Before I begin on my next work, I want to thank everyone who has been reading my articles and making comments on them. It is great that my articles are being well received and spurring discussion on the site. I am a huge fan of Space Sector and anything I can do to improve the site is a win in my book!
Since my progression post, I have received two requests for articles: story line’s in 4X games and UI. I have decided to go with the story line for 4X’s request first. I have been thinking and discussing with my testers the story line for my 4X game. Now, we all have preferences, ideas and opinions on what makes a good story so keep that in mind when you read the following. Not all games require a story line.
Stories in Games
A story in a game is an important tool for the developer. It gives the developer the means to create emotion (through events, characters, settings, history, etc), a way to share the lore of their game universe and a way to present a point(ie: moral). Emotion can be used to draw and keep the player engaged with the game. Humans are emotional creatures and by “exploiting” (pun intended) this, the developer can really capture their audience. Interest in the lore will keep player’s involved in game – even when they aren’t playing.
I feel that a well fleshed out game universe and lore really help with the story line. The lore of the game gives the story line a solid back bone. It makes the story more believable: a world exists outside of the story. If the world seems believable to the player, they will be able to become drawn more into the story. And this is good because they keep playing!
Bioware and Blizzard are well known for their ability to make games with good stories. How many times have we hit the internet to try and find more information for that particular game/story line? How much additional background of the world did we try to find? I’ve spent hours pouring over the internet for various games trying, yearning, and looking for more information because I felt the story and universe in a game was so engaging – I couldn’t help myself. Or while reading a good book, it just wasn’t possible to stop until that last page was read?
It isn’t Easy Being Green…
Unfortunately, most game developer’s aren’t world renowned authors. As mentioned in my first post: What makes a good game – Immersion, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes in making a game that is strictly technical work. The challenges of technically designing and implementing a game are great. The challenges of integrating a polished story line complete with well written dialog (which is not trivial to write well), character graphics and animations, maybe some voice overs for those special moments, and…well I hope you get the point. It isn’t easy and it isn’t cheap.
Stories in 4X Games
So I’m not surprised that 4X games usually don’t have the story line the focal point. Examining 4X games in more detail presents another problem. The general nature of 4X games is a complex sandbox (or openness) atmosphere.
Most of the 4X game is built on giving the player freedom to do whatever they want and move in whatever direction they please. This causes major issues with the traditional (RPG: linear, tightly controlled) story telling mechanism because the player just has simply too much freedom. It is harder to design a system that allows a player to do as they please while still keeping the story moving.
The main issue is accurately keeping track of the state of the player. Is what should happen the right thing for the current state the player is in? RPGs use a combination of a leveling system and world access control (can only access certain parts of the world at a certain time). These ensure the player is in the right spot for the story.
But for 4X games, as a developer, how do you truly know what state the player is in? How many star systems do they have? How many ships? What technologies? And so on and so forth. The more complex systems that are present, the more questions that must be answered. Thus, the difficulty increases.
4X games are usually much more complex than RPGs in terms of their systems and as one can imagine, that complicates the matter even further. Yes, a system can be written to determine the state of the player and then act accordingly, but that is certainty no trivial task to complete. In addition, the story itself has to make sense with this scaling system, which also isn’t easy as indicated above. As you can see, I don’t really have the answers but I will try to find them. I’ll let you know how I end up :)
Is Story Essential in 4X Games?
Is a story essential? I would have to say no, as the previous 4X games have generally done quite well with some solid background lore (Master of Orion 2 for example) and some general and basic story lines. On top of that, many of the reasons why some of us play these games is not particularly for the story. However, I feel that the next 4X game that does a very nice job in incorporating a solid story, but keeps the sand box atmosphere, will have a pretty darned successful game on their hands. I know I’ll be playing it.
Yet Another Example…
I’d like to provide another example how I achieved the above, once more, with my MUD: A Tempest Season. The setting was high fantasy and I developed, with my partner, extensive lore, which was available to the players. One of the players was a magic user. He became so involved in the lore and story of the game, he was able to use it to publish essays on magic. I was astounded when I read them as they were so accurate and made sense with the lore. In addition, he was able to solve many staff ran quests that were based on a magical nature. This is a great example of drawing in a player and having them become emotionally attached and engaged in the lore and story of the game.
Thanks for reading my article. I look forward to reading the comments and seeing what thoughts you all have on story lines. For my next article, I am planning to talk about the UI and this will be a more technical pieces than my previous ones.
dayrinni has been a Space Sector contributor since October 2011. This is his first foray into writing articles for any review site. He is an avid gamer in the genres of 4X, Strategy, MMO’s and RPGs. Finally, he has been the implementor of several MUDs and is currently working on a 4X space game that offers large scope and complexity. See all dayrinni’s posts here.Subscribe RSS
- What Makes A Good Game – Immersion
- What Makes A Good Game – Progression
- What Makes A Good Game – Challenge
- What Makes A Good Game – User Interface
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