Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The disconnect between story and gameplay pacing in RPGs

Soren Johnson has recently written a couple of posts about the disconnect between theme and mechanics. One example he gives is applicable to just about any free roaming RPG like the Elder Scrolls series. The theme, or story, is about being a hero and defeating some huge evil. However, the mechanics are about scavenging, hardly heroic stuff.

In this post I am going to consider another disconnect that occurs in this genre: pacing in gameplay and narrative. The story will be telling of an impending threat and that speed is of the essence; the gameplay will be rewarding you for taking your time and actively avoiding advancing the story. I must have played Oblivion for about 100 hours and countless in game days, I have become leader of the Mage's Guild, gone on a killing spree and numerous other things and the imminent threat still hasn't actually developed (except when I try to deal with it).

All of this stops the story meaning anything. The threat never feels genuine; yes it would be nice for you to defeat it, but if you don't, it's no big deal. Instead, I think that stories should be crafted to match the inherent gameplay pacing of an RPG.

One example that came to my mind recently is global warming. It has the same giant scope as a normal story - the end of the world - but the time scale is in terms of years rather than days. This will allow players to explore without feeling like the threat is made up. It could also be worked so that the gameplay of scavenging, or recycling, fitted with the theme as well.

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