開發者談故事情節在遊戲中發揮的積極作用

本文原作者:Thomas Frip 譯者ciel chen

遊戲中的故事到底發揮了怎樣的作用?——長時間以來這一直是一個具有爭議的論題。隨着時間的流逝,越來越多人接受了故事在遊戲中的存在,但爲此的爭論並沒有停止。就比如Ian Bogost最近寫了篇文章裏提出爲什麼把故事做成遊戲而不是拍成電影或者寫成書。

這種“故事還是拿來寫書吧”的態度並不是最近纔有的。有一篇我最喜歡的文章是Jesper Juul寫的“遊戲是用來講故事的嗎?”——這裏有趣的是我同意他提出的所有觀點,但大部分結論都是我不同意的。在我看來,用遊戲來講述故事是再合適不過了,沒毛病。我完全同意Juul關於“如果把遊戲簡單地以電影或者以書本的表現方式投用於遊戲中會產生非常多的摩擦”這個觀點。所以要想讓故事能在遊戲裏流暢的展開就需要從多方面去考慮它們。

“故事還是拿來寫書吧”這種態度通常是由遊戲在試圖展開故事時犧牲了遊戲的流暢性所引起的。最常見的例子就是:在你能繼續進行遊戲之前你要看一些冗長的過場動畫。同樣,當遊戲與故事情節並置時所產生可笑的各種違和感也是造成這個問題的因素——比如說人物在遊戲過程裏能抗下各種胖揍但在過場動畫裏被輕輕一擊就殘了這種事。但是這些例子並不能證明故事從根本上不適合跟遊戲結合,它們只是說明了這些故事是被草率地安插到遊戲中的例子而已。

事實上故事對於電子遊戲有着至關重要的作用,這個事實從遊戲史的一開始就存在了。它們爲遊戲體驗提供了至關重要的——情節。你可以從早期街機中清晰地看出這點,比如說《Asteroids》:

這裏的圖像是爲了告訴玩家:“那些朝着你而來的畫的很爛的圓圈是小行星!不搞定他們就完蛋了!”這個故事情節可能相當簡單,不過也能算是一個故事。玩家因此對屏幕上所發生的事情有所瞭解的心智模式,這使得玩家可以憑藉直覺來感知這個世界的運作並構建出自己對此的見解敘述。“我只要逃開不要被那些過來的行星撞到就好了!”這種幻想來的要比單純抽象地去思考這個遊戲更有趣。“我用箭頭狀的移動方式來躲開這些迎面而來的多邊形物體,這樣就可以在遊戲中立於不敗之地了”這樣的想法在沒有提示的情況下我們自己是想不到的。事實上,用那樣的方式是很難想出什麼事情的。來看看這段視頻吧:https://youtu.be/VTNmLt7QX8E

你可以一下子就覺得這些小圖形是有想法有個性的。我們的大腦就是很奇怪能做到這種事,而《Asteroids》的櫃式機藝術正是利用了這點。有一個有趣的問題隨之而來:如果我們人類能這麼容易從抽象圖形看出故事情節,那我們還需要實實在在的故事內容用來幹嘛?這個結論好像很有道理的樣子,不過這裏有很多原因可以說明這個結論是被誤導的,比如說:

它在玩家開始遊戲之前提供了有關這個遊戲的概念;解釋了《Asteroids》採用的抽象畫系統並非無關緊要的;讓“你控制飛船來躲避或者擊落撲面而來的行星”這件事立刻有了意義。

它讓玩家在遊戲的一開始就有了合適的心境,這樣我們就不需要等玩家展開長久的遊戲探索來形成一個合適這款遊戲的幻想。

這種幻想更容易契合遊戲的實際操作。如果你把所有什麼都讓玩家自由發揮想象,那遊戲之後的方方面面就會出現矛盾的內容——造成玩家的心智模式與遊戲系統的具體體現相違背。

warlords of drakendor(from gamesindustry)

warlords of drakendor(from gamesindustry)

儘管人類是很擅長這種幻想的構建,但這爲這他們不需要任何幫助了。基於遊戲的內容對玩家的固有能力發揮着強大的催化劑效果。因此如果無法被恰當地傳達給玩家,這個內容會變得超出玩家想象力的更加深層次的幻想。

