Created By: Koveras on August 7, 2013 Last Edited By: morenohijazo on August 31, 2013

Sliding Scale of Gameplay/Story Integration

How well do the gameplay rules get along with the story rules in a video game?

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This is a relaunch of an earlier YKTTW to get new input and ideas. Look there for the previous discussion and contested examples.

Intended working title (too long for YKTTW): Sliding Scale of Gameplay and Story Integration

Video games (and games in general) are a unique storytelling medium in that they demand active participation by the audience (read: the player) in order to advance the narrative. Historically, however, the massive age gap between traditional, non-interactive storytelling and the rapidly evolving medium interactivity gave rise to a dichotomy between pure gameplay and storytelling in gaming, which can be defined as follows:

  • Gameplay is the type of interaction between the players and the video game where the players input commands to overcome challenges the game throws at them. Historically, most common type of gameplay is combat, but it also includes stealth, Character Customization, etc., etc.
  • Story is the type of interaction between player and video game where the game narrates a story[[note]]Not just the main plot, but also character arcs, themes, and setting exposition.[[/note]] to provoke an emotional reaction in the player. Traditionally, video games narrate via cutscenes and dialogues (even though interactive dialogue overlaps with gameplay).

Another definition would be that the gameplay ultimately revolves around numbers and is governed by mathematical rules, while the story revolves around words and symbols and is governed by the rules of emotional narrative. Either way, it is virtually impossible for a video game not to have any story whatsoever (think Pong level of storylessness) and, even more so, any gameplay (though this depends on whether you count Kinetic Novels as games), and these two aspects are usually integrated at least a little--after all, you can hardly put pony-breeding gameplay against the backdrop of a galaxy-spanning war story.

But here is the catch: Despite the medium's youth, video games have already developed a rather standardized set of general and genre-specific gameplay conventions. While definitely not as old as storytelling conventions, they are not fundamentally different and game designers borrow from them without considering how they fit In-Universe. Indeed, very few players stop to ponder why the Player Character's well-being seems to be divided into exactly one hundred equal chunks but the only one that matters is the last, because it's an established gameplay convention and most developers no longer feel the need to justify it. This becomes even more obvious when the game's gameplay rules are adapted from an external source, such as a Tabletop Game ruleset.

This leads to situations where gameplay rules blatantly contradict the story rules--and such instances are usually easily identifiable and listed on Gameplay and Story Segregation page. But again, very, very few games segregate their gameplay from the story completely: there is usually overlap at least on the contextual or thematic level. Likewise, there are practically no video games where the gameplay and the story are integrated so tightly that they become indistinguishable, simply because the technology for procedurally generated narratives does not yet exist. It is thus more accurate to speak of individual instances of gameplay and story integration/segregation, as a single game can provide examples of both--therefore, "gameplay and story integration" is less of a dichotomy and more of a continuum, wherein games can be sorted depending on whether integration instances outnumber segregation instances or vice versa.

The Sliding Scale of Gameplay and Story Integration is then defined as follows:

  • Perfect Integration: The gameplay is the story. This is more of an idealized image to cap the scale on this end than a well-defined category, but nevertheless many Arthouse Games strive to be placed here.
  • Deliberate Integration: Here, the developers take a critical look at both the gameplay and narrative conventions they employ and use one to reinforce the other. Ironically, the more formulaic the genre-specific gameplay is, the easier its formula is to adapt to a story. See below for a list of common tricks to get a game up here.
  • Natural Integration: The vast majority of games falls in the bloated middle of the scale, where the gameplay and the story draw from separate convention pools but there is enough conceptual overlap for the player to just ignore small internal inconsistencies. Because of it's so common, a list of games in this category would be way too long to be of any use.
  • Conspicuous Segregation: Games this far down the scale are featured prominently on the Gameplay and Story Segregation page, may suffer from Play the Game, Skip the Story attitude, or have an Excuse Plot to begin with. Note that even when the discrepancy between the gameplay and the story becomes glaringly obvious this far down, the two still remain integrated at some level.
  • Total Segregation: Where the gameplay has nothing to do with the story whatsoever. Like Perfect Integration, it is mostly an imaginary category to cap off the scale.

Furthermore, the degree of story and gameplay integration in a particular game is always relative to the "mean level" of it in its genre. Story-driven genres like adventures and RPGs, for instance, traditionally feature a much higher level of integration than Racing and Fighting Games. Ultimately, deliberate gameplay and story integration is all about recognizing a particular genre's gameplay or story formulas and interlocking them in a way that is not expected in that genre.

Off the above scale lie the aforementioned games that lack either the story or the gameplay of any kind, as well as the phenomenon known as "Emergent Storytelling"--the Holy Grail for some developers, wherein the game's generic ruleset facilitates the players inventing and enjoying stories all on their own. Some would argue that this is what the Perfect Integration sector of the scale is all about, but then again, so are non-kinetic Visual Novels.

Things to look out for:

Common tricks for gameplay and story integration include:

