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So I don't know why story gamers should care about Heavy Rain
The previous game by David Cage, the 'Director' of Heavy Rain, was Indigo Prophecy. Notable for having an excellent first five minutes and an abysmal the rest of the game, everything everyone was calling Unique was already done with more style and competence years ago in the Last Express. Indigo Prophecy was guilty of some pretty terrible illusion of choice. Every presentation of a choice you make only provided the merest of aesthetic differences in the story (As opposed to the amazing power you exerted on the story in another older game, Deus Ex). Indigo Prophecy was littered with game overs that simply didn't make sense. Why did I get a game over because I didn't feel like playing Simon Says while the protagonist practiced his guitar in the background? It added nothing to the story, was never reincorporated, and was really just pointless filler. I'm surprised this never broke anyone else's illusion. Of course the only real choice you got to 'make' was right during the final boss fight against I believe it was a sentient AI from the future trying to steal Aztec Magic. If you lost right in the beginning, you got Ending A. If you lost about halfway through, you got Ending B. If you won, you got Ending C. That is the only choice that affected the supposedly open story of Indigo Prophecy. So enough on why his previous game was stupid.
Did you watch the first nine minutes of Heavy Rain? I'll wait for you. Okay, so what did you see. Did you see all semblance of real interactivity stripped out for banal token interactions? Let's go over some of the obvious ones. Game stops if you stop doing what the game wants you to do, and tells you what you should be doing. Brushing your teeth and getting out of bed are interactive to some degree. Driving around an RC car, something that can be given direct control, is a cutscene you initiate by pressing X. Suppose you don't want to 'do some work' as the voice over tells you, maybe you want to go out the front door and check the mail. Too bad, you can't because trying to open the front door starts another cutscene of our hero opening and closing the door. That is not interactive story telling, that is watching a badly edited, badly acted movie while prompted to press buttons for irrelevant tasks.
Here are Jordan Mechner's (of the original Prince of Persia and the Last Express fame) rules for story-based game design, from over 10 years ago. They are a little bit dated but altogether quite good for the purpose of video games.
- The story is what the player does, not what he watches.
2. List the actions the player actually performs in the game and take a cold hard look at it. Does it sound like fun? (Resist the temptation to embellish. If a cinematic shows the player’s character sneak into a compound, clobber a guard and put on his uniform, the player’s action is “Watch cinematic.” Letting the player click to clobber the guard isn’t much better.)
3. The only significant actions are those that affect the player’s ability to perform future actions. Everything else is bells and whistles.
4. Design a clear and simple interface. The primary task of the interface is to present the player with a choice of the available actions at each moment and to provide instant feedback when the player makes a choice.
5. The player needs a goal at all times, even if it’s a mistaken one. If there’s nothing specific he wishes to accomplish, he will soon get bored, even if the game is rich with graphics and sound.
6. The more the player feels that the events of the game are being caused by his own actions, the better — even when this is an illusion.
7. Analyze the events of the story in terms of their effect on the player’s goals. For each event, ask: Does this move the player closer to or further away from a goal, or give him a new goal? If not, it’s irrelevant to the game.
8. The longer the player plays without a break, the more his sense of the reality of the world is built up. Any time he dies or has to restart from a saved game, the spell is broken.
9. Alternative paths, recoverable errors, multiple solutions to the same problem, missed opportunities that can be made up later, are all good.
10. Don’t introduce gratuitous obstacles just to create a puzzle.
11. As the player moves through the game, he should have the feeling that he is passing up potentially interesting avenues of exploration. The ideal outcome is for him to win the game having done 95% of what there is to do, but feeling that there might be another 50% he missed.
What rules does Indigo Prophecy break? 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6(arguable, many people were fooled), 7, 8, 9, 10(let's practice guitar!), 11(also arguable)
What rules does Heavy Rain break in the first nine minutes? 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 10(Brush your teeth by waggling your controller! Interactivity!)
So what's the hubbub. Do you think there's a secret ending where the protagonist moves from the bedroom to the bathroom and refuses to eat for a week straight? That might imply there is an actual choice in pressing X to piss or waving your controller to brush your teeth.