Resistance 3: The Complex Game That Keeps It Simple

In a room at Insomniac Games, Jon Paquette has taken over a wall. The writer of Resistance 3 has covered the surface in sticky notes: one colour to indicate what happens where, another colour highlighting the major beats of the game, and another pinpointing precisely what he wants the player to feel at each point.

From here he’ll work with designers, artists and programmers to construct the survival epic that is Resistance 3, going back and forth, writing and re-writing, diving into new narratives, hitting new walls, tearing down sticky-notes and plastering fresh ideas over stale ones. It’s a complicated and, at times, frustrating process, but for a man dealing with a task as finicky as crafting the player’s experience, Paquette’s mantra almost seems contradictory: keep it simple.

For Paquette, simplicity has nothing to do with stupidity. He is not in the business of dumbing things down. Instead, he believes that work needs to be done on the developer’s end to ensure that the player has a sense of purpose and always knows what they’re doing.

“Sometimes in a game you’ll be going along and you have no idea where you are or what you have to do. That’s a cardinal sin for me in storytelling,” says Paquette.

“Simplicity is really just about the basics: the player always needs to know who they are, where they are, what they’re supposed to do and why they’re doing what they’re doing, especially in a shooter when people just want to run around and shoot things. If they know why they’re shooting something, the experience has more meaning.”

So does this mean that players need to be told what to do? Do situations and stories need to be blatantly explained to them to ensure that they know what’s going on? Not quite. According to Paquette, a narrative can be told in much more subtle ways – ways that don’t involve stopping the game and pulling players out of the interactive experience.

“The way that I approach game stories is this: I think the story in the game is really the player experience, so you have different tools at your disposal,” he says.

“Animation is one tool, sound design is another tool, the textures on the walls are also a tool. These are all tools for storytelling in games because, like I said, it’s the experience that you want the player to achieve.”

“For me, it’s really about working with the team to have a cohesive idea of what we’re trying to do – as long as everyone understands what the experience for the player is supposed to be, then I think it works out well. It’s when you have that disparity between gameplay and story that you’re left feeling unsatisfied with the experience.”

Paquette gives an example from three quarters of the way into Resistance 3. The player comes across a community in western Pennsylvania that has been infested with feral chimera. Walls have been built around the town to protect the inhabitants but the chimera keep breaking it down. Everyone is huddled in an old school house. As the player walks through the town the story of its people unfolds without the need for cut-scenes or blatant explanations. The player sees people praying; a man in a corner plays a chimera skull flute, in another corner a group of children cry over their mother who is covered in a bloodied sheet, and elsewhere a man picks up a piece of leper parts and makes leper soup. Paquette says that these are all things the player can walk past and ignore and proceed to shoot things, but if they stop to take in the environment then they can get a sense of the desperation of the community and how they’re living and surviving.

“I think using all the tools is much more effective than stopping the game and telling the player ‘Okay, this is what happened, this is the situation,” he says.

“Subtlety is hard to do when people are focused on shooting something, which is why I think it’s important to have good ups and downs in the pacing of the experience.”

Paquette is referring to the moments when the player isn’t submerged in shooting action: when the player is travelling, visiting towns, talking to people, and exploring the chimera-ravaged world.

“I play a lot of shooters and they’re great when they start off at 11, but if they stay at 11 for the whole experience then you kind of become deaf,” he says.

“You need those down moments, and I think that in a shooter, that’s when you can capture those subtleties, that’s when you can take the player through an environment so they can learn what has happened. Subtlety is hard to do in shooters, but you can do it when you capture it in those lower moments.” In keeping it simple, Paquette believes that he can achieve greater depth in storytelling than if the story were so complex that cut-scenes had to be employed to constantly remind the player what he or she is meant to be doing. Resistance 3 has a character with complex emotions – the game deals with a man haunted by what he did to the lead character of Resistance 2, who now has a family he wants to protect but who also has leave them behind in order to help them survive – simplicity has not resulted in the player getting a cushy storyline with a two-dimensional character.

As a writer, Paquette sees his role as setting up the parameters and letting the player know who they are and what they have to do, but his goal is for the player to be able to immerse themselves in the game and connect not only with the story but the game itself.

“The goal is you’re not thinking about the story, you’re not thinking about the gameplay; you’re thinking ‘I’m in this place, this is what I have to so, and I’m going to do it’. You want to sit on the couch and have a fantasy, and if we’re able to tie into that core emotion that people have then I think we’ve succeeded.”


Comments

    "“I play a lot of shooters and they’re great when they start off at 11, but if they stay at 11 for the whole experience then you kind of become deaf,” he says.

    “You need those down moments"

    True that. That's what's good about the Space Marine campaign

      WHAAAAAAAT

      My favourite example of this design philosophy is that bit in Uncharted 2 set in that Nepalese village where you wake up after the train crash. Just played that again on the weekend for the first time in ages and it was just as good as the very first time.

