Thursday, March 4, 2010

Heavy Rain and Good Storytelling

My wife purchased Heavy Rain for the PlayStation 3 about a week or so ago. Now, if you follow news in the video game world at all, you'll know the game received outstanding reviews for its engrossing gameplay and fantastic storyline. The most interesting thing about this game, from developer Quantic Dream, is that it ignores most (if not all) standard video game conventions.

Heavy Rain tells the story of the hunt for the Origami Killer, a serial murderer who kills his victims (all children) by drowning. His calling card is a small origami animal left beside each body. You the player alternate between four characters in the thriller -- an architect whose son is abducted by the killer, a journalist researching the story, a drug-addict FBI agent on the hunt for the killer, and a private investigator who is ostensibly working for the families of the Origami Killer's previous victims.

In watching my wife play this game, I realized that the developers told the story as a thriller rather than an action/adventure. Consider this: the architect's life is turned upside down when his eldest son is run over by a car, he is mistakenly accused of murdering other children, and must both clear his name and find his youngest son before the boy becomes the killer's next victim. Standard thriller fare, correct?

That something like this exists in video game form is fascinating. Even more so is the fact that it's been lauded so many times in the press (there's already rumors of a movie). Your average video game thriller/suspense is more along the lines of a Resident Evil or Silent Hill, where you run around shooting zombies and other eldritch creatures while trying to solve various puzzles to make your way out. Not so with Heavy Rain.

You'll recall that awhile back I talked about how video games can teach us about composing interesting stories. Heavy Rain is another example of my theories on this. Reviewers have likened the story to a blend of the movies Seven and Zodiac. Personally, I could almost see this story flowing from Lee Child, Jeffrey Deaver, or any other active thriller author.

The success of Heavy Rain in the marketplace proves even more that audiences will lap up an engrossing story no matter what form it takes. They also don't care if it's with a standard protagonist or not (the Grieving Father in this case). The only thing that matters, and thus the only question you should ask yourself, is "Will this story keep people reading all the way to the end?" If it doesn't, well you have some work you need to do.

Downside? You might not be able to tell whether your story is engrossing enough to do this. That's where your beta readers come in.


L. T. Host said...

Wow, sounds like a dark game. I tend to try and stick with lighter stuff-- you know, SMB, Professor Layton, etc. But I'm not really a gamer, either-- I get frustrated easily.

Still, that does sound like a neat game. They're doing amazing things these days!

Joshua McCune said...

To mimic -- for a bit -- wow, sounds like a dark game. Right up my alley! :)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I would SO not be able to play that game - not that I'm a gamer anyway, mind you - just because of the child serial killer. Just...ew.

That being said, you make an excellent point about story being the most important thing, regardless of media. I believe story transcends even craft in writing (can we think of a few examples of this? Yes we can).

Sometimes the story sneaks up on you, and becomes even better than you thought. My latest WIP has my writing group reading my submissions even before they work on their own writing, because they really want to know what happens next. Makes me kinda giddy.

Natalie said...

Wow, that sounds pretty intense. I really have to work on not losing the reader in the middle somewhere. Beginnings and endings are easy compared to middles.