The Stanley Parable always had a certain buzz around it. Having finally played it a few times, I can understand why it’s great but I also recognize that this game falls victim to the same problems that almost all popular narrative-based (if you can even call this a narrative) games out there. It’s the problem of branching and therefore a problem of content creation.
The magnificent thing about this game is that it’s magnificently self-aware. It’s omniscient narration is the first indication of the game’s strengths and continue to riff on the idea that the player is a meaningless pawn being controlled by the system… or the designers. I love this idea because it brings attention to how games are made. As a player, you are very cognizant of what the designers want you to do. I had a lot of fun with this because that conversation between designer and gamer was intensified for me. Being a designer by day and a gamer by night, the divide between these two roles were being broken down by how meta this game is. That’s where this game really shines.
The narration and even some of the endings bring to the players attention that they are playing a game. Their avatar is trapped in a game-world where the rules of games apply. The narration points out weird habits in FPS level design and general game quirks. I read somewhere that there’s even an ending where you can fall outside of the level and seem to end up in a broken state. I’ll assume that the narrator will do his job and properly dictate your actions back to you and therefore confirm that this ‘broken’ ending is actually part of the game. That’s magnificent.
However, this game suffers the same issues because it’s all reliant on branching narrative structures that requires careful crafting of content. Being meta, as usual, these branches are explicitly expressed in its level design. Do you choose Door #1 or #2? These are branches in the narrative, quite literally! There’s a lot of opaque interaction that’s frustrating, but forces encourages the players to explore. The entire game is about trickling down the paths and experimenting with its outcomes. It’s about toying with the constructs of “what is it to be a game?” and seeing how it produces a unique kind of cognitive dissonance. Normally, we allow the weird rules of games and FPS-land and continue playing with these rules in the back of our minds. The Stanley Parable brings these to the foreground and forces players to continually think of them.
The rules we created for games are really weird. Arbitrary, even. While The Stanley Parable does a good job at exposing these strange cases in first person game design, is it anything more than that? There were interesting things in the conference room, a critique on corporations, but is that even important? How many endings need to be produced and how much time will it take players to discover them until the true meaning of the game becomes apparent? Maybe it’s nothing more than a self-aware observation of games, which is does a great job at.
Tomb Raider was a pretty good game. I had some fun playing it. What I’m really glad about is the fact that we can begin gathering the old Lara Croft and start putting those games in the attic. The new Lara is a multi-faceted character with the potential for growth and further development. She’s not the flat (well, depends on how you look at it) persona that she once was. The only gripe I have is that new Lara grew up way to fast for me. It was demonstrated in the escalation of combat during the game. Furthermore, the combat and combat options (weapons, tactics, etc…) didn’t match the progression of Lara’s character in the story. I thought they had a good team of writers on this? Well, it did… but do writers and combat designers actually talk to each other? AAA, what the fuck is going on here?
I’m jumping on the bandwagon here and will also talk about what I think a game is. Raph Koster wrote a post that spawned manymany replies and, in general, a huge discussion on what games really are. For the record, this discussion is good and it’s something that we need to keep doing. As many game makers have mentioned already, most notably Adam Saltsman, is that we are in a time where we can greatly influence what games are and how they’re made. We’re the ones, right now, deciding what the industry is about. It was evident at GDC 2013, the most inclusive Game Developers Conference ever—indies, social, AAA, mobile, F2P’ers, and everyone under the sun cheering each other on.
So here’s my nutshell definition:
A game is something that does not require a goal or objective but has a formal ruleset or system, that was designed by someone as a pre-meditated conversation to be had with a potential player. By exploring and obeying the designed rules and systems laid out in front of him/her/them, the player is conversing with the game designer.
