Story Breadcrumbs

Some games eschew character interaction to tell story, and instead leave epistolary scraps of information lying around the game world for the lonely player to find and pick up, or ignore at one's leisure. These are Story Breadcrumbs, though in academic game design they may also be called "embedded narrative."

This, of course, means you might occasionally miss one that's important.

When a video game has an Apocalyptic Log, it's almost always split up to be pieced together non-linearly. Is often presented in Anachronic Order or hidden inside Flavor Text. Compare the non-videogame Scrapbook Story.

Contrast Exposition Break, Dialogue Tree and All There in the Manual. For detective stories see Linked List Clue Methodology.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Action-Adventure 
  • In Beyond Good & Evil you either talk to every character multiple times and read every message sent to you, or experience a less impactful story and become confused over how exactly their world works. That is probably the biggest flaw in an otherwise great game.
  • The Metroid Prime series has you scan computers and equipment to find logs from the Space Pirate villains, the Federation, and various alien races. The first Prime game is such a severe example of this that it's possible to complete the entire game without a single clue of what you're doing or why you're doing it. Literally all the story is in logs and scans. The later titles include some cutscenes and basic plot development, but most of the exposition is left to you to find.

    Adventure Game 
  • Common in Interactive Fiction. A good example is Theatre, which has scraps from a character's diary lying around the titular theater.
  • Myst and its sequels. As a series about magic books, mundane journals fill in a lot of story padded by background information.
  • In The Secret of Monkey Island, the title island is littered with notes from Herman and the Cannibals addressing each other, and sometimes Lechuck, which were used as their communication methods, and varied from things such as that the catapult was very dangerous and should be dismantled to complaining that the Monkey head makes too much noise at night.

    Beat'em Up 

    Environmental Narrative Game 
  • Gone Home is entirely this. It drops you off at your abandoned home with only your family belongings to tell the story of what happened.

    Metroidvania 
  • In Axiom Verge, though the exposition is delivered through cutscenes, further elucidation of the backstory is left to notes hidden in many obscure places.
  • In La-Mulana, many of the tablets scattered throughout the levels, once Lemeza has what it takes to decode their glyphs, will reveal background information on the ruins, often doubling as puzzle hints.
  • In Shadow Complex guards that don't immediately see you will often talk to one another, dropping hints on what's going on with the plot.
  • An Untitled Story has some story breadcrumbs hidden in The Secret Library. Some of them are provided by Ghosts, the Sky Town citizens and three birds who are found outside of Sky Town.

    RPG — Eastern 
  • FROM Software is fond of this. Their games Demon's Souls, the Dark Souls trilogy, and Bloodborne all take a minimalistic method of storytelling to an extreme. Almost all backstory and plot development (occasionally even information vitally important to understanding the plot) being told either through the short inventory item descriptions, sparse dialogue with NPCs, or occasionally just hinting at things through the level design. Even then, the information provided is still spotty and the players are left to fill in much of it with their own imaginations, thus making multiple interpretations of the game possible.
  • Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles tells little snippets of the game's lore and the player's ultimate goal through random encounters with NPCs on the map and through the player's own diary entries. In fact, the game is perfectly happy to let the player go about their caravan duties indefinitely until they eventually infer that to continue with the story and beat the game they're supposed to charge their chalice with the 5th element to be able to travel to Mount Vellenge and destroy the source of the miasma.
  • In Pokémon Red and Blue, the abandoned, wild-Pokémon-overrun Pokémon Mansion on Cinnabar Island holds a scattered number of journal entries describing the capture of Mew and the mysterious birth of its child Mewtwo, whose "vicious tendencies" apparently cannot be curbed. Well, not without a Poké Ball...
    • Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire add a new backstory to the Abandoned Ship (now called Sea Mauville) in a similar fashion. You can find various letters and other reports lying around the ship; details include why it was shut down and some rather depressing info on some of its former workers.
  • In Kingdom Hearts, the Ansem Reports and the Secret Ansem Reports detail the creation of the Big Bad and the game's enemies. They can be found in various places in the first game and various plot milestones in the second.
  • Undertale:
    • The narrative gives enough hints along the way about Flowey's origin, particularly in the Genocide and Neutral runs, to at least put together a decent idea of who he actually is. A straight-forward answer and closure is one of your rewards for obtaining the Golden Ending of the Pacifist Run.
    • W.D. Gaster, a character who fell into the core and thus ceased to exist from the game's narrative completely, takes it one step further since you need to actively cheat, hack the game, and even read the game's code to find all but one of the references to him. Given the nature of the game, he's essentially someone who was Dummied Out In-Universe.

