Team 3 – Castle Busirane

Billy Bunce and Matt Almeida

Canto XI, Stanzas 28, 30; Canto XII, Stanza 33

Castle Busirane:

Background:

The player enters Castle Busirane after receiving a preliminary quest (Quest 1) from Scudamore (who is standing outside the castle) to defeat the giant in front of the castle and to pass the flames which guard it.

Immediately after entering the castle, the player views a glorious yet eerily empty entry hall. It is adorned with gigantic, beautiful paintings and tapestries, which are intended to attract the player’s attention. The entry hall is otherwise relatively dark and bare so as to emphasize the effect of the paintings and tapestries. These are actually illuminated, drawing yet more attention to their brilliance. Two enormous, spiral staircases are found relatively far away, on the side; these lead up to the area where the procession will eventually be witnessed. An echo effect is in place (no music is playing), and every single step makes the player feel more alone.

Upon stepping into the castle, the camera pans for a few seconds to a radiant piece of beautiful tapestry lying on the ground.  If the player examines the tapestry, a new quest begins (Quest 2) to find its origin. This is accomplished via more luminescent pieces which form a trail of sorts, leading the way to the original tapestry. This path gives the player an in-depth tour of the more aesthetically impressive and/or striking elements of the castle, while also advancing the storyline by bringing them to the tapestry. During this whole time, however, the player is free to explore the castle on their own if they so choose. When this tapestry is reached (random portions are torn off of it in a manner which would allow the tapestry to still be viewable in its near-entirety), the player is presented with the option to travel to Cupid’s Tapestry, and this is, in fact, the only way that Quest 2 can be finished.

After returning from Cupid’s Tapestry, the time of day is automatically set to night. Pained moaning is heard, and the camera quickly pans to the staircases to indicate where the sounds are heard from, but does not show any actual figures. As soon as the player ascends the stairs and turns slightly, they witness a procession of figures representing various corrupt values (Doubt, Suspicion, etc.). Cupid is also seen here, and a cutscene ensues in which the heart is torn out of a young maiden and placed into a silver basin.

At this point, Quest 3 begins and eerie, otherworldly music begins to quietly play. The camera reveals that the door from whence the figures (whose procession loops until the quest is either completed or failed) are walking is open. The player must stealthily walk through this doorway without being detected by any of the figures. If they are detected, the door closes and all the virtues attack the player, almost certainly leading to death. Amoret is found tied to a pillar; just as the player enters, Busirane slices Amoret’s chest and she loses a significant amount of health. A short monologue by Busirane ensues, after which he attacks the player. The music intensifies at this point, and has a significantly more epic feel to it than before.

Once Busirane is almost dead, Amoret screams from the pillar, begging the player not to kill Busirane. If the player adequately convinces Busirane to set Amoret free (by choosing the “chaste” or “pure” dialogue options, and their chaste faction is high enough), then Amoret is let go and the player can go outside (the fire and tapestries have vanished) to be thanked by Scudamore with plenty of rewards, while victorious, triumphant music plays in the background.

If the player does not convince Busirane to set Amoret free, then Busirane kills Amoret and flees the castle. The fire and tapestries are still present, and the player will burn in the fire upon attempting to leave the castle, effectively ending the story due to the player’s unchaste nature (tragic, somber music accompanies this scene). If the player chooses to finish off Busirane, then dialogue with Amoret ensues, as she chastises the player for not listening and laments about how she will be trapped on the pillar for the rest of her days. As the player goes outside, dialogue is initiated with Scudamore, who is grief-stricken that his love will now have to die in the castle. He attacks the player in a fit of rage, his innocence having disappeared from this incident, and if the player defeats him, the game ends with a dramatic scene of his death. In both of the “bad” endings, the screen fades to depressing music, embodying the tragedy of the unchaste ways.

As this game is an attempt to bring a non-reader into Spenser’s world, colloquial dialogue will be used; characters will not talk at all in the style of Spenser’s writing, since this merely creates an unnecessary barrier of entry.

Quests:

  1. Enter Castle Busirane

Obtained from: Scudamore

Quest Text: “Scudamore: I appreciate your help thus far, but now you must rescue my love from this castle! Only those of pure soul are allowed entrance, and I am afraid that I do not possess enough righteousness to make it past the fiery gates. Please, enter the castle so you can rescue my beloved.”

