Would You Rather: Plot Edition

You guys keep asking for it, and because I’m a softy and I like you, we keep bringing it. It’s time for another Would You Rather. What we’ve been doing on the last few outings is focusing in on a specific genre, keying in on features to see what your gaming preferences are. I’ve said it before, but I love the responses that these things get, so I wanted to get a feel for how you guys lean when it comes to stories and plot in the world of video games.

For the uninitiated, in Would You Rather, I simply ask a series of questions, and you follow up with your answers. Give as much or as little explanation as you want for your choices, but we all know that we like to see the reasoning behind the madness.

But beware, lest your answers be blessed with the curse of suck. If they do, large men dressed as either sushi or video games (I haven’t decided yet), will come to your house. And you will not like what they do when they arrive. I haven’t decided on what it is yet, but involves the fireball flower from the Mario games.

For video game plots, would you rather…

1. Have your story delivered via cut-scenes (MGS) or in-world game clues (Portal)?

2. Listen to bad voice acting, or read text for dialogue?

3. See more Nintendo franchises like Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. get a focused story treatment, or do you like them the way that they are?

4. Save the world or save the love interest?

5. See unique branching story options with a weaker overall narrative or a more rigid but overall stronger storyline?

6. Play a story that is short, concise and entertaining or long, sprawling and slower to unfold?

7. Have a franchise stick to its established canon/story no matter what (perhaps even to the detriment of a new game), or do whatever is best for the new game to be a better experience?

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I write about samurai girls and space marines. Writer for Smooth Few Films. Rooster Teeth Freelancer. Author of Red vs. Blue, The Ultimate Fan Guide, out NOW!

16 thoughts on “Would You Rather: Plot Edition”

  1. 1. In game. I don’t mind cut-scenes (except in the overly excessive MGS4 way..) it’s just I like making a game experience my own so if that includes throwing everything I can at an NPC whilst they blabber on about the world being destroyed or something, so be it. I need the power.

    2. I don’t particularly mind bad VA, in most cases I see it as the devs hiring the wrong person to play the part. Don’t have a problem with text either, I read crazy fast so I can whip through things easy. I think it depends on the game. The Phoenix Wright or Zelda series are FINE without VA and are at the point where if they did add VA it would just be odd. But Half Life 2 VA made a good part of that game for me, Alyx was simply amazing and for me it really was voice ACTING instead of just some girl reading lines. A story based game like Heavy Rain would be terrible without VA and a game on a hand-held would be terrible with VA (tinny compressed sound).

    3. Main Mario games don’t need any more story then peach getting kidnapped, a few side stories (like the evil Mario in sunshine) are fine. The Mario RPG’s have always had quite decent stories behind them. Zelda story is also fine, and bloody confusing most of the time. But I really couldn’t think of any other Ninty franchises that need a story. Kirby doesn’t really have one but doesn’t really need one.

    4. The world! I’m sick of love interests or when your PC chooses to save her instead of a bus load of people, or something. In fact more games need to give you the option to screw the love interest (not literally) and take the EVIIIIIL powers instead.

    5. Hard choice. I would prefer a good solid story that is straight and true. No particular reason, I just like a good story over a choose your own. Like as a kid, you could use those “Create your own adventure books” all day but really you are always going to go back to Harry Potter for a good read instead of reading the tales of Captain Poopyhead and his fight against the icky girls.

    6. Either. Both can be good depending what kind of game I feel like playing. Although longer games seem to go a bit plot-holey if they are really long (back to heavy rain…)

    7. Do what’s best within reason. I don’t want you to make a silent protagonist talk, pretend old games never happened or completely overwrite events from previous games. But if mixing things up a little makes the game better, more power to you. It’s a tricky business though. Not many sequels seem to get the balance right between changing it up to keep it interesting and not destroying everything people loved of the first game/s.

  2. 1. They both work. If they’re done well, Cut scenes, if the protagonist is silent, then in game of course.

    2. Bad voice acting. I just started playing the new S.T.A.L.K.E.R but had to stop because of all the reading.

    3. Keep them the way they are. Mario doesn’t need a story. If you want proof, go back and watch the show in the 90’s.

    4. Save the world TO get the girl? Isn’t that how it works?

    5. A great story is a great story. I’d rather have it delivered to me straight and have my mind blown.

    6. Long and slow can be good if it pays off. But I don’t like to invest a ton of time into a game unless it keeps me going. Unfortunately, it’s rare for fun gameplay and story to last more than 20 hours and continue to pull me in.

