METU, Informatics InstituteAnkara, 31 October 2011
This lecture presents a brief summary of the Three-Act-Structure in Classic Drama Theory As we learn the basic concepts and structuration principles of this approach, we will also stop inbetween and see how video games deal with these concepts and principles.
Climbing Tension A story does not only progress horizontally, but also vertically A scene that doesn’t carry the plot to new heights is considered as wasting time and stagnating story progress. Chrono-logy Events are related to each other in terms of causality and time Chrono-logical relations are often established in the mind of the player, as part of the interpretation process This allows designers to play with the chrono-logy of things because the player would complete the story mentally, and in retrospect Unity Due to dramatization requirements, anything that’s not central to the story will be eliminated In video games it often happens that side quests violate this rule ▪ They often do not contribute to the rise in plot per se ▪ Often this is done for the sake of variety ▪ Or they help the player in meeting other goals such as collecting extra points to increase the character level
Feature films stay often loyal to the Three-Act- Structure However, they would divide the three acts into four quarters While the Beginning and the Ending acts get a quarter each, the Middle is alotted two quarters, that is, half of the duration of the film Usually each of the Middle quarters deals with one specific issue
Quarter 1 (First Act): Set up of the plot, introduction of characters, planting of middle acts. Quarter 2 (Second Act): The first of middle acts, in which the goal is to free Sarah Connor from the clinic in which she is being held. Quarter 3 (Second Act): The second of the middle acts, in which the goal is to destroy Skynet and its infobase. Quarter 4 (Third Act): Build-up to the climax, resolution and denouement.
Looking closer at the two previous slides, we can identify three dynamics that a narrative designer has to intertwine in order to get good results: Plot Development Character Growth Middle Acts We will now have a closer look at how these dynamics work
Game and narrative designer often have to deal with the issue of introducing the player vocabulary. The player needs not only to learn about the story, but how to use controls. It is therefore a very delicate issue in design to set-up a teaser scene that doesn’t frustrate the player in terms of learning the gameplay. Often designers will solve this by splitting the task into two: ▪ They’ll use a cutscene that serves as a teaser ▪ They’ll usa a tutorial that teaches the player how to play the game ▪ Example: Medal of Honor: Allied Assault Examples where designers tried to combine the two are Max Payne (PC Version) Spiderman (Wii)
In video games, intensification is often the result of increasing complexity of the game systems that revolve around the player. Sometimes intensification is based on enemy AI that adopts a more aggressive stance Early sneak attacks of rival nations in Age of Empires tell us we’ve got to hurry However there are games that have «scripted» intensification In games like Metal Gear Solid, we are presented with cutscenes that allow us to witness dialogues between game characters which reveal that the complexity in the situation has increased
When it comes to plot, a lot of games do not waste even a minute to set it up: Pong The white dot comes at you if you fail to bounce it back 1:0 Pac- Man The ghost are coming at you If you don’t move your avatar One life lost Good games will always make sure that the player has to do something to get out of misery Half Life 2 The Sims They will make sure that there is necessity, that is, an inevitable challenge that motivates the player into action
Many games are based on outer motivation That is, it’s mainly their actions and looks that reveal something about characters Controls and affordances play a crucial part in this We can only carry a role that the controls allow us to carry out. For example special moves play an important role in distinguishing characters in fighting games. However, modern games also reveal a lot about inner motivation, that is, what the character feels about their own actions This will often come in cutscenes ▪ Final Fantasy series ▪ The cutscenes in Soul Calibur II Sometimes the player is allowed to keep character diaries in which they pretend to know the inner motivations of the characters ▪ The Sims
Another common thing in video games is that character growth is often presented in quantifiable terms RPGs have experience levels and character inventories Many Tycoon games have star ratings or financial indicators RollercoasterTycoon or Ceaser III on the other hand, have a palette of «barks» for their character that will change depending on statistics ▪ This is a nice way to add an inner motivation aspect to the characters ▪ It makes them look «deeper»
Since many video games are built around levels rather than quarters, we will see reassessments or denouments being presented immediately after a finished level or play session The characters in Tekken will often say something about their victory or defeat after a fight is over. Railroad Tycoon 2 has a narrator that talks about our performance in the past level
Video game progress is often based on levels. This means that the quarter rule doesn’t apply. Hence, it makes often no sense to apply planting methods during the introduction of the game’s story Instead, in many games we see designers prefer to have mission briefs In other words, the planting of the next act is done moments before the level starts, and not in the introduction of the game The introduction of the games is used for other purposes ▪ Such as teaching the player the game vocabulary, presenting backstory, or introducing the world settings ▪ This seems to be a significant difference between video games and movies ▪ The product design and consumption method requires the video game narrative designer to deal with planting differently