開發者談:小型工作室將決定敘事遊戲的未來

原文作者:James Batchelor 譯者:Megan Shieh

電子遊戲產業在視覺效果、音頻、美術和設計等各方面都取得了重大進展,但是在敘事領域卻進展緩慢。

遊戲是一種以交互爲主的媒介,各大排行榜中的高位都被類似《FIFA》、《GT賽車》和《超級馬里奧:奧德賽》等主要以機制爲主的遊戲盤踞。但是,敘事遊戲的體驗也可以是非常互動的。

衆所周知,EA徹底解散了自家的Visceral Games工作室,因此在過去的幾個月裏,有些人猜測:“單人3A遊戲正在走向消亡”。而另一些人則指出Telltale Games的大面積裁員預示着故事驅動的遊戲已經不值得投資了。

但是Imaginati工作室的創始人、《人猿星球:最後邊疆(Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier)》背後的主要開發者之一Martin Alltimes告訴我們:“3A遊戲領域已經坍塌成了一套數量有限、特徵相似的遊戲;而獨立遊戲正在試圖打破敘事領域的界限,同時在這個過程中重新定義‘遊戲’。因此,雖然目前無法享受與3A遊戲同等級別的成功,但是獨立遊戲對遊戲領域的長期發展方向有着更大的影響。”

FlavourWorks的創始人、PlayStation獨佔遊戲《Erica》的創意總監Jack Attridge也同意這樣的觀點:“在規模方面,獨立工作室無疑比不上3A工作室,但是它們更靈活,並且可以提供更爲專注和個性化的東西。”

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Alltimes告訴我們,《人猿星球:最後邊疆》的敘事設計針對的不只是傳統的遊戲玩家,開發團隊想要吸引伴侶、孩子、父母,甚至爺爺奶奶來一起玩。同樣,Attridge的《Erica》更像是爲PlayLink設計的一部互動電影,他希望能夠透過這種設計來接觸到範圍更廣的受衆。(遊戲邦注:“PlayLink”是索尼推出的一款專爲 PS4 而設的全新互動平臺,其最大特點是當中的遊戲可供多人同時合作遊玩,而且只需利用手機便可進行。其主要目的是:讓包含非玩家在內的更多人接觸到主機。)

法國Quantic Dream工作室的前創意總監Caroline Marchal上個月剛剛創立了一家名爲Interior Night的遊戲工作室,該工作室坐落於倫敦,旨在爲那些喜歡諸如《絕命毒師》或《冰血暴》等電視劇,但卻不怎麼玩遊戲的人開發“創新且易上手的敘事遊戲”。越來越多的工作室認爲“敘事元素”是爲家庭電子遊戲擴大受衆的關鍵,而上面舉出的例子僅僅是其中三家。

“比起遊戲技巧,敘事遊戲通常更關注故事情節,因此這類遊戲的門檻也相對較低。”Marchal說:“從《奇異人生(Life is Strange)》到《暴雨(Heavy Rain)》,再到《到家(Gone Home)》,這些出色的(獨立或非獨立)遊戲引領了這條道路,並且證明了:一款遊戲可以吸引到不同的受衆類型。”

Attridge補充道:“熱愛電子遊戲,但是卻因爲傳統遊戲的門檻太高所以無法與你的朋友和家人分享這份樂趣,這種感覺是很令人沮喪的。因此我們希望在不疏遠現有玩家的情況下,引入新的玩家。通過這種方式爲現有玩家提供新的、有意義的內容,同時也能透過易懂的設計以及能與人產生共鳴的敘事方式來接觸到一大批新的玩家,我們認爲這是一個雙贏的戰略。”

“與傳統的遊戲體驗(追求高分、避免遊戲結束)相比,故事體驗以一種更爲複雜的方式在情感上與觀衆產生共鳴,併爲他們提供價值,交互性的體驗使得探索這些情感的過程變得更加有趣。目前我們基本上只爲選定的受衆設計遊戲,但是隨着進一步探索,我們可以打破這個泡沫,最終圍繞更爲廣泛的文化關聯來設計遊戲。”

