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SilentScope001 03-16-2007 04:08 PM

Experiment: Is a Story Needed for a Good Game?

Here is the original topic, and I have abandoned the experiment, but...well...since this is a group of gamers who love stories, I think I can get the help necessary to prove once and for all that stories are/are not needed for a good game.


I'm doing an experiment to see if a storyline is important in the modern word of gaming.

Okay, I'm bored. But I also was interested in an argument posted on Greg Costikyan's blog...about the "war" between two camps of elitle professors battling over what a game is, in the article "No Justice, No Peace": No Truce in the Narratology/Ludology War.

"... [t]he stereotype is that it's a struggle between those who view games simply as an alternative form of story-telling media ... and those who maintain that 'narratologists' are essentially scholars from other media...wishing to annex game studies to their own discipline, and that the brave, few ludologists who understand games as formal systems must fight to the death to insist on the primacy of rules, structure, and interaction."-Costikyan

Now, I place myself inside of the "narratologist" camp. I like a good story, and I play games to find out the stories hidden inside of them and interact
with it. However, this is not what the topic is about. Instead of lecturing to you the glory of reading a game, this topic is an attempt to prove that narratologist ideas may be right concering gaming.

Arguments over ideas are good, but until you can get some concrete evidence to support your beliefs...your talk is just talk, unsupported. In an attempt to prove that a narrative is an important part of a game, and should not be taken away, I must attempt to show that. To do that, I must subject my belief to a test, an experiment. If it succeds, it backs my hypothesis. If it fails, well, I may have to conclude defeat to the Ludologists.

If a narrative is the most important thing a game needs, therefore, if a story is added to games that do not have any "narrative", the quality of the game will be improved greatly, providing much innovation and increasing the amount of postive reviews of this game.

To do this, I will have two games, both very similar in style and content. The difference is that one of the games have a storyline attached to it, while the other game does not. I compare the average amount of good verus bad reviews for each game, and therefore, conclude if a game is good because it haves a narrative.

Hence, the reason I posted this topic. I hope you can get involved in this experiment by posting the reviews of the two games and seeing which one is better.
Orignally, I was to have a person play two games of Tetris, one without a story, and another one with a story that I hand-written. This sort of gone down in flames since the Tetris game is a puzzle game, and storylines don't exactly work over there. However, I got inspired by another idea: Asteriods. I don't know how to program games, but if someone knows how, that could be great.


Originally Posted by NekoAbyss
Silent and I were talking about this concept, and we came up with a better idea, using the game Asteroids to see if a plot would make it better.

The game without plot: Destroy asteroids without being hit by them

The game with a plot: You are a space ace, a veteran of a war between the planets. A dimensional overlap has caused the creation of immense asteroid fields at the edge of the solar system, headed inwards. You are sent to scan what the asteroids are made of, but you get caught in a field, then must survive and escape. This gets you system-wide renown, and you are sent to destroy various asteroid fields which areheaded towards various colonies, until eventually you have to clear a huge asteroid field which would otherwise destory Earth.

The gameplay is the same, destroy asteroids and not me destroyed yourself, but with the addition of a plot the motivations change.

Why would one play the second game for the story instead of having the player make the story up as he goes along?


The difference is, in your example, the movivation is supplied by the player, who is trying to jusitfy playing the game to himself. Since the player already contorls the variables of his own story, it is not exactly fresh, or interesting. He already knows what happens.

In Neko's example, the designers are offering the movivation and the story, and the player does not know what happens next. This provides excitment and fun for everyone, and provides players with a reason to continue playing, so that they can see more of the storyline, and be suprised at what happens. The player does not know the full story until they complete the game.
So, this is the thing. If anyone here knows how to make an Asteriod game, and then can place cutscenes and text to have one game has a storyline, we can then release both games on the market (either having them cost the same amount of money...or have them be freeware, I don't know. If it is freeware, many people would download, but if it cost the some amount of money, then we get people who will have to wonder if they want to buy it for the storyline). We can then hand the game over to reviewers (unbiased people who do not favour any games) and then check reviews by certain people and critics, and see which game fares better: The game without the storyline or the game with the storyline. Whomever has the more "stars" is the better game. We need to see that there is a significant increase in the preceived quailty of the game, based on the revies, so that the belief that 'a story is necessary for a good' is justified.

