After finishing off A Game of Thrones, the review of which I intend to write up some time this weekend, I started taking my DS on the train instead of a book. I fired up the updated Chrono Trigger. It’s amazing how quickly the game sucked me right back into its story.
It’s made me think. With all of the rendering software, high-definition platforms and cutting-edge AI technology out there, this game, first released back in the early 90s, still captivates me. It’s got 16-bit sprites, music based on the SNES chip and only a few buttons to speak of. Why does this game grab and hold my attention the way bigass mainstream games can’t?
It tells a great story.
Not every game sets out to do this. In fact, most of them get their start due to a new technology, a game mechanic or one of those pithy memos from the marketing department. And this isn’t a bad thing. A game should be seamless in its integration between mechanics, narrative and design. The experience that results makes games as different as night and day. Halo is a big-budget Michael Bay movie. Mass Effect 2 is a season of a science fiction TV series like Battlestar Galactica or Stargate. Chrono Trigger‘s a well-worn novel. These are subjective comparisons, but you get the idea.
As I continue to edit Citizen in the Wilds, get feedback on its query and struggle to conserve enough energy to work on either of those, I find myself looking at games in terms of potential for telling stories just as much as they are diverting little distractions from activities that earn money. World of Warcraft can even be used to tell stories, and not just through the quest log text and boss fight quotes. Especially if one is on a role-playing server, typed dialog, emotes and even the occasional spell can help tell a story that isn’t just interesting to the player but to those around them. Unless your name is Rostal Korobrats.
Of course, these things have to remain on the conceptual level for now. I simply have too many other concerns. The day job, the novel, maintaining an apartment, following up on paperwork for a variety of things while keeping the lights on and food in the pantry… all that typical life stuff that comes with being a responsible adult. However, once I get Citizen more reasonably poised for release to someone who can get it to print and things become less stressful in terms of budget and time constraints, maybe I can explore some of the tools at my disposal.
It’s all conjecture at this point, but it centers around the idea that a game that is equal parts design, mechanics and narrative can be an immersive and memorable storytelling experience even if the technology isn’t bleeding-edge and the budget isn’t in the millions of dollars. It’s the idea behind a lot of the indie games out there. Braid tells an intricate story while being a platformer with an interesting time-manipulation gimmick. Minecraft might not tell much of a story but it does allow its players to build, create, be anything they want, and that in and of itself has the potential for storytelling.
We get inspiration from all sorts of places. Games inspire me. The day may even come when I’m inspired to make a game of my own.
I just can’t do it now. Or any time soon. I like being sane. Relatively speaking.