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Friday, February 16, 2001
FEED on Oni's Story
10:49 AM | Michael Eilers | Comment on this story

The eclectic opinion and news magazine FEED has published an article which critically examines the place of the story in gaming, and the balance of interactivity and action which all game designers must consider. This intriguing article also includes several questions asked of Oni designer Hardy LeBel on Oni's storyline, and how it was integrated into the 3D action game.

Interactivity has long been seen as the core strength of computer games, but over the years it has become painfully obvious that it is very difficult to tell a detailed story and yet give the gamer choices and allow them to influence the direction of the plot. The majority of storytelling is "on rails," as the FEED article by Stephen Johnson notes; the gamer has freedom to travel about, but must accomplish certain 'nodes' of storytelling before they are allowed to proceed -- the designer's way of forcing you to keep up with and understand the plot. True interactivity has been a supposed goal of computer gaming since the beginning, but the dirty secret of the industry is that most gamers don't really want it -- when you introduce branching elements into a game, you greatly increase the complexity of the title from both the designer's and gamer's standpoint. And in fact a strong argument can be made that storyline is a shrinking element of gaming; many of the recent top-selling PC titles have little or no story at all, such as The Sims, Rollercoaster Tycoon, Deer Avenger 4 and Who Wants To Be a Millionaire 2.

In the Q&A with Hardy LeBel, the Bungie West designer discusses how he balanced Oni's need for a story element with the action gamer's desire to push forward to the next level. Here's an excerpt:

How much do you think the appeal of a game like Oni is a story-like appeal and how much of it is more the appeal of just movement through an interesting space?

LEBEL: That's a tricky answer because my background as a console designer, I've actually worked on lots of different types of action titles and I also have played a lot role-playing games in my life, lots and lots of tabletop RPGs.

And so I think as a PC experience -- and also as a game that has a strong animé influence -- a story is important. That said, most players -- people might take umbrage at this -- but most players don't want too much story. They want enough story. They want enough story that it's going to draw them to the experience. But if you're asking somebody to remember between Chapter 3 and Chapter 10, and some small obscure tidbit of information is going to somehow click into their mind and make them say, "Oh my God, this guy is really the half-brother of that guy who is the sister of so-and-so," they don't really remember that.

For more details on Oni's structure and storyline, and analysis of the plot's place in modern games, read through the rest of this article. We're curious to hear your thoughts on this issue in our forums -- was there too much, or too little story in Oni? Do you agree with LeBel's position that "most players don't want too much story"? Do you think that games can be created which allow true interactivity on the gamer's part, yet accomplish the designer's vision and goals? What games have you played that found the right balance between interactivity and plot, and which were so 'on rails' that you felt like you were just watching a movie?

Interview: Oni's Hardy LeBel
IMG Oni Review
"Stories on a Rail" at FEED

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View all of the Mac games news for Friday, February 16, 2001 on one page

Mac Games News for Thursday, February 15, 2001

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