Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Elements of a Great Game – Story

Here again I may seem to be touching on something that is rather optional in gaming. After all, where is the story in Tetris? OK, OK... Yes, there is no story in Tetris and Teris is a great game. However, what I'm talking about is the starting chords, the fundamental palette, the base elements if you will of gaming. Not every game uses every element. I know I've basically said that before, but I wanted to underline it after I had strayed out as far as optional supporting characters in my last post. Story really is one of the basic building blocks of gaming and most games make use of some kind of back story.

To start with I want to look at a game where the story was there but had very little to do with gameplay and was never really filled out. Space Invaders is a perfect example. After all you're not playing a little dot trying to hit other little dots with a third little dot. You play someone guarding the Earth from evil invading aliens with a weapon that can blast them out of the sky. That is certainly story! However, that's as far as it went. The developers never built on the idea and, since the story went no where so did the game. Now, I know some of you may be hoping up and down screaming at me through the screen right now “Space Invaders is a timeless classic!!!!” OK, I agree, but let's look at a couple of screenshots. Take a look at the Atari 2600 Version and the new PSP version. See any similarities?

The game hasn't changed, it hasn't evolved. Now, I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but Space Invaders just doesn't have the following that it once did. Arcade games have moved on and it's a throw back to the past. At first it may not seem like the kind of game where story could have added much to it, but I don't agree. Games like Fire Emblem have deep story lines that have nothing to do with how the game plays. The characters in the story, although well developed, don't necessarily pass from one game in the series to the next, but the story continues on. What is the result? A long running series that keeps growing and changing while still remaining true to it's original form. The story is used as a motivator to keep the player playing and it works.

We can even look at arcade games like Mortal Kombat and see that story does matter. A new MK game just came out and, of course, it has a story mode. Why? Because the story pulls you through and keeps you playing. The series started with a story and it has grown and changed and although the game has evolved to some extent it is still basically what it was when it started with more bells and whistles. The makers of Mortal Kombat gave people a reason to keep on fighting and they do. Now, some could claim that the story isn't important and that it would have been a smash series without it, but I don't believe that. I can't think of a series that has had such a prolonged arcade life, but that doesn't have such a compelling story. (If you can think of one let me know.)

If I seem to be missing the obvious story driven genre that is RPG games, be assured, I didn't overlook it. For the most part RPGs ARE stories, so there seemed to be no reason to mention it here. In time I intend to take a look at each genre and will talk about my thoughts on RPG stories, the good, the bad and the ugly, but now's not the time for it. My point here wasn't that some games are story based, but that most games can get a little something extra out of story. What would have happened to Tetris as a series if there was some compelling story based reason to line up those little blocks? The world may never know....

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