    RPG — Western 
  • The first Diablo had a setup like this. Books placed on pedestals throughout the catacombs under Tristram would tell you the story how Diablo came to be buried under Tristram, along with other events that precede the game. That said, the game's manual contained all the same story elements in more detail.
  • The main storyline of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind places you smack in the middle of the final chapter of the millenia-old drama revolving around the Heart of Lorkhan and the Living Gods of the Tribunal. If you want to learn the contents of the previous chapters, however, you have no choice but to read most of the in-game books, converse with members of the Temple, and generally keep your eyes open for any clues, as the game world is absolutely steeped in the Tribunal lore.
  • Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords is like that. Important backstory is hidden in obscure dialogue options, which may or may now show up depending on your gender, Force alignment, influence with each particular companion and even the number of previous walkthroughs. It takes at least two of them to get even a vague idea of what's going on and even more of those, combined with lurking through the dialogue files, to get all subtleties.
  • Neverwinter Nights and Baldur's Gate are prone to this with "book" items that you can read using the "Examine" command, which tell brief stories about the history of the Forgotten Realms, which is where the games take place. None of these stories are ever really useful to the plot, but the books are worth a couple gold if you sell them.

    Shooter — First-Person 
  • The Conduit uses secret messages and radio and television broadcasts in-game to provide background information and updates on events throughout the game.
  • While the Halo series has always had cutscenes that give you a general idea of what's going at the present time of the story, beginning with Halo 3 they have also included terminals, data pads, or audio logs scattered throughout the levels that divulge additional information on the backstory and expanded universe of the series.
    • Halo 3: ODST features audio recordings scattered around New Mombasa, telling the story of a girl trying to rescue her father during the Covenant invasion of the city. The thirty of them can be collected from certain pay phones, ATMs, and other kiosks; no matter where you find them, though, you'll always get them in order.
  • Marathon tells its story by means of computer terminals that give text-based infodumps. Certain terminals are required to progress, but others are secondary ones which simply give more information about The Verse and what is going on.
  • The Nintendo DS shooter Moon has at least two separate sets of logs the player can find on computer consoles throughout the facility. The problem was that these logs contain shocking information that will later be relayed to the characters in the normal course of the story. Basically, the game spoils its own plot twists.
  • The System Shock and BioShock series both have often-eerie audio recordings from before and after the disasters happened that you can easily listen to while still walking around.
  • TRON 2.0: Jet, like the player, knows very little about the "off the books" experiments and dirty politics involved at Encom, or the even dirtier plans and experiments of rival company F-Con. It's through in-game emails the player downloads and reads that reveal what's going on in the analog world.
  • Unreal told its story through messages from the various races and personnel involved, ranging from survivors that came from the prison ship you crashed in, to the diaries of the natives of the planet you landed on, to orders from the enemy aliens' army. One entire level revolves around trying to find someone who might be an ally, solely told through logs detailing her escape from both the enemy aliens, and the natives. The expansion pack broke some of the mold off by having the player character speak and narrate between levels, but there are still logs to be found.
  • Doom 3 can be treated as a classic level-based shooter as long as you treat PDA's as parts of a Lock and Key Puzzle. However, if you delve further into them than just for finding door codes, there's a plethora of information on how Mars City was faring before your arrival, including the increasingly bizarre and frightening incidents (people hearing voices, pieces of heavy equipment that activate on their own and cannot be shut down at all, behavioral changes in personnel, and so on) caused by the latent demonic activity invited in by the teleportation experiments. The audio logs and e-mails detail those incidents from the perspective of ordinary workers, oblivious to the satanic nature of the bad things happening around and sometimes to them.

    Shooter — Third-Person 
  • In Alan Wake, collectable pages of Alan's novel Departure tell you what's going to happen, what has happened, and the motivations of the Eldritch Abomination nipping at your heels throughout the game. Failing that, it becomes difficult to see what's happening outside of Wake's perspective, or to see the deeper motivations of the antagonists.
  • In Quantum Break, the plot centres around a complex time travel accident, so there's collectable documents scattered throughout the game explaining what's going on behind the scenes and explaining the scientific side things. Acquiring certain items even unlocks bonus character diaries in the menus, and it's all compounded by TV episodes spliced between the game's chapters, which are effected by the game choices to boot and show the perspective of secondary characters and antagonists. Or, if you'd prefer, you could just skip or not read the collectables and ignore the TV show provided you don't mind having zero idea what's happening outside of protagonist Jack Joyce's perspective.
  • Dead Space applies too, as all games have parts where you arrive on the scene after the inevitable necromorph outbreak has taken hold, meaning you can only find documents and recordings that reveal what lead up to and happened during the massacre; save for a few vital documents that auto-play, the game doesn't force you to view any of them.
  • Gears of War 2 has little trinkets you can find that tell the stories of dead soldiers.
  • In Left 4 Dead, you can piece together what happens, somewhat, by various messages written on the walls.
  • Resident Evil, not known for complex plotting, has plenty of completely optional story in journals left lying around. They actually make for an engaging backstory.
  • Splatoon reveals various details about its world, the Inklings, Octarians and various other creatures that inhabit it, and its backstory via the Sunken Scrolls. One hidden on each single player level, they take the form of pictures of various elements with research notes attached to them.

