Last year I managed to attend the Play Expo up in Manchester, got to meet one of my heroes, played some fun games, spoke to some lovely people and in general had a really nice time. We asked you last year if there are any more Expo’s that you think GeekOut should try to attend and report on. I have already asked my niece to see if they would want me to take them to one of the many Anime Expo’s scattered around the country but this week whilst browsing one of my regular sites I saw a link that I found sparked my interest.
Let me pick up from where I started last march by saying that a palette swapped creature in a game needn’t simply be a conservation of resources, and can be representative of something notably different or important, something made distinct by a change of colour.
For example, revisiting The Fallen from Diablo: (more…)
2016 was certainly the year of VR and the revival of Pokemon, but what does 2017 hold for us? Are we going to be getting more game franchises come back and make a big statement, or is it time for some entirely new IPs to come about? What’s coming in the upcoming year? Will Nintendo get us to Switch to their newest console, or will people be sticking to the tried old method of PlayStation and Xbox?
What’s not to like about the story of a little – Wait, let me try that again: the story of a big-for-his-kind goblin who is out there to save Christmas? Not because he wants to, you understand, just that Santa promised him a lot of gold. In fact, so much gold, it’s Santa’s weight in gold! That’s got to be a lot of gold, so off our goblin goes to save Christmas from some evil ghosts who fire lasers. Hmm, we’ve seen a lot of lasers recently.
With a few noteworthy exceptions, most games tend to have a fairly homogeneous progression, usually going from lush green grasslands and becoming progressively more wild, desert, jungle, and usually ending with freezing cold, winter perhaps, snowy tundra, or soaring mountain range. Some examples:
Diablo 2 progresses from the temperate plains around the rogue encampment, straight into the desert of Lut Gholein, forests of Kurast, and finally hell itself. The expansion then takes the hero to the barbarous wastes of Harrogath, a land filled with massive, destructive beasts and hellspawn.
Borderlands is almost exclusively deserts and salt flats, being the more common terrain on Pandora. The finale however takes our Vault Hunter to a snow-capped mountain in the Eridium Highlands.
Bastions journey leads the Kid from the ruins of his old town through the drifting chunks of Jawson’s Bog, forests and jungles, ending in the ice blocks of Urzendra Gate, Zulten’s Hollow and the Tazal Terminals, dripping with icicles.
Castle Crashers, Titan Quest, the masterpiece edition of Myst, Grim Fandango when you think about it, Skyrim’s fairly snowy all over but the difference from Helgen to the Throat is a marked difference, Pokemon Gold/Silver ends on Mt. Silver, and I’m sure if you think on it you’ve already conjured a few examples yourself. Why do so many game designers take their story along this path?
There’s a literary device known as Pathetic Fallacy, you may be familiar with it. The sun shines on happy days, it rains when everything’s sad, it’s tragic, but some people still do it, and if it’s done well enough you’d never even notice it was happening. The same thing can also apply to the seasons, they follow a fairly natural progression with all the metaphors to go with them, spring is a time of rebirth and new beginnings; summer is filled with life, growth and joy; autumn is a period of decay, when everything is undone and falls into decline; finally winter is the season of darkness, and death.
The progression of a game follows a like-for-like path, and often the terrain and weather reflect it. A game usually begins with the birth of a hero, the call to action that takes the normal person into a story. The action builds, intrigue rises, suspense and activity grows, driving the hero to develop and achieve things he/she never thought themselves capable of. Finally the real conflict is ahead, seemingly insurmountable, friends fall behind, the world crumbles, the hero is faced with an impossible decision or heartbreaking revelation. They overcome at last to stand before the end, victory or defeat, life or death, pivoting on a single moment.
A less heroic analogy, a decline in weather follows the decline of Prince Arthas in Warcraft 3, from the young hero of springtime, and the madness he pursues takes him into winters death, which then follows him everywhere he goes.
Keep your eyes peeled for this particular quirk of media, and how weather can influence emotions as part of narrative, and particularly look at how it can change your perspective on an area. It may not be the very last segments of the game, occasionally they are the very beginning (Metal Gear Solid, Borderlands 2, Rise of the Tomb Raider), but they’re frequently pivotal, memorable, tough, or some mixture of all three. If you’ve ever felt daunted at the sight of snow then you’ve already fallen victim to pathetic fallacy.