但是Marchal警告說,接觸範圍更廣的受衆是一個“雙重挑戰”。

她說:“首先,你必須得到‘非玩家’的注意。我們指望每家每戶的現有玩家能夠爲我們傳遞消息,但是我們也在考慮其他的傳播方式。其次,一旦這些‘非玩家’知道並且決定要玩這款遊戲,你必須確保他們不會因爲遊戲的控制系統太複雜而感到氣餒。如果你可以提供優秀的故事以及既容易上手又有深度的玩法,那麼你就成功了。雖然聽起來很簡單,但實際上很難做到。除此之外,高質量故事作品的獲取‘極其困難’,要想找到合適的人才非常不容易,這也解釋了遊戲敘事領域進展緩慢的原因。”

Attridge說:“即使是現在,有許多備受讚譽的遊戲敘事也都是採用了走過場或按照預先編排走的線性手法,但是迄今爲止,能寫出一個真正能說服玩家的分支或是非線性遊戲故事的人少之又少。要想圍繞這麼一種技能來構建一款遊戲無疑是存在風險的,因爲成功過的人實在不多。”

於是,要想開啓一個“以敘事爲主”的項目就變得很困難,尤其是在3A領域。不過值得高興的是《Erica》的創意總監說,人們對待這類遊戲的態度正在逐漸改變。

他說:“三年前Flavourworks剛剛成立的時候,我們製作了一個原型並且將它在業內到處展示,試圖證明我們有一個穩操勝券的想法,而我們得到的反應往往是‘你說服了我們,這是一個可行的、有前途的想法。’在那之前,人們對這一領域極其謹慎,但是現在越來越多的人相信它是可行的。”

Alltimes觀察到,儘管着重敘事,玩法較爲簡單的遊戲可以吸引範圍更廣的新受衆,但是也有許多現有玩家正在期待優秀的遊戲故事。

他說:“我的看法很簡單:我很愛玩主機遊戲,但是現在根本就沒有時間玩3A級的大型遊戲。因此,設計一個只需幾個小時就能玩完的故事體驗是很自然的事情。”

隨着生活習慣的演變,人們能夠投入主機遊戲的時間也越來越少了。毫無疑問,Alltimes不是唯一一個這麼想的人。

或許有人會認爲,獨立團隊開發的小型敘事遊戲跟大型工作室的史詩級作品比起來,質量肯定比較差,但是Ninja Theory工作室發行的《地獄之刃(Hellblade)》就穩穩地推翻了這一假設。

這款獨立遊戲的機制與大型動作冒險遊戲相似,它編織了一個關於心理創傷與個人探險的故事,沒有幾款3A級遊戲敢挑戰這種體驗。商業總監Dominic Matthews強調,並非所有遊戲都適合3A結構。

Last Day on Earth: Survival(from pockegtgamer.biz)

Last Day on Earth: Survival(from pockegtgamer.biz)

他說:“人們嫌棄遊戲太短,但是像《風之旅人(Journey)》或《Inside》這樣的遊戲雖然很短卻近乎完美,你不會想要把它們變成開放世界之類的大型遊戲。”

“人們之所以想要製作大型遊戲是因爲他們一直都在互相競爭,攀比誰的地圖更大,而且還必須得是長達40個小時的體驗。”

Marchal補充道:“Dontnod、Telltale、Campo Santo和Fullbright,這些工作室都已經證明,你可以在沒有典型3A製作水準的情況下製作出優秀的敘事遊戲,而且還能非常成功。真正重要的是故事的質量,以及玩家通過玩法來體驗故事的方式。3A級單人動作/冒險遊戲的製作成本非常非常高,必須賣出很多份副本才能取得成功,甚至回本,因此其中的風險也很高。儘管如此,我認爲它們還是會繼續存在,因爲在發行商和玩家眼中,他們是遊戲中的名牌產品。”

Alltimes告訴我們,儘管發行商們越來越原意投資交互性的敘事遊戲,但是他仍然懷疑它們是否會成爲此類公司的優先選項。

他說:“當發行商將這類遊戲的ROI與明顯更能盈利的產品(比如PVP射擊遊戲或大型開放世界遊戲)相比較時,就會面臨挑戰。這些人大多在尋找能夠盈利十億美元的遊戲系列,相比之下,我們的遊戲就顯得有些微不足道。”

而Matthews則認爲,這種情況可能會改變:“拿《教團:1886(Order 1886)》來說:敘事主導,美術效果極佳,然而遊戲的長度卻受到了嚴厲的批評。但是如果你把這款遊戲放到《地獄之刃》的模型裏,然後標價30美元,人們還有什麼可批評的?”

