Storytelling with Comics #

In my post about drawing ninjas, I mentioned that I had an idea for blending comic books and games, and I was trying to figure out where that idea came from. Most of the ideas I have are combinations of other ideas, and occasionally they're an idea I saw a long time ago, absorbed, completely forgot about, and then had it surface again. I think this idea was sparked from a combination of things:

  1. After reading Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, the comparison of time and space stuck in my head. Games, videos, and audio present a sequences temporally, but books and comics present those temporal sequences by laying them out spatially. Are there games that use the spatial layout of time?

  2. I played Passage, a game that represents time as a spatial dimension.

  3. I played A Tale in the Desert, a massively multiplayer game in which a story unfolds from the collective actions of players. I had also played World of Warcraft, in which all the regular monsters get reset too often to make a lasting difference, but even there I saw story-worthy events (huge raids on cities, large social activities). But how are these recorded?

  4. I got a new computer, which came with a neat little program called Comic Life. This application makes it easy to create comic strips and add thought/speech bubbles.

  5. I played Oblivion, in which I'm playing through a story. The quest NPCs know what part of the story I'm on, and can react appropriately. But it's a big open world and I can do lots of things, including side quests for various guilds. Unfortunately the tale of what I actually did isn't anywhere; what's encoded in the game is what I'm supposed to do on the main quest.

The Sims and Spore are also storytelling games but the stories I read were outside the game itself. In strategy games, I want to see the history of battles on the map. In adventure games, I want to see the history of my progress, not only successes but also failures. Sports games aren't just about who won but about the great events during the games. In Chess I often want to see just the key moves that turned the game. Some of these games have timelines or replays or screenshots, which help with what I'm looking for, but they don't go far enough.

Comic books seem like a nice medium for recording history. At the extreme, I could imagine using the comic book format for both the history and the “live” game. The rightmost panel would be the game, and the other panels would show what you've done:

As you play, “screenshots” of the significant events turn into static panels, which scroll off to the left. At the end of each chapter/level you can go back and see the history of what you did. At the end of the game you can go back to see the entire game history, and then if you want, you would annotate it (with speech bubbles etc.) and share it with friends. You could click on those panels to show a replay of that event. The are plenty of open questions here: what are the most significant events? What screenshot do you pick to convey the event? How many events do you want to capture? Should you ask the player to replay the event and pick the best point? Does this format give people enough context to understand the story? Will anyone want to share these stories?

It was with that idea in mind that I started working on the ninja animation. However, I lost interest in that (I seem to lose interest in lots of things I start) and don't know if I will ever return to it. I still think keeping history and stories hasn't been explored enough in games, and in just about every game I play, I can think of features that would help with history/stories. Storage has become very cheap; let's record a lot more.

Update: [2012-04-02] See Storyteller, an interesting experimental game that's based on directly manipulating comic strips to build a story.

Update: [2017-03-08] Final Fantasy XV uses photos of significant events to tell a story.