Objective: Enter Busirane’s Castle

Rewards:

-Experience Points

-Unlock Quest 2

NOTE: If the player is below a certain level of chaste faction, then they are notified of this upon reaching the fire. The objective then changes to: “Find a way past the flames guarding the castle”. This is accomplished by activating a nearby region next to the castle which allows the player to pray, temporarily increasing their chastity faction.

2. Trail of Tapestries

    Obtained from: Tapestry Fragment

    Quest Text: “You find a small, stunningly beautiful piece of tapestry lying on the ground. Though once significantly more impressive, the tapestry is worn and faded, as if corrupted by some mysterious force. This piece clearly belongs to a larger, stunningly gorgeous picture. Your interest drives you to find this strangely alluring tapestry.”

    Objective: Find the large tapestry

    Rewards:

    -Experience

    -Access to Cupid’s Tapestry

    3. Evading Corruption

      Obtained from: Exiting Cupid’s Tapestry and following the noises heard

      Quest Text: “You see a small door open among the eerie, frightening procession of figures, and the maiden could very well be inside. You need to make your way into that room without being noticed if you’ll have any chance of saving Amoret.”

      Objective: Enter the door to Busirane’s chamber without being spotted by the procession

      Rewards:

      -Experience

      -Unlock Quest 4

      4. Defeat Desire

        Obtained from: Entering Busirane’s chamber

        Quest Text: “Busirane will clearly not unhand Amoret. You must defeat him in combat before he ends the maiden’s life!”

        Objective: Slay Busirane (Note: Though this is listed as the objective, the quest actually ends when Busirane is near death, at which point the possibilities branch as described in the background)

        Rewards:

        -Experience

        -Busirane’s Armor

        NPCs involved:

        -Scudamore

        -Amoret

        -Busirane

        -All the figures in the procession

        That is soooo 489 years ago.

        Ah, the digital age. I have almost every conceivable medium of entertainment available from the comfort of my laptop. I could download a 70-hour long RPG, if I choose. A movie, maybe? Weeks worth of music might suit my mood, instead. And, of course, I could also read a book online, provided that it’s been uploaded. An IT professional like Prof. Hall is, of course, familiar with this flexibility of engaging media. So, then, what value could the most antiquated of all these experiences possibly hold? In a time when we are greeted by immediacy in the form of audiovisual engagement, can a poem over 450 years old still enrapture us as it did audiences of the Renaissance period? Spenser’s The Faerie Queene provides a strong case for the affirmative.

        The Faerie Queene is a tough read, make no mistake. However, this primarily arises from the nonstandardized spelling of Spenser’s time which can easily throw off modern readers. But, if a reader delves deep enough into the work, they will find that it contains infinitely more meaning and significance than even the most complex games and movies. Allegories abound, and the poem overflows with symbolism. Whereas a movie or video game can be breezed through without interruption, a reader quickly glancing over a stanza of The Faerie Queene could easily lose every bit of meaning jam-packed in that passage. References to the Bible, Dante’s Inferno, and other classic works would be marred by a patience-desensitized mindset.

        Of course, this last bit more or less summarizes the underlying cause behind the relative unpopularity of literature in modern culture. While the newer forms of media require less effort to fully understand, classic literature still remains open to interpretation. Simply put, many people (IT professionals included) have been, in a sense, pampered by the relative “easiness” of movies, video games, and music. Of course, Professor Hall is on the more intelligent end of this spectrum; he is not a good case study for the average IT professional. I personally have known many IT workers (as I have, in fact, almost worked in an IT department myself as a part-time job), and I can tell you that many of them far prefer a great game to The Great Gatsby. This obviously does not mean that tech-savvy people are not as intelligent as literature junkies; it merely comes down to a learned preference.

        In The Faerie Queene, Professor Hall will find a much less immediately accessible experience than that of, say, Lord of the Rings Online. However, coming from someone with the same basic preference of media, I believe that there is just as much, if not more, value in this excellent work of classic literature. While it may require more effort to properly interpret than modern culture has taught us to use on almost anything (we live in an age of convenience and instant gratification, directly brought about by technology), there is easily much more to be gained from it than most other forms of media. The journey is arduous, but the destination is a treasure trove of depth and meaning.

        -Billy Bunce

        Striking a Balance

        Seeing as how the online game has the ability to consume a player’s life just as the bottle can take over a drunk, the uneducated observer might conclude that our class is more or less engaging in the facilitated use of digital drugs.  While this assertion might not be too far from the truth, it is important to note that, just like any other addictive activity, moderation is key. By controlling the degree to which one participates in an addictive hobby, the user is able to reap most of the benefits while bearing a minimum of the costs. As I have been an avid gamer for almost my entire life, this economic process of moderation is something that has been more or less self-taught throughout my grade-school years. By pressing the power button, a player accepts nature’s unwritten agreement that, in a person’s full schedule, engaging in one activity will necessarily deallocate the time alloted for another. The solution (as it is more or less a personal formula) to a successfully-balanced life is to arrange said schedule such that work, play, and other miscellaneous activities are all optimized. Thus, playing LOTRO has had a minimal impact upon the rest of my life since I merely stuck it into the time slot that I had reserved for gaming, anyway.

        As LOTRO has slowly shifted to Neverwinter Nights 2, so has my allocation of time in that slot. I still do all the work I need to do, and I still spend a healthy amount of time (and have a lot of fun) with my friends. But, my bipolar life is such that I have more fun overall when I spend an equal amount of my “play” time with friends and video games. After I’m done being a socialite, I go and isolate myself from the outside world with an absorbing video game. I have learned through experience that, for me, this method maximizes the amount of fun I have on both fronts. I head directly from the frat party to BioShock; from Assassin’s Creed I leave for the concert. I succeed (or at least I’d like to think so) in this balance because I am naturally motivated to do my work with the end goal of existing on one of these ends of the social spectrum, knowing that I’ll also get to travel to the other. By economically maximizing the amount of fun I have, I also optimize the amount of work I am able to accomplish via a strengthened motivation.

        Yet, I am a rare breed. Many are unable to recognize that each necessary (and healthy) activity should have a minimum amount of time allocated to it. For example, just because I love a new game does not mean it would be wise to forsake my friends to play it; it merely increases the amount of fun obtained from gaming and, thus, my overall fun. The new game will only take full effect if strategically integrated into my life in the first place, so attempting to reduce its effect by allowing it to consume more time in my schedule would be a fallacy indeed. Unfortunately, many fall prey to the addictions caused by such absorbing games as LOTRO and World of Warcraft. They fail to allocate their time correctly, and the time originally reserved for the game expands, taking over other necessary activities in its conquest.

        So how, then, does one know when enough is enough? When does one log out of the virtual world and once again exist in the real one? The answer to this question is personal in nature. I know people who play 6-8 hours of Halo 3 every weekend, yet still function perfectly in every regard. On the other hand, if I ask another kid to play 2 hours of Soulcalibur IV with me, I could easily disrupt his perfectly-balanced life, sending it into a chaotic downward spiral. Everyone simply has to figure out for themselves a manageable, sustainable amount of time for which to engage in their favorite activities. An enjoyable activity must not consume a person’s life, but it also must be present in order for any enjoyment to come of it. Although my analysis of a balanced life may sound economic and mathematical in nature, I assure you I don’t have a formula chart to determine how much Mass Effect I can play tonight. It’s just like learning to ride a bike; you may fail the first few times you try, but eventually you get the hang of it and develop a very useful skill.

        -Billy Bunce

        Assisted Suicide

        WARNING: The following post contains spoilers for Final Fantasy VI.

        Grandpa, no!!! You can’t die! What will I do? How will I live? I need you, Grandpa; you’re all I have left on this island. Everyone else is dead! No, no, not you too! Please, don’t leave me!

        But, it’s too late. Grandpa…Cid…is dead.  After the cataclysm, we both woke up here, on this island. We…I…won’t have enough food to last much longer. My friends are dead. There’s no one else here. I have no reason to keep living.

        Overlooking the cliff, a soft ballad plays in my head. Soothing, in a way. A fitting end to a broken life. A relic of a forever-unrequited love, it will always remain. Locke…no, I don’t think he ever knew how I felt. But that was back when I knew people among the living. They’re all gone now. They…must be waiting for me, right? It’s time to join them.

        A brief surge of hesitation flashes through my mind and body. Is this wrong? Too drastic? I take a step backwards. No. I need to euthanize myself from this pain of loss and nothingness. The best hope for my current life is unrelenting agony, assuming nothing else goes wrong. But then again, what can?

        Tears well up in my eyes. The music in my head grows louder. It drowns out all else, allowing me one final auditory glimpse of the past. Goodbye, faded memories. Goodbye, remnants of a promising life. Goodbye, world.

        I jump.

        This scene from Final Fantasy VI, in my opinion, is the single most compelling example of why a video game’s story can be more important than its gameplay, if executed correctly. Once Kefka (the main villain in the game) deforms the world by disrupting the very fabric upon which it is built, we find the rune-knight Celes alone, save for her former mentor, Cid, on a scarred, deserted island. The two become close; Celes takes to calling Cid “Grandpa” since she never really had a grandfather and needs someone to protect her. Unfortunately, Cid is old and frail; he’s dying. Having just presumably lost everyone in her life, Celes’ only goal is to make sure that Cid lives.

        The player’s only available task at this point is to go get fish from the ocean and desperately feed them to Cid, hoping he lives a little longer. Apparently, it is possible to come out successful in this task, and allow Cid to live. However, no instructions are given at all with regard to the mechanics of “getting” a fish, and even when you do give Cid one, his condition doesn’t seem to improve. Indeed, it seems almost as though developer Squaresoft didn’t want the player to let Cid live because of what ensues with his death. I lost this mini-game, and Cid perished.

        After Celes finishes mourning, the screen fades. On the next screen, you see Celes, now in your control, standing near the edge of a cliff. No words are used; you know exactly what her intentions are. Instinctively, you try to leave the cliff. The game does not allow you to do this, furthering the sense of Celes’ hesitant determination. In the end, you are left with no choice but to walk to the edge of the cliff and press the A button, causing her to fling herself off the ominous peak.

        You don’t want to help Celes kill herself, but you know that it has to be done. Inside,  you completely sympathize with her and understand her reasoning. By having you attempt to keep Cid alive in vain, the game creates a perfect sense of futile desperation. By not allowing you to leave the cliff, this sensation is only furthered. Throughout her suicidal decision, you are made to feel exactly as Celes does.

        Could this be accomplished by a book or movie? Absolutely not. I am fully confident that only interactivity could elicit feelings like this. Considering my hatred for the very concept of suicide, the fact that the game was able to make me accept its necessity is simply astounding to me. Never have I felt an emotional connection with a fictional character as strong as I felt at the precise moment I pressed that button, condemning Celes to her fate.

        It turns out that Celes does not die from the fall, but all the same, the buildup to the jump is one of the most involving virtual experiences I’ve ever had. Getting that Triple Kill in Halo or 5-starring a song in Guitar Hero just does not satisfy after you have experienced this true potential of gaming. To all who claim that the mechanics of a game are more important than the enveloping narrative, I say this:

        You never made Celes jump.

        -Billy Bunce

        Interactive = Interesting

        With absolutely no doubt in my mind, I know that I am easily the biggest gamer in this entire college, let alone this class. I have played almost every game of significance released since the Nintendo 64 era, and even plenty from before then (nearly the entire Final Fantasy series, for example). I literally have a wardrobe filled with over 325 video games at home, and those don’t include the 100+ digitally-downloaded games that I own. Ever played Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES or Hotel Dusk: Room 215? I have. Enough said.

        As such, it probably isn’t a very shocking statement when I say that I greatly prefer video games to books. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy books; reading 1984 bordered on a life-changing experience. However, I’ve always felt that video games and movies are more of an evolution of books rather than merely competing media. They (usually) combine the well-told plots and themes of literature with  audiovisual enhancements that enrich the overall experience, allowing them to transcend their text-based counterparts. Of course, central to the gameplay of most video games is the idea of combat. While this centrality of physical strife does slightly limit the subject matter of video games, it tends to provide an infinitely more engaging experience.

        Case-in-point: Snow Crash. Sure, it was fun to read about Hiro’s incredible swordfighting skill, but reading about a fight and trying to mentally piece it together is just not as engaging as an actual interactive simulation of combat. In LOTRO, the outcome of any given fight is entirely dependent on my actions. Thus, it yields much more satisfaction to defeat an enemy by my own hand — knowing that had I acted differently, the fight would not have been won — than to attempt to visualize someone else fighting the battle for me. Sure, I may just be pressing a series of numbered buttons and not actually physically wielding a spear, but my button presses are still managed by a skill that I have developed. Combat in a video game is so immersive because, by presenting audiovisual feedback based on your input, the game is temporarily able to convince you that your button-pressing skill is actually real combat skill.

        Think about it. After winning a fight in LOTRO, which thought is more likely to cross your mind: “Wow, I’m awesome at hitting buttons,” or “I’ve gotten really good at fighting”? When you approach an enemy, do you intend to kill him or to press a series of buttons in a timed manner which, with proper execution, will cause a certain number to be added to the value designated as “Experience Points”? Video games have mastered this art of subconsciously convincing the player that their prowess in combat is directly tied to the thoroughly unrelated skill of button-mashing. It really is the ultimate in “make-believe”. And, simply put, it works.

        In Snow Crash, I cannot in any way affect the outcome of Hiro’s battles. The book does not provide me with a way to immediately act out the fights. Sure, my imagination is at work in constructing the conflict, but experiencing a semi-concrete form of the fight is definitely more involving and immersive than reading a text description of it. In this sense, I’m infinitely more absorbed in LOTRO’s battles than those found in Snow Crash, as I engage in the near-perfected illusion of actual interactive combat. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ll always prefer pretending to fight an enemy myself to imagining someone else fight the pretend battle for me.

        -Billy Bunce

        Lost Connection

        NOTE: Apparently this didn’t post the first time, so I’m going to try again. I apologize in advance if it ends up posting twice for whatever reason; just let me know and I’ll delete one of them.

        BY: Billy Bunce

        Due to technical difficulties which led to a total reformatting of my hard drive, I was only able to finish the Epic Quest Prologue and not Book I; therefore this blog post will focus only on the Prologue.

        I must say that, while I was pleasantly surprised with the Prologue quest’s story overall, it certainly gave off a misleading first impression. Despite its titular “epic” nature, the early portions of the quest primarily consisted of me painstakingly and unnecessarily investigating a possible goblin sighting by asking around in the Shire. Don’t get me wrong; I love the way the quest culminated (raiding the goblin encampment actually did feel epic), but to me the beginning of the Prologue really highlighted one of the flaws of storytelling intrinsic to the dynamic nature of an MMORPG.

        This dilemma is that of establishing a connection with the reader/player, allowing him/her to vicariously become affected by the narrative and how it plays out. Such an experience was most definitely not found in the beginning stages of this quest. I play the Warden, a class marked by a commitment to defend the weak and to “[protect] those who cannot protect themselves” (http://www.lotro.com/gameinfo/classes). The Introduction (which comes before the Prologue) did allow me to establish a connection with my character as a sort of heroic guardian, as I bravely rushed to protect the town of Archet from the Blackwold raid. I had mentally established my character as one who would never back down from a fight and who would put his own life on the line to save the innocent.

        Yet, the Prologue quest would have me believe that, upon hearing of a goblin sighting, my first instinct would be to ask around about it, rather than to go out on a limb and investigate it personally. When the game forced me to passively inquire about the goblins rather than slay them, any connection I had with my character was lost; LOTRO had decided that Shandelin the Hobbit was different from whom I thought he was. If my character has a giant spear and the skill to use it, wouldn’t he act out of a desire to protect rather than a desire to learn? Although the plot for the rest of the quest was involving and helped to reestablish this broken bond, the opening to the Prologue clearly stuck out as a negative point which almost removed all characterization from the vertically-challenged avatar running around on my screen.

