There’s been some talk lately about decreasing emphasis on graphics in video games and concentrating more on “the other stuff” like character development, story, etc. I agree. The difference between Quakes #1, 2, 3 and the original Half-Life had much much less to do with the backing technology or graphics, but instead with the incredible plot that Half-Life had. The technology in both was “good enough” which is vitally imporant, but Half-Life nailed the atmosphere and told a story that the player could care about.
I’m not referring to online “twitch games”, such as the difference between Q3A and Counter-Strike. Or maybe I am? Compare the total online population of all FPS to all MMORPG’s, and recognize that MMORPG’s have more people paying to play a game that gives them a story.
I’d also like to mention the popularity of the Final Fantasy games. By all accounts their graphics are moderately boring (thinking of the top-down graphics). Combat in almost all RPG’s is ~less exciting~ than arcade-style combat. But it’s a popular series, and people play it because they’re interested in the story.
So, when will we see a Story Engine (SCUMM, Z-Machines?) instead of a Graphics Engine? My latest theory is to abstract the arcade-twitch portion out of the story-telling which is what Fallout and most other RPG’s do (just played through Fallout again, great game!). To some extent, combat in an RPG / story-focused game is a method of improving the non-linearity of the story, or perhaps the cheapest way to provide the literary-necessary character development for your avatar (naked n00b v. armored, skilled, shotgun-wielding warrior).
In summation most RPG’s are: Explore, Kill, Collect/Grow, Explore, etc. I am abbreviating “Explore” to also include exploration of character development, conversation, etc. You are prevented from winning the game until you have explored, killed, and collected sufficiently to find and withstand the big-bad-guy at the end, in which case the exciting climax is revealed. Actually, thinking back on it, Fallout has a denoumount (falling action) after beating the big bad-guy at the end, which clinched my involvement in the story.
So for a quick design document, my perfect story-telling engine would need to handle:
- Avatar Growth (ie: my avatar is now perceived differently by NPC’s)
- NPC Growth (NPC’s change in reaction to my actions, or actions of others)
- Story Arcs
- Choices With Consequences
- Rising, Falling Action
Arbitrarily comparing Quake 1/2/3 to Half-Life 1 (I haven’t played #2 yet) on these story-telling attributes:
I never finished the last few levels of Half-Life (got to the purple-alien zone but got busy and never finished). Even if some of the choices in Half-Life weren’t actually choices, they felt like them. Specifically I’m thinking of how you entered the base at the beginning on the monorail. A lesser game might have pre-rendered the entire opening, but Half-Life drew you in by experiencing the ride, talking to the receptionist, exploring until you found the lab with the experiment, and then beginning the game.
Implicitly, you choose to begin the game (kindof like Quake 1 and the level-select level), which draws you in to the experience because you always have the (in-game) choice of not advancing to the actual game/story itself.