I remember taking a film class in college where the professor said something to the effect of “Narration in a film should be avoided at all costs”. In other words, having a narrator was a cheap way to convey feelings or situations and filmmakers should really use characters or settings to make those points.
I tend to disagree, and I think lots of games illustrate how the lack of a narrator allows the gamer to take of lot of the game for granted. Perhaps with a film its a little bit different, as the only things you’re going to see as a viewer are the things that the director is going to show you, but with a game, I think you have a little more freedom to draw in the gamer without destroying things like flow and style.
Take this image from MobyGames’ screenshot page of Baldur’s Gate 2.
Its a pic of a Dragon totally destroying a party. I would imagine quite a bit of work went into this dragon, and even though the room they’re in is quite plain, someone still had to imagine the scene and build it. When you play the game, you’re not taking any time to admire the pattern of the floor or any of the other missing details that could be conveyed before even meeting the dragon. Also, when the dragon dies, that’s it. The dragon is dead and you just move on.
How about this instead?
[Your party walks through the doorway and the “fog of war” opens to reveal a large space] The narrator jumps in, “As you step through the doorway you suddenly find yourself standing at one end of a large, stone floored room. You recognize the stonework as being similar to the fortresses you visited in Candlekeep. As you begin to smell the sweet air of the outdoors making its way to this chamber, your party files in and you begin to smell something a bit more malodorous. Your party is not alone in this room, and whatever it is that’s now breathing on the other side of the room is walking towards you.”
That was a little crude, but i think the meaning is there. There’s so much atmosphere and back story that could be conveyed in games but is really just left for the player to dream up. In my experience, I’m too busy playing the game, clicking around, making sure my party members arent lagging behind, managing inventory, etc. I think if the narrator kicked in and said something it would really cause me to stop “playing” the game and look at where I am and what i’m really doing. Maybe even say to myself “yeah that is a pretty cool pattern on the floor” or “Damn that dragon is huge – look at the steam coming out of it!”
I think of the book The Fellowship of the Ring and I know immediately why I loved reading it. Tolkien didn’t just tell you a plot line, he told you a story. It had history, which he conveyed to you by telling you about the houses and the trees and the people and what they were doing last year and will be doing tomorrow. The book created a plot, but around it was a world so imaginable, you couldn’t help but get consumed by it.
Games just don’t have that. The world in Baldur’s Gate is just as forgettable as the one in any other RPG of the era. None of them stand out because none of them feel very real. The only way to make the world real is to add as much detail as possible to it, and narration is an oft overlooked medium.
In an industry where we are now using movie actors to voice our games, wouldn’t it make sense to actually use one of them significantly more as a narrator? Would you want to hear Patric Stewart or James Earl Jones narrating through a game? Discuss.