然而,這並不表明你需要去填充故事內容的所有空白。事實上,留給玩家一些想象的空間會有更好的效果。這裏重要的一點是把握好哪些內容應該留白,哪些內容應該填補。

不僅僅是由簡單圖形組成的射擊遊戲因爲故事情節而變得有趣,甚至在從一開始就以故事情節爲主要側重點的冒險遊戲中都有和《Asteroids》這種相似的根源性。第一款冒險遊戲《Colossal Cave Adeventure》從模擬洞穴的形式開始,然後爲了讓遊戲體驗變得有趣,開發者加入了“從地下城與龍那裏得到的啓發性事件與謎題”在其中。要再次強調的是,這裏的故事是爲了提供遊戲基本體驗的內容——在這個例子中該內容就是探索洞穴系統。玩家並不只是漫無目的地在洞穴裏閒逛,他們現在是被下達了尋找寶藏以及規避黑暗中隱藏的危險的人物了。這不只讓玩家更加投入到遊戲中,而且是他們更好地瞭解了遊戲。

這裏我想說的是,遊戲中的故事對整個遊戲的可玩性方面有着不可思議的強化作用。所以故事的存在並不是什麼窗戶裝飾品之類可有可無的東西——通過給玩家講述故事可以讓玩家對遊戲更加投入。我們人類天生就比較能夠掌握一些有敘述性的問題——這種敘述性讓我們得以能夠使用各種我們天生就具備的心智功能來處理並解決這些問題。我們很自然就能夠了解戰爭中敵對雙方的動態,但如果你想用數學方程式來解決同樣的問題,這可能得用上好幾年的時間來研究掌握其中所涉及的基本概念。人類之間的關係是自然而然產生的,但數學並不是。所以這使得故事內容成爲了遊戲設計中不可或缺的一部分了。

《Asteroids》可以採用如此簡單的故事來描述是因爲它是一個相當簡單的遊戲,但如果遊戲難度增加變得複雜,那麼故事內容也就需要作出相應的難度調整。如果你想讓玩家扮演一個間諜潛入到邪惡的組織之中,那簡單的圖形和櫃式機藝術肯定就不再適用了;這時你得自己爲故事內容增添細節好讓玩家在遊戲中的行動有意義,讓玩家對遊戲更投入並更好地掌握遊戲。

故事不會是什麼硬生生放置到遊戲裏的內容,因爲電子遊戲設計者把想要當電影導演和小說家的野心藏起來了。之所以有這些故事是因爲它們對於遊戲體驗是有極其重要作用的。當然了,也有遊戲是什麼內容都沒有的——《Tetris》是最典型的例子,不過這些遊戲一般不需要花很多時間都能夠很快地掌握遊戲玩法。而當你想要一些更復雜的玩法的時候,故事內容就可以很自然地幫你達到這個目的,並且可以完全地融入到遊戲的每一個部分來傳達遊戲的意圖並塑造流暢的遊戲體驗。

這就跟小孩子玩耍一樣——給他們一些棍子石頭他們馬上就能編出個故事來。當然了,他們也可以純粹把石頭和木棍進行組建來體會其固有屬性所帶來的樂趣,但是如果把它們想象成城堡、士兵然後想象出一場大型戰役豈不是更有趣嗎。人類天性如此,所以這種現象不止出現在電子遊戲和小孩的玩耍中,它存在於所有有人類的場所裏。比如說,在體育賽事開始之前解說會分享一些參賽運動員背後的故事好讓實際的賽事更加激動人心;新聞報道也會遵循類似的模式——無論是哪個領域,講故事的理由都是同樣的:它能夠爲實際活動提供一個背景情節來讓這些活動給人以更多的情感上的激動與共鳴。

這種把故事當做玩遊戲的背景情節的概念在像《行屍走肉》這類的遊戲中尤其正確。這款遊戲中,玩家真正在玩遊戲的時間很少——大部分時間都用來坐着看情節了。然而,這些過場動畫確實是爲了給玩家以背景情節來做出最後必須做出選擇。這聽起來或許有點怪,不過如果你仔細從玩遊戲的角度想這個問題的話就比較說得通了。如果沒有了之前的過場對話,那麼這個賦予了對話選擇權的抽象化系統也就沒什麼意義了。

你甚至可以說《行屍走肉》就是靠這些過場動畫來撐起它的遊戲性的——從一系列突然出現在屏幕上的選項中做出選擇就是這個遊戲玩法重點。很顯然,這是那些抽象圖形和一些櫃式機街機藝術無法發揮作用的地方。這裏的故事情節必須設置得非常精細,讓玩家才能“選擇正確的選項”來直觀地去把握並投入到遊戲中去

