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[PATV] Wednesday, February 27, 2013 - Extra Credits Season 5, Ep. 25: More Than Exposition

DogDog Registered User, Administrator, Vanilla Staff admin
edited February 2013 in The Penny Arcade Hub

image[PATV] Wednesday, February 27, 2013 - Extra Credits Season 5, Ep. 25: More Than Exposition

This week, we discuss some basics story principles as they apply to games.
Come discuss this topic in the forums!

Read the full story here

Dog on


  • AmakeAmake Registered User regular
    Games do have the advantage of what I like to call the extranarrative option. Look at data libraries as seen in Mass Effect (where it works nicely) and Final Fantasy 13 (where it works horribly). You can usually contrive for a reason why the player character/s should have access to this information, and then leave it to the player to have info dumped on them if and when they feel like it. You don't have to worry about presenting the exposition as narrative, or keeping characters plausible while you do it, you can just present it as pure information.

    Of course then you have to a) make the interruption in gameplay work as part of the game and b) figure out exactly what the player doesn't actually need to know and put that, and only that, in there.

  • RaphDSRaphDS Registered User regular
    I'm in the middle of Ni No Kuni, and I get this vibe a lot. Every so often, I get told what is happening. It works only because the main character is also new to the world. At the start that's fine, but later it really drags its feet along when you begin to 'get it' intuitively. It's unlike, say, Dragon Age, where even if there are intense slowdowns of the pacing to explain things like the Grey Wardens or the Fade, there's just enough rope for players to use. Also, the scenarios help clarify the backstory. I actually go to the Fade and see what it's like as opposed to how you never understand exactly WHAT Metal Gear's Patriots actually, physically look like.

  • likalarukulikalaruku Registered User regular
    Here, take this lockpick. It might be handy if you, the master of unlocking, take it with you.

  • dodge83dodge83 Registered User regular
    edited February 2013
    Yeah pure information like mass effect trilogy's codex is the way to go for some games and they even made some of that fun to read up on.
    Come to think of it there has been a bunch of games where the player is a new arrival in the world or has no memory of their past and the exposition is dumped on us big time.

    Also you can ask the player if they want certain terms explained to them from the back story or world in the form of a simple question.

    Take final fantasy 7 for example most of the time your asked if you would like to hear about parts of the story or world other times your forced to play though it like when Sephiroth goes off the deep end or how Coral became such a dump

    dodge83 on
  • wanderingbishopwanderingbishop Registered User regular
    Actually, wow, Half-Life 2 did a *brilliant* job of conveying the world without using exposition. I mean, before you even talk to Barney you already know that you're in a severely dystopian near-future and by the time you and Alyx reach Dr Kleiner's lab, the fact that they just assume Gordon knows what's been going on for the last 20 years doesn't matter - the player already knows that he's several years in the future from the previous game, that an alien civilization has enslaved humanity and is slowly driving them to extinction Nazi-ghetto-style with the help of human collaborators, the villain has been revealed & you've got every reason to want him taken down, and the only person the resistance can call is you.

  • likalarukulikalaruku Registered User regular
    Long ago we didn't really need exposition dump IN games because we had nice fat little booklets that came in the game boxes that told us everything we needed to know before we started playing. Then they got thinner, then they were replaced with in-game tutorials.

  • likalarukulikalaruku Registered User regular
    "Watch the first 5 minutes of Resident Evil 5 to know what not to do."

    ::Watches:: Who the hell can pay attention to the exposition with the camera firmly focused on tits & ass?

  • teknoarcanistteknoarcanist Registered User regular
    There's a hilarious part in the first Metal Gear Solid where Mei-Ling is explaining the CODEC, and tells Snake "It's all made from currently-existing technology." I'm opposed to what?

  • HrugnerHrugner Registered User regular
    I have to agree with RaphDS. Easily the biggest shortcoming of Ni No Kuni is the exposition, that combined with tutorial that never seems to go away serve to really pull the game away from something that's otherwise amazing.

  • Foolish-MortalFoolish-Mortal Registered User new member
    I always felt the old Thief games did a fairly decent job with the exposition. Yea you had the opening monologues that told you where to go and what to steal. But a lot of the background politics and the situation of the area you were in were all told through the scenery, scraps of paper you read, and random snippets of conversation you heard. So much information was given with little hand holding or exposition dumps.

