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[Column] General: Interactive Storytelling Evolution

SBFordSBFord Associate Editor - News ManagerThe CitadelPosts: 23,352MMORPG.COM Staff Epic

MMOs are one of the few game genres that often embodies interactive storytelling, where players influence the direction of the story. In her latest column, Genese Davis talks more about interactive storytelling and what it means to games and gamers. Read on!

What is it about certain stories that “hook” us? I’ve been using a nickname for great narrative: Caffeinated writing. These are the stories that affect us, submerge into our subconscious, and blanket us with their mood. These are the stories that seem to stimulate our central nervous system, make us alert, and give us a sense of purpose and adrenaline. They make us feel addicted, and rabid to get to the end. Without caffeinated writing, a video game can get shelved and start collecting dust like a long forgotten book.

Read more of Genese Davis's Interactive Storytelling Evolution.



  • GarBearGarBear Boston, MAPosts: 2Member
    I thought SWTOR was going to have amazing advacements in interactive storytelling, but Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World surpassed it with their writing. Yes these have issues too, pacing could be improved, but the storytelling is there. Characters and pacing do make or break games for me. Granted, like your video says, games are catching up in a sense because the goals in games have shifted.
  • WizardryWizardry Ontario, CanadaPosts: 12,182Member Epic

    I like this writer,not because she is gorgeous,well maybe because lol,seriously she has a passion for gaming and understands it,i like.


    Anyhow go figure you post a pick of  LION from FFXi,she remains in my mind after all this time.The cutscenes and stories in FFXI are truly great and they add your character inside of them ,making it even more compelling.


    I see that OTHER game and their cutscenes are like some 12 year old was fiddling with a paint brush and there is this sometime small cutout of a npc or face with this talking that really leads nothing to a story.

    I loved the way FFXi did it`s story and i think it worked becuase they did not just wash a game together,they actually made everything looked planned out.They created the gods and the reason your game world existed and what the people were fighting for.Most games out there,we don`t have a clue why we are playing.


    Then we have this other trend of gaming that seems to revolve around pvp,there is no story just we can pvp and we can loot ..YAY ! .


    Bottom line is it really looks to me like game developers are getting lazier and cheaper,they want to put out a bare bones game and put very little time into the thought process.I hear the term of easel boards and using blocks to layout a game design,then the board votes on it.Where is the passion and thought  to create a game world.This again points to FFXi and ONE guy Tanaka,he made all the decisions and the design,so it was one guys vision of what would make a great game world and how the story would be envisioned.


    IMO it would be like writing a book,woudl you want a different writer at every chapter,no it wouldn`t work at least not very often.I think game design is like a Biography it has to bne one direction,not tons of people trying to turn a game into part Wow ,Part Rift and part Eve online all at the same time.


    Never forget 3 mile Island and never trust a government official or company spokesman.

  • GrumpyMel2GrumpyMel2 Catskills, NYPosts: 1,832Member

    "Interactive" strikes me as a bit of a misnomer, since at least in most traditional MMO's,  the audience (player) doesn't have any effect upon the story. "Interactive" implies, at least to me, some role in effecting the story.  YMMV.


  • AstraeisAstraeis AmsterdamPosts: 362Member Uncommon
    The story sounded more like a fairy tale to me.

    It takes one to know one.

  • maplestonemaplestone Ottawa, ONPosts: 3,099Member Uncommon

    You invite thousands of people to come into your world to play characters, but in the end, you cast them all as extras. 


  • BadSpockBadSpock Somewhere, MIPosts: 7,974Member

    The way I figure it - no choose your own adventure book is ever going to win a Pulitzer right?

    When I want story, I want it given to me - I don't want to write it myself.

    I think this whole "multiple paths" and "personalized story" phase is a really bad idea -

    Give us, the player, a single story - the story of this world and its characters and allow us to use the medium of video games to participate in it in a way we can't participate in the viewing of a movie or reading of a book.

    That is what makes video games and video game stories unique. Don't gloss that over and sideline it.

  • larrypsylarrypsy Laguna Woods, CAPosts: 34Member Uncommon
    Is there a role for the Casual Player with sooo many games and sooo little time?
  • MumboJumboMumboJumbo LondonPosts: 3,219Member Uncommon

    Positive and well-presented vid. Very positive which is in one sense a good use for stories. The difference and the problem with ME3 ending was that a normal story is under full control of the author. ME1+2 allowed players the idea that they could take the author's stories and control them to their own destiny, but idkw Bioware wrestled control back in ME3 which for a game was a huge mistake.

