What do we want for Story?


Ah yes, old video games and their stories: http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=2736


We don’t disagree on this.

I’ve never thought or said that all games need to be deep – just that some ought to try.

Or as I put it earlier today:

That doesn't mean every game has to be an existential meditation any more than every book has to try to be [i]The Brothers Karamazov[/i]; it means that it's OK and even desirable that some games do strive for meaningfulness.


And in the Life Loves Irony Department, today I read that Ken Levine has a new side project: making an interactive movie based on The Twilight Zone.

So much for “games are more game-like when they’re less about the creator’s story and more about the stories generated by players in a dynamically simulated world.” :smiley:

I’m not actually opposed to exploring the space between games and movies. From the Wired story linked above, this project sounds like it’s not far from David Cage’s games; this one just puts a little more emphasis on film over game.

Something similar to this project has been tried at least once before that I know of. John “Chest-Burster” Hurt appeared in an interactive movie called Tender Loving Care, which was an adult psychological thriller with a sort of personality test for the player built into it. The difference between TLC and Heavy Rain, and Levine’s new Twilight Zone project, seems to be that the story branches in the latter will be guided by a majority vote of multiple simultaneous players.

Does that qualify as a “multiplayer game?”


Two words: “SHODAN WINS”

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This would be pretty cool, as long as it isn’t binary, ala Space Siege (if you replaced anything with a mechanical part, you ended up getting the bad ending and you needed to be ‘pure’ to get a good ending).


This reminds me of Warren’s philosophy. He says he doesn’t want to create a game where the answers are left up to the designer to give, but to the player. He asks you the questions, you answer them, and the something will happen, it’s up to you to say if those things are good or bad. Giving power to the player, that is. And it’s the perfect language for videogames, if you think about it. Literature, Music, Movies, all of them work by telling you something, or asking you questions without giving you the option to directly answer them and see what’s what. Videogames in the other hand are all about interaction, you give the player pieces and he shows what he can do with them. So you can ask questions and let the player answer, it’s really incredible. This also applies to game mechanics, as in the immersive sim style they created with this in mind. It’s sad that videogames took so long to be seen as an art form.


I agree but there IS a bit of a balancing act. You could grant complete control to a player by putting him in front of a zoo with a rocket launcher, nothing more said. But that sort of storytelling (or lack thereof) leaves the player holding the bag, trying to figure out the substance of what he’s playing. There is something to be said for providing a narrative that goes in a certain direction… suggests certain dilemmas, conflicts or thematic elements. The player gets the most out of the experience when they are presented with an idea that creates a conflict in their own head and spurs action of the player’s own volition. With a completely sandbox environment, there’s a lack of motivation to do anything or feel anything because there are no direct stimuli.


The original Deus Ex followed this philosophy of empowering the player, but had a body of its own. It’s not about not telling a story, but about not saying what’s right or wrong, just giving the player options and working on action and reaction without any bias. Like “you spare the life of a serial killer and he kills your friend, or you kill him and your friend gets spared.” Was it good, was it bad? The game isn’t telling you anything, you will have to give the answer to this. Another event like this could have different outcomes and still, if it resigned from saying which was good and which was bad, it would still follow the same philosophy. You’re free to do anything, but things will happen just like in real life, not always being benevolent will award you the good ending, but you will have to say if it was worth it.


I think the story has potential to do something really interesting.

The first 2 games were classic cyberpunk, in fact I think they and Deus Ex completely embody the genre in their form and content, and there is not really much more the genre can do beyond what these games and other cyberpunk media before them already have.

Cyberpunk was 80s/90s…a lot of it seems anachronistic now (although Deus Ex especially made a lot of accurate predictions…Echelon IV?:wink:

William Gibson said he couldn’t write a speculative sf novel for a long time because he couldn’t envision what the future would look like…we’re already living in cyberpunk world in a lot of ways, where do you go from here that hasn’t been done to death already by the genre and is plausible?

This makes me very interested when I hear Warren Spector say, when talking about story in the Polygon interview, “We want to be able to look at where we are today and ask where we might be a hundred years from now.” To me this says OE won’t just be copy/pasting 90’s cyberpunk onto the game, but will be making something more representative of today’s zeitgeist, with Citadel Station as stage for the player to act out the role they wish to play. Just as they did in the 90s with the fiction, reality and technology available at the time.

