If you look very closely, you might notice a certain lack of Dire Hamsters around the mailbag this week. I figured the boy needed a vacation and I needed someone new to abuse for a few hours, so allow me to introduce the latest sidekick's introduction!
Phoenix: Hello, I'm Phoenix. Yes, the one and only bird of fire. Not to be confused with some crazy guy who *THINKS* he's the bird of fire, confusing people is ConfusedUs's job. Um, right. Anyway, I'm the overly talkative coder and head modeler from Wirehead Studios who works on the Generations Arena mod. You might have played this mod, if not I'll need your address so I can send Visor out to pummel you. Today I'm here to help out with the mailbag and torture... er, give good advice to all you inquisitive mammals out there.
a madman: I wasn't aware that there was any rivalry over the "bird of fire" title. So, any plans for self-immolation in the immediate future or shall we get on with the show?
Phoenix: That's not planned for another 11 years, so let's get it on!
The inevitable question of the week
Apparently I struck some kind of nerve with the question of two weeks ago - namely "How important is plot to a game?" Pretty good feedback, overall.
From: Matthew 'Gleeb' Garnett-Frizelle
Subject: How important is story to a game?
You asked: How important is story to a game?
I say: Very.
Sure, you could blast through a few thousand sons o bitches, just so you can find a key or two to open a door and kill a few more, but Ill gladly bet youd wonder why. This question doesnt just stick to FPS, but most modern games (retro-games being exempt because of the cool factor no matter what year it is). Yeah, Lara may have the most perved over tits on the blob we call Earth, but without a story, a reason to finish the game, the player will not want to continue. Thats all a story is, a reason to continue playing, like and Black and Whites learning AI, Tony Hawks skate parks, NWNs magic. People say Quake 2 was a crap game, but I will say this. It has always been a pleasure to play, because the story leads you on in such a provocative and interesting way, that you want to keep playing purely to see what happens next.
Story: Its whats for breakfast
Phoenix: I'll never understand the whole obsession with mammary glands, but I'll try to hold back on the the birdish comments in that department... You know I keep hearing people say they've heard that Quake 2 was crap game, but I've never had anyone come out and admit to saying it. The funny thing about story is that it's only in the last decade or so that story has come into the picture. Most readers might be a tad young to remember this, but the original video games had as much story as the last Batman movie. Atari 2600 anyone? Yet they sold like mad when they first came out. The games were simple, and fun. Look at the most successful games around. Doom? Quake 1? What kind of story was there besides open door, shoot monsters, next level? Those sold because gameplay came first, not story. Let's face it, if a game has a great story but the gameplay stinks, who's going to want to play it?
a madman: One of these days I'd like to know why Gleeb's letters, and only his letters, always have strange non-ascii characters in them instead of apostrophes. Thus, I'm leaving them as-is so everyone else can see how annoying it is. But speaking of the Atari 2600, I seem to remember a single game for it that actually did have a story... "E.T. the Extraterrestrial." For those of you out there that don't cringe at the mention of the name, I feel I should mention that it was the only game so terrible that millions of unsold cartridges were buried in a landfill. Now, I'm not saying these things are necessarily related, but...
Phoenix: I think I'll stick with "Missile Command", thanks...
a madman: I figured "Phoenix" would be more your speed. But back to the letter, is it just me or is he contradicting himself quite a bit here? Perhaps it's just his mention of "plot" and "Tony Hawk: Pro Skater" in the same paragraph that's throwing me. There are plenty of reasons to want to finish a game, and story is just one of them - as he seems to be pointing out for us.
Phoenix: There's also lots of reasons to bury games in landfills, and no shortage of all of the above. One reason I detest sports-based games is they have no plot, no story, the gameplay is an attempt at realism (don't get me started!) and there's nothing to shoot! As for the old "Phoenix" game, that's kind of akin to virtual suicide isn't it? Somehow that concept seems vaguely familiar...
