Homeworld’s storytelling style in one word? Understatement.
The above phrase is taken from the cutscene briefing between missions 3 and 4. After the burning of Kharak, the mothership escaped with the remaining survivors and the “rest of the story” is gleaned from one of their Taiidani prisoners. In return for breaking a 4,000-year-old treaty that they had no knowledge of, the Hiigarans’ adopted homeworld has been immolated by the border fleet of an ancient enemy. Fleet Command finishes his report with a terse, antiseptic phrase: “The subject did not survive interrogation.”
Why not? Were the interrogation methods too harsh? Did the captain of the captured vessel have some sort of suicide pill secreted on his body? Or did the Exiles’ new-found thirst for revenge find a convenient outlet in this lone ship captain, a scapegoat for the near-genocide of their entire species? There’s no way to know.
We can imagine the dark room, the blinding lights, the desperate rage of the interrogators who have, only hours ago, seen the near extinction of their people. We can imagine the chaos of battle aboard a ship designed for peace, and the thirst for revenge in the heart of the powerless. We can see the blind eye that authority turns to a hidden knife, or an “accidental” overdose . . .
And we may even be okay with it.
The point is, you can never tell the whole story. The story is never contained within pages of writing or video files. The story isn’t in the medium; the medium is just shorthand. Where the story actually happens is when someone picks up the book (or game) and gets into it; the story exists in the space between the medium and the audience.
Lots of games make the mistake of trying to tell all of a story. The fact is, no matter what medium you use, you’ll never be able to match the speed, precision, and specialization of your audience’s imagination. Trying to tell everythings stifles this process, and makes the world feel small (a real problem for video games). The best stories, though, are stimulants for the audience’s imagination, a push in the right direction that sends them into a world of their own creation.
And that’s why the minimalist approach in Homeworld is so powerful. It gives the story room to breathe. It leaves plenty of room for the audience to fill in the blanks, and in doing so it becomes their story as well.
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Did you miss part 2? It’s right here . . .