The Squadron of Shame is no longer active on this site. Instead, please point yourself to squadronofshame.com and join our community there.
At the time of writing, the SquadCasts are temporarily offline. Sorry about that. They’ll be back soon.
If ever there were a game tailor-made for the Squad, it’s Yager’s Spec Ops: The Line. Pete, Mark, Calin, Alex and special guest MJPilon stroke their chins thoughtfully over the nature of war.
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS from the outset.
Music in this episode:
The Black Angels — Bad Vibrations
Deep Purple — Hush (Remastered)
Martha Reeves & The Vandellas — Nowhere to Run
Alice in Chains — Rooster
Pete, Mark, Calin and Alex get together for a discussion of all things horrific and horrible, taking in Corpse Party, Home, Lone Survivor, Amnesia, Penumbra and other spooky treats.
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS for all of the above from the outset.
Be sure to leave a comment below or in our G+ Community.
All music in this episode is from Corpse Party: Blood Covered.
[Pete's note: Apologies for the huge delay between our recording of this in November and it finally getting uploaded -- real life happened a bit. Due to the long delay between recording and publishing, some things we mentioned as "coming soon" (like the sequel to Corpse Party) are now actually available. Curiosity still sucks, though.]
Hey y’all! Some of you may be wondering why it’s been so quiet around here lately. That’s ’cause we’re all hanging out on teh Googlyplus, as its community features are pretty well-suited to structured discussion and that sort of thing. This page will still be kept open as an archive of our past discussions and a place for the SquadCast to live (I promise the next one is coming — I’m just super-short on time and also have too crap Internet to download the recordings!) — discussion from now on seems to have migrated over to the G+ community, though.
You’ll need a Google account, which most of you probably have already. Join us here: https://plus.google.com/communities/103037990631817130414
My first paid byline in… well forever.
Bought myself and a friend Miasmata, dis gun be gud.
Damn I’ve been swamped the past week, am i too late for Squad Santa?
So I just finished They Bleed Pixels…. Good! This is the version of Super Meatboy for Shingroes I think. The art style is adorable and extremely stylized and exaggerated, Cthulhu meets powerpuff girls I think is how I’ll describe it. Extremely charming. There’s a decent combo and combat system, they put checkpoint setting in your hands so long as you have enough dark (combo) energy to do so. I tended to look forwards to playing it when I wasn’t playing it…
… until that last goddamn level D:<
but I love to hate it, even if my thumb is a short hop skip and a jump from rawness. last two levels had me at a total combined death count of 800 or so…
Such does the Madness of the Old Ones corrupt those who look upon it, because there were a few times I figured I must be mad to keep going.
Hey, is it too late to get in to the Squad Santa fun?
@impynickers I think for now I’ll just go with Underworld. I’ve been on a roll with dungeon crawlers recently and I guess it’ll be nice to play the games that inspired almost every popular first person game on today’s console. I’ve already done System Shock 2, BioShock, and Arx Fatalis. May as well go back further.
@RedSwirl Yes, anything before Ultima VI is going to be probably impenetrable to modern gamers.
Most critics will cite Ultima VII as the height of the series, from my view it is an excellent example of an early CRPG being ahead of its time in its attitude toward world manipulation and NPC’s having daily routines like in Skyrim. The difference is that this is 2D, old school clicking and questing. You could look at the general gameplay as being similar to a JRPG with a real time combat system, except you have an inventory and can pick up/craft objects if you want. There are also classic PC game dialogue options, which you choose to find out information you need to move forward. The story is not given to you freely, you have to question and explore.
Ultima VIII and IX were both considered dissapointments by critics and fans, but they are probably the most accessible of any Ultima games.
Ultima IX was very much ahead of its time in 3D open world RPG style, but it was practically unplayable at launch due too game breaking glitches and bugs, and some people could not get over the hilariously stiff dialogue. The game is still beautiful IMO, still very interesting, and does things that 3D RPG’s hadn’t begun to do till recently. The game is now perfectly playable with patches, and the GOG edition should play without problems.
