Saturday, December 29, 2012

Another game I'm very excited about is Bioshock Infinite.

The two previous Bioshock games were groundbreaking in terms of their story. Perhaps not so much in how they told it, but in content, themes, and the way they trusted the player with deeper and more complex ideas. This new game promises all of that, and tops it off with the most interesting and interactive AI companion this side of Half Life 2.

Here's a trailer:

In other site related news, I'm currently in the middle of the Assassin's Creed III campaign, and while I already have a few insights, I do want to finish it first. Since that seems to be taking a while, though, I might decide to make a few posts about other games I've played recently.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Last of Us - Story Trailer

Have a look at the latest trailer for Naughty Dog's The Last of Us. 

This is the game I'm most excited about in 2013.

Uncharted 2 was pretty much the reason I got a PS3, and I'm confident that Naughty Dog will deliver another powerful narrative experience with this. Unlike Uncharted, however, here there seems to be a much stronger emphasis on character. Violence is a prominent feature of most games these days, but in The Last of Us  it's apparently not merely a gameplay mechanic but an important part of the narrative. I'll be waiting anxiously for this one.

The game's out in May, 2013.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Back in the Animus

 I've started playing Assasin's Creed 3 today. I actually have a lot to say about the franchise in general as far as how it tells its story (regardless of one's opinion of it, it's conveyed in a fairly unique way), but I think I'll start with this third outing, if only because it's more topical.

I've only played it for about an hour but so far I love it. I haven't even reached the more open sections of the game, but as always with AC the tangible sense of the world is mesmerizing.

I'll reserve my insights regarding the game's narrative for when I've finished it and can comment on it in its entirety.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Terry Cavanagh's Don't Look Back

A game story that I’d like to give special attention to is Terry Cavanagh.'s Don’t Look Back. It’s been on the web for quite a while, actually, but I’ve just recently become acquainted with it as it was released for iOS.

As this is a blog about analyzing game stories, I can't say there won't be any spoilers. I will try to avoid big things and speak more generally, but at times it's just not possible. With this game specifically, the story doesn't have that many revelations, which is why there is not that much to spoil - this post is more about the rich story experience itself which remarkably is created in such a minimalistic game.

The game takes around 10-15 minutes of continuous play to finish, and the story’s simple enough: the player character grieves over a lost loved one. He decides to go into the underworld to bring her back. When he finds her, he must return to the surface, but cannot look back at her. If he does, his love vanishes.

The plot clearly alludes to the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. That’s already an achievement – the game sports a single music track and looks as if its graphics were done in MS Paint. Yet it still manages to convey a rich atmosphere.

It’s all about the colors, the smooth, minimalistic animations, that music track haunting very specific parts in the game. It’s proof that a solid story doesn’t need much in the way of expensive graphics and sound.
But what’s really impressive is how that plot is conveyed. It’s astounding how a game that has no dialogue, cinematics or even text in any substantial way can create a clear narrative sensation – creating a clear introduction, providing a suspenseful first act, a twist, a revelation and a dénouement.

The game manages it because of its clever marriage of story to gameplay.  Meaning, the plot progresses as the player progresses. The player learns plot elements as he plays (like ‘I can’t turn around or my love will vanish, and I’ll have to start over’).

I hadn’t completely understood the allusion until my character found his love and she started following him. Then I started backtracking as my character was heading back outside. But when I turned my character to face his love, she vanished and the screen I was in restarted. The plot element of not looking back turned into a game mechanic. The story’s title turned into the game’s instructions: Don’t Look Back.

It was a brilliant moment both in terms of freshening the game’s mechanics and in terms of story. Admittedly, those familiar with the original story of Orpheus receive a more rewarding feeling, but nevertheless, it was a great story moment.

Of course this is due to the structure of the game – being built by screens where every screen is repeatable. This enables the player to try and fail and continue to do so until the story is experienced ‘properly’. I don’t know how much this would work in other types of games, but that isn’t really the point. The point is that with this method, Cavanagh has managed to create a compelling story that works on practically every level and is experienced primarily by playing.

It's a small game but I still don't want to spoil all of it. The ending has a final surprise that again fits as a story and also benefits the gameplay.