  • Translating plot-specific injuries into gameplay terms, such as:
  • Tweaking the AI to make characters behave differently in gameplay, not just the story:
    • Individual enemy AI can be tweaked to reflect their personal agendas: e.g. an enemy may concentrate on a party member he considers his Arch-Nemesis and ignore everyone else, or, coversely, never directly attack a particular party member at all.
    • Non-Player Companion AI can be tweaked to reflect their personality quirks, allegiances, and relationships. For instance, a party member may prioritize healing and buffing allies based on their Relationship Values, or spontaneously try to take a bullet for another party member.
  • Using the Game System as canvas, i.e. defining plot elements in terms of the underlying gameplay rules:
    • Accurately reflecting characters' story characterization in their gameplay stats and, conversely, the stats in their story-relevant abilities. While it is trivial that a melee fighter would have a high Strength score, it is much less common for him to use that strength for anything except bashing skulls (e.g. for lifting a fallen tree to free someone trapped under it). Particularly common is the use of the Luck Stat to reflect a character Born Lucky or Unlucky, since the latter tropes can be exploited for a number of subplots or simple Running Gags.
    • Giving individual supporting characters unique perks or special abilities that reflect their Back Story and/or Character Development.
    • Having characters use the same abilities in cutscenes as they would in actual gameplay--better yet, have them only use said abilities to the extent that they have developed them in gameplay terms up to that point.
  • Adding alternate NPC dialogue (or even cutscenes) based on the state of the Player Character that is usually irrelevant to dialogue, such as:
    • Being badly wounded or suffering from certain status effects
    • Approaching a friendly NPC with weapons drawn or an enemy, with weapons sheathed
    • Wearing or not wearing certain pieces of equipment (often body armor), or not wearing anything at all
    • Having high Skill Scores that have no impact on normal dialogue
  • Introducing a Plot Coupon That Does Something, i.e. an item that not only moves the plot along but also comes with interesting additional gameplay mechanics.
  • Having cumulative Stat Meters (e.g. Karma Meter or Sanity Meter) affect both gameplay (e.g. in the abilities that the player can use) and story (e.g. in the endings the player receives).
  • Basing Story Branching not only on explicit decisions but also on how the player solves challenges, e.g. on whether they prefer stealth or combat, weapons or magic, whether they kill enemies or take them down non-lethally, etc.
  • Removing some of the player's abilities after plot events transpire that should render them useless.
  • Taking an established genre gameplay convention (such as level linearity, Hit Points, Experience Points, Relationship Values, Super Drowning Skills, etc.) and justifying it in-universe, usually with an intent to outright deconstruct it further down the line.
  • Unexpectedly Realistic Gameplay, often revolving around dangers of handling weapons the way video games usually handle them (always carrying them in the open, pointing loaded firearms at civilians, etc.).

Instances of Deliberate Integration:

Action Game
  • Asura in Asura's Wrath has several different Super Modes, and a heavily weakened 'armless' mode, all of which are triggered by storyline events. When you're attacked by an enemy immediately after breaking your arms fighting a planet-sized enemy, you have to fight using only kicks and headbuts. In a later, similar situation, you can't counter several normally-counterable attacks, because doing so would require, y'know, ARMS. Conversely, fighting someone who's seriously pissed you off is liable to make Asura break out his Six-Armed form for added asskicking... or even his Berserker Form.
  • Nearly everything the player does in Iji -- from how many enemies she kills to which logbooks she reads -- has at least some influence on how the story unfolds, how dialogues proceed, and even how characters react to Iji's presence. Indeed, the ending of one subplot (which can only be followed by reading a series of seemingly unrelated logbooks) relies entirely on how the player treats a single specific enemy she has no way of knowing is at all significant at that point in the game.

Fighting Game

First-Person Shooter
  • The utter linearity of the Half-Life series is a major plot point, representing Gordon's complete lack of control, whether it's because of the G-Man, the Vortigaunts, or the player. Also, Half-Life 2 and its Episodes begin with Gordon not at full health, due to him being injured from a scene in the previous game.
  • Similarly, the original BioShock explored and deconstructed the notion of gameplay linearity throughout its plot. It turned out that you, as the Player Character, have been mind-controlled into a single deterministic path throughout the entire game by the Big Bad.

Platform Game
  • In Super Mario Galaxy 2, during the playable credits, you can't use the Spin because the Baby Luma, who originally gave you that power, has gone home.
  • The first three endings in Demon's Crest add generous amounts of Lampshade Hanging. After finishing the first level, you can either fly to the second... or head right for the Phalanx's castle. In fact, you get there so quickly the final boss hasn't even finished setting up the final Death Course, hasn't figured out how to use his crest, and dies after one round. If you go to the last level after the fourth, the level will actually be ready, and Phalanx is stronger, but he still can't use the crest fully. If you go there after finishing all the levels, he'll finally have figured out how to REALLY use it, going One-Winged Angel at long last.
  • In Psychonauts, Raz's Super Drowning Skills are the result of a curse on his family which is an important part of the game's backstory. Also, if you enter the Mental World of someone with a mental disorder, the gameplay will reflect that disorder in some way, for instance:
    • Boyd has Paranoid Schizophrenia, which causes almost everything in the level to look at you or sneak up on you in some way, which will make some players think that the level is trying to attack them.
    • Edgar suffers from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, which is represented by a bull that keeps knocking you back to the start of the level, causing you to repeat parts of the world over and over again.
    • Gloria has Bipolar Disorder, and you can change the mood lighting in the world to literally swing the mood of the stage between comedy and tragedy.
    • The level that takes place within Raz's own head is also insanely difficult. The fact that it's nigh-impossible to solve your own mental problems without outside help is the entire reason Psychonauts exist.
  • In Mega Man 7, when you first encounter Bass, you have to fight him and depending on how much damage you give/take, his opinion towards you and dialogue will change.
  • In Mega Man X5:
    • When X touches the floating Sigma Virus found in the levels, he'll get damaged periodically. In story, X has the "Suffering Circuit" in his system which (along with Dr. Light's 30 years of testing) will prevent him from doing unethical things and keep his mind on track. The Sigma Virus will make any of the infected slowly go insane and homicidal (as with the bosses). X, with the circuit, will resist those urges, and the programming overload results in his body slowly damaging itself. Apparently the Reploids, based on X, all have flawed Suffering Circuits courtesy of Dr. Cain's incomplete understanding of X's design.
    • Meanwhile, Zero will instead get stronger and eventually invincible after absorbing enough of the virus. In story, the Sigma Virus is a derivative of the Maverick Virus found alongside Zero's hibernation capsule, and said virus (according to a flashback in Mega Man X4 and later on in the fifth game's bad ending) apparently is a key to a programming in Zero's mind which designates his purpose: the total destruction of society. There's also some hints in the game that the Maverick Virus may or may not contain the consciousness of Zero's creator, Dr. Wily.

