Interactive Storytelling for
Video Games
Chapter 2: A Brief History of
Storytelling in Games
Josiah Lebowitz
Chris Klug
The Early Days
 Early games had little to no story.
 Games both lacked the graphics power to display large
amounts of text and the memory to store it.
 Donkey Kong and Dragon’s Lair were two of the earliest
arcade games to feature full stories.
 Colossal Cave Adventure was the first computer text
adventure game and one of the first games to feature a
complete story.
Donkey Kong
 Released by Nintendo in
1981 (arcade).
 Nintendo’s first big hit.
 Mario creator Shigeru
Miyamoto’s first game.
 One of the first platforming
 The first game to tell a
complete story using cutscenes.
Dragon’s Lair
 Released by Don Bluth in
1983 (arcade).
 Featured movie quality
animated graphics and
voice acting while other
games used simple sounds
and sprite art.
 Had very limited interaction,
playing much like a Choose
Your Own Adventure book.
Colossal Cave Adventure
 Created by William
Crowther in 1976 and
updated by Don Woods in
1977 (PDP-10 computer).
 The first text adventure
 The player must use his
wits and inventory to
explore a strange cave.
 Extremely difficult by
modern standards
 >You are inside a barren
room. The center of the room
is completely empty except
for some dust. Marks in the
dust lead away toward the
far end of the room. The only
exit is the way you came in.
 >There is a ferocious cave
bear eying you from the far
end of the room! The bear is
locked to the wall with a
golden chain!
RPGs, Adventure Games, and the
Growing Importance of Stories
 In the late 80’s and early 90’s many games still lacked
detailed stories.
 On PCs, adventure games (such as the King’s Quest and
Monkey Island series) and American RPGs (such as the
Ultima and Might and Magic series) were the most story
focused genres.
 On consoles, Japanese RPGs (such as the Final Fantasy
and Dragon Warrior series) were the most story focused
 Early stories were short and simple but quickly grew in length
and complexity.
Point and Click Adventure Games
 The evolution of text
adventure genre.
 Sierra and LucasArts created
many of the most popular
 Primarily featured
conversation and inventory
based puzzles.
 Puzzle solutions were often
rather obscure.
 The release of Myst in 1993
greatly changed the genre.
Final Fantasy IV
 Created by Square in 1991
and originally released in the
US as Final Fantasy II
 Featured many
groundbreaking elements.
 Had one of the longest and
most complex stories of its
 A bit cliché and melodramatic
by modern standards, but
still a fan favorite.
The Cinematic Evolution of Game
 The introduction of CDs and later DVDs in the late 90’s and
early 2000’s allowed games to add more cinematic elements
such as FMVs and high quality voice acting.
 Stories became increasingly important in console games
thanks to groundbreaking games such as Final Fantasy VII
and Metal Gear Solid.
 PC gaming became increasingly focused on FPS, RTS, and
sim games, leading to a decline in story based games.
However, some notable games such as Myst III, Neverwinter
Nights, and Dues Ex were released during this time.
Metal Gear Solid
 Released by Konami and
Kojima Productions in 1998
 The third game in the Metal
Gear series.
 One of the earlier console
games to contain full voice
 Features a very mature and
believable story.
Game Stories Today
 Improved graphics technology and increased storage space
have made FMVs, voice acting, and highly realistic graphics
 PC and console games of all types incorporate RPG
elements and deep complex stories.
 Games using non-linear player-driven forms of storytelling
have become increasingly common.
 New types of games (MMOs, casual games, downloadable
games, etc) let writers tell many different kinds of stories.
 Many games strive to tightly integrate the story and
gameplay to create a more cohesive experience.
The World Ends With You
 Released by Square Enix in
2008 (DS).
 Set in Tokyo’s Shibuya
 Uses setting appropriate
graphics, music, and
gameplay systems.
 Character development and
gameplay are tied heavily
into the plot and setting.
The Limits of Storytelling in Games
 With the power of modern PCs and consoles allow any type
of story to be told in games.
 Some types of stories don’t lend themselves to games as
easily as others.
 In any game, the player can only do things which the
designers, programmers, etc planned for when creating the
 If the game wasn’t created with a dance option, players can’t
dance. Similarly, if no bank areas were created, the player
can’t go to the bank.
Possible Actions in Games vs.
Real Life
 Potential Options When
Having a Conversation in
 Friendly response,
threatening response, and
clever response.
 Bribe the other man.
 Kill the other man.
 Leave.
 Potential Options When
Having a Conversation in
Real Life
 All “game” options.
 Can talk about any subject.
 Can take any action for or
against the man.
 Can jump on a table and
 Etc, etc, etc…
Removing the Limits
 No matter how many options are put into a game, they can
never compare with the range of potential actions that a
person could take in real life.
 The only way to change this is with a near human AI that can
understand the player’s actions and modify the story and
game on the fly, much like a dungeon master in a tabletop
 While there are many differing opinions on the matter, it
seems high unlikely that such an AI will be created in the
near future, if ever.
Things to Consider
 What do you consider to be several of the most important and
influential games in the history of game storytelling and why?
 Do you think voice-overs and FMVs significantly improve the
way games tell their stories? Why or why not?
 In what ways do you believe that game storytelling has
improved over the last five years? How about the last ten years?
 Are there any particular aspects of game storytelling that you
think still need significant improvement? What are they are how
could they be improved?
 Do you believe a dungeon master AI would improve game
storytelling? Why or why not?

Interactive Storytelling for Video Games Chapter 1: Game Stories