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Found 16 results

  1. The first show recorded in 2019, which means it's time to look back on the past year and talk about the best games of 2018. What moved us this year? What pushed us to think? What helped made us better people? Talking about what we experienced and what mattered to us will always be a worthwhile conversation to have, and 2018 was full of phenomenal games. What about you? Share your favorite game of the year in the comments! Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative. Outro music: Skies of Arcadia 'Valhorteka' by Garpocalypse feat. Darkflamewolf (https://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03836) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is available, as well! If you want to have your opinion heard on air, share your opinion in the comments, follow the show on Twitter, and participate in the weekly polls: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!
  2. The first show recorded in 2019, which means it's time to look back on the past year and talk about the best games of 2018. What moved us this year? What pushed us to think? What helped made us better people? Talking about what we experienced and what mattered to us will always be a worthwhile conversation to have, and 2018 was full of phenomenal games. What about you? Share your favorite game of the year in the comments! Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative. Outro music: Skies of Arcadia 'Valhorteka' by Garpocalypse feat. Darkflamewolf (https://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03836) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is available, as well! If you want to have your opinion heard on air, share your opinion in the comments, follow the show on Twitter, and participate in the weekly polls: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games! View full article
  3. Jack Gardner

    Review: Shadow of the Colossus (2018)

    Time moves slowly and inexorably forward. The world changes, and we grow old telling stories together. Those stories, the ones that stick with us, communicated something important to us. As a medium, game creators have spent decades learning how to put together ever more effective stories that can offer that thing of precious importance, that moment of beauty, clarity, success, failure. In a sea of stories, Shadow of the Colossus stands out as a fairy tale in the classic sense, and the remake by Bluepoint Games serves to enhance what was already a foundational piece of video game history. Shadow of the Colossus tells the tale of a young man named Wander who travels to the Forbidden Land, a landmass sealed off from the rest of the world. Using an enchanted sword, he strikes a deal with an enigmatic entity named Dormin who agrees to bring the woman he has brought with him back from the dead if he can complete an impossible task: Defeat 16 colossal incarnations of the towering stone statues that line the temple. Armed only with his magic sword, a bow with unlimited arrows, and his trusty horse Agro, Wander sets forth into a long-abandoned world of ruins and natural wonders to battle towering behemoths the size of skyscrapers. The simple, powerful set up allows the visuals, music, and gameplay tell the vast majority of the narrative. That open approach to storytelling led a lot of people, even the marketing team for Shadow of the Colossus, to interpret the adventure as one about true, undying love. Wander, after all, goes to incredible lengths for a woman with whom he has a close connection. However, playing through the remake, a version remade after over a decade, I realized that my perception of the game has shifted to seeing it more as a tale about loss and the inability to let go being an ultimately destructive force. That flexibility and changing interpretation feels interesting. It's a reminder of how much time has passed since I played Shadow of the Colossus in 2005. Back then, the question of whether video games were capable of being art was a hotly debated topic. The internet was on fire with hot takes about what it meant to be art and whether interactivity itself negated art. Now that the question has largely been settled, it feels liberating to be able to think, "okay, it's art, so what does that mean? What does all of this, as a piece of art, mean?" Everyone will have to struggle with loss at some point in their lives. It's not pleasant. It hurts. There's the impulse to yell and scream and gnash your teeth because you would do anything to have that person back in your life. And Shadow of the Colossus asks the seductive question: What if you could throw everything to the wind and bring that person back? What price would you pay? And at first, the answer seems obvious, heroic even. But as the game progresses and one by one the beautiful, deadly colossi, who were all minding their own business before Wander showed up, begin to take their toll. The feeling of triumph and accomplishment gives way to self-doubt. Is this the right thing? That question of meaning scratches at the fundamentals of what I believe make myths and fairy tales resonate across time. Because Shadow of the Colossus is art. To some it could be a tale of love, to others it could represent a cautionary tale about obsession, and playing the remake it brought to mind loss. Shadow of the Colossus manages to have the narrative flexibility to accommodate multiple interpretations, and that's a quality that can bestow a great deal of longevity to a piece of art. I'd argue that's at least partly why we are getting a remake of a game that's two-and-a-half generations of technology behind the current PlayStation console. It's a testament to the artistry of the original PlayStation 2 release of Shadow of the Colossus that the visuals largely hold up due to its adherence to a strong minimalist aesthetic that focuses on natural beauty. The entire production possesses a washed out quality that cleverly hides some of the deficient parts of the world as Wander and Agro make their way across the quiet plains and subdued forests. With the remake, none of the world needs to be hidden by visual tricks; flowing water glitters in the sunlight, grass sways with the wind, dust motes flit through the air. The effect of the increased focus on detail afforded by the technological leap and the original style is jaw-dropping. To put it bluntly, this remake of Shadow of the Colossus stands as one of the most beautiful games I have ever played. I found myself slowing to a walk to soak in the moments of natural beauty that made yet another outing in the Forbidden Land unforgettable. With the share function on the PlayStation 4, I constantly paused the action to fiddle with the newly added photo mode in pursuit of that perfect angle to show off Bluepoint's gorgeously rendered take on Team Ico's classic. It was a compulsion to ogle the work put into everything on screen and then share that with the world. If I had to nitpick the presentation, there were a few elements that felt a bit off. The biggest would be Wander's strange lack of facial animations. The update gave him somewhat of a baby face; not a huge problem, but slightly different from the original character model. His face seems to lack some degree of animation for reacting to events, something more noticeable with a built-in photo mode. Outside of cutscenes, Wander is content to stare passively into the distance, regardless of the circumstances. Wobbling on the ledge of a colossus-sized fall? Not even the faintest recognition of his own mortality. Lastly, and this might be one of the most nitpicky things of all, one of the subtle elements of the original release of Shadow of the Colossus was the slow shift that visualized Wander's fall from grace. As each colossi met its death, he became less human. Players saw that change happen bit by bit, witnessing horns sprout from his head and his skin turn pale and black veins appear on his body. The remake seems to only gradually make his skin paler until the very end when he suddenly has horns and horrific cracked skin. It would have been nice to have a subtler touch applied to his transformation to give it more of a build-up. All of that being said, the small issues present in the Shadow of the Colossus remake are an exceedingly small price to pay for an update that's otherwise a fan or newcomer's dream come true. An updated control scheme provides people frustrated with the PS2 controls a new way to play, while also retaining the retro layout available for those who have grown used to how the original played. Small additions to the game like a series of hidden coins that can be collected for a secret reward that have been scattered across the world to reward players who poke into every nook and cranny. Additional clarification has been added to some of the colossi themselves to show what can and cannot be climbed and grabbed. The same with some parts of the environment that now have grabbable surfaces to avoid frustrating falls. The gameplay remains as harrowing, exciting, and frustrating as ever. Players who found the camera a problem in the original will find similar issues here. Agro's AI enhanced controls will prove just as frustrating (or appropriate) as it was in 2005. Running up gigantic swords, struggling to maintain a grip on a gliding stone eagle high in the sky, or outsmarting walking artillery batteries all remain exhilarating, rendered more breath-taking by Bluepoint. Kow Otani's soaring track still sends chills up the spine, playing with the player's emotions, masterfully directing the the reaction players have at any given moment. As far as I could tell, the soundtrack remained unchanged, but I might have missed a few subtle alterations. The soundscape of Shadow of the Colossus remains one of the most cohesive pieces of the whole package, bringing all of the elements together with a neat bow. Conclusion: Shadow of the Colossus was already a phenomenal game that shaped an entire generation of people and helped solidify the acceptance of video games as an art form. The remake provides a face lift from the ground up that brings forth a whole new world of beauty that enhances a timeless story. If you missed out on the original on PS2 or the HD remaster on PS3, this is the definitive edition that you owe it to yourself to play. Shadow of the Colossus is available now for PlayStation 4.
