Game Development Reference
first-person shooter games like Half-Life . These games also focus on story to drive
their action, but they tend to be identified with a specific, smaller niche.
4.2 Story and Action, Not the Best of Friends
You may have noticed this before: story does not belong in games. Sure, I know this
must be shocking, written in a book about how to write stories in games, but it's
true. Games require a certain level of heightened focus and reaction time to defeat,
especially action games, where you are running, dodging, attacking, defending, and
jumping to get to the end. There's not a lot of time to pay attention to what the
characters say, much less what the written text on the screen says.
To give a real-life statistic, people who try to talk on cell phones while they drive
suffer a 40% loss of attention from driving. If you're fighting the boss at the end of a
level, listening to your character's mentor trying to tell him something is likely to get
filtered out as a distraction.
However, people crave stories, as stories give them a framework, a motivation, for
all that running and jumping and slaying. Furthermore, game developers also tend
to want to make their games about something more than just running around.
So here we are, stuck trying to mash story into an activity that isn't very friendly
to the idea.
So, if we want players to pay attention to and enjoy our story, we're going to have
to tell it in the spaces in between the action.
4.3 The Cracks
Where are the cracks in the gameplay when players have enough attention span to
learn about your carefully crafted plot and dialogue? Here's a list:
Cutscenes. Also called cinematics, these are the little movies where control is
removed from the player and we show him what the game is doing now that
he's reached level 4. Cutscenes are the default standard in action-adventure
games to tell story. The good thing is that when you remove the player from
having to concentrate on gameplay, you can get his full attention on what's
happening. The bad thing is that players don't want to be interrupted if they
are having fun, so they'll skip the cinematic as fast as their thumbs can hit
“X.” Furthermore, cutscenes are expensive and time consuming. They require
tons of unique animations that are never used anywhere else in the game, and
they can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to create. They are also hard
to change if the story suddenly needs to be altered, so they can either tie you
down to the story you contrived at 2:00 a.m. right before the script deadline, or
they have to be dropped totally, wasting the work of several artists, animators,
and sound guys as well as the money you paid them.