  • Mr SPMr SP Registered User regular
    As opposed to experiemental, bleeding edge, unknown-to-Snake technology? Like Metal Gears, and Genome Soldiers, and PAL cards... Still fourth wall breaking, though.

    We see the Patriot AIs. Or at least GW. Near the end of MGS 4, and it kinda looks like a metal graveyard.

  • Ryan GannonRyan Gannon Registered User new member
    One of the best examples I can thing of is Adventure Time. You're just thrown in without and explanation of how the world works but there's tons of hints so when you hit an episode with a lot of back-story like "Finn the Human" and "Jake the Dog" it's really only confirming what you already know and filling in the blanks that couldn't really be delivered any other way.

    Also, for an unusual example, the opening credits of Game of Thrones. You get the geography (which in fantasy is really important) and the political situation through the locations that are shown and the battle of the animals (each representing one of the main houses).

  • CarionisCarionis Registered User regular
    I disagree.

    Not totally, exposition dumps are horrible, but streamlined story-telling isn't always the way to go. I actually like people describing things for me and the large number of fans of Morrowind seems to think along the same lines. The great thing about Morrowind, as opposed to Skyrim, was the ten times bigger amount of exposition given. It helped immersion sooooo much. If you are left without explanations, it streamlines the narrative, but sometimes it leaves you wondering about too many unanswered questions.

    To give one example:
    In Skyrim, you're just some guy walking around, who suddenly becomes Dovahkiin. No explanation or anything.

    In Morrowind, you're a nobody, whose whole life story would make a very convincing story, if you were to contend for the title of Nerevarine, and that's why the emperor sends you to Morrowind.

    So from the outset we have a very different approach. The first might not trouble many people, the second is far more convincing and a more interesting background for your main character. The first doesn't give you any kind of choice: You are Dovahkiin, wether you want it or not. The second gives you at least one choice: you can decide yourself, whether you want to become the prophet-demigod by following through with the prophecy, or just leave it as is and become some lord or whatever.

  • BenevolentCowBenevolentCow Registered User regular
    Exposition is awesome. Knowing backstory, magic systems and technology is what makes a good story great.

    The problem is that the exposition is always done at the start of the game rather than throughout the story. When someone first turns on the game they want to play their new toy not sit around for 20 minutes doing fuck all. Even the tram ride in HF is poor story telling, 3 minutes of going through pointless corridors almost made me quit and give it back to the friend I borrowed it from. Skyrim does it worse with sitting in a carriage, and the ps2 FF games are worst of all (granted I haven't played the current gen ones), with ff12 going on for about three quarters of an hour before you get to a battle.

    I love exposition. I love knowing that there is a world outside of the narrow corridors the game puts me though. But I don't want that shit after I have spent 10 minutes installing the game, I want to shoot things in the head.

  • dudefunkmandudefunkman Registered User regular
    Final Fantasy XIII was very guilty for me for bad exposition, honestly part of the reason it was unfinished is that it was so confusing and I spent ages with L'Cie and Fal'Cies that I really never got my head 100% around what exactly was going on, so most of the story left me confused as opposed to opposed to FFVI,VII, VIII, IX, X.

  • RatherDashing89RatherDashing89 Registered User regular
    I think this is another area where an understanding of tropes and their rules, namely, Tropes are not Bad and Tropes are Not Good ( can really help you save time. If the writer can own up to the tropes they do utilize, instead of assuming every concept they have is their own creation, it will not only save them embarrassment, but time.

    If you say someone is a wizard, a genre-savvy player (which 90% of video gamers will be) knows that you're talking about a trained spellcaster who utilizes the elemental forces of the world to perform supernatural feats. They'll assume it's one of two types--either wizards are a special class of human born that way (X-men), or they are simply highly-educated and devoted individuals (anyone can become one). So all you have to do there is drop a single hint as to which type it is. They'll also assume certain things by default, such as magic being mostly benign and being based on four or five elements, usually air (/wind), earth (/stone), fire, and water, with a fifth possibly being wood, life, or a combination of the first four. If you've got a less common element in your story, such as "blood", then you'll need to specify. But if a character actually takes the time to tell the player, "Magic comes from the four elements that make up the universe--Air, Stone, Fire, and Water", all it does it draw attention to the cliche, of which the player/reader is obviously aware but you as the writer are apparently not.

