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We've been thinking about storytelling wrong - Payton

Camouflaj founder says developers should be letting players tell their own stories

Ryan Payton was a producer on Metal Gear Solid 4, but the founder of indie developer Camouflaj has apparently turned his back on the approach to story that game embraced, and in many ways embodied. Speaking at a Shinra Technologies roundtable at E3 today, Payton said developers need to change the way they think about narrative.

"Thinking about technology, thinking about where games are going and thinking really critically about the next step for storytelling, I'm really becoming more and more convinced that the way we've been thinking of narrative and storytelling in games as of late has been the wrong way to think about it," Payton said. "We're not doubling down on what games and technology provide us as creators, versus what the big screen or Hollywood infrastructure can provide movie directors."

Instead of telling stories to the player, Payton said developers should focus more on incorporating dynamic elements in their games such that each player will have a different game to play, with its own emergent stories worth retelling. Payton acknowledged that many of his favorite games follow the industry's more traditional sense of narrative, but there are pragmatic reasons for wanting to avoid making a game heavy with scripted cutscenes.

"That's great, but then we see the sales of a lot of these games, and we see just how many millions of views these games get on YouTube or on Twitch, and players are now getting savvy to the fact that they don't have to spend any money to get these very linear experiences," Payton said.

Payton will be putting this philosophy to work in his new game, an as-yet untitled stealth-survival multiplayer game powered by Shinra's cloud computing platform. One of the game's dynamic elements that will presumably be the source of many players' stories is an environmental destruction system that won't just look cool, but actually have meaningful gameplay implications as well. The goal, Payton said, is to create a multiplayer game that tests critical thinking and strategic ability rather than twitch reflexes and memorization of hot keys.

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Latest comments (2)

Al Nelson Producer, Tripwire Interactive6 years ago
Yes. Ludology is greater than Narratology.
An emergent, interactive movie with you as the star and screenwriter is superior to any 3rd person, past tense story someone cal tell you.
In fact, the branching story is the parent to every linear story, because while being written the author has options. Then unneeded branches are eliminated to produce a linear result. Narratives are lossy data compression.
Realize, we are not authors in the traditional sense, we are party planners.
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Axel Cushing Freelance Writer 6 years ago
@Al
Realize, we are not authors in the traditional sense, we are party planners.
Something about this line struck a chord. My mind goes back to tabletop games, to game nights with Dungeons & Dragons or Exalted where the group comes up with a perfectly good plan, and it falls apart hilariously. There are still some moments from those old "analog" games that are the best stories my friends and I break out when talking games with other people. I can foresee Twitch channels suddenly getting rave reviews because a certain group of players streams instances of a future emergent game in a way that entertains large numbers of people; part acting troupe, part eSports team.
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