Subject: Question of the week
Now to start off you have some extremes here. On the one hand you've got games where the story doesn't matter and even if it was a really good one, it's really not going to affect how fun the game is. Case in point: fighting games. I mean sure, Virtua Fighter (along with all the others) might have a premise/story that continues with each game in the series, but really all the fun boils down to Aoi dislocating Lau's shoulder or Kage kicking Jacky in the face. On the other hand, you have story dependent games like most RPGs. There had damn well better be a good story 'cause I'm sure as hell not playing it for endless random encounters and tedious leveling.
The real gray area, though, is for games where there's generally a premise for the game but not much otherwise. My case for this one is MechCommander 2. This was a really cool game and honestly, I would have still enjoyed it regardless of if there was any story at all. All I need to know is my objectives. Who cares about why the drop ships have to be destroyed or the importance of those industrial complexes. Nevertheless, there were nice cinematic briefings for each mission and cutscenes for each major segment. Even though they had no impact whatsoever on how I carried out each mission, the little twists and turns the story took during the cutscenes and the occaisional mid-mission change of objectives really kept things alive and made me feel "I'm a mercenary helping to liberate this planet." rather than the ho-hum "I'm ordering around some big robots."
So, long story short, even if a story isn't critical to the success of your game, I think it can still be worth going the extra mile. It might not be able to make a bad game good, but it can definately make a good game better.
a madman: So... Captain Fresh, my ancient nemesis... we meet again. But this time, the advantage is mine.
Phoenix: I feel a great disturbance in the ... wait, what's this "ancient nemesis" stuff? I thought I was the only ancient one around here!
a madman: Well, you have to admit that "recent nemesis" just doesn't have the same ring to it.
So... anyway... *clears his throat*
As much as I might hate to admit it, I find myself agreeing with the Cap'n here. I think of story as more of the icing on the cake. It improves a good game, but no amount of plot is going to bail out a a ValuSoft (corporate motto: "We couldn't afford to buy an 'e.'") game. For some games, it's even a burden. Compare "Dark Conspiracy" to Tony Hawk and you'll see what I mean.
Phoenix: *Scratches his head* Can't say I've had the misfortune to play either of those, but I would agree that the best story in the world is no good for an abominable game. On the other hand when you have great gameplay and a gripping story it's amazing. Wing Commander IV stands out as one of my favorites because everything meshed just right. Gameplay, story, cinematics, and graphics were all fantastic, plus you had some kick-ass hardware later in the game just waiting to be tried out on something.
a madman: It it just me or have we yet to mention Quake in this letter - in this, the PlanetQuake mailbag?
So... let's put it simply. You're probably here, reading this mailbag, because you like the Quake series. Saying that plot is necessary for you to enjoy a game is thus similar to a fish saying that nuclear power is necessary for proper seabed maintenance. You may think so, but the evidence is stacked against you. Shall we move on, then, before I start ranting about roleplaying games?
Phoenix: *Rolls a natural 20* Critical hit! My Doom Warrior slayeth thy Slipgater with his Quadded Combat Shotgun!
a madman: Well, I think that's about as random of an encounter as you can possibly get...
Subject: Story? Whats a story?
Story doesnt make for a fun game. Multiplyaer does. Hell I played DX
for its multiplayer, let alone quake... Also bring back the spam of the
week. I like spam.
Phoenix: First thing I notice in this kind of letter is the spelling. Just what is a "Multiplyaer" game anyway? Toolbox Arena? Toilet-Paper Arena? God invented spellcheck for a reason, use it man!
a madman: Now, now. Don't be too harsh to this person. Their poor spelling is obviously the symptom of a much deeper problem - namely, cluelessness.
Personally, I find multiplayer more of an occasional diversion between single-player games than vice versa. This may be related to lack of broadband in my area, but it's also caused largely by the fact that other people suck. I'm not talking about that in a "suck at the game" kind of way, which can be fixed, but more in the "knock their team's flag carrier into the void and then spam 'i 0wn3ed J00!!!!1' twenty times" sense. See also my stance on FFA vs teamplay.
