Tekken Story Debate
A singular conflict in my love-hate relationship with GD:T&P, my topic-inspiration crutch, is over a passage on story in the design of Tekken, the first game of the well-known fighting game series. I say the passage is a dirty sucker-punch motivated by some unseen bitterness and deserves a fair shot for rebuttal.
Just as storycrafter styles vary by individual, not all designers agree on the fundamental importance of stories and in game design. Richard Rouse III, designer of Centipede 3D, Odyssey: The Legend of Nemesis, and Damage Incorporated, author of Game Design: Theory and Practice (GD:T&P) is a disbeliever.
While a single opinion doesn't define a person entirely, one passage on the topic of stories in games comes across as a glove-slapping to the face and chest. He does not just discount the value of story in the fighting game Tekken, he dryly insults the creators' story devices with several pointed statements of questionable accuracy.
Or such is my opinion. I would welcome some perspective on the matter.
Gauntlet Tossed or Not?
The passage in question:
Tekken is an example of a game that tells its story, as insubstantial as it may be, almost entirely through out-of-game cut-scenes: one precedes the gameplay and one plays after the player has defeated the single-player game using a specific character. The settings of the various arenas have nothing whatsoever to do with the storyline, and the characters themselves exhibit nothing of the personalities described in the scenes either, though their fighting styles usually relate to their nationalities. Indeed, it is unclear why the designers of Tekken felt compelled to include a storyline at all. Perhaps they wanted to give the player something to reward them for defeating the game, and a cut-scene was the only suitable prize they could imagine.
From the very outset Rouse is already pinging with the "insubstantial" remark. It is unclear what is actually wrong with the cut-scenes serving as a storytelling device and reward, but he hits on it at the beginning and end of the statement ensuring that his displeasure is known. Between the cut-scene references the attack intensifies with three missives that only make sense as wild swings to discredit the use of story in the game's design.
It is almost as if Rouse isn't describing the same game. The degree to which the three main points are off-target is astounding. The arena settings fit perfectly with the Tekken storyline, the characters exhibit subtle traits along with their fighting style to fill-out their personalities and character nationality has as much to do with an international scope for the storyline as the link to a regional variety of martial arts.
The high-pitched squeals and moves of the Bruce Lee rip-off character, for example, is nothing short of memorable, even if in part for being painfully cheesy. In later sequels, which Rouse wouldn't have yet had the opportunity to critique without playing, nationality continues to contribute to the world-wide flavoring for the game story.
Was there some personal axe-grinding with Namco's Tekken team or perhaps the company as a whole? The belief that only the original game Namco did for decades was Pacman is not uncommon. Other titles (Tekken, Ridge Racer, etc.), however successful, followed similar Sega games like uninventive copy-cats from a design perspective.
Is the story in Tekken an example of poor game design? Could be. Rouse seems to think so and he is the successful game designer and author. But he's never written for or posted on Gamegrene so I say his opinion is suspect. Am I off my rocker here? If so come give me some smack-down like Emily on the Rick Hershey defense (a.k.a. "nicely").