The Souls Story Formula

The Souls series and its imitators have a pretty consistent formula for their stories and lore that generates a cool “story-sense” for games about exploration without straightforward cutscenes, but the formula has a particular weakness too.

The first setup is that there’s a great kingdom, or town, or space station, or so on that has a rich history, and many geographically distinct areas. This kingdom was usually great because it relied on something dangerous, like souls, the first flame, or the blood of the great ones. Continue reading

Should Games Just Abandon Storytelling?

Since you believe that dissonance between story and gameplay is inevitable. Should games just abandon storytelling?

No, we just shouldn’t care so much about dissonance or the limitations that stories and settings place upon games. We should be free to come up with whatever gameplay mechanics we want to, whatever level structure we want to, without tying it back to consistency with a story, without worrying about it seeming “too videogamey”, without contrivance being disdained so much. We should stop complaining about all this “it doesn’t really work that way” bullshit when we know damn well that there’s a good reason for it and we wouldn’t have a game without it. Like all the complaints about the shrine of Winter. Like someone thinking, “oh, it’s dumb that samus loses her powerups every game, in Other M, lets have them be authorized at specific points in the story instead”

Game constructs are totally made up. They don’t have to relate to anything. We aren’t bound by physical laws when making them like we would be in conventional engineering. We might as well accept that and use it to our benefit.

But should we get rid of stories completely? I don’t think we should do that either. I certainly think we shouldn’t invest as major development resources into them, but they have practical benefits in the form of setting up mental relationships between different objects in the setting, being an inspiration for systems of play, and guiding the player goal-wise. That and like music and graphics, it’s a tangential benefit to the work as a whole.

We just need to stop viewing storytelling as the reason for the medium to exist, since that’s not going to happen.

Favorite Game Stories

What are your favourite game stories or lore? (I mean, purely from a narrative/thematic pov, regardless of the gameplay.)

Dark Souls, Bloodborne, StarCraft, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, Thief, and MGS3.

Dark Souls and Bloodborne both have a great storytelling style in my opinion, allowing a story to be told without creating interruptions, and creating narratives through fragmented information. I think these two did the job a bit better than the other souls games. It’s interesting when you finally get all the parts of the puzzle and piece together what the fuck is going on.

StarCraft has nice lore sitting behind everything in the manual, the characters are well written, well voiced, and have consistent motivations generally.

Legacy of Kain (at least, the soul reaver series), has really amazing writing, tackles some philosophy, and gets a bit mindfucky with all the travel and talk of destiny, presenting time travel and destiny in a rather unique way. The voice acting is also top notch and really sells the manner of speech for the characters.

Thief has nice characterization of Garrett and the various guards, has clever overheard conversations as well as notes and cutscenes. Some of the background information like Garrett’s eye being made by Karras is also nice. The city and missions themselves are also constructed nicely to deliver information about the world of Thief, which is rather cool.

MGS3, the theme of it and a lot of the writing I find to be really powerful, as well as the more subtle ways in which the theme and a lot of the characters’ motivations are made clear through their actions. The concept behind it is simple, but the execution makes it really strong in my opinion.

Swapping out Aesthetic Themes

Since you usually say that the theme and story is superfluous in relation to the game, would you say that, while keeping all of the combat systems, we change the theme of the souls games to be, say, My little pony: friendship is magic themed, they would be just as good games?

I actually discussed a sort of joke mod for dark souls of this variety with friends recently, except I said it should be themed like modern warfare with them swinging long barreled guns instead of swords, and stabbing each other with glocks instead of daggers.

I also discussed making a game where the cutscenes were literally cuts of Citizen Kane, or where they would introduce completely nonsensical or contradictory plot points, like alluding to things the player had just done that had never happened, bringing up central elements of the plot that previously did not exist, providing information contradictory to the layout of levels or the events in the stage. Remark on the player’s use of a weapon (recording the actual weapons the player used and always choosing the wrong one, such as saying you used an axe if you used a sword).

I think it would be a cute message. It would show how the game’s narrative isn’t necessarily consistent with events as they play out.

As long as it is clear what the current game state is, and all the elements of the game are consistently and identifiably represented, it does not matter what those elements consist of. If you represent poison (the effect which drains your health slowly over time) consistently as electrical sparks in all of its instances, it doesn’t matter if you name the effect “fred” in-game, players will learn it and remember it (and probably just call it poison), much like they do with poison in every other game its been introduced in. A lot of games name common concepts weird things and are somewhat remembered for it. There’s a TVtropes page for that. I still call any projectile in a 2d platformer game that moves in an upward arc an “Axe” after Castlevania.

When I first got into Brawl modding, I swapped out EVERYTHING, as many character textures and models as I could. I tried to have every character have at least one new thing to them, and tried to swap out every stage. I’ve done similar things in dark souls, oblivion, and skyrim. I don’t genuinely care.

At most I can say that using the MLP horse models in dark souls would look a bit awkward on the humanoid rigs. Otherwise, as long as everything is clear, it’s the same shit. Otherwise we might well have an existential crisis switching from higher to lower graphics modes and vice versa.

Have you actually watched Citizen Kane? For all you know its plot might perfectly fit a rhythm game.

I have seen Citizen Kane actually. I thought it was a good film, and it’s really obvious how it influenced the medium, even without a background in the topic. Of course I looked up its innovations afterwards, many are less obvious. I thought it would be funny to make a game, like a rhythm game, that blatantly had no relation to CK, but used CK’s footage as cutscenes. You could compare it to the Great Gatsby game someone made in flash. I think the “Citizen Kane of Games” to most people represents the breakout moment when a game will finally show everyone else how to tell stories using games that aren’t stilted and awkward, borrowing from film conventions, in the way that films borrowed from theater conventions originally. I think we’ve already discovered all the techniques for storytelling in games that we’re going to, what other means of conveying information in a game format are there? I think I’ve explained previously why I don’t think gameplay and story will ever be perfectly in sync.