When Story and Game Collide

…It’s a messy thing.  I’ve been hearing from my husband a lot “focus on the story first, that’s your strength,” when I talk to him about game design.  It’s a true enough statement; I’m not exactly Nolan Bushnell or Kim Swift.  I’m a writer, like it or not (depends on the day).  But the issue of “how much story do I make sure is in there?” has become more and more prevalent to me in the past couple months:  1)because of GW2 and 2) (more so) in LOTRO.  And it’s made me ponder the question a lot, therefore.

GW2 has been fairly consistently going with their Living World stuff, and for the most part I like it.  I like the opportunities it provides me for characterization, for one thing; my hunter got the chance – doesn’t matter that she failed miserably with the rest of her server – to go after a giant annoying dragon last month.  The fact that she failed also helps with that, to tell the truth.  Before that, my loopy human got to fight for her kingdom, and then Yorggi the Great got to fight champions for the sake of getting to ride in a balloon (which I’d have liked even better if you actually got to see the balloon ride, but never mind).  Anyway, I think they’re doing well with this.  The Living World thing is letting the players for the most part choose what stories they want for their characters; they could do LW stuff, they could do WvW stuff, they could do their Character Story that the game has for them.  There’s a lot of choices.

What do you GW2 players prefer when you play the game? Anything I’ve listed, or do you do something else with it?

Then there’s LOTRO.  I’ve loved that game since I started it, a couple years back.  They unlike GW2 start out with a novel-inspired story, so yeah in a way I guess you could call it a form of fanfic.  The game follows fairly closely to the books (NOT the movies, for which I and a ton of people are grateful).  Buuut, I think it starts losing something, ironically around the same time in the original story, when the Fellowship breaks up.   No, I don’t mind that ok, suddenly you are either on one side of Moria or you’re on the other.  I don’t even mind, from a storytelling point of view, the dreadful grinds that are in Great River and Dunland just to get enough rep for a Milestone.  What I do mind is the solo-only quests that start appearing in the lower end of Great River and continue on to Rohan.  They’re supposedly meant for your character, to build his or her story within the world.  Ok… well you have a choice in Great River whether or not to do that business (and personally, I think it also helps your character’s characterization whether or not he or she does them).  In Rohan, though, there IS no choice.

In another game that would be a bottleneck.  Everyone has to go through Rohan, just like everyone must agonize through Moria (though the latter is less difficult nowadays).  Another kinmate described it to me yesterday as “you get dragged kicking and screaming into the linear storyline of Rohan”.  Unfortunately that’s true.  Oh, it follows the story well enough:  they’ve expanded on the things you just sort of hear about in the books, about how Rohan’s people are terrorized by roaming bands of orcs, bandits, and whatnot, about awful things attacking this or that town as town by town gets pretty well decimated, and their thanes learn one by one that something is very wrong with the King of Rohan. Ok I get that.  I’m a lover of Tolkien, so are most people who play the game.  However, in this area, I think the way it’s shown to the player is really not a good one.  You HAVE to do all the quests, one by one, in one town, to be able to quest in the next one.  I finally found a town last night (Floodwend) where there were 4 optional quests.  That’s the first time ever I’ve found that in East Rohan.  And when I’d finished with Floodwend I actually got a choice to go one way or another.  I was actually kind of excited about that.

What do you think, players of LOTRO?  I know there are some who like the questlines to a point, and others who squabble about whether Mounted Combat is fabulous or the worst thing in the world.  I’d like to know your perspective.

Choices are good.  Players like choices.  I’ve noticed that over time:  GW2 players, for instance, were kind of excited a couple days ago when new choices for hairstyles and looks came out for their characters.  LOTRO players are constantly looking for new garb for their characters.  I know one guy who spent a huge amount of in-game money at the auction house buying just the right armor and dying it the right shade of red to wear as a cosmetic – on his loremaster.  Because he likes it,  and more power to him, I say!  Likewise, players like to be able to choose when they’re questing.  When I’ve been in Dunland, I remember seeing a lot of complaints about the “enforced questlines” there, even though those are at least broken up to some degree.  Now that I’ve two characters in East Rohan, though, I’m seeing a lot more of it, and can’t but agree.  So I’m taking careful notes – waiting with interest to see what folks will say in a month when they finally see Helms’ Deep (dunno if I’ll have anyone there by that point, so I haven’t gotten it yet). But I’m taking notes; even as I gripe and moan personally as a player about how I hate the way the system, I’m taking notes as a designer about what it is that I hate, seeing what others think, and so on.

My own games start with written stories, after all.  I realized with the second try at making one that I have to have it that way.  So, now I start with a story.  “Nimka’s Menace” is already a tale, just one I need to refine.  But at the same time, I need to be sure and make it entertaining and playable enough so that the tale does NOT interfere with the gameplay, does not frustrate a player too much.  I don’t want them to have to get into some epic battle with Spaud that they might not need/want to do.  A person could say, “If the game is interesting enough, people will still want to play it, no matter what.”  This might be true in some sense:  people left in droves after Mists of Pandaria came out for WoW.  A lot of their complaints actually were that it wasn’t interesting.  However, at the same time, I don’t want to do that for my stuff.  I know you cannot please everybody, but there’s a difference between “not pleasing everybody” and “getting a ton of people seriously aggravated.”  Personally, I think most LOTRO players still play the game because they love the story itself, and even with its current flaws, it is still the best game made based on that story.  In the end THAT’S what I want, just hopefully without too many flaws.

What do you think?  Story or game, which is more important to you, and why?

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2 Responses to When Story and Game Collide

  1. tsuhelm says:

    I end up on the GAME side, don’t get me wrong but the story in LOTRO is ‘known’ already, so there is no real surprise waiting to happen. What I do like is when your GAME interacts (normally in passing and quite passively..) with the LOTR main players – I have approached Gandalf with a character just to take a screenshot! It adds another dimension to the game, its own LORE, depth. You can explore the game and immerse yourself as much as you want, sink yourself deeply into the story or skim the surface; hardcore RP up to Raid/MVP fanatics.

    I am a slow player and have yet to get to End Game so not sure in which camp I will eventually fall, presently swimming close to the surface I imagine.

    LOTRO is an ‘old’ MMO and I think it still shines due it’s community and its LOTR foundation. Some of it’s mechanics and programming are problematic, the ‘FLAWS’ you mention, but I would say it is a good GAME. I still find it FUN to play which is essential with all games…

    Lets hope they can iron out some FLAWS before they introduce any more…

  2. cakeboxfox says:

    I’ve not played LOTRO, but I have played GW2. What a lot of my guild are struggling with is stringing all the living story pieces together. Sure they write short stories and add extra bits on their social media streams, but if you’re solely in game you don’t get to understand why the story is arcing the way it is- especially if you’ve never finished the personal story. I want to know more, but at the same time I feel that if I have to go out of game, then the story is not that important to the game. Which is sad, as you kind of lose some of the world.
    For those without alts, I think it tends towards just being an achievement point grind. People forget that the living story is a choice. You don’t have to do it, if it doesn’t interest you.

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