Why traditional interactive stories should become a thing of the past and what will appear in return — as part of the video cycle Game Maker’s Toolkit told Mark Brown, indie developer and editor of the Pocket Gamer resource. With the author’s permission, we have prepared a printed version of the material. We share.


Have you seen such games in which they seem to promise an interactive plot? The kind in which reminders pop up that the character will remember your actions or that your actions will have consequences?

In reality, everything is usually not so rosy.

Take, for example, The Walking Dead, an epic and cool project from Talltale. The game really remembers your actions, and the characters react to how you communicate with them. But your ability to influence the plot is actually very limited.

It doesn’t matter if you save Sean or Duck (both are characters of The Walking Dead, — approx. editorial offices). Sean’s going to die anyway. It doesn’t matter if you give one of the passing characters a gun or not — she will still kill herself. And it doesn’t matter if you accept the invitation to come to the farm or not. I’ll have to go anyway.

In between key scenes, Talltale uses clever tricks to make you feel like you’re influencing something. Although the plot does not change from this. For example, depending on the choice, the characters in the scene may be different, but the result will be the same.


The Walking Dead

And if the narrative deviates to the side for a short time, it will soon return to its former rut.

In one of the episodes, it seems that the plot is very much influenced by whether you save Carly or Doug (again, the characters of The Walking Dead, — approx. editorial offices). But this feeling is erased when, regardless of the choice of the surviving character, he is killed in the middle of the third episode.

Of course, Telltale would object to this, that the game has its own plot. And that the choice means more than the consequences of this choice, since it is he who brings to light the truth about the moral values of the player.

And, most importantly, it would remind you that making games is actually very expensive.

Any publisher will be sick of the thought that they will have to invent, implement and test content that many players may not see at all.


80 Days

That’s why games like 80 Days offer much more content — around 11 thousand different choices and 500 unique journeys, according to the creators of the project. And all because they consist of text and still images. I don’t want to downplay the merits of the developers of 80 Days, but it’s much easier to make 150 different versions of the city when your Paris is a static picture than when it’s a huge interactive 3D layout.

So these are all perfectly understandable excuses. But still, sometimes, playing a game with an interactive plot, you feel that you have been stupidly deceived. Especially when you go through one of these projects more than once, or discuss the results with a friend and realize that the consequences of your decisions are somehow suspiciously similar.  

To understand how much it infuriates that your choice doesn’t affect anything, it’s enough to look at the frenzied reaction of fans about the ending of Mass Effect 3.

So, it turns out that games with an interactive plot are not capable of more? Just by any means bring the player to the same predetermined plot twists, put them in front of an uncomplicated choice, scroll through the same scenes with different characters, make it so that the results of decisions do not affect anything?

As for me, the most personalized and player-influenced plot can be found in those games that do not call themselves interactive films. Or even those that don’t tell any story at all.


Civilization: Beyond Earth

I’m talking about games like Civilization.

There is no plot at all in Civilization. But go through the campaign, and all the emperors you meet, the battles you win or lose, all the decisions you make on the way to world domination will create a story that is many times more unique than those you have seen in other games. Such, for example, as Heavy Rain.

My stories about how Gandhi turned out to be a jerk in Civilization, the most loyal soldier died in XCOM, and the attempt to seize dominance over medieval states in Crusader Kings 2 failed, do not deserve an Oscar. But for me they are full of special meaning, because they are unique.

Such games create interesting stories because they have complex systems with their own rules, computer-controlled characters and a variety of different scenarios. You can freely choose any one.

Under certain circumstances, it creates stories with its conflicts, drama and unexpected victories snatched right from under the enemy’s nose. And our brain happily fills in the gaps and turns everything into one epic story.


FarCry 4

More and more games are taking advantage of stories created this way.

In FarCry 4, it often happens that the enemy is distracted by a tiger or an eagle with a pig in its claws. But such scenes are not written in the script, they are a byproduct of systems interacting with each other.