    7. Do whatever is best. Of course people will disagree with what is best. But you can’t be everything to everyone. At the end of the day it’s your creation, if you want to completely change it, go for it. However, you gotta pay the bills so don’t piss the customers off too much =D.

    Good questions!

  3. 1. Cut scenes, although not MGS long. However I love the way Bioshock told its story through the environments.

    2. Text for sure. Bad voice acting is like finger nails on a chalkboard.

    3. Mario? Story? I’d love to see the combination. That’d be like Other M x1000 bad. On a serious note, I’ll take them how they are.

    4. Both! Duh!

    5. Rigid but strong.

    6. Short, concise, and entertaining. The Witcher is an example of long, sprawling, and slower to unfold.

    7. Never fuck with the canon, that makes fans pissed. Myself included.

  4. 1. Oh, what a toughy this one is. They really break even don’t they? I prefer cut-scenes however, because A. They’re skippable and don’t have to interact too much to continue the scene; B. They’re more polished and finalized, where a glitch or two may happen ingame.

    2. Text ;D If it was bad voice acting, I’d mute it anyways

    3. Legend of Zelda is already quite story driven. But for Mario, I wouldn’t want them to explain why the hell there’s a plumber going through pipes eating mushrooms killing turtles. Actually, yes, I WANT them to explain that. (Spoilers: The ‘Shrooms are Shrooms!)

    4. Love interest <3

    5. Non-linear vs linear…. None of these have ever done wrong to me D; I would say non-linear for replayabilty value.

    6. Entertaining was the key word.

    7. Better experience was the key word here too.

  5. 1. I think something in between would be fine. Metal Gear Solid is way to heavy handed and Portal leaves a lot the imagination (although this is intentional).

    2. I would have said text for dialogue, but after Dead Rising 2: Case 0, I want everything to be voiced. Seeing the little things pop up through your walkie-talkie is odd without a voice over.

    3. Well, just look at what happened with Other M. I think that Zelda could probably benefit from more story though. It seems built for it.

    4. Can’t I have both? Save the world, definitely. Always more fish in the sea. You can’t get laid on a hunk of blasted rock hurtling through space.

    5. I’d rather see a stronger story, because having a long meandering one is just going to make me bored, even if I do get dialogue options.

    6. Depends on what I’m in the mood for. I’d go with shorter, though, especially in video games. For books, definitely longer to unfold. Of course, five years is a long time to wait…

    7. Again, this depends. For a fairly young IP, canon is kind of mutable as you’re not messing up too much with the established setting. If the franchise has been around for a long time, like Star Wars, changing one small thing can mess up dozens of books or games or shows.

    @SK Beans Someone didn’t like the end of Reeeeach…(read that in a sing-song voice)

  6. Yay, another WYR! I sense a pattern of more frequent WYR’s… Prove me correct.

    1) I like in-game clues because it takes advantage of video games’ interactivity and gives subtle yet very intriguing narrative that is more subtle than little clues in a movie. You know you’re watching a movie for the narrative, but you’re playing a game to play a game, not necessarily to continue the narrative, especially in such a subtle way. Hope that makes sense. Basically, subtle clues are more interesting because they’re subtle bits of narrative in a medium that’s made for the gameplay holding priority in the playable sections of the games. Ne’ertheless, I still love cutscenes when they’re well-done, and using both in-game clues and cutscenes is a good way to create an interesting story and atmosphere since it uses various narrative opportunities.

    2) TEEEEEEEXXXXXXXT. I’d rather not have to listen to bad voice acting. I can imagine good voices on my own, thank you. I mean which is better: Metroid Prime’s data logs, or having to sit through Samus’ monologue in Other M? Well-written text can have a unique charm, too, especially in games where it’s all about isolation and the text can have an interesting tone, even though it’s not voice-acted. And BAD voice-acting absolutely ruins a game’s story. Now, keep in mind, text must be handled thoughtfully. Don’t give me walls of text while I’m in a firefight. Keep text in the interactive world concise, and pause the game for players to read long-winded monologues and explore the archives of text logs.

