從業者談交互式故事遊戲的五個核心內容

本文原作者:Thomas Grip 譯者ciel chen

在過去的幾年裏我一直有這麼一種感覺,而且這個感覺越來越強烈——電視遊戲的故事系統不在一如從前了。這裏的核心問題不是出在寫作、主題、人物或者其他這類的內容身上;而是出在了故事整體的呈遞問題上。總有什麼東西阻礙了我去真正的體會遊戲故事。在反覆思考這個問題後,我想出了五個我認爲在交互式敘事中最關鍵的內容。

以下是我關於這個主題的個人看法,這跟基於科學理論做出的嘗試比起來更像是一種宣言。即便如此,我認爲這不是什麼雞肋準則或者什麼長尾美學(niche aesthetic)概論。我相信這會是電視遊戲進行故事敘述所真正需要的基本框架,也會是大部分人想從交互式敘述中得到的概述。

與此同時,要重點注意,以下所有的內容都是必須的。少了其中一個那這個敘事體驗就會讓人很難受。

batman(from gamasutra)

batman(from gamasutra)

知道了以上,我們就開始把:

1)集中注意力在故事敘述上

這點真的很簡單:遊戲必須設計成,徹頭徹尾,就是拿來講故事的。它必須避免成爲解謎、寶石堆積或者射擊移動目標的遊戲。遊戲可以含括這些作爲特色,但是一定不能作爲遊戲體驗的核心要素。記住這個遊戲存在的理由必須是——爲了讓玩家沉浸到遊戲的故事中去;其他內容再有特色,地位也一定不能超過故事本身。

這裏的原因已經非常明瞭了——一個想要儘可能呈遞上最佳故事的遊戲必須把焦點放在這裏。以下列出的幾個問題就是沒能夠認真對待這個要素而直接導致的。

這個要素的關鍵是——故事必須多少是實實在在的。它要包含有具備識別度的人物和背景、還有必須要有些戲劇性色彩的情節。遊戲敘述方式的極度抽象化、簡易化,以及趣味、故事關聯性和意外事件的缺乏都是不可取的。

2)“玩”所佔的時間比重應該最大

電視遊戲屬於一種交互式媒介,所以遊戲中有大量體驗是涉及到交互形式的。遊戲的核心部分不應該是閱讀和觀看過場動畫,而是“玩”。這不意味着需要有持續的交互行爲;還是有自由支配時間的空間的,甚至不經常玩也成了至關重要的因素。

上述內容聽上去相當基礎,幾乎是遊戲設計的根本內容,但事實並非如此顯而易見。遊戲設計的普遍“真理”——選擇是至高無上的,Sid Meier’s巧妙地將此概述爲“一款遊戲就是一系列選擇的組成”。然而,我不認爲這是交互性故事遊戲的真諦。如果選擇真的那麼重要,那把你自己的冒險小說選作交互式小說原型就好了呀——然而不是這樣的。大部分名氣大、主敘事的電視遊戲都沒有任何關聯故事的選擇給你,(《最後生還者(The Last of Us)》就是最近的一個例子)。如果是這樣的話,交互性還真的那麼重要嗎?

當然重要了,但不是通過選擇來體現的。我認爲交互的重點在於故事的呈遞要給人以一種存在感,那是一種在遊戲世界裏的存在感。爲了達到這種效果,就必須穩定玩家玩遊戲的主動性。如果玩家在很長一段時間裏處於不活躍狀態,他們會越發地不想去玩這個遊戲。這尤其體現在玩家覺得可掌控的遊戲部分。所以遊戲必須時刻保持和強化那種“遊戲中”的體驗感。

3)遊戲交互必須有敘述性

爲了讓玩家沉浸在敘事中,他們的行動必須跟遊戲中的突發事件有些聯繫。遊戲中不能存在同故事無關聯的事件、甚至故事的邊緣價值事件也不要有。這裏有兩個原因:

玩家必須能有一種他們好像就是故事中的一部分的感覺,而不是一個旁觀者。如果遊戲沒能把玩家帶入到任何一個重要情節裏,這就會造成玩家的消極向的遊戲參與。如果遊戲都是在玩消消樂的話,那玩家就算花99%的時間進行交互都沒問題;因爲玩家已經不是遊戲中任何重要突發事件的一部分了,所以他們的行爲也就無關緊要了。所以遊戲必須以敘事性爲基礎,而不應該僅僅是在單方面活動後等待下一個過場動畫。