The guys who put together Spec Ops: The Line may think that violence is easy to pull off in video games but what I think they were trying to say that violence is oftentimes meaningless in video games. While the physical action of pulling a real gun’s trigger to shoot another human being in the face is pretty much the same as pulling the right-side trigger on a game controller to shoot a manifestation of another human being, the psychological, moral, and ethical repercussions are world’s apart. Most conventional shooters eschew the real world emotions that pulling the trigger against a living thing entails (animals included). Even if The Line was about violence, you never felt like the psychopath they wanted you to be. I’m supposed to feel some guilt when I kill all the refugees, I’m definitely supposed to think about my moral dilemma at the end of game. NOPE.
But you know who does violence correctly? It’s fucking Telltale Games in The Walking Dead.
The game was probably was hyped to death by the time I got to it. However, I found no redeeming qualities to it. I felt so bad about the reaction I had that I scoured the internet and read a lot of critical opinions and analyses of the game. While the game may portray some interesting situations and commentary about war, as a game it did a poor job of presenting them in a way that was appropriate to games and was just a terrible game to play in general. If you take all the game out and all the specific acting or topics, made it into a movie, maybe you would have something with enough content to just miss the summer blockbuster phase. Barely. At that point, it’s so far removed from the original source material that it probably will have a better chance to do well.
Otherwise, Spec Ops: The Line is a terrible example of story-telling in games.
Everyone is complaining that Sony’s PS4 reveal earlier this week was stupid because they didn’t show the console. Instead they focused a lot on the new games and the DualShock 4 controller. Maybe a few loose specs were thrown around for good measure. I think a lot of people are missing the point here because the console and home computer are reaching a converging point.
When I was a kid, not all too long ago, I played a lot of online competitive games like Counter-Strike, Quake, and Team Fortress. They were some of the best games I’ve ever played and I had an extremely fond time with them. In fact, they were so damn fun that I don’t think I’ll ever relive those moments ever again. What I remember from my formative years will stay just that… memories, while games will continue to evolve into new forms and create new experiences.
I had hoped that the core of games would remain the same but I’ve (with the help of my coworkers) realized that the reason why I played games then and why children now play games is completely different. It’s no longer about just doing what’s fun, exploring a complete system of rules and seeing the outcomes of your actions. It’s more complicated than that now. A lot of people just aren’t satisfied with playing with their Legos without an instruction manual anymore (save for those who play Minecraft, which I think is still a minority). They want, and expect, a voice in their head telling them that they’re doing a good job when they attach one Lego piece to another.
Capcom’s new property, Remember Me (formerly called Adrift), sparked some interesting thoughts as I watched the above trailer. First off, I really enjoy future relevant themes like those found in Mass Effect (questioning what is AI, can it be human?), Deus Ex: Human Revolution (transhumanism and what it is to be human), and others. Remember Me deals with the idea of the ability to hack someone’s memories sort of like the idea found in Phillip K. Dick’s stories (Johnny Menemonic comes to mind). Humanity is approaching that cusp where we need to start thinking about all these things. However, really caught my interest was the execution of how memory hacking works.
I just watched the above trailer for The Last of Us, Naughty Dog’s next game for the PS3, and I was again shocked by the way Naughty Dog is able to convey an incredibly different theme while still using basically the same mechanics as the Unhcarted series. The main reason I hated Uncharted was because the gunfights were boring. I was just mowing down a bunch of dudes. Understandably, all action movies are like this (including Indiana Jones, the movies that Uncharted is basically riffing off of) but the fact that I personally had to kill each one of these goons in monotony was unappealing by the 3rd time it happened.
My coworker lent me his copy of Catherine, the sexual psycho puzzle thriller. I’ve got to say, ever since I read up about this game way back when I was itching to play it. Not because it’s a puzzle game (not my favorite genre) but because of its interesting subject material. Let’s just get comments on the puzzle game out of the way. The puzzle game is fun and addictive. Even after an hour or two of play, there seems to be enough going on with it to keep me interested. There’s even a memorization flow going on due to the strict time constraints with bosses (this would imply that each puzzle has an optimal solution). Anyway, that’s fine and great. It plays well and is an interesting metaphor for the most interesting part of the game, its story.