Isn’t That Spatial? Every video game has certain benefits and constraints in the way it represents space. Interaction fiction, arcade titles, 2D side-scrollers, isometric RPGs, and first person shooters all have advantages and disadvantages to how they deal with space–some technical in nature, some design-based. This month’s topic invites you to explore the ways games have represented the spatial nature of their storyworlds and what this does for the audience experience. Is it possible to ignore the constancy of spatial relationships in a graphical game? What would such a game look like? Are there ways of representing spatial relationships that we haven’t explored? Do you have ideas for games that could intentionally twist the player’s perception of space, or do you want to write about a game that already has?

Curse that Corvus for his open ended topics forcing the gears in my brain to turn and turn. For this month it’s about the relationship of space in the world and its effect on storytelling. For this entry I’m splitting it into two parts, first I’m looking at what could be called a 1d title that still managed to pull the player into the story. Next I jump forward to an under use plot device of storytelling in games that I would like to see more of.

Scenic Storytelling: Most of you should know that when it comes down to it, I’ll take excellent gameplay and storytelling over a million dollar art budget any day and this title is an excellent example of the first two. King of Dragon Pass or as I like to call it “AAR heaven” was a unique title that came out awhile ago. The game is in essence a strategy title mixed with choose your own adventure books of yesteryear. You mission is to lead a clan to dominance in a valley by overseeing the tribe with your council. The entire game is nothing but still shots of your village and of important story elements which I’ll get to next.

The game is split into seasons which dictate your options as each season goes by an event will pop up and asking you to decide the outcome. What makes things interesting is that it’s never just a yes/no choice; with each choice affecting things from that point on gives the game a lot of replayability. What makes the game so endearing is that it is one big choose your own adventure, from the start to the end the player dictates how everything plays out. This is one of those games that really lend itself to AARs (After Action Reports) as one simple choice will lead each player somewhere else. I’ve always loved the choose your own adventure books growing up and I wish that we could see more games use that style of narrative. They allow the player to have a deeper role in the story and can be done without breaking the budget on art.

“Time and space:” Moving onto part 2, there have been many, many plot devices and themes used in game story telling. One that I’m partial to is the use of time travel or time manipulation. Now before I get started, Braid is not an example of what I’m looking for. Braid used time manipulation as the center of its gameplay, but it had very little bearing on the story as a whole. Chrono Trigger comes to mind as the first great example of time manipulation but I would like to see something more open ended. Imagine a game where you have control of the events and even the people that will make up the main situation of the game. Changing them around will drastically change the game and story providing the player with numerous options on how to affect everything.

Looking at the game ideas I’ve came up with over the past, very few of them use this style which is why I believe we don’t see a lot of games like this, because it is hard as hell to design something using time mechanics effectively. The challenge is balancing out the over powered imbalance feature of controlling time and still make a compelling game. Prince of Persia provided a great use of being able to rewind time as both an interesting and balanced mechanic. I think my interest for time travel and time alteration grew from watching Back to the Future too many times growing up, we’ve seen many games use some form of time control as a game mechanic. However I’ve yet to see it use effectively in the story of a game. I guess without being too much of a pun, time will tell if we’ll see a game that takes advantage of it.


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“Poignant pixels and the 5th dimension of storytelling”

  • Really enjoyed this post Josh. I think the idea of “scenic” storytelling is fantastic – KoDP is a perfect example of how a unique narrative can emerge from really simple choices. Betrayal at Krondor also comes to mind – as you move through the Northern territories of the game your opportunities for action really change as the scenery changes… the narrative follows a linear arc yet is punctuated by the choices the player makes in chance meetings with NPCs. As you proceed south, the cultures of the NPCs you meet changes and the narrative transforms along that arc accordingly.

    I can't think of too many other games that play with Time as a narrative device. It's surprising, since “flashbacks” (for instance) are a time-tested literary device… you'd think they'd be used more often in games. Scratch that: LucasArts' “Day of the Tentacle” has to be one of the most imaginative, and hilarious, ways of playing with time and narrative.

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