A recurring trend in indie games

Discussion in 'General Video Games Discussion' started by joakkar, May 3, 2017.

  1. joakkar

    joakkar Member

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    Ok, so my steam list is composed mainly of massively popular retro indie games and I'm starting to see a pattern that I don't really enjoy personally, but seems to be incredibly well-received in general. I'm talking about the inclusion of deep lore with barely any narrative in game stories. Or at least that's what I'm calling it right now since I don't know the actual technical term.

    What I'm talking about is when instead of showing characters interacting with each other to advance the plot, we have more and more games using notes/collectibles and visual cues to suggest a story rather than straight out telling it to the player. And I'm personally tired of having to go into forums and dig through wikis to understand what happened in the game I just played. Especially when games go out of their way to be as vague as possible (I'm looking at you axiom verge).

    And I've heard the argument a million times already. "Less is more", "leaving things to the imagination is better". But to be honest, it does get tiring and it feels more lazy than anything. We have more and more games like undertale and FNAF where half of the plot is a huge void of fan theories. I only played the first portal recently and all I got from playing it was the jokes. Even Evoland 2 which is currently my favorite game from my library is basically "You choose what you believe happened in the ending because we ain't explaining it to you".

    Is it weird to think like this? Am I the only one that gets a little irritated with all this? I just want to actually understand the plot of a game WHILE I play it for a change but it seems like leaving things vague and unexplained is the best option for developers lately. I'd like to know what everyone else's opinions are about this. (By the way, this all came to mind because I started playing FEZ which went from silly level-based puzzler to exactly this vague sort of story telling I'm talking about).
     
  2. Fuepepe

    Fuepepe Active Member

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    I wouldn't even say it's just the indie games that are doing this nowadays. Look at the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy, for example. Characters reference terms and events that are never explained outside of the in-game encyclopedia constantly.

    I give Axiom Verge a free pass on this because it's trying to be a Metroidvania and a large part of Metroid is the solo exploration and picking up pieces about the world on your adventure. They often don't have any other NPC's at all to even attempt to convey this information. Games outside this genre that do this? Drives me nuts as well.
     
  3. joakkar

    joakkar Member

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    my main problem with axiom verge was that they did absolutely everything possible to make in-game notes pointless. Overuse of scientific terms. Literally writing them out in fictional alien languages. Multiple points of view and planets they never mention again. It's like they actively don't want the player to know anything about the lore. But then there's the opposite case like mass effect 2 with like 40 pages of encyclopedia from the get-go that you just really don't feel like reading.
     
  4. commodorewheeler

    commodorewheeler Well-Known Member

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    I definitely prefer a detailed story to trying to piece things together through lore. Give me a story like a Persona 5 or Trails of Cold Steel 2 over that of a Destiny or Dark Souls any day.
     
  5. Chaosblade77

    Chaosblade77 Well-Known Member

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    It's only a problem if the story is an integral part of the game, but in most of these cases it isn't. The lore is usually for worldbuilding - to add some depth, details, and internal consistency to the game world. I doubt most of the developers of these games expect the average player to get into their stories and dig up all the details like you're talking about.

    And it's probably for the better. These small teams probably don't have quality writers so if they did try to write a detailed story you would probably just be disappointed that it's bad, instead of it being disappointed that it's "hidden."
     
  6. DustyStarr

    DustyStarr Well-Known Member

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    Wait, Undertale did not have enough character interaction for you? I was praying for people to shut up by the end of it!
     
  7. Leon Tekashi

    Leon Tekashi Active Member

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    Really, more story telling and explanation is important if the story is the main part of a game, like RPGs. If not then them being vague and whatnot, causing the player the think about it isn't that big of an issue to me.... Unless of course it's important info that should definitely be explained.
     
  8. Wyrdwad

    Wyrdwad Administrator Staff Member

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    I enjoy the lore-driven approach if it's done well, as in La-Mulana (where you're a solo archaeologist, and you're uncovering millennia of lore in your pursuit of the ultimate treasure of life), but I also enjoy the more classically story-driven approach of indie games like Ghost 1.0 (which, despite also being a Metroidvania, has a story told almost exclusively through cutscenes that take place at pre-set points during gameplay).

