Thursday, March 29, 2012

Are Higher Production Values Making Games Seem More Limited?

E.D. Kain, who's been doing some good work over at Forbes, has a post up considering the differences in storytelling between Dark Souls and Skyrim. Kain agrees with Tom Bissell's criticism of Skyrim, arguing that the game relies on poor writing, weak dialogue, and an excess of lore to transmit its story, and suffers as a result.

Now, I haven't played Skyrim yet. I have spent countless hours on other Bethesda offerings like Morrowind, Oblivion, and Fallout 3, and I can say that the parts of those games that I found most interesting rarely had to do with the story or other NPCs. The best part of those games was walking around this incredibly detailed world, finding some lost dungeon or ruin, and exploring it while letting your imagination fill in the gaps. What is this place doing here? Why is it filled with ghosts? Why are a dead body and a magical sword lying on this sacrificial slab? The story and quests in these games tended to leave me a bit cold. On a similar level, I've felt somewhat restricted by a lot of games in this generation. Take Mass Effect 2, for example. It was a great game and I really loved it (and continue to love it; played through it three times so far!), but for some reason, it felt a little limiting to me. I think the reason for this might be because of the full voice acting, cutscenes, the somewhat linear design, or the general cinematic design of the game overall.

In contrast, Dark Souls tells its story through minimal dialogue and really impressive, evocative locations, both of which give your imagination a little room to breathe. One of my favorite games of all time, Baldur's Gate II, had plenty of story, but limited voice acting, great writing, and no cutscenes. This approach also gave your imagination a little more room to stretch, and as a result, I connected with the characters in that game more than I did in any other once since. I guess what I'm wondering is: Are higher production values and a more cinematic approach to making games restricting our imaginations and making games seem a little less compelling and enthralling? While I think the answer might be yes, that doesn't mean I want the cinematic approach to go away... I just hope that more developers take some inspiration from Dark Souls and try a more minimalist approach.

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