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'NES Era Storytelling'

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by AndrewGrayGames, Feb 26, 2014.

  1. AndrewGrayGames

    AndrewGrayGames

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    So, as someone who is primarily an engineer, and not a writer, one of the things I'm working on are finding ways to create a simple, but effective, game narrative.

    After my last project, I decided I was trying too hard to tell too much, too inexpertly. So, lately I've been taking a long winding road down nostalgia lane, and seeing how the classic games - y'know, the ones people speedrun and LP to the present day - and I think I've clamped onto a pattern of sorts.

    I didn't just look at the NES era; games start to get simple stories during the SNES era, so I also invoke some of those games.

    Observed pattern:
    Problem Statement - The game starts by framing a problem of some sort. In Dragon Warrior, the King tells Erdrick's Descendant about the Dragonlord and how Princess Gwaelin has been kidnapped. In The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Zelda telepathically calls out for help. In Final Fantasy IV, you personally deliver the Water Crystal to the King of Baron, and are sent to deliver something to Mist Village.

    Hints - Around the world, you find hints about things useful to fulfilling your overarching goal. In Dragon Warrior, you learn about the Sun Stone and Rain Staff being necessary to reach the Dragonlord's keep, and that the Dragon that snatched Gwaelin 'went west' (sadly, early games weren't into being helpful, but there were other considerations for that.) Usually, there will be vague hints about where one would go to find such a plot coupon/macguffin/whatever.

    Intermediate Goal - At some point, you achieve an intermediate goal. In Dragon Warrior, you save Gwaelin from the Green Dragon, and return her to Tantegel Castle where she gives you her GPS device. In Zelda: A Link to the Past, you retrieve the legendary Master Sword, only for Zelda's hiding place to be found out and re-snatched. In Final Fantasy IV, you save Rosa from the Tower of Zot after defeating Barbariccia, to find out that there are a second set of crystals on the Blue Planet. Usually, I also notice solving this intermediate goal involves learning your next goal.

    Advanced Hints - You still get hints that help you achieve the main objective, but you'll start to find more interesting clues for things that make you more powerful. In Dragon Warrior, you find out that a shopkeeper in a destroyed town had a suit of armor that may have belonged to Erdrick himself. In A Link to the Past you find the Blacksmith's missing partner, which allows you to temper the Master Sword. In Final Fantasy IV you hear about the Sylph Cave and the passage to the Feymarch.

    Ultimate Goal - This is what it's all come down to - the victory condition itself. Usually it's defeating the game's final boss (Dragonlord, Ganon, Zemus).

    Am I the only one who sees this pattern rather commonly in early games? Is it effective in your experience, or are there other forms of this sort of functional storytelling that are worth considering?
     
  2. BrUnO-XaVIeR

    BrUnO-XaVIeR

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    One thing you maybe didn't notice as well:
    Back then games were heavely influenced by books and comics, not so much by the movies industry.
    In the book/comics patterns you most of the time can create the complete experience by introducing just the "Problem Statement" (goal) and the "Ultimate Goal" (achieving the goal).
    Than later you can add anything in-between them just to create climax and size the story, but at the end the additional contents doesn't matter.

    The problem with newer games is they try too hard to follow the cinema formula. That only works because the audience on movies are completely passive, the public are consuming something alredy built which they have zero control over. Is total opposite from games, you can't make games like movies and trying to do so leds to the weird world we live now where even Final Fantasy sucks in many ways.
    Story based games should be built like books and comics, not like movies...
     
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2014
  3. Smooth-P

    Smooth-P

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    Waiting for a breakdown of Metal Gear vs Metal Gear Solid V...
     
  4. hhorvath

    hhorvath

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    Please email us - had a question regarding your skill sets. Looking for a programmer. Dr. Helen.
     
  5. Foam

    Foam

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    Last edited: Feb 26, 2014
  6. misterPantoni

    misterPantoni

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    Most of those old games stroys remind me instantly of Campbells "the heroes yourney" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monomyth). So like Foam also said, this are some very old and common ways of telling a story, and they are used in so many books, movies, games...
     
  7. AndrewGrayGames

    AndrewGrayGames

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    @hhorvath - I'm glad you're curious, but shouldn't such inquiries be made via private message?

    @Foam and misterPantoni - I should clarify.

    I'm well aware of the literary patterns such as the Monomyth, the 'Three Act' structure (which the overall game story structure I've seen does follow along well with.), and interesting ways to use them (such as in media res.) I'm far less concerned with the literary pattern as I am the functional pattern. By functional patterns, I am talking about how these literary patterns enable player interaction with the game.

    Game stories are 'different' in that we can't get away with just telling or showing - we have to allow the player to do, or there's not much of a game, is there?

