Since the dominance of the sandbox, railroading gameplay through linear non-divergent story and specific plot paths has become something of a faux-pas in game design, and was never looked upon favourably in tabletop roleplaying. As a player you seek agency, and often that comes from such simple things as choosing which path to take to the same inevitable end, and not following the obvious trail of breadcrumbs laid out for you. These days we laud games for open worlds, multiple endings, and the ability to approach one problem a dozen ways, to play it your way.
All but gone are the days of the 3D platformer, and the rail shooter, technology and computing power has given us the power to create actual worlds and weave beautiful stories into them rather than just telling a story and dragging you by the nose along it.
But is it so bad a thing that we’re better off entirely being rid of it, and casting away the strictly linear narratives of old?
There are times when actually taking your players by the nose and dragging them to the plot is not necessarily an unforgivable act. Here are a couple of examples of uses for, and in defence of railroading your story.
Here’s a nice easy one to get this started off. When beginning a campaign, or game, or whatever interactive experience your trying to share, you’ll usually have a few fundamentals to share, basic bits of information to share that’ll allow the player to understand the experiences to follow. A little bit of railroading aids “showing not telling” like the opening test chambers of Portal encouraging thinking with portals. Obduction drives you down a path in pursuit of one of the world-shifting seeds, and leaves you in a small bubble that tells you everything you need to know about the transition mechanics you’ll be playing with.
It’s a form of tutorial, but done right it’s so subtle that you barely notice it every replay. We’re guided through set pieces that leave us without doubt about where we’re going or what we’re doing for the rest of the game.
There are occasions where your story takes a turn that irrevocably changes everything. No turning back, and no matter what you have done up to this point this moment was unavoidable. Moments like the time-shift in Guild Wars, where the entire “tutorial” felt like an open world in it’s own right, only for everything to change in a single moment. Transitioning from one Mass Effect or Witcher still leaves you with a short period in which games are identical, no matter the decisions you’ve made.
Now, actions and decisions made before this pivotal moment can alter the events that follow, but all paths lead here ultimately. Most games use this kind of narrative, the storyline quests that so often get ignored in pure sandboxes, but there are times where that epic moment changes everything to the point where there’s no going back or wandering off to finish that sidequest you’ve been ignoring.
I’ll skim over this because this one’s more of a cheap trick, somewhat less acceptable. False choices are the doors you walk up to that suddenly slam shut and lock you out, or those decisions that immediately kill you or end the game. Arkham City did that with Catwoman’s story at one stage, where she had the option to simply walk away with loot in pocket, but because the game needed you to save Batman the game simply ended there. Sorry guys, given a real choice I’d have taken the money and run.
A Good Story
Halflife, Telltale Games, Psychonauts, hell most games will railroad up to a point. When your story is good and worth telling there’s nothing wrong with taking agency from the players in terms of narrative direction. In the drive to create bigger and more incredible games let’s not lose sight of a good story and the ways in which we can tell them, putting the player into the hazard suit of a mute scientist as he weaves through supersoldiers and alien parasites to reach the incredible conclusion of his epic tale (that will have been stuck on a cliffhanger for ten years this October) or filling the boots of the intrepid archaeologist as she shoots her way through adventures far more thrilling than any actual archaeologist would ever encounter.
I consider myself a world-builder first and foremost, so I’ll advocate for the ability to wander aimlessly around the whole world and delve its deepest corners and unveil every shred of lore, even if I have to sit and spend time that should be shooting down killer robots reading books on killer robot maintenance. But sometimes when a moment needs to be shared, or an idea is so stunning that it simply must be seen, there’s nothing wrong with putting the plot on tracks and asking everyone to enjoy the ride for a while.
Those of you who know me, I’m sure you knew this was coming!
This is a game that has gained considerable attention over the past few years and for good reason.
Minecraft is one of these rare games that doesn’t need “fancy graphics” and doesn’t need “crazy shooting action.” This is a game that was made to be entertaining and nothing but entertaining. But the question is, why is it so popular?
Enter the open world
Minecraft is quite special. It’s a sandbox game with some hints of survival, co-op, building and even PVP should you want it. Different servers that you can join have different “themes”, too. You may go onto a server that wants to re-create scenes from famous movies, then you may go to another server that is focused on magic and the likes… But none of this is in the main game!
The main game gives you an open world to run around in. You start by punching trees and punching grass… But in return: You get the material! So you punch a block out of a tree and see this randomly hovering tree… because gravity needs to be defied often. This is a game which defies gravity, unless it’s sand or gravel you’re punching. Once you’ve gotten your material, you can use it to make something else out of it! Punch out a lot of grass and it gives you dirt. Go ahead and make a house out of dirt! How? Just make it! Put it down in the world and make it into a house shape! There we go!
Remember that tree you punched out earlier? Turn them into wooden planks! Then turn 4 of those (1 log) into a crafting bench! Turn wooden planks and sticks into a wooden pickaxe!
This is a game that doesn’t hold your hand, but it doesn’t make itself too hard for you, either. This is a game where your best resource for education is not via a tutorial, but you’ll learn just by playing the game. So this makes it special in itself: No introduction is needed. Just pick up and play. With intuitive controls and a rather pleasant feeling about it, this game is easy for a new guy to pick up and play.
Oh no! An enemy! But what is that thing?
That there is a creeper. You remember that lovely dirt house you just built? The creeper has followed you home caught you outside of your home and has exploded. All of your 5 minutes work is now gone! This certainly is no good! You’ll need to build something stronger against these creepers!
Ah, it’s now night time! Oh well, let’s keep getting resources.
Oh no! An enemy! A zombie! It’s out to eat us!
So you’ve got enemies to deal with… and you know that at least one of them blows up and destroys your work. Great.
As time goes on, you learn how to handle all of these beasts. You know how to make torches and you’ve built yourself a nice big house… Eventually, you get really good at this Minecraft malarky… and you just want to do something that little bit more involved.
Enter the mods
This is where Minecraft changes.
Minecraft is truly the game it is thanks to the modding community. We have versions of Minecraft with different names: Tekkit, Feed The Beast (Known as FTB to experienced Minecraft players), Voltz, YogBox… There are a lot of these modded versions of the game.
This isn’t to take away from Minecraft, but its sole appeal is truly to get every resource, to make yourself a lovely home and to build (whatever) to your hearts content. Or to battle people to your hearts content. Or to survive to your hearts content (Go live in “The Nether” on the hardest mode!)
What is the goal?
This is the bit that makes the non-believers of this game shudder. There is no goal. This is a game that is basically what you want it to be. On my server, I run a “TekkitLite” server. It’s tiny and was built for me and my closest friends in mind. On this server, I have a little “City” which is the “Home of automating”. I attempt to automate as many processes as possible. I have little robots do some deforestry for me: then they replant the forest! I have a robot do my farming for me! I have a machine that has fished something like 2,000,000 fish (… There truly are plenty of fish in the sea).
But what’s the point?
This is the point. There is no point.
Enjoy the game which has no point!
Related articles – Great reads for extra information with regards to Minecraft!
- Minecraft (annelfwind.wordpress.com)
- Minecraft: The best game for fun, and show your creativity. (gamer28465.wordpress.com)
- Notch: I’ll never be able to top Minecraft (news.en.softonic.com)
- Learning with Minecraft (Part 1) (ashleytan.wordpress.com)