    Portal barely has to tell us anything about GlaDOS or Aperture Science because they intentionally stick to "evil computer" and "mad science" tropes, and once we see the trappings of those themes, we can assume all the details the game would have told us. All the game has to show us is the unique areas where the story strays from those tropes.

    flocculentCamelidaeSixWaysDunning Krugertoreador91HrugnerArbitraryDescriptorToasticus
  • SixWaysSixWays Registered User regular
    I think this is another area where an understanding of tropes and their rules, namely, Tropes are not Bad and Tropes are Not Good ( can really help you save time. If the writer can own up to the tropes they do utilize, instead of assuming every concept they have is their own creation, it will not only save them embarrassment, but time. [snip]

    Very well said, and really useful insight. I think this is the kind of thing that inexperienced writers get wrong all the time, and falling foul of it smacks of amateurism.

    Honestly I think in general people tend to be a bit too hung up on originality, when in actual fact, even when things are truly innovative, Everything Is A Remix*. And that's not a bad thing. You can tell a good, clever, entertaining, moving, even novel story within an environment constructed largely of pre-existing building blocks. And awareness of those building blocks, as you say, really helps you tell that story well.

    *Anyone who hasn't already, should totally watch this.

    WalsfeohastherageDunning Krugertoreador91
  • TheSchaefTheSchaef Registered User regular
    "Mr. Qui-Gonn, sir, I was wondering: what are midi-chlorians?"

  • TheSchaefTheSchaef Registered User regular
    "There's a hilarious part in the first Metal Gear Solid where Mei-Ling is explaining the CODEC, and tells Snake "It's all made from currently-existing technology." I'm opposed to what?"

    As opposed to experimental prototype technology that's ahead of its time. Like Metal Gear, for example.

    Technology that's widely available is more susceptible to counter-measures. Cause, y'know, they know what it is and what it does.

  • caibborcaibbor Registered User regular
    I've been complaining about exposition dump for a long time, and never had any idea there was a term for it. And btw, Extra Credits, it's these game-dev-related videos I (and I presume most viewers) crave. Moar! :)

  • AeperviusAepervius Registered User new member
    Now a good way to have exposition is the amnesia routine. You get everything explained but it makes sense because you have forgotten.

    Example : planescape:torment namelessone and morte.

    That game also had an incredible deal of dialogue and textual description too :)

  • darkhogdarkhog Registered User regular
    How about providing in-game library, that is completely voluntarily to visit and would explain in detail how world works through "historic" texts, some manuals, etc.? Such thing was done in Star Trek online through various terminals to access federation's library and I personally liked it.

    While exposition by level design is very important and very good to have, some OCD players like things being explained, not in exposition dump, i.e. telling you what you should know from your space marine training, but with optional to visit "libraries" - be it ship's/station's computer or actual library.

  • iab19iab19 Registered User regular
    Ahhh... that's the good stuff. And this was some very good of that stuff.

  • Tidus53Tidus53 Registered User regular
    So where exactly do you draw the line in exposition? In terms of daily interactions?

  • Urban CohortUrban Cohort Registered User new member
    A Besaid Island remix :D This kinda made my day.

    Also, interesting episode.

  • MadTinkererMadTinkerer Registered User regular
    Problem is, if you take out exposition entirely, it can be even worse than bad exposition: you can make your players retroactively hate your entire franchise.

    "Is it absolutely imperative that you explain the workings and lore behind your magic system, or can we just call it magic and use that time for something else that really does need the explanation?" Sometimes, YES. If you put all of that in some kind of -pedia buried in the menus without explaining at least some of the basics of what the characters would know that characters won't, you'll kill the game.

    By the way, I'm specifically referring to Final Fantasy XIII. I too was frustrated like most others, it seemed like a nonsensical crawl down a long series of hallways, until I went and read everything in the -pedia thing in the menus and then suddenly it was a decent game that actually had ties to the rest of the series. I mean: yes, the first part was incredibly linear JUST LIKE EVERY FINAL FANTASY GAME WHY DO PEOPLE FORGET THAT PART, but once it was clear what was going on, it was enjoyable.

