Extra Credits: More Than Exposition

This week, we discuss some basic story principles as they apply to games.

Show Notes:

Sorry, no link for the outro music available today. :(

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

Recent Comments:

  • Interesting episode, as always. But one element I did miss, which may possibly be mentioned in the next episode, is the use of books in-game.
    They solve part of the exposition problems by making it optional. Books can give the player details that are not necessary but nice to know, which are not spoken by the characters.

    Also, it is one way to ease a problem mentioned in this episode: in contrast to characters, it is perfectly fine for books to speak about things everyone in the world already knows.
    All you need is a clear title for the book and some way to draw the players attention to it, without requiring the player to read through it. Most players will pick it up and read through it anyway, to find out more about the world they're playing in.

  • Another good way to some exposition is using items description to do it - Dark Souls, Might and Magic 7-9, Betrayal at Antara did that too.

    There is another way, which I have not see much used in games, but in one anime - Legend of the Galactic Heroes: where when they need to do some info dump they show the characters doing some research while travelling to some relevant place or looking at secret documents and in both cases making comments about what they are seeing or reading.

  • Who's to say a fairly deep game doesn't need more cutscenes than it needs gameplay?

    If the cutscenes are more important to the story and the world than a few of your battles, maybe you should cut the optional parts (battles) for the necessary parts (cutscenes).

  • The point in this episode which struck me hardest is that final one about player/audience interpretation, mainly becuase some of the best games/books I've ever played/read have gone with this approach to universe building, i.e. they haven't bothered to really go into massive detail they've just explained the most core concepts and let the players/readers figure out the rest.

    Unfortuanately, I really can't think of all that many recent examples (hence why I'm even bothering mentioning books), beyond things like the Gamebyro Fallouts (short introductory cutscene, then figure everything else out as you go along) and even they rely heavily on characters explaining to the protagonist why these peoples/tribes are at each others throats.

    So, of all the examples I can think of, the best (and easiest on the eye today) is the space-sim FreeLancer from way back in 2003. The opening cinematic is long, awesome, and completely irrelevant beyond fulfilling the neccessary beats of making it be a sequel to StarLancer, explaing why the only nationalities in evidence are British, American, German, Spanish and Japanese, and why we're off in some distant part of the galaxy rather than somewhere near Earth.

    Then of course, the opening cutscene and first mission explains basically nothing, showing only that there's a reason the protagonist is in this particular corner of space with a pretty crappy spaceship and there's this bunch of terrorists running about called The Order. Then it pretty much just kicks you out into the universe, albeit still without any clue how the universe works or fits together.

    All of that info is uncovered either directly or indirectly throughout the course of the story (for example, the 80 years war is mentioned only once by an actual character and even then only in passing, the main bit of expositon about that is flying through a massive debris field formed by the wreckage of various battles of that war) or is discovered by the player in the course of the player exploring and wanting to know perhaps just that little bit more about the space station in the middle of nowhere that they've just found.

    For the book readers amongst us, a more extreme example can be found in the Vatta's War series by Elizabeth Moon. Those books tell us the most fundamental core concepts (the power of ISC, the Vatta family have a big shipping line, Slotter Key's merchants are powerful but on the whole not fabulously well liked), and the rest is just there. It may never be mentioned, it may never be explained. But there are enough throw-away mentions to make the universe feel like it works, and feel like it's huge, expanisve and full of people.

    tl;dr, Brilliant examples of universe/world building by audience interpretation can be found in the game FreeLancer, and the Vatta's War book series

    Who's to say a fairly deep game doesn't need more cutscenes than it needs gameplay?

    If the cutscenes are more important to the story and the world than a few of your battles, maybe you should cut the optional parts (battles) for the necessary parts (cutscenes).

    If that is the case then you should be making a film or a TV show (or writing a book) rather than making a game.

    Cutscenes are inherently non-interactive. Gaming is an interactive medium.

    Therefore, if you're cutting gameplay in favour of cutscenes, you're working in the wrong medium.

  • When I think of exposition, I think of that one running game from the Nostalgia Critic where he and Caspter the Friendly Ghost (don't ask) sing the "exposition song", sung to the tune of Beethoven's Ode to Joy:

    "Ex-po-si-tion, ex-po-si-tion,
    rush it out, A-S-A-P!"

    I REALLY find it annoying, but I also find it very telling of how certain stories get told, It CAN get a bit annoying if it's not done right and... I guess it's not done right a lot, resulting in a lot of "As you know" monologues.

    I think some stories get around it by having an outsider character there, a sort of audience surrogate as part of the story, thus necessitating the need for explanations. I think that method can work, though I suppose it can still be tedious...

    When he said "Galactic Federation" I immediately thought of the Star Wars prequels, and how boring those were for adding all that unnecessary political BS, as well as making this overly complex to the point of almost sounding comical for trying to sound so smart and complex. In fact, the comparison of using simply a phrase is something the original Star Wars did to convey something that wasn't AS important, like how Obi-Wan Kenobi talked about Luke's father and the Clone Wars. Really, what he said was all we really needed to know about what happened, and the prequels kind of ruined that by... well, just messing it up. I guess what George Lucas had in mind was vastly different from what many people had in mind... Oh well.

Join The Discussion: