SxSW postview – Every game tool tells the story

We came, we spoke, we won an X-Box 360, we went back home. Thus we conquered South by Southwest in Austin this past weekend. Our core conversation, “Creating Passionate Games: A Multidisciplinary Approach,” drew game developers and enthusiasts from multiple disciplines, which made for lively discussion. We discussed cinematics, music, sound, gameplay, linear vs. sandbox storytelling, voice acting, user interface, casual vs. hardcore, and the social aspects of gaming.

Cinematics and Editing
Taking advantage of good camera angles and editing, either in cut scenes or through other means, helps engage the player. Example: Silent Hill

Interactive Music
Attendees enjoyed music that helped set the mood, that might chance when you went into new locations, like underground. One attendee enjoyed music that let you know when the rebels were coming, like in Star Wars, and also made you feel victorious when the battle was won. Repitition of catchy musical themes also tied the player to the emotion or theme. Examples: Zelda, Morrowind

Sound/Voice Over
Sounds from off-screen stuck in players memory — like the off-screen sounds in Bioshock, which suggested that activities were going on beyond what the player could see. Good, well-acted voice over also encouraged players to actually listen to the game and music. Logically, developers can discourage players from turning off the sound to listen to personal soundtracks by putting in voice over.

Gameplay/Linear vs. sandbox stories
The gameplay in Portal added to the mad science universe of Portal. The story in this case served as motivation. In the case of a user-generated character, many attendees preferred freedom to solve problems their own way, thus preferring sandbox games to more linear games. A combination of both story and sandbox: Ultima

User Interface/Tutorial
Some players were taken out of the story during the tutorial, when the voice over actor might say “Press X to continue.” Many agreed that changes in gameplay or tutorials were best communicated visually. Ideally the User Interface would make sense within the story or context.

Casual vs. Hardcore games
Some hardcore games, like FPS, would explain the story or context of the game at the beginning, and then you’d never hear about the story again. Casual games tend to have less story, but there are exceptions, such as Chocolatier. Some attendees were frustrated having to kill difficult big bosses in hardcore games, which is less common in Japanese games, which tend to be a bit easier.

Social aspects
Part of what makes games sticky is their social aspects, whether they be single player or multiplayer. Games with stories naturally build social networks. Especially in cases when players develop the story, Jennifer Bullard of Aspyr said “stories build communities.” If you are able to do something different in a game, you earn bragging rights that you can bring to the community.

Overall, attendees offered a number of must-haves for a passionate game. One attendee suggested that the best games emphasize the psychology of the game context more than the design. Another preferred games with high replayability. Other suggestions included games that offer adequate rewards, fulfillment and achievement, openness and freedom, fantasy elements, and allow the player to know how the story ends with a satisfying finale.

Tall order? I’m game if you are! Did any part of the discussion spark an idea? Let us know if there’s anything you’d like to add to this dicussion.

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Published in: on March 13, 2008 at 3:00 pm  Comments (7)  

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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This was one of the best core conversations I experienced at SXSW, because you actively drew participation from the attendees. It was a fascinating mix of people, too. Thanks for hosting it!

    I dimly remember hearing something about a place to continue the conversation online afterwards; I’d be interested in knowing where that is.

  2. You found it! Feel free to ask questions or offer any insights you’ve had.

    Thanks for attending, Dave — glad you enjoyed it.

    -Anne

  3. […] story motivates in casual console games Who says game story is just for RPGs?  At the SxSW talk on passionate games, we discussed how few casual games incorporate story.  I’d like to offer up a highly […]

  4. […] spoken at length on different ways to tell game story — if you missed it, check out the SxSW postview with some of the highlights.  In an MMO, you can offload a lot of the storytelling to world […]

  5. […] Trenches series, I unveil the mysteries behind the Writers Cabal work process, discuss our recent session on Creating Passionate Games at SXSW Interactive Festival, and describe how Writers Cabal can help […]

  6. […] is a collaborative process.  Large games need teams of specialized workers. As we discussed in our SXSW Interactive session, story design shouldn’t be separated from the other disciplines.  Story can go beyond […]

  7. […] at the end, which include players love of story and distaste for poorly delivered story. See, it’s not just us!  Add your two cents to the conversation there or […]


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