Saturday, 17 May 2008

Telling Niko's Story

Originally posted for the Cranky Gamers UK

About six months ago I wrote an article on why Bioshock was the most important game of this generation. In my opinion it was the first video game to successfully implement a genuine interactive narrative. Until that point, video games had relied on emulating cinematic techniques using non-interactive cutscenes to deliver the story. Even the mighty Metal Gear Solid, often lauded for its complex story and cinematic quality, relied on non-interactive methods: remember the codec!

The latest edition of the GTA series includes many new features: such as, multiplayer, improved combat and cutting-edge physics. But it has also subtly changed the way in which the narrative is delivered. You might not notice when you are playing, but the cut scenes only set-up each mission. Just like Bioshock, the real detail and plot are revealed through more interactive events - your relationships with other characters.

If you blast through the game without engaging in the relationships, by taking out friends and dating, you will only reveal a tiny proportion of Niko’s story. Like the “tapes” in Bioshock, exploration and interacting with the environment are just as important to the story as the cutscenes and missions themselves. Even after completing the game, you can find out more about Niko and the other characters, by continuing to socialise and interact with them; particularly Roman and Packie.

The current generation of video games are setting new standards for technology: such as graphics, physics and scope. But as someone who has played and thought about games for 25 years, the big change I have seen is the birth of a genuine interactive art form. One where the boundaries on non-interactive cinema no longer constrain the game design. I think we can look forward to games that don’t just deliver fun, but also emotional and thought provoking stories for those who seek it as they play.