It’s hard to match the narrative scope and immersive experience that a compelling story-driven game has over other storytelling mediums, allowing players not only to fall into the world of a well-crafted story but to experience it firsthand. These types of games can empower someone with a new perspective or let us live a double-life as a superhero. Narrative-driven games allow us to become someone we’re not, which is perhaps the biggest reason we enjoy these experiences. Now, with the power of Xbox One X, creators can bring us even closer to their vision. With our Xbox One Storytellers series, we’ll sit down with some of the industry’s greatest creators to talk about the strength of storytelling within games, their inspirations, and how they see the genre growing in the years ahead. Today, we’ll be talking to Call of Cthulhu Lead Game Designer, Jean-Marc Gueney.
Is there a secret to crafting a compelling single-player narrative?
I don’t know if it’s the secret to writing good stories but here is how I start writing a scenario. First, I create the main plot which I then fill with characters. Then I go deep into those characters’ motives, personalities, goals, and how they are linked together within the story. It helps to fill the blanks and reveal inconsistencies as well as for writing their dialogues.
Do you think single-player experiences create a better sense of immersion than multiplayer experiences?
While playing in a group of people, there will be interactions that cause disbelief and break immersion. Of course, multiplayer experiences can absolutely be just as rich as a single-player one but they do tend to lack the immersion that many developers focus on when creating games. In single-player games, everything is considered for the player to feel the character they play, from the voice, the actions, the scenario, the pace.
How do you balance your narrative goals with your gameplay goals?
We use the narration to lead to situations that require more gameplay. During those gameplay phases the advancement of the story slows down. To offer a good pace, we mix sequences of primarily story-telling and primarily gameplay episodes. During narration, the gameplay is there to provide information, clues and dialogue options for the player; it is the reward of the gameplay.
Have things like branching missions and multiple unique endings changed single-player game development?
Offering many options and possibilities for the player does enhance the gaming experience while complicating development. You have to think of multiple branches and consequences, which means creating as many possibilities for the player to explore as possible. It’s a meticulous development and writing process.
Are there any genres you think story doesn’t matter, or ones you think fit the goal of telling a story better than others?
Any genre can benefit from a little story or background, but for games in which gameplay focuses mainly on player reflexes, dexterity and fast thinking it’s not as important as fully narrative games. Games like Tetris go well without story, as well as titles like Stick Fight or Bomberman. It can be fun to have a comedy background here and there to set the mood, but those games don’t require it. Of course, you can also play games like FIFA or Civilization without the need of a story.
What sort of benefits do more powerful consoles and PCs offer to single-player storytellers?
There are many aspects of a video game that benefit from more power. We have all seen the advances in graphical rendering of environments and characters making them more realistic and believable. The animations, particularly facial animations, are near flawless in AAA games. There are also some elements that can bring disbelief, which can now be strongly mitigated, like frequent loading screens or framerate drops.
Were there any particular single-player experiences in your gaming life that inspired you to create or really struck a chord with you?
Although it’s not very recent, the possibilities offered by game editors like those in Neverwinter or Oblivion have inspired me to create stories. Simple at first, intended to be shared with a few friends. This echoes the desire to share a story from paper role-playing games. Even if a game is single-player oriented, it’s the same creation process: what is the story and what will the player be able to do inside it.
Is there a specific game’s single-player level or narrative moment you consider close to a perfect narrative experience?
I was really impressed by the introduction of Bioshock infinite. From the start there were many questions that arose and for the next 15 minutes, with minimal gameplay and player interactions, the scenes catch you and don’t let you go. You plunge in this incredible universe and want to know more. In Far cry 3, scenes with Vaas are also very immersive thanks to the acting. Until Dawn is also a masterpiece in terms of narration.
How have single-player/narrative games changed most over the last 10 years?
Capturing the essence of acting is one of the many challenges of today’s games. Thanks to motion capture, for body and faces, the results can be as good as in movies. Voices are also carefully taken care of, from the casting to the recording. If you go back in time further than 10 years, narrative games were generally text-based. Recent advances have also made it possible to develop the writing of rich characters and scenarios. Characters are defined in greater depth to determine their reactions, behavior and ways of expressing themselves.
How do you see single-player games evolving over the next 10 years?
The use of VR has the potential to be a huge step forward – playing games like Resident Evil 5 in VR is very different than “normal” play. Maybe voice recognition will also see dramatic improvement. If you talk to a NPC not by choosing from a series of answers but by really talking to it, it will be fantastic. Maybe not in the next 10 years though. The excellent Event tries to simulate interaction with an AI, where the player is free to ask any questions they want. By adding a good voice recognition plug-in, you can have a glimpse of the future of single player narrative games.