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  • Exploring Different Methods Of Interactive Storytelling

    [02.20.20]
    - Randen Banuelos

  • Telling a Game's Lore Through Indirect Means (Dark Souls III)

    Photo from RedBull.com

    The story of FromSoftware's Dark Souls III seems fairly basic based on cutscenes alone: you, the Unkindled, must defeat the Lords of Cinder in order to prolong what is known as the "Age of Fire." The game relies heavily on its universe's terminology and expansive history, which can cause many newcomers to be lost on what exactly the game is about. The story for some people, however, is not the main focus of Dark Souls III, and they instead relish in its gothic atmosphere and the punishing, yet satisfyingly high-octane combat. A player could go the entire game without knowing much more than the fact that defeating the Lords of Cinder is a good thing, and that they must fight their way through the world to reach their holds. In order to truly understand the full depth of the game's lore, though, one must look in a peculiar location: item descriptions.

    Dark Souls III hides some of its richest pieces of lore indirectly, using the descriptions for certain weapons, rings, and other accessories to not only give background for that specific item, but also fill in gaps of the game's lore. By collecting more weapons and armor, the player is rewarded with new information about the world they are traversing, such as the history of other characters and their importance to the overall timeline of events leading to the present day in Dark Souls III. The narrative does not present all of its pieces to the player in a nice, sequential fashion; it challenges the player to make the effort and construct the story themselves with the segments they find throughout their journey. In a sense, Dark Souls III is not a complete picture, it is a puzzle that is waiting for the player to put it together.

    The Story Itself is the Game (Until Dawn)

    Photo from Playstation.com

    A typical game will normally go one of two ways, either focusing solely on gameplay like in Tetris or Flower, or creating a relative balance of both gameplay and narrative, such as Super Mario Odyssey. In recent years, there has been an increased trend in games structured as an "interactive drama," harkening back to the days of text-based adventure games. Supermassive Games' Until Dawn is a prime example of this style of game, with the playstyle of the game revolving entire around the unfolding narrative. Finding weapons for later use, keeping calm as danger draws near, and more are all integrated into the story of eight people trying to survive being stuck in a remote cabin in the harsh winter. It is common for a game to use its story as a tool for propelling gameplay, but Until Dawn takes it a step further, using the gameplay to propel the more important element of narrative.

    A core feature of Until Dawn that sets it apart from similar narrative-focused games, like Telltale Games' The Walking Dead, are totems, which are collectibles that give the player a glimpse at a potential future event, such as a character's cause of death. These visions are meant to give the player an edge against the game's largest system-the butterfly effect. This system forces the player to engage in quick time events that, if failed or incorrectly predicted, results in a character's death or straining of relationships. In order to combat this, the player uses the totem visions and exploration to find ways to escape danger, whether that be finding a gun hidden in a drawer for later use or knowing when a character might be in harm's way, thus letting them better conform the narrative to their wishes. Until Dawn takes its players and drops them straight into its thrilling drama, and with enough exploration and methodical analysis, they can predict what the narrative will throw at them next.

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