Ultima Underworld I think holds up pretty well, its sequel I think even better. They are a lot like recent first person dungeon crawls like Grimrock and Undercroft, except true to old school fashion there are some points where you might get lost trying to figure out what to do. Easily remedied if your are using a FAQ. I think though that these are historically some of the best examples of the genre, though I think the modern versions are a little more accessible.
I have no idea where to begin with this GOG sale. For starters every damn Ultima game is on sale, but most of the early ones look way too old for my ass. How have the Underworld games aged?
@beige Im in Ottawa and the service is quite respectable. Only once have I had a game get held up through the companies processing. Was not a big deal. I would recommend this service to any Canadian in Ontario/Quebec. I heard service is spotty elsewhere.
@bluesforbuddha That would be me… or at least I think so. The one I’m using is GameAccess.ca. Pretty satisfied with the service. Note that they are based here in Montreal so I don’t know how that impacts shipping times outside of the province.
Hey Canadians, I know at least one of you is using a service similar to GameFly in Canada — we’ve discussed it on the box before. You know, pay set price, have X games sent to you… I want to put it in my Christmas list as something to try out but I can’t remember which of you gave me the original recommendation…
Have the logistics of Squad Santa been worked out yet? The reindeer are champing.
So Steam’s ‘Big Picture Mode’ is some really slick stuff. Had my PC out in the living area and have been quite satisfied with the results.
One of the things I have been most excited about is a rather small change in perspective, but has really made my living room setup feel complete. The latest update not only brings a less buggy ‘add non steam game’ functionality, you can now put banners on your non steam games so that they fit right in with your existing steam collection. I have even got DOSBOX games setup through steam.
There is a gigantic archive of banners at http://steambanners.booru.org/index.php
You can get banners for some really obscure classic games even. I have only had to make 1 banner myself, and I have added about 30 non-steam games to my collection.
Now, with my terrabyte hard drive already packed with 140 steam games, and many more non-steam games that are being added….. you can imagine the wow factor going on in my living room. A couple of clicks take me on a ride through the history of PC gaming.
Ok, you know what? WordPress is annoying. Maybe Google+ will be a nice change to the weird ass formatting of this site, as has been wonderfully displayed below.
EDIT: GAH, WITH THE GIANT TITLES!
I actually have to stop ignoring Google+ to do this, but ok. I’m only interested in using one Squad site for discussion, so it’s either I post here or I post there.
“One must die and one must live.”
After seeing the new G+ Communities feature deftly put to use by Jeff and Chris for TOFT, I’ve set up a Squad community over there in an attempt to potentially attract some new people. Please feel free to check it out here: https://plus.google.com/communities/103037990631817130414 — all you need is a Google account with G+ activated, which is easy enough to do.
This site will stay right where it is, but over time we’ll review our needs and see if the G+ community might fit us a bit better as our primary online hangout — it’s certainly easier to categorise and manage discussion threads than it is here, but we’ll see how it goes.
In the meantime, drop by on G+ and say hello. It’s a public group, but you require moderator approval to join so we can keep the riff-raff out. If you send a request and don’t get a reply, give me a poke somewhere else (here or Twitter) and I’ll sort you out as soon as I can.
@rampant Cartography, you say?! Miasmata downloading now.
Far Cry 3 in my opinion is kind of an interesting subject when it comes to directed narrative in games. This game I think has convinced me of at least one thing: That an open-world game should have as little directed narrative as possible. After designing Far Cry 2, Clint Hockent went on about how games shouldn’t have storylines at all. While I wouldn’t totally agree with him there, I can definitely see what he’s talking about if he’s making a game based on you being able to go anywhere you want.
By far the best parts of my experience with FC3 so far have been the random shit that happens to me while running around capturing bases, climbing towers, and investigating caves.
Excrept from some other dude on GAF:
“So I was walking along the southeastern shoreline yesterday when out of nowhere a deer in distress ran out in front of me, followed closely by a really pissed off bear. I needed a couple bear pelts for a pouch so I stormed off chasing them both. Both animals were hauling ass, but I kept chugging away and taking a couple shots at the bear in order to anger it enough so it would come towards me. No luck. As the two animals and I are booking down the beach, I end up running past two pirates holding some hostages, but I don’t stop to take them out. I just keep running which clearly agitated them as I could hear them yelling at me followed by a few gunshots. I stop, turn around and see the two pirates start running after me. Meanwhile, I’m trying to focus on this fucking bear who is STILL chasing this deer.