玩家必須能夠明白他們現在行動是爲了什麼。如果玩家被設定成一個偵探,那在玩遊戲的時候他們的行動目的就很明確了。一款遊戲如果需要靠過場動畫之類的東西才能解釋玩家扮演的角色,那它在故事的呈遞方式上就出錯了。

league(from gamasutra)

league(from gamasutra)

4)不可有重複內容

很多遊戲的核心參與度是通過玩家對遊戲系統的掌控實現的。玩家在遊戲上花的時間越久他們就玩的越好。爲了讓這個過程運轉,玩家的行動必須一次又一次地重複。但是這種重複不是一個構架良好的故事需要的。取而代之的是,我們想要是把遊戲活動在符合節奏的情況下儘可能延長。玩家玩的目的不是爲了讓自己在某些遊戲機制中成爲一把好手,而是爲了能投入到一個引人入勝的故事當中去。當遊戲中某個活動過度發揮了它的作用,那這個遊戲故事就失去了合理的敘述性。

重複行爲的另外一個問題就是會破壞玩家的想象力。其他傳媒會依靠玩家的想象力來填補很多故事的空白部分。比如電影和小說就用模糊度來讓觀衆和讀者對作品有自己的理解。而如果相同的行爲一遍又一遍地再重複,那玩家想象的空間就非常地狹窄了。玩家會失去了很多填補空白的想象力,對遊戲故事的認識變得機械化。

這不意味着遊戲的核心機制要千變萬化,這只是說這些機制要能給玩家提供不同的玩法。《地獄邊境(Limbo)》和《時空幻境(Braid)》就是很好的例子——玩家一分鐘就能學會的基本玩法,但在遊戲過程中仍舊能有多樣化的體驗。

5)遊戲中無重大阻礙

爲了讓玩家對遊戲故事保持浸入式體驗,遊戲的重點就必須放在源源不斷的突發事件上。挑戰在過程中可以有的,但這樣的挑戰不能成爲阻礙,消耗了玩家所有的注意力。你必須記住——玩家玩遊戲是爲了體驗其中的故事。如果玩家卡在了某個關卡,他們的注意力就會從故事中轉移,放到了破解這個關卡上。也因爲這樣,導致了遊戲機制的根本將分崩離析,玩家將無法對系統進行體驗和優化。這些都是會嚴重降低遊戲敘事性體驗質量的問題。

導致這種情況發生的有三個罪魁禍首:複雜或者晦澀難懂的謎題、必須掌握熟練技巧才能通過的遊戲部分以及迷宮似的環境。這些在遊戲中都是很常見的,也是經常難倒玩家的內容。玩家要麼就是不知道遊戲下一步該幹嘛就是沒辦法掌握過關的技巧。謎題、迷宮還有技術性的挑戰不是完全禁止的,但是必須確保這些內容不能破壞遊戲體驗。如果有哪些遊戲部分讓玩家遺忘了故事進展,那這個部分就應該扔掉。

能達到以上內容要求的遊戲

這五點聽起來好像是顯而易見的。我在寫以上內容的時候,經常覺得我是在把一些廣爲人知的東西拿出來再強調了一遍。但儘管如此,很少能有遊戲把以上五點全部做到,你好好想想的話真的會覺得這很令人吃驚。這幾點每個單看好像每個都很普通,但是他們的集合體就真的是相當稀缺了。

能做到純粹講故事的遊戲的最好例子似乎是可視小說。不過它們都沒能做到內容2的要求;他們在本質上一點都沒有交互性,玩家僅僅作爲讀者存在着。它們常常也做不到內容3,因爲他們沒辦法給玩家跟故事有關聯的遊戲行爲(遊戲基本上都是以被動的方式進行的)。

像《最後生還者(The Last of Us)》和《生化奇兵:無限(BioShock Infinite)》則是缺失在內容4和內容5上(重複多,進程阻礙大)。這類遊戲中較大部分還都缺失了內容3中的要求(與故事相關的遊戲行爲)。還有這樣一種情況很常見,就是把很大一部分的故事內容放在了過場動畫裏,把動畫拖得老長,也就是說缺失了內容2(遊戲應該以“玩”爲主)。RPG類型遊戲的表現也並沒有好很多,它們經常包含了太多重複內容,而且由於冗長的過場動畫和人物對白,會產生很多的“遊戲停止時間”。

