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RuneLancer
Mage


Joined: 17 Jun 2005
Posts: 441

PostPosted: Fri Sep 30, 2005 8:26 pm    Post subject: Cliche storylines [quote]

People often use originality as a point for or against a game. The focus, often, is on the storyline: "oh hum, another sword-weilding boy with self-doubt who overcomes his inner demons and saves the world from the gothic-looking bad guy..."

Gamers will be quick to jump on the popular opinion bandwagon if a game has a storyline that falls into a frequently used pattern. But we, as developpers, often have opinions that vastly differ from the players' (which can bring about innovation, but doesn't always end up appealing to a target audience...) For instance, I'm sure everyone posting on these boards has come up with what seemed like a great idea for a game system in theory, and ended up scrapping it because it handled poorly in practice. So, what's the opinion of the developement crowd on cliche storylines?

Personally I've never had any problems with cliche (yeah, I know, my keyboard doesn't want to do accents right now :x ) storylines so long as they're well-designed and the gameplay is good. I especially feel irked when someone tells me "Ho-hum, yet another 'save the world' game... lame!" There are many ways to twist something like that and make it into a very unique and original storyline. The traditional "sword-weilding protagonist"? Well, frankly, swords are the most common RPG weapons (assuming the setting isn't futuristic or whatnot). Having a large share of games focusing on these makes sense; not a lot of people would feel their character's cool if they'd fight with a fly-swatter (although that could be comical.) And, frankly, the amount of games which branch off from this main character mold are quite numerous.

I feel, however, that what truly matters is the gameplay itself, and storyline should only be a means of conveying it to the player in a way that can keep their interest as much as possible. A game quickly gets boring if there's nothing driving the player's actions. But a riveting storyline? I've played many badly-designed games because the storyline was great and had me hooked.

IMO, wether the storyline is cliche or not doesn't matter. Wether it's well-designed or not is more important, and with solid gameplay to back it up, you can't go wrong.
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Mark_Y
Tenshi's Bitch (Peach says "Suck it!")


Joined: 18 Aug 2005
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 30, 2005 11:20 pm    Post subject: [quote]

I think it depends on what you mean by "cliche." There are three types of "cliches" that I do not think are problematic, which I discuss below. (The format of this message is a bit screwy, because I've been altering it back and forth. The content is, I think, comprehensible.)

1) A lot of people talk about cliches at a fairly high level of abstraction -- like the cliche that the hero will save the world, or that the hero must face an evil reflection of himself, etc. While these sometimes could be called cliches, they really are fundamental parts of the mythology that drives games. Saving the world is what heroes do, even if sometimes the world is smaller (a family) and sometimes it is larger (a galaxy). When the world is conspicuously larger than what the hero affects, the hero's deeds become trivial, and the epic scope of the game is lost. Epicness is not a necessary attribute of all games, but it strikes me that it is a requisite of RPGs. (Yes, I know there are exceptions, but I've not yet found an exception that was very, very good.)

2) People also talk about cliches that are as much functions of the game type as anything else. For example, the cliche that the hero will be a quick fighter, will meet a weak-fighting black mage, a slightly better fighting white mage, a powerful slow fighter, and so forth. Because of the nature of jRPG combat particularly, and because hero stories tend to start with the hero being solitary, you need a self-sufficient warrior hero. Then his companions should complement his abilities and provide decent contributions to battles. So the healer needs a better attack than the black mage because otherwise he will be a totally tedious character.

3) Next, there are the cliches of character types (the pirate with the heart of gold, the tomboy, the kindly healer, the gruff but fiercely loyal brute fighter, etc.), which I think are also basically the archetypes of the mythology we're working with. These types are as familiar and comfortable as A = jump, B = attack was back in NES days. To some extent, we are stuck with these basic types, and the question is what we do with them.

None of the above "cliches" is really problematic in my opinion. Indeed, RPGs as excellent as Planescape: Torment have featured all of them. When people get self-righteous and say, "Oh, jeez, another warrior orphan off to save the world. How uncreative!" they're really (I think) missing the point, which is that warrior orphans saving the world help ground the story in the familiar.