I felt like I needed the Harlem Globetrotters theme song or something as all of us are chasing after each other running down the beach like idiots. A few seconds later, the bear loses the deer and focuses its attention on me. Instead of taking it out, I turn around and start running towards the pirates competely throwing them off guard and hearing the bear growling behind me. I rush past the pirates and slide into a nearby bush. I turn around and watch as these two pirates attempt to take out the bear, but to no avail. The giant beast completely mauled one and then while it was approaching the other, I used the moment to run towards it, Bull shotgun in hand and lay it to waste. Two shots to the head as it was tearing the crap out of the other pirate on the ground.
I sure as hell got my pouch.”
I would be perfectly satisfied if Far Cry 3 has as much storyline as, say, Dark Souls.
Yep: Miasmata. Good stuff, assuming you accept:
It’s a game about cartography…
… and botany.
… and, often times, hiding nervously and keeping still for long periods of time.
You’re either in on that 100% or you’re not.
Sure, it’s not anywhere near AAA, but I am in total awe that this game was made by LITERALLY two dudes. It’s atmospheric! It looks good! Not amazing, but good! Let’s see you build an engine that looks that good, buddy.
Take Skyrim, remove all the fighting and leveling up and RPG trappings. Items, HP, just forget all that.
Just a big ass world to explore with stuff (meaning mostly plants rare and not so rare) in it. Do you like exploring? The sensation of standing on a hill while holding a map and looking at some big crazy Easter Island head while saying “OK, well if that head is here, and Y is HERE, then that means I am HERE” then this game is for you. If you like saying “it looks on my map like I can reach camp X if I walk to the river and then strike out Northwest, but… shit.. it’s 4pm already, can I do it before it gets dark?” Then this game is for you.
Triangulation. Here are the two things you can do with it:
a) Find out where you are in physical space if you can visually identify two landmarks whose location you already know with 100% certainty
b) Find out in theoretical space precisely where a third landmark is located if you can see that landmark from two separate places whose location you also know with 100% certainty.
The game starts you off within the first 10 minutes with a scrap of a map that will provide you with your jumping off point for point A, above. For B, you’re on your own. Either find more scraps of map or triangulate those crazy things in the distance that you can see from somewhere you already have mapped.
Most of the time following the map clues is easy. Many maps or map scraps you can find flesh out the world and give you at least basic dotted line style guidelines to other places you should be checking out. “That rare flower is somewhere in this vaguely circled hill shown on this scrap of map, and it likes to grow on the back sides of fallen logs in places where shadows are deep.” Great. I can work with that.
Sometimes though? Fuck. Once you lose your orientation badly you’re hosed until you can pick it up again. At that point, hope your canteen has lots of water to survive with, cause you are well and truly on your own son.
Common occurance: Running from the creature, slipped and slid down an incline by accident, rolled ass over teakettle, fell unconscious. Woke up in the dark, with a fever that (thankfully) we’d made some medicine for. Injured, total darkness. No goddamn idea where we are in physical space. Naturally, your position in spacetime is not magically shown and updated on the paper map you have in your hands. It’s a paper map.
How disorienting can this be? VERY.
When I was a teenager I was briefly lost in Algonquin park on a canoe trip with my dad. Like Miasmata, it was an island so I wasn’t going far, but like Miasmata the experience was EXTREMELY UNCOMFORTABLE. All I could do was walk forwards through the pitch blackness of the forest trees trying not to slip and hurt myself until I hit the waters edge, listening for sounds and trying as hard as I could to figure out where I was. Miasmata at night? Pretty much exactly like this. Can you wander around blindly in the dark jumping at sounds until you die of thirst and exposure or are killed by a stalking beast? Yes.
Fortunately your character is some kind of science badass so with the right recipes you can start mixing high-level concoctions that can do things like temporarily (or permanently, with super rare plant synthesis injections) increase your ability to run without falling over from exhaustion, scrabble up cliffs, and can increase your awareness of your surroundings with beneficial drugs. I really enjoy how “increasing your intelligence stat” in the game translates into practical upgrades like increasing your stealth or being able to always percieve the threat direction of the stalking beast if you crouch and keep silent. Yes, you totally can grab a bunch of crazy poisonous fungus and fuse it with an anti-toxin to make an intelligence potion that will let you know briefly where you are on the map. It works, bitches.