The reason is simple: If it turns out that stories AREN'T necessary, then companies will continue churnhing out games that have no stories. This will leave story writers out of business, causing for games to have no stories, which is really bad.

A NOTE: You can suggest other games too...but, we have to make sure that when we produce the game twice, one with the story, and the other without, that the gameplay be simple. Our goal is not to go and prove that gameplay makes a game better. We need to prove that the storyline makes the game better, hence why the gameplay for both games must be EXACTLY the same. I'm also using the scientific method as much as possible, so the game must be exactly the same, other than the addition/abscene of a storyline. We don't want other variables interfering with the game.

A NOTE-2: We may also have to give both games to the same reviewer and ask them to rate them indepedently, telling them NOT to go and rate one game lower because they look and play exactly the same...since that's the point. Is there another method we have can do?
I really ask for your help. For years, the game indursty produces games that do not have very good storylines. If I can prove that adding a storyline makes a game 'better', this can boost the Narratioglist camp, and encourge game designers to pay more attention to story writers instead of letting some unexperienced hack (say, the game programmers, or the CEOs of the company) make the story himeslf.

Darth InSidious 03-16-2007 05:57 PM

'Here's a gun - go shoot people' get's boring astoundingly quickly. So yes, story is vital, and good story at that. Example: JKA. Pathetic story that makes me want to smash my head into a wall in protest, but good MP. Rarely gets dusted off in my house, though...

Negative Sun 03-16-2007 06:29 PM

I actually like the SP mode better, there's too many ***holes on MP IMO...
On Topic: I think storyline is a must, I'm a big fan of RPG's and other story-related games, and much less of just shooting stuff for the sake of it.

SilentScope001 03-16-2007 06:41 PM

I know that, but I want experimental proof...somehow. I don't want to preach to the converted here, what I want to do is show evidence to the ludogists who argue gameplay is more important than story.

And one could argue it's due to the gameplay of these story-based games (like RPGs), which is the reason why we need to test it with a game that does not have good gameplay, like Asteriods. So, this is the reason why this experiment needs to be done, to verify, to prove.

Do anyone here know how to program basic games like asteriods, only placing a story in the second one, and then distrubte it to people who can then review it (to show which game is better)?

Jae Onasi 03-16-2007 08:14 PM

I added a poll for you. While I tried to make it as unbiased as possible, in a Kotor forum, which is heavily story-driven, you're talking to a somewhat biased group. :)

stingerhs 03-16-2007 11:42 PM

it largely depends on the genre, as you have inadvertently pointed out already. a puzzle game obviously doesn't need a story to be good. the gameplay just simply needs to be addictive, simple, and somewhat forgiving.

then, you can step up to a shooter. most shooters depend on at least a simple story to move the action forward. although the action is the main attraction, a good story does a lot to improve the overall feel of the game. the Half Life games are an excellent example of this.

if you move it yet another step forward to an RPG, then you're really talking about story-driven gameplay. the story itself is central to everything, and thus a poor story will usually result in a poor game. however, its still not the most central component of an RPG as a pretty good story can still be used to compliment excellent gameplay (Oblivion's main quest comes to mind here). still, even an RPG with excellent features and gameplay will no doubtedly feel inferior if it is coupled with a poor or subpar story.

in the end, i think that a storyline is generally fairly important for every game. think about: even the first video games had some kind of a story as a backdrop, and that provided them with a nice flair to them. IMHO, i believe that a good story does much to make a game more memorable and enjoyable, but if i had to choose between storyline and gameplay, i'd go with gameplay.

just my two pennies. ;)

Det. Bart Lasiter 03-17-2007 01:38 AM

Depends on what kind of game you're trying to make. For instance, a lot of RTS games have ****ty plots, but the gameplay is so good that they're worth playing.

