Archive for August, 2013
As game narratives go, the result of all the choose your own adventure binaries often put in front of us is nil. In Bioshock Infinite you can choose one of two pendants, it doesn’t make a big impact on the storyline… if it does at all. One of the things that Dishonored did, was that it took the choice of playstyle and then based the story line on top.
The result is a game that has slightly telepathic abilities: Dishonored reads your playstyle and decides if you need a tender moment of forgiveness, or a bad ass boss fight. While the main campaign I played in “low chaos” which means I primarily decided on non-lethal actions like choking (I know) and Sleep Darts. To be honest, the game was kinda wearing on me by the time I got to the DLC missions so I decided to do a high chaos play through. The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches center on Daud, the central motivator of Corvo’s tragedy in the main game. Daud is an assassin gifted with a few special abilities and a link to his accomplices that allow them to share in his trickery.
Daud’s central dilemma is that after a lifetime of assassination he has killed someone genuinely merciful. The Empress was a kindly ruler, and her time on the throne brought prosperity to Dunwall.
Daud is consistently conflicted in his actions, his gravely voice sounds like a man full in deep remorse, his dreams are haunted by the moment Corvo comes to kill him. To further add to Daud’s woes, he finds himself on a quest for Deliah, a ship used by a Dickens like slaughterhouse owner. I’ll stop there because the plot builds in unexpected ways, suffice to say it’s not a ship Daud is after. This last mission Daud takes on is one of charity, as the rope thickens around his neck and betrayal meets mercy Daud’s own men begin to doubt him and he is betrayed by someone fairly unexpected. In the walkthrough I watched of the Knife of Dunwall the player choose a nonlethal, but less than peaceful route through the game. They were rewarded with compassionate endings which seemed fair taken the circumstances. In my game, there was no such mercy, even nonlethal options eventually dissipated as my killer sought his way through Dunwal and to a confrontation with a Witch who seems more powerful than he is.
Let me take a moment here to highlight something in The Brigmore Witches: the DLC introduces a few new game play mechanics, portions of stages are coated in music that disables magic, street gangs roam about in fight, poison gets thrown around, euthanasia is an option, option side quests have mini-bosses, and finally the witches are just mean. Daud takes on some of the toughest opponents in the games, and The Witches in Brigmore manor require more than a little savy to over come. Daud gets a new power to and also the addition of Bone Charms that sacrifice key statistics to buff others. I came into the game with the pre-existing abilities and high chaos I had from The Knife of Dunwall so my character almost immediately felt invincible. I also came into the story with a history, and one that made my play through more than little uncomfortable.
In interactive story telling tokens are the new rage. Tokens are things you acquire in the story that allow entrance into new parts of the narrative. Emily Short’s blog is full of new storytelling techniques as the machine slowly becomes the muse. Dishonored’s chaos rating is an example of this token, my higher chaos rating unlocked boss fights not available in the nonlethal play style, and it also eliminated some decisions, try as I might I had to kill one of my favorite characters. But there was something in The Brigmore Witches that surprised me: disgust. I felt disgusted at my story line as it sank further in carnage. I wanted Daud to get his forgiveness, to be free, I wanted Billy Lurk to get another chance, I wanted this likable character to become something more than he is, instead my legacy of easy peasy murder sprees lead to a tragedy, on the day he became a hero Daud also met a rather ugly fate, and from someone who had no idea of the intense voyage Daud had just completed. This story line accomplished something you could not do in a novel: it made my actions reflect the text.
A lot of words have been spilled on the nature nonlinear narratives. Games are supposed to be nonlinear because play styles differ and giving you the option of choice creates immersion while strengthening identification. What Dishonored did though was something far more risky: a novel can’t watch you play a game, but a game can. Dishonored watched my impatient playthrough, my potion chugging killathon and decided to give me a bloody unforgiving story. It made me feel bad about playing the game the way I did.
