At the 2008 Game Developer's Conference I ran a Stories Best Played panel. On the panel, four designer/writers (Steve Meretzky, Marc Laidlaw, Ken Rolson and myself) each picked our two favorite storytelling games and discussed them with the group.
The games selected were:
You can download the PowerPoint slides below.
- Marc's picks:
- Thief: The Dark Project
- Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney
- Ken's picks:
- Planescape Torment
- The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay
- Richard's picks:
For ease of downloading, the following Zip archive has none of the video clips and is about 8MB.
This version includes all the video clips and is about 1GB(!) in size. It's a compressed RAR archive (you can get the extractor from here.). See the instructions below about getting it to run the videos.
Instructions to Run: To get this to run properly with the videos, move the extracted folder to the root of your C: drive. So you should have:
Run the Powerpoint from that folder. To get the movies to play correctly, you'll want to go full-screen (F5).
You'll need these codecs:
- The Fraps Codec (download here, you just need the codec, which comes with the free demo version)
- The K-lite Codec Pack, available for download
Beyond the two games picked by each panelist and highlighted in the slides above, our panel all had some additional selections that we didn't have time to cover. Below are some brief thoughts on each of the games we would have liked to talk about if the panel was three hours instead of one.
Richard also recommends:
Marc also recommends:
The Last Express
Interesting as a historical game (set on the Orient Express right before World War I) which worked really hard to get all the details right. It paid off beautifully. It also has one of the best written game scripts I've ever heard, dealing with serious subject matter in an appropriate tone (while also not taking itself too seriously). Also featured a sublime save game system that let you rewind time to any point in your game and a beautiful art style.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
It was a brilliant idea to take a gritty crime-simulator and make it a really clever satire about hyper-violent American culture. This particular installment is also a dead-on satirical period piece. The talk radio writing is some of the funniest game writing I've heard, and is also impressively woven into the main plot.
A Mind Forever Voyaging
My favorite Infocom game is also one of that company's least typical offerings, being less about puzzles and more about exploring a rich science fictional story space. AMFV is also part of that interesting sub-genre that gives players a reason for typing at the computer: you play a sentient computer exploring a simulation of the future projected based on certain political changes being implemented. This would likely have been one of my selections for the panel if we did not have Steve Meretzky on board.
Steve also recommends:
- Plot expressed through architecture, story events embedded in geometry
- World constrained in size and scope
- Gradually opens up from within, unfolding, revealing depths
- Each unfolding corresponds to an event in the town’s evil history and gives power over some much-hated nemesis
- Relentless: Twinsen’s Odyssey similarly structured and instructive
- The turning point game with its wealth of worlds and emphasis on atmosphere
- Excellent sense of how much to reveal, and when
- Reward structure which has yet to be rivaled
- Unfolding worlds & revelations
- Unplumbed mystery
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
- Intricate clockwork plot, like putting together a game of Mousetrap
- Characters rigidly locked in predestined paths
- Player moves freely outside of time
- Narrative of dazzling complexity
- Drawback: You’ll need Cliff’s Notes (Strategy Guide)
Ken also recommends:
Mike Berlyn's "Suspended" came out when I was still a tester at Infocom. It wasn't my favorite Infocom game at the time, but has grown and grown in my estimation over time. If I hadn't worked at Infocom, I probably would have chosen this as one of my two games. The player-character is a disembodied brain controlling six robots with different senses and abilities. Plus the gameplay results in something unique in my experience: a highly-replayable adventure game!
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
This is my favorite of all the Zeldas. A standard hero's journey, nothing too cutting edge, just really really fantastic execution. Plus, as evidenced by my selection of "Loom", I'm just a sucker for any game which includes a musical instrument as a key part of gameplay.
My favorite game of the last several years, partly because of it's refreshingly unique gameplay, but partly because of it's weird and wonderful story and setting, especially the marvelously written and voiced computer character. This surely would have been one of our eight if we didn't have Marc Laidlaw on the panel, so I definitely wanted to include it in the extras list.
Though this title appears to be a dead-end in the history of interactive storytelling, it does tell us worthwhile things about interactive storytelling. Structurally, it has only exploration, gradual revelation, and the illusion of free choice as interactive narrative resources, but Gadget does a great job creating a surrealist, paranoiac atmosphere with those tools alone. Its exploration of an enigmatic environment and its artifact and its atmosphere of threat and mystery were an inspiration.
Further thoughts coming soon from Ken
Call of Duty
The Stalingrad level of Call of Duty is a prime example of gameplay emphasizing the weakness and vulnerability of the player. Most commercially successful narrative games reply on the fantasy of personal power to attract an audience. The Stalingrad level reverses that expectation and presents an exceptional narrative experience in a real world historical setting.
Betrayal at Krondor
Further thoughts coming soon from Ken
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