RPG -- Eastern
  • In Tales of Vesperia, character AI also prioritizes healing based on personality and character relationships. Flynn will spam healing on Yuri. And the Death Seeker Lovable Sex Maniac Raven prefers to heal women over a dog over men over himself. The game also gives a explanation for the world's Ghibli Hills and all their Random Encounters: all the towns in the world are shielded underneath giant energy shields that keep monsters out, and only highly trained professionals (like the party members) are allowed outside.
  • In Tales of Symphonia, Kratos loves to spam healing and support spells on Lloyd the most--and this isn't an issue of him being the tank; even if Colette is in melee range, he'll use it on Lloyd first. Because it's actually an act of a father-looking out for his son. Another example (though only tangentially related to gameplay) would be when Colette loses her voice for plot reasons, she stops Calling Her Attacks in battle and the victory quotes for her aren't shown.
  • In Final Fantasy VII, Rude of the Turks confesses to his partner (and the player, and the party hiding nearby) that he has a crush on Tifa, one of the heroes. In fights against the Turks, Rude will never attack Tifa, and if she is the only one standing, he'll give up and walk away.
  • Final Fantasy IX:
    • All of the character's classes are highly integrated into the plot. Vivi's ability to shoot stuff with fireballs with black magic becomes very important, the hidden Summons inside Garnet are a MacGuffin unto themselves, and Freya, a dragoon, is able to leap to the tops of roofs effortlessly in cutscenes as easily as she can leap into the sky to use her "Jump" ability. Sometimes even their personality traits become gameplay mechanics; Zidane, the Chivalrous Pervert, has a "Protect Girls" skill that lets him jump in front of a female party member to protect her.
    • Also applies to at least two battles (one of which is mentioned below) in which the boss is coded to only target specific party members: Your three aside from Dagger in the fight with Black Waltz Number 2 (to the point were he'll cast AOE spells that in every other circumstance would hit all your party members only on those three), and Dagger specifically in a battle with the bounty hunter Lani. The former is tasked with returning Dagger to her mother, and if he succeeds in killing all of your party members aside from her, he'll cast a spell to put her to sleep and the game will end.
    • Also when Dagger loses her voice in the plot. During game-play, her ability to cast spells is impaired: every couple of turns will fail with a "Can't concentrate." She gets better, though.
    • Most characters will also skip their post-battle victory poses during plot circumstances that concern them in some negative way, including Garnet losing her voice described above.
  • Final Fantasy XII has one scene where Fran gets induced with extra strength and near insanity, causing her to break free from her restraints. The fight after this scene reflects this by inducing the Berserk status on Fran.
  • In Final Fantasy XIII, Lightning runs around with a portable anti-gravity device in the inventory that is never used outside cutscenes... except that she is the only player character who never takes damage from falling (when hurled into the air by an enemy). This is actually a remnant of an earlier concept, where Lightning's powers were all based around gravity manipulation.
  • In Lunar: Eternal Blue, Lucia's character is a major example of gameplay and story integration:
    • Lucia's development of human emotions happens concurrently with her deveoping new tactics in battle. For example, after a plot point wherein she returns to Hiro because she misses him (though she doesn't understand that), she begins casting healing and protective spells on other characters, favoring Hiro, in fact. Prior to this plot point, she would only cast these spells on herself.
    • When you first get her, she's, well, a Physical God, with absurd stats and the ability to solo any group in the dungeon you find her in within a single turn. Once she's injured by Zophar, however, her stats are reduced to nearly nothing and she spends the game recovering, even in battle.
    • And then there's her mana supply - or rather, the "lack" of it. Lucia is a pure spellcaster, and doesn't possess a physical attack--at the worst she'll chain-cast a single-target damage spell on an enemy. However, her MP supply reads "null", just like any pure physical-damage warrior. And then you realize... oh yeah, she's a Physical God, her mana supply is infinite. The game doesn't bother tracking it because she'll never run out.
  • A rather funny, though subtle example occurs in Persona 4. Yosuke is incredibly unlucky, with him getting kicked in the nads within minutes of the game starting for breaking his friend's CD. He ends up falling off of, and crashing whilst on, his bike BEFORE he's even named, and to top it all off, his crush gets killed very early on. If you check his stat profile, you'll notice that he has the lowest Luck stat of any of your party members.
  • No More Heroes as a whole is an interesting example: even though Travis imagines his life as an assassin to be awesome and glamorous, nearly every portion of gameplay outside of the ranked battles shows just how much of a loser he is by being outright boring: Santa Destroy is a frustratingly boring place with nearly nothing to do; Travis has to drive everywhere himself; he barely bothers people he runs over on his motorcycle and goes flying if it even so much as touches any solid object; he has to do repetitive, boring and irrelevant jobs in order to earn money; he saves the game on the toilet; he rummages through dumpsters for collectables (including clothes!); and at the end of the day he ends up right back at the same stinking motel he's always lived at.
  • The primary motivation behind the first battle with Melody in Wild ARMs 3 is Clive's speech on true beauty. In the battle, she will always attack Clive, if he's still alive. Combine this with some liberal use of the Revive spell, and the battle becomes trivial.
  • In Dragon Quest VIII, the Hero is under a curse so powerful, other curses (like the Baleful Polymorph placed on his hometown) don't affect him. He is, in gameplay, immune to the "curse" status effect. To even further emphasize this, a Bonus Boss that you can defeat to unlock the second ending has a sort of a "Seal" attack that he starts with. It will not affect anyone except the Hero because he is the one that placed the original curse that the Hero lives with.
  • Pokémon Black and White make it mandatory to catch your version mascot to move the plot along. The pre-battle dialog says it's testing you, but wants to be caught; accordingly, it's fifteen times easier to capture than a normal legendary. [[note]]Most legendaries have historically had capture numbers of 3, Reshiram and Zekrom have capture numbers of 45.[[/note]] However, the developers didn't account for a certain sequence-break where the mascot can be skipped; even if you do encounter it later than usual, the catch rate of 45 is still there.
  • In Star Ocean: The Second Story, Ashton has abyssmal luck and somehow manages to get the two-headed dragon he was trying to kill grafted onto his back: his natural luck stat is a mere 17 regardless of how high his level is, and this is in a game where most endgame stats easily break quadruple digits.
  • Parasite Eve 2 does this for a lengthy cut scene that occurs before the final battle. Aya gets shot during the scene and after the scene ends, her gunshot wound has her current HP lowered to reflect this.
  • In Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, in some cutscenes, enemies will strike at you in mid-cutscene. To drive home the point that you're dealing with an entity you don't want to screw with, not only does the game narrate you being hit, your entire party takes damage.
  • In the Touhou fangame Touhou Mother, Yuuka is described as hating high speeds. During a cutscene, you have to fly very fast to reach a certain location, and during the trip, Yuuka is described to have taken "mortal damage". Sure enough, if you check your stats after the cutscene ends, Yuuka will have just 1 HP remaining.
  • In Kumatora's introductory cutscene in MOTHER 3, she uses a PSI attack to fend off some enemies (PK Freeze, I reckon, not sure). If you check her stats after she has joined the party, you can see that the corresponding PP has been deducted from her totals.
  • OgreBattle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber features the Chaos Frame, a complex Karma Meter based on the Order Versus Chaos dichotomy that is affected both by your story decisions and by your conduct in the battlefield (among other things, whether you "capture" or "liberate" enemy towns--which, in turn, depends on the story-based alignment of the unit that sacks a town). Although you only learn your Chaos Frame standing at the end of the game, it determines which story branches are open to you at any time, which characters join your army, and ultimately which one of the Multiple Endings you get.