The cliches that I would be more concerned about are the following:

1) Cliches of resolution. I think players / readers have the most trouble when the situation is resolved in a way that has happened before. People don't mind the set-up being similar, but when the solution is the same one, they feel like they've been had -- they expected a surprise and they got old hat. So, the notion of the heroes coming into possession of a magical artifact that is the "weapon of the enemy" is probably fine, but having them then dispose of it by sneaking into his lair is less cool.

2) Cliches of identicality. When a character or scene is strikingly reminiscent of something in prior popular culture, it's going to jar the reader / player out of the game. I think Golbez's "Cecil, I am your brother!" moment is the most dramatic example of this in gaming, but this comes up in fantasy literature all the time.

3) Specific cliches. I think there are some tropes that have been used so much that they make the story harder to sell. The evil (demon-possessed?) minister, accumulating crystals, building an AI to control your military, etc., are the kinds of things that fall into this category. These can be used if you have a very good twist to them -- you use the cliches as a bluff to the player -- or if you are clearly making a game in homage of "classics," but I think they're worth avoiding.

Something worth flagging in your post is this line:

Quote:
I feel, however, that what truly matters is the gameplay itself.


I couldn't agree more. Story should be in the service of the game, not vice versa. I think that's why the first set of cliche types doesn't offend me. But given that the games you seem to be designing are straight up jRPGs, I would caution you that I don't think jRPGs are particularly good games (see my article, "RPGs and the Great Myth" on Gamespot and RPGamer for an elaboration on this point) and so you need to sell them with pyrotechnics and story.
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Nodtveidt
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 01, 2005 4:15 am    Post subject: [quote]

I used to write "save the world" storylines but grew kind of tired of them (Monolith was my last save-the-world storyline). My focus tended to shift more towards revenge/murder stories after that (Wrath Of Sona, RGB, Phantasm). Focus on gameplay can be a problem though...characters in many games tend to fit into standard moulds and the formula can get tired. I've tried to take characters out of the moulds and allow them some freedom (Jareth in Wrath Of Sona, for example, can effectively switch fighting styles depending on the weapon type he chooses: a blade will allow him to fight as a warrior and a staff will allow him to fight as a spellcaster; Segacious in RGB is an ordinary guy, nothing special about him really, and he fights with guns or his fists). Breaking the moulds is good for originality, but I personally cannot stress enough that breaking the moulds to simply break the moulds doesn't work...you need a legitimate reason to do it. :) And yes...gameplay and execution are indeed the most important issues in ANY game, not just RPGs (but it really shows in an RPG if things are out of whack).
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Gooseman
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Joined: 25 Jul 2005
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Location: England

PostPosted: Sat Oct 01, 2005 9:35 am    Post subject: [quote]

Its always nice to play a game that hooks you with an original and interesting storyline, but that doesn't mean that cliche's are bad. Some of the best games ever have had very cliched stories but that didnt stop people loving them!

Obviously from a developers point of view its always nice to think that you have great gameplay and an interesting idea for a story but, ultimately, as has already been said, the story is there to aid the gameplay.

For the game me and my bro are working on at the moment we havn't even got a story yet.. We just know a couple of the characters and are working on the engine and graphics etc before we worry about constructing a story.
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js71
Wandering DJ


Joined: 22 Nov 2002
Posts: 815

PostPosted: Fri Oct 14, 2005 5:38 am    Post subject: [quote]

Quote:
I think Golbez's "Cecil, I am your brother!" moment is the most dramatic example of this in gaming

Damn, some of us haven't beaten that game yet. Shh. :p
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RuneLancer
Mage


Joined: 17 Jun 2005
Posts: 441

PostPosted: Sun Oct 23, 2005 7:11 pm    Post subject: [quote]

Josiah Tobin wrote:
Quote:
I think Golbez's "Cecil, I am your brother!" moment is the most dramatic example of this in gaming

Damn, some of us haven't beaten that game yet. Shh. :p

Well get to it! It's a pretty damned good game, lol

Someone once said that every idea has already been thought up, or something to that end. In a way, I guess clichés are unevitable. Unless you have your characters chasing off the milkman on a quest to return the extra quarter he gave back as change accidently, it's almost certain that any storyline idea has already been, in some small way, done.

I guess that leaves us with the implementation. The "bad guy is psychotic and wishes to destroy the world" storyline still seems to work pretty well in RPGs and doesn't get old as fast as it should because we're faced with games that have interesting twists on this situation. Both, say, Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy IIIe have this kind of storyline, but we can all agree that they're very different in their execution of "bad guy wants to destroy the world."

