Monthly Archives: October 2007
In honor of the holiday, I figured I’d write briefly about the scariest portion of a game I’ve ever played.
That game would be Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, developed by the now unfortunately defunct Troika Games (but note how they deftly handled the required double colon, double subtitle with the V:TM license via the dash).
In particular, I’m referring to the Ocean House Hotel level (which, uncoincidentally, won an award from Gamespot for level design of the year). The level is loosely a ode to The Shining (it involves an old California hotel – those are inherently creepy for some unknown reason - and mystery surrounding a murdered family).
I played through it in an hour. I wasn’t just on the edge of my seat playing it, I was one the edge of adrenaline shock. My heart was pounding so loudly I remembering needing to take a breather in the middle because I didn’t think I could actually survive without one. While I may have consciously debated the physiological risk, I couldn’t stop playing.
Nothing has ever quite scared me in that way, keeping me on edge, quite as much, whether it was a movie, book, or general appreciation for the horror of modern suburban living. Plus it has the most creative (well, narratively appropriate) use of a physics sim to date. If you have some time, check it out (the game’s available via Steam).
Over on MTV’s Multiplayer blog, Stephen Totilo discusses death as a theme in games, by way of a great interview with Harvey Smith, Will Wright, David Jaffe, & CliffyB where they discuss the feasibility of exploring something as serious as death in games.
Totilo thinks Fire Emblem, with its permanent death for characters in your party, addresses a lot of that, and I have to agree. However, those mechanics are prohibitive to making that game accessible to a lot of people, which has in turn become part of the impetus behind Nintendo’s meddling with the mechanic for the Wii. They may have achieved greater accessibility, but it does sound like the changes also steal from the emotional impact.
My own example that I’ve played very recently is Viva Piñata. Now, it deals with death from a very different perspective - if I had a kid around the age that they might be asking questions about death (5? 6?), I’d sit down and play it with them. Death in the game is just part of the circle of life. You attract piñatas to your garden (like by growing things), you can name them, care for them, build houses for them…
No, no, wait, hear me out.
I too, a while back (like in this 2005 Gamasutra soapbox – why did they change from calling them “soapboxes” to “opinions” anyway?) would often try to rally the cry for innovation in games. Much like Juan Gril does in his article last week.
Looking at this year’s IGF entrants, there’s definitely some innovative stuff there. And I’m really happy that there’s now more of an environment in the industry that those games can get made, find their audience, and be successful in some fashion. Most of them are never gonna get huge sales, but they should hopefully find enough people who like their uniqueness to keep their creators going. And that is a truly wonderful thing.
BUT. Let’s not get carried away jumping and screaming for innovation, yeah? Innovation without a purpose is a gimmick. Gimmicks are fine, they are often the start of or hook to something much more meaningful in a game. But it’s still a gimmick. Let’s call gimmicky duck a gimmicky duck, ya know?
Innovation is a means to an end. If you want to make someone feel something they’ve never felt from a game before, you have to innovate, obviously. But innovation for innovation’s sake doesn’t actually advance any of our understanding of the medium as an art, nor does it, more importantly, show the player some truth – truth about the world, about human nature, or about themselves. It does not necessarily open their perceptions in any way.
Hey, you can make control a character made out of jelly/peanut butter/sandwiches/whatever, but it’s only meaningful if there’s some truth to be found in being those things. (And to clarify, I’m not saying there’s not. In fact, it presents quite an interesting design challenge. How does playing peanut butter and/or jelly give oneself better understanding of one’s own nature? I, seriously, digress.)
The important thing is the end result. The feelings or thoughts you engender in your audience. Whatever those are, if those are not in the forefront of your mind at all times while making a game, however large or small, it will indoubtably fail to engender those thoughts & feelings.
Now for lunch! PB&J, naturally.
No, I’m not talking about EA’s purchase of Bioware+Pandemic (although while I was at Radical the CEO always talked of Radical’s relationship with Viviendi in terms of dating and marriage metaphors, so maybe there’s something to that, who knows). I’m talking about the fact that I’ve 3 weddings to go to from now until March – just got back from the first one this weekend.
Phantasy Star 3 had that whole generational thing going on, which was kind of cool but ended up being a little soap-opera-y, if I recall correctly. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. (Then again, I remember listening to a lot of radio while I was playing it, and Amy Grant was very popular at the time – could’ve colored my perceptions, I dunno).
There’s The Marriage and Façade, which both deal with marriage (on a very wild spectrum between the abstract and concrete), but I’m talking weddings. Now, granted, I’ve never played a single Final Fantasy game for a wide ranging complex number of reasons, so I’m suspecting they might have some, but generally speaking the field is pretty bare.
There’s the classic romantic comedy version of the wedding, wherein the bride or groom is getting married to the wrong person - hijinks ensue. Or the tragic version thereof – death ensues. Shakespeare made a bundle off of both of those.
Can anybody recall any other game-story weddings? Maybe it’s time I finally broke down and played some hentai games (I blame Leigh Alexander and her coverage of such).