I'm very open to admitting that I'm not the best storyteller in my games. I've described myself as a "nintendo" style developer, where I develop game-play and mechanics before establishing a theme. While being a very productive way to go about things, I often get trapped in a corner when it comes to story(if I even have one at all). The only games I've ever made which I feel clearly convey story were At First Glance and AVIA, both made in 24 hour spurts for GIAD and Ludum Dare. But even these have one tragic flaw:

It's really damn hard to tell a story through game mechanics rather than through dialogue.

So that's what this thread is for. I want you to share simple, modular storytelling mechanics that work well in games you've made or like.

One easy example is Undertale. The game is extremely story-driven, but it finds ways to seamlessly integrate its story with game mechanics.(You can tell the emotions of a boss enemy in Undertale just by the patterns of its attacks... which is kind of amazing, if you think about it)

But my issue is I'm not sure how I can apply this to the way I make games. While I can acknowledge the areas where Undertale succeeds, I can't confidently apply what I see to my own game development.

tl;dr: Dialogue is the easy way out of story-telling and isn't really cinematic by itself, but it's super cheap because it doesn't require new art assets. Are there other tricks/tools that can be used alongside or in the place of dialogue that don't eat away the art budget?
Hey !

I belive the game storyline is what counts alot for a good game. I always was struggling when it came to game story (mostly because of English, too) and was using dialogs for it.

When I was reading your article I kinda remembered game Isaac I used to play few days ago. Something like this would be better than using dialogs, but than again that would eat the art budget :D

I really am looking forward to what kind of triks others are using, too.

Sorry for my bad English,
Telling a story through game mechanics alone certainly would be difficult, although probably not impossible. But I think to answer the question of how to go about doing it, you'd have to ask what kind of story you're telling. It seems to me that the mood requirements of the story, and any plot twists along the way, would dictate the game mechanics.

I guess one of the big questions is: What do you consider "dialogue"? I can think of many ways to use words in the environment without them being dialogue, pe se. You don't even have to use things like letters (basically dictated dialogue); a scrap of paper or graffiti with a couple of words might be enough. Remember "The cake is a lie"?

Text adventures really shine at this sort of thing, as their art is basically just prose. You could describe things like discarded pieces of clothing, torn photographs, damaged walls, to show how a person you're trying to track down is descending into madness. A sci-fi mystery might describe pieces of machinery, and you could run across things that were obviously done by said machinery in order to put two and two together.

Still, I suppose all of those might be considered part of the art realm rather than mechanics. So maybe it's more instructive to think in terms of what mechanics can do.

- As you mentioned, a monster may move differently depending on their mood or circumstances.

- NPCs can treat you differently as the story progresses. It doesn't even need dialogue. If you're dipping into a lot of dark magic, townspeople might start to run away as you come near, starting with the least stalwart first. Guards become hostile more easily, or may come at you for no explained reason at all. Perhaps other folks are more keen to be around you. Maybe certain monsters that once attacked you now ignore you, or keep their distance.

- Speaking of NPCs, shop prices could be impacted. In Nethack shopkeepers will cheat you if they see you wearing a Hawaiian shirt, as if the guy who sold it to you didn't already do that.

- The difficulty of doing various tasks could change as you progress in the story. This, like many of the above, would reflect a change to your character rather than necessarily the discovery of a plot point.

- The frequency or ferocity of enemies might increase as you get closer to an important plot point, and decrease if you're not on the right track. (This is most of a mystery genre thing.) Think of a detective in a noir film who gets beaten up when he gets too close to the truth. Think of a ghost who really doesn't want you finding its secret in that one old book in the library.

Unfortunately most of the ideas I have center around concepts of the player changing in some way. Mechanics are closely tied to the player, so it's almost a given.
I wouldn't really know how to tell a story through gameplay alone. Right now I have no idea what the story for my game is because GAMEPLAY FIRST ALWAYS but when I get to that point I plan on using comic panels with spoken dialogue, either hand-painted or pixelated (can't decide yet).
What I've learned through practice and exploration is that narrative in games is actually told 99% through mechanics. The true story of a game is what happens in the player's head, not what happens in dialogue or cutscenes. The story of blowing up a warthog with a sticky as it barrels above you throuvh the air in halo beats the story of all of the telltale games combined.

Emergent narrative is the main thing Nother is all about. Try establishing mechanics that will inspire the player to tell stories.
I'm very much a story-gamer. Probably part of the 1% that was absolutely IN LOVE with Mafia III, so that should tell you something. Beaten every single GTA game because I love Houser's writing.

So I think we have a fundamentally different way of seeing games here. I will advocate watching the 4.5 hour Mafia III movie on YouTube to everyone I talk about games with... but I don't think I have once talked about a game's ambiance outside of very literal storytelling.
I'm not saying stories in game aren't important; in fact, I am saying the opposite. What I'm saying is that the stories people will take away from your games and share with their friends, the stories that really mean something in the real world, are the emergent stories. The story of the world champion of Smash will always be 1000x more real and epic than the story mode of a single player game. The story of a game, if mechanics have little to no involvement, has nothing to do with the game. Most bad implementations of story in games are just carrots on sticks with the occasional branching path. But the incentive is not the game- the game is the incentivization.

