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.