  4. Time moves slowly and inexorably forward. The world changes, and we grow old telling stories together. Those stories, the ones that stick with us, communicated something important to us. As a medium, game creators have spent decades learning how to put together ever more effective stories that can offer that thing of precious importance, that moment of beauty, clarity, success, failure. In a sea of stories, Shadow of the Colossus stands out as a fairy tale in the classic sense, and the remake by Bluepoint Games serves to enhance what was already a foundational piece of video game history. Shadow of the Colossus tells the tale of a young man named Wander who travels to the Forbidden Land, a landmass sealed off from the rest of the world. Using an enchanted sword, he strikes a deal with an enigmatic entity named Dormin who agrees to bring the woman he has brought with him back from the dead if he can complete an impossible task: Defeat 16 colossal incarnations of the towering stone statues that line the temple. Armed only with his magic sword, a bow with unlimited arrows, and his trusty horse Agro, Wander sets forth into a long-abandoned world of ruins and natural wonders to battle towering behemoths the size of skyscrapers. The simple, powerful set up allows the visuals, music, and gameplay tell the vast majority of the narrative. That open approach to storytelling led a lot of people, even the marketing team for Shadow of the Colossus, to interpret the adventure as one about true, undying love. Wander, after all, goes to incredible lengths for a woman with whom he has a close connection. However, playing through the remake, a version remade after over a decade, I realized that my perception of the game has shifted to seeing it more as a tale about loss and the inability to let go being an ultimately destructive force. That flexibility and changing interpretation feels interesting. It's a reminder of how much time has passed since I played Shadow of the Colossus in 2005. Back then, the question of whether video games were capable of being art was a hotly debated topic. The internet was on fire with hot takes about what it meant to be art and whether interactivity itself negated art. Now that the question has largely been settled, it feels liberating to be able to think, "okay, it's art, so what does that mean? What does all of this, as a piece of art, mean?" Everyone will have to struggle with loss at some point in their lives. It's not pleasant. It hurts. There's the impulse to yell and scream and gnash your teeth because you would do anything to have that person back in your life. And Shadow of the Colossus asks the seductive question: What if you could throw everything to the wind and bring that person back? What price would you pay? And at first, the answer seems obvious, heroic even. But as the game progresses and one by one the beautiful, deadly colossi, who were all minding their own business before Wander showed up, begin to take their toll. The feeling of triumph and accomplishment gives way to self-doubt. Is this the right thing? That question of meaning scratches at the fundamentals of what I believe make myths and fairy tales resonate across time. Because Shadow of the Colossus is art. To some it could be a tale of love, to others it could represent a cautionary tale about obsession, and playing the remake it brought to mind loss. Shadow of the Colossus manages to have the narrative flexibility to accommodate multiple interpretations, and that's a quality that can bestow a great deal of longevity to a piece of art. I'd argue that's at least partly why we are getting a remake of a game that's two-and-a-half generations of technology behind the current PlayStation console. It's a testament to the artistry of the original PlayStation 2 release of Shadow of the Colossus that the visuals largely hold up due to its adherence to a strong minimalist aesthetic that focuses on natural beauty. The entire production possesses a washed out quality that cleverly hides some of the deficient parts of the world as Wander and Agro make their way across the quiet plains and subdued forests. With the remake, none of the world needs to be hidden by visual tricks; flowing water glitters in the sunlight, grass sways with the wind, dust motes flit through the air. The effect of the increased focus on detail afforded by the technological leap and the original style is jaw-dropping. To put it bluntly, this remake of Shadow of the Colossus stands as one of the most beautiful games I have ever played. I found myself slowing to a walk to soak in the moments of natural beauty that made yet another outing in the Forbidden Land unforgettable. With the share function on the PlayStation 4, I constantly paused the action to fiddle with the newly added photo mode in pursuit of that perfect angle to show off Bluepoint's gorgeously rendered take on Team Ico's classic. It was a compulsion to ogle the work put into everything on screen and then share that with the world. If I had to nitpick the presentation, there were a few elements that felt a bit off. The biggest would be Wander's strange lack of facial animations. The update gave him somewhat of a baby face; not a huge problem, but slightly different from the original character model. His face seems to lack some degree of animation for reacting to events, something more noticeable with a built-in photo mode. Outside of cutscenes, Wander is content to stare passively into the distance, regardless of the circumstances. Wobbling on the ledge of a colossus-sized fall? Not even the faintest recognition of his own mortality. Lastly, and this might be one of the most nitpicky things of all, one of the subtle elements of the original release of Shadow of the Colossus was the slow shift that visualized Wander's fall from grace. As each colossi met its death, he became less human. Players saw that change happen bit by bit, witnessing horns sprout from his head and his skin turn pale and black veins appear on his body. The remake seems to only gradually make his skin paler until the very end when he suddenly has horns and horrific cracked skin. It would have been nice to have a subtler touch applied to his transformation to give it more of a build-up. All of that being said, the small issues present in the Shadow of the Colossus remake are an exceedingly small price to pay for an update that's otherwise a fan or newcomer's dream come true. An updated control scheme provides people frustrated with the PS2 controls a new way to play, while also retaining the retro layout available for those who have grown used to how the original played. Small additions to the game like a series of hidden coins that can be collected for a secret reward that have been scattered across the world to reward players who poke into every nook and cranny. Additional clarification has been added to some of the colossi themselves to show what can and cannot be climbed and grabbed. The same with some parts of the environment that now have grabbable surfaces to avoid frustrating falls. The gameplay remains as harrowing, exciting, and frustrating as ever. Players who found the camera a problem in the original will find similar issues here. Agro's AI enhanced controls will prove just as frustrating (or appropriate) as it was in 2005. Running up gigantic swords, struggling to maintain a grip on a gliding stone eagle high in the sky, or outsmarting walking artillery batteries all remain exhilarating, rendered more breath-taking by Bluepoint. Kow Otani's soaring track still sends chills up the spine, playing with the player's emotions, masterfully directing the the reaction players have at any given moment. As far as I could tell, the soundtrack remained unchanged, but I might have missed a few subtle alterations. The soundscape of Shadow of the Colossus remains one of the most cohesive pieces of the whole package, bringing all of the elements together with a neat bow. Conclusion: Shadow of the Colossus was already a phenomenal game that shaped an entire generation of people and helped solidify the acceptance of video games as an art form. The remake provides a face lift from the ground up that brings forth a whole new world of beauty that enhances a timeless story. If you missed out on the original on PS2 or the HD remaster on PS3, this is the definitive edition that you owe it to yourself to play. Shadow of the Colossus is available now for PlayStation 4. View full article
  5. The 2012 release of Dragon's Dogma seemed to hit at a time during which people were hungry for rich open-worlds with unique combat systems, difficult encounters, and that touch of artistic strangeness. It scratched an itch that the gaming community was having at the time and earned itself a cult following that persists to this day, spurring the game, along with its expansions, seeing a PC release and even a port last year to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The grapple/grab mechanic brought on a lot of comparisons to Shadow of the Colossus, and seeing as the Shadow of the Colossus remake recently released, what better time to talk a little bit about Dragon's Dogma? With schedules being what they are, sometimes coordinating a full episode of The Best Games Period can be difficult. When we can't have a proper discussion, we will be breaking off to do these shorter mini-casts, Honorable Mentions, to talk about fringe games that we might not otherwise be able to talk about on a full episode. Outro music: Sonic the Hedgehog 'The Ultimate Ab Solution' by Ivan Hakštok and finbeard (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03685) If you want to have your opinion heard on air, share your opinion in the comments, follow the show on Twitter, and participate in the weekly polls: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday
  6. The 2012 release of Dragon's Dogma seemed to hit at a time during which people were hungry for rich open-worlds with unique combat systems, difficult encounters, and that touch of artistic strangeness. It scratched an itch that the gaming community was having at the time and earned itself a cult following that persists to this day, spurring the game, along with its expansions, seeing a PC release and even a port last year to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The grapple/grab mechanic brought on a lot of comparisons to Shadow of the Colossus, and seeing as the Shadow of the Colossus remake recently released, what better time to talk a little bit about Dragon's Dogma? With schedules being what they are, sometimes coordinating a full episode of The Best Games Period can be difficult. When we can't have a proper discussion, we will be breaking off to do these shorter mini-casts, Honorable Mentions, to talk about fringe games that we might not otherwise be able to talk about on a full episode. Outro music: Sonic the Hedgehog 'The Ultimate Ab Solution' by Ivan Hakštok and finbeard (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03685) If you want to have your opinion heard on air, share your opinion in the comments, follow the show on Twitter, and participate in the weekly polls: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday View full article
  7. Gen Design certainly isn't a household name quite yet, but Fumito Ueda's new studio seems to be cooking up something interesting. Comprised of members of Team Ico and headed by the creative mind behind Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, and The Last Guardian, the fledgling studio hasn't made any grand announcements about its first project. That all changed last week. To ring in the new year, Gen Design's website offered a simple message, "Happy New Year 2018! May this be a happy and fruitful year." Visitors to the site may be forgiven for clicking through the message to get to the site itself, but eagle-eyed visitors might have noticed that they were able to scroll down quite a way revealing the image below. The image contains the signature style Team Ico cultivated in the past while leaving us with so many questions. Who is the girl awakening on the stone slab? Will she be the protagonist? What is the giant creature near her? To add to the cryptic mystery, one astute Resetera user dug into the image's source files and found a layer titled "Beauty and the Beast 2018." While Gen Design put a lot of time and effort into finishing The Last Guardian while under contract with Sony, it's not inconceivable that they might have made significant progress on something new since its founding in mid 2014. Here's hoping that we learn more about this mysterious Beauty and Beast pair when the big reveals roll around during E3 this year. View full article
  8. Gen Design certainly isn't a household name quite yet, but Fumito Ueda's new studio seems to be cooking up something interesting. Comprised of members of Team Ico and headed by the creative mind behind Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, and The Last Guardian, the fledgling studio hasn't made any grand announcements about its first project. That all changed last week. To ring in the new year, Gen Design's website offered a simple message, "Happy New Year 2018! May this be a happy and fruitful year." Visitors to the site may be forgiven for clicking through the message to get to the site itself, but eagle-eyed visitors might have noticed that they were able to scroll down quite a way revealing the image below. The image contains the signature style Team Ico cultivated in the past while leaving us with so many questions. Who is the girl awakening on the stone slab? Will she be the protagonist? What is the giant creature near her? To add to the cryptic mystery, one astute Resetera user dug into the image's source files and found a layer titled "Beauty and the Beast 2018." While Gen Design put a lot of time and effort into finishing The Last Guardian while under contract with Sony, it's not inconceivable that they might have made significant progress on something new since its founding in mid 2014. Here's hoping that we learn more about this mysterious Beauty and Beast pair when the big reveals roll around during E3 this year.
  9. Though E3 proper hasn't yet begun, the pre-E3 press conferences have! This year, we are going to be capping off each day with a podcast discussing the news of the day with the talented bunch of people we've collected to cover the year's biggest gaming trade show. Day three covered a lot of ground between Ubisoft and Sony. The two industry titans threw out some pretty exciting announcements, like a completely overhauled Shadow of the Colossus for the PS4 and confirmation that, yes, Beyond Good & Evil 2 exists. Jack Gardner, Marcus Stewart and Naomi Lugo cover the basic, need-to-know announcements from the day. Kick back, relax, and enjoy the show with us! View full article
  10. Jack Gardner

    Extra Life E3 2017 Daily Wrap-Up: Day 3

    Though E3 proper hasn't yet begun, the pre-E3 press conferences have! This year, we are going to be capping off each day with a podcast discussing the news of the day with the talented bunch of people we've collected to cover the year's biggest gaming trade show. Day three covered a lot of ground between Ubisoft and Sony. The two industry titans threw out some pretty exciting announcements, like a completely overhauled Shadow of the Colossus for the PS4 and confirmation that, yes, Beyond Good & Evil 2 exists. Jack Gardner, Marcus Stewart and Naomi Lugo cover the basic, need-to-know announcements from the day. Kick back, relax, and enjoy the show with us!