    My question is about functional storytelling paradigms in games, not literary storytelling paradigms in general. I realise there is some overlap and it's difficult to speak of one without at the very least referencing the other.

    EDIT: WOOT! 2000th post!
     
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2014
  8. yuriythebest

    yuriythebest

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    congratz!!!:)

    Am I the only one who isn't too impressed with NES storytelling? - sure, there were some good bits, but I find that more recent games like Half Life 1 are better examples
     
  9. AndrewGrayGames

    AndrewGrayGames

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    I think the attitude about the storytelling isn't what's in question here - it's the how and why of its efficacy.

    If you feel Half Life's storytelling is better and more effective for the player...why? What is the structure of how the narrative and gameplay interact? What makes Half Life's story a more effective gameplay vehicle than The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past?
     
  10. Kinos141

    Kinos141

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    Hell, yeah!!
     
  11. MarkrosoftGames

    MarkrosoftGames

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    i like the nes style cut scenes you see in games like ninja gaiden, some of the mega man games, even in disney games like little mermaid and chip n dale. the sort of animated comic style panels and text. nice and simple.
     
  12. Ghoxt

    Ghoxt

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    In another thread a member asked about story in their game.. I responded below.

     
  13. sphericPrawn

    sphericPrawn

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    It's hard to say which style is more effective for telling a good story as both the simplistic older style and the newer "cinematic" style stories both have their own advantages and disadvantages. Though I think for indie developers it would definitely be better to stick with the older "to the point" style as it takes a lot more manpower and budget to successfully convey a more complex movie-style plot.

    One example of a modern game that did extremely well at implementing a more movie-styled plot would be Spec Ops: The Line. If you haven't played it yet, I highly recommend it. The gameplay is somewhat vanilla, but the story and the way it's conveyed makes it one of the most memorable games of the last generation for me.
     
  14. Silly_Rollo

    Silly_Rollo

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    Actually I think Half Life has a lot more in common with old games like the SNES/NES era Zeldas than the more recent turn in games towards the cinematic. I think this shift has less to do with particular story structures than taking control away from the player.

    Old games had few cinematics so the majority of playtime is spent controlling the action. If story needs to be told generally you have to find some way to integrate it with gameplay. Half Life's story is told through details you pick up while playing the game. Sometimes they box in the player to try to force you to focus on something but mostly the story is told in snippets of dialogue or the mood of the levels.

    More modern games tend to bludgeon you with the story so gameplay comes crashing to a halt constantly. They want you to experience their cinematics or watch the player character do something cooler than their gameplay allows. I think its a messy and rarely effective formula and for indies it is hugely expensive.
     
  15. AndrewGrayGames

    AndrewGrayGames

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    It may be confirmation bias speaking here, but that's exactly why I'm asking these questions - not only does it take time and effort to do, it's hard to accomplish well.
     
  16. jRocket

    jRocket

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    One early game to mix up the traditional RPG formula was Ultima IV. In that game, there is no evil protagonist or boss monster. Rather, to win the game, the player must follow a set of moral principles known as the eight virtues, and to recover the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom from a dungeon. I believe that a simplified version of this game was even ported to NES.
     
  17. deram_scholzara

    deram_scholzara

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    The most recent game I played that felt like an NES narrative was Dark Souls. So much of the story is just implied by what you see and interact with, they only explicitly tell you things like 4 times during the entire game - Beginning, Middle, Climax, and End.
     
  18. Silly_Rollo

    Silly_Rollo

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    Yep Dark Souls is a game that nails this perfectly. It has few cut scenes, little dialogue, and only one exposition dump at the start. Otherwise its story is told through item descriptions and the world details of its levels.

    To give a counter example and to unfortunately pick on an indie, Dust was a game with a lot of heart but an awful story structure. It opens with a flood of exposition and lots of poorly written dialogue. Even the amnesia cliche! There is a tremendous amount of "story" that could have been interactive. Rather than allow the player to discover the world through implicit details the game keeps stopping so they can tell you about it. The gameplay is soured because of these frequent interruptions and the writer just didn't have the time or ability to pull off the story they wanted to tell. It's a shame because I know all that voice acting and cinematics must have cost them a fortune.
     
  19. AndrewGrayGames

    AndrewGrayGames

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    The problems you talk about with Dust seem to be the same problems I had with The Hero's Journey. Again: Maybe it's confirmation bias at work...or maybe I'm right in thinking that a story-heavy approach won't work for me at my current phase of development as a game creator.

    As far as Dark Souls, what are some cool things they did that told the story?
     
  20. Silly_Rollo

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    As part of the Dark Souls 2 hype the devs have some behind the scenes videos floating around talking about the development of the game and they are definitely worth watching. An interesting tidbit is that they first develop concept art, establish what the mood of the game is, and also understand what emotions they want to elicit from the player before they ever start trying to write a script. Then they develop a script that is anchored in that understanding.

