division and Destiny, the single player sandbox games seem to mostly be failing for a variety of reasons. The latest Middle-Earth game, Rage 2, The new Ghost Recon, I don’t think Far Cry has been relevant since 4 back in 2014. Fallout 4. The list goes on. I think there are some exceptions, I believe Assassin’s Creed Odyssey did really well, but AssCreed is kind of it’s own juggernaut, kind of like Call of Duty is the only modern military shooter that succeeds these days. Exception that proves the rule.

    However, If you look at the big successes that everyone was talking about in the AAA space, they’re pretty much linear, level based, or story based games. The 2 that really come to mind are Doom 2016 and Control. As Shamus and camycamera above said, while Doom 2016 didn’t have a great story, it had great story MOMENTS that people talked about for years. Control was praised for it’s incredible atmosphere and story, sold really well, and dominated discourse for a long time.

    I’m hoping this indicates a turn around in video game tastes away from making every game open-world toward a more robust gaming environment. I know for my part, I am damn sick of these open world games and don’t play them anymore. It makes it exponentially more difficult to create a good story which is something I need in order to give a crap about what’s happening and to want to keep playing.

    1. Bubble181 says:

      There’s a difference between “critically acclaimed” and “financially successful”. Shadow of War (after backtracking the loot boxes), Ghost Recon, Far Cry, Fallout 4 were all major hits. Listing them as failures is a bit weird.

      1. Leviathan902 says:

        I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure Shadow of War and Ghost Recon Breakpoint were commercial failures and the newer Far Cry games “failed to meet expectations”. Fallout 4 made money sure, but unlike 3 quickly disappeared from popular consciousness and was widely derided and considered a failure. It’s a different kind of failure, sure, but it clearly didn’t have the impact Bethesda was hoping for.

    2. Syal says:

      Complete tangent:

      Exception that proves the rule.

      I hate this phrase. There’s no such thing as an exception that proves the rule. An exception by definition disproves the rule, and if the rule accounts for it then it’s no longer an exception.

      1. Dave says:

        “Proof” does not merely mean “shown to be true”. It also means “tests”, which is how it is used in this saying:
        7: a test applied to articles or substances to determine whether they are of standard or satisfactory quality

        Similar how they would “proof” Plate armor by shooting it. (with the resulting dent being the “proof mark”)

        1. Syal says:

          But if it doesn’t penetrate it’s not an exception to the “armor stops stuff” rule. I’ve only ever heard the phrase applied when there’s a hole.

          1. jpuroila says:

            Proof mark isn’t about the phrase. It’s about TESTING(=proving) the armour.

      2. Ninety-Three says:

        There’s no such thing as an exception that proves the rule.

        Yes there is, it’s just that no one uses it correctly. “No parking on Sundays” is an exception the existence of which implies (one might say proves) the general rule that parking is allowed on most days. That’s what the phrase is supposed to mean.

        1. Syal says:

          …okay, fair.

      3. Hector says:

        To reply to everyone in this whole thread, you’re all correct because there are two meanings to the phrase, “The exception that proves the rule.” This rests on a twist of language over time. The verb “To Prove” at one point meant “To Test”, which is rather archaic at this time. In that sense, the phrase meant that an exception can test whether a rule really exists. A somewhat more modern interpretation (though Wikipedia says is goes back over 2000 years at this point) is that an exception demonstrates that a rule exists. And arguably all rules require exceptions to perfectly match reality.

        So for once, everybody is *RIGHT* on the internet and I popped by to congratulate you all on a civil discussion carried out like reasonable human beings who are exploring the technicalities of language. I award you the Pink Unicorn Medallion, for being so rare I expected to find a Pink unicorn first.

        (Ref: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exception_that_proves_the_rule)

        1. Asdasd says:

          So what you’re saying is, this discussion is the exception that proves the rule about discussions on the internet in general?

      4. danielfogli says:

        There’s a nice bit of logic involved there: ;-)

        If “every rule has an exception”, then if it has an exception, then it must be a rule, right?

        …Right? :P

  7. Lino says:

    Great article! This really is the type of content I visit this site for. The thing that won me as someone who visits here daily was the thought exercise about TIM Island during your Mass Effect retrospective, which prompted me to not only read the entire thing, but nearly everything else you have here.

