Much to my surprise, my articles on game design mistakes made it onto last week’s Games for Windows Podcast. I’m a regular listener, so it was cool to hear them talking about this blog. They discussed the first two points and the last, which was the one about stories. Just to be clear, I am not anti-story. I simply believe that designers should acknowledge that including a fixed story in a game comes at a cost to other potential features. Often, this trade-off makes sense – for example, RPG and adventure games would be hard to imagine without stories. However, sometimes games which could have open-ended goals (such as strategy games) limit their replayability by shoehorning in an unnecessary story.
Oh, and they mentioned that my blog is hard to read because the font is too small. Good point. I really need to actually figure out how to use Movable Type soon…
Your blog is not hard to read! Granted, I read it through my sage, so it is displayed with large, friendly letters. But even if I don’t, I can always press ctrl and scroll my mouse-weel to get bigger text!
I think your blog is great. Keep it up!
Call me silly, but I loved the story in Alpha Centauri. For a lot of games, I agree with you, but I think that was proof that a story can be very much worthwhile, even for something like a TBS.
Alpha Centauri didn’t really have a story so much as a setting, a backstory at most. And it worked primarily because the factions were all familiar archetypes. There wasn’t any campaign story to follow in any meaningful sense, beyond the recurring reminders that the planet was out to kill everyone.
I think Alpha Centauri is a really interesting case because, even though its a strategy game, the story elements clearly help give that game its unique flavor. I believe a repetitive, overarching story would have been a mistake for Civ – it would get pretty old by your tenth time through – but it seems to work for SMAC, where you start as an alien in your environment. However, over time, I have come to regard SMAC as more of a RPG than a strategy game. There are a ton of gameplay choices, which makes playing the game a lot more like choosing a “style” than a “strategy”, especially since the AI is somewhat hopeless at dealing with all the advanced options. At any rate, I think they picked an interesting middle ground, one which made good use of story elements.
Soren, I believe you know that your articles are also discussed on the latest Polycast episode (and the next one) 🙂
Speaking about SMAC… doesn’t Brian have a degree in philosophy? I don’t think the game is a RPG, though it certainly has those elements. A poor AI doesn’t mean that it’s no longer a strategy game, after all. You could play with a “style” instead of a “strategy” just because you could beat the AI pretty much whatever you did.
I think SMAC is unique among strategy games in its use of a story. It has an overarching story that can also be ignored completely (turn off the Interludes and forget about it), but at the same time is fairly deep if you look at it carefully. One of the best storytelling aspects there is having tech quotes by the in-game leaders, it really gives you a perspective on their personality. Some quotes and story points from SMAC are actually good sci-fi and raise interesting moral or philosophical points.