So... on further reflection, maybe it isn't the storyline itself, but the implementation that matters.
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Mark_Y
Tenshi's Bitch (Peach says "Suck it!")


Joined: 18 Aug 2005
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 23, 2005 8:47 pm    Post subject: [quote]

[CHRONO TRIGGER SPOILER]

Did Lavos really "want" to destroy the world? One of the weaknesses (there are really only two or three) with Chrono Trigger is Lavos's "character," if an essentially elemental force can be called a character. My sense was that Lavos's species just had a reproductive cycle that required them to embed in worlds and then destroy them in order to send the "spawn" out to new worlds where they could mature. I don't recall Lavos ever expressing this as a "want," and Lucca's ridiculously expository voice over (I think it's hers) before the final battle (where she explains Lavos's life cycle) makes it sound more like an evolutionary imperative. Lavos doesn't "want" to destroy the world any more than locusts "want" to denude the land of grain.

The problem with Lavos is that he could, at most, be a metaphor for human folly (so, Lavos ultimately stands in for nuclear war during his hatching sequence and leaves the world, appropriate to a nuclear war fantasy, in a post-apocalytpic state). But that metaphor is hardly developed throughout the story. The principal antagonist (Magus) fades out as a major character after the Zeal arc. Chrono Trigger really needed an overaching story to elevate it from wonderful to brilliant, and Lavos didn't provide it. (Magus almost did, but not quite.)

Maybe it would help if someone could explain the portals to me, although after all these years I'm not sure I remember enough to be able to understand an explanation. They weren't created by Lavos, but by the Earth itself, even though they tracked critical moments in Lavos's development?

For what it's worth, the two other flaws that stand out in my memory are having Crono's dialogue invisible (he definitely speaks, we just don't see what he says) and how the post-Crono's death sequences are handled. I *think* the game would've been much more powerful if Crono were dead for good and the post-death sequences were just about how the characters coped, using symbols like Robo's gardening to help convey what was going on. In any event, that part of the game suffered from the recurrent jRPG problem where the strict linearity is relaxed and the plot falls to a shambles. In CT's case, the short stories that make up the nonlinear episodes are so charming that it's easier to deal with the nonlinear part (compared to post World of Ruin FF3), but I still don't think it works that well.

Still, CT and FF3 closely compete for my favorite console RPG ever. I'm not really sure which I'd put first. I should replay them sometime and see.

[FF3 SPOILER]

Also, for what it's worth, Kefka doesn't want to destroy the world, does he? Again, it's been, God, I guess 11 years (?!) since I played FF3, but my recollection is that he wants to remake the world to be a place of justice. Granted, his notion of justice is horribly skewed, but he clearly had the means to wipe everything out with the Light of Judgment but didn't do it. I read his character as feeling like he had been wronged, essentially not recognized sufficiently for his greatness, so he wanted to make sure he was properly, justly worshipped.

Honestly though, it's been so long since I've played that I'm not sure.
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RuneLancer
Mage


Joined: 17 Jun 2005
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 23, 2005 9:07 pm    Post subject: [quote]

[CT SPOILERS]
IIRC, it was, indeed, the planet that created the gates. That's what the party seems to hint at after their campfire discussion after Robo becomes a gardening aid. Why it creates gates at such crucial points in time makes it seem more like a deus ex-machina than anything else though. Square just needed an excuse I guess. ;)

Lavos is definitely sentient, but wether he's just a "bad guy wants to kill everything" character or not is a little touchy when you look at it the way you mentionned. I guess CT wasn't the best of examples for this, lol

[Final Fantasy IIIe SPOILERS]
Kefka was definitely up for the world's destruction.

KEFKA: I will exterminate everyone, and everything!
"People will keep rebuilding the things you take from them!"
KEFKA: Then I'll destroy those too. Why do people rebuild things they know are going to be destroyed? Why do people cling to life when they know they can't live forever? Think how meaningless each of your lives is!
"It's not the net result of one's life that's important! It's the day-to-day concerns, the personal victories, and the celebration of life.. and love! It's enough if people are able to experience the joy that each day can bring!"
KEFKA: And have you found your "joy", in this nearly dead world of ours?
(...)
KEFKA: I will destroy everything... I will create a monument to non-existence!
"Life will go on! There will always be people, and dreams!"
KEFKA: No! I will hunt them down. I will destroy it all! Destroy! Destroy! Destroy!!
"We will not allow you to harm another living thing."
KEFKA: Hee, hee, hee!! But what fun is destruction if no "precious" lives are lost!

