Seminal shooters BioShock and Portal are shining examples of great videogame storytelling and character design, Lionhead audio producer Georg Backer told an audience at the Develop Conference in Brighton this afternoon.
“The big thing that good story experiencing does is it’s coherent,” Backer, who’s currently putting the final touches to upcoming Xbox 360 and PC RPG Fable III, said.
“One of the games I love with that is BioShock. BioShock is completely coherent, in the art style, the audio, the setting. It’s even so coherent that the game mechanics are part of the core story.
“The whole idea about Adam, and the powers you level up, all that is not just plugged in as a meta thing on the game. It is part of the whole story, part of the whole coherent experience, which was just brilliant.
“A scene in BioShock was, you walk into a toilet and you see a dead woman and a guy who had clearly shot himself with the words written ‘I’m sorry’ on the wall. Stuff like this doesn’t add anything to the gameplay or the mechanics as such, but makes for a huge dramatic experience.”
Backer isn’t alone in his admiration of 2K’s BioShock, of course. It’s considered one of the most atmospheric games of all time, topped many game of 2007 lists, and scored 10/10 in Eurogamer’s review.
Backer also mentioned Valve puzzler Portal, which Eurogamer gave 9/10 to back in 2007, as another shining example of videogame storytelling.
“Portal is one of my favourite games as well. The cool thing about it is it’s a strategy game. It wouldn’t need a story. You wouldn’t need a story experience, as you would call it. It would work completely without one. But it makes it so much better with it. And they did it in two ways. They had one voice and a little bit of clever level design.”
Portal’s famous Companion Cube was, Backer said, evidence of brilliant character design.
“It’s basically just a box with a heart in it. It created such an emotional connection with players by only using about four or five lines. He doesn’t even speak. It’s just GLaDOS, this weird computer voice.
“The interesting thing is the Companion Cube doesn’t do anything. You walk through a level and you use it to solve a couple of the puzzles. There are other cubes in Portal, but they just don’t have the heart, and the introduction from GLaDOS didn’t happen. Suddenly you feel really attached to that.
“Portal is really evil because you have to incinerate the Companion Cube after you’ve been through the level. On YouTube there are clips of people showing you how to break the game in order to save the Companion Cube. This is just an example of a different kind of character design.”