  • EVE Online's completely player-driven nature outright deconstructs many of the common MMORPG mechanics, superbly addressing and explaining via some very elaborate and convincing-sounding tech lore. How can you constantly die? Clones. How are you singularly operating a ship with effectively no crew? Capsules. The backstory has become so in depth that it has sparked what you could describe as 'lore within the lore;' cloning has caused discussions about transferals of consciousness, and the fact that capsuleers can indefinitely clone has in-game, as well as outside consideration about the fact that since they have clones, can do anything, and cause large amounts of destruction, that capsuleers are effectively immortal, sociopathic, all-powerful demigods. To put it shortly, it's pretty much the most effective, in depth, and descriptive Hand Wave ever.
  • Mabinogi:
    • Player characters, aka Milletians, are presented as spirits from outside the game world, who are temporarily incarnated within it. Because they are not normally part of the world, they do not "die", but simply lose the body they were using, which can be restored by a particular NPC. NPCs are aware of your status, and will casually mention it from time to time. This is actually made a significant story point for Elf and Giant characters.
    • In the semi-prequel Vindictus, The fact that the Giant Polar Bear is such a popular target is referenced in a quest, where it is suddenly attacking more areas than before and you are the prime suspect because you bother, I.E. use it to grind, so much, and are thus demanded to either calm it down or prove that you weren't the one that caused it to get even more angry. You weren't the one who made it mad.

RPG -- Western
  • In Planescape: Torment, your Wisdom, Intelligence and Charisma scores are useful for far more things than just getting cool spells. A high intelligence directly affects your ability to solve problems and outsmart other characters, for example. Charisma and Wisdom technically don't apply to the trope, because the Nameless One is restricted to being a Fighter, Mage, or Thief--all classes where those stats really don't matter. However, Strength, Constitution, and Dexterity (normally stats that really only impact combat) do occasionally benefit the player outside combat, just like Intelligence, Charisma, and Wisdom.
  • A Dance with Rogues has some impressive instances of Gameplay and Story Integration, ranging from your attributes (including primarily combat stats like Strength and Dexterity) and Skill Scores (including Pickpocketing and Tumble) having major impact on the outcome of dialogue, to integrating the Player Inventory into the story (e.g. if you wear a Spy Catsuit in public, the guards will come after you; if you carry weapons in the open, they will demand that you unequip them--unless you are of the Ranger class, then they leave you alone, since Rangers are considered law enforcement; some puzzles can only be solved by taking off your armor, but if you are caught without your armor outside during a rain, you get the Decease status effect--and NPCs will comment on your cold, etc.).
  • Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords:
    • The Relationship Values are the gameplay manifestation of a plot ability that the main character is revealed to have--namely, to subtly manipulate people that they're close to. As a consequence, the more influence you have with a party member, the more their alignment mirrors your own and vice-versa (with due consequences to bonuses/penalties to Light- and Dark-Sided Force powers). This actually veers into "story and story segregation" territory, since even if you turn a Light-Sided character to the Dark Side with your influence, he will still object to your Dark-Sided decisions and lose affection for you.
    • Similarly, the XP system, where you grow more powerful by killing enemies, is revealed to be the result of the main character's "rift in the force" growing more powerful by feeding on the destruction she causes. Pretty rough revelation if you are a Light-Sider.
    • Furthermore, some of your party member's characterization traits turn up as actual abilities in battle. Atton has improved saving throws the closer he gets to knocked out from half health and below, and he can get back up in battle from being knocked out, provided somebody else is still standing, Kreia provides EXP bonuses to the party, Mandalore is immune to mind-affecting powers (though the only enemies that use such things are bosses the player character fights solo), and that's just the start.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Dagoth Ur's rising power doubles as Anti-Grinding, with stronger ash creatures and blighted fauna appearing more and more as you keep leveling up. Also, in the Imperial Legion questline, your superiors will refuse to give or accept quests unless you are in uniform--i.e. wearing body armor of a specific type that Legionnaires must wear while on duty.
    • You start off in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion without a class, but after you complete the Tutorial Level, one of your allies will guess your preferred class based on how you beat the tutorial (e.g whether you sneaked past the enemies or fought them, whether you used magic or weapons, etc.). Your class plays no further role in the story, but the NPC's dialogue changes dramatically.
    • At the start of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, you can't understand dragons...but later on, they start speaking to you in English. This is actually because as the Dovahkiin, you start learning words of the Draconic language--which are, in gameplay terms, combat superpowers.
  • Similar to Planescape: Torment, Fallout 3 gives you a few occasions where a sufficiently high Strength stat allows you to intimidate certain NPCs into submitting to your will. There is also the Terrifying Presence perk, which gives you the option to frighten NPCs in dialog by reminding them how tough you are.
  • In The Witcher, your amulet starts vibrating when there are hidden monsters or magic sources nearby, to warn you of an imminent attack while exploring. However, when it suddenly starts vibrating next to your Quest Giver, you know something is fishy. And indeed, it turns out that your contact was killed and replaced by the Big Bad hiding under an illusion. On another occasion, you make an actual Story Branching decision via gameplay: when fighting a Striga (Princess Adda in relapse), you can either kill it, like every other monster, or keep fighting it without dealing the final blow until sunrise (tracked by the In-Universe Game Clock!) to lift its curse. Either resolution has a profound impact on the plot.

Simulation Game
  • In Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War:
    • The AI of your Violently Protective Wingwoman Kei Nagase will often ignore direct orders to disperse and engage enemies at will and instead stick to your tail as if the Cover command was given. This is because Nagase is still reeling from her original squadron leader Taking the Bullet for her, and this behavior actually goes away after several missions, as she mostly gets over it and accepts that you don't need her protection all the time.
    • Similarly, Hans Grimm is introduced as a Child Prodigy who takes off in the middle of an air raid and holds his own despite not even completing his basic flight training. Indeed, if you check your wingman stats towards the end of the campaign, Grimm has the highest kill count of all your teammates.

Sports Game
  • In Punch-Out!! for the Nintendo Wii, you get special damage-reducing headgear after 100 losses. In Title Defense Mode, Glass Joe, who starts the game with 99 losses before you beat him, gets the same headgear for the rematch fight, as he now has 100 losses himself.

Stealth-Based Game
  • During Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, the hero has his eye shot out. After that, if you go into first-person mode, the far-right of the screen is darkened and your depth perception is off, forcing you to relearn how to aim.

Strategy -- Real-Time
  • The Corruption level of your team in Dawn of War 2: Chaos Rising affects both the abilities and equipment they can use and some major plot points, like which of them turned out to be a traitor and the ending. The vanilla campaign also has Tarkus: his introduction on a loading screen image mentions he was awarded Terminator honors for his performance during the prequel's campaign.[[note]]Space Marines are big on Honor Before Reason and wouldn't use said armor without being awarded the privilege first.[[/note]] This explains how he can pull his Big Damn Heroes moment in Terminator armor without the Terminator Honors perk other squads need to level up and unlock first.
  • In Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2, the Allies use their Chronosphere to send a strike team directly to Moscow, bypassing the Soviet defences. You can then use it during the attack itself to bypass the local defences.

Strategy -- Turn-Based
  • A mild, but quite clever example comes in the DS remakes of the first Fire Emblem games. So in Shadow Dragon, you have to sacrifice one of your units to disguise as Marth and distract powerful enemies come to kill him. This unit is removed from gameplay the same way anyone who dies normally does; and it's stated that the unit died at the end of the chapter, so everyone figured that they were Killed Off for Real. Word of God has confirmed the fan theory that indeed, Frey is the canonical sacrifice due to his blue hair (making him mistakable for Marth at a distance), and how he was not in the original or even in the remake if one starts at Hard Mode. When the player gets the Aum staff much much later in the game, a lot of peoples' instinct was to use it to revive Frey, because he is the one unavoidable death in Shadow Dragon. Except that you can't, for some reason. Yet the remake of Fire Emblem III on the DS shows Frey alive and well. And his dialogue with the player character states that he was indeed the sacrifice, but upon finding out that they were duped, his captors didn't kill him, they just beat him up and left him for dead and he was later rescued. So in actuality; you couldn't use the Aum staff to revive Frey, because Frey never actually died in the first place!
  • In Fire Emblem 6, Douglass, Lalam's adoptive father, will attack anyone in your army except her in Chapter 16. This makes her very useful for the purpose of blocking him into one of the rooms with only one entrance/exit, enabling you to avoid both accidentally killing him and placing one of your own at risk against his mighty Silver Axe.
  • L'Arachel in Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones is Born Lucky, to the point that she can win a coin toss even if the coin's loaded. Her stats reflect this, and she will often max out the Luck Stat.
  • Micaiah in Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn has "Sacrifice", which is a miraculous healing ability in the storyline, and can also be used in-game, though in-game it doesn't have any abilities beyond a simple heal staff, and as the name implies it hurts to use it. It's seen as a miracle because she can heal without being a member of the clergy. In essence, it does have power potentially superior to that of a staff, since she manages to save Lehran (if you managed to get him), who was literally an instant away from dying; whereas staves appear to function primarily on healing flesh wounds, Sacrifice uses Micaiah's own life force, which implicitly has stronger effects on living beings. In game, Sacrifice also allows Micaiah to heal status effects. Whether or not she can do this for a character at full HP, though... She's never been shown using Sacrifice in this manner in the story, however.
  • Disgaea:
    • In Disgaea, Laharl is allergic to large breasts and optimistic sayings. After a cutscene featuring an excess of both, his stats are cut in half for the next battle.
    • Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories:
      • Adell and Rozalin start out having a 0% combo rate on their attacks (which is more or less impossible to get with any other combination of characters), being at this point enemies and utterly unwilling to directly help each other. Their combo rate starts rising as the game goes on and the two grow closer, eventually capping at 99% near the end.
      • In an odd meta example Etna claims she hacked her title so it says "Beauty Queen" instead of "Demon Lord". Titles are programed in such a way that you can indeed make custom titles (rather than give a character another existing title) with a Cheating Device.
      • The game has a feature called "Reincarnate to Atone for Sins", which will remove your felony records. Turns out Overlord Zenon did this, setting the plot in motion.
    • From Disgaea 2 onwards, particular character traits often manifest as stat alterations. For example, Adell gets a damage bonus against higher-level opponents and Tink gets +2 to movement (for running away, of course).
  • The Potentials in Valkyria Chronicles tie in directly with the characters' stories, and more are opened as you learn more about the character. For example, Freesia starts out with one Potential called 'Desert Bred', marked by how she was raised and has lived in the desert areas for some time. After you learn a little more about her - that she's not used to living for anybody else and doesn't work well when people are counting on her - she gains the 'Under Pressure' Potential, cutting her defence and accuracy is she uses the last CP of your Phase.

Survival Horror

Visual Novel
  • Many examples in Galaxy Angel. Forgetting the Cutscene Power to the Max in the first game, Eternal Lovers gives you missions where you need to destroy the enemy flagship before reinforcements arrive, thus reducing your time limit to 10 minutes instead of the usual 15. Another is after the Elsior was hit by the Chrono Break Cannon from the stolen Unit #7, and thrown into an ambush position immediately afterwards. In this battle, the Elsior starts with 60% HP unlike other battles. Then there's the conditions of your Angels; if the plot demands them to be depressed, expect them to fight poorly and vice versa.

Other Games
  • In Demonophobia, a game with a lot of interesting ways to die, you don't 'die and respawn' in the usual way; instead, the protagonist is revived some time later, with no memories of her deaths. This becomes important at the end of the game, where these memories are returned to her.
  • Part of being a good GM for almost any Table Top Role Playing Game is realizing there is no such thing as Gameplay and Story Segregation. Players should have the opportunity to feel that their choices matter within the story, and you should be ready for canny players to save the prince who was supposed to die, steal the data that was supposed to be given to the Corrupt Corporate Executive, or kill the villain you expected to survive a bit longer. A good GM will recycle the work he did on antagonists, introduce a new plot twist or element, and let the fun continue while still allowing the players a moment of feeling awesome. The same holds true when the players fail spectacularly. There is only a Non-Standard Game Over. Games that end with party death are always context-specific, and failing to do that is taking away the effect the players had on the game world, even in death.

Non-Gaming Examples

Instances of gameplay and story integration and segregation in the same game:

Action Game
  • In Batman: Arkham Asylum, every move that Batman does in cutscenes is available to him in actual gameplay--except the explosive gel-powered punch.

  • The core gameplay element in Journey is the flying scarf, with very simple rules: it's charged up by contact with other cloth, extended by finding glowing symbols, and shortened by getting hit by the Guardians. These rules work for most of the game, except in the very end, where you lose your entire scarf to icy wind, get it restored and maxed out by the Ancients, and lose it again, just as you reach the summit. That, especially the maxing-out part, is a perfect example of gameplay and story integration, since the story mandates a dramatic change and the gameplay rules are bent to allow it in a spectacular manner. On the other hand, the White Robe has no justification in the plot and seems to have been mainly added for gameplay reasons, being a mild case of gameplay and story segregation.

Role-Playing Game
  • In Final Fantasy IV, Tellah's maximum MP will never go above 90, unless the player exploits a bug in certain remakes of the game. Meteor costs 99 MP, so when he needs to cast it for a scripted battle, he has to spend his life force to do so. On the other hand, spells cannot be Cast from Hit Points in the gameplay proper, making it also an example of Cutscene Power to the Max.
  • Final Fantasy V:
    • Early in the game, you have to get a medicinal herb for your Dragon, but you get ambushed by a pair of Hunters who are after it. In the pre-battle cutscene they shoot a Poisoned Arrow at Leena, and sure enough, she starts the ensuing fight already poisoned.
    • The party members attempt to use the strongest healing items and spells at their disposal on a character who has been Killed Off for Real to no avail. Fighting at 0 HP rendered him Deader Than Dead. On the other hand, it's possible for characters in that cutscene to try to use Curaga and Raise on Galuf even if they haven't gained a single level in any White Magic-related jobs. Or to use Phoenix Downs even if you don't currently have any in your inventory. As for how they got that far out without white magic, who'd actually try that?
  • Chrono Trigger: Setting aside the scene where it cleaves a cliff face in two, never to display that kind of power again, there are two battles where the Masamune displays power that it was said to have in cutscenes and dialogue. In the battle against Magus, the sword, which was said to be one of the few weapons that would allow them to defeat Magus, bypasses Magus's Barrier Shift trick and drops his magic defense stat. Later on, the team uses a red knife to drain Lavos' power out of the Mammon Machine. The red knife then turns into the Masamune. If you use the Masamune on the Mammon Machine when you fight it later, the sword bypasses its defense boost trick and heals Frog, by way of draining the energy from it, just like it did before.

Will go under Interactive Storytelling Tropes.
Community Feedback Replies: 39
  • August 7, 2013
    I think you're right that making a "Sliding Scale" is the Eureka Moment this YKTTW so badly needed -- every game with a story trapping will find some way for the rest of the game to reflect it, even if it's only cosmetic and makes no difference to actual game play. You can't really point to one game and say "this has it" while pointing to another and saying "this does not" -- it's not even a yes/no question to begin with, but a matter of how much they do.
  • August 7, 2013
    Conspicuous Segregation is related to Excuse Plot while Total Segregation to No Plot No Problem. Just saying.
  • August 7, 2013
    • The same holds true when the players fail spectacularly. There's no Nonstandard Game Over, only the players trying to carry on as best they can now that the prince is dead, the data is in the hands of the Big Bad, and so on.

    I would argue instead, that there is only a Nonstandard Game Over. Games that end with party death are always context-specific, and failing to do that is taking away the effect the players had on the game world, even in death.
  • August 7, 2013
    @Stratadrake: Yeah, that's what I figured, too. Though once that binary approach was out of the way, I found it much easier to extract what exactly do games that have "much of it" have in common, and thus compile my cheatsheet for G&S integration. :)

    @DAN 004: I'll add that, though No Plot No Problem is more related to the games I mention that don't have a story component at all. I don't have any particular examples for the Total Segregation category, since I introduced it simply as a way to cap off the scale on the other end.

