Extra Credits: Competitive Storytelling

This week, we examine the difficult challenge of storytelling in a competitive game space.

Episode video is on YouTube

Show Notes:

Be sure to check out the Extra Credits Store.

Would you like James to come speak at your school or organization?

For info, contact us at: kate@extra-credits.net

Apologies for any inconvenience, a better approach to new episodes will be live as soon as possible.

Recent Comments:

  • Just curious, but what episode where they talking about when they mentioned talking about narrative in mmos?

  • I just made a blog post on Gamasutra about this and used the video as source material. while you can get more of the back story there, this is mainly the juicy bit.

    ---El Juicy Bit---

    The first idea I came up with was while I was playing Battlefield 1942. (Yeah, an idea I had while playing a game over 10 years ago). BF:1942 was the first in the franchise and the one that set the tone for large map, versus, FPS games to come. While every remembers that game for its great multiplayer with 32 vs 32 matches, an unheard scale in 2002, it did have a single player campaign mod. It was mainly the player on a team of bots vs another team of bots and followed one of the two major campaigns of WW2. Whether you won or lost, it didn't really matter as you would then move on to the next map, and if you were an Axis soldier and you won every battle you fought in, you still lost the war because that was how history played out and it was the source material, so you can't really change it.
    .
    As a, oh gosh, 12 year old gamer, I thought it was stupid and dumb and not worth the time to play. I bet thats how most people viewed it and just went on to the multiplayer. (Apparently DICE and EA thought the same way as we didn't see a single player campaign until Battlefield 2: Modern Combat, a full 3 years and 3 games later.) But, being a proactive kid and wanting to improve rather than remove the Campaign mode, I worked out an idea on how to make a story campaign in the framework of a Battlefield experience.

    The idea was to have a sort of Tug-of-War style campaign mode, where your army moves along a line of succession as you win (or lose) matches. The setting would have to be of a modern or futuristic timeframe as setting a battle in the past may lead to overuse and abuse of historic events. Basicly, a fictional plot where army A and army B square off and have to reach an objective that would defeat the enemy. So they square off at the start of the campaign, a neutral site where neither team has a defencive advantage due to fighting on homeland, nor are they at a disadvantage due to a lack of resources as you lose territory. Now, if Army A wins that battle, the two move into the direction of army B's nation, moving them ever closer to defeat. The exception is that army B is now fighting on home territory and has better defences while army A, now in possession of the neutral map gain more resources and can draw on more troops to attack with. Eventually, the game will try to push the two armies back to the neutral zone as the two forces fight it out.

    Now, this was an idea to bring a single-player campaign the kind of action and moments that a multiplayer match would bring, but I feel it could also work in the reverse. Having 2 factions of players compete for land and resources, all the while using each battle as a way to push the story deeper, almost like how a dialog tree would play out in a narrative. You may encounter a map several times in the course of a campaign, but the premise and narrative could change from whether your team just lost that piece of ground after so many attempts to take it or it is a highly disputed piece of territory that has changed hands multiple times.

    Mechanically, it could operate much the same as a traditional game of Battlefield, with each side having X number of respawn 'tickets' and teams have to conquer certain command points, or hold a specific point for an amount time, or just simply have a war of attrition. It doesn't even have to be in the grandioso FPS style, you could use this Tug-of-War campaign framework to put narrative into an RTS or a Turnbase-Tactical, or some other combative setting. While it may not work with all game types or settings or player-base, it could lead to some interesting ways developers deliver narratives into a competitive multiplayer games.

  • Would the 1st Dawn of War 2 single player campaign counts as Competitive Storytelling?
    The game reuses the same maps but the story progresses as you go through the campaign; exactly the same that I feel most is trying to do with Multiplayer maps.

  • I think the world of professional sports offer an interesting possibility. You see narratives develop over the course of a season. Teams that do better than expected, teams that do worse than expected, hotshot young rookies revolutionizing the game, gritty veterans willing their teams to wins in search of a title. It's not even just professional sports. I still think of the 4 years I played football in high school as 4 distinct stories... each a game a chapter in that story.

    In both sports and competitive video games, everything is broken down into separate instances - games, matches, sessions, whatever you call them. The difference is the consistency across these instances. In sports, you have the same team mates game to game... it changes a bit over the years, sure, but it remains fairly consistent. In video games you rarely play with the same people twice.

    Obviously there are clans and guilds and teams and what not in most games. But rarely is this greatly fostered by developers. There is little incentive to form a team or join one. Even when you do, it is often an uncoordinated mess that never actually competes against other clans. And there is very little structure to compete in as well. I think Wargaming has taken a good step towards addressing this with their Clan Wars. It's the developer themselves creating a real impetus to join a team and get good with them. The only draw back is the level of competition is simply not open to many players. There needs to be a system of tiers or divisions or something, similar to what is done in League of Legends. The best players play in the highest leagues. But there should still be something in place for the less skilled players to enjoy decent competition. Minor leagues, if you will.

    When you never play with the same people, there's limited interaction, and no story development. Story lines are driven off of interactions between people. When you're playing along side the same people every day, and you play against other consistent teams on a regular basis, you can develop stories on the interactions between all the players. All those epic gaming moments that everyone has had... they don't just fade instantly to memory... it will get talked about by the players on your team and around your league. It will transform these one off moments into chapters of a larger story that will tell itself.

  • Good day. This video has sparked a lot of thoughts, so please bare with me. I'll try not to get carried away.

    1: Check out Magination. This is a TCG (and they have some videogames) that grew the storyline and came out with new editions based off how battles went in the tournaments. It was absolutely a great and engaging way to deliver an ongoing story where the players (at least a selection of them) mattered. Worth the research.

    2: You're absolutely right about the rivalry thing causing different game behaviour, and if you have contact with the people at Riot they can probably give you greater insight in it.
    There are two champions, Voliybear (who I disliked) and Zilean (Who I often played.) One day, as Zilean I was against Volibear, and something peculiar happened. We each got an icon complaining about the other champion.
    We definitely tried much harder to kill each other than we otherwise would have... But not to the exclusion of teamwork. It may work better than you expect.
    ... There's probably more to it, but I'm only a casual LoL player and don't know much lore or game history.

    3: Many years ago, I designed some tactical card game. Think FFT and a TCG designed to work together. At the early stage, before the mechanics were anything more than rock paper nuke (balance joke), I realized something. A story is great. All TCGs have one, and they're usually good.
    But... They never leave you feeling like you're part of it. Unless you're in a Magination tournament maybe. To get around this, I designed my story to be very loose. It's implied that you're a divine being creating mini worlds and avatars to battle. Basically, the story is you're playing a game.
    League seems to approach it in a similar way. They call you a summoner, make it explicit that you are not the champion- That you simply control it. The champions all have their own lives and motives.
    It's a copout really, but if you're clever enough, it might be a good starting point to figuring out how to really deliver competitive story. Or at least giving the feeling of a story.

    4: I'm sure you'll get many people saying "No one really cares. We don't play those games for story, we play them for our own sense of accomplishment." Ignore them.
    It's not that they're wrong, they just don't realize how real, and how far-reaching the desire for a persistent story is. The story doesn't even need a written narrative... Much like the echoes of an old battle example, it's often expressed as a desire for a persistent world.
    If you want to do more research into that, check out Shadowbane(RIP to one of the best MMO's ever made), and the much newer DayZ clone, Rust.

    So that's it. Thanks for all the videos, and thanks to the other posters for giving more thoughts to chew on.

Join The Discussion: