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.



lahosken wrote at July 26, 2009 3:25 PM

"Are there games that use the spatial layout of time?" makes me think about Braid. ( When your character moves around the game, he also manipulates time. In each level of the game, the nature of this manipulation changes. I haven't played the game, but I've heard about it second-hand.

Amit wrote at July 26, 2009 3:34 PM

Braid definitely plays with time. In the levels I saw, the time wasn't represented spatially, but I didn't try very much. It looks like the “Time and Place” level(s) act like Passage in that your position affects time.

Also check out Chronotron, a time manipulation game.

For the comic book game, I wasn't thinking of the player manipulating time inside the game, but transforming time into space for history and storytelling.

Anonymous wrote at July 26, 2009 4:07 PM

I know I've seen a game that actually does the screenshots-in-comic thing. I can't remember which, maybe Max Payne?

One of the levels in Braid very explicitly has space-as-time. Moving to the right moves time forward, moving to the left moves it back. It's very disorienting and totally cool.

Rob wrote at July 26, 2009 8:15 PM

That Chronotron game makes my head hurt!

Luk wrote at July 28, 2009 4:31 AM

I remember playing a game in which player character was walking through pages of comic book. It wasn't exactly what you mean here, but somewhat similar.

That game was Comix Zone

rob wrote at August 31, 2009 10:35 AM

Hey Amit, good to see you're still out here. I, too, had wanted 'history' in my games, but as setting color rather than a player control.

One solution I came up with involved incorporating elements of that history into physical characteristics on the map. For example, if a city were sacked, there'd be a ruined city on the map, slowly yielding to entropy, as a source of raw materials.

Another solution was to generate a history "note" that would ripple through the world. Settlements would "know" facts about their world with some degree of fuzziness, and events would propagate based on their magnitude. There is also the possibility of the "fact" becoming distorted over distance and time.

Yet another solution was to allow the victor the opportunity to build a "stela" recording the event. A set of "glyphs" representing various words would be used to build a short message, with the header "text" pre-generated with the date, event, and participants. This stela would rest at the site of the event, and would itself eventually decay over a long period of time.

- Robert Eaglestone

Jeremy Russell wrote at September 02, 2009 5:55 AM

I'm currently working on a game that is presented as a comic book. From the very start it's all done in the style of a live comic book that the player is flipping through. When the game needs to advance with some story elements the game shifts around the "page" to the next panel(s) that are static, or animated through small movements, then the last panel shown will seamlessly transition to the next part of the game.

The capturing of screenshots and creating a story sounds like a great idea, but I couldn't see it lending itself well to the gameplay in my game. I like the idea though, perhaps there are some uses I could work into it :-)

MiKo wrote at September 22, 2009 11:10 AM

Hi, I just came across this entry and would like to point to Cipsoft. From what I understand, they are heading for a comic+game genre mix. So, your idea might go live soon?

Amit wrote at July 24, 2011 7:48 PM

Also see:

Luben wrote at April 09, 2012 12:20 PM

If you engrave a long corridor in dwarf fortress at an even time intervall, you'll end up with the history of your fort kinda laid out like a comix. Except it's not guaranteed to be chronological, contains a lot of noise, and is actually just text. But still, that's kind of it ;p

Amit wrote at April 09, 2012 1:19 PM

Luben — good point. Dwarf Fortress has everything! :)