交互式故事游戏必不可少的五个核心内容

发表于2017-04-07
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本文原作者:Thomas Grip 译者ciel chen

在过去的几年里我一直有这么一种感觉,而且这个感觉越来越强烈——电视游戏的故事系统不在一如从前了。这里的核心问题不是出在写作、主题、人物或者其他这类的内容身上;而是出在了故事整体的呈递问题上。总有什么东西阻碍了我去真正的体会游戏故事。在反复思考这个问题后,想出了交互式故事游戏必不可少的五个核心内容,具体的那五个继续往下看。

以下是我关于这个主题的个人看法,这跟基于科学理论做出的尝试比起来更像是一种宣言。即便如此,我认为这不是什么鸡肋准则或者什么长尾美学(niche aesthetic)概论。我相信这会是电视游戏进行故事叙述所真正需要的基本框架,也会是大部分人想从交互式叙述中得到的概述。

与此同时,要重点注意,以下所有的内容都是必须的。少了其中一个那这个叙事体验就会让人很难受。

batman(from gamasutra)

知道了以上,我们就开始把:

1)集中注意力在故事叙述上

这点真的很简单:游戏必须设计成,彻头彻尾,就是拿来讲故事的。它必须避免成为解谜、宝石堆积或者射击移动目标的游戏。游戏可以含括这些作为特色,但是一定不能作为游戏体验的核心要素。记住这个游戏存在的理由必须是——为了让玩家沉浸到游戏的故事中去;其他内容再有特色,地位也一定不能超过故事本身。

这里的原因已经非常明了了——一个想要尽可能呈递上最佳故事的游戏必须把焦点放在这里。以下列出的几个问题就是没能够认真对待这个要素而直接导致的。

这个要素的关键是——故事必须多少是实实在在的。它要包含有具备识别度的人物和背景、还有必须要有些戏剧性色彩的情节。游戏叙述方式的极度抽象化、简易化,以及趣味、故事关联性和意外事件的缺乏都是不可取的。

2)“玩”所占的时间比重应该最大

电视游戏属于一种交互式媒介,所以游戏中有大量体验是涉及到交互形式的。游戏的核心部分不应该是阅读和观看过场动画,而是“玩”。这不意味着需要有持续的交互行为;还是有自由支配时间的空间的,甚至不经常玩也成了至关重要的因素。

上述内容听上去相当基础,几乎是游戏设计的根本内容,但事实并非如此显而易见。游戏设计的普遍“真理”——选择是至高无上的,Sid Meier’s巧妙地将此概述为“一款游戏就是一系列选择的组成”。然而,我不认为这是交互性故事游戏的真谛。如果选择真的那么重要,那把你自己的冒险小说选作交互式小说原型就好了呀——然而不是这样的。大部分名气大、主叙事的电视游戏都没有任何关联故事的选择给你,(《最后生还者(The Last of Us)》就是最近的一个例子)。如果是这样的话,交互性还真的那么重要吗?

当然重要了,但不是通过选择来体现的。我认为交互的重点在于故事的呈递要给人以一种存在感,那是一种在游戏世界里的存在感。为了达到这种效果,就必须稳定玩家玩游戏的主动性。如果玩家在很长一段时间里处于不活跃状态,他们会越发地不想去玩这个游戏。这尤其体现在玩家觉得可掌控的游戏部分。所以游戏必须时刻保持和强化那种“游戏中”的体验感。

3)游戏交互必须有叙述性

为了让玩家沉浸在叙事中,他们的行动必须跟游戏中的突发事件有些联系。游戏中不能存在同故事无关联的事件、甚至故事的边缘价值事件也不要有。这里有两个原因:

玩家必须能有一种他们好像就是故事中的一部分的感觉,而不是一个旁观者。如果游戏没能把玩家带入到任何一个重要情节里,这就会造成玩家的消极向的游戏参与。如果游戏都是在玩消消乐的话,那玩家就算花99%的时间进行交互都没问题;因为玩家已经不是游戏中任何重要突发事件的一部分了,所以他们的行为也就无关紧要了。所以游戏必须以叙事性为基础,而不应该仅仅是在单方面活动后等待下一个过场动画。