    @crazysamaritan: How would you rewrite that sentence, then?
  • August 7, 2013
    • The same holds true when the players fail spectacularly. There is only a Nonstandard Game Over. Games that end with party death are always context-specific, and failing to do that is taking away the effect the players had on the game world, even in death.
  • August 7, 2013
    ^ Added.
  • August 9, 2013
    So, examples/suggestions/hats?
  • August 9, 2013
    Again, two examples of Perfect Integration:

    Fighting Games

    • The Story Mode of Mortal Kombat 9 averts the "choose your fighter and defeat random characters" formula by having an actual story told in cutscenes like a film where you play different characters every chapter.

    • From the same developer of Mortal Kombat 9 (Netherrealm Studios), Injustice Gods Among Us follows the same formula.
  • August 9, 2013
    ^ That would be Natural Integration, not Perfect One. Since the "actual story" is told in cutscens, as you say, then the story appears pretty segregated from the gameplay, after all. I am not picking on you or your examples, or anything, but simply adding a storyline to a fighting game does not automatically make it well-integrated with the gameplay.

    A Deliberate Integration would be, for instance, if things like how fast you defeated a particular enemy, or which Finishing Move you used on him would lead to different story events down the line, or even if a fighter who just suffered a trauma in a cutscene would be notably weaker in the next fight than in his other appearances. But just adding a Framing Device around a bunch of fights is exactly the kind of trivial integration that Stratadrake warned against in the old YKTTW.
  • August 9, 2013
    Did you ever play these games? Because if not, i can link videos of their chapters.
  • August 9, 2013
    I did not. You can link me to those vids, but it would be better if you tried to explain what exactly constitutes deliberate integration in them. Because if it's just about characters being introduced by the story before becoming playable, then it's what pretty much every game out there does.
  • August 9, 2013
    Think in Resident Evil if it were a fighting game instead of a survival horror.

    Here's a video of the chapter one of Injustice Gods Among Us:
  • August 9, 2013
    I have never played Resident Evil, either, I am afraid... I have watched the first ten minutes of that video and what I see is basically cutscenes flowing seamlessly into fighting sequences and back. It does, indeed, appear as a form of story and gameplay integration, but not of the kind that has been discussed here before. The two are still very much segregated but the boundary between them is skillfully blurred. There are also these special scripted segments, which do go in the same direction as other examples up there...

    I need a third opinion. Stratadrake? Anyone?

    EDIT: After watching for a while, I found a couple more instances of deliberate integration, such as Batman's health not regenerating between consecutive fights (like Green Lantern's), GL using the same abilities in cutscenes as in gameplay, pre-fight QTEs (essentially cutscens) reducing health in the subsequent battle, and generally finding in-story justifications for individuals of different Super Weight to fight on equal footing. But I am still basically grasping at straws here...
  • August 11, 2013
    Even the fans of the Mortal Kombat franchise (i am one) agree that until MK 9 the story of all games was just an excuse plot to random battles (i.e. if Jax and Sonya are friends why would they fight each other?). The storytelling present in the Story Mode of MK 9 and Injustice is really a story rather than an excuse plot and is also present in other genres. Switch it to a beat'em up and you have God Of War.

    EDIT: Here's the video of the chapter one of MK 9:
  • August 11, 2013
    I like the correlation of an Excuse Plot to a Framing Device, as that's basically what it is. [[note]](And somebody stop this cat of mine from trying to nuzzle my hands while I'm typing!)[[/note]]
  • August 12, 2013
    Alright, I'll add it, but with a disclaimer that this a genre-specific thing.
  • August 12, 2013
    It's not genre-specific, a game of any genre can be framed inside a story. (Ever play Tetris Plus?)
  • August 12, 2013
    But what about games that are story-heavy in the first place? I am thinking of adventure and role-playing games, where encountering a puzzle or an enemy that is not part of the overarching story is more of an exception than a rule.
  • August 14, 2013
  • August 20, 2013
    "where encountering a puzzle or an enemy that is not part of the overarching story is more of an exception than a rule."

    Big Lipped Alligator Moment?
  • August 20, 2013
    You're missing my point, which is that tying individual gameplay challenges together by a consistent plotline has been par for the course in adventure and role-playing games since forever, but is apparently an innovative breakthrough in fighting games. This serves to illustrate that different video game genres have different "default" levels of story/gameplay integration.
  • August 25, 2013
  • August 28, 2013
    One more hat and I can finally launch it...
  • August 28, 2013
    Well last time I worked for putting the example up my net went away...
    • The Ogre Battle series plays this with many parts of the series. In March of the Black Queen we get a dance between perfect integration and deliberate integration with the Chaos Frame as a lot of events and characters are dependent on it. Also considering the Story Branching after a certain point that allows the player to decide what to do and when to do a stage, also including all the "hidden areas".
    • Tactics Ogre (all the details in this example are pre remake version): While a lot of the options are chained again to the Chaos Frame, which this time is hidden so it is to be pulled via actions, what makes the game go into a Deliberate Integration by the fact that given the mention and execution of a False Flag operation the bad bad ending [[Spoiler: (where the Queen dies) ]] where a gunner disguised as a knight assassinates the unification warlord mixed with a second case where the gun weapon (which is considered a new thing and even a villain prefers sticking to swords, ironically to pull a War Hammer) gets the second moment where it has a Cutscene Power to the Max.
    • Tactics Ogre The Knight Of Lodis: Takes the point in between Deliberate and Natural. The reason in the case of using Natural Integration is the Cutscene Power to the Max of one of the less powerful spells ingame (which causes sleep which is removed by anything short of a sneeze) at a plot point. However taking a detail in point a Natural Integration as the MacGuffin weapon is not as hyped (outside breaking the big bads' barrier, which is the main reason to pack it) as the weapon should be able to shoot bolts but doesn't but that may play either as a Total Segregation or just a lost forever detail.