HerbieZ 03-17-2007 06:54 AM

Storyline is one hell of alot more important. Im sick of lame storylines in video games. I think the worst storyline was on one of my favourite games oddly enough which was the Empire at War expansion pack Forces of Corruption. The storyline was unbelievably lame and left me really disapointed with it and doubting that there will be further expansion packs made for the game. It was just really hashed and awful especially the end. I supposed this corresponds with what jmac just said though.

Sabretooth 03-17-2007 10:08 AM

I believe storylines are important. A lot. But not to the extent that rest of the stuff remains underdeveloped. For example, I thought KotOR 2's graphics and gameplay needed more, while the story had gone way ahead it's time. KotOR 1 is a good example of how a good story works with good gameplay.

Secondly, some games should not, in any case, have a story. Yes, there are plenty of good games, that haven't had a storyline at all. Unless you count the historical campaigns as a storyline, I think AoE 2 was exccellent, as are the Civilization games and the Unreal Tournament games, which purposefully don't have a storyline.

AoE 3 introduced a storyline, and it failed miserably. With good reason, too.

Final Verdict: Games that are taking storylines seriously, should work on it to the fullest. Games that can do without storylines, must omit them completely. That is the secret of a good game.

Commander Obi-Wan 03-17-2007 11:10 AM

I think stingerhs pretty much summed it up there. Really depends on the genre and to an extent, what the game was adapted from.

REDJOHNNYMIKE 03-17-2007 11:31 AM

Just because it's an rpg centered forum doesn't mean that everyone is biased to story over gameplay ;)

The options I accept for games are...
Great gameplay, no story
Great gameplay, great story

I don't care how good the story is, if the gameplay sucks I'm going to get ticked off and throw my mouse because I can't get to the next plot point due to some door script not triggering half the time or whatever.

I play Counterstrike and a lot of similar games that have absolutely no story. It's competitive, intense, and social. If you want some kind of story you make it yourself.
Any attempt to add story to it usually ruins the experience.

I also love a game with a good story where you pay more attention to what's happening than what you're doing, but if it's going to have a story it has to be a great story, and have the gameplay to back it up instead of leaning on the story as an excuse for not taking time to test the game or even try to make a unique gameplay.
If I'm going to play a buggy half-playable game I may as well be doing something else like watching Battlestar or reading a book. In the case of reading a book, an equivalent to playing a crappy game with a good story is reading a book with crayon scribbled all over the pages......just why?

A game is a game, it has to be playable, otherwise it's just a horribly produced movie.

Lynk Former 03-17-2007 11:46 AM

Some of the best games ever made have no real story.

That's all that needs to be said about this thread.

Jeff 03-17-2007 01:27 PM

For me it depends on the kind of game. Some games are really fun without a story because of the type of gameplay while with others, good storylines are a must.

PoiuyWired 03-17-2007 01:31 PM

Yes, story is REALLY important to Pong. I mean won't it be nice to knwo the story behind the beloved blocks in Tetris? Oh Man, that blue one is Hoooot.

I mean, not all genuine of games require a story. Some games REQUIRES a story of some sort to be playable/enjoyable, while the others can work just as well without one, or probably they work better without a story.

Playing an rpg w/o a nicely written story is just boring, so did playing tetris with a minute long storyboard and video between each level.

I mean, does it really matter about the story when you are playing a shoot'em'up? Counterstrike works quite well without any story. AoE, once again, is a good example. Same goes for many fps type.

Oh the other hand, you can't have resident evil without good atmosphare and storye\telling, rpg would be moot without a story, and hack Zelda won't be the same if its just "elfboy in tights slashing things"

Its somewhat like storyline in pr0n really: There are nice ones with good acting and storyline and mood so it is quite ejoyable, but sometimes just plotless mindless action is allright and fun too.

Jediphile 03-17-2007 01:52 PM

I think this entire discussion is comparing apples and oranges. To ask whether a backstory is important to a game or not is a bit like asking whether beer is "better" than wine, or which football team is best - it's entirely subjective.

Or to give a better example, which is better to watch on tv: A soccer match or an episode of "24"? Now, in both cases we're talking about a non-interactive form of entertainment taking place on a television screen, and which we (at least presumably) do not know the outcome of. That means there are enough similarities for us to compare them, right?

