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Timeless Interactive Storytelling: Can It Be Done?

Bioware beat me to it, but at the same time proved it can be done; can you really build a business on story-based interactive media? Apparently, you can, and you can do it using someone else's property, too.

This has always been my goal; to run my own development firm that specialized in storytelling through games and animated films. As I delve deeper into the venture (meaning, I'm putting my own money into this and it's starting to feel more real) I have come to realize that we are approaching a time when more than mere story is needed in triple-A titles in order succeed. Not only do we need the story, we need to give the player the idea that they are in control of it.

Star Wars: Knights accomplished this perfectly, I think, but years later, I'm having a hard time thinking of the high points of that story. In the end, to me, it was kick-ass gameplay with derivative characters that placed you, the player, in the center of that universe. The whole thing was written off in the end by claiming to be "another story woven into the history of the Jedi Knights." Nice, but doesn't last forever.

I've played timeless games where story had little to do with it; Street Fighter 2 achieved its massive success because of its addictive gameplay and the perpetual goal of getting stronger. I attribute a lot of its success to the first, and ultimate, social network; word of mouth. Moves were never displayed on arcade cabinets. Instead, you learned from friends, usually after they finished whooping your ass. You passed what you learned on, and so forth. The Alpha franchise gave us more insight into the character histories, but in the end, it was still gameplay that allowed it to succeed.

One game came the closest to timeless, in my opinion; Final Fantasy 7.
Yes, I refuse to let this title die because it was just such an overwhelming success on so many levels. I cried my eyes out when Aeris was killed. I smirked for that last one-on-one battle with Sephiroth. I relished how much I so hated a video game character, and the four-disc chase has yet to rival anything story-based I have played since then, including Star Wars Knights.
Final Fantasy succeeded by simplifying the RPG formula and showing the rest of us what the big deal was (I wouldn't be caught dead near Zelda beforehand, and now I count Xenogears and Star Ocean among my favorite titles). Final Fantasy 7 has endured the test of time, as proven by its ever-increasing price tag. I will eventually mortgage my home to own this game.

So the question is now, can this success be replicated? When you think about it, FF7 had an incredibly deep story, but not a lot of variances that ultimately affected the story. Yet people still flock to it in droves. What did it do right?

I guess when I figure that out, I'll get a game published.

In the meantime, I have come to these conclusions.

Keep the premise simple: Star Wars (the trilogy) boils down to Luke Skywalker's rise from desert farmboy to Jedi Knight. You have a killer supporting cast and subplots, but Luke's journey is what it all boils down too. Create a protagonist in your game, give him/her a simple goal (or set of goals) and then create the world around it. But if you can't understand your main character's motivations, chances are the players won't either.

Let the player choose: I got news for you. I don't like games like Grand Theft Auto that glorify violence just for the sake of being violent. But you know what? The games make ungodly amounts of money, and that is largely because the player controls what happens. There is a larger objective to be accomplished (see rule number 1) and then a myriad of ways to get the job done. There are even more ways to screw around (literally) as you get said job done. I don't know if GTA will still be as cool ten years from now as it is today, but it'll always be a hallmark in gaming history simply because Rockstar gave the player free will. Which brings me to rule number three...

Take your ego out of the equation: One of my favorite lines spoken by M in "Casino Royale" and truer words are never spoken. It's not about you. It's about the people who play the game.

I guess....when I find a way to reconcile all three, I'll get to where I want to be. Here's hoping someone doesn't beat me to it. ;)


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