The Elder Scrolls games are very much scenario driven and a good example to illustrate the point. Even beyond obvious concerns like the high quality in narrative and dialogue elements in Morrowind and their freeform delivery, the reason you care about those story elements when read is because the player has built a more personal context for them. Are you being asked to go to a dangerous area where you got your ass handed to you already? Maybe you suddenly understand what some other character was talking about now, or why a strange location you’ve already noticed exists. Have you just stopped what you were in the middle of because something else seems more interesting?
An aspect of the system is very important there too, the detailed and convincing collision properties of the engine greatly enhance the immersion. (of course it also helps that it’s so beautiful) The world is “solid” which in turn makes the scenario more tangible which in turn makes the story more meaningful. It’s harder to care about what is happening if you have less attachment to where it’s happening.
Castlevania is of course all about scenario as well, there again an element of the system seems to translate into scenario. Castlevania games typically have a certain deliberate pacing to the action that has become a part of it’s “flavor”. And one of the reasons attempts to update the series in 3D haven’t quite worked for me, none have got that flavor right.
All of this is ultimately subject to individual tastes… but I think that’s what I’m discovering I’m trying to get across, this encompassing idea of scenario is where the element of critical interpretation exclusive to this artform lies. The most obvious vehicle of the scenario is “graphics” of course, and that is after all what makes a videogame a unique medium. Other arts and disciplines are at this point crucial contributions to establishing the scenario and generating immediate excitement, but the actual art of game design is in the generation of relevance and desire to overcome.
Consider the example of racing games, you could have 2 games with the exact same system (and no story that matters), but one could look better or more realistic generating a better scenario factor, then add a specific setting such as a real city or event and that’s a very obvious contribution to the scenario. But even then if those elements were equal one could end up very boring while the other is thrilling all based on course design and placement of dynamic elements. The personalised scenario. Everyone knows a racing game can live or die by it’s course design yet the majority of designers for other action games don’t seem to understand that every game has a course that’s equally important.
Or another kind of course? I think any antiquated sophist would happily acknowledge designing a good golf course qualifies as an artform. This art of generating FUN and challenge at the same time is always a matter of taste, that’s precisely why it is indeed ART.
Well anyway this has become quite the exercise in defining my feelings on the matter, I’m talking to myself as much as anything. Honestly I may even be tempted to get Enchanted Arms, as I said graphics are the front end of the scenario… it’s just so sad graphics and in some cases story have become the front end of development. Games are being built from the outside in.
EDIT: Abadd your last post showed up after I started mine. If you think story covers it that’s cool, I still think there’s a meaningful distinction for myself. I mean does anyone know the “narrative” of Joust or Asteroids? But they do have a scenario that is manifest the moment you see them. I guess that’s why I’ve found myself using the term instead of just setting, as you said Tetris is a game that can truly be said to have no narrative of any kind whatsoever, yet it’s ability to generate infinite abstract scenarios is what makes it… well Tetris.
Or a driving game once again… NIGHT DRIVER! It has a setting in that you’re driving, but you can’t see anything but some lines so… HEY, it’s at night so now you also have a… scenario. Would the game have still been fun if it had been named “Stay on the Road”? It’s the lense of context, the critical interpretation that finds the meaning of FUN.