I feel the same way about games that rely on decision making and moral choices made by the character, which often having a weaker than average narrative. With the market flooded by games like this, players are often put off when a title doesn’t follow suit. Criticism has been aimed at Red Dead Redemption and The Last of Us surrounding their endings and the lack of options that are given to the player. In my play-throughs, the endings to both of these games struck me hard, but were important to the story of the games. They made sense in the world that the writers had created. It wouldn’t feel right for the developer to give the player the option to change the ending, and would have felt disrespectful to the writing teams on both titles. Since then I’ve been able to share and discuss my opinions of both of these games, one of the greatest parts of a “shared experience”.
At this years Game Developer Conference in San Francisco, Bioshock creator Ken Levine told an audience that he believes that future of video game narratives will revolve around stories with multiple, randomised plots based on different needs and preferences of non-playable characters. With this randomised world, players choices will reflect and change the way the world reacts to the player. The characters in the game will express needs and wants, likes and dislikes, providing a unique experience each time a new game is played.
Moral choices and multiple paths and story lines are not a new element in video games. Recently, games like Bethesda’s Skyrim and Fallout 3 or Bioware’s Mass Effect have used player choices and morality with mixed results. Fallout 3 and Skyrim were both successful games, with both of the games beginning with the player controlling a unexpected hero, tasked with an insurmountable mission to save a sprawling open-world. It was this open-world that enthralled players; the environment was a character of its own. But it wasn’t the story that captivated players and was often the biggest criticism for both titles. With all the player’s choices and multiple story lines the main plot ended in the same place, criticism the Mass Effect series knows all too well.
Ken Levine’s GDC talk has me fearing for the future of video games and their great narratives and the storytellers creating them, being pushed aside for one-size-fits all, choose-your-own adventures. Like reading a great book or watching an amazing movie, I want to go on an journey.
But I don’t want to write my own story.