With Sheldon Pacotti joining this dream team, the story could really be something special. Very few games have writing as affecting or visionary as Deus Ex imo.

Really looking forward to this!


One more thought: no cutscenes. Half-life did this right. Never steal player agency. Anything that can be displayed in a cutscene can be displayed in-game. SHODAN’s reveal in SS2 is a perfect example of how cut-scene information can be displayed in an in-game context. I am not a fan of them for intros, or for endings, for that matter. All information can be contextually explained, anyway, in dialogue or audio/visual logs. Speaking of which, an enhancement of the audio log is due–perhaps a holo-log.


  1. No pre-rendered cutscenes: I tend to agree. Taking away player agency for a “let me show you my epicness” plot point feels like going with a convention even if it’s 180 degrees from an otherwise player-centric design.

Conventions aren’t always bad. They’re at least arguably useful if one of your business goals is to make money by attracting modern gamers. But maybe using pre-rendered cutscene videos is a convention that doesn’t really deliver much new business, and so is something that can be replaced with in-game exposition.

…or is in-game exposition always more expensive to produce? I honestly don’t know.

  1. Enhanced logs: I could agree with this if the setting of SS3’s primary playing environment is near-Earth after the events of SS2.

My question is, what about the character portraits?

The character portraits for the logs fit the graphics of the day in SS1. But I recall grumbling when playing SS2 that the log portraits looked cartoonish. They didn’t fit the graphical style of the rest of the game. As Jon Chey put it in his SS2 post-mortem:

... there are features in System Shock 2 that could have been better if we had not rushed them (the character portraits for example)

So if logs in SS3 are upgraded to “holologs” (whatever those might be), what requirement does that imply for character portraits? More realistic? Or is cartoonish OK since SS2 did it (albeit unwillingly)? Or should portraits just be excluded completely to eliminate it as a problem that needs to be solved?


As long as I can see faces moving, and lips syncing, in the holo-logs, I see no point to having portraits. It seems like superfluous detail, since the portraits are already knit into the animation of the content of the log.


Two more ideas: encrypted logs. They might unlock experience, or skill points, or give clues leading to locations. These could be unlocked with a simple numerical passcode.

Also, thinking the elephant in the room is the nature of SHODAN’s morality. The will of the individual vs. the will of the many.


“What is a drop of rain, compared to the storm? What is a thought, compared to the mind? Our unity is full of wonder which your tiny individualism cannot even conceive.”

Doing something interesting with SHODAN storywise is definitely an area where I’m interested to see what Otherside come up with.


I’d further they should flesh out the SHODAN character more, with more backstory, and a more evolving sense of morality.


Part of the reason why SHODAN worked so well for me in the original System Shock, but less so in the (first) sequel, is because she was so distant.

As SS begins, I’m not even on her radar. It’s only after I’ve started interfering with her plans that she contacts me to ask, “Who are you,” with no hint of a suspicion that I could possibly prevent her ascendance. I actually have to graduate to “insect” status by actively disrupting her intentions.

The effect of this “you are beneath my notice” attitude – beyond reducing the amount of content to have to write and voice for her :wink: – is to really make you feel small: just a stainless steel rat, scuttling through the corridors trying not to get stepped on. It’s annoying. It makes the player want to act up, to break things, just to deflate SHODAN’s massive ego.

So when in SS she does finally take serious notice of you, and messages you that she wants you super-dead, and follows through on those threats, her interactions have more punch than if she’d been on-screen as the Fiendish Final Boss threatening you right from the very start. SS2 didn’t quite do that… but when it did get there, for me that undercut her malevolence somewhat because we’d established a productive, if mildly insulting, relationship. It wasn’t quite a “buddy picture” (as BioShock Infinite would become), but it did lack the original’s impact.

Maybe another way to think of this is what might be called a Villain’s Journey – a sort of inverted version of the usual Campbellian Hero’s Journey. SHODAN starts out in control; she refuses to acknowledge her destiny; she accepts the threat and grapples with it but loses, and from that loss learns not wisdom but fear; and when she finally faces her fate she takes counsel of her fears and is brought low.

