Today’s keynote on storytelling in videogames was full of the critical analysis the Game Club and our otherwise wasted English degrees are all about. So a panel discussion (translation: showdown) between Morrowind’s Ken Rolston (centre) and Unreal 2/Spiderman 3’s Bob Bates (right) was just the sort of ‘my brain is bigger than your beard’ kind of debate we love. Ken vs. Bob on Dialogue
Ken: There’s no chance I will ever be able to do without it, but I will spend every resource I have to not use dialogue…[and]I sneer patronisingly at cut scenes.
Bob: Interactive dialogue…is incredible problematic from a player point of view. (players wonder if they should have gone another path).
Ken vs. Bob on Story
Ken: Almost all the games we do celebrate your adolescent and immature desire to be heroes…in direct conflict with having a more meaningful stories.
Bob: What passes for story in most games is just revealed backstory. And that is really bad. It’s fundamentally uninteresting. What’s interesting is seeing characters changing through time.
Ken vs. Bob on Ambiguity
Ken:Where I’d like to see more creativity is mini cut scenes when they’re small dramatic scenes with no dialogue…learning to use those tools to create ambiguity…
Bob: I think that the more specific you can be, the more that I can create in somebody’s head that in my head, that’s what’s worth doing…ambiguity is not going to get that task done. Specificity will get that task done.
I was surprised at the somewhat fatalist response both writers had to the videogame medium. Uninspired by dialogue trees and craving new interaction for players, it’s tough to disagree with something becoming blatant in this generation: the stories of games need to improve.