Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Game Dev Quote of the Week: Story vs. Gameplay Edition

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 8, 2015

Wizardry_8_boxStory vs. Gameplay – the never-ending debate. This interview with Brenda Romero circa 1998 (with a different surname) regarding the “balance” in RPGs… specifically, at the time, Wizardry 8… reveals an interesting approach that probably makes more sense in hindsight:

“This is weird because I’ve never really thought of it that way. With Wizardry, it’s known for its story, and a good one is vital to the game, so it’s never been a question of one or the other for us. They are so intricately tied to each other. For instance, if you take five different groups of people, races, with very strong traditions and beliefs, inevitably, something will conflict. That conflict will lead to others. Then, it might lead to sabotage. Get that whole ball of wax going, and you show up as a group of six characters. Of course, you want to win. So do others. People hide things. Keep secrets to themselves. You have to be smarter and faster. In a nutshell, that’s how a story gets solid, starts conflict and gives rise to game play. Game play without a story, well, I guess that’s something like solitaire or on the really fun end, DOOM or Quake. If you want complete immersion like you get in a role-playing game, you have to make the player care about something, his characters, and keep him caring enough to believe the goals you set. A story is the only thing that can do that. Like I said, I don’t think we ever think in terms of story vs. game play or of achieving a balance between the two. Around our design table, the two are so intricately tied that they’re hard to separate. Everything else, combat, magic and the like, they are almost separate games in their own right. I still remember great role-playing battles both on and off the computer [traditional pencil & paper games], but I don’t remember exactly what the circumstances were that surrounded it. They’re all so tied together, though. The reason that combat is so great, so intense, is because you care about your characters and you want them to live because you have things to do. What you have to do, of course, is the story.”

I say in hindsight because of course I apply this to myself. I can’t say I’ve got the kind of faction system and details found in Wizardry 7 and 8, but you do end up thinking of things pretty differently as a developer than as a gamer. And – even more interestingly – developers don’t all think of it alike.

We’ll leave off, for the moment, that this was a promotional interview for Wizardry 8 which may have colored the comments a little.

I personally do think about gameplay / story balance, but not in those terms, or the kinds of terms I would use as a gamer. It’s probably worth a whole ‘nother post that would detract from what she’s saying here, but I agree that the point is you don’t want actions to feel meaningless. ¬†You need that context, those goals, or even the best fights and all other tasks get repetitive and boring. (Or, as in a roguelike, they just kill you dead, a lot). A good story can keep me in a mediocre RPG.


Filed Under: Quote of the Week - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

  • Damjan Mozetic said,

    I have player many RPGs, but I’ve never really bonded with any game character, except the ones in 1993s Betrayal at Krondor. I believe that pre-made well developed player characters and NPCs that solely live to unveil the details of the plot are necessary to make the story memorable. Even quests and certain items (books, notes) should try to contribute to deepen and reveal the plot to the player.

  • Xenovore said,

    I have played many RPGs, but I’ve never really bonded with any characters, except the one that I created and developed myself, particularly in MMORPGs. =P

  • Xenovore said,

    More to the point: game-play is king. Of course we need good stories in RPGs, but they should be player-specific stories, not premade stories that railroad the player through the game. I.e. if the stories are distracting from the fun, they aren’t good stories.

    I think it’s more accurate to say that we need good world settings, with economies, communities, politics, and history supporting it all. Locations should be interesting, alluding to that history. (Why is that castle there? Why is this village burned to the ground? Who was mining in this canyon? Etc.)

    NPCs should provide hints regarding local and global events, both present and past (and even future).