  11. We are only a day out from the release of The Last Guardian, the game that has taken Team Ico over eleven years to create. Earlier this year we discussed the developer's first game, Ico, and the impact it had on game development going forward. To be a bit topical, we are happy to present a lengthy, in-depth look at Team Ico's second game, Shadow of the Colossus. The 2005 PlayStation 2 title carried the spirit of Ico into a large open-world full of magic, danger, and beautiful stillness. Though not glowingly received by critics at the time, regard for the third-person adventure game seems to have grown over the years. Usually opinions on a game degrade over time, so the case of Shadow of the Colossus might strike some as particularly odd. Has a large segment of the gaming population collectively chosen to wear rose-colored glasses or have people been slowly realizing the merits of the game that pits a man against living mountains? Also, this marks the one year anniversary of The Best Games Period podcast - a huge thank you to everyone who took the time out of their day to listen in each week. We really appreciate those of you who have left comments and reviews. We hope that you'll stick with us as we keep talking about the best games through 2017 and beyond! Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative. Outro music: 'The Sunlit Earth' by Kow Otani (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POTlM3SyMVo) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday View full article
  12. We are only a day out from the release of The Last Guardian, the game that has taken Team Ico over eleven years to create. Earlier this year we discussed the developer's first game, Ico, and the impact it had on game development going forward. To be a bit topical, we are happy to present a lengthy, in-depth look at Team Ico's second game, Shadow of the Colossus. The 2005 PlayStation 2 title carried the spirit of Ico into a large open-world full of magic, danger, and beautiful stillness. Though not glowingly received by critics at the time, regard for the third-person adventure game seems to have grown over the years. Usually opinions on a game degrade over time, so the case of Shadow of the Colossus might strike some as particularly odd. Has a large segment of the gaming population collectively chosen to wear rose-colored glasses or have people been slowly realizing the merits of the game that pits a man against living mountains? Also, this marks the one year anniversary of The Best Games Period podcast - a huge thank you to everyone who took the time out of their day to listen in each week. We really appreciate those of you who have left comments and reviews. We hope that you'll stick with us as we keep talking about the best games through 2017 and beyond! Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative. Outro music: 'The Sunlit Earth' by Kow Otani (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POTlM3SyMVo) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday
  13. Earlier this week, I wrapped up my review of Divinity: Original Sin and one of the minor problems that I briefly mentioned was the lack of narrative direction. I understand why it isn’t there; Larian studios didn’t want to funnel their players into any one predetermined path. Doing so would undermine the entire appeal of their game and diminish the sense of freedom Original Sin allows its players. As I thought about my experience with Larian’s modern take on old-school RPGs, I couldn’t help but feel like this was something of a missed opportunity. Original Sin was certainly entertaining, but will I ever feel compelled to replay it? Will I remember the details of its well-worn plot or the characters in a month or two? The somewhat somber conclusion that I came to was a flat no. I’ve always been a proponent of games as both a vehicle for both narrative and enjoyment. However, it seems that when one sacrifices narrative for enjoyment the entire package suffers as a whole. I still get the itch to play the first Mass Effect and experience the adventure again, despite the fact that the gameplay is clunky at best. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I rarely feel the need to go back and revisit Guitar Hero, though it was amazing amounts of fun when it initially released. And that isn’t saying that all games should have narratives; it is merely an observation that fun seems to be this ethereal and transient thing while well told stories last. I have a running bet with a friend of mine on which game people will still talk about in twenty years: BioShock Infinite or The Last of Us. It is a silly bet with $50 on the line, but if I am completely honest, people will probably still talk about both titles. The dialogue will continue, not because they were both fun (though they are both quite enjoyable to play), but because of the stories they tell and how they go about telling them. I wouldn’t be willing to place a similar bet on there being ongoing discourse about the narratives in Divinity: Original Sin, Crackdown, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, Dark Souls, or Grand Theft Auto 4. The greatest strength that these games provide, player agency, seems to diminish the effect their stories might have otherwise exerted. This brings me to what I feel is a valid question: Why? Why is it that open world games seem to have fewer stories that connect with players? The first conclusion that I find myself drawn toward is that open world game design clashes with traditional narrative structure. There is a concept in Joseph Campbell’s ‘The Hero With A Thousand Faces’ that stipulates many stories have a ‘call to adventure’ wherein the narrative beckons the protagonist to begin their quest. There is also an addition to that idea referred to as a ‘refusal of the call’ where the protagonist for various reasons declines the initial appeal. Though ‘The Hero With A Thousand Faces’ was written with traditional, linear narratives in mind, these two ideas are useful when talking about open world structure. An open world completely destroys almost any attempt to create a similar type of story, and yet many of the narratives we find in open worlds cling to a linear structure. Since the players in most video games are the protagonist, this means that the hooks meant to invest them into the story must be effective or else most players will find various reasons to ‘refuse the call’ while going from initial plot point A to important plot point B. This was exactly my problem while playing Skyrim. I sank over one hundred hours into Bethesda’s open world and never made much progress on the main storyline. There was always a new cave to explore, a new sidequest, a new dragon shout clue. Any dramatic tension that might have been built up disappeared the instant an unexplored map marker appeared. I’d guess that many of you have similar experiences with open world games. The opportunities and incentives to refuse the call simply win out through sheer numbers over the singular call to adventure. You might argue that this is a problem that could be solved through design by including more motivations to follow the core storyline. I’ve heard ideas thrown around ranging from providing a timer to create tension like those found in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask or Dead Rising. Another idea would be to incentivize the main quest with better loot or various other digital rewards. That sounds all fine and dandy, but when you bring the idea of curbing or influencing player behavior in an open world game to the players themselves, you are met with a resounding, “LOL, NOPE.” Creating effective drama in a narrative is like shooting a bow and arrow. The string of the bow tenses as it is pulled further and further. If you hold the arrow back for too long your arm begins to get tired and there is the possibility that the string or bow will break. Releasing the arrow after it has been fully drawn causes it to shoot far and fast, but if you let the string go slowly slack, the arrow will just clatter to the ground harmlessly. Drama demands a certain amount of tension; tension which most players in open world games dislike because it makes them feel like they are ‘on the clock’ so to speak. This gives people a sense of being rushed or forced down certain paths, which they then resent. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the people who don’t care and do what they want anyway, which has the effect of deflating tension until it is non-existent, killing the drama. At this point, it might be fair to question the point of having a narrative in an open world experience at all. Perhaps it is best to look at how narrative in the genre has evolved to its current state for additional insight. Open world games began as text adventures in the 70s, but the first graphical attempt at an open world came in the form of 1979’s Adventure on the Atari 2600. While the game itself gave few clues as to what story, if any, was being told, the instruction manual provided players with the tools to contextualize the collections of shapes on-screen. In 1986, The Legend of Zelda refined the idea of an open world by adding engaging combat and puzzles, though the narrative was still largely contained within the game’s manual. Then, in 1998, Ocarina of Time released and became the go-to example of how to pull off an open world. To this day Ocarina is considered one of the greatest games of all time, lauded for its tight gameplay, exploration, and narrative. For the first time, an open world game had a narrative that was not only successful in a functional sense, but also in a way which seemed like it captured the essence of adventure. That part of the game might seem tired and less revelatory over a over a decade and a half later, but when it released people were amazed by the cheeky Princess Ruto, the odd society of the Gerudo, and the journey of a young boy to save the world. Ocarina of Time managed to tread a very thin line; one that encouraged and rewarded exploration while also minimizing distractions from the player’s pursuit of the narrative. Have you ever noticed how a lot of the areas you initially pass by in Ocarina of Time have paths and secrets you can only access with gear later on; gear that you only acquire by progressing through the story? Ocarina manages to gate various areas in this manner, but it never feels distracting or irritating. I’d guess that’s because it provides incentives to proceed, both in terms of new gadgets, but also by using what has become one of the most iconic gaming annoyances: “HEY, LISTEN!” Players who get overly sidetracked are reminded that they’re supposed to be saving the world and not wasting quite so much time competing in fishing challenges or fighting chickens. These gates and mechanics result in a tightly controlled story which funnels the player from dungeon to dungeon. While players might have accepted this in ’98 and have come to accept it as a staple of The Legend of Zelda series, they certainly wouldn’t appreciate such tactics in a game like Far Cry 4. Ocarina balances the openness of its world against its narrative needs very well, but it isn’t perfect, something that has become more apparent to me over time. It is a classic hero-saves-the-kidnapped-princess story, a tale we have all heard more than a few times. Sure, it has a few unique twists, but that isn’t enough to make the narrative feel completely new. It is an old story told very competently, which is high praise for a video game, but it isn’t Shakespeare, Dickens, or Dumas. Unfortunately, it seems that a lot of developers at the turn of the century took the success of Ocarina of Time to mean that bigger open worlds with more things to do was what players truly wanted, not recognizing the need for a change in storytelling tactics. That leads us to the current day. Rapidly advancing technology has given developers more tools with greater power than ever before, ballooning the costs of development for open world games and causing more developers to play it safe by sticking with providing larger and larger worlds. Many gamers and developers seem to be stuck in the idea that bigger is better when it comes to open world video games, while forgetting the lessons of Ocarina of Time. With a smaller game world than most open world games since, Ocarina of Time is more successful on a narrative level than Skyrim’s massive realm. I feel the need to clarify that I don’t mean to talk smack about Skyrim. There are many, many things that it does much better than Ocarina of Time and its scale is utterly gorgeous, but on a narrative level it calls flat for me. The problem is that when a game touts its massive game world and sells millions of copies, many other developers attribute the success, at least in part, to how large the game world was. That’s the reason we see CD Projeckt hyping The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt as having a game world larger than Skyrim and 30 times as large as The Witcher 2. As a side note, it seems a bit backward to me to tout how large a title’s in-game world is before players have gotten their hands on it. What if the general reception of the game is terrible? Doesn’t that just mean there is more of it to find unenjoyable? A great parallel of this mindset can be seen in the film industry. On the one hand we have Transformers, a series of films that trots around the world with giant robots beating the crap (oil?) out of each other that succeeds in being huge, loud, and flashy, with each film trying to be bigger than the last; and it is all so incredibly boring. On the other hand, we have 12 Angry Men a classic film from 1957 about a jury arguing over the guilt of a young man on trial for murder. Almost the entire film takes place in a small jury room and it is riveting. The film makes good use of the small space, shooting from interesting angles while dramatic tension is created between the various members of the jury. The size of the set isn’t what makes a film interesting, and neither is the size of a game world. It seems kind of like we are stuck when it comes to storytelling in open world games. Developers can attempt to tell a story that our players can completely ignore, which leads to lazy, uninspiring narratives; they could lightly sprinkle the narrative into the game in such a way that it is both unimportant to the player and the game itself; or we can tightly control the gameplay options to restrict the open world and tell our story appropriately. All of these options seem to come up a bit short if a developer wants to tell a meaty, interesting narrative in an open world. It might seem odd to look for a solution in linear titles, but that seems to be the only recourse to find a moderately comparable solution, since there are nothing quite like open world games in any other form of media. Observing some of the most interesting narrative titles from the last decade or so reveals what could be an interesting answer and possibly the future of video games: Game mechanics as storytelling tools. There is a tendency to view mechanics in games as simply a means to an end; that they are just how games work. It is a shame that we look at the basic means by which this medium functions and just shrug them off. But those underlying mechanisms are one of the characteristics that set video games apart from other mediums. Perhaps that is why some of the best games of our time have made use of mechanics to aid in storytelling. Look at Jonathan Blow’s Braid which uses its core time reversing mechanic to devastating effect. It completely turns the tables on the accepted theme of princess rescuing that many games have adopted as a shorthand for adventure. It reveals a troubled protagonist who has created his own version of events while ignoring the truth of what happened; someone who desperately desires to rewind the clock and take back what they did, but ultimately finds that this is one thing that can’t be fixed. For a more blatant example, look at this year’s Transistor from Supergiant Games. The mechanics of the combat contain several layers of meaning. On a surface level, they build the world of Transistor and reflect the digital nature of Cloudbank. Each combat ability stems from a person who has been absorbed into the Transistor and must be combined in different ways to unlock each individual’s history. Using these abilities, these souls, naturally brings up questions about humanity and the moral questions of what you, and by extension the characters around you, are doing. These mechanics are both core to how the game is played and compose the heart of their respective games. This is what open worlds need to strive to do. Developers can escape the confines of linear storytelling if they ingrain the mechanics with weight and meaning. *spoilers for Shadow of the Colossus ahead* The melding of mechanics and story was a concept that Shadow of the Colossus (one of my favorite games of all time) understood very well. In fact, I’d be willing to argue that it is the only open world game that has succeeded in doing so in a nearly flawless manner. Every single mechanic in Shadow of the Colossus tells us something important. What’s that? Wander swings the sword clumsily? That makes sense since it is revealed later that he stole the sword. He rides his horse Agro very competently and it comes when whistled for? They probably have a deep bond that will be exploited later for dramatic effect. He shoots arrows very well? He was probably hunter or an archer of some kind. Within the space of several minutes with no dialogue the player can make some accurate assessments of Wander’s character. As the player progresses through Shadow of the Colossus, they slay enormous magical beasts for a mysteriously imprisoned entity in exchange for the soul of a deceased loved one. For every colossus that Wander kills, the game makes it clear that this is a sinister task with grave consequences via inescapable dark energy which pierce Wander’s body. At first the change is so subtle many players don’t notice, but after several of the creatures are dead, Wander begins to change, both on the outside and the inside. Small horns begin sprouting from his head, his hair turns black, and his skin goes white, eventually taking on the look of someone near death. But as these changes occur, he also gains more stamina and health, tangible things in the game that help the player overcome the remaining colossi. Wander’s willingness to give up his humanity over the course of Shadow of the Colossus speaks to the lengths to which he will go for the sake of his love, a sacrifice that becomes all too clear in the final moments of the game. Though the world is open, the minimal design ensures that there aren’t many distractions beyond the beautiful views encountered en route to the next colossus’ location, thus naturally overcoming the player’s urge to wander and break dramatic tension. It seems to me that in order to tell a completely successful narrative in a video game, developers need to embrace the things that make video games different and use them to tell their story. For too long, open world games have relied entirely on player agency while neglecting to consider the importance of what their mechanics are saying. And this isn’t just a problem for open world games, but something that a lot of linearly designed games also get wrong. Integrating mechanics meaningfully into the narrative will be what brings video games into their own. The industry is on the cusp of a change in design philosophy and I can’t wait to see what comes next. View full article
  14. Jack Gardner

    The Challenges of an Open World Narrative

    Earlier this week, I wrapped up my review of Divinity: Original Sin and one of the minor problems that I briefly mentioned was the lack of narrative direction. I understand why it isn’t there; Larian studios didn’t want to funnel their players into any one predetermined path. Doing so would undermine the entire appeal of their game and diminish the sense of freedom Original Sin allows its players. As I thought about my experience with Larian’s modern take on old-school RPGs, I couldn’t help but feel like this was something of a missed opportunity. Original Sin was certainly entertaining, but will I ever feel compelled to replay it? Will I remember the details of its well-worn plot or the characters in a month or two? The somewhat somber conclusion that I came to was a flat no. I’ve always been a proponent of games as both a vehicle for both narrative and enjoyment. However, it seems that when one sacrifices narrative for enjoyment the entire package suffers as a whole. I still get the itch to play the first Mass Effect and experience the adventure again, despite the fact that the gameplay is clunky at best. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I rarely feel the need to go back and revisit Guitar Hero, though it was amazing amounts of fun when it initially released. And that isn’t saying that all games should have narratives; it is merely an observation that fun seems to be this ethereal and transient thing while well told stories last. I have a running bet with a friend of mine on which game people will still talk about in twenty years: BioShock Infinite or The Last of Us. It is a silly bet with $50 on the line, but if I am completely honest, people will probably still talk about both titles. The dialogue will continue, not because they were both fun (though they are both quite enjoyable to play), but because of the stories they tell and how they go about telling them. I wouldn’t be willing to place a similar bet on there being ongoing discourse about the narratives in Divinity: Original Sin, Crackdown, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, Dark Souls, or Grand Theft Auto 4. The greatest strength that these games provide, player agency, seems to diminish the effect their stories might have otherwise exerted. This brings me to what I feel is a valid question: Why? Why is it that open world games seem to have fewer stories that connect with players? The first conclusion that I find myself drawn toward is that open world game design clashes with traditional narrative structure. There is a concept in Joseph Campbell’s ‘The Hero With A Thousand Faces’ that stipulates many stories have a ‘call to adventure’ wherein the narrative beckons the protagonist to begin their quest. There is also an addition to that idea referred to as a ‘refusal of the call’ where the protagonist for various reasons declines the initial appeal. Though ‘The Hero With A Thousand Faces’ was written with traditional, linear narratives in mind, these two ideas are useful when talking about open world structure. An open world completely destroys almost any attempt to create a similar type of story, and yet many of the narratives we find in open worlds cling to a linear structure. Since the players in most video games are the protagonist, this means that the hooks meant to invest them into the story must be effective or else most players will find various reasons to ‘refuse the call’ while going from initial plot point A to important plot point B. This was exactly my problem while playing Skyrim. I sank over one hundred hours into Bethesda’s open world and never made much progress on the main storyline. There was always a new cave to explore, a new sidequest, a new dragon shout clue. Any dramatic tension that might have been built up disappeared the instant an unexplored map marker appeared. I’d guess that many of you have similar experiences with open world games. The opportunities and incentives to refuse the call simply win out through sheer numbers over the singular call to adventure. You might argue that this is a problem that could be solved through design by including more motivations to follow the core storyline. I’ve heard ideas thrown around ranging from providing a timer to create tension like those found in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask or Dead Rising. Another idea would be to incentivize the main quest with better loot or various other digital rewards. That sounds all fine and dandy, but when you bring the idea of curbing or influencing player behavior in an open world game to the players themselves, you are met with a resounding, “LOL, NOPE.” Creating effective drama in a narrative is like shooting a bow and arrow. The string of the bow tenses as it is pulled further and further. If you hold the arrow back for too long your arm begins to get tired and there is the possibility that the string or bow will break. Releasing the arrow after it has been fully drawn causes it to shoot far and fast, but if you let the string go slowly slack, the arrow will just clatter to the ground harmlessly. Drama demands a certain amount of tension; tension which most players in open world games dislike because it makes them feel like they are ‘on the clock’ so to speak. This gives people a sense of being rushed or forced down certain paths, which they then resent. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the people who don’t care and do what they want anyway, which has the effect of deflating tension until it is non-existent, killing the drama. At this point, it might be fair to question the point of having a narrative in an open world experience at all. Perhaps it is best to look at how narrative in the genre has evolved to its current state for additional insight. Open world games began as text adventures in the 70s, but the first graphical attempt at an open world came in the form of 1979’s Adventure on the Atari 2600. While the game itself gave few clues as to what story, if any, was being told, the instruction manual provided players with the tools to contextualize the collections of shapes on-screen. In 1986, The Legend of Zelda refined the idea of an open world by adding engaging combat and puzzles, though the narrative was still largely contained within the game’s manual. Then, in 1998, Ocarina of Time released and became the go-to example of how to pull off an open world. To this day Ocarina is considered one of the greatest games of all time, lauded for its tight gameplay, exploration, and narrative. For the first time, an open world game had a narrative that was not only successful in a functional sense, but also in a way which seemed like it captured the essence of adventure. That part of the game might seem tired and less revelatory over a over a decade and a half later, but when it released people were amazed by the cheeky Princess Ruto, the odd society of the Gerudo, and the journey of a young boy to save the world. Ocarina of Time managed to tread a very thin line; one that encouraged and rewarded exploration while also minimizing distractions from the player’s pursuit of the narrative. Have you ever noticed how a lot of the areas you initially pass by in Ocarina of Time have paths and secrets you can only access with gear later on; gear that you only acquire by progressing through the story? Ocarina manages to gate various areas in this manner, but it never feels distracting or irritating. I’d guess that’s because it provides incentives to proceed, both in terms of new gadgets, but also by using