同樣能說明這件事實的還有最近發行的《What Remains of Edith Finch》(Bogost文章中的很多論點都是以這個遊戲爲例子的)。這款遊戲內容中很大一部分是玩家在玩的過程中時不時出現的人物小插曲情節。如果沒有這些複雜的遊戲設定,這款遊戲中好玩的部分會失去很多樂趣並且難以理解。事實上,很多情況下這樣的遊戲插曲算得上是遊戲開發進程中的主要基石了。至少在《活體腦細胞/SOMA》中是存在這樣的相似進程的。於是我們在開發過程中開始希望讓一些不同的場景變得好玩有趣——後來這也成爲了很多遊戲的目標。

所以我說《行屍走肉》裏面的過場動畫就是爲了選擇提供一個故事背景,這並不是什麼沒有意義的爭辯。在很多情況下這種做法都是行之有效的。當然了遊戲開發絕不會這麼死板,並且我也不認爲會有遊戲開發者在開發遊戲時會有這樣的意識。畢竟理論只是紙上談兵,現實情況總是更加複雜的。然而這並不意味這種想法不正確,而且我覺的這是一個看待遊戲性與故事之間關係的具有真正價值的方式。

同時,還有要注意的很重要的一點,這不表明故事情節成了遊戲體驗裏多餘的那部分了,要知道——故事情節本身就有讓人投入進去的能力,並且大部分情況下這種能力的存在都發揮着積極的作用。但有一點事實不可否認:故事情節爲遊戲性提供了上下文背景——其實我覺得能意識到這個事實是一件意義重大的事,因爲它消除了人們對敘事性電子遊戲的困惑。

故事並非獨立存在的情節或者一系列事件;無論怎樣的故事內容,它們都是爲遊戲體驗提供上下文背景的,故事背景、角色人物、故事主題等等這些都是爲此而服務的。所以爲了能給遊戲創造合適的上下文背景,就需要一系列情節作爲支持,但這絕對不是什麼硬性要求。這就是遊戲在敘述方式上不同於電影、小說或者其他媒介的地方,這點很重要,要銘記於心。

當覺得遊戲裏的故事敘述得很爛的時候,並不意味着故事成了沒有必要的存在。先問個問題好了:“有什麼其他方法能更好地給遊戲提供故事背景的嗎?”所以這裏問題的關鍵不在於遊戲過度關注了其特性,而在於它不擅長用有效有感染力的方式爲遊戲提供必要的上下文背景。
遊戲並不是爲了跟電影或小說比較看誰能“道出更有深度的故事”的。那些更深層次的遊戲主題是爲了讓玩家有更好的遊戲體驗,而能達到這個目的的核心手段就是把注意力集中在故事敘述上。這和其他媒介在講故事的目的上存在很大的區別,所以說“故事還是拿來寫書吧”這種想法是對當下游戲所面臨挑戰的一種嚴重誤解。

很顯然背景故事和遊戲性不能簡單地被看做兩個獨立的個體。很多情況下,故事背景很大程度上決定了蓋採用哪種類型的遊戲來匹配,甚至存在有一些遊戲玩法完全只是爲了某部分的故事背景而創造出來的情況。

至於我所認爲當下最有趣的問題應該是:當我們談到設計故事敘述的電子遊戲時,故事背景和遊戲玩法之間的關係是怎樣的?我們要如何構造上下文背景才能讓遊戲性成爲在遊戲敘述中的核心部分呢?我認爲這個是很多側重故事敘述的遊戲需要考慮的問題,這些遊戲中也許很多確實講述了非常好的故事,但是它們大多數是以過場動畫、對話、筆記之類的形式體現的,我鮮少能通過“玩”來體驗這些故事的——這也是我覺的把故事看做上下文背景比較方便的原因。這也證明了遊戲中的“經典故事”本身並非遊戲的最終目標,它們只是作爲來優化遊戲體驗的遊戲框架。我所希望看見交互式故事敘述遊戲的未來是:開發者能夠更好地理解故事敘述在遊戲中的運作方式並且瞭解如何利用故事來創造更好的遊戲體驗。

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For ages there’s been an argument going on about what part stories should play in videogames. Over time stories in games have gained more acceptance, but the discussion still continues. For instance, Ian Bogost recently wrote this article where he asked why you should make a game out of a story when you might as well make a movie or write a book.

