Game Development Reference
strings events into a coherent narrative. A good sportscaster can spin a
tale complete with character, tension, climax, and denouement out of the
chaos of clashing bodies.
Games can apply the same principle by creating game systems that
attempt to interpret and link together game events, like a more advanced
kind of recordkeeping. The most obvious example is sportscasters in
sports games, but there are many other ways to apply this idea.
For example, after each level in Hitman: Blood Money , the game dis-
plays a newspaper article covering the killing and the following police
investigation. The story changes depending on the method used to kill
the target, the player's accuracy, and the number of shots fired, headshots,
bystanders killed, witnesses left over, and many other factors. Headlines
range from “Silent Assassin Wanted by Police” to “Hoodlum Massacres
17!” If witnesses were left, the story includes a police composite sketch of
the player character—the more witnesses, the more accurate the sketch.
Sportscaster mechanics are difficult to do well because it's notoriously
difficult for games to systemically interpret events that are important
to humans. And just as detailed graphics inhibit imagination, complex
sportscaster interpretations can crowd out players' own story-spinning. So
sportscaster mechanics often work best when they don't try to tell a whole
story, but instead just kickstart the player's own apophenic process.
A completely free-form game would allow the player to take any path
through its narrative content. Imagine tearing out all the pages of a novel
and scattering them all over the floor. One could lean over and read any
page, switch to another page, and to another, navigating randomly through
the text. That's a narrative with no ordering at all, since the reader can
absorb the content in any order.
A story can work like this, to an extent, as in the earlier example of
world narrative. But most narrative tools still work better when we control
the order in which they're used. Sometimes we want to ensure the setup
occurs before the payoff. We might want to let one subplot play out before
we add another so we don't have too many plot threads running at once.
Or perhaps we want to introduce game mechanics one by one alongside
the story so we can train the player in a smooth progression. In each case,
we need some way to make sure one piece of content is consumed before
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