Everybody's Gone to the Rapture Intends to Improve Storytelling in Games

According to Professor Dan Pinchbeck, story is better when it is found and not told.

Game developer The Chinese Room is known for creating rich, atmospheric first-person experiences such as Dear Esther and Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. Dan Pinchbeck, creative director for The Chinese Room, recently posted a blog entry on the developer's website entitled "Rapture, Story, and Open World Games." In it, Pinchbeck lists his criticisms of contemporary storytelling in games--what developers do right, what developers do wrong, and how their new game Everybody's Gone to The Rapture aims to improve upon those shortcomings. 

"Let’s talk about Nosgoth."

When it comes to exposition, Pinchbeck believes that less is more, citing games like Soul Reaver: Legacy of Kain and Shadow of the Colossus as prime examples of subtle atmospheric storytelling. Locations like Nupraptor's Retreat and the ruins of the Forbidden Land serve little to no practical purpose in these games, and yet their presence lends depth and mystery to the worlds they are found in. I, myself have wandered through the unused locations of Shadow of the Colossus wondering, "why is this here?" Players exploring these locations won't have these questions answered by secret journals or bonus cutscenes.

"The lack of knowing exactly what has happened allows you to fill those gaps with your own interpretation," Pinchbeck explains. "It’s the old horror adage that there’s nothing as scary as the monster you create yourself. Games might be awesome but they have nothing on player imagination."

Building a better narrative

Pinchbeck compares this to the tired narrative format of the average contemporary video game. Rather than encouraging players to arrive at their own conclusions, most games are more cinematic in their approach, using cutscenes and dialogue to explicitly convey as much information as possible. This is made worse when games use story as a means to justify otherwise bland and repetitive gameplay. 

The Chinese Room means to remedy this by making Everybody's Gone to The Rapture the kind of game that facilitates exploration, imagination, and discovery in order to drive exposition. Here's what the blog post had to say:

Here’s the two key components underpinning what I wanted to do with Rapture’s story:

1)      focus on inferred story by foregrounding absence and inspiring you to use the most powerful tool in our design kit – your imagination – to create a story together (rather than offering what usually transpire as meaningless, frustrating branches where I’m actually forcing you to accept my inevitably limited reading of events rather than letting your imagination flourish)

2)      play down a central linear plot that is all about solutions, or tied to goals or serving gameplay as a mechanic, and create a space for those small moments that really create depth and a rich, full capacity for emotional signposting to be the core of the experience.

From here, it's starting to look like The Chinese Room's narrative vision for Everybody's Gone to The Rapture resembles that of a D&D campaign more than a traditional video game, attempting a story that is found and not just told.

"It’s your story, as much as mine," Pinchbeck elaborates. "I wanted to write a story that left you free to form your own emotional connections that let the core of the experience be about how you felt about what was going on, that didn’t restrict your imagination to branches or a pre-defined slot, and where what you found and how you felt about it was given room to breathe. A genuine collaboration between the game and your imagination."

Look forward to seeing just how well they managed when Everybody's Gone to the Rapture releases later this year. For more information, or to read Pinchbeck's blog post in its entirety, visit The Chinese Room's website.

Published Jun. 6th 2015
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