“這一點很奇怪,遊戲的長度等同於它的價格和價值,其他類型的產品就不是這樣的,比如書籍或者電影。這一現象使得人們很難給遊戲定價。我做了一些調查,發現人們大多是根據遊戲的質量和長度來定價的。”

Interior Night工作室的Marchal繞回了關於電視觀衆的話題。電視行業正在享受又一個黃金時代,通過出色的人物角色和故事情節,每週都在吸引越來越多的觀衆,而遊戲產業沒有理由不能從中受益。

她說:“敘事遊戲是一種超級動態的類型,有多家工作室在嘗試不同的東西是很好的。除遊戲之外的其他行業也一直都在做有趣的實驗,你看像Netflix和它的互動式節目,或是電影公司嘗試製作VR電影。”

“我不知道所有的這些創新和實驗在幾年後會產生什麼結果(也許是一種全新的媒介),但是我們非常興奮能夠參與其中,並有機會做出貢獻。”

本文由遊戲邦編譯,轉載請註明來源,或諮詢微信zhengjintiao

The video games industry has made significant advances in almost every aspect of development: visual quality, audio, art and design. But there is one area in which progress has been considerably slower – storytelling.

A casual glance at the charts show the majority of the top 10 best-selling games are primarily built around mechanics more than anything else – FIFA, Gran Turismo, Mario Odyssey, and so on – and perhaps this is as it should be. Games are, after all, a medium centred on interactivity rather than passive consumption, but it can also be argued there’s no reason why the narrative context of players’ actions shouldn’t be just as interactive.

There has been speculation over the past few months about the’death of the single-player adventure’ in the wake of Visceral’s shock closure, while others point to Telltale’s layoffsas signs that story-driven titles are not worth the investment.

But Martin Alltimes – founder of The Imaginati and one of the lead developers behind Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier – is confident plenty of studios are already servicing any demand these two were catering to… just not the ones you might think.

“The AAA space has collapsed into a limited set of games with very similar features – whereas indie games are pushing the boundaries of storytelling and in the process redefining what a game is,” he tellsGamesIndustry.biz. “So while they don’t currently enjoy the level of success of their AAA counterparts, they are having much more of an impact on the long-term direction of gaming.”

Jack Attridge, founder of FlavourWorks and creative director of PlayStation-exclusive Erica, agrees: “Independent studios may not be able to offer the scope and polish of a project by a team with 300 people and a five-year dev cycle, but they can be more agile, and offer something more focused and personal.”

Martin Alltimes, The Imaginati

When we last spoke to Alltimes, he told us how his narrative Planet of the Apes adventure had been designed with partners and parents in mind, rather than just the traditional gamer. Similarly, Attridge’s Erica is best described as an interactive movie for PlayLink – although this doesn’t quite encapsulate the scope of the project – that he hopes will reach a far broader audience.

Last month, ex-Quantic Dream lead Caroline Marchal opened Interior Night, a new studio in London working on “innovative and accessible narrative games” for “people who love shows like Breaking Bad or Fargo but who do not necessarily game”. These are just three of the rising number of studios that believe storytelling is the key to expanding the audience for video games in the home.

“Narrative games are generally focussed on story and less on skills, which creates a lower barrier of entry for players,” says Marchal. “Some great indie and not so indie games – from Life is Strange to Heavy Rain and Gone Home – have led the way and proven you can reach different audiences.”

Attridge adds: “We wanted to bring new people into the medium without alienating existing gamers. This, I think, is due to a mix of the maturing tastes of developers, as well as a growing appetite for stories from players. It’s heart-breaking to love an art form that you cannot share with friends and families who find the barrier to entry with traditional games too high. It seems like a win-win to offer something new and meaningful to existing gamers whilst also reaching a whole bunch of new gamers through accessible design and resonant storytelling.

“Stories are emotionally engaging and rewarding in a way that is more complex than reaching a high score or avoiding a game over, and exploring those feelings becomes far more interesting through the lens of an interactive experience. As we explore that further, we can break out of this bubble where we are only designing for a selective audience, and in the long run will be able to celebrate games within a broader cultural relevance.”

However, Marchal warns that reaching this broader audience is a “double challenge”.

“Firstly, you have to get noticed by non gamers – we count on the gamers in the household to evangelize in our favour, but we are also looking at alternative distribution methods,” she says. “And secondly, once they know about your game and want to play it, you have to make sure they won’t be discouraged by too complicated controls. If you manage to offer great story with accessible but deep gameplay, that’s a win. It sounds simple, but it’s actually really difficult to pull off.”