玩家必须能够明白他们现在行动是为了什么。如果玩家被设定成一个侦探,那在玩游戏的时候他们的行动目的就很明确了。一款游戏如果需要靠过场动画之类的东西才能解释玩家扮演的角色,那它在故事的呈递方式上就出错了。

league(from gamasutra)

4)不可有重复内容

很多游戏的核心参与度是通过玩家对游戏系统的掌控实现的。玩家在游戏上花的时间越久他们就玩的越好。为了让这个过程运转,玩家的行动必须一次又一次地重复。但是这种重复不是一个构架良好的故事需要的。取而代之的是,我们想要是把游戏活动在符合节奏的情况下尽可能延长。玩家玩的目的不是为了让自己在某些游戏机制中成为一把好手,而是为了能投入到一个引人入胜的故事当中去。当游戏中某个活动过度发挥了它的作用,那这个游戏故事就失去了合理的叙述性。

重复行为的另外一个问题就是会破坏玩家的想象力。其他传媒会依靠玩家的想象力来填补很多故事的空白部分。比如电影和小说就用模糊度来让观众和读者对作品有自己的理解。而如果相同的行为一遍又一遍地再重复,那玩家想象的空间就非常地狭窄了。玩家会失去了很多填补空白的想象力,对游戏故事的认识变得机械化。

这不意味着游戏的核心机制要千变万化,这只是说这些机制要能给玩家提供不同的玩法。《地狱边境(Limbo)》和《时空幻境(Braid)》就是很好的例子——玩家一分钟就能学会的基本玩法,但在游戏过程中仍旧能有多样化的体验。

5)游戏中无重大阻碍

为了让玩家对游戏故事保持浸入式体验,游戏的重点就必须放在源源不断的突发事件上。挑战在过程中可以有的,但这样的挑战不能成为阻碍,消耗了玩家所有的注意力。你必须记住——玩家玩游戏是为了体验其中的故事。如果玩家卡在了某个关卡,他们的注意力就会从故事中转移,放到了破解这个关卡上。也因为这样,导致了游戏机制的根本将分崩离析,玩家将无法对系统进行体验和优化。这些都是会严重降低游戏叙事性体验质量的问题。

导致这种情况发生的有三个罪魁祸首:复杂或者晦涩难懂的谜题、必须掌握熟练技巧才能通过的游戏部分以及迷宫似的环境。这些在游戏中都是很常见的,也是经常难倒玩家的内容。玩家要么就是不知道游戏下一步该干嘛就是没办法掌握过关的技巧。谜题、迷宫还有技术性的挑战不是完全禁止的,但是必须确保这些内容不能破坏游戏体验。如果有哪些游戏部分让玩家遗忘了故事进展,那这个部分就应该扔掉。

能达到以上内容要求的游戏

这五点听起来好像是显而易见的。我在写以上内容的时候,经常觉得我是在把一些广为人知的东西拿出来再强调了一遍。但尽管如此,很少能有游戏把以上五点全部做到,你好好想想的话真的会觉得这很令人吃惊。这几点每个单看好像每个都很普通,但是他们的集合体就真的是相当稀缺了。

能做到纯粹讲故事的游戏的最好例子似乎是可视小说。不过它们都没能做到内容2的要求;他们在本质上一点都没有交互性,玩家仅仅作为读者存在着。它们常常也做不到内容3,因为他们没办法给玩家跟故事有关联的游戏行为(游戏基本上都是以被动的方式进行的)。

像《最后生还者(The Last of Us)》和《生化奇兵:无限(BioShock Infinite)》则是缺失在内容4和内容5上(重复多,进程阻碍大)。这类游戏中较大部分还都缺失了内容3中的要求(与故事相关的游戏行为)。还有这样一种情况很常见,就是把很大一部分的故事内容放在了过场动画里,把动画拖得老长,也就是说缺失了内容2(游戏应该以“玩”为主)。RPG类型游戏的表现也并没有好很多,它们经常包含了太多重复内容,而且由于冗长的过场动画和人物对白,会产生很多的“游戏停止时间”。