Phoenix: Or the 50 ping llama who shoots you 15 times with the railgun when you're frozen to the floor with CONNECTION INTERRUPTED plastered to your screen and a chat bubble over your head, saying over and over "I'm lagged, stop shooting me you !@#!@ idiot". Then he spams the whole level with the BFG on the next map and calls you nasty names when you grab the quad and hit him once with a rocket. Happened the other day. But back to the letter, if multiplayer made the game, how come we don't see multiplayer Solitaire? Or multiplayer Minesweeper? Hmm? Multiplayer doesn't make a sorry game better any more than a story does. Did we all not have to play with ourselves before learning how to play with others? I wonder what Nuffer did to stay entertained before Multiplayer existed. Then again, maybe I don't want to know.
a madman: Well, I wouldn't mind trying multiplayer Nethack. Warren Spector would roll over in his grave if he heard that you bought Deus Ex for the multiplayer... if he were dead, anyway. As for the spam of the week, I'm not sure if I can ever top this one. I'm not sure if I should even bother trying.
Now, a multiplayer version of the PQ Mailbag, on the other hand... that might work! Somehow, though, I don't think "MMOPQM" would ever catch on as an acronym.
Phoenix: Multiplayer mailbag? This is really more of a one-sided team deathmatch with Godmode on. On that note, I propose that we flush this one and move on. Shall we?
From: Perk Hazlegrove
Subject: story in a game?
I think that there are actually two different answers to the question. It just depends on the type of game. In an FPS story doesn't mean a damn thing, just so long as you get to run around and blast things to bloody bits. I hold up our favorite game for an example: Quake 3 Arena. No story whatsoever, and people love it. I certainly do. (on second thought, it does have a story; run around and blast things to bloody bits) But then again, if an FPS does have a story, it certainly wont hurt things. HALO for example (yes i know its for the XBOX) is one of the best stories ive seen for an FPS. And yes i know thats not saying much at all, but it IS one of the coolest FPSs that I've played. On the other hand though, for RPG's and war sims, story is ALL its about, and if a game has a crappy story, its a crappy game. So ot really just depends on the game you're playing.
Thats all for now folks
Joseph 'Frag Bait' Hazlegrove
a madman: Nothing like taking the comfortable, proper, and quite frankly boring middle ground. I'd prefer letters that were blatantly wrong but stuck to their guns than this wishy-washy hedging of bets. What are we supposed to say to this one? He left us with nothing!
Phoenix: Except some very good ranting points. I for one hate it when people use plurals to "include" you in their little group. Even though I'm working on a mod for it, Quake 3 is NOT my favorite game. DOOM is. Not everyone loves Quake 3, either. I didn't like Quake 3 at all when I first played the demo and didn't even BUY Quake 3 until I was approached to work on Generations. I was still hooked on Quake 2 at the time.
*Dodges lots of airborne vegetables*
As far as running around and blasting things, I've played FPS games that suck rotten eggs. Ever play Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold? And don't tell me that every FPS game lacks a story. Ever heard of Half-Life? Elite Force? Both had excellent story lines as far as FPS games are concerned.
a madman: "Excellent storylines as far as FPS games are concerned." It seems we hear that line quite a bit. I'm curious - why are FPSes held to a lower standard? If I read the plot of Half-Life on the back cover of a book I'd roll my eyes and leave the pulp sci-fi section. Joe, Perk, or whatever the hell this guy's name is uses that phrase for Halo, too. Why is it universally accepted that these games will have flimsy, barely passable plots? Understand that I'm not rescinding my previous statement, I'm just curious about this phenomenon. Does it all go back to Wolf3d and Doom?
Phoenix: Wolf3D and Doom had a simple mission: Kill everything to save the world. It worked too. They were cutting edge technology and everyone else has been playing catch-up ever since. Let's face it, do you buy a FPS game "just for the articles" or because you want to blow stuff up? Having a good story (or even a story at all) is as you said before, the icing on the cake.
The question of the week continues on the next page! I can hardly wait!
Next: It's like Q&A, but different