Novels are more than capable of producing nonlinear narratives. Choose Your Own Adventure books often do this in spades. What Dishonor does is more akin to a role playing game, it smacks your hand with story line to ensure you’re choosing the right path, unfortunately for Daud the weight of my backlog and my own impatience on perfecting the nonlethal play through meant he got a fate he might not quite have deserved, but it also brought up a topic of morality. From Corvo’s perspective Daud is the killer of the Empress: Corvo’s loved one. By spinning Corovo’s tale first, Daud’s becomes all the more empathetic. It made me think about justice, was Corvo in the wrong because he didn’t know Daud’s tale? But the main point I want to get across is that video games forge such links between player and avatar, that our actions in game often affect them, in Dishonored I was allowed to disgrace Daud, to make him into a killer and victim. Few games I’ve played have allowed such discrepancy, Dishonored reveals that we don’t need an infinite universe of choice to make games personal, in fact the friction between the ethics of each path is enough to make it engrossing. We shouldn’t be looking for virtual worlds, we should be looking for meaningful choice. It’s our own knowledge of the binary that makes the choice powerful: if we choose nonlethal we know the lethal ending is out, it could have been different. I am still racked with guilt over a virtual character! I am sorry Daud for what I did. I had a responsibility to you, and I choose convenience over your own best interest.
Sir You Are Being Hunted
Top down design, according to Mark Rosewater of magic the gathering, is when the story is the creative point for the game. In the case of Sir You Are Bring hunted, the summery after glow of BBC Science Fiction series is the top of the iceberg. Robots, gentlemen robots mind you, are you hunting you through the English countryside. While fodder for a juvenile nightmare, it does lead to some good game design. A hot air balloon hovers around the island, and it has a peculiar Knack of catching you off guard. Robots dogs pin you to the ground, and heavy ferns are your cover. In a slight nod to the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Series of games, Sir is hard, fairly open world, and given to little blue anomalies that swim around and can give away your position at night. This isn’t Dishonored, there is no free climbing mechanic, you can’t wrestle a robot from it’s back (that I know of), and the player is more than effected, you are often crawling through British underbrush fearing for your life. The goal of the game is simple, find the 8 steaming hot pieces of a machine, and bring them back to your stone henge like base. Fortunately, because this is a game, getting those pieces requires looking out for balloons, hiding from robot hunters, and finally scrambling through ruined houses for food. Food is plentiful, but good food is scarce. Bad eggs will cause your stamina to plummet. One more good idea in the game is the damage system. If your stamina is high, you will recover health. Add to this that each shot that hits you has a chance to inflict bleeding, bleeding doesn’t stop till you bandage the wound, hence even small gunfire can be deadly.
Sir is in alpha so I will forgive one simple problem with the game: it feels tedious. The game lacks missions and objectives that make it interesting. The 8 fetch quests per island become perilous quickly which adds to the challenge, but hiding in weeds quickly becomes boring. Perhaps I haven’t played it enough, but the game does need more options for out witting your robotic foes. It’s not a game about empowerment, it’s a game about tossing a bottle for a momentary distraction in order to desperately run for a smoking part only to be chased by robo dogs, and then bandage your wounds in tall grass before hoping to sneak by some more hunters and loot a house that will hopefully give you food. I am about 90% confident, this game will rock on launch.
Divekick is the exact opposite of top down design. It is rather a game derived mechanically from an over familiarity with a genre. Divekick is a fighting game and and it consists of 2 buttons: jump and kick. This extreme minimalism is surprisingly enlightening. Divekick boils the genre down to a scenario and produces incredible game play from there. Fighting games could be taken down further, but Divekick reveals how much depth simple stance, stature, and stage can produce. All of this fails to mention the kicks, which are surprisingly unique and deadly. Dive and Kick have straight forward and fast kicks, other characters can warp, some can even leave traces behind that count as collision, and my pick was a horned monster Internet troll who can barrel in the air putting himself at risk, but also extending his reach. Divekick is exactly what indie games should be: quick, effective, and interesting. That is also a discourse in a genre, is icing on the cake. Strongly recommend especially for the 9.99 usd price point. It’s so much fun and surprisingly strategic too.
When I wasn’t rolling around drunk trying to get Ladyboys to sleep with me this weekend I was in Dishonored. Dishonored is in actuality a revenge story and less a return to honor. If Corvo loses his merit badge is entirely up to the player. The game centers around Chaos, a meter that fills each time you kill an enemy in the game. Higher chaos means more bloodshed while lower chaos implies more stealth and fewer rats. The plot is fairly simple: Corvo Attano is a bodyguard to the empress, the empress is killed and you’re framed for it. A prison escape ensues and while the game progresses we learn more about a whale oil run Victorian metropolis infected by a foreign born rat plague that leaves it victims Zombie like and the city desolate in it’s wake. Corvo is rescued by a group of “loyalists” eager to return the crown to it’s rightful heir. Moral decisions await you.