    One problem I've been disliking with the recent trends of games is increasing the speed time. I've heard many people complain about games, usually saying crap like, "this is slowing the game down" or "this weapon doesn't have a fast kill time".
    I mainly blame this on the popularity of CoD. I'm not saying it's a bad series, but its influence of fast gameplay is worse then Halos influence of regenerating health (despite the fact that Halo really didn't have that until an option in Halo: Reach). Now-a-days many gamers refuse to play games if it's not as action fast, instant kill like CoD. Rewarding you for a couple of kills with a killstreak that increases your kills. Black Ops had this habit of skipping parts of the game in order to minimize walking time just so that you'll be shooting someone sooner.
    I've been saying that we need to look at slowing games down, not speeding it up.

    Even in Halo: Reach, many complaints about stuff like Armour Lock and non-power weapons are "it slows kill times" down. Because you know, patience is a virtue is a total lie and you're only satisfied when you're shooting at something. People even complain if they have to wait more then 3 seconds in order to respawn. Probably why Battlefield has an advantage, you're more willing to survive and work together in order to avoid long spawn times and if you do die you take a moment to let it think in and rethink your playstyle and strategy.

      I don't get your criticism of Halo. Even from Combat Evolved on missions like "assault on the control room" and "Two Betrayals" there are large expanses of environment without fighting. They seem to have got the balance right IMO. As for regenerative shielding and health packs, well that was available in CE as well and Halo certainly wasn't the first to offer them. The best case of the makers of Halo making an effort contrary to your opinion was ODST which was crticised a lot mainly due to the low frequency of squirmishes but it was actually one of my favourites for atmosphere and the non-linear storyline. It made it much more interesting.

      You need to stop confusing the complainers with the titles. I do agree that the people who mainly play CoD tend to want constant action (possibly an over-generalisation) but ultimately so what? They like a certain style of play that seems very profitable for the gaming studios. It's not for me, but as long as they keep producing Halo I'll be happy.

        I'm sorry you mis-read me. I was mainly talking about Black Ops or CoD for keeping the player along at the same fast pace. I wasn't saying Halo did this, what I was using Halo for was an example about people complaining about "slow gameplay" such as the Armour Lock because it prevents the other player from killing them right now and gives allies a chance to help him. I know Halo doesn't keep this same pace, ever tried a LASO challenge by running and gunning?
        I know Halo wasn't the first to offer regenerating health but it did popularise it. But I was saying that the original Halo (as well as ODST and Reach) wasn't so simple as regenerating health, it was a tactical strategy you had to keep an eye on and think about. Other games that copied this just did it simply as regenerating health.

        I'm not saying to get rid of the fast paced gameplay. I do enjoy CoD. But I was saying that it's an annoying trend that games today are focusing on when they don't need to. I would never say to get rid of one gameplay aspect in favour of another, that's just trading one problem for another. I'm just encouraging variety in gameplay that I think gamers should be more open-minded to.

    Sounds like he's patting himself on the back for doing what Valve did with Half Life, 13 years ago.

      He actually did mention Valve and said they were an example of a studio that does it well, although it came in an odd part of the interview and didn't really fit in with the article.

      In any case, he's a really nice a guy!

        Oh, all good then >_>

        I guess part of me finds it bizarre that a decade later this sort of game design is being discussed as if its a bold idea. In a way it is, such is the prevalence of cutscene driven rail shooters. But it shouldn't be.

        At least someone is trying to make a change, and that i'll give him credit for.

          It's the games that don't do it at all that are made to fail. Stuff like Bodycount.

    I'm so itching to play Resistance 3, it's driving me nuts. I replayed 2 last week, but I was stupid enough to order 3 online. D: Hopefully it's waiting for me when I get home, but until then /sits on forklift daydreaming of blowing up aliens with a magnum.

    I have to say this is the biggest surprise for me of the year, had no expectations going to this game, I just bought it on a whim. It looks like Insomniac has really found their own niche.

    I completely agree with what he's saying, but for me the Resistance games haven't always done a good job of that. There's been plenty of moments when I've fallen into his 'cardinal sin' and been completely unaware of what I'm meant to be doing or why.

    One of the best games I've played recently that does what he describes, tells the story without reading it out to you, would be Metro 2033, a terrific and under rated game.

    I like your writing style Tracey. The structure connects disparate quotes seamlessly. It's informative but it's also easy reading. Props

      Thank you! :D

    I got it on launch day and passed it last night. Its one of those games that once you start, you won't play anything else until you've completed the campaign. The story isn't stellar, its the pacing. Each level just works really well at pushing you forward.

    Leper soup?.....

    Tracey, what happened to the Community Q&A?

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