    And this series was the closest thing to TIM Island you’ve written since your Andromeda series. I really wish you did more of this kind of stuff. It doesn’t even have to be game-related – e.g. it could just be ideas you’ve had for books that, for one reason or another, you just didn’t write, or something like “What I would do with franchise ‘X’ if I had the license and Y amount of dollars”. I know that sounds awfully close to writing fan-fiction (which you’re understandably opposed to at this stage of your blog), but if you put some constraints on the thought exercise, I think you could easily turn it into a series, or at least an article.

  8. BlueHorus says:

    Games with bare-bones stories exist, and they’re fine. Good, even.
    XCOM 2016, DOOM (all iterations), GTA (the first), Bad Dudes, so on and so forth. I suppose it’s possible that these games would have been improved by a heartfelt, emotionally touching story*…
    …but it’s much more likely that they would have actually been made worse by a bad story.
    XCOM 2 is a great example of what we might term ‘unnecessary story bloat’.

    *Mind you, when Lt Claudia Ulrich got killed by a Cyberdisc in XCOM, I was genuinely, emotionally upset – not that that had anything to do with the storytelling in that game.

    1. Gethsemani says:

      Games like XCOM work because they provide the setting and set-up for the player to tell their own stories within the framework of the game. In XCOM a huge part of the charm is that you will inevitably form some sort of bond with your squad members and that you can easily create narratives around them.

      I’ve been playing a lot of Hunt: Showdown lately and it does pretty much the same thing. It provides an unusually deep lore for what is essentially a 10 man team death match with AI zombies and does the Tarkov-thing where you lose the character and their equipment if you die in a match. But Hunt also gives all hunters you recruit their own name, and occasionally title, and if you’ve survived a few hairy matches you will have formed some kind of bond with your hunter. A bond that means it stings all that much more when Robert eats a face full of buckshot because you got careless.

      It is not traditional storytelling per se, but games like XCOM and Hunt (and many roguelikes) are great at making the player invent their own narrative and infuse it with meaning because there are real (if not very dire) stakes at hand and the player only gets partial control the outcome.

      1. Fizban says:

        Speaking of Hunt- how is it these days? I was thinking of picking it up even though I hate small-squad PvP (the bane of solo mid-tier players), because its mechannics seemed to limit the usual twitch aim skills with slow iron-sighting which they then removed which made me go hard nope (IIRC).

        1. Gethsemani says:

          It is more twitch aim then I remember from the beta, but the biggest component to winning a gunfight is still positioning and surprise. It is a game where your success is most often determined by how you read the map and your ability to judge when to move fast and when to be silent and careful and the high weapon damage means that you’re quite capable of taking someone out before they even know what hit them.

          I’ve not tried the Bounty Hunt mode solo, but from what I understand from those that play it a lot it is hard but not impossible to do well if you go in alone. It just requires a much more careful play style and more liberal use of avoiding fights while waiting for your time to ambush the teams. That being said, you’ll absolutely crap your pants from the mood and tension for the first ten hours or so, so if you’re someone who doesn’t like horror games Hunt is a hard pass.

      2. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

        Speaking of games, that provide set-up for player stories, Kenshi strikes me as a good example of this kind of game. It’s ugly underdeveloped buggy mess, with a very narrow intended gameplay options, but I get stuck with characters, I’ve created and stories that I’ve made up. In the end I’ve sank more than 200 hours in it, until I wasn’t able to squeeze anything more from the gameplay.

  9. ccesarano says:

    Someone above mentions Breath of the Wild, and it’s amusing to me because it’s a game where the story is optional but is also treated as more simple than it actually is. But what Nintendo did well with Breath of the Wild is separate “goal” from “setting” and put the “story” in the past. You can actually compare it to DOOM 2016. The hero wakes up and immediately has a sense of what their goal is. In Breath of the Wild, that goal is “Defeat Ganon”. For greater success, chase down these four sub-objectives first. From there the player is free to create their own objectives in regards to exploration. During that exploration, however, they can find more information about what brought Hyrule to this state, and the juxtaposition of what happened in the past versus what is happening now develops a sort of theme of “Heroes aren’t chosen, they rise up” or something to that extent.

    But the game opens up simple, dropping you into the world.

    Even story-heavy games manage to more effectively open up into the action, though. Final Fantasy VII is one of the best examples, as you start up with a grand vision of the city you’re in before hopping off a train and raiding a reactor.

    It’s not even a matter of how important story is in a game, I think it’s just a matter of understanding how to begin a game. But with RAGE 2, I feel like the gameplay came first, and the narrative came about late into development as a mad scramble to provide context to it all.

