This new single player me has led me to pay more attention to game stories and how they differ from your typical book or movie.
Lately, I've been playing Settlers 2, which is an older 2D game from the 1990's. I love strategy games, and this one is particularly entertaining. Then I noticed that Settlers 7 had been released this year! I quickly bought it based on enjoying Settlers 2 so much.
Well, it's not quite all that I had hoped it would be. They have a multiplayer aspect which they seem to be pushing. I'm not going to bite. Multiplayer is off limits. Instead, I turned my attention to the campaign, which, for you non-gamers, is single-player mode where you follow a set of scenarios and achieve objectives.
It opens with a story. I'm excitedly watching it...and watching it...and watching it...and...attention slipping...annoyance setting in...scowling...
FINALLY we begin. But by now, I've already determined that I'm probably on the wrong side of the fence in this battle. The story has given me TOO much information right at the outset and ruined the twist that I can sense coming further down the road. Worse! I had to sit through the many cut scenes and dialogues without doing anything! So now, we've already started off with the following problems:
- I'm bored because instead of actually playing my hero through the story line, it's been all laid out for me. This is appropriate in movies and books, because those are passive stories. You're sitting back and waiting to have the story unfold. Games should first be played through, then show cut scenes, and only THEN display text. The key is to engage the player. By time I get to the first level, I'm annoyed and bored.
- I already know where the story line is leading me. They've hinted that I'm fighting on the wrong side of a battle far too strongly. Great. Any writer or reader can tell you what the problem with that is. Only, it becomes much more of an irritating issue when you're working toward a goal you know is probably wrong, and you have no options to refuse that course of action. To progress, you have to pretend to be stupid and go along with it. If that's the case, what was the point of introducing the "role-playing" aspect to it?
Alright, annoyed, I begin the tutorial and complete the first step of the campaign. Yay. I turn it off, go do something else, then come back to see if it's any better in level two.
Nope. It's more tutorial. Finish that. Third level. More tutorial. Fourth level. More tutorial, and still no sign of the twist that I already know is coming, despite EVERY villain hinting at it! I'm also constantly getting lectured on new items and things to do! Really, it's not that hard!
How long does a writer spend introducing the characters and world before launching into the story? Usually, not very long. The characters, world, and rules are all learned during the course of the story, quite often without very much explicit explanation.
By now, I really don't want to return to the game. The story has lost me. The characters are so stupid as to be ridiculous. I have to play dumb to play my character. I already know the coming twist. Every level of the campaign has been annoyingly preachy and restrictive (whatever happened to a "turn off tutorial" button?!).
On more of a game design note, it doesn't even feel like a strategy game, so much as a mission-based game now. I can't use the map creatively anymore. I'm enclosed by the geography, so there's no exploration. I feel like cattle in a chute. There's only one way to move.
Bottom line? I think I'll stick to Settlers 2, where I am playing out the story line and I decide how to progress. That, very basically, is the difference between game writing and other story forms. The player needs to act out the script whenever possible. Not the writer.