    As a visual story telling example a subtle element in the game is that one of the glorious seeming areas is actually a (minor spoiler) illusion and the vast city is a ruined husk. Rather than have you talk to people about it or explain it in detail they just throw in a few visual cues in the level and some sly references here and there. If you dispell the illusion rather than needing a big dramatic cut scene the act of discovering and understanding the illusion is drama enough and the city's transition tells a story by just observing the changes. The fact that the city is a gilded illusion over ruins also reinforces a central thematic element too.

    If you're unsure about developing a story for your game I'd imitate them and develop a few base concepts and focus on the game first. Once you have the game more in hand you'll understand better the sort of story that would flow well within it whether it is a big or small story. Even genres like rpgs or adventure games I think could be improved by having a story driven by their mechanics rather than a static concept drawn up in pre-production.
     
  21. Smooth-P

    Smooth-P

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    Just gonna throw out that Planescape: Torment had tons and tons (and tons) of written dialog, few cutscenes, and has raised over $4 million on kickstarter for a reboot.
     
  22. AndrewGrayGames

    AndrewGrayGames

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    While good...that dosent really contribute to the topic at large, which is how to tell a story with a minimum of dialogue.
     
  23. Silly_Rollo

    Silly_Rollo

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    Planescape also had amazing writers. The same structure with mediocre talent would have produced something more like the dozens of rpgs released in the same era everyone has forgotten.

    I think indies in particular underestimate the difficulty of effectively telling a good story in a game. This doesn't mean it's a challenge that shouldn't be attempted but the difficulty should be respected. I bet Steven Erikson could write a hell of an rpg but most of us just don't have access to his kind of talent so we have to muddle along as well as we can.

    The best story I've seen in a game lately was in Thomas Was Alone a no budget Unity game produced by a single dude but his story was beautifully integrated with his mechanics. I think if he'd gone for a text heavy Planescape like approach it would've been a mess.
     
  24. snowconesolid

    snowconesolid

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    Very good observation. This seems like an interesting thread to discuss.

    A while back I also was thinking how nes games incorporated storytelling in them compared to modern games.



    I agree that a lot of games did have this type of pattern within the games story telling and even in the gameplay and I think it is effective, even to this day it is effective. But this form isn't effective for all types of games. I think, there is a unique pattern for each type of game that is similar to one another. All the types of games you mentioned in your observations are rpgs and I think this was the best way to structure rpg game storylines. But what about other types of early games? Let me go down that nostalgia road with you for a moment and look at some other nes games that had a different type story setup.



    Game just starts and player learns story as they progress:

    There was a lot of games on the nes that just start the game right away, no little backstory, no characters introduced like you see in zelda games, no little cutscene that gives you an idea of what the game is about or anything. the game just starts you off playing immediately and as you progress through a couple levels you learn what the game is about, your goal and some of the characters.



    First lets look at the most well known nes game that everybody and their momma's momma knows about.







    What if you never heard of super mario bros (or any of the mario games) and got it to play for the very first time in your life? You pop the cartridge in your old dusty nes and load it up. Right away, the game starts you off in the first level of the game. It doesn't tell you controls, it doesn't tell you a story or anything about the game. You just start playing. You jump on some goombas, you collect some coins and you get a super mushroom and see mario grows in size as you play. Again, if this is your first time playing mario, you would probably be saying to yourself "wtf is going on?". But after beating the first castle you learn that you are looking for a princess to rescue and then you pretty much know the storyline.

    Although many of you including myself will agree that the mario games aren't exactly big on storylines/storytelling, there is still a story throughout the games and its told in the simplest way. Even in the new mario games, they still tell the storyline. In the beginning, there is maybe a 2-3 minuet short cutscene, mario gets a letter "peach is captured" and bam the game starts.


    Other games that started you off right away with no background story are games like

    Kirby


    Kid icarus


    Kid icarus had a little bit more of a complex story and rpg type elements. There was more characters to. It was kind of like mario and zelda put together in a sandwich. But like mario and kirby, kid icarus just started the player right away and as you progress through the game you learn more about the story. The story was told in a simple way. Lets compare this to the story telling in the new modern kid icarus for the 3ds. "Kid Icarus Uprising."



    I don't know if you played it or not but the story is told in a way without a lot of chunky beef. The cutscenes are not too long and most of the time when there is dialog, it is during actual gameplay which I thought was cool as it explained things about the story and characters while you where actually playing, fighting enemies and exploring. Of course the voice acting is really what pulled this type of dialog off because it would of been kind of annoying to try and read the fast paste dialog while trying to dodge enemies and what not. But I think this would be a good technique to use in games that arent as fast paced as kid icarus was. I think this would work in games that tend to have more dialog like zelda. So having dialog while the player is actually playing and not sitting through a cutscene would be a good way to tell the storyline I think.


