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Dyad Creator Calls Linear Story and Plot in Games Worthless, Including Branching Games Like Mass Effect

November 29, 2012 Written by Jesse Meikle

The folks at Dork Shelf caught up with the sole creator of Dyad, Shawn McGrath, after his Gamercamp keynote speech. Dork Shelf sat down with the indie developer to speak about a burning topic on McGrath’s mind – the worthlessness of plot in most games. Shawn McGrath explains:

I think linear story and interactive anything are completely diametrically opposed. They make no sense together at all, and any attempt to put storylines in games, in any traditional sense, is completely idiotic.

He then goes onto directly address Mass Effect:

Mass Effect attempted it, and people praise it. It’s horrible. It’s horrible because the choices that you make are so meaningless and people say, “Oh, but it’s getting to a point where the whole galaxy is going to change based on your decisions,” and I say, no, that’s impossible, that’s an NP-hard problem, that’s a computer science problem where “that problem is not computable.”

So attempting that is a worthless endeavor. Games are really fucking awesome. We can tell stories through entirely interactive ways, with no text.

McGrath continued later with some fair points:

In Mass Effect, you make a couple of choices and some little things change, but they’re pretty meaningless and don’t matter. Some of them are like, “oh, this guy died.” And you’re like, “Aw.” But it’s pretty inconsequential. The Reapers are coming, the bad stuff’s happening, it doesn’t matter. That hasn’t changed. You cannot change that in Mass Effect.

Dork Shelf countered this by referencing the self-contained storylines that take place in missions, while alluding to how dramatically they can change. Shawn McGrath rather quickly dismissed this side-effort on BioWare’s behalf:

Right, but this is busy work. I don’t know why they did that, probably to extend the game to get it a higher Metacritic score or something so you can play it for 70 hours instead of 30.

When Dork Shelf  inquired into the value of BioWare’s sci-fi epic, McGrath promptly continued his Mass Effect massacre:

Oh, it’s just a waste of time. I’ve read a lot of science fiction. The science fiction in Mass Effect is not something I would consider even passable for a high school paper. It’s horrible. But if you put in a game then it’s praised for being so great. It’s especially so because in the context of video games, stories are f****** awful.

Benjamin River’s Home does it on a very limited, very small scale and it works. It only works, though, because it’s so small. And that game has, like, 15,000 branching pieces of dialogue, and it’s incredibly small. If that was any larger, the amount of dialogue and content that needs to be written goes exponentially higher and it still has an authorial voice, and it’s still contrived because it’s created by someone else and not by the player, therefore I don’t think it has any purpose.

I’m inclined to disagree, after all I certainly don’t play the Mass Effect games for their oddly sub-par (but passable) gameplay. Shawn McGrath brings up some valid (albeit exaggerated points) but what do you think? Is Shawn onto something here, or is he over-exposing small holes in the framework of video game plot portrayal?