  10. Dreadjaws says:

    People who say “The story in a game doesn’t matter” really mean “The story in a game doesn’t matter TO ME”. I’m sick of it, frankly. People just seem unable to accept that others might actually like what they don’t and just because they don’t care about something it doesn’t really mean that others don’t and shouldn’t.

    Granted, I don’t think a story is necessary in certain genres, sure, but if it’s there then I certainly have all the right to expect it to be decent.

    Small aside, but related: I recently finished a playthrough of “The Hex”, and I think everyone who loves videogames should give it a go. I can’t say much without getting into spoilers, but it’s about a murder mystery in an Inn where several videogame characters stay, and it’s quite a bit of a meta game that talks precisely about the tribulations of videogame development and the public’s reaction. There’s a bit of different genres mix-up, so there’s a bit of platforming, a bit of shooting, a bit of cooking simulation, etc. But since all of it is for storytelling purposes, there’s really no requirement of having to learn lots of gameplay nuances or having quick reflexes.

    1. Syal says:

      I can’t say much without getting into spoilers,

      “From the makers of Pony Island” says a good bit I think.

  11. Mousazz says:

    The link to the lobby gunfight in The Matrix. leads to a deleted video to me.

    Video unavailable
    This video is no longer available because the YouTube account associated with this video has been terminated.

    I present an alternative.

  12. sheer_falacy says:

    My own reason for not buying Rage 2 is that Rage 1 existed, and I played it, and it was… ok. I don’t know why they made a sequel to a mediocre game with no real story hooks and a generic setting, whose main reason to exist was to show off a technology (what was it, megatexturing or something?) that was kind of buggy and that no one talks about anymore (presumably because it was either discarded or adopted by everyone).

  13. Kathryn says:

    I actually still have not seen The Matrix. At this point, I’ve heard so much about it (and the one where Bruce Willis is dead. I can’t think of the name of it, but I haven’t seen it either) that I’m not sure I can ever watch it from a fresh perspective.

    Anyway, thanks for the series, Shamus. Not my genre of game at all, but interesting reading.

    1. Fizban says:

      Fresh perspectives may be overrated. If you want some more direct perspective, MovieBob’s Really That Good (on the Matrix of course) and Just Write’s On Finally Understanding the Matrix Sequels are some good video essays. The latter made me finally realize why I wasn’t annoyed by the sequels as much as others, as I’d understood a hint of what is explained there, and RTG is a deep dive on the first one. The point being that good analysis of something doesn’t make it worse, and if you can’t have it fresh then maybe you’d like it with better context/as context. Or have enough meta-knowledge that you don’t need to watch it to commentate.

      Unless by heard so much you mean you’ve already watched a bunch of video essays on it and I’ve just suggested more of the same.

      1. Kathryn says:

        No, I just meant people talking about it, like a former friend telling me about an essay she wrote about it for some sort of religious themes in art assignment. TBH, nothing I’ve heard has made me want to see it (except that apparently Elrond is in it? I like Elrond). It sounds like it’s kind of pretentious. Nevertheless, I imagine I’ll see it eventually.

        Thanks for the rec! Unfortunately, video essays are not my thing unless they include transcripts (in which case I’d rather just read the transcript…).

        1. Fizban says:

          Checked for transcripts, yeah no links. Seems odd but so it goes.

        2. BlueHorus says:

          You might be upset to learn that Elrond is the bad guy in this one.

          But, if you make it to the sequels, he does end up with infinite clones (for ‘reasons’), so there’s a LOT of him…

          1. Philadelphus says:

            But he does make a really great and memorable bad guy. “Mr. Anderson…”

    2. The Puzzler says:

      By the time I saw the Matrix I had learned so much about it through cultural osmosis that it all felt very predictable and dull, which meant I spent my time watching it picking holes in the logic, like a ‘cinema sins’ YouTube video.

      When I saw Matrix Reloaded, I noted in my diary that I enjoyed it more than the original.

      Years late, I was surprised to read this, because the Matrix sequels were such an internet punchline that I had managed to convince myself that I’d hated it all along.

  14. So, Shamus, have you tried DDO?

    *giggle* I think I will just preface all my comments with that from now on, even if I’m talking about something that has nothing to do with DDO.