    What about games based off movies?

    Remember Gremlins 2 for the nes?


    The game starts with a short cutscene of a man letting you the gremlin out of a cage. No dialog. Then the game starts. There is dialog later on though.

    Modern Games with Simple stories:

    I think today you will find storytelling is kind of mix in games. Games like Metal Gear solid or Zelda skyward sword have a lengthy way of telling storyline with a lot of dialog. But some modern games do it just right. Like no more heroes for example:



    I remember the game just gets right to the point. You have to kill these guys and your trying to become number 1 or something like that haha.


    Also, look at Shadow of the Colossus


    extremely simple storyline, gets right to the point. Kill these monsters to save your girl.


    From my experiences, in my personal game projects, especially in my upcoming game "Hide-n-Seek Winter" you will notice this (see sig/end self promotion :)) I like to keep stories short and have them progress quickly. Have short cutscenes, introduce the problem right away, in the opening of the game and have very little dialog exchanged between the characters while still trying to have the characters say what I want them to say. So I tend to like to write a lot (you probably noticed from this post) but in my games dialog, I just cutout all the unnecessary stuff and go right into the story by shortening dialog, just have the character get to the point. So I guess something similar to the old games?

    Ok im done typing, I feel like I might of got off-topic or lost myself and forgot what we were even talking about originally......
    Where am I?
     
  25. AndrewGrayGames

    AndrewGrayGames

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    The moon, and getting to the point. :p

    I think I see what you're talking about. It's so easy to add unnecessary stuff to games - cutting stuff out takes discipline. I'll work on being more minimalistic with my setups, this was some inspiring stuff. Thanks bro!

    And, if it supports your point, I think it's just fine to plug your own stuff. :p
     
  26. FuzzyQuills

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    @snowconesolid: You sir have won me over: I agree with your statements!

    Especially Kid Icarus: Uprising, it's nice to be playing the game and right when your in the heat of battle... BAM! some idiot on the bottom screen says the most random, ridiculous or funny line ever heard in history. this, along with the amazing graphics helped me enjoy the game and was my corker for about two months!

    @Asvarduil: My two cents:

    for those who have played the Pokemon games, you may have noticed this pattern.

    In all of the Pokemon games, (that is, ones that are of the main series, not spin-offs like Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness!) you usually see the professor first, right? well, this introduces an interesting compromise: the way the professor talks, it seems your goal is to catch all pokemon in that region.(and that's the obvious part! hence "gotta catch em all!") But as you delve into the game, you realise that there is more to the game's storyline than simply capturing animals in spherical prisons, and sooner or later, you end up saving the world from some idiot's plot to take it over by unleashing a rare pokemon. (that's the template GAME FREAK have been following for years now, and Pokemon X/Y hasn't changed much in that context)

    This is the kind of template that Kid Icarus on 3DS took as well. for those who have played the NES version of the game, the original starts with Pit the angel having to travel far and wide to save Palutena and end the reign of Medusa and her underworld army. As you start Kid Icarus: Uprising, you see what looks like an obvious plot: destroy medusa and save the world. However, during the credits, (this was the point where i thought, "have i finished this already?! Too short..." ;)) Hades tears the screen away and reveals himself to be the true foe, opening the player to an entirely new path in the story, and also surprising the player with more game content, keeping them playing the game wanting to find out what happens next.

    And yes,we are probably on the moon. Hopefully, it isn't the Lunar Sanctum, otherwise we'd get blasted... ;)
     
  27. Harissa

    Harissa

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    Jesse Schell looks at this sort of thing in "The Art of Game Design". He compares game to books and films and comes up with an analysis a bit like this:

    Novels - good for expressing inner thoughts and dialog. Not so good at physical action or complex systems
    Films - Good for physical action and dialog. Not so good for expressing inner thoughts (although you can have a voiceover) or complex systems
    Games - Good for physical action and complex systems. Not so good for dialog or inner thoughts.

    So to tell a story well using the medium of games its usually easier and more effective to play to the strength of games by using the players position in the world and the objects they can, find to tell the story. This is how the old Nintendo games work. Newer games tend to use more techniques from films which can sometimes work but are pushing against the limitations of the medium so its a much more risky strategy.

    However, the fact remains that we're hard wired to see stories everywhere. Have a look at the Heider Simmel animation (http://vimeo.com/48908599http://vimeo.com/48908599 so see how little you need to tell a story.
    For a longer explanation (http://www.all-about-psychology.com/fritz-heider.html)