    Then there are games like the recent Owlboy that do a little of both, and that's my absolute FAVORITE approach. Owlboy has just as much dialogue- and animation-driven story as it does hidden lore, and you really need to pay careful attention to both in order to piece together what's actually going on... and even then, you're left with many unanswered questions, but unlike, say, Axiom Verge (which I agree overdoes its cryptic nature), you still have enough to go by in Owlboy that you genuinely feel like there IS an explanation -- you just don't quite know all of it.

    Tl;dr version: I think both approaches can work, and both approaches have worked in the past -- you just need the right people working on them. A good storyteller can engage you with hidden lore just as easily as with cutscenes, but a not-so-good storyteller can leave you feeling like something's missing.

    ...Incidentally, if you haven't yet played any of them, I highly recommend Owlboy, La-Mulana, and Ghost 1.0 (and the recently released 8-bit prequel to Ghost 1.0, called Mini-Ghost, which is just super-good and is less than $2 on Steam!). And if you have played them, I'm curious what you think of them in terms of the issue you brought up in the OP here.

    -Tom
     
  9. DustyStarr

    DustyStarr Well-Known Member

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    I have not played Owlboy myself but I have watched a little bit of it and I think you're right, it seems to have a really sweet balance between lore and dialogue. Also the numerous animations are so great and it's cool to hear someone else appreciate it! I should have known that would be the kinda game you would enjoy, but I was not expecting that would be a game I woukd see mentioned here. I know it is subjective, but do you think the game is worth the kinda high price for an indie game? I am just worried it would end up being short and not replayable as a story driven experience.
     
  10. Wyrdwad

    Wyrdwad Administrator Staff Member

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    I would absolutely say buy it -- it's one of the best 2D games I've ever played. It is a bit short (you'll beat it in about 10 hours), but the experience is absolutely worth every penny, and then some. It's about as close to a 10/10 game as I've played in a long time, with virtually nothing about it I dislike, and it's one of the few games I've played in the last decade that I actually took the time to 100% -- which takes some doing, as the game does have a lot of hidden stuff (including a lot of hidden story and character development), as well as some pretty difficult challenges you need to overcome to get some of the coins.

    I actually think this GameSpot video review of the game does a nice job summing it up:



    Particularly with one statement: "You'll never be able to play Owlboy for the first time again." Because man, it is a really special game to play that first time through -- you'll genuinely be moved by some of the things that happen, and as long as you didn't watch too much spoiler footage, you'll be kind of entranced by its cinematic presentation. It does something very few other games of its kind ever have: it perfectly times certain set pieces to musical cues, so that when something big happens, the orchestra swells, etc. And that can genuinely leave you in awe when it happens, especially toward the end.

    ...Sorry to gush so much, but yeah. Owlboy is phenomenal.

    -Tom
     
  11. Akeashar

    Akeashar Active Member

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    Gotta love Tom and his TL;DR that's as long as what he said before it. ^~ (At least on my phone)

    Honestly I approach any game blind unless it's a game I have no intention of ever playing simply because the 'you only play a game a first time once' applies to every game really.

    Daylight is an example (for me) of an Indie game that does well by having the story and lore being the maguffins you pick up, but since you don't need to pick them all up, it can take multiple runs to piece together the story on what's actually going on, but it's effective when you do.
     
  12. Ringwraith

    Ringwraith Well-Known Member

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    As I read somewhere else, one of the main tricks of using "lore" in your game is write a bunch, then put maybe about 10% actually in it.
    You don't want to have every little detail explicitly detailed, and having so much to draw from but not have to include means you can cherry pick the actually interesting stuff then use it to drive actual stories, usually stories involving actual characters.
     
  13. tilinelson2

    tilinelson2 Active Member

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    For me, this "deep lore" thing is like any uncommon narrative device: if abused by people who don't master it, the result will be much worse than using a common narrative device.

    Imagine you reading a short story collection by amateur writers that write in regular prose, then reading another collection by writers trying to use stream of consciousness. Which do you guess will be more enjoyable?