Although Kefka's madness is explained here and there in-game as an incident while trying to make him a magitek knight. He was the first one to undergo the procedure and something in his head went "ker-snap!" that day.

Compared to (FFV spoiler) Ex-death, whose motivation is... really, I have no fucking clue, FFV did a poor job explaining it other than "Well, yeah, he wants to destroy the world with the power of Nothingness!" (/FFV spoiler) Kefka was pretty well-developped though...
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Mark_Y
Tenshi's Bitch (Peach says "Suck it!")


Joined: 18 Aug 2005
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 23, 2005 9:32 pm    Post subject: [quote]

Kefka was better developed than Exdeath or Lavos. I remember the Magitek incident reference (it's when you go into Vector before meeting with Gestahl, right?).

Do you have a page with the FF3 script? It'd be great to be able to skim it. :)

Your quotes definitely suggest Kefka's for mass destruction. I'm just not sure that we can trust Kefka to state his own goals accurately (or honestly). That's definitely reading FF3 postmodernly, something I hate to do, and maybe I'm just trying to defend my own time-warped view of his character, but I really don't see Kefka as wanting to destroy the world.

Here's why.

1) Although we're never told exactly what the limits on the Light of Judgment's power are, it's pretty clear that if Kefka had wanted to, he could've wiped out the big cities of the world fairly easily. But he hasn't, at least not quickly.

2) "But what fun is destruction if no "precious" lives are lost!" To me, this suggests that he would want to keep enough people alive and reproducing to allow him to continue having his "fun."

3) My most untethered issue, though, is that I always read Kefka's fury as being about the injustice of what happened to him. Now, this is very much shaped by RPG stories I've written subsequently, which rely on using injustice to shape villainous characters, but I do think there's some textual hook for this reading. Kefka was the first MagiTek-infused general. I guess Celes is the second (and the only other?). Celes and Leo, the two other generals, are more beloved than Kefka, much more beautiful, and generally more important in the hierarchy (until Celes is sacked). Leo has enough authority to countermand Kefka, despite being vastly weaker than Kefka and despite being unable to achieve the Emperor's ends.

I saw, and see, Kefka as resenting that. He was first (temporally) of the MT knights and should be first (hierarchically) among them as well. He's by far the most powerful man in the world, but people don't respect him or even take him very seriously. Even when he's become an angel with the power to destroy entire cities, no one really pays attention to him. Like a child who's being ignored, he engages in greater and greater displays of his power to try to win the approval he wants and get his due respect. No one pays it to him.

The finale, where he declares that he'll destroy everything, seems less a statement of his ultimate desire and more a statement of his ultimate frustration. Even in the final showdown, his enemies continue to point out his irrelevance -- whatever he destroys will be rebuilt, the most important things are what Kefka can never have (love and a normal life), etc. Kefka's greatest moment, maybe the greatest line in all jRPGs, is when he declares that his opponents sound like chapters from a self-help book. Aside from the brilliant skewering of RPG "monologuing" (to steal The Incredibles's term for it), which is what makes it so great, it reveals something of Kefka's frustration: even as a semi-divine ruler of the world, people just refuse to take him seriously. They talk down to him the way self-help books talk down to their readers. They refuse to just meet him on his own terms (to kill him or die trying) and insist on throwing their own reasonably happy lives in his face.

Shrug. Anyway, I realize that's drifting in LG-style psychonalysis, but it is how I've always seen Kefka. "Either give me the respect I'm due, or I'll show you just how miserable a person can be, until no matter how miserable I am in being ignored, you're more miserable in being ruined."

---

Re: CT -- yeah, I remember the campfire scene, but I just can't remember what the rationale they give is. I always thought it would be more interesting if Lavos were creating the portals so that humans could understand who he was before he destroyed them. But there I go again. :)

So he's definitely sentient? Where does that come from? I just can't remember. . . . does he speak at some point (maybe near the end or at zeal?). He does have his ridiculous spacesuit form (part of why his character sucks so much), and it's hard to imagine a giant spaceman not being sentient . . . .