Hell, just using a microscope in the first person – you know, to make slides of leaf cells like they taught you in biology class — was a new one on me… and I’ve been playing videogames since there were videogames to play. In hindsight, why has this taken so long?
Thing One: I would be happy to participate in Squad Santa if we are doin’ it. I am not fabulously wealthy, but it’s fun. :)
Thing Two: Like Pete I am an avowed story-fiend. I feel that there are all sorts of ways to tell stories, some more “truly” interactive than others (and that’s a minefield, for sure), but all valid and with the potential to be enjoyable. It’s all in the execution.
And on that note, Thing Three:
Mark and I loaded up Miasmata yesterday for the first time. It’s a bit like this:
As you start the game, a very brief text crawl informs you that your name is Robert Hughes, and that you are a sick man; you have contracted a plague that is slowly killing you. A vague reference to some sort of betrayal follows, and then you are told that you’ve come out to an island where a bunch of scientists were working on a cure. But your ship, if ship there was, has wrecked.
And then you wake up on a rocky beach, the shattered remains of a small boat nearby. There is no interface to speak of and a single objective in your journal: Find a cure for the plague.
Of course, you have other priorities. Your fever is always slowly rising, and you must synthesize drugs to keep it down from the local plants and fungi. Then there is the matter of finding fresh water, and of navigating the island by finding crudely-drawn local maps and using cartography tools to triangulate local landmarks.
Perhaps some of the scientists posted here could have helped you – if only there hadn’t been a massacre of some sort; dead bodies are a distressingly common find. Freshly dead, too: could whoever – or whatever – have killed them still be out there in the island’s forests? It is not long before you begin to find references to “the creature” in the scientists’ notes…
This is a low-budget, small-shop operation, but Mark and I are enjoying it more than I really expected to, in part because the game is so completely and unabashedly what it is. True fact: This is a game about exploring – about mapping and about finding new and rare species of plant and testing them to determine their medicinal properties. If you are careful and scrupulous, it’s also a game about piecing together small fragments of the world beyond the island’s shores and the story of what happened there. (Most encampments contain at least one tidbit of information for you.)
Things I haven’t been so crazy about so far:
Things that are actually rather awesome:
It’s definitely not for everyone – this is mainly a game about doin’ science in the wilderness – but if this sounds interesting to you, check it out! The investment is small. :)
I can’t get both feet in Sinfony’s camp because, y’know… it’s me. Still, I have to say that I am coming to appreciate Sinfony’s perspective more and more.
Basically it’s this: If you’re going to tell a story in your game, please try to tell a good one. That’s all. Walking Dead? Corpse Party? Persona 4? Uncharted 2? Planescape? We still talk about those stories, in some cases a decade later, because they were good stories with enjoyable characters and plot/pacing etc. I put your tears in a jar. Drake + Elena forever. We all love it.
If your character can’t change, die, or go through a character arc or emerge from the story fundamentally different than when he/she went in however (which is the business case for most IPs) then you’re not going to have a good story, period.
Directed experiences though, hmm. Most of the time recently they seem to be full of failure. I point you to my weekend fighting PVC-clad leather nuns in Hitman:Absolution as Exhibit A of why we can’t have nice things.
Telling your story by observing/discovering things inside the world is a great concept pretty much unique to video games that isn’t nearly explored enough in the gaming landscape. I tells you what though, if I have to suffer through another game in which my cues about the world are told through lazy serindipity and audio diaries left myseteriously lying about I’m… well, I probably won’t do anything much, but I’ll be disappointed. This includes Bioshock Infinite.
Think about Drake doing down with the torch in Uncharted 2 into the cave where Marco’s Men were holed up and talking about how “they all killed each other here”. Now think about that presented routinely in games with the intelligence of the audience respected. “What happened here? What is this place? What am I seeing? What can I piece together?” You can do this without the audio diaries people. REALLY YOU CAN.
I get annoyed every time I hear Dishonored nominated for best of yadda yadda because honsestly, here’s the unvarnished truth: Everything that was good about Dishonored from the flavor of Dunwall to the factions to the world’s mythology was ripped off wholeheartedly from Thief and all other stuff it brought to the table on its own (including Corvo but excepting the constant emphasis on whaling for no goddamn reason) was just very generic an instantly forgettable. I’m not sure that it counts as deep immersive worldbuilding if you just crib from someone else’s notes.
Stories told by exploring the world and things? Not utilized nearly enough. Journey was one of the better stories of 2012 despite not having a word of spoken dialogue. Dark Souls was maddeningly intriguing because it constnatly questioned the wanderer with weird place names like the Shrine of Artorias and the Sword of Artorias the Abyss Walker without telling you a damn thing about Artorias. It was clear that the Devs were in on the joke – they knew exactly what their own mythology was about.
Spearking of Dark Souls: I LITERALLY did a happy dance in place when I first heard on Saturday that Dark Souls 2 was a thing that was happening. Initially I was sad that they weren’t doing another game called ________ Souls. (Darker?) but then Lynette reasoned “What if it’s set in the same world”, and I was like “OK.” Whatever. Doesn’t matter what they call it, I have no doubt that once again it will be Game of the Year in my mind for 201X whenever it comes out. Like Bowley said, a weird mix of trepidation and excitement. After seeing the crazy leap forward they did last time, who knows what evil design choices have been percolating at From since 2011? Viva la souls.
Re: SpecOps. Oh yes, Kojima-tacular. Well, more like Western developers daring to go into that crazy fourth wall breaking world that so far only Kojima dares to approach with any regularity. I mean, hey, in the end there the game is LITERALLY talking to you, the player. I mean, yes, he’s talking to Walker, but Walker is just some avatar who Walks forward in 3D space (hence the Walking) who also happens to be voiced by Nathan Drake because, hey, that’s the voice of Action Adventure that comes standard issue with That Videogame Character. Jager is talking to YOU, no question.
What is sophisticated about SpecOps IMO (and we’ll talk about this on the show, assuming we do one) is that the game neither moralizes nor directly preaches its thematic premise to the player – which would have been the easy route and no doubt the route taken by 99% of game writers. A good story should have YOU asking the questions.
Here’s what Spec Ops does, and why I hold it in such high regard: Throughout the entire experience it constantly asks You The Player to evaluate how thoroughly you are enjoying the Modern Military First Person Shooting Enternainment Experience (TM) that Jager has been faithfully supplying at your request. Radar pings outward that inquire, but do not provide any definite answer.
“Yes, 21st century video game enthusiast. Here is the experience you paid money to enjoy. Are you not entertained? Is this not what you wanted? Now you are having so much fun!” Walker himself is basically just a side note there by the end of things.
I must have watched that last 20 minutes four or five time on YouTube and every time I’m thoroughly impressed by the fact that Jager produced something which is both encapsulated entirely within the boundaries of their videogame world and also so totally not. You can read it either way and it works either way which is – IMO – Fucking Genius.
As mentioned earlier, just more evidence that the development community is getting “twitchy” about wanting to do more with their games than just Save The World Herp Drp over and over again.
Ok, I respect Spec Ops: The Line now. Pretty messed up game. I like what they did with it. Looking forward to the Squadcast on this one.
@beige Did you get a bit of Kojima vibe at certain points there?
@unmanneddrone I think we’re fast reaching the point where treating “games” as a single medium is becoming a useless endeavour. Interactive entertainment in all its forms is so diverse that you absolutely cannot judge, say, a visual novel by the same criteria as a strategy game or a first person shooter, and as we’ve seen, not everyone likes everything.
I think we’re probably doing everything content creators put out a great disservice by treating “games” like this. There’s an obvious difference between a game that has been designed as… well, a game — see: Dyad — and a game that has been designed as a vehicle for storytelling. And a game that has been designed for creative expression. Or… you get the idea. I’m not sure this blanket definition of “video games” as a medium is really all that helpful any more!
@angryjedi Good points. As far as The Walking Dead is concerned, I feel myself measuring it up against TV dramas – not simply due to the concurrent show of the same name – but having it amplified in the investment department due to input, even as marginal as it may be.