    3) It depends on the franchise. Mario, for example, is better off without some in-depth story. It doesn’t need one, and it would just make it awkward and not Mario. Zelda, on the other, would be cool if the story was well-written and deep. But these new stories have to be handled correctly and still allow the game to feel like the previous installments, or else you’ll break the atmosphere, and thus defeat the purpose of expanding the story of the series.

    4) How about that’s the moral choice at the end of the game? Take the left door or the right door. Will you save a world that can become corrupted, or save your anchor in sanity and righteousness? Will you sacrifice yourself and the things that matter to you for the greater good or satisfy your selfish impulses? Two sides of the same coins.
    Or you could just do both. Typically, the princess is in the Dragon’s Lair waiting for you, sooo…

    5) Hmmm…well interactivity is always great to see in video games, although I do enjoy a well-executed story even if it is linear. I would like both as long as the open-world story still remains a functioning story and doesn’t get broken or is just lame to begin with. I like stories even if they are linear and controlled, as long as I’m not walking down boring corridors for twenty hours or whathaveyou.
    Or just give me a well-written and executed open-world story. Yeah, don’t you dare compromise.

    6) So Halo Reach or Fallout 3? I like both. Seriously, I don’t mind enjoying a short campaign if it’s one of the best 8 hours I’ve ever spent, and I also love experiencing a massive story over the course of several days, weeks, or even months, even if it does take some time to really unravel.
    One-sitting campaign binges are fun, and in terms of narrative, can really connect the player to the characters if, say, the characters have been fighting a battle non-stop of several days and nights and you, the player, can feel their exhaustion but still want to proceed and win the battle. That’s what ODST and Reach did for me.
    At the same time, experiencing a story (and exploring an open-world environment if that’s part of the package) over a relatively long course of time really gets you immersed in a big world and you have an urge to explore and see more of this interesting world. If it takes some time to get through the prologue, fine, I’m okay with open-world games taking their time to introduce the character to the world in a gradual way; it makes the transition to a fully-explorable world less jarring.
    If executed well, both a short story and a long story can be incredibly fun, interesting, and memorable experiences that are quite unique to video games since games are interactive and can afford to have the player invest longer amounts of time into a story compared to a movie, whether this invested time is in a single sitting or over the course of many sittings.

    7) Non-canon spin-offs may be fun, but if you have to sacrifice canon continuity for gameplay, I question whether this game’s gameplay is going to fit well with the rest of the canon. It’s not so hard to stay withing canon and still produce great gameplay. Halo Reach accomplished this to great avail, and even surpassed the numbered sequels, at least in my opinion. So again, just do both; find a way to improve and innovate the previous installments of the series while remaining as close to the canon as possible, which really isn’t hard as long as the earlier installments were relatively flexible or have areas of backstory or future-story that can be played with with enough freedom.

    Great questions, and I’ve gotta thank you guys for putting these WYR’s up. They make me feel so smart! lol

  7. EDIT:

    1) i can haz suttel?

    5) I meant “Yeah, don’t you dare NOT compromise.” I forget “not”s sometimes. Oopsie-poopsie.

  8. 1. It really depends on execution. Cut-scenes are prettier, but have the potential to be more cheesy.

    2. Text! I’m literate.

    3. LEAVE THEM ALONE. Metroid is in ruins right now.

    4. Save the world. Then you get your pick of the bunch.

    5. Strong story is good. Most branches aren’t very well thought out.

    6. Short and sweet. Halo: CE is a good example. Halo 2 is not.

    7. Change it up baby. I want a good game in the end.

  9. 1. Both. I think if you only choose one, then you are very limited. Story delivered during the game keeps things moving, but sometimes you really need to slow things down if there is some kind of conversation. If I HAD to choose one though, it would be via in-world clues.

    2. Read text. Bad voice acting can take away from the story, if it’s actually well written. If it’s poorly written, then it’s a wash

    3. The less story in a Mario Bros (platforming) title the better. The story in the Mario rpg’s is fine, since it’s funny. What they did with Metroid Other M sounds annoying (haven’t played it) and entirely unnecessary, since the series has been about isolation. And I don’t really care about the story in the Zelda games; I care much more about them progressing the game mechanics in the 3D titles beyond what they were in Ocarina.

    4. I think this is interesting, and could actually be used as a plot device in a game, such as having to choose to save a world/planet/city/what have you or save the love interest. This could occur in the middle of the game and could change the way the rest of the game is played out. Of course, if I had to choose one, probably save the world, since the stakes arbitrarily seem higher.