像《暴雨(Heavy Rain)》和《行尸走肉(The Walking Dead)》的游戏更能给人以交互式叙事感,但是却也达不到内容2的要求。这些游戏从根本上更像是加上了交互内容的电影放映。当交互成为体验中的一部分时,就不能再说它是游戏驱动力了。同样,除了极少数游戏玩法是那种只做被动反应的,它跟别的游戏一样,确实也能做到缜密的计划。但这让玩家无法参与到游戏中,这种参与感本该是电视游戏自带的。

所以会有游戏能完全达到这些要求吗?由于这些要求每个都不是很确切,完成度取决于你选择的评估方法。我有找到一个自认为是最接近要求的游戏——《Thirty Flights of Loving》,不过它也有点问题,它的叙述内容实在是奇怪而且零散。然而,它是目前为止具备五个内容且完成度最高的游戏。还有一个游戏叫《去月球(To The Moon)》完成度也挺高,不过因为它对过场动画和对白有太多依赖,导致没能符合要求。《到家(Gone Home)》也还不错,可惜它的游戏行动跟游戏核心叙述没有任何关联,游戏里有大把的时间是花在读而不是“玩”上。

无论这些游戏是否达成了以上五点要求,我觉得他们至少给我们展示了游戏前行的轨道。如果我们想要在交互式叙述上有所进步,这些游戏就是我们汲取灵感的源泉。同样,我认为这些游戏在评价(据我所知)和商业上能获得成功很理所应当,人们对这些游戏的体验给予了很高的赞许和诉求。

结语

这可能很明显了,但我还是要说:这五个内容无关游戏质量。有的游戏就算没有做到以上任意一点仍旧改变不了它出色的事实,但是他们不敢宣扬他们的游戏有十足的可玩性和故事叙述的交互性。同样地,一款出色实现了以上五个要求的游戏也有可能很烂。这些内容只是概述了某种经验的基本构架。就我看来,如今在电视游戏中已经不存在什么经验之谈了。

我希望这五个简单的规则能为人们在评估和构架他们的项目时提供一些帮助。能够有这样想法的电视游戏还是会受到争议的,因为目前为止很少有游戏能出色完成以上要求。但是能做到接近要求的游戏实际上为数不少。我坚信这条探索之路会充满惊喜。

说明

交互还有很重要的另一方面我这里忽略了没提到的是——计划的能力。我在之前讨论《行尸走肉》和《暴雨》的时候有稍微提到这点,不过我认为这点是值得深挖的。我们想要从良好的游戏交互中得到的不是让玩家能有很多按键来按,而是希望这些按钮下的游戏行为能给未来游戏带去有意义的影响。在玩家做游戏输入行为时,在脑海要有意识地模拟即将出现的输出内容。即使这个持续的时间非常短暂(比如“现在你要转方向来射击迎面而来的小行星”),但效果显著,因为现在玩家更新了在纯反应游戏中从来没出现过的输入方法。

关于如何界定游戏中的重复内容的问题,这是一个很有趣的讨论话题。打个比方,一个像《Dear Esther》这样的游戏让玩家只能走路和观察,这里它给不了太多的变化。但是由于场景的不断变化,很少有人会说它有重复内容。有一些游戏给了玩家相当复杂和多样化的行动,但是如果玩家需要做的任务都是在相似的场景里,那很快就会变成重复内容了。我觉得说重复是资金问题导致应该无可非议。因为想要用有限的资金做出无重复内容的游戏基本是不可能的事情。这就意味着一个不错的故事游戏必须要有强大的资金支持。

以下是一些我认为能接近所有要求标准的游戏:《血径迷踪(The Path)》、《风之旅人(Journey)》、《日日同梦(Every day the same dream)》、《晚餐约会(Dinner Date)》、《Imortall》、《肯德基0号路(Kentucky Route Zero)》。他们是否属于成功的游戏还看个人简介,因为这些都属于剑走偏锋的游戏。不过这些都是值得我们关注的游戏。因为这个列表的游戏是所有我能想到的拥有或者说至少接近了五个内容要求的游戏。

本文由游戏邦编译,转载请注明来源,或咨询微信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  )

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