This “go write a book instead” attitude isn’t new. One of my favorite articles on the subject is Jesper Juul’s “Games Telling Stories?”. Interestingly, I pretty much agree with all of the points that Juul raises, but reject most of his conclusions. I think that video games are very well suited for telling stories and that there is no inherent conflict. Where I fully agree with Juul is on the argument that if you just take stories as we normally see them on film or in books and apply them to games, there will be a lot of friction. In order to make stories work in games you need to consider them in a different way.

The “go write a book instead” response is usually provoked by the fact that a game’s attempt at storytelling disrupts the flow of the game. The most common example of this is when you need to watch some lengthy cutscene before you can continue playing. Problems also arise when juxtaposing gameplay and story gives rise to ridiculous inconsistencies, such as characters that can take hundreds of hits in-game being easily hurt in a cutscene. But this isn’t evidence of stories being inherently unsuitable for games, these are just examples of sloppy implementation.

Stories are, in fact, crucial for videogames, and this has been the case almost since the earliest days of gaming history. They provide something vital to the experience: context. You can clearly see this in cabinets of early arcade machines, for instance this one for Asteroids:

The images are there to tell the player: “Those badly drawn circles coming at you are asteroids! Deal with them or perish!” This may be a really simplistic story, but it certainly is one. It gives the player a mental model of what is taking place on the screen, which allows them to intuit the workings of the world and to build a personal narrative. “I barely escaped getting crushed by an incoming asteroid!” is a much more interesting fantasy than simply thinking about the game in abstract. “I made the arrow-shape move out of the way for the incoming polygon thereby avoiding the game’s fail state” doesn’t come as naturally to us. In fact, it’s quite hard to think of events in that manner. Take a look at this video:

You instantly think of the shapes as having intentions and personalities. Our brains are wired to do so, and the cabinet art of Asteroids taps into that. It also raises an interesting question: if humans are so prone to see stories in abstract shapes, do we really need any actual story content at all? This might seem a tempting conclusion, but there are a number of reasons it’s misguided. For example:

It provides the player with an idea of what the game is about before they even start playing. Explaining Asteroids using abstract systems is non-trivial. Saying “you control a spaceship that has to avoid or blow up incoming asteroids” makes immediate sense.

It puts the player in the proper mindset from the get-go. This way we don’t have to wait for a bunch of gameplay to unfold in order for the player to shape a suitable fantasy for it.

The fantasy is more likely to be coherent with the actual gameplay. If you just leave everything to the player’s imagination, there may be later aspects of the game that contradict this, causing big problems as the player’s mental model would contradict the concrete implementation of the game’s systems.

While people are good at constructing fantasies it doesn’t mean they don’t need any help. Story-based context acts as a very potent catalyst for the player’s inherent capabilities. If delivered properly, the result is a much deeper fantasy than the player could have made up on their own.

However this doesn’t mean that you need to fill in all the blanks with story context. In fact, by leaving certain bits to the player’s imagination the result can be even better. The trick is to know which parts to leave blank and which ones to fill in.

It isn’t just shooters with basic polygonal graphics that benefit from story context. Even adventure games, known for their strong story focus from the get-go, have similar roots to that of Asteroids. The first adventure game, Colossal Cave Adventure, started out as a simulation of a cave. In order to make the experience more interesting, Dungeons-and-Dragons-inspired events and puzzles were added to the mix. Again, the story was there to provide context to the basic experience – in this case exploring a cave system. Instead of just randomly wandering through a cave the player was now on a mission to search for a treasure and to avoid dangers that lurked in the darkness. This not only makes the experience more engaging, it also makes it easier to understand.

The case I want to make is that stories are incredibly potent for setting up play. Story is not just optional window dressing. By telling the player a story it makes it much easier for the player to engage. We as humans also grasp problems a lot more easily when they are presented as a narrative [2]. It enables us to use various built-in mental faculties to approach the problems and to figure out solutions. Understanding the dynamics of two factions that are at war comes naturally to us. When you pose the same problem in the form of mathematical equations it might require years of study to grasp the basic concepts involved. Human relationships come naturally, maths doesn’t. This makes story context an indispensable part of game design.

Asteroids can get away with a really simple story because it is such a simple game. But games haven’t stayed that simple, and as they grew more complicated, the story context needed to become more complicated as well. If you want the player to play as a spy infiltrating an evil organisation, simple polygons and cabinet art will not be enough. You need to add more details to your story context in order for the game’s actions to make sense, be engaging, and easy to grasp.