A right hen’s tooth, given what usually tickles the fancy.
And that Dyad clown. I haven’t read so much wank since I last wandered into Action Button. Although Tim Rogers’ Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days sums up that game so perfectly, I gave the man temporary shore leave from the prison hulk of pretentious New Games Journalism conmen.
It will surprise no-one to hear that I will happily sacrifice what we traditionally call “gameplay” for a well-crafted interactive narrative, which explains my love for the visual novel genre. With a couple of notable exceptions (Aselia the Eternal being the most obvious one) these “games” are almost free of traditional “gameplay”, and instead focus on simply telling their story in a distinctive manner while allowing the player the most basic control over where it ends up. Because the focus is on simply storytelling rather than trying to shoehorn “gameplay” in, these titles can explore a much wider variety of themes and tell some much more mature stories that simply aren’t possible (or at least very difficult) via the medium of, say, a first-person shooter.
The other side effect of visual novels is that they manage to tell a directed narrative while simultaneously stoking the fires of the imagination. By narrating the majority of actions rather than explicitly showing them, the player is left to imagine the bits in between. In non-voiced VNs, the player even imagines what the characters sound like.
This is still true in fully-animated titles like School Days. School Days is effectively an interactive anime, but the focus is squarely on the characters and their interactions, leaving the player to imagine things like the settings and things that are going on off-screen.
“So why not read a book?” I hear you ask. Well, despite the fact that by playing a VN you are effectively just reading for 98% of your time, the whole multimedia experience is what sets it apart from a straight book. You have graphics, sound, music and sometimes voice as well as text — and this makes it its own unique and very effective storytelling medium. It’s more than a book, but less than a movie — plus the degree of involvement that simply making a few innocuous-seeming decisions along the way shouldn’t be underestimated.
That Dyad piece annoyed me not because of what the dude said — though it was kinda dumb — but because it was once again another example of the “one size fits all” model being inappropriately applied to what is possibly the most diverse, flexible artistic medium there is. What “games” mean to one person is not the same as what they mean to someone else, and it is just straight-up ridiculous to make blanket statements like “storytelling in games is idiotic”. It may not to be your personal taste, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t many examples of it working well and resonating with others. I think the critical acclaim of The Walking Dead has proven that’s lot of people are hungry for it — and that games don’t have to have juvenile narratives.
Basically, any time you start an argument with “Games are…” just, you know, stop. Then think about what you’re saying. Then be more specific and accurate!
(See also: anyone who finds the most stupid thing they’ve seen in a game recently and then posts it with an exasperated-sounding “VIDEOGAMES” after it. Not helpful. For as many dumb things that triple-A blockbusters do, there are at least as many titles off the beaten track that handle things maturely and sensibly. If the dumbness of Call of Duty pisses you off, go look elsewhere for your interactive kicks. Just like if Michael Bay pisses you off, you’d go and watch other films.)
@sinfony I can see where you’re coming from. For the most part, I prefer as little or as subtly-delivered story as possible, and much prefer lore. Never been attracted to games for their narrative or characterisation, preferring ambient construction or just a well-conceived world.
Visual design does more for me than story does, most of the time. In short, I juz liek them pretty pictures.
@feenwager I like making broad statements. It gets people goin’!
@sinfony totally cool with what you said. Of course you’re entitled to enjoy the type of game you like most.
Pete pointed me towards an article quoting the doofus that designed Dyad (which was overrated) where he basically goes on record saying that telling stories in video games is mathematically impossible. That guys a goofball, and it seems like this argument crops up every couple of months. I still think it’s rooted in the archaic notion that every gamer needs to play every game, thus every game needs to be all things to all gamers. Horseshit, I say.
@Sinfony SLAY THE HERETIC! D:<
Naw, I hear ya. though I suspect as bowli mentioned that a lot of it is because the medium is young and it's major players aren't risk takers with the stakes involved
that being said I feel like the industry is getting restless, things like spec ops:the line, and such are tentitively exploring new ground, heck even CoD decided it needed branching paths and suchlike.
I think this conversation might be very interesting to revisit after the release of Bioshock Infinite assuming the legends about it are true.