    • Thousand Arms: Mostly seen in the cutscenes and the weapon casting ranging around a Deliberate Integration as ingame you are supposed to be friendly with the ladies to forge better weapons, and it is needed for accessing the power and or spells to actually finish the game.
  • August 29, 2013
    ^ You keep referring to "type 1" and "type 2"... What exactly do you mean by that?
  • August 29, 2013
    ^Well I kept as in the list as the games keep on sliding back and forwards with the items you gave but never numbered in the segregation / integration. Could remove the "types" and just leave the ideas as in a segregation / integration but it would be a bit later today. Also adding the hat.
  • August 29, 2013
    Oh, I see now. :) Could you also explain how the Chaos Frame affects the gameplay in the Ogre series, not just the story?
  • August 29, 2013
    Well wording but given I'm absentminded and translating the thoughts it may be lost on translation (also a bit of time since I played ANY of the games in the saga and that includes Lordly Caliber): First case: Ogre Battle March of the Black Queen
    • Well mostly it affects rewards and how the people see you, which leads to changes in the story. Given that it changes the story you are getting you are bound to be forced to change the idea of wielding a specific army type to make you change the gameplay to fit what you are doing by choices in story and/or gameplay.

    Putting in other words: If your in-game choices AND gameplay (giving a good dose of curb stomp battle) make you to be seen as worse than the empire, the Chaos Frame will make the events and people go rooting for the empire you are toppling. This will affect what units you can get (or change into due to the class system) and while the player might want to make amends it is a tough way up. Not to mention that given how related the things are if you start late you are never going to get the good ending therefore making a big guide dang it.

    Second Case: Let us Cling Together
    • Story choices affect what the player can get but some gameplay details are involved due to some non linearity that the game (at certain points the player is given options of chasing optional objectives or stick to the main lines to avoid a chewing from Duke Ronway, or chummy up to what his main Knight Leonard is up that is a vengeance trip) gives with optional scenes. This also affects on how the player plays and what he can get in return, also a bit of a gut punch when dealing with Auctioning Beasts. The branching and how the player plays can be felt when recruiting new meat for your war machine.

    Third Case: Knight of Lodis:
    • This goes a bit of a dance using Deliberate and Natural due the mechanics of the game, the gameplay and some storyline choices are less interwined than in the previous options though some gameplay styles can deal with the "hidden ending".
    I guess you could check what the trope says for the saga to guide you a bit since as I said I can be confusing even in my own language.
  • August 29, 2013
    So, let me get this straight: In March of the Black Queen, you get different story branches depending on how decisive your gameplay victories are (I assume this is what you meant by "giving a curb stomp battle")?
  • August 29, 2013
    If you are not even breaking a sweat and are clearly abusing the mooks (basically the enemy units) via doing a curb stomp to them then the people are going to wonder if you are actually worse than the empire. It is a bit complex since you have to make sure things are "fair play". I do suggest you take a good look at the Ogre Battle main trope so you can get the ideas a bit but taking just one of the decisive ones that I was trying to mean:
    • Character Alignment: Usually, the Lawful-Chaotic axis is present in most games. In the first game, it's more Good-Evil, and measured on a Karma Meter both for your individual units and for your revolution as a whole.

    It works at a lot of levels not only with battles and choices but also on a luck based mission with the sidequests, keeping towns, etc. That is why I get on the issue that it dances but I'd to play the games again to pull all the information needed to the last detail.
  • August 29, 2013
    IDK, but we lack any example for Perfect Integration, Natural Integration or Total Segregation. :/
  • August 29, 2013
    @Mauri: OK, I'll try researching it on my own and see what I can come up with...

    @DAN 004: That's because Perfect Integration and Total Segregation are imaginary categories (like absolute zero temperature) existing mainly to cap off the scale at both ends. I don't actually know of any games that live this far on the edges. And Natural Integration basically includes every game that isn't in any other camp, which is why it's way too common to make any sense as a separate list.
  • August 30, 2013
    ^Sorry, I'm very sorry that it came to that (I brought the example but couldn't firmly put it into one spot as it seemed to me it danced) but it seems that I couldn't clarify much (that game series is complex by default, maybe Knight of Lodis is the simpler one). Well if you do via the tropes and fansites you can get a lot of info and if you try on the "hands on approach", that is playing the games do yourself a favor and pick the SNES version of The March of the Black Queen so you get less load times and can focus on how it works.

    Good luck on it and if I find examples before the launch then I'll mention them.
  • August 30, 2013
    • Star Craft suffers from a serious case of Units Not To Scale, with half-kilometer capital starships that look the size of large trucks in game and can be shot down by a group of marines (eventually, with several casualties). And it's not entirely clear whether the Ridiculously Fast Construction is canon, the opening to Starcraft II Wings Of Liberty shows a convict recently thawed out of cryo fitted with a marine hardsuit in about three minutes, and it takes 25 seconds to "train" a marine in the game.
  • August 30, 2013
    @ Koveras: Then it might be good for you to note that in the description.
  • August 31, 2013
    @zarpaulus: That would be Gameplay And Story Segregation, no?

    @DAN 004: Added.
  • August 31, 2013
    @Mauri: So I've read up on the Chaos Frame, though I only found detailed descriptions of it for Ogre Battle 64... I'd write it down as follows:

    • Ogre Battle 64 features the Chaos Frame, a complex Karma Meter based on the Order Versus Chaos dichotomy that is affected both by your story decisions and by your conduct in the battlefield (whether you "capture" or "liberate" enemy towns--which, in turn, depends on the story-based alignment of the unit that sacks a town). Although you only learn your Chaos Frame standing at the end of the game, it determines which story branches are open to you at any time, which characters join your army, and ultimately which one of the Multiple Endings you get.

    Is that correct?
  • August 31, 2013
    It is correct, also sorry I took my sweet time to answer. It is a very complex Karma meter that measures everything ingame which makes it quite tricky to manage and it helps the integration a lot, heck losing towns makes you lose points in it.
  • August 31, 2013
    OK, I am adding it and finally launching this one...