what has become one of the most iconic gaming annoyances: “HEY, LISTEN!” Players who get overly sidetracked are reminded that they’re supposed to be saving the world and not wasting quite so much time competing in fishing challenges or fighting chickens. These gates and mechanics result in a tightly controlled story which funnels the player from dungeon to dungeon. While players might have accepted this in ’98 and have come to accept it as a staple of The Legend of Zelda series, they certainly wouldn’t appreciate such tactics in a game like Far Cry 4. Ocarina balances the openness of its world against its narrative needs very well, but it isn’t perfect, something that has become more apparent to me over time. It is a classic hero-saves-the-kidnapped-princess story, a tale we have all heard more than a few times. Sure, it has a few unique twists, but that isn’t enough to make the narrative feel completely new. It is an old story told very competently, which is high praise for a video game, but it isn’t Shakespeare, Dickens, or Dumas. Unfortunately, it seems that a lot of developers at the turn of the century took the success of Ocarina of Time to mean that bigger open worlds with more things to do was what players truly wanted, not recognizing the need for a change in storytelling tactics. That leads us to the current day. Rapidly advancing technology has given developers more tools with greater power than ever before, ballooning the costs of development for open world games and causing more developers to play it safe by sticking with providing larger and larger worlds. Many gamers and developers seem to be stuck in the idea that bigger is better when it comes to open world video games, while forgetting the lessons of Ocarina of Time. With a smaller game world than most open world games since, Ocarina of Time is more successful on a narrative level than Skyrim’s massive realm. I feel the need to clarify that I don’t mean to talk smack about Skyrim. There are many, many things that it does much better than Ocarina of Time and its scale is utterly gorgeous, but on a narrative level it calls flat for me. The problem is that when a game touts its massive game world and sells millions of copies, many other developers attribute the success, at least in part, to how large the game world was. That’s the reason we see CD Projeckt hyping The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt as having a game world larger than Skyrim and 30 times as large as The Witcher 2. As a side note, it seems a bit backward to me to tout how large a title’s in-game world is before players have gotten their hands on it. What if the general reception of the game is terrible? Doesn’t that just mean there is more of it to find unenjoyable? A great parallel of this mindset can be seen in the film industry. On the one hand we have Transformers, a series of films that trots around the world with giant robots beating the crap (oil?) out of each other that succeeds in being huge, loud, and flashy, with each film trying to be bigger than the last; and it is all so incredibly boring. On the other hand, we have 12 Angry Men a classic film from 1957 about a jury arguing over the guilt of a young man on trial for murder. Almost the entire film takes place in a small jury room and it is riveting. The film makes good use of the small space, shooting from interesting angles while dramatic tension is created between the various members of the jury. The size of the set isn’t what makes a film interesting, and neither is the size of a game world. It seems kind of like we are stuck when it comes to storytelling in open world games. Developers can attempt to tell a story that our players can completely ignore, which leads to lazy, uninspiring narratives; they could lightly sprinkle the narrative into the game in such a way that it is both unimportant to the player and the game itself; or we can tightly control the gameplay options to restrict the open world and tell our story appropriately. All of these options seem to come up a bit short if a developer wants to tell a meaty, interesting narrative in an open world. It might seem odd to look for a solution in linear titles, but that seems to be the only recourse to find a moderately comparable solution, since there are nothing quite like open world games in any other form of media. Observing some of the most interesting narrative titles from the last decade or so reveals what could be an interesting answer and possibly the future of video games: Game mechanics as storytelling tools. There is a tendency to view mechanics in games as simply a means to an end; that they are just how games work. It is a shame that we look at the basic means by which this medium functions and just shrug them off. But those underlying mechanisms are one of the characteristics that set video games apart from other mediums. Perhaps that is why some of the best games of our time have made use of mechanics to aid in storytelling. Look at Jonathan Blow’s Braid which uses its core time reversing mechanic to devastating effect. It completely turns the tables on the accepted theme of princess rescuing that many games have adopted as a shorthand for adventure. It reveals a troubled protagonist who has created his own version of events while ignoring the truth of what happened; someone who desperately desires to rewind the clock and take back what they did, but ultimately finds that this is one thing that can’t be fixed. For a more blatant example, look at this year’s Transistor from Supergiant Games. The mechanics of the combat contain several layers of meaning. On a surface level, they build the world of Transistor and reflect the digital nature of Cloudbank. Each combat ability stems from a person who has been absorbed into the Transistor and must be combined in different ways to unlock each individual’s history. Using these abilities, these souls, naturally brings up questions about humanity and the moral questions of what you, and by extension the characters around you, are doing. These mechanics are both core to how the game is played and compose the heart of their respective games. This is what open worlds need to strive to do. Developers can escape the confines of linear storytelling if they ingrain the mechanics with weight and meaning. *spoilers for Shadow of the Colossus ahead* The melding of mechanics and story was a concept that Shadow of the Colossus (one of my favorite games of all time) understood very well. In fact, I’d be willing to argue that it is the only open world game that has succeeded in doing so in a nearly flawless manner. Every single mechanic in Shadow of the Colossus tells us something important. What’s that? Wander swings the sword clumsily? That makes sense since it is revealed later that he stole the sword. He rides his horse Agro very competently and it comes when whistled for? They probably have a deep bond that will be exploited later for dramatic effect. He shoots arrows very well? He was probably hunter or an archer of some kind. Within the space of several minutes with no dialogue the player can make some accurate assessments of Wander’s character. As the player progresses through Shadow of the Colossus, they slay enormous magical beasts for a mysteriously imprisoned entity in exchange for the soul of a deceased loved one. For every colossus that Wander kills, the game makes it clear that this is a sinister task with grave consequences via inescapable dark energy which pierce Wander’s body. At first the change is so subtle many players don’t notice, but after several of the creatures are dead, Wander begins to change, both on the outside and the inside. Small horns begin sprouting from his head, his hair turns black, and his skin goes white, eventually taking on the look of someone near death. But as these changes occur, he also gains more stamina and health, tangible things in the game that help the player overcome the remaining colossi. Wander’s willingness to give up his humanity over the course of Shadow of the Colossus speaks to the lengths to which he will go for the sake of his love, a sacrifice that becomes all too clear in the final moments of the game. Though the world is open, the minimal design ensures that there aren’t many distractions beyond the beautiful views encountered en route to the next colossus’ location, thus naturally overcoming the player’s urge to wander and break dramatic tension. It seems to me that in order to tell a completely successful narrative in a video game, developers need to embrace the things that make video games different and use them to tell their story. For too long, open world games have relied entirely on player agency while neglecting to consider the importance of what their mechanics are saying. And this isn’t just a problem for open world games, but something that a lot of linearly designed games also get wrong. Integrating mechanics meaningfully into the narrative will be what brings video games into their own. The industry is on the cusp of a change in design philosophy and I can’t wait to see what comes next.