Either way, the medium is all about interactivity, there is no shame in preferring that particular element of it =P
@feen, I’m not saying no game can tell a story, merely that I’ve found that story (really, directed narrative) is not something I care about in games. I don’t doubt that there are exceptions, and that people will find ways to deliver directed narrative in games that I will enjoy. But at this time, in most cases, I’m just not interested in it.
@bowlisimo I wouldn’t, as @feenwager states, broadly state that all the mainstream devs aren’t willing to try things out with storytelling. Hell, one of the most mainstream releases this year — Mass Effect 3, is still a solid example of RPG storytelling mechanics (until the ending). I even think Infinity Ward did a decent job with the atmosphere, characters, and moment-to-moment narrative of the earlier Call of Duty games. They kinda nailed that “you are one soldier with your buddies in the middle of a massive ward” feeling without a single cut scenes and with some solid set piece design in the WWII games as well as the American campaigns of the first two Modern Warfare games.
Sure the mainstream games are now stuck within a limited range of archetypes and characters and whatnot, but the medium is still malleable enough that even they’re willing to experiment with the mechanics.
Blah. This is the new ‘are games art’ debate.
The medium is mature enough that different creators will be trying different things. To broadly say that no videogame can tell a story, or that all videogame stories are crap is insulting to the creators and the audience.
Diffrn’t strokes to move the world.
I don’t necessarily disagree with any of those points but the medium is still young. Games have the ability to tell a story with you right there in it and that strength has yet to be fully realized. Maybe we will see more Journey-like games that blend experience and narrative into something that can be felt instead of told at you in a rigid old school way.
But yeah, probably not from the mainstream devs. Indie/kickstarter games have the most freedom to be creative like that.
I still enjoy stories in games, though. Dragon Age 2 was a boring game, but the character interactions and plot were interesting enough to keep me going.
@sinfony Recently, most of the best “stories” I’ve seen in games are really just a bunch of lore that the developers deeply-embedded into the playable game world for you to explore at your leisure: The Shock games, Shadow of the Colossus to a lesser degree, Metroid Prime, etc. In those games it’s like instead of writing a story, the developers just wrote a world with a history and then put you in it.
Like @rocgaude I make exceptions for genres that take the branch narrative to the extreme and really try to own it with good writing like adventure games and RPGs. Hell, the main reason I even enjoyed Mass Effect and Dragon Age was for the character interactions.
What you guys feel though pretty much matches my feelings about JRPGs. Looking back, all of my favorite JRPGs are the ones that focus on the GAME. It’s not that I want no story at all in my JRPG. The reason I sung praises about Dragon Quest IX here before was because it knew how to convey a JRPG storyline without getting in the way of you playing the game. No 15-minute anime cut scene to start you off, just some dialogue and an explorable first area filled with characters who give you information you may or may not need.
@sinfony I was just thinking the exact same thing today while listening to this week’s Bombcast. I mean, those guys were just going apeshit over story beats in Mass Effect 3 and I just thought “Really? This story gets you that riled up?”
Aside from some exceptions including visual novels (Walking Dead) and RPGs (which are largely just interactive stories) that I play mostly for the character interactions, I find myself only wanting gameplay in my games. If I’m not enjoying playing through something, there’s no reason for me to continue no matter how many of my respected friends claim the game’s superiority. Game plots in general are fucking juvenile and it embarrasses me to play anything requiring me to “save the world”. I’d rather just save one person (Walking Dead) as I can relate to something at that scale.
The biggest problem with this medium’s ability to make stories important is economics. Making a mass market game damn near requires a story built by committee. If a dev tries something focused, they risk funding for the next one. Only the rare exception (Irrational) has this clout to pull this off.
Stories are best told from the perspective of a single story-teller. Only books, comics, and (for the most part) movies have this luxury. Also, each of those mediums can tell an amazingly well-crafted story for less then $10 a pop which is a difficult thing for game makers, especially in the AAA realm.
I have been playing a lot of Halo 4. It has caused me to come to a realization, one that I fear may lead to excommunication:
I don’t care about story in games.
Caveat: I love me some lore.