像《暴雨(Heavy Rain)》和《行屍走肉(The Walking Dead)》的遊戲更能給人以交互式敘事感,但是卻也達不到內容2的要求。這些遊戲從根本上更像是加上了交互內容的電影放映。當交互成爲體驗中的一部分時,就不能再說它是遊戲驅動力了。同樣,除了極少數遊戲玩法是那種只做被動反應的,它跟別的遊戲一樣,確實也能做到縝密的計劃。但這讓玩家無法參與到遊戲中,這種參與感本該是電視遊戲自帶的。

所以會有遊戲能完全達到這些要求嗎?由於這些要求每個都不是很確切,完成度取決於你選擇的評估方法。我有找到一個自認爲是最接近要求的遊戲——《Thirty Flights of Loving》,不過它也有點問題,它的敘述內容實在是奇怪而且零散。然而,它是目前爲止具備五個內容且完成度最高的遊戲。還有一個遊戲叫《去月球(To The Moon)》完成度也挺高,不過因爲它對過場動畫和對白有太多依賴,導致沒能符合要求。《到家(Gone Home)》也還不錯,可惜它的遊戲行動跟遊戲核心敘述沒有任何關聯,遊戲裏有大把的時間是花在讀而不是“玩”上。

無論這些遊戲是否達成了以上五點要求,我覺得他們至少給我們展示了遊戲前行的軌道。如果我們想要在交互式敘述上有所進步,這些遊戲就是我們汲取靈感的源泉。同樣,我認爲這些遊戲在評價(據我所知)和商業上能獲得成功很理所應當,人們對這些遊戲的體驗給予了很高的讚許和訴求。

結語

這可能很明顯了,但我還是要說:這五個內容無關遊戲質量。有的遊戲就算沒有做到以上任意一點仍舊改變不了它出色的事實,但是他們不敢宣揚他們的遊戲有十足的可玩性和故事敘述的交互性。同樣地,一款出色實現了以上五個要求的遊戲也有可能很爛。這些內容只是概述了某種經驗的基本構架。就我看來,如今在電視遊戲中已經不存在什麼經驗之談了。

我希望這五個簡單的規則能爲人們在評估和構架他們的項目時提供一些幫助。能夠有這樣想法的電視遊戲還是會受到爭議的,因爲目前爲止很少有遊戲能出色完成以上要求。但是能做到接近要求的遊戲實際上爲數不少。我堅信這條探索之路會充滿驚喜。

說明

交互還有很重要的另一方面我這裏忽略了沒提到的是——計劃的能力。我在之前討論《行屍走肉》和《暴雨》的時候有稍微提到這點,不過我認爲這點是值得深挖的。我們想要從良好的遊戲交互中得到的不是讓玩家能有很多按鍵來按,而是希望這些按鈕下的遊戲行爲能給未來遊戲帶去有意義的影響。在玩家做遊戲輸入行爲時,在腦海要有意識地模擬即將出現的輸出內容。即使這個持續的時間非常短暫(比如“現在你要轉方向來射擊迎面而來的小行星”),但效果顯著,因爲現在玩家更新了在純反應遊戲中從來沒出現過的輸入方法。

關於如何界定遊戲中的重複內容的問題,這是一個很有趣的討論話題。打個比方,一個像《Dear Esther》這樣的遊戲讓玩家只能走路和觀察,這裏它給不了太多的變化。但是由於場景的不斷變化,很少有人會說它有重複內容。有一些遊戲給了玩家相當複雜和多樣化的行動,但是如果玩家需要做的任務都是在相似的場景裏,那很快就會變成重複內容了。我覺得說重複是資金問題導致應該無可非議。因爲想要用有限的資金做出無重複內容的遊戲基本是不可能的事情。這就意味着一個不錯的故事遊戲必須要有強大的資金支持。

以下是一些我認爲能接近所有要求標準的遊戲:《血徑迷蹤(The Path)》、《風之旅人(Journey)》、《日日同夢(Every day the same dream)》、《晚餐約會(Dinner Date)》、《Imortall》、《肯德基0號路(Kentucky Route Zero)》。他們是否屬於成功的遊戲還看個人簡介,因爲這些都屬於劍走偏鋒的遊戲。不過這些都是值得我們關注的遊戲。因爲這個列表的遊戲是所有我能想到的擁有或者說至少接近了五個內容要求的遊戲。

本文由遊戲邦編譯,轉載請註明來源,或諮詢微信zhengjintiao

Over the past few years I have had a growing feeling that videogame storytelling is not what it could be. And the core issue is not in the writing, themes, characters or anything like that; instead, the main problem is with the overall delivery. There is always something that hinders me from truly feeling like I am playing a story. After pondering this on and off for quite some time I have come up with a list of five elements that I think are crucial to get the best kind of interactive narrative.