Try it out at

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Articles of Interest #1

As if to reaffirm my point, this article came up on CVG mere days after I started the blog. It illustrates perfectly how narratives and the very nature of gaming are misperceived by critics, and demonstrates the counter-productive attitude they have towards different gaming styles. I think Articles of Interest could be a recurring section of the blog – in it I will discuss links or articles I find online and respond to them. So yes, that’s what I’ll do. Now on to the aforementioned discussing of the article:

Admittedly, this article appears to be more concerned with game world design (open versus linear), but that is still very relevant to the issues I’m concerned with. Open world games, by their very nature, defy a coherent, well-paced narrative. Therefore, to imply that open world games are just plain ‘better’ – as this article does – is to dismiss all other games which put narrative and pacing first.

The main error on display here is the notion that a single-path game doesn’t have the same pull as an open world game. That is a gross misrepresentation of how games work. It means that the only real enjoyment to be had in a video game is in exploration and unscripted encounters. That is, that video games’ strength is solely in the way they can produce random content in a non-linear fashion.

But can anyone who is at all interested in fiction say there has never been a special book or film that they have seen more than once? I doubt it. The reason is simple enough: because an interesting narrative is something you want to experience more than once and can be interpreted differently each time it’s experienced. Meaning, there is value and enjoyment to be had in a single-path game.

The writer of this article has a problem comprehending that. According to him, the best reason to play games is, in his words, to take a virtual vacation. Funnily enough, the way he describes the so-called advantage of games over movies can be said of any type of game: “they can transport you to a fantasy world that throws up a steady stream of surprises, even if you're just in the mood for bimbling along with no particular plan”. I would go as far as to say he misunderstands why people are interested in fiction to begin with. 

One aspect of games that indeed differs from films is they are capable of creating random content seamlessly. But I wouldn’t call that a “clear advantage” over films.  Games are fundamentally different from films in that the player takes an active part in them, and that the game cannot move forward without him. This is the most important difference, and it holds true even for the most linear of games.

Fact is, though, we don’t play games to have virtual freedom. Sure, escapism is a draw of most popular literature and film (and yes, video games), but that doesn’t mean an open world is the best way to achieve that. We play games for a variety of reasons, from social to mental exercises to a sense of camaraderie and competition to feelings of personal achievement. Clearly, people are drawn to open worlds and the ability to create their own adventure within that world, but to say that this is the better way to experience the wide world of games is narrow-minded and foolish.

For those of us who prefer a narrative-focused game, open world games are without a doubt the poorer choice. To my knowledge, there is no open world game which manages to maintain proper pacing or characterization throughout its story (the writer of the article seems to be sure that Far Cry 3 is an example of an open world game that does manage it, despite the fact that the game won’t be out until December). It is a testament that narratives prefer linearity that even in open world games the missions – the meat of the game - are linear. The dungeons in Skyrim are an obvious example, but take a more consistently open world game like GTA or Crysis and it's no different. Sure, there are multiple routes to the end but it nevertheless is a single point which is approachable from another single point. Even with a gimmick like alternate endings, the result is unavoidable. It is linear, no matter how much the game’s designers work to mask that fact. Therefore, to imply that open world games are better than movies because they are not linear, and to say that it is wrong to like any other type of game because of this, is an inaccurate and simply unnecessary statement.

And that’s the main issue I have with the article. It's not that the writer prefers open world games. He’s entitled to that and many people share the sentiment. What bothers me is that he has a narrow-minded notion of what a good game is. What bothers me is the dismissal of anything else; that the writer seems completely oblivious to the fact that there are people who like other types of games (or mediums, for that matter) for different reasons and that they are legitimate too. This is why I started this blog – because of this type of writing. I realize the article’s an opinion piece, but even opinions can be snide and misleading. My aim isn’t to convince people that narrative-led, linear games are better (the notion of what's universally 'better' doesn’t enter the discussion). I want to show that a game having a strong narrative and even being, dare I say it, linear isn't necessarily a bad thing. More importantly, I want to make it clear that the more types of games we have, the richer the gaming world gets in general. Hopefully, this is the right first step in that direction.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Game Narratives Matter

So I started this blog thinking that game narratives don’t get proper attention. I have this feeling that, even though many games take narratives seriously, game stories are often neglected or misperceived - not only by developers, but by reviewers and game critics as well.

I also think that what is considered as a good narrative in this industry is deeply misguided. This issue is extremely important to me because misunderstanding how narratives work prevents true advancement in how games tell stories.

But more than anything game stories interest me, which is why I want to focus on them in a way I don’t see happening on popular websites and magazines. So what I aim to do is look at certain game stories. Look at their style - what they get right and what they get wrong, and any interesting techniques they use to tell a story - regardless of whether it's good or bad. I want to explore what makes video game narratives unique.

Because game narratives matter.