So I was browsing the news wires this afternoon when I stumbled upon something I didn't expect to see. "Techniques of Written Storytelling Applied to Game Design," by Jeff Noyle on Gamasutra. In my first post on here I discussed the break between the story and the gameplay in most modern games. What I pointed out was that the story was decidedly separate from the game, and that was a big problem because it interfered with the player experience.
Well, I'm not the only one who thinks this, thank god. Jeff Noyle brings up some fantastic points, the most important in my opinion being the "Show, don't tell" part of the article.
In our little progression that flows from books to movies to games, we have varying degrees of visualization. Books are all about interpretation of events for personal reflection. Movies take that a step in the visual direction, giving us a visual representation of what the director/writer wants us to see. In games, it's important to take this even further so that the player is not removed from the game experience by unsightly text or undue intrusions into the player's agency.
There are several different ways to affect player agency negatively. The moment you take control from the player and give it to the system, you've got a problem. The moment you pop up text on the screen explaining ANY situation you've got a problem. The moment you help the player figure out a puzzle or a question using anything other than the construct the player is already in, you have a big problem.
Just like Noyle says, "the player is smarter than you think." The moment you assume the player is stupid and just tell him that the book on the table has the code for the door to their right, you remove the player from the experience and the player is removed from the game instead having an experience. Not that having a book with a code in it would have been a particularly engaging experience in the first place, but you get my drift.
It is important for the story to be an integral part of the gameplay. That way, the gameplay will guide the player instead of having the story tell the player what to do. Always allow the player to assimilate information on his/her own, don't tell them "We're equipping your boat with a weapon, make it through the swamps and get to our base on the other side because otherwise the aliens will win." Instead, make it apparent that it would be a good idea to get through the swamps, and have the player ask for the weapon upgrade. Maybe the aliens are hot on the player's tale. Allow the player to play a game of discovery instead of just listening and reacting. The more involved the player is in the storyline, the better. In fact, why not just make discovery of the storyline part of the storyline.