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Old 07-23-2008, 09:21 AM   #1
ronnoc10
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Default "...only solution to game writing is branching."

http://www.gamecareerguide.com/featu..._off_game_.php
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4. Stories are linear, games aren't.
Actually neither is true. Non-linear stories can be found everywhere. Linear games are everywhere (and are often accused of being linear because they tell stories). And boy do we need to get beyond the archaic notion that the only solution to game writing is branching.
I had been thinking about this a bit even before the article came out, and the only thing I have come up with is Plot Coupons.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plot_coupon
Games like GTA IV give you a couple of characters to receive missions from at a time, and with a few missions per character, with you can beat in any order. The story progression for each character is independent, until the next batch of missions. Basically, before the plot can advance as a whole, you have to collect the coupons given by the missions, and when you have them all, you cash them in for the next chapter.
I can't think of any other ways it's been done, other than linear, branching, and this plot coupon-like style. Any thoughts?
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Old 07-23-2008, 10:45 AM   #2
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There are many games that I feel arn't that linear. Most of them are large sandboxes where things happen, for example: Independence War 2 wasn't that linear. Besides the first star system, which was essentially a long tutorial, you could do things in any order, not do things, do extra things, and just mess around in a space ship if you wanted. The story does eventually coverge towards the ending, but it isn't exactly branching in the conventional sense. It's alot of random triggers, hints and "right place, right time".

A game that does branch and feel pretty linear is Mass Effect. Once you get command of the space ship, you can fly around space and do pretty much what you like. You don't have to stick to the story and can do other things, but you're basically stuck in a small sandbox mode until you move onto the next mission...
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Old 07-23-2008, 10:46 AM   #3
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Wouldn't the Coupons idea still be linear? Since as I understand it, the coupons unlock a segment of the plot. The player needs to "earn" each advancement, therefore the plot is still linear, just split up.

I've not a chance to play it yet, but what about Zelda Ocarina of Time? As I understand it, Link goes through various stages of his life, kind of like flashbacks. Again, I haven't played it yet, so I'm possibly misunderstanding.

What would REALLY be a nonlinear plot line would be if someone made a game out of Slaughterhouse Five. Completing each successful stage/mission would result in a time warp to some random point in the main character's life (childhood, deathbed, etc).
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Old 07-23-2008, 12:35 PM   #4
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The best way to get around making the story you're "writing" is to expand your definition of writing - emergent gameplay is still inherent storytelling, so if you set up a world where things can happen and then allow the player to interact with said world, with several major plots available to pursue based on what happens when, you have the penultimate non-lineality.

Sort of like what Far Cry 2 is doing, as an example.

Writing in games, as I would understand it, serves less to tell the story with authoritive voice than it does to set up an engaging world. So with that definition in mind, it becomes easier to get away from non-linear stories. It just takes a stretch or ten of the ol' conventional storyline orthodoxy is all.

I think what I'm trying to say is that to really get at the heart of making satisfactorily non-linear games you have to accept and work with the fact that everything you do in a game is a form of storytelling - it's archaic at best to view a game as a medium with which to tell stories.
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Old 07-23-2008, 12:36 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by EvilLlama View Post
Wouldn't the Coupons idea still be linear? Since as I understand it, the coupons unlock a segment of the plot. The player needs to "earn" each advancement, therefore the plot is still linear, just split up.

I've not a chance to play it yet, but what about Zelda Ocarina of Time? As I understand it, Link goes through various stages of his life, kind of like flashbacks. Again, I haven't played it yet, so I'm possibly misunderstanding.

What would REALLY be a nonlinear plot line would be if someone made a game out of Slaughterhouse Five. Completing each successful stage/mission would result in a time warp to some random point in the main character's life (childhood, deathbed, etc).
As far as I understand, the term "linear" in video games is describing the lack of deviance from the plot.

The more linear a game is, the less effect you as a player have on the overall storyline. It's not about the actual story progressing in order on a timeline.

Correct me if I'm wrong.
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Old 07-23-2008, 12:52 PM   #6
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Usage dictates and all that, so we need to be on the same page to effectively discuss. But the definition of linear storytelling that would make the plot coupons "linear" would essentially make for a very limited 1% style of storytelling that wasn't. And that's just counterintuitive.

Plot coupons does seem like a cheap cop-out though, as does the storyline missions vs. fluffy filler missions structure of mass effect. I mean, I know what they were trying to do when they set up a sci-fi epic, so they can't really be judged strictly on "it wasn't non-linear enough." There will always be a place for stories told from authoritative voice; to say that Star Wars would only be worthwhile if the user got to direct how things went down is asinine. To say that GTA has no good story since it wasn't mission one to mission two, gangland epic, the next Godfather - that's missing the point too.
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Old 07-23-2008, 12:54 PM   #7
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also, story flow and story chronology are two different things...so going back in time as part of the story is still, dare I say it again, reasonably linear. Zooch makes a good point, is what I'm at.
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Old 07-23-2008, 12:54 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zooch View Post
As far as I understand, the term "linear" in video games is describing the lack of deviance from the plot.

The more linear a game is, the less effect you as a player have on the overall storyline. It's not about the actual story progressing in order on a timeline.

Correct me if I'm wrong.
Linear, in my understanding, means a story that goes in one direction, and only one. Flashbacks and flashforwards are methods authors use to make their stories go in multiple directions. Having a player's actions affect the game would vary the possible directions the story could go in, so I guess you could argue it either way. No doubt there's more than one way to make a story nonlinear

*edit* I think what needs clarifying is the difference between plot flow and game flow.
A game that goes mission 1 --> mission 2 --> mission 3 with many flashbacks/flashforwards etc would have a nonlinear plot flow, but a very linear game flow.
Whereas games like the Godfather and (from my understanding) GTA that have a lot of mini missions in between each story mission that the player can choose whether or not to participate in would have a linear plot but a nonlinear game flow.
Games like Yugi-Oh! Falsebound Kingdom where the player must go story mission 1 --> story mission 2 have both a linear plot and linear game flow.

Another thing I thought of while driving. Many games these days are used to tell stories. So do books, films, plays, etc. But games are the only medium that allows for player input in their stories. So what if the amount of linear plots and game flows actually stems from the notion that games are used for story telling? If they are supposed to be fully interactive, wouldn't games do less storytelling and more storylistening?
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Last edited by EvilLlama : 07-23-2008 at 01:48 PM.
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Old 07-23-2008, 06:58 PM   #9
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Changing the game flow would affect the plot flow. The more you change the game flow the less linear the game becomes.

I think your version of linear would be used correctly if we were talking about a book/movie/television. Since we're talking about games, player interaction comes into the equation and changes the definition of the term 'linear'. It then becomes about how the player can change the game flow (which would ultimately change the plot flow in some fashion).
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Old 07-23-2008, 09:24 PM   #10
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Well, I just realised, I've never seen the words linear or nonlinear used to discribe the plot or writing of a game, only the gameplay. I don't know how a nonlinear plot works, only gameplay, and I was thinking only in mixed terms: linear and branched storylines, and linear and sandbox gameplay.
I really have no idea what other solution to game writing there can be, other than linear and branched storylines, although I may be using a broad definition of 'branching.'
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