Types of branching narrative trees
Typical choice presented in Oxenfree.
I’m always surprised by how differently story-driven games with mechanics where content branches approach their narrative design. Each game seems to have its own understanding and implementation of what the player will feel is a satisfying experience.
There are only certain types of systems in video games where choices and branching have been implemented successfully, at least so far. Based on where the player agency is in a game, I think most of the times choices are:
When thinking about themes for story-driven games with choice mechanics, I can hardly think about one that fits better than helping a civilization gain the right to choose their future.
Yep, Detroit is a game where theme and mechanics flow wonderfully together, exploring all the scenarios that are related to the nature of choice itself.
Throughout the different story lines and chapters, you’ll repeatedly take part in dynamics such as:
- The freedom to choose not to choose, and stay loyal to the status quo (which gets reflected in the storyline of Connor)
- An expansion of the significance of the choices your character is presented by choosing to choose (or reveal against the status quo), which is symbolically represented with a sequence where characters literally break a wall:
I’ve always been curious about the use of camera angles as an expressive resource in story telling.
I remember studying some film history and theory back in the day, and being especially struck by some specific shots from some classic movies, which brought the storytelling to a different level. You can find a few on films like The Third Man:
Here’s a silent hero!
On the post I published last month I talked about telling stories without words, and how tempting it can be to abuse of a minimalist approach to puzzles and experience design.
Then I remembered Tiny Thief, and how it actually did the same thing as Virginia, which is telling a story (a very different one, though) without words.
Tiny Thief, however, deals with the same challenge in its own way.
While Virginia finds the solution in focusing the attention with a timely use of subtle resources, Tiny Thief relies on expressivity and visual emphasis to guide the player.
When I think about it, I imagine the narrative voice behind Virginia to persistently whisper to the player the direction that needs to be followed, and that of Tiny Thief to cheerfully call to action with eloquent outburst.
Both good. Both unique. Just different, and demanding of different design and visual efforts.
Enjoy the silence
Here I leave you with a couple of screenshots showing how nice and consistent is this game approach to silent story telling.
Main menu needs no words! (Okay… there are a couple on the title…)
I’ve been playing Virginia, the 2016 game by Variable State.
It’s a fantastic game, very interesting from a narrative point of view. I’m sure it took them a great creative effort to figure out its visual language, which tells a complex story without any text at all.
And the result is very good, because the game manages to lead you thought the whole storyline dodging the risk of loosing your attention and focus on goals.
Telling a story without words
There’s, for example, a very clever use of ellipsis that gets rid of all that’s irrelevant, so that we don’t get distracted by elements that won’t add up to the story.
The design of the environment, also, with lighting, color and space, pushes us ahead organically, which feels very good.
Guess where you need to head towards!
Symbolism is present throughout all the story as well, which kind of brings the language to a different level by adding a new layer of meaning to what happens.
This is a topic I find myself thinking about very often. So often that I though I would end up having a saying on it. But as with humor in general goes, it gets difficult to state anything that sounds precise and comprehensible enough.
But since the topic keeps on fascinating me again and again, I ended up deciding to conclude this contemplative stage by gathering a few random comments on the topic of… randomness and humor!
The mystery, the way it goes for me is:
- What makes randomness funny?
So probability has been there for ages, and video games make use of it in sophisticated ways. In this post, though, since much has been said about that topic already (and since I couldn’t say much about it anyway), I’ll focus on the role randomness plays on narrative, and how it impacts emotions.
The question, in all its bare simplicity, occurred to me yesterday as somebody listed their favorite comedy video games. They were all Lucas Arts titles and other graphic adventures of the time that stand up for the sense of humor put into dialogues, characters, and plots. So far, so good. I personally love the surreal sense of humor and the visual style of those video games, so I understand why they have become a benchmark.
Best comedy game… ever?
However… the truth is, with the time, after seeing how the speech ends up focusing almost exclusively on Lucas Arts, I begin to feel a little bit of resentment. Does that mean that, in the last decades, we haven’t had other video games that have approached humor in brilliant and creative ways?