PAX East 2011 has come and gone, and fun times were had by most. Since it was a convention about videogaming (though it included most other types of gaming as well) it seems appropriate to preface my write-up with an explanation of what separates the wheat from the chaff of the video game crop.
Disclaimer: The following analysis of video games is INCONTROVERTIBLE OBJECTIVE FACT, and anyone who believes otherwise is WRONG. It is in no way influenced by my personal opinions, and you should feel ashamed for even suggesting that it could be.
ANATOMY OF A VIDEO GAME PART 1: PREMISE AND STORY
Not every successful video game needs a compelling narrative to hold the reader’s attention (the puzzle, sports and simulation genres are almost completely bereft of story) but a strong premise is always there as the guiding principle on which the gameplay is based.
Tetris may not have a gripping narrative (though clever fans have come up with their own) but it knows its brand, and always delivers a game in which you manipulate blocks that are arrangements of 4 cubes in order to create lines that will cause the blocks to disappear, thereby earning points.
Some games on the opposite end of the narrative spectrum (such as “interactive stories” Heavy Rain and Dragon’s Lair) are completely focused on telling a story, to the detriment of other gameplay elements (such as replayability and controls, which are reduced to “press X to keep the movie playing.”)
A purely negative example would game like Sonic The Hedgehog 360, whose weak narrative elements (a romance plot between Sonic and the human princess of a distant land, a time travel plot involving two other hedgehogs) seem strange and unnecessary, burying the premise (Sonic runs fast and jumps on things that come between him and the end of the level) and actually hampering the quality of the game.
RECOMMENDED GAMES WITH GREAT STORIES:
Bioshock (Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC)
Portal (Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC, Mac)
Brutal Legend (Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC)
Silent Hill 2 (Playstation 2, Xbox)
The Legacy of Kain Series (Playstation, Playstation 2)
Shadow of the Colossus (Playstation 2)
RECOMMENDED GAMES WITH NO STORIES, BUT GREAT PREMISES:
Tetris (all platforms)
Bejeweled (all platforms)
Peggle (all platforms)
Crazy Taxi (Playstation 2, Playstation 3, Xbox 360)
Plants Vs. Zombies (all platforms)