        Herein lies the main problem with dynamic storytelling; it is almost impossible to tailor a specific story to a very unspecific character. I’m sure that had I played a Burglar, my internal characterization of him would be much different than that of my Warden. Due to financial and time constraints, however, the developers cannot possibly hope to create a narrative which fits every possible protagonist’s profile. They are forced to construct a relatively generic tale in which the main character is involved physically but not emotionally or mentally. This stands in stark contrast to statically-told stories, where the protagonist is clearly defined and, thus, always takes logical, believable actions as they relate to his overall characterization.

        In The Fellowship of the Ring, we never encounter the aforementioned flaw of LOTRO because the character of Frodo is consistent and completely laid out for us; thus, we never experience a moment in the book where we are tempted to disconnect from him. The bond between the reader and Frodo only grows stronger as the novel progresses, due to his believability.  As the story is told statically rather than dynamically, we are able to experience a significantly more character-driven and involving plot. This static storytelling is not a monopoly held by books, either; movies and offline video games almost always use this approach as well. I am able to easily sympathize with Luke Skywalker in Star Wars or Cloud in Final Fantasy VII because they are clearly defined and their development is natural given their initial characterization. Even in BioWare’s sci-fi epic Mass Effect, where one’s individual character is completely unique, the player can still easily establish a connection with Commander Shepard (the generically-named, player-created main character) due to the fact that the choices made by the player actually affect the world, and one’s character is never forced to linearly proceed in a fashion which does not befit them.

        The online game is a medium which, in terms of storytelling, is inconsistent at best. The developers don’t know exactly how you see your unique character, and as such it is incredibly difficult for them to tailor a believable experience to every single player. In the case of The Lord of the Rings, the game’s story differs so much from that of the book because of the inherent difference in the way the story is told – dynamically in the former, statically in the latter. Though Frodo is an exciting and interesting character to follow, my character in LOTRO doesn’t seem to have any sort of well-defined identity and it is therefore much more difficult for me to really care about what he does.

        The Evolution of Immersion

        By: Billy Bunce

        Help me. I’m being pursued. I desperately flee from four shadowy figures, each of whom desires nothing more than my death. Oh, but what a relief it would be were that my only dilemma. As I was first abducted by these four (though I luckily just escaped), I have absolutely no knowledge of my surroundings. In fact, I feel almost…trapped. I have no idea how to escape. My only chance of temporarily evading my captors would come from thoroughly surveying the area in which I currently find myself. Then and only then might I possibly be able to find some fleeting escape to postpone my inevitable demise. Maybe I’ll be able to find a weapon soon and fight back against my captors for a brief while. But until then, I run.

        Now, reread that paragraph with the newfound knowledge that I just presented a more absorbing, epic, and slightly altered synopsis of the game Pac-Man. Such an involved mindset, though actually rather commonplace in modern console and computer games, is never encountered in classic arcade games. This, in my opinion, is the primary difference between arcade/board games and contemporary video games: a sense of immersion.

        I’ll never forget the evening when I finished the fourth case in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney on the DS. The ending was so shocking and mind-blowing that I literally found myself unable to study for the AP exams that I had the next day. Lost in contemplation, I was only able to think about the game, the characters, and the complex murder mystery that had just been revealed to me. It was then that I first realized just how absorbing a video game can truly be if done right.

        However, it wasn’t just the narrative that caused the game to affect me the way it did. The graphics, music, and presentation all combined to make Phoenix Wright one of the most enthralling experiences I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. None of these great aspects, though, can be found in arcade or board games. Although the original arcade games should be appreciated for the difference they made in shaping the present state of video games, the truth is that I will never be as enthralled by a game of Pac-Man, Monopoly, or Galaga as I am by Phoenix Wright, Metal Gear Solid, or Final Fantasy VII.

        This difference in the immersive abilities of a game arises primarily due to the evolution of the medium of video games as a whole. Board/arcade games are, more than anything, relics of a time when video games were naught more than quick, simple endeavors. The purpose of video games was once solely to have mindless fun, while they are now transmedial fusions which can provide involving, absorbing, and potentially life-changing experiences (Kingdom Hearts actually fell into that final category for me). Sure, a game of Dig-Dug or Donkey Kong is still fun every once in a while if I just need to kill some time. But for me, an immersive console game will always beat a simple round of an arcade game.