This has been true for quite a while, although I didn’t realize it. I have spent a while typing out a really long, meandering explanation of why this is so, but doing so has pretty well clarified my thinking and it can be summed up as follows:
Both gameplay and spectacle are the enemy of directed narrative. In other media, directed narrative still leaves plenty of room for imagination, and so I am fine with it there. In games, directed narrative only serves to diminish the possibilities of the world, and concessions such as locked doors and limited paths are constant reminders of that. And, since you see, hear, and interact with everything that the developers have put into place, there is precious little left to the imagination while playing. So when the narrative portions come along, I just don’t care, because, frankly, I would rather experience those things in a book or movie. What I do care about is the spectacle that games like Halo 4 provide–give me your dyson spheres with skyscraping machines of ancient devise and unknowable purpose. Let me gaze upon them from afar as the god rays stream through, and let me walk right up to and explore them. Give me the broad strokes of future history and alien past, and let me ponder what has been and will be. But Cortana is going rampant and we need to get back to earth and an ancient alien is hell bent on finding a particular machine that does a particular thing and we totally need to stop him and also Master Chief is like a combination human and machine and let’s explore that? Don’t care. Call me when it’s lore.
Still a shorter way of putting it: lore and spectacle give context to imagination. Directed narrative snuffs it. I’ll happily plow through a Halo campaign to see the amazing sights and learn about the past; I’ll yawn through the breathless narrative. Lest ye think Halo 4’s narrative just isn’t up to scratch, I feel this way about pretty much every game I’ve ever played.
Even more critical than lore/spectacle, of course, is gameplay, which is why many of my favorite games are entirely devoid of lore and spectacle. Indeed, this is why my game of the year is Trials Evolution.
@bowlisimo The game is 15 chapters. I beat it in about 9 hours according to Steam. At least three of those hours were spent on Chapters 12-14.
But, I recognize that the situations are different. I’m awful at shooters, so I’m sure you will have a much easier time with it. The firefights actually became grueling in a really satisfying (albeit frustrating) way. This will make sense when you get there. I would play it on Medium. If I can finish it, anyone can finish it. I’m one of those people who spends time looking at the ceiling or my feet because I’m not quite fluent in shooter controls.
The game over screens do add a bit to the experience. Without spoiling anything, a lot of the interface stuff in the game adds to the experience, something you’ll notice if you keep a critical eye every time you start the game up.
For context, I started it on both difficulties, played maybe the first hour each. I’m pretty good at PC shooters. “Easy” felt like I was playing with hacks (one shot whack-a-mole) and medium was fine, I guess. I wouldn’t mind dying if the firefights were fun, but they are fairly rote. I don’t like the cover controls either.
How hard do those battles get?
@angryjedi I managed to finish it up on the “medium” difficulty, but I would estimate that I died close to 150 times while doing so. I’m not good at shooters either.
@cgrajko ah, now, see, the moment I got that message I dropped the difficulty down to “easy”. Still moderately challenging for someone as bad at shooters as me, but not so frustrating you can’t progress.
There’s a lot to talk about with Spec Ops and I get the feeling I didn’t appreciate it as much as others, but I’d be interested in a discussion.
Re: SquadCast, next week is like The Week From Hell for me. I have my friend’s wedding today, getting ahead on work and packing tomorrow, jury service from Monday, moving house on Wednesday and somewhere in the midst of all that, getting the rest of my work done. So don’t hold your breath for the podcast just yet — I will get to it, just not when my head wants to explode with ARRRRGHs.
I finished Spec Ops. I definitely need a little while to digest it, but I feel confident saying that I just played something important. I want a bit to write up my thoughts before I read Killing Is Harmless, but I have a lot to say on the subject. I think we can get a Squadcast out of it for sure if we want to go that route.
Edit: @bluesforbuddha You seriously never tag your posts… It took me a solid 20 minutes of digging to find the posts you wrote on Spec Ops… I read through everyone else’s posts on the game too. I’m not playing favorites. Everyone else’s was easier to find, though… ;)
I’m all in for Squad Santa, too. Forgot to mention that.
“You have died multiple times in the same area. Would you like to change the difficulty?”
No, Spec Ops. I don’t. Also, I didn’t feel like a big enough idiot already what with dying ten times in the same place, so thanks for that.