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News & Features Discussion  » [Editorial] General: Games and Story - The Third Paradigm

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Managing Editor

Joined: 7/28/06
Posts: 1980

OP  5/19/14 7:24:47 AM#1

As game makers, we have a very powerful storytelling tool, completely unique to our medium, that we have barely exploited. Instead of exploring the strength of interactivity in games for story, we’ve been distracted for years trying to emulate the story-telling technique of books and movies.

Read on for the rest of Mark Kern's: Games and Story - The Third Paradigm


Novice Member

Joined: 8/30/09
Posts: 457

5/19/14 1:20:16 PM#2
Thanks Mark, good article and breaks up the wildstar stuff that has been polluting the front page lately.



Elite Member

Joined: 4/04/11
Posts: 4571

5/19/14 1:40:30 PM#3
One of the challenges of mmorgs is that you have to consider multiple players within the same virtual environment at the same time - a very particular problem that neither films or single player games face - requiring more isolated story telling mechanisms. To give an example, the intro scenes in HL2 would be shockingly bad if it had to deal with dozens of players rattling through at the same time - when you speak to the guard, do you queue with the other players and wait for your response ?(a response you have just heard repeating in front of you). Or do you phase - in which case you've turned a single mmorg temporarily into a single player, or do you cut to a face to face dialogue etc etc. one of the problems facing modern mmo is that people think a game should play like a state of the art single player game, but do not think of this impossible contradiction that nothing but far-in-the-future true ai would solve I suspect where that guard above reacts to the crowd of players, instantly changing behaviour to react to the combination of player actions moment to moment - while also ensuring the thread of story still plays out.

rpg/mmorg history: Dun Darach>Bloodwych>Bards Tale 1-3>Eye of the beholder > Might and Magic 2,3,5 > FFVII> Baldur's Gate 1, 2 > Planescape Torment >Morrowind > WOW > oblivion > LOTR > Guild Wars (1900hrs elementalist) Vanguard. > GW2(1000 elementalist), Wildstar

Now playing GW2, AOW 3, ESO, LOTR, Elite D


Novice Member

Joined: 3/17/13
Posts: 816

5/19/14 2:05:31 PM#4
So Mr. Kern; the purpose of this article is to let us know that you are now working for valve and/or involved in development of a game that resembles half life 2? you always had a way of trying to sell your product through articles of; like the time you ushered ANet with praise and tried to use GW2 hype to sell Firefall. We all know how it turned out so don't you think you should stop doing that?

i want an open world, no phasing, no instancing.i want meaningful owpvp.i want player driven economy.i want meaningful crafting.i want awesome exploration, a sense of thrill.i want ow housing with a meaningful effect on my entire gameplay experience, not just some instanced crap.i want all of these free of cost, i don't wanna pay you a cent, game devs can eat grass and continue developing game for me.
Seems like that is the current consensus of western mmo players.


Advanced Member

Joined: 9/18/09
Posts: 1492

5/19/14 2:39:52 PM#5
I love how I read all this and then remembered Firefall opened with a cinematic lol

Twitter: @Nephaerius
Steam: Neph
Xbox 360 GT: Nephaerius


Defender of Worlds

Joined: 5/20/04
Posts: 3431

I actually still like MMORPGs

5/19/14 2:48:49 PM#6
Originally posted by Nephaerius
I love how I read all this and then remembered Firefall opened with a cinematic lol

haha I forgot about that.


Elite Member

Joined: 6/06/12
Posts: 3024

We live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion. The great task in life is to find reality.

5/19/14 3:02:23 PM#7

Story is the purview of the player.  Let the player create his own story.  Developers spend entirely too much time and money crafting story when all anyone wants is an open virtual world for them to create their own destiny.


Creating story lines inevitably leads to a game where it tells you are the "Chosen One" and a game with tens of thousands of chosen ones does not a great story make.  Focus on story arches in the vein of Asheron's Call.  Let the players themselves choose what, how or if they choose to assist but don't force them too.

Sandbox means open world, non-linear gaming PERIOD!

Subscription Gaming, especially MMO gaming is a Cash grab bigger then the most P2W cash shop!

Bring Back Exploration and lengthy progression times. RPG's have always been about the Journey not the destination!!!


Apprentice Member

Joined: 7/10/09
Posts: 407

5/19/14 3:35:24 PM#8

i remember tabula rasa's opening cinematic... it was far better story than the game. (whereas auto assault etc opening trailer had no story whatsoever)


Secret world does a good job merging fiction into an interactive story in some cases. (not all)


WoW is possibly the worst story telling since the last Naruto filler episode. Guild Wars kinda struggles along now as well...


It's a shame, since most games do have this notion as you as this 'saviour' but in an MMORPG; you're just a meat shield.... you're an upgraded NPC.

there's still to be that mix in the game cycle, even ESO (the latest MMORPG on the market)  failed... it started having loads of vestiges... but at the end of the day within the story, you are just that "chosen one" without a soul. (explains why you can die all the time).