Part of the committment I signed myself up to when I made this website, was to bring events to local geeks. I wanted to do it as much as I could; but time and money is a major issue. Not to mention the fact that venues are typically tricky for special events. However, middle of last year, we moved away from our first venue into the Old Market Tavern – and we’ve had a hell of a time since then. As such, I’m always looking for ways to bring everyone together for a fun time… And there’s one time of year that can be amongst the loneliest for all of us, yet also is a time for celebrating.
Last week I discussed how an excess of choice can bog down a game, force players into disappointing situations and take too long reaching them in the process.
Choice is not the enemy of fun, quite the reverse. Being led by the nose down a long and bland railroad is just as bad as standing in the middle of a wide open plane being told to get going. Choices, when done right, empower the player, make them feel as though they are important to the world, and to give them greater control over how they choose to play.
Here’s some games that got it right, at least in my opinion…
Much like Borderlands: The Presequel, The Witcher suffers with high quest density which has made it a little hard for me to enjoy it quite as much as everyone else. Unlike B:tPS, the story-quests offer cement choices that alter narrative points as you go.
Now I base this on my limited playtime of the first game, but I do my research, and it doesn’t take long before your descisions in The Witcher start to have their impact. Where you make your stand at Kaer Morhen leaves elsewhere under-manned, meaning that one of your enemies is free to reappear elsewhere later; your attitude toward the rebel group Scoia’tael in the opening chapter changes the way they behave, their strength, and numbers.
Even better, the choices are far reaching, and echo throughout the game, making them feel more impactful. They span games in the same way that a choice might in Mass Effect (but I haven’t even started on Mass Effect so I shan’t go into it) so that your choices give you the sense that the way you guide Geralt changes the whole world. It’s just good design, it makes for a far more powerful narrative, and makes all of those sidequests feel less wasteful.
The very format of the typical Telltale format is entirely based on choice. More often than not your only interactions are choosing what you say, indeed whether or not to say anything, and more often than not those sections in which you are not in discussion then there are no choices to make, actions to survive. By the end of the Walking Dead you have changed the life of the little girl Clem; your every conversation in Borderlands changes your party roster in the final fight; who knows how the Batman series will end.
Many times those choices are ultimately pointless, perhaps taking a slightly meandering path to reach the same destination, changes made only to a few stops along the way, but even if your choices have no impact whatsoever, there’s a little feature that leaves you with the illusion of influence:
“Clementine will remember that.”
Those words seem to echo with every character expression, given that Telltale’s gameplay is it’s narrative a character’s reaction to your descisions is often your win/lose scenario. It’s pretty clear when you’ve hurt a friends’ feelings, and sometimes no decision feels like the right one. Choice as gameplay is an interesting descision but it’s a format that’s working for them.
Slightly different to the other two, Shadowrun is better example of agency, the power of the player. In its’ efforts to simulate a real pen and paper RPG, you have a full battery of choices regarding your character’s creation and style of play. It has little to no impact on story but gives you a wider scope on how you engage, especially when taking into account choice of other party members. Do you build for a high-damage gang of mages? Keep the balance of tank/control/damage? It’s a lot more nuanced than your average strategy game where you have clear roles, respond directly to your situation.
You have various approaches to solving puzzles, hacking, deducing, talking or just plain killing your way through obstacles. Conversations yield different information and alter NPC opinions of you depending how you approach them, and your choice of quests and who to take on those quests can have little impacts on the overall narrative, not a lot, but enough to feel as though you have some kind of power in the world.
While it can’t quite capture the illusion of limitless options that you have at the table, it offers you diversity in a way that similar games – like your isometric hack-n-slash or more action-focused RPGs – simply can’t, and it’s a radical departure from the decision-focused game styles listed above. Your choice is in your approach, not so much your outcome, and that’s where replay value comes from.
Power and freedom stem from the ability to make choices, and while in our modern society we may find ourselves dizzied by the multitude of choices we have, within a well made game we have choices that give us agency. A good game should make us feel important, make us the hero or villain that can change everything with one choice.
Although a really interesting game would be one that shows us how little our choices really mean…
Black Friday celebrates the end of the Great Depression in the 1930’s, an American holiday that – like so much of America’s culture – has made it’s way to the UK because of how staggeringly profitable it is, but I’ll come down from my political high horse before I get the urge to ride into the sunset yelling Viva la Revolucion!
Alongside some pretty huge deals on great titles, Steam are also running their own award ceremony as voted for by the gamers. So while you pick up a stack of games for a fiver, take some time to nominate some of your favourite titles and get another pointless badge for doing so. Why not? It’s nice to give back occasionally. Here’s my picks for the categories: (more…)