    But, seriously, I do think that DDO does a fairly good job with the story it has. It’s not so much that it bogs the game down and makes you wonder why the heck you’re playing an MMO (SW:TOR, I’m looking at you). It’s just enough to give some stakes and direction to what you’re doing, most of the time. And if you’re enjoying it, there are self-directed areas where you can pick up more story tidbits. There are a couple of places where “cut scenes” maybe go on for a bit longer than is ideal, but there’s only ONE of these (the end of Spinner of Shadows) where you actually lose control of your character briefly. Their idea of a cut scene is usually more along the lines of “you can’t leave this room until the NPC’s are done emoting”.

    The “Dungeon Master” voiceover narration style, which in most games would be absolutely non-functional, works in this context and does a really good job of calling back to the original roots of the game in pen and paper, and it also means that for the most part they don’t have to interrupt your questing to give you the story.

    It’s far from perfect, but from what I’ve seen it’s pretty darn unique as games go–yet they actually made it work.

    1. Hector says:

      FF14 is LIFE! Mi’Quote 4Ever! Ul-Dah shall Rise!

    2. Sleeping Dragon says:

      The Destiny 2 main stories vary wildly in quality and tend to lean towards the “excuse for a grind leading to an excuse for a raid” variety, particularly in the current seasonal structure. But! They tend to have a bunch of accompanying lore from wildly different genres, ranging from singular scenes to small stories. And there is a very strong subset of the community that is very much into D2 lore and piecing the world together from it.

  15. Agammamon says:

    “Story in a game is like a story in a porn movie. It’s expected to be there, but it’s not that important.”

    What these guys forget – and what the original Doom team did not – is that there’s *juuuuust* enough story in porn to give the stuff context. And no more. Same in Doom. You have a pretty good idea of what’s going on from the environmental story-telling coupled with the end-of-level half-paragraph blurb. All that shows you how the story is moving along and how it concludes and its not so long that it frustrates you by keeping you from the good stuff.

    And, as you’ve pointed out – and pointed out before – if the story isn’t going to be important, don’t keep pushing it front and center. If you’re going to keep pushing it front and center, make it worth paying attention to.

    I can’t prove it, but I really do believe that a wittier version of Rage 2 would have fared much better on the sales charts. If the story didn’t get in the way so much at the start of the game,

    More the latter, IMO. I have 43 minutes total in Metro 2033, last played a year ago. I don’t want to go back to it because I got tired of, just when I get into the gameplay, it constantly jerking me back to tell me a story. Same with XCOM 2. Constantly taking control of the camera and preventing me from playing so some talking head can exposit.

    Let me play the game.

    1. Gethsemani says:

      Avoid Far Cry 5 for all you’re worth then. I would have rated it the absolute best Far Cry game if it wasn’t for the fact that once you reach an arbitrary amount of points (gained by doing missions, side activities, hunting and getting into fights) the game instantly interrupts what you’re doing so that you can be captured or drugged by the antagonists, get a cutscene (some times also a playable mission sequence) and then wind up in some other place then where you where before. It grates me so much when I’m out doing my thing, enjoying the game and then the game just decides that the story takes precedence over me playing the open world game in a way I want.

      The story isn’t great (it is not terrible either), but the execution of these cutscenes is terrible. Especially since it would have been easy to just mark them up as regular main missions which you had to reach to trigger.

  16. Soldierhawk says:

    It does’t look like anyone’s mentioned this yet, so…

    Think of the final duel between Luke Skywalker and Dath Vader in Return of the Jedi.

    1. Shamus says:

      Whoops. Thanks for the heads up.

      Obviously that was supposed to be “Daft Punk”.

      1. hector says:

        Is it sad that I’d rather see a weird edit of that instead o the sequel trilogy?

      2. Nimrandir says:

        I’m sad now. I was hoping you were going to make Big Van Vader part of the Star Wars canon.

        1. Joe says:

          Instead of cutting Luke’s hand off, he rips Luke’s ear off!

          1. Nimrandir says:

            I’m so tempted to start building a full WWE-Star Wars mashup continuity. Stone Coldo and ChewRocka, an epic struggle against Emperor McMahon . . . If only I didn’t have work to do.

  17. Rack says:

    I’m not sure I can quite agree to the extent you’re claiming story matters. Gameplay can certainly push tension without story and in many ways story in videogames is generally ill-suited to adding tension to a scene. The player is never going to lose in gameplay in any game with a story, he’ll just reload and start over.

    In fact based on the way that videogame stories generally get treated I think they probably aren’t in most cases more important than the stories in porn. Players want a bit of context but more than that it just gets in the way of the gameplay. There are exceptions, mostly in games where the story is the focus, such as in Telltale’s games but mostly that’s what people want.