This is the closest I could find:

Quote:
Queen Zeal: . . . Come, dear friends. Perhaps I can persuade Lavos to share his dreams with you! Did I say dreams? I meant his eternal nightmare!
. . .

Queen Zeal: You cretins... I plan to live with Lavos, and control the universe forever. You will not get in my way!

Magus: Idiots... Nothing can live forever. Zeal... A pitiful woman, duped by Lavos!


Then this:

Quote:
Magus: ...... So... since the dawn of time, it has slept underground, controlling evolution on this world for his own purpose.


Both those quotes imply that Lavos is purposeful, capable of duping people, etc. But it's really never made clear whether this is anything more than instinctual, the way there are some parasites that cause their hosts to engage in behavior that helps the parasite but hurts the host.

These two quotes argue in the other direction, I think:

Quote:
Computer [Mother Brain]: Listen well, humans. Lavos's children will one day have to leave to seek new planets, and prey. This world COULD sustain them... if humans were not around...


If Mother Brain is right, then Lavos has not controlled all evolution to its own benefit, since Lavos failed to make a sustainable environment (although one could argue that Lavos deliberately created Mother Brain and was foiled by Crono and crew, but that seems a stretch). If the world is able to sustain Lavos and his kids, why didn't he make it that way in the first place?

Quote:
Lavos continues to replicate...... like a giant parasite, he is consuming our world.


The reference to him as a parasite, the fact that he takes a grub-like form, his name being a simple, elemental one ("big fire"), all seem to argue against sentience to me.
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Mark_Y
Tenshi's Bitch (Peach says "Suck it!")


Joined: 18 Aug 2005
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 23, 2005 11:01 pm    Post subject: [quote]

By the way -- I had forgotten until skimming these scripts how poorly written (or translated) they were. The dialogue is so leaden and I can't believe the way every other line has an elipsis. Ah well. Maybe I shouldn't go back and play them. :)

--EDIT--

Quick thoughts: is Lavos a metaphor for science / technology? He arrives when humans first gain mastery over the natural world, appears when humans let science gain mastery of them in Zeal (via the Mammon Machine, literally "greed machine"), destroys the world in what is clearly a nuclear war metaphor, and then, in the post-apocalyptic aftermath, a robot says that Lavos would exist just fine if there were only machines and no humans. (After Lavos has "conquered" the world, machines rule over humans.)

I'm not sure that adds anything to his character or is supportable by the rest of the story, and I'm also not sure that it's in any way original, but I figured I'd toss it out since we were on the subject.
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Captain Vimes
Grumble Teddy


Joined: 12 May 2006
Posts: 225
Location: The City Streets

PostPosted: Fri May 12, 2006 4:57 pm    Post subject: Chrono Trigger [quote]

You know, I have played part of this game and never really understood a single thing about it. I guess it was because I was playing a friend's file who was 3/4 through already. What I really like doing (and don't laugh) is imagining what people would gather had been going on if a video game actually did do that: drop you in on the middle of the game with no story explanation, no hints, and no clues as to what to do. And I think I do remember someone called Lavos speaking once. I have no idea what Zeal is, but I think it was mentioned.
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RuneLancer
Mage


Joined: 17 Jun 2005
Posts: 441

PostPosted: Fri May 12, 2006 9:36 pm    Post subject: [quote]

Way to resurect a dead thread.
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Captain Vimes
Grumble Teddy


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PostPosted: Tue May 16, 2006 3:03 pm    Post subject: Dead? [quote]

Dead? It was highest on the list of new posts when I logged in. I figured it was still a live topic! Sorry. Maybe it's a computer error on my end.
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LeoDraco
Demon Hunter


Joined: 24 Jun 2003
Posts: 584
Location: Riverside, South Cali

PostPosted: Tue May 16, 2006 5:32 pm    Post subject: [quote]

Er, the last post was in October. Granted, this particular board is not exactly jumping, but still: that was about seven months ago.
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Captain Vimes
Grumble Teddy


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PostPosted: Thu May 18, 2006 3:15 pm    Post subject: [quote]

Jeez. I apologize. Maybe I should double-check the dates before I post from now on.
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