Recently, I read an article by game critic Sergei Tsiryulik for "Gameland," in which, in my opinion, he takes a very deep look at the story component of games. In that the story in After Reset™ is set up as one of the pillars of the game's concept, I wanted to take some time to look at some quotes from this article, which support my current opinion and point of view, and also add my comments, extrapolating on the issues touched upon in the article as they relate to the RPG After Reset™.
Someone wrote: Plots in games are typically overblown and clichéd. Naturally, demanding a totally original fable is inane, and generally speaking "there is nothing new under the sun." Of course, a narrative will in some measure make use of genre cliché, but it is possible to play through the same scene in different ways, so you can give it an unusual context, give it a new meaning - why even bother talking about the whole plot! But the creators of the scenarios in games generally choose to (or have to) take the well-trodden path. This cannot be endorsed under any circumstances.
Mr.Nixon: I myself also suppose that the target audience was raised on such games as Fallout (1-2), Baldur's Gate, Planescape: Torment, Fahrenheit, Mass Effect (1-2), and on such films as The Game, Identity, The Sixth Sense etc. We have been spoiled by plots. Most plot twists, entanglements, suspense clichés, and conclusions, we can predict in the first minutes of playing or watching - thereafter, we get bored, just as bored as we get with MMOs. In my years as a gamer, I've read many pre-release promises and nice words, which 95% of the time never came to fruition. So, I'll be brief: the plot should be one of three pillars on which a game should be built; the idea that it should not be a trivial aspect comes not from marketing professionals, but from me myself.
Someone wrote: Of course, not every developer will be bothered with the depth of the plot, and not every game needs a plot, to be honest. But the world is a different story. In video games, the setting is more important than in any other type of art, though for the purposes of games, and interactivity: when we read a book, we try to reproduce the world by our own imagination, while graphic novels, films, and cartoons show exactly as much as the plot demands, games go further- they allow us to fully feel a part of new worlds, allow us to be in them, and interact with them.
Mr.Nixon: The level to which the setting of After Reset™ is thought out should not be less than that of PhB, D&D and the first Fallout games.
Someone wrote: The character and outlook of a person largely formed by his or her surroundings - correspondingly, if we're talking about some kind of thought-out world, then it is very important that the characters that live in it correspond with their biographies. In JRPGs, there are many times when a character who grew up in some backwater little town on the fringe of the inhabited world, is not just highly skilled, but the best swordsman on earth, who wears a super fashionable outfit with twenty-seven buttons.
Whether in medieval fantasy, or space operas - regardless of setting, the characters will of be one and the same archetype, born with a modern mentality, speaking a modern language, and concerned with the same problems that concern our contemporaries. This is especially clear in the aliens from Mass Effect: the ones who look least like people (Elcors, Hanars) are kept behind the scenes, and all the others can easily be imagined as earthlings with minor oddities.
Regardless of the uniqueness of the setting, a character's personality and his biography should have something in common with what he has to do in the game. An illustrative example of a discordant non-correspondence is in Final Fantasy VIII, where the main characters act as an elite band of mercenaries, who kill tens and hundreds of enemy soldiers without a second thought, but in fact they are just normal school-kids, who know nothing of discipline and yet don't experience even the tiniest worry for their life, or even a little doubt about the mountain of troops they leave behind them. And this is characteristic for a great many JRPGs.
And Western games are no less clichéd than their Japanese counterparts. The protagonist is almost always a middle-aged white man; if he has a partner or a group, then there is guaranteed to be a comic character, exuding his or her race/nationality. In general, everything is like a Hollywood action movie.
By the way, think about this: there is almost never a smart, or educated person among the protagonists- this is done so that the target audience can freely associate themselves with the characters. Know-it-alls are almost always the bad guys, who inevitably leave some kind of loophole in their genius plans, letting the heroes defeat him by their gumption, passionate, soulful impulses, and brute physical strength. Why not a smart, calculating hero for a change?
Mr.Nixon: Well sure, our protagonist is smart, educated and calculating. In any case, he starts out that way. The beginning of the game zeros out his abilities (which is harmoniously fit into the plot, no worse than in Planescape: Torment) and it is for the player to decide who the main character will become by the end of the game.
Someone wrote: In general, the overwhelming majority of artistic productions contain some kind of conflict. Having narrowed down the bounds of the current theme, let's look at a conflict of interest of several sides, one of which is the protagonist.
In order to promise a suitable plot quality, it is necessary that the production reveal all sides in the conflict, and their motivations, to give a good basis as to why the conflict started, and show the consequences of its solution. An important quality of a good plot is moral ambivalence: it's not for nothing that the black and white juxtaposition of good and evil is associated with primitive fairy tales for undemanding and unintelligent children.
The bigger the proportions of what happened, the more varied the sides drawn into the conflict, the better developed the interrelations and motivations of these sides and the more numerous and varied their clashes with each other, and thus the more full-bodied the plot becomes. Even if you throw away the concept background, a well-developed and well-depicted conflict can deserve credit all on its own. To illustrate this, one could take Martina from the epic novel "A Song of Ice and Fire," or more relevant to gamers Suikoden II and III.