    I guess video-game writers have to work out in mmos how to make a story that is satisfying for tens of thousands of players' egos? Perhaps that is the challenge that forms the story: Your ego will be tested "in this world"?

  • JaedorJaedor Denver, COPosts: 1,171Member Uncommon

    From my experience, the best overall storytelling in an mmo goes to TSW. But there was one genuinely epic story in vanilla WoW that could hook you into identifying as your avatar for a couple of minutes:  The Great Masquerade.


    While the quest itself was considered the most challenging of vanilla WoW, this particular story was made more remarkable by an easily-missed detail in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion; if you had completed The Great Masquerade on your character, HIghlord Bolvar Fordragon whispered an extra line to you about it as he marched to the Battle of Angrathar the Wrathgate.


    Sadly, I have not seen this kind of personalized storytelling elsewhere in WoW or in any other game.

  • Po_ggPo_gg Twigwarren, WestfarthingPosts: 3,691Member Rare

    I agree with the others on TSW, at the adventure game section alongside Monkey Island it'd be worth to mention Ragnar as well, both TLJ and Dreamfall were so great because of the detailed writing and character lead.


    On books, however, I need to disagree with the caffeinated writing part, as well the adrenaline and the "but those in-between-action moments should still move the plot, characters, goals, or conflict forward" part. Somewhere around the first few Harry Potter books (which mastered the above) I red a summary about the effects of this new style (they called it action- or hollywood-esqe writing). The summary was that though it's indeed cheap, but at least the kids are reading again and probably that's a necessary evil to compete with movies and action series... Obviously that's what sells nowadays. Maybe I'm just too old-fashioned, but I find it kinda sad.


    Back to games, I'm with BadSpock (also a nicely written character btw :) ) that games should give a story and a world, with the option to participate and help the story to go forth. And not more. LotRO is great in this, you co-exist with the Fellowship and aid them on the side. Not changing the story, not become the Ring-bearer, etc.

    That's why I for example opposed the ME3 uproar, and I believe that happened only because of the changed audience attitude, influenced partly by the above mentioned caffeinated writing of today. I mean, audience demanding a rewrite because they don't like the original? That's definitely something new (and not a positive event imo). What's next, boo-ing in the opera and demanding to change the end? :)

    Don't get me wrong, I love different storylines, alternate endings, replaying games to try out every solution... but all of those are written by the game designers and writers. If you want interaction which is more than choosing pre-written story elements, then you'll either watering-up the bigger story arch, or you'll need really good DM's who react real-time to the players. We had such one back in the day, that's why I love story and roleplay so much :)

  • WraithoneWraithone Salt Lake City, UTPosts: 3,681Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by larrypsy
    Is there a role for the Casual Player with sooo many games and sooo little time?

    Sure. You get to play one of the legions of extras that make F2P games seem alive... ^^ You also get to be cursed as the Horrible Plague that is destroying the Entire Game Industry, by the non Casuals. ^^  Its a dirty job, but someone has to do it. ^^

  • AlBQuirkyAlBQuirky Sioux City, IAPosts: 3,828Member Common

    For me, "Epic Story" is the separation between single player RP games and MMORPGs.

    In a SP RPG, *you* are the one and only hero. Your actions affect no other players. This is where story telling can shine, in my opinion. This is where a player can get drawn in through the story.

    Not so much with MMORPGs. Small, little stories fit well in this atmosphere. When MMORPGs try to tell an epic story (save the universe), it falls flat when millions of other players also saved the universe before I did. MMORPGs also do not change because a player saved the universe. They also have trouble changing for the small, little stories presented. I helped the farmer with his bandit or wolf problem, but many times I can go back and nothing has changed.

    Also, a good story has an ending. In MMORPGs, this is a death knell for them. They end, which is not how they were originally built. Most MMORPGs just create a new threat to the world so the players end up rinsing and repeating the same, very basic story. Sometimes I feel like Bob Parr in the movie "The Incredibles." He has a line where he basically says, "I just wish the world would STAY SAVED once in a while!" (paraphrased.)

    The tools for good story telling often times fall flat in games. Cut scenes piss me off more than anything else I can think of. I have to STAND there and WATCH as some NPC gets killed or some such. I have NO interaction in the game at these points. Sometimes, cut scenes can definitely add to the experience, like at the end and the game wishes to give a player a special cinematic treat. These usually cover good dramatic camera movements, not action happening while I cannot participate.

    I was going to go on a rant about books these days, but will forgo it :)

    - Al

    Personally the only modern MMORPG trend that annoys me is the idea that MMOs need to be designed in a way to attract people who don't actually like MMOs. Which to me makes about as much sense as someone trying to figure out a way to get vegetarians to eat at their steakhouse.

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