    However that isn’t to say writing is unimportant. Over and over gamers respond to strong characters and sharp writing. How much of Portal’s success is really down to the innovative gameplay? There have been a bunch of interesting first person puzzle games but only one of them had GLaDOS. In terms of gameplay it’s an important tool when it comes to an interest curve. When you dial down the action for some quiet time it’s useful to have something to keep the player engaged and good writing always works.

    1. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

      I think in the context of discussion, “story” correspond more to overall writing than narrative. Writing as a means to create emotional anchor, something that will be memorable more than game mechanics. And, I think you bring out a wrong kind of tension, gameplay creates mechanical tension, it’s created and resolved in momentum, you need to shoot a dude, that jumped out from behind some crates, you need to run away from spook, that you hear behind you, etc. It’s compelling, but after overcoming an obstacle, there won’t be any tension, until you’ll find a new one. “Story”, on the other hand, creates emotional tension, that follows you through the whole game, even if it’s unimportant and barebones, “story” tells you, why you should shoot a dude, or run away from spook, apart from “it’s fun”, and it creates sense of completion. Like, saving the world from Nazis brings much more fun, than just shooting 521 dudes in 23 rooms.

      And about the fact, that player will never lose, I won’t delve into a topic of creating enjoyable loosing conditions in games and focus more on traditional linear games. It’s the same illusion, as in the movies, as long as we’re on board with a “story”, it will work.

    2. Philadelphus says:

      There have been a bunch of interesting first person puzzle games but only one of them had GLaDOS.

      This reminded me of a game my brother introduced me to at Christmas, it’s called Gravitas and is free on Steam. The first-person puzzle aspect is nothing mind-blowing (though decently fun), but it’s got some really quite humorous and well-written (and voice-acted) characters. Much like Portal, it also takes less than two hours to get through, so I’d recommend it if anyone needs something fun to do while staying at home.

  18. Paul Spooner says:

    That car chase screenshot looks incredible!
    Looked up a convoy assault mission, and it’s pretty neat looking. Too bad all the fancy visuals fade into irrelevance when you’re basically staying on the road and cycling targets for the auto-lock weapons.

  19. jpuroila says:

    “Story in a game is like a story in a porn movie. It’s expected to be there, but it’s not that important.”

    Maybe we’re thinking about Carmack’s quote the wrong way? Imagine watching a porn where the first twenty minutes are are(effectively) a cutscene with no “action”. I think we can all agree that the story had better be good in such a scenario(back in the days of DVDs you could even have effectively unskippable cutscenes). That doesn’t mean a good story isn’t preferable to bad(or no) story, just that the story should stay in the sidelines.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Indeed, the story should keep out of the main thrust of things, as it were.
      Minimise the beating around the bush.
      Get straight to the point, in a way.
      Bring matters to a head in a timely fashion.

      Unless it’s got any penetrating insights, of course…

      1. RFS-81 says:

        Your comment is a work of art! Surely, this must be the climax of your blog commenting career!

    2. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

      I’m not near John Carmack in the gaming scene, hell, I’m not in the gaming scene at all, but I think his quote is terribly wrong. In porn, consumer is a passive (kinda..) observer, and it’s genre-less (lets not get to deep into this) exploitation videos. Video games are multi-genre media and player is an active participant of thing happening in them. And I’d add the length as a factor, it takes much less time to finish watching porn, than to finish a game.

  20. Christopher Wolf says:

    On the Michael Bay route…my favorite Bay movie is the Rock, which has a fun over the top plot and characters you can root for and against.

  21. John says:

    I can’t remember the last time I saw someone mention Ryan Vs Dorkman, what a pull

  22. Pink says:

    I didn’t even hear about Rage 2 until it came out, so that probably affected sales too.

  23. Patrick the chili maker says:

    Last of Us had, even by standards of 2012, worn-out gameplay with linear maps and nothing really revolutionary. It was your typical 3rd person shooter with guns and healing potions and stuff to climb and jump over and secrets to find by climbing the boxes and blah blah blah. As a SHOOTER, LoU was bland and tired.

    The graphics DURING GAMEPLAY were nothing special, either. Not bad, but not cutting edge by any means. The maps were maps.

    And the game is one of the best ever made. Its on everyone’s top 10 list regardless of what genre they prefer or age demographic. Its an amazing chunk of entertainment that demonstrates what games can be when they strive for excellence. It raised the bar, and did so with pure story-telling. If you think story doesn’t matter you’re wrong and I will fight you.

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