Mr.Nixon: I really want to give the atmosphere of incipient conflicts no worse than it was done in "A Song of Ice and Fire." The proportions of what has happened can be insignificant to the player (eg. If he decides to live as a hermit, pilgrim, or desert researcher, not getting involved with things) or, very serious to him (eg. if he interferes in the business of concrete factions and the motives of independent people/beings). Thus, independent of the player's actions, the conflicts should develop, but the player should have the ability to interfere in them and influence their development, and outcomes. Among a few of the factions in After Reset, I'd like to mention the United Governments, Stalkers, New Confederation, Black Sand etc.
Someone wrote: The concept background, nonetheless, is that which immediately brings the plot to a principally new level. What exactly is the game about? What is it concerned with? Does it express any ideas, thought up by its creators? What is it trying to communicate to the gamer?
It is precisely on this ground that almost all plot-oriented games allow failure. What is the game about? About revenge. About good versus evil, light versus dark. About rags to riches. And that only. The majority of games confine their theme to a straightforward fable, which has nothing really original about it. And that is very, very pitiable.
Here it is easy to imagine an objection: there's no reason to assign such advanced demands to gamers, we just make entertaining products, and not philosophic works. The answer to this is just as simple: first, we want to see videogames as a work of art, and not a shameful waste of time; second, there's nothing preventing the product from being entertaining and communicating some thoughts; and third, even these ideas don't have to be too profound on their own, or profess anything- it is enough that they give some food for thought.
And truly, there's nothing to call it but fear. The makers of AAA-games are afraid that the public won't accept deeper and more multifaceted stories, instead appealing only to the most primitive human emotions, not bringing any kind of light or food for though, nor elegant metaphors of day-to-day human problems. In fact, it is theme that separates the wheat from the chaff- that is, games which are not afraid to be called art become something more than a worthless consumer product, unfit for anything other than entertainment.
Mr.Nixon: I often get emails from players and representatives of publishers asking, "Is this a game about the apocalypse?" My answer is no. The atmosphere of the apocalypse is just a nice decoration. Right now, I don't particularly want to answer questions like "What is this game about? What thoughts and ideas does it communicate," because that would mean I would have to reveal maps, and details of the plot and other such things. I'd like to leave an element of pleasant surprise. But I can say that the theme touched on by After Reset, is very rare in videogames.
Someone wrote: The second problem with continuity, which I'd like to mention, is the problem of plot holes, contradictions, and illogical events in the story telling. Everything is fairly clear here, and defending the right of such problems to be, is just stupid in my opinion.
Plot holes, all the same, are akin to banal aspects which aren't fully explained, which many (not me) consider an important plot element, that go hand in hand with narrative: it is said that the more a game leaves to the player's imagination the better. In my mind, leaving something unsaid in an important issue is only worth doing when the story demands it, when it is important to underline the irrationality of the setting, when an open ending is used to lead to important questions. Similar situations, by the way, are more often the exception than the rule and I am inclined to demand that everything in a game have an explanation.
Mr.Nixon: Yes. I don't think you guys, nor I need another Lost. In the future, I'd like to make a list of questions from potential players, related to moral problems and on this basis try to bring them to life in the game. Personally, I also like the post-credit endings of Mass Effect 3 or Bioshock Infinity. If the developers have already decided linearly to kill the main character after a few sleepless nights, during which they fought with a player... if they've decided to kill him/us, then there's no reason to take away that clearness with open endings after the credits- otherwise, the mind simply cannot make sense of it. It is good to marketing types, but bad for the player's peace of mind.
SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF
Someone wrote: This point flows naturally from the last one. So that the user can fully feel a part of the game world, feel empathy in relation to the characters, and take the plot seriously, it is necessary that he believe in what is happening on the screen - even if multicolored bishonens are jumping from rooftop to rooftop on skyscrapers, and simultaneously growing wings. As a rule, a normal person has no trouble believing in any convention, in something unrealistic, to the point that the product applies its own internal logic in relation to this convention. The ability to abstract from the drive toward realism for normal perception of videogames is simply necessary - but unrealistic games should also have an internal logic. If the goal of the game is not the creation of a surreal atmosphere, the user should be informed of the rules and laws according to which this world lives, and all that happens in the game should stay within these confines.
A plot does not exist separately from the remaining game that makes it- or at least, should not exist this way. The unique features of the setting should have something to do with the other aspects of gameplay, and with the course of the story. In other words, if Spec Ops: The Line decides to reproach the player, then it should first give him a choice. If the plot tells you that ammunition is worth as much as gold, and desperate people have melted their silver jewelry into bullets, then a box with ten spare rounds should not be falling from each killed enemy. And of course, every genre has its gameplay conventions, but it's important to try to minimize them, and the rest, which are really necessary, should be intelligibly explained, so that players don't ask questions like "Why didn't they use Phoenix Dawn on Aerith?"
Mr.Nixon: Guys, I want you to take a look at the fact that, our concept art notwithstanding, you can't quickly find powerful armor, and a plasma cannon and go off to take everyone out. A large part of the game takes place at the technological level of Fallout 1 before energy weapons are discovered. With this, there is no cap- almost always realistic barter. Having a simple firearm and ammunition makes you practically a demi-god in this post-apocalyptic world. It's not for nothing that many role-play gamers know me as a hardcore Game Master.