Story isn’t just something that has been slapped onto games because videogame designers have hidden desires to be film directors or novel authors instead. They are there there because they are crucial to the end experience. Sure, there are games that have pretty much zero story content – Tetris is a prime example. But these games are also very straightforward and possible to grasp based on very little play time. The moment you want anything more complicated, story context comes naturally and becomes an ubiquitous part of conveying the game’s intentions and forming a coherent experience.

It’s similar to how kids play. Give them some sticks and stones and they will instantly use them in some sort of story context. Sure, they could just build stone and stick structures for the inherent enjoyment of it, but it’s much more fun to think of them as castles, soldiers and a grand battle taking place. This is inherently human and permeates many more areas than just videogames and child’s play. For instance, it’s common to show backstories of the athletes before a sporting event in order to make the actual competition more exciting. News reporting also follow a similar pattern. Whatever the area is, the reason for having stories is the same: it provides context that makes the actual activity or content more exciting and relatable.

The idea of stories as context for play is even true for a game like The Walking Dead. In this game the player has little actual gameplay, and most of the time you just sit and watch. However, the hours of cutscenes are really just there to give context to the choices that the player eventually has to make. This might sound a bit weird, but if you think about it from a gameplay perspective it makes a lot of sense. The abstract systems that power the dialog selection wouldn’t have much meaning if it weren’t for the cutscenes preceding them.

You can even say that The Walking Dead requires the cutscenes for its gameplay to work. The gameplay in this case is simply making selections from a set of options that pop up on the screen. It’s quite clear that abstract shapes and some cabinet art will not do the trick here. Your story context must be quite elaborate for the player to intuitively grasp and feel engaged by a simple “select the right option” process.

The same thing is true for games like the recently released What Remains of Edith Finch (which Bogost bases much of his argument around in his article). Much of the content in this game can be seen as the context for the character vignettes that you play from time to time. Without all of the intricate setup that the game has, these playable sections would have been a lot less engaging and harder to understand. In fact, it’s actually quite likely that making these vignettes of gameplay was one of the major cornerstones in the game’s development process. A similar process was at least true for SOMA. We started the development of it with the intention of making a few distinct scenarios playable. Much of the game was then built around that goal.

So when I say that the cutscenes in The Walking Dead are just context for the choice scenes, I am not just making a silly argument. In many cases, this is really how it works. Obviously, development is by no means this rigid, nor do I think many developers think consciously about it. Reality is always way more messy than theory. But that doesn’t mean that this division is untrue. I think it’s a really valuable way of looking at gameplay versus story.

It’s also really important to note that this doesn’t mean that context is just a superfluous aspect of the game experience. The story context can be engaging in its own right, and it is almost always beneficial if it is. But that doesn’t take away the fact that the story content is there to provide context for the play. In fact I think it is crucial that we realize this as it clears up a lot of confusion around video game storytelling.

Story is not just plot, a sequence of events; it is whatever story content that provide context to the play experience. The setting, characters, themes and so forth all have part in this. In order to create a proper context there may be a need to tell a certain sequence of events, but it is by no means a requirement. This is where storytelling in video games and film/novels/etc. diverge and it is crucial to keep this in mind.

When it feels like a game has poor storytelling, it’s not the same as it being unnecessary. The question to ask is: “Could there have been a better way to provide story context?”. The problem is not that the game tries to focus on its characters, the problem is that the game is bad at providing the necessary context in an efficient and engaging manner.

Games are not trying to “tell deeper stories” compared to film or novels. They are trying to provide deeper thematic play. A core part in achieving this is by putting more focus on the story context. This is a very different goal from that of other media and to say “you might as well write a book” is to gravely misunderstand the challenge at hand.

Obviously context and play aren’t simply two separate things. Context very often has a big part in influencing what sort of gameplay is best suited to it, and there may even be gameplay created with the sole purpose of influencing a certain bit of context.

For me the most interesting question at this moment is: when it comes to evolving storytelling in videogames, what is the relationship between context and play? How can we set up context in such a way that it’s the play that does the bulk of the actual storytelling?

I think this is a problem in many story-heavy games. There may be a lot of well-told story in them, but it’s delivered in the form of cut-scenes, dialog, written notes, and so forth. I don’t get to actually play it. This is also where I think seeing story as context comes as handy. It makes it evident that “classical story” in games is not an end goal in itself, but a framework, there in order to enhance the experience of play. To be better at understanding how this works and how to build experiences around it is where I see the future of interactive storytelling.(source:gamasutra.com  )