Telling a Story: HTTYD v. Monster Hunter

A new Monster Hunter game comes out soon and I’m fucking pumped.  I love that game!  The most recent one, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (MH4U), was super great and it might be my favorite one!  I dunno though- Freedom Unite on the PSP was pretty glorious.

MH4U-Image_001

That monster is the best no matter what Ellis cries about.

The one thing that stands out to me as a huge glowing weak spot in MH4U was the single player story.  The game isn’t an RPG, but they certainly try to make it one.

Monster Hunter’s formula is: you hunt monsters, you collect parts, you make better armor, you use said armor (and weapons) to fight stronger monsters.

The single player story puts way too much into trying to make you understand why you are hunting them.  They try to make me invested in the people and the town when I really don’t fucking care.  I wanna go fight badass monsters and make bitching weapons so I can see what the next monster is!  I don’t give three shits about your town.

The single player story essentially is: talk to village people, they make requests for parts, you hunt monster, you get prize.  That’s perfectly fine- I enjoy hunting monsters for my own reasons, so I might as well hunt them for profit.  But MH4U had a long story line about how the village is threatened and blah blah blah.  I can’t honestly fucking tell you because every time someone starts talking about some shit I skip it all.  I don’t care!  I heard “There’s a new monster…” and I was fucking checked out!

It wouldn’t be a problem but they talk forever.  Its the goddamn owl from Ocarina of Time.

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“Don’t say ‘No’ this time.”

I’ll do another article how much I fucking love this game, but what I really want to talk about is how to tell a story.  I’m not a script or story writer, but as one who values experiencing a story there are definitely ways to make it fucking better.

You’re stories need to be about the experience as much as they are about the story.  If you spoon feed me the specifics about whats happening it makes me feel outside of whats happening.  That’s what happens in MH4U.  All I want to do is kill monsters, but you are making me sit down so grandpa can tell me about how he used to kill monsters when he was young and god I want to skip this sentence as I’m writing it.

If you want me to feel the pressure about monsters destroying the village- have them destroy the village.

How fucking pissed would you be if you failed to kill or stop a monster and it tore ass through the village and now half of the stuff I need is under repair.  Fighting monsters would have a new level of nut-sack on fire intensity if I knew that failure meant things would affect me.

But no- they’d rather have this guy talk for 1,000 years.  The monster destroyed the village while he was talking about the monster destroying the village.

This method is used a lot in Shounen animes.  Dragon Ball Z, Soul Eater, and Bleach come to mind.  It doesn’t inherently make them bad, just unsophisticated.  Its that formula of Character A is doing something and Character B is explaining what they see (even if they are alone).

An example of how to tell a story without a couple gallons of exposition is How to Train Your Dragon.  Dean Dublois is a fucking hero.

Dean_DeBlois

He also worked on Mulan and Lilo & Stitch.

Now I know I’m comparing story telling elements in a game versus a movie, which can’t fundamentally be the same thing- but keep with me.  The overarching point I want to make is “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

I ain’t even gonna explain How to Train Your Dragon (HTTYD) because hopefully you’ve seen it.  If you haven’t I have significantly failed you as a brother.

Every scene in that video we understand promptly.  We understand Toothless and Hiccup separately, but also together.  The very end shows Hiccup trusting Toothless enough to look away with his hand out, and then Toothless leans forward and touches it with his snout.  Now- we could have a character from behind a bush be like, “Oh my gawd they understand each other and Hiccup is learning that they aren’t mindless beasts!”

But that doesn’t happen; so we all remember that and feel uplifted because we experience it with the characters.

By necessity the story is going to have a lot more visual storytelling because dragons can’t talk.  But that’s what makes the movie so great.  Words are more easily forgotten than seeing something and Dean knew that.  Its why Toothless is so expressive.

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Is that fucking owl still talking?

You take one quick look and you can tell whats going on.  He doesn’t have to have Hiccup voice Toothless’ every thought.

Dean trusts that he can put enough points out that we’ll just naturally connect them.  And when he establishes this with the viewer we get adorable sequences where there’s no talking- only happy memories.

And then he uses this as a powerful story telling tool.  As the audience, we know shit is very, very wrong when Toothless looks like this:

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“OH NO ASTRID, SOMETHING’S WRONG WITH TOOTHLESS!  THE OTHER DRAGON MADE A CRACK AT HIS MAMA!”

Dean wasn’t explaining to us why we should be worried, he was appealing to our experience so far as a moviegoer.  We’ve only seen Toothless have almost human like expression- and now Dean is finally showing us that Toothless is actually a fucking scary dragon.

And this contrast involves no dialogue.  Now obviously he has the characters respond to it in the movie but it mirrors our own.  We experience this at the same time as other characters in the movie.

I mean- these examples are pretty straightforward.  Maybe I’m not making my point.  Lets compare it to this:

Literally laying out a plan in front of the enemy seems fucking silly.  It’s not the end of the world but he could’ve just said like “Everyone know the plan?  Go!”  They could all rush off and we, the viewer, are left to discover what is is.

We can get excited when we start to realize and figure it out.  Why lay it all out?  Things are more exciting when you don’t know everything.  Its like sex- its not exciting if my explanation takes longer than the act itself.

Dean Dublois uses this stuff to great effect in HTTYD.  Since they are CG movies he’s able to carefully sculpt each scene to be full of symbolism and subtly.  He tells a lot more with less words because he sets it all up.  He treats each component of the story as its own character.

hiccup

Old Yeller ain’t got shit on Stoic.

You watch this scene.  Its somber, the music is low, everyone’s sad.  But this part of the movie is a turning point for Hiccup and he gives an emotional speech.  It couldn’t be more inspiring, but the idea behind the scene was that Hiccup is standing in the shadow of his fathers light.  He’s afraid, and he feels alone- but we see this on screen.  We don’t need someone from Sequelitis popping up to inform us what’s going on.

 

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