The same Ubisoft calls games “a factory of small stories.” Tiny five—second plots are all that the game is actually able to create. But the new wave of games uses complex systems and procedural content generation. And the result is a more complex plot.

The most obvious example is Shadow of Mordor. The plot invented by the scriptwriters in this game is quite boring when compared with the one created by the ever-changing army of Sauron.

Each Orc captain in the game is given a random design, name, voice and a set of weapons. And then they are simply launched into the vicinity of Mordor. And as you meet these ugly warlords, short-term stories are created. You ran away from the battlefield — and next time the orc will make fun of you for it. Or you thought you killed him, and he comes back with a scar on his face and a thirst for revenge.


 Shadow of Mordor

Soon you realize that you have created a kind of relationship with these characters. You understand that you set fire to some Invulnerable Ogbur not because it is somehow particularly effective, but because he is afraid of fire, and you want to take revenge on him for killing you.

All this is part of the Nemesis system (a system specially invented for Shadow of Mordor that creates procedurally generated enemies based on the player’s actions — approx. editorial offices). And even though Shadow of Mordor is a pen test, the system already looks pretty promising. This is a new way to create completely unique stories that players love to share online.

Another game in the same vein is the nostalgic detective project Westerado from the publisher Adult Swim Games.

The player’s task is to complete missions and collect evidence, and thus catch a randomly generated killer. But how exactly you will catch it depends entirely on you.  

For example, I have never returned back to the city, because, um, I robbed a bank. And after that, everyone in Clintville (Clintville, the hometown of the main protagonist of the game, — approx. editors) tried to shoot me.



But it’s all the game’s fault. She allowed me to pull out a gun in the middle of every conversation and kill absolutely anyone—even my own uncle and the sheriff who gave me assignments.

Instead of forbidding something and making it so that you can’t change the plot, the creators of Westerado use systems and random content to allow you to change the plot until you start liking it.

And there is also This War of Mine — a dark game about peaceful people who got into a war zone. It allows you to create a memorable and interesting story yourself. And all at the expense of two combined genres — a survival in the spirit of Don’t Starve and a simulator in the spirit of The Sims.

You will probably ask yourself the question — can the generated story turn out to be no worse than the one created by the screenwriter? Or does it not matter at all, because books and movies, as far as the predetermined ending is concerned, are still much better?

Can the plot generated by the system anticipate events, justify the actions of the characters, show the characters in development, keep the viewer in suspense? Is there a risk that one of the players will eventually become the hero of a miserable and boring story? How many dialogues will you have to record to make it work?


This War of Mine

I am sure that all these problems are worth solving, although it is unlikely to be easy. Because games are the only media that can tell a story and still remain interactive. And that’s why you are especially disappointed when you see how many developers are trying to imitate Hollywood, HBO or, at the very least, a series of children’s toy books that allow you to “choose Your own adventure” (Choose Your Own Adventure, rus. “Choose an Adventure for yourself” is a series of children’s game books where the reader acts as the protagonist and chooses how the story develops himself. editorial offices).

I wish there were more such games in which the plot is generated by systems — so that in the end we get such player-sharpened and unexpected stories that no screenwriter will create.

And developers are working in this direction. Ken Levine makes a title with an interactive plot. There is some irony in the fact that such a project is created by a person who built the plot of the whole game on the fact that the player has no choice (we are talking about BioShock, — approx. editorial offices).

And the next game from the creators of Brothers, of course, will show in a completely new way how to submit the plot (Mark, we assume, is referring to the upcoming release of The Hunt – Assault on Mythos from Starbreeze Studios, – approx. editorial offices).

I’m all for it. Because even though I love games with a completely linear plot, I no less love those that let me decide for myself what to do. After all, the way the story of the game is told, no other media will ever be able to tell.

Translated by Irina Smirnova

Source: Mark Brown’s YouTube Blog