 I doubt they'll let us have the tools to create our own stories to share with people (hey it's pretty much how KOTOR 2 was built; it was badly built and the story sucked but it used biowares engine and toolset... just by a third company).



 In an MMO, if they ever let the players create their own stories... it would be a jumbled mess of crap and good.... and less money for them. It's why novels, manga, light novels and other form of media haven't died a death since MMORPGS came to life all those decades ago (almost two now right) ;) and we haven't really gone that much further... quite disappointing if you think of it like that


"nothing actually matters, we're just slightly evolved monkeys clinging to a dying piece of rock hurtling through space waiting for our eventual death." - Frankie Boyle, Mock The Week


Elite Member

Joined: 5/12/10
Posts: 2488

5/19/14 3:52:14 PM#9
Originally posted by describable

In an MMO, if they ever let the players create their own stories... it would be a jumbled mess of crap and good.... and less money for them.

Hmm... Architect in CoH many years ago? Foundry in STO since (I think) 2011? Also in Neverwinter since launch.

"if they ever let the players create their own stories"  The concept is among us quite a while now... :)


Apprentice Member

Joined: 11/14/11
Posts: 402

5/19/14 4:24:12 PM#10
I think Mark is assuming we're all forgetful neanderthals. Anything he's apart of, or writes about, has no credence or validity whatsoever.
  User Deleted
5/19/14 4:25:07 PM#11

For a moment, just for the purpose of comparison, let's contrast PNP role-playing games and single player computer RPG.  I'm going to use original D&D and BioWare's implementations of those rule sets (since everyone considers them to be the epitome of computer RPG makers) as an example.  And, since I'm an old fart, let's go way back in time and bring in those articles of antiquity known as books and early movies and TV (pre-reality TV days, back when actors really acted instead of relying on millions of dollars of computer-generated visual effects projected onto a blue screen).

Before TV, we had to rely on our imaginations to visualize the worlds around the characters in books.  Their personalities were somewhat dictated by the authors' descriptions of the characters and the world, as were the detailing of motivations and behavior, but largely we could imagine things however we wanted.  We could not, however, change the events in the story because they were written in black ink on white paper... although where there was an ending like "...and they all lived happily ever after..." we could imagine for ourselves what that meant.

Then movies and TV (all three channels worth) came around and much of our imagination was set aside and supplanted by whatever was on the boob-tube (which, back in those days, rarely actually contained boobs, unlike today).  We saw what the directors of the movies and TV shows wanted us to see; we heard what they wanted us to hear; and the actors conveyed the motivations and behavior of the characters quite well for us (excluding very bad movies).

Then PNP games like D&D showed up and we were given the rights to use our imagination again.  Before PNP was translated into CRPG, the players lived in a world created by a DM or GM and the story evolved as the players made choices for the characters' actions.  While some players and DMs might draw pictures to help players' imaginations, mostly it was whatever individuals wanted to see and hear in their minds.

THEN we came full circle... with BioWare-style CRPG games, we were reduced to once more seeing what the directors/producers of the game wanted us to see, hearing what the sound engineers wanted us to hear, and dealing with the motivations and behaviors of the characters as built into the game.

That is, the ROLE PLAYING went out the window.  Because the medium for the story -- a computer program -- is fairly inflexible, the human behind the keyboard is reduced to making a bare minimum of choices, mostly mundane choices, because the story tellers can't allow the human being to interfere with the flow of the story.

Basically, we're reduced to defining our "build", but our character build itself is constrained.  Otherwise, we flow along in the game per the predefined events in the computer code, and we can only do that which the code is prepared to accommodate.

Bethesda managed to change that to a large extent with Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim (although ESO has certainly taken a major step backwards), but in general STORY IS NOT NECESSARILY A GOOD THING.

Right now, your "third paradigm" runs like this:

If A = B and B = C, then A = C

If A = B and B = D, then A IS STILL = C  because the computer program, the pre-arranged dialog choices, and the voice-overs can't accommodate anything else.

If I want events dictated to me, I'll read a book.  If I want to play a game, I want the freedom to make real choices; not have them made for me.


Advanced Member

Joined: 2/17/08
Posts: 613

5/19/14 4:29:07 PM#12
Originally posted by wormed
I think Mark is assuming we're all forgetful neanderthals. Anything he's apart of, or writes about, has no credence or validity whatsoever.

Can't help but agree. Sorry Mr. Kern, but a pretty damn cool game (Firefall) is now nothing like it was once upon a time. And the people that loved it hold you sole responsible.


Elite Member

Joined: 3/12/07
Posts: 461

5/19/14 4:53:16 PM#13

"show don’t tell"


Probably the most important thing anyone creating a story (regardless of medium) can do. I wish more creators would follow that advice.


