Ken Levine: "How to make gamers care about your story"

Ken LevineKen Levine was a busy man this year at GDC. The guy was all over the place in round tables, speeches and other types of intellectual whathaveyous. One of his speeches was something that I happened to find extremely interesting myself.

Since I wasn’t able to make it to GDC myself this year, I unfortunately had to rely on instead to relay the speech. Gamasutra summed up the presentation pretty well, titling it "Empowering gamers to care about your stupid story."

Levine gave what I consider at this point to be the definitive speech on in-game narrative. I can only hope that this is a speech that resounds throughout the industry. However, even that isn’t really enough, because then companies need to resolve to put enough effort into the games to realize the potential Levine outlines in the speech.

"What’s the purpose of a cutscene? It’s to push information at the player. It’s the same as linear media — it’s not our advantage, it’s not our strength. Yeah, they may miss it. You have to accept they are going to miss maybe most of it. That’s OK, because the people who engage and pull it toward them will be so passionate about it because they were involved in that decision."

Levine spoke out against overly complex and "intricate" plots. "If you want people to follow your plot it has to be really fucking stupid." He said that it’s really wishful thinking to imagine that the player is going to hang on every bit of plot that comes along. Some people, he says, just don’t like that kind of thing. He outlined three distinct levels of player that the game needs to be interesting to.

Level 1 – "Where do I need to go, who do I need to kill? If you don’t hit those people you will be making those games, as we did at Irrational, that sold 150,000 units."
Level 2 – "I need to kill this guy Andrew Ryan, there’s that Fontaine guy, there are those little girls. I’m usually in this group in games, some interest in the story."
Level 3 – "Think about music. There’s the weird kid in the back of the classroom who’s writing all the Nirvana lyrics on his notebook. That’s the hardcore fan… you have to give them all of that love, a novelistic level of detail. That has to be there but it can’t get in the way of the experience of the guy who just plays Madden and Halo."


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Author: Andy Groen View all posts by

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