Tell me a story

What do you value over everything else when it comes to video games? For me it’s story, every time.  I don’t care if it’s an old game or if the graphics are just bad, or if the gameplay is a little clunky, or if it’s too long or short of a game.  If it has an original and/or compelling story, there’s a good chance I’ll like it quite a bit.

Recently I’ve been quite into the fantasy/dark fantasy genre, specifically Dark Souls.  Through my experiences with the Souls series, I’ve realized that it’s not only the content of the story that I enjoy, but how it is told and presented to the player.  In many games, the story is basically told to you straightforward, without making the player do a whole lot of work to discover the story.  There may be puzzles or little notes that you find to delve deeper into the story, but it is rare to find a game that just says “Go.”  That’s essentially what the Dark Souls series does to the player.  You begin the first game with a cutscene that means  quite a lot if you are familiar with the series’ lore already, but is quite overwhelming to the novice player. The player is then given a simple instruction to ring two bells and then gets tossed in the (kinda) right direction.  Now this might just seem like a bad game and, based on the evidence I’ve given, that wouldn’t be a terrible first impression.  I promise that’s not the case.

Dark Souls found a way to have a vastly complex world and lore, with interesting characters and history; and the game doesn’t hand any of that information to you.  You have to go out and throw yourself at seemingly impossible levels until you master them or quit.  And bit by bit, the more you explore and the more characters you meet, the more of the story you uncover.  FromSoftware took a gamble with this style of storytelling (which they started with in Demon’s Souls, the spiritual predecessor to Dark Souls).  If you put in the work to find the story and learn what all is going on, Dark Souls will be one of the most satisfying gaming experiences you have.  Because it’s not just about what the story is, it;s about how you tell it.

Two Eyes are Better Than One

Hi friends, I’ll be posting with the wrong group today, because I 100% forgot that the syllabus was incorrect about which group was up last week.

Since our time exploring different types of virtual reality and with Ready, Player One on the schedule lately, I haven’t been able to get VR off my mind recently.  That had been one of the things I was looking forward to most in this class and I must say, it certainly lived up to the hype, having never used VR before.

I always knew that the Vive, Oculus, etc. would bring the next level of immersion to gaming, but without actually being in one of the headsets, I suppose I never fully grasped what that meant.  And sure it was great having such a large “screen” and essentially using my hands for controllers, but none of that was really what set VR apart from other forms of gaming.  If i had to boil it down to a single feature that really sold the immersion and general feeling of VR, I would say it’s the inclusion of depth perception.  Most of the features of VR can be simulated, if not flat out replicated with other devices;  there are tons of input devices besides a controller/mouse and keyboard and I’ve seen some pretty impressive fields of view with the use of multiple monitors or projectors.  But depth perception is something that has never been possible in gaming before virtual reality machines.  If you’re looking at an object in a game, it doesn’t seem like it’s really there any more than something in a movie feels like it’s in the room with you.  No matter how good the graphics are, no matter how nice a game looks, there’s always the glass in your television separating you from the game.

It’s such a subtle difference, but adding that tiny bit of parallax is, for me, what really makes the difference between gaming on a regular console or pc and gaming with a VR headset.  Once you get the feeling of really being there, there’s no stopping the development of better and better immersion in video games.

I don’t know if VR machines will change the gaming world forever like some say.  In fact, I’m fairly certain they won’t, but I do believe that they will drastically affect the way games are made.  Whether or not we see a vive in every house in however many years, I think the thing that will be changed about gaming will be the level and type of immersion and the attention to detail in more and more regards.

Cancer is not enough

That Dragon, Cancer deals with one of the saddest imaginable situations: losing a child.  Honestly, I have a very hard time thinking of a more depressing and emotionally significant premise for a game.  I’m usually a big sucker for story-driven, emotional games and I thought that I would really enjoy this game.  However, to my surprise I really didn’t feel much of any emotion during most of the game and I think this is because of the lack of story/exposition besides “your child has terminal cancer.”

Now, before you decide I’m a monster for my opinion, let me clarify- I’m not saying that I don’t sympathize  with the parents loss or even that the premise of the game didn’t have an emotional impact on me.  On the contrary, I cannot even imagine the pain one must go through in that situation.  But as a game, the game had very little impact on me.  I appreciated the different scenes and lessons, and even though to some the Christian aspect was overbearing, I thought it was well done with where they took it.  In the end no matter what you do, what is going to happen will happen.  For me though, I needed more story before all the sadness takes place- I needed more hope before everything went to hell.  The game started too late into the sadness of the story and I wasn’t able to make myself care honestly.

Some critiques of That Dragon, Cancer reference the lack of real gameplay in the game, but again I really don’t mind participating in an interactive movie.  And if this game was the latter half of a longer game, I really believe I would have enjoyed it a lot. But without being able to get used to the characters and becoming invested in their story before it all goes south, I really feel like a big piece of the game (or at least its impact) is missing.

The producers did a great job with what they were able to do, and even the bits that were unsavory for others set well with me, but I just needed more of a reason to fully appreciate the game.

Braid: Memories and References

I’m not sure why, but although I have a fairly wide variety of game genres that I play, games such as Braid rarely make it into the rotation.  I played plenty of side-scoller and top down games when I was younger, but it’s unusual for me to play one anymore.  That is not to say that I dislike Braid however.  Quite the opposite, it struck me as different and intriguing right off the bat.  The first thing that struck me, however, was the feature to rewind or fast forward.  Obviously that would be one of the first things that any new player would notice in the game.  But this is a really specific feature that I love seeing in games- I think I get that from having played Life is Strange.  It’s a mystery story about a girl named Max who discovers she has the ability to rewind time and now has an opportunity to solve and stop a kidnapping.  It’s honestly one of the most emotionally charged games I’ve ever played and I was quite pleased to see such a similar gameplay mechanic show up in Braid.

Besides that, though, I’ve really enjoyed Braid‘s storytelling style so far.  It takes the archetypal Mario story and adds its own little time-bending puzzle twist. I also appreciate the many references the game makes, not only to other video games, such as Mario and Donkey Kong, but to other media and/or literature.  For example one level title, “There and Back Again,” references The Hobbit.  I suppose I just really enjoying seeing a self-aware game.

Overall, I’m enjoying the way Braid tells its story as well as the challenge it presents in its puzzles.