Game Development Reference
the middle of a huge Hollywood action movie. The characters are well-drawn,
and the plot has many surprising twists and turns. Visually, it's extremely cin-
ematic, and the voice acting is spot on. The story is presented with text, dy-
namic cutscenes, scripted events, NPC conversations, and radio contact from
headquarters. The narrative is linear, but the action moves so quickly and
the individual levels are so large that the player rarely feels constrained by the
boundaries of the game world.
Portal (Valve, 2007). Written by Eric Walpole, Marc Laidlaw, and Chet Fal-
iszek. A first-person shooter with no shooting. Portal is a witty, sophisticated
action/puzzle game where the player plays a test subject at Aperture Science, a
secret weapons research facility. Using a device that can create inter-spatial por-
tals that can teleport the player through walls, floors, ceilings, space, and even
time, the object is to solve puzzles, getting from point A to point B without
being killed by GlaDOS, the endlessly cheerful and clearly insane computer
running the test. The narrative is simple and told through text, voiceover, and
song. By the way, the cake is a lie.
Stories in games can have several levels, before even stapling a genre to them. The first
two styles of narrative (gamespace and empathic) can exist separate of one another.
The other two (supporting and independent) actually require the first two to exist,
for reasons made clear shortly.
Gamespace narrative. If narrative in an FPS has one basic and overriding
goal, it's to facilitate the exploration of gamespace. The story provides the
player with reason and motivation to complete objectives, slaughter enemies,
and finish the game. Many games do not venture beyond this level of narrative
simply because it's the only one that the FPS itself needs to survive.
This style of barebones narrative is there purely to provide some motivation in
relation to the character's actions, but it also exists to supply context for the
conflict. Essentially, it answers the who, what, where, why, and how of the
Empathic narrative. Other games are able to go deeper than the gamespace
narrative, further providing elements to humanize the characters or the situa-
tion. In many ways, this secondary storyline not only gives the main character
emotional resonance, but it also motivates the player to act. The empathic
narrative uses the protagonist as a reporter, a witness to record the effects and
drama of the story, investing the player in the eventual outcome. The player
wants to succeed because he sees, first hand, the tragedy or the glory. The
goals of the character become the goals of the player—what Susan O'Connor
points out as a connection with mirror neurons.