The following is my personal view on the subject, and is much more of a manifesto than an attempt at a rigorous scientific theory. That said, I do not think these are just some flimsy rules or the summary of a niche aesthetic. I truly believe that this is the best foundational framework to progress videogame storytelling and a summary of what most people would like out of an interactive narrative.

Also, it’s important to note that all of the elements below are needed. Drop one and the narrative experience will suffer.

With that out of the way, here goes:

1) Focus on Storytelling

This is a really simple point: the game must be, from the ground up, designed to tell a story. It must not be a game about puzzles, stacking gems or shooting moving targets. The game can contain all of these features, but they cannot be the core focus of the experience. The reason for the game to exist must be the wish to immerse the player inside a narrative; no other feature must take precedence over this.

The reason for this is pretty self-evident. A game that intends to deliver the best possible storytelling must of course focus on this. Several of the problems outlined below directly stem from this element not being taken seriously enough.

A key aspect to this element is that the story must be somewhat tangible. It must contain characters and settings that can be identified with and there must be some sort of drama. The game’s narrative cannot be extremely abstract, too simplistic or lack any interesting, story-related, happenings.

2) Most of the time is spent playing

Videogames are an interactive medium and therefore the bulk of the experience must involve some form of interaction. The core of the game should not be about reading or watching cutscenes, it should be about playing. This does not mean that there needs to be continual interaction; there is still room for downtime and it might even be crucial to not be playing constantly.

The above sounds pretty basic, almost a fundamental part of game design, but it is not that obvious. A common “wisdom” in game design is that choice is king, which Sid Meier’s quote “a game is a series of interesting choices” neatly encapsulate. However, I do not think this holds true at all for interactive storytelling. If choices were all that mattered, choose your own adventure books should be the ultimate interaction fiction – they are not. Most celebrated and narrative-focused videogames does not even have any story-related choices at all (The Last of Us is a recent example). Given this, is interaction really that important?

It sure is, but not for making choices. My view is that the main point of interaction in storytelling is to create a sense of presence, the feeling of being inside the game’s world. In order to achieve this, there needs to be a steady flow of active play. If the player remains inactive for longer periods, they will distance themselves from the experience. This is especially true during sections when players feel they ought to be in control. The game must always strive to maintain and strengthen experience of “being there”.

3) Interactions must make narrative sense

In order to claim that the player is immersed in a narrative, their actions must be somehow connected to the important happenings. The gameplay must not be of irrelevant, or even marginal, value to the story. There are two major reasons for this.

First, players must feel as though they are an active part of the story and not just an observer. If none of the important story moments include agency from the player, they become passive participants. If the gameplay is all about matching gems then it does not matter if players spends 99% of their time interacting; they are not part of any important happenings and their actions are thus irrelevant. Gameplay must be foundational to the narrative, not just a side activity while waiting for the next cutscene.

Second, players must be able to understand their role from their actions. If the player is supposed to be a detective, then this must be evident from the gameplay. A game that requires cutscenes or similar to explain the player’s part has failed to tell its story properly.

4) No repetitive actions

The core engagement of many games come from mastering a system. The longer time players spend with the game, the better they become at it. In order for this process to work, the player’s actions must be repeated over and over. But repetition is not something we want in a well formed story. Instead we want activities to only last as long as the pacing requires. The players are not playing to become good at some mechanics, they are playing to be part of an engrossing story. When an activity has played out its role, a game that wants to do proper storytelling must move on.

Another problem with repetition is that it breaks down the player’s imagination. Other media rely on the audience’s mind to fill out the blanks for a lot of the story’s occurrences. Movies and novels are vague enough to support these kinds of personal interpretations. But if the same actions are repeated over and over, the room for imagination becomes a lot slimmer. Players lose much of the ability to fill gaps and instead get a mechanical view of the narrative.

This does not mean that the core mechanics must constantly change, it just means that there must be variation on how they are used. Both Limbo and Braid are great examples of this. The basic gameplay can be learned in a minute, but the games still provide constant variation throughout the experience.

5) No major progression blocks

In order to keep players inside a narrative, their focus must constantly be on the story happenings. This does not rule out challenges, but it needs to be made sure that an obstacle never consumes all focus. It must be remembered that the players are playing in order to experience a story. If they get stuck at some point, focus fade away from the story, and is instead put on simply progressing. In turn, this leads to the unraveling of the game’s underlying mechanics and for players to try and optimize systems. Both of these are problems that can seriously degrade the narrative experience.