  15. Great video games aren’t random mishmashes and hodgepodges of disparate visuals, mechanics, and stories. With games that stand the test of time, those elements need to come together to create a cohesive whole. Given that video games are an interactive medium, arguably their most important component is how they allow players to interact with them. The Stanley Parable, Shadow of the Colossus, and Beyond: Two Souls, perfectly capture this concept, albeit in different ways. I’ve made a point of mentioning a game called The Stanley Parable recently. Talking about The Stanley Parable is difficult without spoiling much of what makes it enjoyable and thought provoking. However, I don’t think it is giving away too much to say that the core of the experience is built around player choice and how that relates to game design. Developer Galactic Cafe stripped down the gameplay to the bare minimum required to convey this message to players. The Stanley Parable uses similar mechanics to games like Dear Esther and Gone Home, giving players only the ability to move and interact with certain objects. One of the criticisms leveled against both Gone Home and Dear Esther was that the level of engagement afforded by the limited scope of the gameplay wasn’t interesting or necessarily fun. Where those games fell short, The Stanley Parable excels by using its mechanics to help demonstrate and complement its story through intelligent game design. Essentially, players are presented with a series of branching paths and options with an amusing narration responding to whatever the player happens to be doing. The narration urges players down a predetermined path, while other opportunities are constantly presented for players to derail the experience. This allows The Stanley Parable to not only directly talk about the struggles of developing video games but also demonstrate those difficulties through the player’s experiences. Interactivity and storytelling are difficult to reconcile with one another, as interactivity is necessarily freeing and storytelling is by nature restrictive. Shadow of the Colossus marries the two in an interesting way. Colossus’ story revolves around a young man who brings his deceased love to a forbidden land and makes a pact with a demon or deity to bring her back from the dead. At the end of their interaction, the supernatural entity nebulously states that the price might be higher than the young man could imagine. As players progress through Shadow of the Colossus, killing the sixteen colossi, players begin to notice subtle changes, both in the visuals and in the gameplay. With each defeated colossus comes a flood of dark tendrils that infuse the young man’s body and transport him back to the starting area. Each time that happens, the young man receives increased health and stamina and begins to look more haggard, eventually sprouting small horns, transforming into something inhuman. This is done with little to no dialogue, but as players, we experience the transformation ourselves and recognize that something sinister is taking place; the cost alluded to at the beginning. It is an achievement in subtlety that few games ever manage. While the story in Shadow of the Colossus remains static with no branching paths, it leaves the details hanging for players to interpret and experience differently with each playthrough. That's how you can have many players walking away from Shadow of the Colossus with different takes on what happened in the game. Was it a love story about a man going to the ends of the world for the woman he loves? Was it a dark parable cautioning against hubris? Or perhaps it was a tragedy about someone coping with grief in destructive ways? These vastly different outlooks depend on how people interact with Shadow of the Colossus and the set of life experiences each individual brings with them. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, we have games like Beyond: Two Souls, which treat gameplay mechanics almost as a hindrance rather than a strength. Playing Beyond: Two Souls feels like watching a bad movie that grudgingly pauses every so often for players to do quick-time events and contextual button presses. The game rarely communicates when players are making important choices that are arbitrarily more important later on in the plot and plot-related decisions are essentially the only meaningful gameplay in which players can partake. Yes, it has branching storylines. Yes, it integrates player choice. Yes, it looks great. But its story doesn’t serve its gameplay and that renders the interactive element of the game inert. When players can't understand how their choices mattered, that represents a fundamental problem with a game supposedly built on player choice. Interactivity should be used to help tell a story rather than having a story draped around unrelated mechanics. When the two don’t sync up right, we get games that might as well be movies or books. If we wanted that, we would go to a library (those are still a thing, right?) or flip on Netflix. View full article
  16. Great video games aren’t random mishmashes and hodgepodges of disparate visuals, mechanics, and stories. With games that stand the test of time, those elements need to come together to create a cohesive whole. Given that video games are an interactive medium, arguably their most important component is how they allow players to interact with them. The Stanley Parable, Shadow of the Colossus, and Beyond: Two Souls, perfectly capture this concept, albeit in different ways. I’ve made a point of mentioning a game called The Stanley Parable recently. Talking about The Stanley Parable is difficult without spoiling much of what makes it enjoyable and thought provoking. However, I don’t think it is giving away too much to say that the core of the experience is built around player choice and how that relates to game design. Developer Galactic Cafe stripped down the gameplay to the bare minimum required to convey this message to players. The Stanley Parable uses similar mechanics to games like Dear Esther and Gone Home, giving players only the ability to move and interact with certain objects. One of the criticisms leveled against both Gone Home and Dear Esther was that the level of engagement afforded by the limited scope of the gameplay wasn’t interesting or necessarily fun. Where those games fell short, The Stanley Parable excels by using its mechanics to help demonstrate and complement its story through intelligent game design. Essentially, players are presented with a series of branching paths and options with an amusing narration responding to whatever the player happens to be doing. The narration urges players down a predetermined path, while other opportunities are constantly presented for players to derail the experience. This allows The Stanley Parable to not only directly talk about the struggles of developing video games but also demonstrate those difficulties through the player’s experiences. Interactivity and storytelling are difficult to reconcile with one another, as interactivity is necessarily freeing and storytelling is by nature restrictive. Shadow of the Colossus marries the two in an interesting way. Colossus’ story revolves around a young man who brings his deceased love to a forbidden land and makes a pact with a demon or deity to bring her back from the dead. At the end of their interaction, the supernatural entity nebulously states that the price might be higher than the young man could imagine. As players progress through Shadow of the Colossus, killing the sixteen colossi, players begin to notice subtle changes, both in the visuals and in the gameplay. With each defeated colossus comes a flood of dark tendrils that infuse the young man’s body and transport him back to the starting area. Each time that happens, the young man receives increased health and stamina and begins to look more haggard, eventually sprouting small horns, transforming into something inhuman. This is done with little to no dialogue, but as players, we experience the transformation ourselves and recognize that something sinister is taking place; the cost alluded to at the beginning. It is an achievement in subtlety that few games ever manage. While the story in Shadow of the Colossus remains static with no branching paths, it leaves the details hanging for players to interpret and experience differently with each playthrough. That's how you can have many players walking away from Shadow of the Colossus with different takes on what happened in the game. Was it a love story about a man going to the ends of the world for the woman he loves? Was it a dark parable cautioning against hubris? Or perhaps it was a tragedy about someone coping with grief in destructive ways? These vastly different outlooks depend on how people interact with Shadow of the Colossus and the set of life experiences each individual brings with them. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, we have games like Beyond: Two Souls, which treat gameplay mechanics almost as a hindrance rather than a strength. Playing Beyond: Two Souls feels like watching a bad movie that grudgingly pauses every so often for players to do quick-time events and contextual button presses. The game rarely communicates when players are making important choices that are arbitrarily more important later on in the plot and plot-related decisions are essentially the only meaningful gameplay in which players can partake. Yes, it has branching storylines. Yes, it integrates player choice. Yes, it looks great. But its story doesn’t serve its gameplay and that renders the interactive element of the game inert. When players can't understand how their choices mattered, that represents a fundamental problem with a game supposedly built on player choice. Interactivity should be used to help tell a story rather than having a story draped around unrelated mechanics. When the two don’t sync up right, we get games that might as well be movies or books. If we wanted that, we would go to a library (those are still a thing, right?) or flip on Netflix.
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