    5. I think I would want a stronger central narrative without as many options, since I don’t like making tons of plot choices. I’m just really bad at making those decisions, and I want to reload and see all the options. It gets tedious for me. I also like strong narratives in the first place.

    6. To me, this totally depends on the actual game. If it’s a 20 hour game, but you’re not given much to do but the same stuff over, than I would much prefer it to be more concise. Yakuza comes to mind. That game really started to drag in the story, even though they gave you plenty to do. The basic combat in that game boiled down to the same moves over and over. God of War is perfect where it’s at in its length. Overall, I think I would want a more concise story in my games.

    7. For the most part, I don’t mind when a franchise does something goofy, off the wall, or against canon. The new DMC looks fine, and I think people are being WAY too dramatic. They haven’t even shown gameplay of it, the most important thing. The Metal Gear series has always done goofy shit while still being overly serious at points, so whatever makes for the best game, go for it. I don’t like what they did with Other M, but not because I am against Samus having her story fleshed out, just how they pulled it off (very poorly), making her a wimpering, overly obedient, little girl.

  10. This should be fun.
    1. I’ve always enjoyed cutscenes really. They drive the story and I viewed them as an award for getting farther in games. But only as long as I can skip though them. In-world game clues can be hard to find and sometimes aren’t worth it.

    2. Text. Some of my favorite games like Kirby64 and The Machinarium don’t have a single line of dialog.

    3.Don’t fix what aint broken. Mario and Zelda’s greatest strengths are their simplicity and playability, not overwrought yarns. Their stories lie in the experience, not prefabricated linear paths.

    4.How about destroying the world for once? It’s not like she’s gonna put out anyway.

    5. Depends, really. Games that rely on the story as a driving force should have a more rigid structure. “Branching Structures” reminds me of Starfox 64’s campaign.

    6. Keep it short and sweet. Bad Company2’s story was no-frills but it kept me entertained to the very end.

    7. Sometimes you just have to take risks. Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker both made departures from the old formula and I consider them to be the best entries in the franchise along with A Link to the Past.

  11. 1. Both. Uncharted 2 has a nice mix of the two. You actually learn a lot abut Nate and Sully through their in-game banter. In Sully’s case, too much.
    2. I can take poor VA as long as the words they’re saying are worth listening to (inFamous has Cole and Zeke: Bad voices, great lines if a tad clich├ęd at times).
    3. Zelda may benefit from this as I’d like to know more about Hyrule and its history.
    4. Like Zelda mebbe? Link kills two birds with one stone. Or Halo 3 (MC and Cortana: Bungie’s awkward stab at a love story). Saving the world IS a better motivating factor.
    5. If it’s like Fallout, then branching storylines can fuck away off. If it’s like a Bioware game, by all means stay.
    6. RPGs? Long. I need the motivating pull to finish the story. FPSs? I can’t imagine a long story would benefit the game in any way. FPSRPG hybrids? A halfway point is nice.
    7. Keep the cannon consistent. If it’s a detriment to the game though, don’t change it TOO much.

  12. [quote comment=”13484″]1. I think something in between would be fine. Metal Gear Solid is way to heavy handed and Portal leaves a lot the imagination (although this is intentional).

    2. I would have said text for dialogue, but after Dead Rising 2: Case 0, I want everything to be voiced. Seeing the little things pop up through your walkie-talkie is odd without a voice over.

    3. Well, just look at what happened with Other M. I think that Zelda could probably benefit from more story though. It seems built for it.

    4. Can’t I have both? Save the world, definitely. Always more fish in the sea. You can’t get laid on a hunk of blasted rock hurtling through space.

    5. I’d rather see a stronger story, because having a long meandering one is just going to make me bored, even if I do get dialogue options.

    6. Depends on what I’m in the mood for. I’d go with shorter, though, especially in video games. For books, definitely longer to unfold. Of course, five years is a long time to wait…

    7. Again, this depends. For a fairly young IP, canon is kind of mutable as you’re not messing up too much with the established setting. If the franchise has been around for a long time, like Star Wars, changing one small thing can mess up dozens of books or games or shows.

    @SK Beans Someone didn’t like the end of Reeeeach…(read that in a sing-song voice)[/quote]
    Why do you think I didn’t like the ending?

