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 Lead Game Designer Kevin Choteau and Chief Creative Officer & Co-founder of Asobo Studio David Dedeine.
Is there a secret to crafting a compelling single-player narrative?
An iterative approach is probably the best way to find the magic in a story. It’s something our partners from Pixar taught us: don’t simply say it – write, erase, change, enrich, and repeat.
Do you think single-player experiences create a better sense of immersion than multiplayer experiences?
In our opinion, it’s not “better,” it’s simply different. In a single-player experience, you face introspective reflections whereas multiplayer is usually about relationship, and how to deal with close ties to other players. Sometimes, as in real life, you are more sensitive to something that is self-centered, some other you need to share.
How do you balance your narrative goals with your gameplay goals?
There is no magic recipe. In most cases, in story-driven games, you cannot base the story on the gameplay, it’s gameplay that serves the story. In some games with very special concepts and biases, narration may support gameplays – such as with Portal. The narration makes the game structure convincing and breaks the game’s routine. In the games we’ve created so far, it was blended. The gameplay goals were there to support narration, even if it’s gameplay first. In a story-driven game, if you separate gameplay goals from narrative goals, you create an artificial feeling, and it compromises immersion.
Have things like branching missions and multiple unique endings changed single-player game development?
This has actually always existed: The choose-your-own-adventure books, the first Amstrad games, Dragon’s Lair, etc… This questions every choice you make and creates a feeling of regret, remorse (or satisfaction). In branching storyline games, each choice is permanent, unlike “sandbox” games.
Branching missions, and multiple, unique endings, provide players with a very self-tailored experience, and at the same time involves very different emotions and strikes very different chords. This is not better or worse than a story-driven experience, this is just very different in terms of player involvement and talks to different types of players or at different moments of their gaming lives.
Are there any genres you think story doesn’t matter, or ones you think fit the goal of telling a story better than others?
We have given more and more opportunities and possibilities to tell stories in every genre. For example, FIFA and its career mode and the story of Hunter. In fact, there is no unsuitable genre. Story is not mandatory, but it may work everywhere and sometimes even bring some breath of fresh air to the recipe.
What sort of benefits do more powerful consoles and PCs offer to single-player storytellers?
Some games with minimalist features provide players with unparalleled immersion. It depends on the ambitions and the artistic choices, or the features you want to explore in the game. Raw processing power isn’t what that drives a good story. That’s what you make of it.
Were there any single-player experiences in your gaming life that inspired you to create or really struck a chord with you?
For our latest creation, A Plague Tale: Innocence, we were impressed and inspired by many games among which Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, The Witcher 3, as well as The Last of Us. Brothers for the very special bond between the siblings, that involves no specific dialog – everything happens through gameplay… it’s brilliant! The Witcher 3 for the epic feel, the homogeneity of the story despite the vast quantity of missions and side quests, and the ability to develop/manage the story in the long run. The Last of Us for the authenticity of Ellie and Joel’s relationship, the fatherly love and the finish quality.
Is there a specific game’s single-player level or narrative moment you consider close to a perfect narrative experience?
Definitely the diner scene in the latest Resident Evil (Resident Evil: Biohazard). It was just the perfect way to merge execution, dramatic immersion, and meet a cast of unique characters all at once.
How have single-player/narrative games changed most over the last 10 years?
There are now many media and a great variety in game scopes. This enable game development to work on brand-new, interesting, and rich narrative experiences. It’s so cool and inspiring. Lifeline for instance is a minimalist mobile game that paved the way to many other innovative games. The episodic games like TellTale games with such rich and awesome stories often go beyond what TV offers. And AAA titles are so close now to blockbuster movies… There are an unprecedented variety and possibilities!
How do you see single-player games evolving over the next 10 years?
The emergence of virtual, augmented and more recently mixed teality is just exhilarating. We’ve worked on HoloLens with Microsoft. And with our game Fragments, we’ve discovered brand-new territories in terms of storytelling and immersion. It’s just the beginning of a thrilling journey through gaming, interactivity, customization of experiences and stories!