Well, that's the question, because I think what is being asked here is similar. There WAS a time when plot was important to computergames, because it was impossible to do one without a plot. Why? Because they were by definition solitary forms of entertainment with just one player. That is no longer the case in a world with virtual games like World of Warcraft (WoW), EVE online, Second Life (yes, I know they don't like being called a "game", but it's relevant to consider in this purpose) or the host of other MMORPGs out there. Do those need a plot? Not really... IIRC, WoW had more than 8 million players at the last count. That's more than the population of some countries, and with that many players, you really no longer need to enforce plot for the sake of entertainment, because that will come about simply by virtue of the interaction among the participants.

Case in point: :D

The point is, if you put just hundreds of people together, things will happen all by the themselves, and you don't need to paste a plot onto the game to make things more palatable and interesting.

In far too many games, the plot is little more than an excuse to drive things forward. Sometimes that's okay, and sometimes it's not. My best example of the that are the Star Trek: Armada games. Both are just glorified RTS-games set in the Star Trek world, where you build forces just the same as in Starcraft, Command & Conquer and hosts of others. The plot is nothing but a blatant excuse to make it all more attractive - it's pure icing on the cake. Does that work? Well, the reason I mention it is because it did for me in the first game, but not so much in the second.

Why? Because Star Trek is all about saving the starship, saving humanity, and saving the universe as we know it (and not necessarily in that order). Most Star Trek stories/plots are focused heavily on the individual people/characters involved, which doesn't exactly lend itself well to micromanaged RTS-game, where you often lose troops and equipment. This was acceptable in the first game, because losing a large Sovereign-class starship was actually a major concern.

In the second, however, you lost them by the dozen, and so the human factor was lost, because there was no way to win any scenario without sending large groups of ships, and so their crews, to their deaths knowing full well up front they would not survive. And, of course, building ships like that is not something done in an afternoon is not possible in the Star Trek universe, meaning that especially the second game strained credibility very far. In short, it was already strained in the first game, but I could accept it because (1) the story was good, and (2) the loss of starships and personel was not too unbelievable. But in the second game you lost troops and ships too fast to retain the human element of Star Trek. You had to calculate losses, which does not fit too well with Roddenberry's vision, since crews and ships because nothing more than disposable figures that you HAD to sacrifice to proceed in the game. And plotwise, they had Picard enter into an alliance with the Borg as a matter of course... :rolleyes:

Now, I'm definitely a sucker for plot. Had I not been, I would never have played Armada 1, since RTS are not my cup of tea (the best Trek game ever, IMHO, is clearly Bridge Commander). Besides, my long years of playing tabletop RPGs probably makes me very predisposed towards plot. I remember when Magic: The Gathering came out and EVERBODY talking about how customizable collective card games would sweep the gaming market and end tabletop RPGs. I knew right then and there that would not happen, because the card games had no plot, and that was what attracted me to tabletop, and I probably wasn't alone there.

However, what I like and what is true are not the same thing. I may go for the plot every time, but that does not mean everybody else will. In fact, eight million people playing World of Warcraft would suggest that I'm a distinct minority in that regard.

As for the Asteroids game, it depends entirely on the set-up. If the plot is engrossing and closely connected to the actual gameplay, then the plot-driven game will definitely be liked by more people, I think. However, if the plot is a pure excuse for the game that serves no other purpose, then people will go for the plot-free version, I suspect. Just like the Star Trek: Armada games. We like plots, but not as mere excuses. And we MUST have something invested emotionally in the plot AND its characters if it is to have any impact on us as players.

I guess the conclusion is that games have evolved so far that there is no longer a simple answer to what you're trying to ask, SilentScope001. Are programs like World of Warcraft, Second Life, EVE online and all the other MMORPGs really games or communities? I'm not sure... KotOR is definitely a game, however, because you interact solely with imagined characters created exclusively for the plot by the developers to enhance the experience of the player. There is no question whether Atton or exile is the most important character in TSL. You cannot make the same claim about the character you play in WoW.

