By Alex Curthew-Sanders
Story-based games are evolving, and it’s only getting better.
Most people love to watch a good film, now just imagine if you could control how the story in that film went. That’s where the choose your own story games come in.
It’s almost like watching a movie, except you’re the one behind the wheel, driving the character’s choices and actions. You control how the story will progress, in essence. With the majority of game companies focussing on creating a game that features a large amount of world exploration, some games strive to offer you a large amount of narrative exploration.
There’s no game out there that achieves this better than Detroit: Become Human. Developed by Quantum dreams and released in 2018, it’s set in the near future of 2038 where highly intelligent androids have become the norm. You take control of three of these androids: Kara, a housemaid serving an abusive father; Markus, a servant serving an old painter and Connor, a prototype detective. From there, you are free to shape these characters as you wish.
Do you want the android detective to care for his partner or perhaps you want him to act like a machine and grow distant? You can. Do you want to kill off one of these characters before their story even begins? You can. Do you want to change Detroit for the better, or leave it in ruin? All the choices are ultimately yours and it’s all because the game has no definitive game over. That’s right, if you killed one of the main characters early on, you have to live with that decision as the game pushes forward.
No matter how “badly” you try to derail the story, it keeps going. There is no right or wrong decision, no true “canon”. Every decision you make is canon to the story you experience. The three androids you assume control over are mere blueprints. They are templates shaped in the way you want to shape them. It’s all up to you and, unlike the vast majority of similar games out there, these decisions actually matter. Your choices will change the direction of the story, and massively at that. Each of the game’s characters has dozens of endings, making what is a 20-25-hour game, stretch to hundreds due to the amount of choice and flexibility that is available to you.
Even the smallest dialogue options can open up paths that wouldn’t have been available otherwise, and this is what truly makes the experience feel so authentic. Couple this with some challenging QTE (quick time events – having to press a button before time runs out) you have both a narratively engaging experience as well as a gameplay one.
There are many games similar to Detroit: Become Human out there, but none of them captures the authenticity of creating your own, unique storyline. That said, Detroit wasn’t a small project, and neither was the team working on it. According to the game’s writer, David Cage, the script was 2,000 pages long, being carried by 51 million lines of code. As someone who once did computer science and ended up being infinitely chuffed by a mere 100-line program, I can tell you that’s a lot of code.
The game itself took over a year to write and a further year to shoot, and it’s understandable that a game of this magnitude may be unattainable by smaller companies. However, I still believe it is something that all developers looking to create a story-based game should strive for. Instead of trying to create a lush world for players to get lost in, perhaps we should also aim for deep narratives that players can get lost in.