I am quite an obsessive when it comes to games with nonlinear elements, in my opinion it is what spices up the mix. On a personal level I’m a halfway person, I enjoy both nonlinear and linear narratives, and often find it hard when faced with a game that is pretty much just sandbox; for some strange reason I just get bored quickly. I suppose I prefer my games to be limited.
As I have been looking into the narrative structures of games recently I came across a post on Game Career Guide, which outlines both the theory and practice of nonlinear narrative. It was very useful as it highlighted a few things that I hadn’t thought about, as well as some ideas on how writers begin to figure out a multiple of alternate endings.
Nonlinear narratives, offer a depth of story that is often lost within linear narratives, but with this it also comes with a hell of a lot of complexities for the writers and designers. Nowadays players are asking for at least some elements of choice and freedom within the games the play. So for companies, they often have to balance the amount of nonlinear element to the timeframe that they have to produce the game; this is because, the more choices, alternate endings etc that you put into a storyline, this increases the amount of programming, designing and all that jazz, that will be needed. This often leads to developers abandoning full nonlinear narratives and instead choosing to incorporate nonlinear elements into a main linear story. Which, in today’s society, gamers need games to offer choice, otherwise, they will get bored quickly. I think this links to a post I did recently about the level design in Batman: Arkham Asylum.
I think the idea of nonlinear narrative is so effective because it allows players to gain a more meaningful experience from a game, the choices they make have actual consequences. When you think about it, linear narrative offer less of an interactive engagement from the player because they don’t have to think about anything, they could jut run around, following visual cues from the environment and shoot some enemies without really knowing what the heel is going on! Now in some cases, this has been used very effectively – Killzone, your in the middle of a fucking war, so running around not knowing what the hell is going on really works well, but even within this game on the bigger environment maps sometimes I get lost, when Rico(teammate) runs off and you don’t see where he is, so you have o mess about looking for him in open fire half the time!
In summary, nonlinear is a good thing within games, it depends on what type of game the company is producing and how much time, money etc they have. Linear and nonlinear often run hand in hand within next gen games. So, if I take the path of narrative, I will need to start working out the best ways to introduce nonlinear elements to a mainly linear narrative.
P.S. I’m in a ranting mood! =)