Novice Member

Joined: 8/21/04
Posts: 116

5/19/14 5:25:22 PM#14

Writing is hard. It takes a different sort of talent than most game devs have. Unfortunately, their egos tell them differently.

There are hundreds of mid-list sf/fantasy authors that could write rings around what passes for writing in most games these days. Until narrative designer becomes a serious, well-paying position that attracts more talented people, the overall quality of writing in games will continue to suffer.

Playing: FFXIV, EVE


Elite Member

Joined: 8/27/04
Posts: 7747

Perhaps tomorrow will be better.

5/19/14 6:14:48 PM#15

Actually the whole point of a role playing is missed,the STORY is what the players can make of their adventure in the game ,NOT what the developer lays out in a designed path to follow.

I could be wrong but i think gamer's want to enjoy their own story.I realize MANY people enjoy reading books which are someone else's story but role playing is not reading a book it is an action of playing out the role of a character.

The story inside of a MMOrpg should be realized through the game itself without having to make it point blank in your face.It should be like a NA going to live in a new Asian country,they wouldn't have someone read them a book but instead would realize the culture and way of life by living it and that is in essence what rpg players are looking for.

So waht is really missing is lively environments and ECO systems that bring the world to life.

Instead we get static NPC's with yellow markers over their head and laid out paths that have zero variation,EVERY player lives out the exact same story.

This trend we see in game design right now is just TOO easy and cost effective,i don't see it getting any better because devs are actually looking to cut even more corners instead of improving the games.
Samoan Diamond


Comfortably Numb

Joined: 12/26/07
Posts: 589

Why kill them with kindness, when I can use an axe?

5/19/14 6:26:29 PM#16

I consider Half-Life 2 one of my favorite single-player games ever. 

Great article.

"I don't give a sh*t what other people say. I play what I like and I'll pay to do it too!" - SerialMMOist


Advanced Member

Joined: 7/09/04
Posts: 3599

If you can't kill it, don't make it mad.

5/19/14 6:27:53 PM#17
Originally posted by BTrayaL
Originally posted by wormed
I think Mark is assuming we're all forgetful neanderthals. Anything he's apart of, or writes about, has no credence or validity whatsoever.

Can't help but agree. Sorry Mr. Kern, but a pretty damn cool game (Firefall) is now nothing like it was once upon a time. And the people that loved it hold you sole responsible.

Do they? You may, but some of us know more about the complexities of the studio and business politics.  There is no doubt plenty of blame to go around.  The creation of an MMO is one of the most complex software/hardware projects that exist.  Miss any of hundreds (if not thousands...) of variables, and Bad Things happen.

I spent more than two and a half years in Firefall.  I know first hand of its initial promise and potential.  Thats what kept me in the game for so long.  But over time, it drifted from being a shooter, with MMO elements, to being a crafting/economy focused MMO, with some shooter elements.

Its sad, but these types of things happen.  Inexperienced management (all levels) production bottle necks, frequent changes in direction, and finally investor panic.  Its all happened all too many times before.  But as always I wish Jazz Hands and the good folks at Red5 all the best of luck.


Apprentice Member

Joined: 4/20/13
Posts: 207

5/19/14 6:38:40 PM#18
Originally posted by Po_gg

Hmm... Architect in CoH many years ago? Foundry in STO since (I think) 2011? Also in Neverwinter since launch.

"if they ever let the players create their own stories"  The concept is among us quite a while now... :)

I believe both of those are F2P games with cash shops that sell power. So the question is, are those 2 games immensely successful? and if yes, then is the success attributed to the Foundries, or something else.

Would Foundries be hugely popular in AAA MMO's, or would they be seen as just another type of daily "chore/grind"?

Originally posted by Wizardry

Actually the whole point of a role playing is missed,the STORY is what the players can make of their adventure in the game.

So is this referring to RP'ers? as in, a game shouldn't have story from devs, it should only come from the RP crowd making up things in game and on the forums?


Apprentice Member

Joined: 11/22/05
Posts: 4909

5/19/14 6:43:28 PM#19

Does this really have to be about his past ? He brings up a very good point, that doesn't really need to be turned into a mud slinging trailer park. All too often people complain about quest hubs, limited content that players consume too quickly, lack of story or just down right bad story.

All of these things fall under how the story is being told. Maybe it goes beyond what he specifically wrote about but that doesn't mean people shouldn't for once take the higher road here.


Novice Member

Joined: 1/07/07
Posts: 56

5/19/14 8:44:38 PM#20
Author here. Just wanted to say thank you for all the thoughtful comments on the topic of story for games. I write these articles to stimulate conversation. I think we are all a little jaded on MMO design and its fun to discuss what areas could really change and grow in the genre.

Follow me on <a href="">Twitter: @Grummz</a>

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