    Platform Game 
  • In The Cave there are cave paintings you can find that describe the backstories of the three characters you are currently controlling.
  • The Bridge has only scattered scraps of text and images to help you make sense of what's happening. Practically nothing is ever fully explained.
  • The enemy logs in Iji; unusual in that the player's actions, such as taking the Pacifist Run route, can influence the contents.
  • The PC version of Mario Is Missing has all of the Excuse Plot set up for you in the opening, but during the actual gameplay, you can check newspapers for developments on things like what is currently happening with the penguins, as well as Mario himself keeping in contact with you on how he's doing and how the Koopas are reacting toward your efforts to stop the funding of their "melt the South Pole with hairdryers" plot.
  • In Mega Man ZX Advent, when Grey/Ashe copies their first enemy Mega Man form (from Atlas), they get a strange vision about someone detailing "The Game of Destiny". Later on you'll find more ciphers like this, and eventually you'll discover who's behind all this and his intentions.

    Survival Horror 
  • Five Nights at Freddy's takes this to the max, with only a portion of the clues actually being WORDS.
  • In Penumbra, the Apocalyptic Log is scattered up in individual notes to be found along the quest.
  • Rule of Rose: These are scattered about everywhere and in many different forms, including newspaper articles, old photographs, interactions between the other orphans and several objects that hold some sort of deeper meaning to Jennifer. Of course, given the game is implied to be Jennifer's internal journey to put her own shattered memories back together, this type of storytelling is to be expected.
  • The backstory of Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs unfolds as we discover Oswald's journal entries, which are scattered around the building.

    Wide Open Sandbox 
  • In Brütal Legend, there are artifacts scattered all over the landscape which play cutscenes detailing the history of the world. Unless you've been diligently hunting them down, you'll reach a point in the game where characters (including the one you play as) start talking about the Black Tear Rebellion as if the player should know what it was.
  • In FAMOUS has "Dead Drops", recordings left by the agent you've agreed to rescue that help flesh out the backstory.
  • No Man's Sky uses relics from the past and ruins to help tell its backstory while letting players determine for themselves what it means.
  • Many background events in [PROTOTYPE] are explained only in optional Web of Intrigue nodes.

    Other Genres 
  • Much of Fisher-Diver's story comes from the diary entries left behind with the guffins scattered about underwater.
  • Hunted: The Demon's Forge has corpses you can question for bits of backstory and enemy descriptions.
  • Lakeview Cabin relies on the player's observational skills to tell its Backstory, with little details like the picture over the bed, the booze bottles strewn around or the bubbles near where the monster emerges.
    • Lakeview Cabin Collection follows the same pattern. You can also pick up certain items, which appear on your 'character select' menu and can be inspected. The exact amount of storytelling done this way varies; III offers several scraps of paper that can be found with relative ease, while IV has only one document, the Last Will, which requires considerable effort to track down.
  • In Not The Robots audio logs are unlocked as the player gains experience from clearing levels. These logs give the only hints about why the office building is abandoned and full of hostile robots.
  • The plot behind the Soul Series of Fighting Games is given almost entirely through character, weapon, and stage profiles. Further complicating the plot is that these profiles generally only say what the relevant character knows; If the character doesn't know his opponent's name, that opponent is just called a "mysterious swordsman/monk/bandit/soldier/etc," and figuring out which character that is (if it is a named character at all) requires context work.
  • Tyrian does this via information collected from cubes dropped by particular enemies on each level. They can hold stuff from reasonable backstory details, to silly advertisement and propaganga, to stuff like the hot-dog ninja. Since the game is a scrolling shooter with branching levels, it is pretty easy to miss a cube-holding enemy somewhere.
  • Virtue's Last Reward has a bunch of documents that you get from completing rooms without hints that expand the world a bit and explains things that happened in the game. Though unfortunately it hands you some of these before the twists, making the game spoil itself similar to Moon, listed above.
  • World of Goo tells much of its story through the Sign Painter's... signs, which just as often contain gameplay advice. Then there are the occasional messages found on other signs.
  • The Shmup Hellsinker manages to do a strange mix of this trope and Purple Prose. Much of the story is bits and pieces that is hidden in the prose, but that only holds part of the picture. The game namely also uses the trope in it's classical use with loads of bits of story hints and dialogue hidden away deep in the game itself that only the most obsessive of gamers might find.
  • Non-video game example: Backstories to many of the Disney Theme Parks are generally rendered through various details scattered throughout the queue when they aren't given in the form of pre-shows or provided Disney literature.

Alternative Title(s): Embedded Narrative

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/StoryBreadCrumbs