Who says game story is just for RPGs? At the SxSW talk on passionate games, we discussed how few casual games incorporate story. I’d like to offer up a highly scientific comparison study of two casual (ish) console games: Guitar Hero III and Dance Dance Revolution. Distinctive controllers and music made them famous. So why do I want to play one more than the other? The answer: game story.
Story in the design
GHIII: Players may choose an avatar to play, and then dress him/her in new clothes and new guitars. I’ll be frank with you, boys and girls, I actually don’t care about that stuff. I’ve had many a debate on whether this helps develop player story or not — I think it’s purely cosmetic and gives the illusion of choice, but still, some people enjoy it, and more power to them.
GHIII does a great of creating context and a story arc. It also, amazingly, creates dramatic tension. At the end of my first 3-set concert, I had the option to do an encore. I thought, “Why wouldn’t I want to do an encore?” As soon as I agreed to the encore, a helicopter arrived and so did the police! I thought, “Oh, no… I’m going to lose all my money or something!” Instead, the police just came to jam to my fab music. Relief.
Before each 3-set, there’s an opening animated scene. Notably, there’s not one line of dialog, but many scenes are humorous and all are short. This fact is just another little reminder that writing is not just about dialog. The scenes create the tone for being a rockstar as well as give you a sense of your progress in your arc from garage band to superstar.
DDR gives you no sense of context or story arc. You “clear” stages, but to no particular end. My personal pet peeve, the dialog occasionally will say, “You’re no ordinary fellah!” which makes me mentally respond, “Yeah, maybe cuz I’m not a fellah!”
Before my brand new XBox 360 ate (yes, ate!!!) my GHIII disc, I had gotten to the point where I was doing a music video shoot. I want to learn what comes next! Would I want to play GHIII regardless? Sure, playing guitar is fun, but so is dancing on a dancepad. The evidence is in the fact that I would rather play GHIII right now than DDR.
What does this mean for story and game design? Well, you could argue that I, as a game writer, am biased because I want to see story in games. The truth is, I’m a certain player type: an achiever combined with what could be called an explorer or completionist. I want to do well and get rewards, which includes all the content you can give me. As we know in game design, the best designs work for different player types at the same time. Therefore, adding game story to a casual game services player types that might otherwise feel left out in the cold by certain casual games.
We had some recommendations for good casual games during our talk at SxSW. Can you recommend any others? Especially since my X-Box is evil and eats things, maybe something PC-based would be ideal!