  13. Wow. Some great questions to think about. It’s interesting reading peoples responses.
    1.This is a tough one. I like cut scenes do the best at portraying the main story, but in-world cues do a phenomenal job of hinting at the hidden truths of the story, like the visual clues in a movie. So a combination of both if possible, but if I had to choose one it would be cut-scenes.
    2. Voice acting, even if it’s bad. Although really good text dialogue would be better than bad voice acting.
    3. Not a Nintendo dude.
    4. That’s an epic question. “Infamous” comes to mind. Save the world. But both are great.
    5. A better overall story is preferable but a interactive story with different paths is pretty damn cool.
    6. Longer stories that unfold; but if it’s a choice between a bad long story and a good short one, give me the short one.
    7. I like it when a franchise sticks to what made it great to begin with and then improves on it. Because if the story completely changes then it is just using the established name to sell a totally different game, which is a bit of a cheat IMO.

  14. 1. Like most people’s answers so far, I think if it’s done well, either is just fine. I love Final Fantasy games and their use of cut scenes (FFXIII was a bit long-winded, though), but Portal’s in-game clues were incredible. Just do it right, and I’m happy.

    2. I HATE bad voice acting. I cringe when I think of FFX and that stupid laugh scene (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5FTJxfV3pc). If you can’t get it right, keep the text.

    3. I would have said leave them be (although Zelda can be pretty story-heavy at times), but Skuba mentioned wanting to know the history of Hyrule. That sounds like a cool kind of spin-off Nintendo could work on. Maybe a game starring someone else in Hyrule besides Link and Zelda could be great (Tingle’s game doesn’t count). Leave Mario alone, though.

    4. Uhhhhh…love, indubitably.

    5. I don’t know. Like cut scenes, if it’s done right, I’m game. The Mass Effect series (any BioWare game, actually) does branching storylines but is also narratively strong. I could think of any number of games I love from either example (i.e. Fable versus FFIX), so I won’t take sides here.

    6. Again, if it’s good, I don’t mind length.

    7. Do whatever’s best. There is no reason to stubbornly stick to the canon in a faltering series just to please the fanboys. I’m a big fan of innovation in games. Not to say I don’t love classics that keep giving, but sometimes things have to change.

  15. 1. In world game clues. Portal and Limbo are some awesome examples that come to mind.

    2. I would have to go with bad voice acting. After playing Bethesda’s and Biowares games I’ve lost my tolerance for text dialogue.

    3. Wouldn’t know.

    4. The love interest ;0

    5. More rigid but stronger storyline.

    6. Either/or. If I had to choose I’d pick the former. Some short games has given me some of my most memorable gaming experiences ever.

    7. I cannot emphasize this enough: DON’T change major facets of a franchise/story that have already been established as key componets to that franchise/story. For instance… This is probably just me but the fact that in Crysis 2 the aliens connection to ice.. or the ability to drain energy from practically any source has been scrapped entirely. Reason? None. Arrgh…

  16. 1. In-game, definitely. The less the gameplay is interrupted the better.

    2. Read text. I remember a time when voice acting wasn’t really an option, so I can handle not having it. Having a really goofy, horrible voice can really damage the experience for me though.

    3. After seeing attempts at bigger stories in games like the Metroid series, I’d really rather they kept it simple and focused on making a fun game rather than trying to tag a story onto it.

    4. I’ve yet to find a love interest in a game likable enough for me to care to save with the possible exception of Alyx from Half-Life 2 (and the companion cube from Portal… why must the things I love be torn away) and over all I would rather feel like the hero of the whole damn Earth than just one AI character.

    5. More rigid story. I’m somebody who wants to be able to play the full extent of a game, and if that means that I have to replay it just to get some different story options then it makes gameplay feel uncomfortable to me.

    6. Short and concise. If a game drags on too long I might lose interest or realize that it’s keeping me from moving on to the next game I want to play.

    7. I’d rather if they changed something up for the betterment of the game. A good example is Half-Life 2; where the first game was really light on plot and had few actual characters (just generic scientists and generic security guards) and was mostly an Area 51 type story, Half-Life 2 came almost completely from left field taking place 20 years after the first game where most of the action is in gritty street battles and plot and character are a major part of the game as well as physics puzzles/combat (which was nonexistant in HL1) becoming a major part of gameplay. Most of the entire gameplay was changed up, but it really made a better game for it, and I’m grateful for that.

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