Give me stories, not vapid CoDs and teabagged Skywalkers

Give me stories
What will make you finish a game?

When was the last time you finished a game? Not as in 'I've got what I wanted from this game and now I'm done,' but actually completed at least the main story mode?

I'm willing to bet it was a while ago and even then I'd bet my cat it was a rarity.

That's got to be a huge source of frustration for a games developer who's spent thousands of (hu)man-hours and millions of monies putting together the latest AAA title.

In a speech at last year's Games Developer Conference (GDC), titled 'Death to the Three-Act Structure,' some statistics were produced by Valve from the Steam achievements of a selection of games.

Only a third...

At best only two-thirds of players completed a given game. And that was the super-short first episode of Telltale Games Walking Dead series. Generally speaking it is held that only around a third of gamers actually bother with completion.

Walking Dead

So how do you make sure that as many people as possible actually get to the end of your game and experience the full fruits of your labours?

In recent times the solution has been simply to make the game as lacking in challenge as possible to ensure folk don't get frustrated at failing to make it past a particular set piece or boss battle.

But then us gamers become bored if we're not challenged a little.

Treyarch, the developer behind CoD: Black Ops 3, has taken a different strategy and is rocking the Netflix model, opening up every single level in the game from the beginning to be played in whatever order you fancy.

If you're the sort to read the last page of a book first (I'll hold my hand up to that one…) then you might appreciate being able to skip to the end and just play the last, bombastic chapter of the latest CoD: BLOPs.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3

Maybe, just maybe, that means Treyarch will have made the individual efforts more of a challenge. Though the fact it's not even bothered making the campaign for the last-gen consoles does make me wonder if it's taking the single-player gamer seriously at all.

And hell, if you're only really interested in the chase me, chase me, pew-pew multiplayer gun-play, then you don't give a pair of fetid dingo's kidneys for a single player campaign anyways. If there's some faux-controversial 'No More Russians'-style level that could be poisoning the minds of today's youth though you could always jump in for ten minutes and see what all the fuss is about.


I get it. I understand the idea behind it. And when we're talking about another barrel-scraping, gung-ho single player run-and-gun campaign from a franchise which increasingly feels like it's less phoning it in than texting a basic emoji, it makes sense.

After all, the CoD narrative has become puddle-shallow in recent iterations, so just playing a few disconnected single player 'episodes' here and there isn't going to ruin the experience.

Treyarch's Jason Blundell explained it was aimed at a 'far more mature' audience who are looking to consume content on their terms. Basically developers and gamers have grown up, got families and now can't dedicate the long hours to an involved game.

They're after the quick fix. But I don't think effectively killing the story is the way to go.

Witcher 3

I can understand the frustration at the vast, far-reaching game marathons like The Witcher 3. Don't get me wrong, I love the game, but it's so huge I've spent many hours in the world and still barely feel like I've scratched the surface.

In an industry where big numbers marketing wins, being able to say a game has over 100 hours of gameplay is a great bullet point for the press release, but for the average gamer it will likely only elicit a weary groan.

The Hollywood trap

It's a trap Hollywood has fallen into, producing three and a half hour epics where the audience is snoring halfway through the second act, and the gaming market has historically fallen foul of every trap the movie industry has broken an ankle in before it.

They're both now mired in the sequel-only mentality of only spending the vast, millions-of-dollars budgets when the producers/publishers can guarantee a return based on an existing fan base. And gaming is following in the reboot footsteps too.

Witcher 3

But if you can tell your concise story in maybe five hours of dedicated gaming, like a movie hitting around 90 minutes, then more people are going to finish and get the full experience the developers desire.

It might be harder to tell the story, but the end result will be tighter and more impactful as a result.

Multiplayer gaming is great for that quick fix, like bubblegum TV shows or movies - diverting but with little real substance. A good story-driven game though can be so much more.

Give me story

In fact one of the most affecting moments of my gaming life actually came from a Call of Duty game. The first Modern Warfare campaign absolutely grabbed me in a way no FPS had done since acting out my silent-scientist-with-a-crowbar-fascination fantasies, and it was because of the visceral, involving story, not the mechanics of shooting people in the mouth.

Modern Warfare

That moment, as Sgt. Jackson, I crawled out of my downed chopper into a nuclear maelstrom, draggin myself a few feet before dying. Actually dying. Permadeath. Not reload-and-I'll-be-fine death. Death as a progression of the story. That moment has stayed with me ever since.

But now with CoD: BLOPS effectively ditching a strong narrative I fear for stories in gaming. And that's something which has been bothering me since I booted up the Star Wars: Battlefront beta last week.

I was so excited about that game. Watched all the choreographed videos which churned out over the gaming expos of the Summer, barely able to conceal my delight at being able to immerse myself in the Star Wars universe again.

Star Wars Battlefront

And was immediately disappointed as I remembered multiplayer shooters don't really scratch that gaming itch of mine.

But it's Star Wars. The sight of an AT-AT looming above me, a Star Destroyer blotting out the sun, a downed X-Wing rusting in a sulphur pit. And the sounds, those classic Star Wars sounds.

All the elements of a great Star Wars universe are there, yet it has no soul.

I want to experience the Star Wars universe as the fantasy realm I've always remembered, I want heroic stories, far-reaching narratives. Star Wars: Battlefront feels less like the fantasy epic the game assets deserve and more like some Death Star barracks humour.

Star Wars Battlefront

'Did you hear the 501st were on Hoth when Lord Vader and Skywalker met?' said one trooper, settling down on his bunk to wipe the Ewok brain from his armour. 'When Vader vanquished him, the whole squad stood around, taking it in turns to dump their junk on his head.'

'I heard Emperor Palpatine did that to a pig once,' said another.

It's such a shame Star Wars 1313 died a death in the transition to Disney. A good story-driven game is what this universe deserves. Either a new Knights of the Old Republic-style RPG or a Dark Forces-style FPS or please, please, please a new X-Wing vs. TIE fighter.

Hell, if Star Citizen can crowd-fund $100m surely that tells you something of the desire for a proper Star Wars game.

So, while I'm all for trying out new ways to ensure we stick it out to the ends of your game, Mr. Developer, please try and do it by telling a story well and not just mechanically easy to experience.