It's weird to think of things in abstract, and it took me personally a long time to grasp the concept, so here's a simplified expanation:
A telltale/bioware/most games:
Incentive: Story, characters, plot twists
Means to reach it: Flow of gameplay mechanics

Emergent story games:
Incentive: An epic, funny, or just generally memorable experience that is unique to you as a person.
Means to reach it: Flow of gameplay mechanics

The story of your first few nights in minecraft is so memorable because of the game's emergent narrative. Here are a few more examples:
-That one time you got POTG in Overwatch
-When you killed a neutral NPC on the road for the first time in Skyrim
-The sick combo you did on your friend in a fighting game
-When you got five stars for the first time in GTA
-When you became lv10 GM on a byond game and banned everyone
-Anything you do in Zelda BOTW
Don't get me wrong, games can have good stories through dialogue and cutscenes. But people remember GTA for the crazy and emergent things you can do moreso than the time Trevor almost killed Michael
Two games where I enjoyed the story were Dragon Quest 8 and Half-Life 2.

While I don't feel DQ8 had a good story ( it's quite cliche and follows the same sort of plot progression/twists as any other DQ game ), for some reason, it was still able to draw me in and make me curious as to what was going to happen next and I can't pinpoint why. Perhaps the rest of the game was so good that it made me sub-consciously enjoy the story, kind of like when you first meet a chick and she is ugly but she's got a really hot body and so over time you just disregard the fact that she's a butterface because her body and personality make up for it. That's what DQ8 is. It's a 20 year old butterface brunette with a good personality and a juicy booty.

Half-Life 2 is the most immersed I've ever been in any video game. I legitimately cared about the world. Even since the beginning when you arrive in City 17 and the douchebag Dr. Breen is talking shit on the screen, and everything is kinda barren and hopeless, and even after you leave there, there's these pesky security guards and those little drone things that fly around spying on you. Half-Life 2 made me hate the world I was playing in early on, which is genius because if you hate the world, you're going to want to save it ( in other words, you're going to keep playing it ). HL2 throws you into a world that desperately needs a hero, but it doesn't tell you that, you just instinctively feel it after playing the game for a few minutes. You know something is wrong, you know people are suffering, you know the Combine and Dr. Breen are a bunch of cunts, and you begin to want to do something about it.

And then along the way you meet other people who risk their lives to help you because they believe in you. It's not like in MMORPGs where there's just an NPC standing in one spot telling you "do this, do that" and just treat you like some insignificant errand boy - in HL2, sometimes those allies are right there with you facing the same challenges, like that senile guy in Ravenholm with the shotgun. He could've easily just let you rot but instead he goes out of his way multiple times to help you make it out in one piece. You start appreciating characters like this which, once again, makes you care about the world you're playing in. You want to lead the resistance not just because the bad guys piss you off, but because you begin to like Alyx, Eli, the Ravenholm dude and want to save them as well.

Not sure if this helps.
I think ET you're describing the feeling the games gave you and how that affected you. Half Life 2 is a masterpiece in manipulating the way that you feel as a player. The story itself isn't really that complex and there isn't much dialogue, but the whole game is a roller coaster ride of interesting emotions.
To tell a story without art assets you make a MUD. Every aspect of that is story driven.
Good usage of scenery helps tell a story. An example from my all-time favorite RPG, FFVII: after you probably have stumbled into the marsh once and died in one hit to the Midgar Zolom, you go find yourself a chocobo so you can safely cross without this giant firesnakebeast of death catching you.

Then, as you're moving along, you see one of these.

Not only is an earth-pike through a giant cobra pretty rad, it gives the player a sense of the contrast in the main antagonist's strengths and your own. It doesn't require much dialogue, and even if Cloud didn't stop to ask who did it the player would probably make the inference. (Stopping to pan over to it probably made someone in the art department really happy, though.)

So as you're moving about your game-mechanic driven quest, maybe you just run along past a slaughtered village covered in blood or burning houses, etc. Maybe one of the game mechanics is that you can slaughter the other villages that the antagonist missed, or finish off anyone that survived. Jerk.

(I know you wanted to avoid eating away at the art budget. So budget half the art assets to burning houses and half to killing innocent NPCs.)
This is one of the things WoW did pretty well. I don't like a lot about WoW's game play but I do appreciate how much of the story is infused into the world itself. You can walk around certain areas and just "feel" the impact of the races that live there and how they've affected whichever part of the continent they inhabit. You're not just walking through a bunch of grassy fields, there's meaning in the environment that, as you said, allows players to make tons of inferences because maybe you haven't reached that part of the story line yet or something, and even when you can't make inferences, it's still really cool to come across certain parts of the Azeroth that make you say "Wow... I wonder what happened here!"