There are three common culprits for this: complex or obscure puzzles, mastery-demanding sections and maze-like environments. All of these are common in games and make it really easy for players to get stuck. Either by not being sure what to do next, or by not having the skills required to continue. Puzzles, mazes and skill-based challenges are not banned, but it is imperative to make sure that they do not hamper the experience. If some section is pulling players away from the story, it needs to go.

Games that do this

These five elements all sound pretty obvious. When writing the above I often felt I was pointing out things that were already widespread knowledge. But despite this, very few games incorporate all of the above. This quite astonishing when you think about it. The elements by themselves are quite common, but the combination of all is incredibly rare.

The best case for games of pure storytelling seems to be visual novels. But these all fail at element 2; they simply are not very interactive in nature and the player is mostly just a reader. They often also fails at element 3 as they do not give the player much actions related to the story (most are simply played out in a passive manner).

Action games like Last of Us and Bioshock infinite all fail on elements 4 and 5 (repetition and progression blocks). For larger portions of the game they often do not meet the requirements of element 3 (story related actions) either. It is also frequently the case that much of the story content is delivered in long cutscenes, which means that some do not even manage to fulfill element 2 (that most of the game is played). RPG:s do not fare much better as they often contain very repetitive elements. They often also have way too much downtime because of lengthy cutscenes and dialogue.

Games like Heavy Rain and The Walking Dead comes close to feeling like an interactive narrative, but fall flat at element 2. These games are basically just films with interactions slapped on to them. While interaction plays an integral part in the experience it cannot be said to be a driving force. Also, apart from a few instances the gameplay is all about reacting, it does have have the sort of deliberate planning that other games do. This removes a lot of the engagement that otherwise come naturally from videogames.

So what games do fulfill all of these elements? As the requirements of each element are not super specific, fulfillment depends on how one choose to evaluate. The one that I find comes closest is Thirty Flights of Loving, but it is slightly problematic because the narrative is so strange and fragmentary. Still, it is by far the game that comes closest to incorporating all elements. Another close one is To The Moon, but it relies way too much on dialog and cutscenes to meet the requirements. Gone Home is also pretty close to fulfilling the elements. However, your actions have little relevance to the core narrative and much of the game is spent reading rather than playing.

Whether one choose to see these games are fulfilling the requirements or not, I think they show the path forward. If we want to improve interactive storytelling, these are the sort of places to draw inspiration from. Also, I think it is quite telling that all of these games have gotten both critical and (as far as I know) commercial success. There is clearly a demand and appreciation for these sort of experiences.

Final Thoughts

It should be obvious, but I might as well say it: these elements say nothing of the quality of a game. One that meets none of the requirements can still be excellent, but it cannot claim to have fully playable, interactive storytelling as its main concern. Likewise, a game that fulfills all can still be crap. These elements just outline the foundation of a certain kind of experience. An experience that I think is almost non-existent in videogames today.

I hope that these five simple rules will be helpful for people to evaluate and structure their projects. The sort of videogames that can come out of this thinking is an open question as there is very little done so far. But the games that are close to having all these elements hint at a very wide range of experiences indeed. I have no doubts that this path will be very fruitful to explore.

Notes

Another important aspects of interaction that I left out is the ability to plan. I mention it a bit when discussing Walking Dead and Heavy Rain, but it is a worth digging into a little bit deeper. What we want from good gameplay interaction is not just that the player presses a lot of buttons. We want these actions to have some meaning for the future state of the game. When making an input players should be simulating in their minds how they see it turning out. Even if it just happens on a very short time span (eg “need to turn now to get a shot at the incoming asteroid”) it makes all the difference as now the player has adapted the input in way that never happens in a purely reactionary game.

The question of what is deemed repetitive is quite interesting to discuss. For instance, a game like Dear Esther only has the player walking or looking, which does not offer much variety. But since the scenery is constantly changing, few would call the game repetitive. Some games can also offer really complex and varied range of actions, but if the player is tasked to perform these constantly in similar situations, they quickly gets repetitive. I think is fair to say that repetition is mostly an asset problem. Making a non-repetitive game using limited asset counts is probably not possible. This also means that a proper storytelling game is bound to be asset heavy.

Here are some other games that I feel are close to fulfilling all elements: The Path,Journey, Everyday the Same Dream, Dinner Date, Imortall and Kentucky Route Zero. Whether they succeed or not is a bit up to interpretation, as all are a bit borderline. Still all of these are well worth one’s attention. This also concludes the list of all games I can think of that have, or at least are closing to having, all five of these elements.(source:gamasutra.com  )