news\ Apr 10, 2012 at 7:38 pm

At PAX East, developers Levine, Avellone, and Gaider stressed the importance of story


At the "Plot vs. Play" panel at PAX East last weekend, game developers Ken Levine, Chris Avellone, and David Gaider shared their thoughts on the importance of storytelling in games. The subject has come under heavy fire recently, with some industry professionals like David Jaffe considering it a bad combination with gameplay.

David Gaider (Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age: Origins) believes that narrative gives "the player a reason to care ... about the goals you're providing them in the game."

On the other hand, Chris Avellone (Planescape: Torment, Fallout: New Vegas) prefers to let players create their own story through gameplay interaction. He described one player account of New Vegas, where an entirely unprecedented situation occurred through the individual's unique decisions:

But because [the player, Josh Sawyer] had chosen to piss off both factions, which is something we hadn't accounted for, he woke up in the Mojave Wasteland one morning to find that both assassin squads had spawned in but rather than attack him, they launched at each other, murdered each other, and Josh just went by, whistled, looted all their corpses ... And I could have spent like a month and a half trying to do a narrative design solution that would set up that situation, but because of the mechanics Josh was able to have a story all his own because of his actions in the environment.

Adding to the conversation, Ken Levine (BioShock, System Shock 2) emphasized context — the particular design of a game. According to the developer, a game like Portal 2 can more effectively convey details about a world and its populace through the environment than through words.

"I see that for us, we tend to rely upon the environment so much because you can do so much at once, process so much information so quickly," Levine said.

The developers agreed that there is no one right way to tell a story in video games, but narrative is a powerful means to engage the player and elicit an emotional reaction.

Follow @wita on Twitter for tales of superheroes, plumbers in overalls, and literary adventures.

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Stephanie Carmichael Twitter: @wita
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