    That doesn't make it much less of a failure on Squeenix's part when it comes to exposition. I went back and played some of the earlier parts where I was confused, and came up with a bunch of short, unintrusive lines that would have fixed everything. Well, not everything. The lack of towns kills the illusion of non-linearity that FF1-9 and 12 relied on, and the lack of a world map / functional transportation removes any sense of exploration in the later part.

    But it would have helped a LOT.

  • aniforprezaniforprez Registered User regular
    Not a game but I feel Ghost in the Shell (the first season, the second season plays itself out) has probably one of the best expositions I have seen in any media. Through half the season you have no idea who the "Laughing Man" is or what the hell the case was all about. But we know it is something bad and a lot of powerful people are behind it. And the appearance of the logo is self-explanatory and makes it evidently obvious that it is now the Laughing Man and by showing his feats, we understand that he is an excellent hacker beyond measure.

    Then the single episode entirely dedicated to exposition comes along and it is cleverly disguised as a chat-room discussion about this very case. The discussion does begin with a rambling monologue about the past events and at first glance, it fails to achieve much. But after a second watch I realised just how important this episode was. Firstly, not only are they simply talking about the past events, they are discussing the causes, the possibilities and baring open to us the fact that at the core, most of them are completely clueless about what actually happened. This combined with the fact that this Man single-handedly triggered a phenomenon referred to as "standalone Complex" not once, but TWICE punches into your head that this is a force to be reckoned with. We also learn more about the world itself, it's cyberised nature giving birth to such highly complex phenomena. That episode blew my friggin' mind across the ceiling (the second time I watched it, the first time I was too sleepy to give a shit).

  • cxsanchezcxsanchez Registered User regular
    Amanita Design manages Exposition perfectly - Botanicula, Machinarum, Samorost...

  • Dunning KrugerDunning Kruger Registered User new member
    Exposition is a slippery terrain, mainly because many people LOVE IT (especially in fantasy and sci-fi) in many of these operas setting get over plot and character story get over character choices.

    IMHO massive exposition is a sign of lazy writing (often paired with overused tropes like "amnesia" or "new kid in school") because is the idea behind that moves the narrative, every other aspect, from characters to setting, are simply tools to better deliver it: the box maybe fancy but the real gift is inside it.

    Best exposition ever? "A big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff"

  • Dunning KrugerDunning Kruger Registered User new member
    Exposition is a slippery terrain, mainly because many people LOVE IT (especially in fantasy and sci-fi) in many of these operas setting get over plot and character story get over character choices.

    IMHO massive exposition is a sign of lazy writing (often paired with overused tropes like "amnesia" or "new kid in school") because is the idea behind that moves the narrative, every other aspect, from characters to setting, are simply tools to better deliver it: the box maybe fancy but the real gift is inside it.

    Best exposition ever? "A big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff"

  • GodEmperorLetoIIGodEmperorLetoII Registered User regular
    hah, FFX music. Amusing. And I look forward to this "Strip Search" series.

  • dudefunkmandudefunkman Registered User regular
    My favourite Metal Gear Exposition went along the lines of

    BAKER - "We have a huge problem with MUF"

    Me - "yukyukyuk"

    BAKER - "It stands for Material Unaccounted For, at the end of the cold war during the SALT II (Strategic Arms LimiTation)...*snip*...barrels and barrels of Nuclear Waste!"

    Me - "Woah, it's like GCSE History on Superpower Rivalry again!"

  • BaravisBaravis Registered User regular
    I'd love to go back and play Bastion with an eye towards how it handles exposition, now.

  • TheDoormanTheDoorman Registered User new member
    Exposition is probably one of the hardest things to bring out in an interactive medium. Tons of games have taken unique approaches to it, like Bastion simply having a narrator or even going the full-on Soap Opera route of Square Enix's hundred dialogue boxes. Understanding the demograph of the game is usually a good way to choose the best method; that being said, I think that there are some companies that can't give the right kind of exposition for the right kind of audience. If this opinion offends the fans of the following two examples, please forgive me and understand it is an observed point of view and not an attack on the creative integrity of either subject.

