Hello there, gentlemen (and ladies who may or may not read this.)
Ross allowed me to bless this fine blog of his with my own thoughts since we tend to agree and share similar thoughts on many matters we discuss (while making fun of each other no less.) We've known each other since an encounter on a community that will remain unnamed since I'm sure Ross would blow an anus out if I mentioned it in his sanctuary of thoughts. Anyways, I'm someone who thinks in an esoteric manner so expect my posts to digress off the main topic at times to detail something else that may or may not be relevant. JUST BEAR WITH IT, it's okay, you'll get used to it. There, with that out of the way let's talk games, more importantly: Shooting or Storytelling?
Recently I played a couple modifications for Half-Life 2 (Source Engine) called Dear Esther and Korsakovia. Both were very interesting in the sense that combat or straight forward objectives were not the emphasis of the games content but rather exploration and storytelling. The former takes place on a deserted island with a man narrating various aspects as you explored the areas, leaving a somewhat dynamic and not-so-linear gameplay aspect to it. The latter takes place in a psychiatric ward as you experience it through an insane man's perspective, the environment disturbing and demented by his own mind's perception of it. Korsakovia has a little bit of combat but it's not an intense focus on it, more an afterthought or simple roadblock you need to get over to continune in the developing story. Dear Esther has no combat what so ever and focuses more on you exploring the environment you've been placed. The music scores for both are very fitting and well done as well as the voice acting and I urge anyone who hasn't played them yet to go look them up, simply search for them at www.moddb.com.
Now before I get too far and lose my train of thought here, these games sparked a lot of thoughts in my mind. I've found a lot of games nowadays to be rather shallow or just simply undeveloped enough in their stories regardless of how expansive they are. Either being simple rehashes of past stories, a developer's take on another story or idea, nothing that truly screams of originality. The gaming industry is starting to develop a syndrome similar to Hollywood: Remakes and Spin-Offs. Halo is a prominent series so we'll use that as an example, it was a trilogy. The story started in the first game, built up over the second, and reached its conclusion in the third. This is all fine and dandy, but what happens afterwards? Halo Wars and Halo:ODST, we've seen the trailers perhaps even played the game, but what are they? Spin-offs of the original idea. Say what you want about the Halo series, that you love it or think it's overrated, but my point still stands.
I have no problem with making follow-ups or sequels to a game, sometimes you need to because you couldn't fit everything into the first game, but in most cases it's unwarranted and sequels tend to be the death of a game. This isn't always the case, games like Half-Life got better with their sequels, but largely because they were not a full continuation of the last game but rather an advancement on the plot, the general timeline having advanced approximately 20 years since the events of Half-Life 1 and the events of Half-Life 2. Half-Life 1 and Half-Life 2 have the same general background; theoretical physicist turned commando Gordon Freeman has to fight off the nasty aliens, but the reasons vary between the two slightly. The former being the start of it, the second being a sort of aftermath that you're brought out of stasis to alter. You go from claustrophic hallways of some secret government laboratory to this dystopian city and the areas surrounding it. Half-Life is still one of the best games on the market nowadays for its story and gameplay that relies on problem solving and combat rather than just cutting through hordes of scripted AI enemies.
I've ventured out onto a tangent again, as I stated my trains of thought are esoteric so I'll swing this back around.
My original thought was, what's more important in a game? Storytelling or Action? The answer to me is both are very important, the story elaborates on your character's motivation for their actions while the action gives players something to do instead of playing an interactive DVD movie. The problem is nowadays, the stories tend to be subpar and just enough to rationalize your character's homicidal rampage and focus more on creating cool tricks and features to make it easier (or harder in some cases) to get through your goal of badguy genocide. RPGs tend to have better stories but the combat engines always suffer in most cases due to clunkiness or desire to make it interesting but only if you have X amount of points in skill Y to get result Z. Shooter's tend to have the most exciting combat but the stories are typically shallow and just enough to make it seem less like MAIM! KILL! BURN! Some companies get close to hitting this virtual nirvana by creating a story I can actually find myself getting into while giving me enough interesting bits to play around with to suit a certain style of play I find enjoyable with the situation. I- well, I'll continue in another post since something just came up and Ross doesn't want me making too huge a wall of text and scare you guys off (what a weenie.)