No sooner do we have story popping up in yesterday’s Don’t Do It, about design flaws, than GameSetWatch puts an article up on story. Must be something that’s going around right now ;)

The basic themes of the post by Leigh Alexander are “actions speak louder than words” and “it’s the experience that counts”. She mostly talks about and gives examples from Hentai, which are games based primarily on sexual encounter, though she does write a little about Silent Hill 2.

Naturally, we’re talking choice here. That is, what you decide to do in a game has some real influence (or at least, apparent influence) on what happens.

Of course, we all know that any story is fixed when the game is finished, and the player can do only what is allowed for. The trick is in that “allowed for” part.

Back in Thoughts On Story, I speculated on a game that had multiple paths, and you wouldn’t know the full story until you’d been down all of them. I felt that could be an interesting game to play.

In pondering that again, after reading Leigh’s piece, I concluded that the experiences we have while playing are what really count. And it’s a major reason why so many games seem so dull and dreary, even when they do have “different paths”.

Because often those paths aren’t very different. Might & Magic VII is a case in point, which I mentioned around here somewhere before. Partway through, you choose either the light (good) or dark (evil) side. However, many quests are either the same or simply mirror images of each other.

The endings are different. But the journey through the game is too similar. It’s only a matter of which side appeals to you more, and of course, many played through both paths anyway.

The experience, therefore, didn’t really change by much. This, I think, is why RPGs aren’t so much fun to replay. Sure, in a big game such as Oblivion, you may go through a number of times to grab side quests you skipped earlier, or join a different guild. That helps a little, though often the quests become repetitious.

The main path, however, is usually the same, regardless, as I wrote in The Main Line. I think we could live with linearity somewhat easier if games had more than one way through, and each one was truly different.

Even if they all converged to the same finale, because each path would have its own story to tell along the way. Of course, a different conclusion for each path would be best, and really make a game enjoyable to replay.

As it is, many players go through a game more than once to pick up a treasure they missed there, or a quest here, and story becomes almost irrelevant.

Designers need to make the story important again, in a way that really matters, and what really matters is the experiences we have while playing. They needn’t always be happy ones. Choices along the way may sometimes be hard. But they would certainly make the game more memorable and more worth playing again.

Choose Your Own Adventure on GameSetWatch