Kyle Orland posted a response on an interesting topic Op-ed: why photorealism isn’t the key to emotional gaming experiences
A game doesn’t have to look like a photograph to convey emotion any more than a Pixar movie or a Picasso painting does. The real emotional storytelling moments that people remember aren’t driven by the ability to see the acute detail in a character’s eyes. They’re driven a combination of strong world-building, compelling, believable writing, and most importantly, engaging scenarios that make the player’s actions feel integral to the experience.
It’s all about games connecting with players in a deeper, more meaningful way. This comes from an emotional connection or experience. It’s the topic I’m most passionate about in gaming and where all my indie efforts are focused.
I had a recent experience connecting with a game, beyond the common puzzle-solving point-earning break-things kill-things gratification. There’s a scene in Bastion where you begin to hear this beautiful singing echo across the sky. As you fight your way through the level the music becomes louder, the words more distinct. Finally you enter a clearing where a girl rests, singing.
Like the player in this clip I stopped and listened. I knew that as soon as I pressed the button it would end. I wanted this girl to become a new character that would travel with me through the rest of the game – I wanted to know her story and for her to become part of mine. But the moment ended and I went on alone.
I still remember the experience whenever I think of Bastion. You might say it was the music, and you’re right. The visuals might have added to the experience too, but more than these it was another voice, a person to connect with. In-scene dialog is a powerful way to connect with players, which is why the narrator is another favorite in Bastion. I say “in-scene” because when it’s a cutscene it doesn’t feel connected, it doesn’t feel like it’s you.
Another great example of in-scene dialog is Portal 2.
I love the distinct character in these games! Dialog helps build character. As a side, why is it that few games give the player-character a voice? The kid in Bastion never speaks, and Wheatley (robot eye) continues to play out his one-sided performance. Is it because we’re afraid a voice will take away the feeling that the character is the player? Maybe, but I’ve found that humans are pretty skilled at imagining they’re someone else. This is that special place fiction novels take us. I hope to challenge these kind of assumptions at each turn.
Of course dialog alone doesn’t guarantee emotional connection – you have to start with great characters and compelling situations. This is what we call story. It’s story that we connect with emotionally. Not photo-realism, not any other technological advancement. And it’s my goal is to help bring a greater level of storytelling to games.