The game is brilliant for a manor of reasons. The plot is only slight above comic book level, in fact it could be an Xmen comic except it lacks as many super powers and surprisingly the protagonist is rather frail. The mechanics are original, but derived from similar stealth game play techniques found in Thief and Assassin’s Creed. Drop from heights to kill, choke hold from the back, and of course the magic shhh I am ducking down so you can’t see me or hear me. Bottles can be thrown to attract or distract attention. Additions to this usual crew of abilities include possessing animals and later humans, an X-ray vision ability, the ability to summon rats, and blink a short range teleport. The later is almost required by the game. These abilities aren’t what makes it brilliant, but their originality, especially possession, make the game play more endearing than most FPS games. What is brilliant is the way the game consistently frames violence and vengeance.
Corvo is given a lethal and non-lethal option of solving his assassination targets. In one level for instance a street gang offers to kidnap the aristocratic / lecherous owners of a stone mine and put them to work in their own mines, or you can lethally kill them in person or via steam bath. Most of the non-lethal options are interesting, and tie into the story well. Dishonored is a game that allows justice, not in the form of violence, but rather in retribution. The man who staged the empress’ death can be eliminated by airing his personal confessions on the air waves and more disturbingly his mistress can effectively be trafficked into the hands of a lecherous noble (I choose murder on that one). The game lets you navigate moral depth at your leisure and often makes the less violent approach the more entertaining. It also frequently drops empathy on you, the empress’ assassin turns out to be a reluctant killer, the head of the royal order you can allow to be poisoned or branded with a heretical mark. Granted this is a game where being a serial choker somehow puts you in the right, but it is also a game that lets you decide wether to sacrifice a man to a witch or fight her after (I went with witchcraft on this one). The binaries lead up to a much more emergent whole. Dishonored’s last moments anticipate the player’s moral compass really well. That’s what’s brilliant about the whole thing, in the end I wasn’t confronted by a murderous psychopath, but a man who did the right thing, but just went a little to far and was in paranoid company. I had planned to kill my final target, but his guilt ridden bleary eyed insanity convinced me otherwise. I let him live and a golden age prospered.
Btw the next dlc for the game came out today, but it’s not up on steam yet.
The only thing troubling about Thomas Was Alone is it’s own confidence. The game struts in so polished, yet indie that at times it becomes apparent this being sold to you. The rest is absolutely stunning puzzle platforms with a lovable narrator who wins you over from the first line. Thomas, like Bastion, is all about story. It’s a story you’re telling to yourself through game play, a narrator you love and the inherent crack like addiction to plot that humans need becomes a subtle, but kind carrot for the mechanics of the game. It’s a touching story about blocks that are a.i. Trying to escape the confines of their digital environment. If you haven’t given it a whirl, do so.
Zeno Clash 2
I am currently ensconced alone in a second world classroom with 2 different cell phones running at once. This aural assault is infuriating I can almost not even focus on the iPad. One phone is vibrating and has been for what seems like 20 minutes, the other is playing Taylor swift. And finally they are off. Zeno Clash is at heart a punk game as much as Vidiot is a punk movie. 2 is not better than 1, but as fan service it’s a worthy addition, it just builds a more complex structure of plot on something that was best left unexplained. Zeno Clash is at it’s best when primitivism and libidinal desires build up into the surrealism of a village made out of enormous cruelties. 2 understands this, but unfortunately in it’s attempts to explain Zenozik, makes the mechanics to bear it’s like Sid Viscious emerging into a sci-if film. Works well for most of the game, but scruffy up soul and body at points.
I have to go like right now so I will be quick. Roman Holiday is Nikki Minaj, the rest of the albums consistent of songs at targeted demographics with a few stunners in there. The interview at the end is awesome, but Nikki needs to be more herself, with fake accent and pink Porsche. I do love the way she raps and that she over powers many Mcs on this album is all the better.