So it all depends entirely on what makes a "good" game. Which is, of course, completely subjective. "24" might be more dramatic than a soccer game, but the soccer game has only real people involved, while they are all made up and fictional in "24". And I know that the "good guys" will win and the "bad guys" lose in "24". I don't know that in the soccer game, the "good guys" being whichever team I like support.

And with the growth of computer games, their content has become as varied as the people who play them. Computer games are no longer a small side-business made exclusively for nerdy 12-year-old boys. The average gamer is now, what, 30 years of age or more? The time is past when you could profile an average gamer, because just about any sort of person plays games on his or her computer now. And they are all attracted to different kinds of games. And with option of playing online, the community of gamers will spawn interesting things by the mere virtue of their presence and numbers. In an MMORGP, the developer doesn't need to program the bad guy, because someone will want to BE the bad guy. And he or her will be powerful, because others will compete to take that title away. With millions of people playing, the community begins to take shape and become a world onto itself, with its own rules and laws and wars and alliances. You no longer need a governing plot to dictate how things will unfold then. This mirrors the real world more than old plot-driven games. And they have no plot. Because the real world doesn't have one either.

Are they better? You'll have to answer that for yourself, because it's different to everyone. I like plots. I can't bear to play Diablo II. And I have never played WoW, EVE online or Second Life. Not yet, at least. But I have spent hours upon hours playing through KotOR, TSL, The Summoner, and loads of other plot-driven CRPGs. Why? Because I found the plot compelling and needed to see what happened in the plot next. So for the me the answer might be no. But is the plot important? No, it isn't. More than eight million people playing WoW would seem to suggest quite clearly that it is not.

SilentScope001 03-17-2007 10:23 PM


Storyline is one hell of alot more important. Im sick of lame storylines in video games.
You can trace this due to "story writers" being seen as very superfluous. Not only do they don't get paid very well, but sometimes, they aren't even hired...the game designers just tack on a plot to the game.


Yes, story is REALLY important to Pong.
Already written a story for Pong. :)


That is no longer the case in a world with virtual games like World of Warcraft (WoW), EVE online, Second Life (yes, I know they don't like being called a "game", but it's relevant to consider in this purpose) or the host of other MMORPGs out there.
MMOs are a special case entrily. I'm not too worried about them, altough they do turn me off...there's no end, and too much whining. I'm talking about SP games here. There has been, however, some good plots in small online rpgs around (by that, I also mean the RP cantina forum as well).


If the plot is engrossing and closely connected to the actual gameplay, then the plot-driven game will definitely be liked by more people, I think. However, if the plot is a pure excuse for the game that serves no other purpose, then people will go for the plot-free version, I suspect. Just like the Star Trek: Armada games. We like plots, but not as mere excuses. And we MUST have something invested emotionally in the plot AND its characters if it is to have any impact on us as players.
Big problem. You see, the plot could be seen as "added-on" to the second game of Asteriod, altough hopefully, it would be very awesome and great. The gameplay won't change to fit the plot though, that might skew results, as I want to test if people prefer storyline...and I don't want new gameplay to mess it all up.
Ah. Well, I guess Jediphile's post as well as others did sway that this experiment really wouldn't really work.

The main thing is the reviewers. You have to make sure they are unbiased and/or represent a fair majority of what all reviewers would feel. It's a dire task, and one I don't think would work. Placing them all over the web might be nice, but then you just get spammers for both sides...and might not actually get an accurate reading of how good the games actually ARE. But, thanks for all your comments anyway. I learnt a lot about the future of gaming. :)

Jae Onasi 03-17-2007 11:23 PM


Originally Posted by PoiuyWired
Yes, story is REALLY important to Pong. I mean won't it be nice to knwo the story behind the beloved blocks in Tetris? Oh Man, that blue one is Hoooot.

*Jae wipes tears from eyes* Thank goodness I wasn't drinking anything right then.

Rogue15 03-18-2007 02:06 AM

plots/stories aren't important to me, as someone is always in the room to overtalk whatever the hell is going on, and no rewind button so, yeah. well i guess it depends on the wars for instance. other than that, i could care less about the fn story just give me a damn M249.

Lynk Former 03-18-2007 09:13 AM

When I think about it... I think music is more important than story... think about it.

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