A further challenge, Attridge observes, is the need for high-quality writing. This craft is “incredibly difficult” which makes it hard to find the right talent for your project, and perhaps explains why storytelling has advanced so much slower than graphical capabilities, for example.

“Even now, many of the greatest examples of storytelling in games are somewhat using linear storytelling within cutscenes or scripted sequences, but writing a rewarding branching or non-linear narrative for instance is still something that is rarely cracked,” says Attridge. “So it’s risky building a game around a central skillset that hasn’t had a great history in the industry.”

This makes it difficult to get a narrative-centric project off the ground, particularly in the AAA space, but fortunately the Erica director says attitudes towards such titles are changing – hence his studio’s exclusive partnership with PlayStation.

“When we were starting Flavourworks three years ago, we built a prototype which we showed around the industry to prove that we had a winning formula, and the reaction we generally got was, ‘You convinced us. This works. There is a future for this’,” he says. “Before that there was a wariness. Now you see a growing belief in the viability of this area.”

Alltimes observes that while focusing more on narrative and less on complicated mechanics should bring in that broader audience, there is plenty of demand for more satisfying stories among established gamers.

Jack Attridge, FlavourWorks

“My take on this is very simple, but not unique: I love console games but simply don’t have the time to play massive AAA games anymore,” he says. “So it felt completely natural to design a narrative experience that I could play in just a few hours.”

As the gamers who fuelled the previous console generations with their abundant spare time and disposable income find themselves able to dedicate less to every new release, Alltimes is unquestionably not alone in his changing tastes.

There is perhaps the perception that shorter, narrative-focused games developed by smaller teams are automatically of a lesser quality than the epic blockbusters put together by the world’s biggest studios – but Ninja Theory has gone some way to disproving this with Hellblade, released earlier this year.

Mechanically similar to full-price action-adventure games, it weaves a tale of trauma and personal exploration that few AAA titles would dare to embark upon, and certainly hasn’t suffered for it. Commercial director Dominic Matthews stresses that not all games suit the AAA structure.

“Games are criticised for being short, but you look at games like Journey or Inside, they are short but for my mind close to perfection,” he says. “You wouldn’t want that game to be longer or open world or any of those things.

“There’s such a high expectation on games to be massive because they are all competing against each other to have the biggest map and it’s got to be 40 hours long.”

Marchal adds: “Dontnod, Telltale, Campo Santo and Fullbright have already proven that you can do brilliant narrative games without typical AAA production values – and be very successful. What really matters is the story and the way players experience it via the gameplay. The AAA single-player action/adventure titles are a risky business as they cost a lot and need to sell a lot to become a success. That said, I doubt they will disappear as they are prestige titles for publishers – and for players.”

While Alltimes acknowledges that publishers are increasingly willing to invest in interactive fiction, he remains skeptical that these will ever become a priority for such firms.

“The challenge comes when they compare the ROI for a game in this genre relative to something more obviously commercial like a PVP shooter or a massive open-world game,” he says. ”Most of these guys are chasing the next billion-dollar franchise, so our games aren’t big enough to move the needle.”

Matthews argues that this could change as more publishers experiment with digital price points: “Take something like The Order 1886: narrative led, artistically incredible, but quite heavily criticised for the length of the game. But if you take that game and put it into the Hellblade model and charge $30, what would the critical reception have been?

“It’s a strange thing in games, that length equates to price and value – which it doesn’t in anything else, like books for films. It makes it very difficult to work out a price point. I did some work looking at how do people decide the value of the game, and I kind of came to the conclusion that it was perceived quality and length. Particularly in the digital space, it seems like people aren’t willing to pay over a certain price point for something like a pixel art game.”

Interior Night’s Marchal circles back to her goal of appealing to the Breaking Bad and Fargo audiences. Television is enjoying a new golden age thanks to such shows drawing viewers in every week with compelling characters and their story arcs, and there’s no reason why the games industry can’t benefit from this.

“Narrative games are a super dynamic genre and having multiple studios trying different things is great,” she says. “Very interesting experiments are also happening outside of the games industry – look at Netflix with their interactive programs or film companies having a go at virtual reality.

“I don’t know what is going to come out of all these experiments and innovations in a few years – maybe a brand new medium – but we are super excited to be part of this and to have a chance to contribute.” (Source: gamesindustry.biz  )