I Disagree With Will Wright...

I respect Will Wright. He is one of the first game developers to really be a "game designer," helping form the foundation of what I do for a living today. The games he contributed to were really formative to me, especially SimCity, which I actually used as a class project in middle school, doing a paper on efficient city planning. I have had the opportunity to meet Will Wright at GDC a few times, even sharing a smoke with him. One cool dude.

However, I find myself having to disagree with him on his recent statements regarding telling story in games.

A CNN story quotes Wright saying "Games are not the right medium to tell stories. Video games are more about story possibilities."

Wright goes on to say that while he has experienced games with strong storytelling focus, like Metal Gear Solid, those are, he said, "not the kind of game I like playing."

Wright is now working on an interactive television show where fans vote to craft the narrative.

So...now is the point where I have to publicly disagree with one of my heroes. I posit that games ARE a good medium to tell stories, possibly just not the medium in which Will Wright wants to tell stories.

Of course, the types of games that Will Wright has traditionally made are obviously not good for linear storytelling (SimCity, Sims, Spore, etc), because they are "god games" where the player controls the world. But that aside, some of the most formative storytelling memories I have growing up have come from video games. The robot uprising in Wasteland, the fact that the Ancients in Starflight were Enderium, the struggle against Kuritan aggression in Crecent Hawk's Inception, becoming the Avatar in Ultima IV, the decision to save or blow up Megaton in Fallout 3... fuck, the first way I experienced Stephen King's The Mist was in a video game...and the video game version was WAY more impactful than the book (although the revised movie version totally fucked with my head; please don't ever watch it if you don't want to kill yourself).

Games ARE a good medium to tell stories...just maybe not YOUR stories...

I understand the frustrations with storytelling in video game development. I have often muttered the words "I wish I was a movie director," after a scoping meeting. The timeframe and technology needed to pull off what I want to convey from a storytelling perspective is often a limiting factor on a game project. I often joke that a movie director who says he wants his protagonist to jump over a car doesn't get the response "we don't have time to build a car, how about a crate?"

And, again, I agree that building a god-sim game with a linear narrative would be hard. But if you want to tell a specific narrative, don't build a god-sim game. God of War and Uncharted have awesome fucking narratives. IMHO, and respectfully, Mister Wright, don't dump on the power of narrative in games just because it is not a good medium for telling the story that YOU want to tell. I may not be Will Wright, but I am happy to use the video game medium to tell good stories. Improvise, Adapt, Overcome.

Christian Allen is a veteran game designer, having served with Red Storm Entertainment/Ubisoft as creative director on the Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon series, as well as design lead at Bungie on Halo: Reach. Christian accepted the BAFTA for Best Game in 2006, and games he contributed to have taken home several GOTY awards. He currently works as design director at WB Games, working on an unannounced project.

Republished with permission from Allen's personal blog.


Comments

    A guy that designs games based on a #1 best selling linear storyteller's ideas disagrees with dynamic and adaptive narratives?

    Who'da thunk it?

    Oh Jesus, they made a movie from the short story 'The Mist', *and* a video game?? How on earth did I miss that!?!?

    Oh yeah, I have kids now.

      yeah they made a movie

      it was decent except it seems they weren't quite sure how to end it. on top of the fact that not a single question is ever answered

      and i assume when he says the mist he's casually refering to HL since thats about the closest comparison i can get since they have not made a game that i can find actually based on the mist but merely influenced by

    Will Wright is one of my heroes too Christian and though when next I see him I plan to sit in his lap and kiss the bejesus out of him (you can try to run if you want Will, it won't help), I have to disagree and agree at the same time, with.

    Some of the best stories I've ever experienced are in games and I'm a huge book aficionado, with several book cases of books in my home. I can recall getting misty eyed playing an incarnation of Call of Duty. I got misty playing one of the endings of GTAIV and I have to say I all out cried when reading the notes to Trinity from Neo in the Matrix Online. Yes there are many possibilities with stories, but written well, the possibilities are beautiful stories. I imagine he is of course coming from the point of view of being person who's gaming love is simulators.

    I love simulators too, but even those have a story, even if it's only indigenous to that particular player. I use to often plan a city in Sim City, around the idea of how I wanted the city to be. A corrupt crime capital or a beautiful Utopia. But I will say that perhaps Will needs to think outside of the box he created. :D

    Good to know some developers are just as stupid as some gamers. "I don't like that game so all games like it suck!". That's basically what he said if you'll forgive some paraphrasing.

    Shenmue has a great story, even though the basis of the story is unoriginal (revenge on the person who killed his father), its about what happens on the way. Which I think is what games can do that other forms of media cant (except books of course). One of my personal favourites is Wing Commander 3, when Hobbes your closest friend, was found to be a sleeper spy (the Heart of the Tiger) for the enemy (were they the Terran, cant remember). That had a massive impact on both me and my brother, we didnt see it coming at all!

      The Kilrathi, that's it (not Terran)

    Stories don't have multiple outcomes - a branching story is actually multiple stories which cross at points, not a single story. The more linear the story, the more linear the game.

    The only way to tell *a* story is to take choice away from the player. The second you given them a path choice - even as simple as multiple ways to defeat an enemy - you've stopped being a story and started being a base for story construction.

    No decent writer makes a game that tells a story, they simply give players access to components that allow them to make their own story within the game world, though you will probably be stuck to a string of pearls all the same.

    So he's right, in that games don't tell a story, the player does, using the game, and the game contains multiple story paths to choose from.

    Maybe Will Wright doesn't like story due to the sales performance of Spore: space adventures.

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