    There is a big difference in "less is more" writing mantra if you are leaving the superfluous parts out or the important parts out. If you take early RPGs, the narrative was sparse, there was almost no dialogue except for the mostly essential, yet you could understand what was important and be involved by the story, filling the blanks as you wish without sacrificing the main plot. It is wildly different than having a sparse narrative and leaving the important parts out.

    A great book or movie (or game) is one is a complete work; yet you find yourself constantly thinking about it after its end and yearning for more. A book or movie (or game) that makes you think about it after its end because you have no idea what they wanted with it and leaves you yearning for a meaning is a big failure. Any artwork that is not self-sufficient is a failure.
     
  14. Wyrdwad

    Wyrdwad Administrator Staff Member

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    Yeah, I think that's a good way to put it, actually. Leaving the audience trying to piece together complex lore is great, as long as you truly believe there's actually an answer -- like, as long as you have faith the developers know what really happened.

    Poorly written lore-driven games leave you trying to piece together what happened, but also leave you wondering if even the writers know the answer to that.

    -Tom
     
  15. Ringwraith

    Ringwraith Well-Known Member

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    Yeah, if you've done the legwork, you're more likely have results, that even though you don't show everything, which are consistent.
    Keeping things internally consistent is key in making it believable.
     
  16. joakkar

    joakkar Member

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    of course there's a lot of character interaction. The thing is most of it is irrelevant to the actual plot. Even the phone call option which is usually used on games to explain the situation is wasted on unrelated jokes most of the time. What bothers me is that what you get out of undertale in the end is mainly "the characters are cool and likeable", but that's about it. Even after getting all three endings, most of my understanding of the plot came from reviews and the wiki rather than my playthrough.

    And I have had owlboy in my steam wishlist for a while. Good to know it's as good as it looks.

    As for the topic, again I don't actively hate lore per se. My problem is when they use it as an excuse to leave a game story itself empty. When you finish a game that obviously hinted at something big happening but all you can really do is stand there all "I have no idea what just happened but I think it's over". That's what happened to me with axiom verge. I got the bad (or is it neutral?) ending on my first playthrough and I really didn't feel like getting the better one simply because the story I had experienced so far seemed too cheap. I wasn't interested in "what really happeened" because I knew the game wouldn't bother making an effort of making it understandable even if I beat a stronger boss.

    Another game I remember I hated for that same reason is one I'm glad not many people talk about and it's knights in the nightmare for psp/DS. That is a game that uses every mean necessary to make the story hard to understand, and the fact it has cutscenes before and after every stage makes it even worse. For starters, characters in cutscenes don't have names (they're refered to by vague descriptions like "spirited lad", "tall guard", etc) despite the fact they have actual names when you recruit them on stages and that makes it harder to remember who they're talking about. Then there's the changing protagonists and the fact that the most important character conveniently disappears whenever they make you meet other characters as to avoid any real instance of them asking her what happened. That way you're supposed to build the story from testimonies of random NPCs instead. And that would be nice if 95% of those testimonies weren't mundane things like "I enjoy farm work but my mother thinks I work too much". In the end I just took the testimonies as collectibles and didn't bother thinking too much into either of them. Then I got to the ending and realized thinking about all of that was pointless. In the end all I did was walk (or float since it's a ball of light) from point A to point B while everyone died in some sort of flashback, fight a demon thingy and then die. That's all the game actually wanted me to know.
     
  17. Clessy

    Clessy Member

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    Yeah I'm with you on this. I hate games with lack of story. Its the main reason I hate open world games. Then again I dont like most indie games in the first place however.
     
  18. Ghaleon

    Ghaleon Active Member

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    I love dark souls. But I agree, and I blame dark souls for making this such a common appearence these days because so many devs incoeporporate some elements that were in souls into their games, even if souls didnt invent it.

    At the very least, I would like these random lore tidbits hidden in item descriptions and stuff catagorized in a glossery thing or something for player convenience.
     
  19. Ringwraith

    Ringwraith Well-Known Member

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    It's more like things have a tendency to be copied without being understood.
    So it comes out a bit of a mess as it doesn't actually gel together.
     

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