If that was her character’s arc in SS, I think both the Polito and Many components undercut her strength as a villain in SS2. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy SS2. I did and do. But just in terms of SHODAN as a powerful character, I thought she was stronger in the original game, and precisely because she started out considering the player’s character too meaningless to even bother communicating directly with him.

So what might this mean for SS3? SHODAN’s a fun character to write, and by now she’s also an iconic character that you want onscreen as soon as possible. But I think I’d like to see that temptation resisted. Sure, absolutely show us the debris of her fury at being opposed. Let us know – for anyone who’s in doubt – just how angry and powerful she is.

But leave her offscreen while the player’s character is weak and not a real threat. Build her up as badass by showing that she doesn’t care what the player’s character does.

…and then, when we do finally get her attention, bring her stomping onstage with a scenery-chewing vengeance. Make us regret attracting Mommy Dearest’s attention.

It’ll totally work. :slight_smile:


I don’t mean to subvert your point, but SHODAN’s appeal to me was not how distant she was–but how alien. As long as her morality remains ambiguous, and her characters nuances and complexities create more questions than answers, I see no reason not to have her onscreen as often as possible. After all, she is omnipresent–what better way to use her than to show the player there is no escape from her megalomania; with her taunting you all the way.

P.S. If Shock 3 takes place in space, I hope gravity plays an important gameplay element. Both artificial, and lack thereof. Dead Space briefly explored this–but the same as HL2’s gravity gun, it could be exploited as an in-game mechanic.


I agree with this, but distance does still matter, only not as much.
In the first game, you were continuously reminded of her presence and powers with screens, logs and security. Yet you knew so little of what happened, or what her motives were, until you encountered the remains of the desecrated human bodies.
Everything was a mystery, and you had no idea of what she was truly capable of until much later.
The second game, the tables have turned and she, as a villian, has lost much of her powers. The events of the game were still just as much of a mystery until Shodan gets hinted of an awful lot, and when she does make her entry in the game, almost everything is explained. She’s pretty scary, but like magic tricks, once you learn how it works it loses it’s effectiveness.

This is where I felt the storytelling lacked in the second half of the game. Once the mystery faded, it had a bit less to keep itself going.
they were solved a bit too quickly with the audio logs, and when that falls, something else has to replace it to keep the game as interesting. In the first game, the further you went, the more brimming you became with determination to blow some massive holes in her main databanks, which really kept you going. In the second game there was not much you were reaching for except survival, which also works but just doesn’t have as much of an impact. I felt that the Soldier’s interaction with Diego really should have gone on for longer. It had potential to fill the game with more plot, but you simply encountered him as dead, with the same things being told that you already knew (The Many is baaaaaad for you).

So, to explain in short, Try to think of this mysterious figure that you always wanted to encounter, or even talk to once in your life. He has accomplished many great things, but he never talked or explained himself. Think of the “Zezima” in your life, if you know what i mean. ::slight_smile:
Now, after many years of your “Zezima’s” obscurity, he re-emerges and suddendly explains himself. He’s gone back to a normal life, explains his past, motives, and you see the guy every week now. But the cool-factor of him disappears rather quickly, as you realise that he is just another regular person, but he’s simply had a bit more passion and knowledge in his hobby than most people did. He’s still a nice guy, but doesn’t feel special anymore. The mysteriousness surrounding him has faded. You know who he is now.


I gotta say, SHODAN’s reveal was one of my favorite points in SS2. Why? The cutscene flowed without interrupting my player-control, and thus my experience as a player. I wish all games honored player agency, in that they didn’t wrest the camera from the player to make a point.


Still locks you in a one meter by one meter cube and disables GUI functionality (Inventory, PDF, audio logs) to make its point though. But fortunately it can be very reasonably assumed that’s all Shodan’s doing.

SHODAN's reveal in SS2 is a perfect example of how cut-scene information can be displayed in an in-game context. I am not a fan of them for intros, or for endings, for that matter.

No harm in the classic LG approach of a cutscene at the beginning and a cutscene at the end. Intro cutscenes are before gameplay begins and you enter the protagonist’s shoes. The ending is where you leave the characters shoes. Doesn’t matter and allows for nice presentation and a satisfying setup/conclusion.