Ninja Theory: Story Is More Important Than Gameplay

Well, that isn’t something you every day. Ninja Theory co-founder Tameem Antoniades has said that he feels story is more important than gameplay. Furthermore, he said, “if you get it right, both story and gameplay can be elevated.”

Speaking with Videogamer, Antoniades said that his first gaming venture, Kung Fu Chaos, had no story and that partway through the development of Heavenly Sword he had an epiphany regarding story.

“In Heavenly Sword I thought, ‘Actually, let’s try and do a story’. Working with Andy and everyone else, working with Weta and having people talk about story as something serious – not something throwaway like we do in games – was quite eye-opening to me,” he said.

“I still see a prejudice, actually. I still come across a lot of people who say, ‘It’s a game and it doesn’t need a story’. You’re trying to make a particular point of storytelling, trying to refine it, and somebody says ‘It’s just a game, it doesn’t matter’.

“What’s more important – the gameplay or the story? If you’re doing a game, it’s got to be the story, actually [and] I’ll give you an example of where that’s true – Resident Evil 4.

“I played it from start to finish, I didn’t want to let go of the controller and I was driven through it. I just wanted to know what happened next. As soon as I completed it, you get those mini-missions, ‘Kill x zombies in an amount of time’.

“So there’s no story, it’s stripped out of all that and it’s just shoot however many zombies in however much time. And you realize – have I been doing this for the last 10 hours? Because it didn’t feel like it, as I’m bored within about a minute of doing that.

“So there is something, there is an importance. There is a symbiosis where, if you get it right, both story and gameplay can be elevated. But it’s really hard to know when you get it right or not.”

Personally, I love hearing this. The thing is, I’ve always been an advocate for stories in games. It’s not because I care about what mom and pop think about games, it’s because games are so much more powerful with strong stories. For instance, Mafia stood out for me because it provided a stunning, cinematic narrative that truly involved me in the protagonist’s shoes. I wasn’t just a mobster, I was a reluctant mobster who then begins informing to the police because of guilt and disgust.

Then there was that scene in The Darkness where you witness the mobsters killing your girlfriend while you can do nothing but watch helplessly as The Darkness holds you back. You watch and can do nothing and it’s powerful because you’ve formed a bond with your girlfriend. You’ve sat in the apartment with her, watching TV, celebrating your birthday with a cake she made.

Story moves games past mere games, it makes them interactive experiences. Heck, possibly the best story I can think of isn’t Red Dead Redemption, but the last portion of Red Dead Redemption. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the way they set everything up is brilliant. It makes the ending beautiful.

Gameplay is exceedingly important, but an equal balance between excellent gameplay and fantastic storytelling would be great for gaming. Bravo, Mr. Antoniades, bravo.

Ninja Theory’s newest game, Enslaved, arrives this fall for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.