    The first and primary example of bad exposition that I can immediately recall comes from Metal Gear Solid 4 Guns of the Patriots. It's been a while and to be honest, I don't think I did that much playing. Which is of course the point...the game had no less than 10 hours of purely cinematic cutscenes and the watching thereof. There have been dozens of classifications for this kind of gameplay, but at the end of the day, it's not weaving exposition into gameplay, it's opening an interactive novel with Solid Snake...and really, what book wouldn't be made better by the appearance of Solid Snake? Harry Potter and the Conspicuous Cardbord Box?

    The second is Xenosaga, the second one I think is the last one I played. After I was done the game, I found a torrent containing all four and a half HOURS of FMV quality video, cut right out of the game. I stand by the assertion that if I had just watched these videos and not played the game itself, I'd have gotten the entire story in my head. I tested this on my girlfriend, who playled 1 but not 2...and it turns out, you didn't need the rest of the game. Xenosaga could have been a two part movie in theaters and you'd have gotten your exposition. Now this would be fine if the rest of the game wasn't also in game scenes depicting clearly unnecessary text...if it was just gameplay this might have played out. Reward the player for playing a section with a rather grandiose display in a cutscene of action, narrative, etc. We've been getting that from movies for decades, it probably would pass.

    Exposition bloats if it's not carefully trimmed. I'm a JRPG fan but in these two instances I found that breaking the flow of the game over three novel's worth of text (metal gear) or simply making the intervening gameplay feel like I'm turning a very laborious page.

    We all know what we want out of a story and its execution, and under most circumstances we can leave it to the professionals to decide how exactly we experience our entertainment. More and more though, we're finding that the professionals are missing the engagement and fun aspect, and that the indie developers, (read: people who decided to make games because the people who used make games we want to play no longer do) seem to hit on it a bit more regularly.

    I'm always glad for the guys at Extra Credits for really having a firm grasp on how to get games put together in a way that is cultural and amusing, and I hope that many many more people will use these videos as guides and tutorials when starting out, or maybe some triple AAA developers can come back for some remedial examples of the word 'fun'.

    Thanks for reading my rant.

  • rainbowhyphenrainbowhyphen Registered User regular
    edited February 2013
    If it is worth saying at all,
    It is worth saying precisely and concisely.

    rainbowhyphen on
  • MoonmanMoonman Registered User regular
    And when you DO do that episode, be sure to elaborate on how best to translate such grammar-specific methods to other languages, since you decided to use a Japanese game as an example of bad exposition.

  • meiammeiam Registered User regular
    Can't believe you didn't talk about dark souls! The perfect example of exposition, don't give any, beyond like 5-6 sentence in the entire game. That means people who don't care can just ignore it and then, by having the most of the backstory being attached to items, it make getting item all the more rewarding for people who like backstory. Plus they give you just enough info to paint this complex world, but let your imagination do the job.

    Now that dark souls (and thomas was alone) exist, every time someone says bioware is good at telling story, I just scoff a little.

    Oh and I'd say that using xenosage has an example doesn't really work because people who play xenosage want the long dialogue with exposition, that's part of the ride. Althought it does clash with the story when the main character ignore stuff she should clearly knows.

  • r4v3nw47chr4v3nw47ch Registered User new member
    Whoever made the decision to put a frame of Dipper Pines in there from Gravity Falls..... I love you.

  • teknoarcanistteknoarcanist Registered User regular
    edited February 2013
    @TheSchaef Right, the context of the game, that makes no sense. What might she have said to Snake? "It's made from theoretical technology that doesn't exist?" OF COURSE it's made from currently-existing technology; it's literally impossible for it to be made of anything else! The line makes absolutely no sense!

    teknoarcanist on
  • gtademgtadem Registered User regular
    One of the things I liked about Portal was the way they didn't bother with any more exposition than what was necessary. I went into the game knowing next to nothing. I didn't know why I woke up in a cage or what the significance of a portal letting me out was. As I played the game, it started hinting that maybe these exercises weren't so innocent. By the "end," the only thing that drives the game further is one's own desire to survive.

    Limbo had NO exposition at all and was good fun.

    Just recently saw the movie The Hunger Games having never read the book. That movie had very little exposition, which was fine. It was that much more engaging as I was left trying to figure out things for myself, and I was able to figure it out based on context. Heh, that was really the only redeeming quality of the flick.

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