The Potential of Games for Storytelling

I have a lot of creative ideas, and I have no idea where they came from. They seem to just congeal from weird passing thoughts and combine with other ideas and eventually snowball into something big. People have asked me where I got the idea for Sethian from and I honestly don’t remember. I just have it now.

I’ve also had an idea about the game’s story as well, but at some point it changed. I don’t know when, and I don’t know how, but it did. Or maybe it was my feeling about the story that changed. It’s hard to explain.

Before I dive in, I think you should watch what I’ve been watching. These videos discuss the integration of storytelling with gameplay. It’s about 20 minutes of your time to watch them all.

Errant Signal’s “The Debate that Never Took Place”

Extra Credits “Mechanics as Metaphor” (part 1)

And part 2:

From the outset, I’ve been interested in what I call the “Dark Souls” approach to game storytelling. It’s a complex approach, but this is the essence of it: the story is simple, but the lore is complex. In terms of what you actually do in Dark Souls, everything is very straightforward. You start the game as an undead, locked up in the undead asylum. A stranger gives you the key to your cell. When you meet him later, he’s dying, and his dying wish is for you to ring the Bell of Awakening. When you leave the asylum, you find out that there’s actually two bells, but you ring them both anyway, because it was the dying wish of the man who set you free. Afterwards, you’re told you’re the chosen undead, and you have to retrieve the Lordvessel and fill it with the Lord Souls and then go kill Lord Gwyn and rekindle the fire. For a 20+ hour game, that is an extremely simple plotline, and this really doesn’t cut much out, especially for a first playthrough.

However, the lore is incredibly deep, and obscure. There is nothing stopping you from playing through the game with no context for what you’re doing at all. If you want to know who these people are, and about the history of these places, you have to dig. You have to read the descriptions on every item and try to piece the clues together and compare notes with strangers on the internet. You have to engage in a kind of mental exploration of the game’s history, and the backstory for the game’s characters. And the amount of information it’s possible to synthesize from the game’s sources is staggering.

I also talked about Morrowind on Kickstarter, and what I had in mind was sort of fusing Dark Souls’s obscure lore and Morrowind’s open world together, insofar as that’s possible. But more recently I had a new idea: what story does the game want to tell?

This is another thing that Dark Souls does really well. Its elements are very focused. Every aspect of it feels like its trying to do the same thing. It’s cruel, dark, and impartial. Just as this is reflected in the gameplay through intense challenges and a lack of tutorial handholding, it’s reflected in the story and lore through the despair of the world, of almost everyone having lost their minds, with almost nothing left for the hero to save. It’s the right story for that game.

I’ve been trying to bring the experience of learning a language in a different culture to Sethian, to some extent, and I think that’s come up already in a few ways. Learning how strange people speak and act, and adapting to that. Seeing things in new ways. But I’m also interested in the questions that raises regarding identity, both personal and social. I don’t want to dive into the specifics of my ideas just yet, but we’ll start to see some answers to those question when the beta release rolls around.

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Creator of Sethian. My personal email is grantkuning at gmail. Kickstarter: Facebook: Twitter:

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