My first reaction was to retweet this article, but it does such a good job of describing how I’ve been feeling about the gaming world as of late, and by extension why it’s been so quiet around here lately.
At first I thought it was just because I’ve been dedicating myself to writing as of late, and maybe also because of programming burnout. Both excuses are true. But the real problem is…
I didn’t have much of a mind for games as of late, but that doesn’t mean I stopped keeping an eye out for things to write about. And this time I ran across two of them in a row.
First we have Full Screen Mario, an open source reimplementation of Nintendo’s masterpiece from 1985 made in HTML5, complete with level editor and procedural generator. It runs too slowly for me to be fun, and I was never any good at this game, but the very fact that this exists shows how far we’ve come.
Second, I don’t take game generators too seriously, but Game Maker is one I tested and found to work as advertised, for what it’s worth. Maybe that’s because its developers do take their own product seriously. Remember the original Grand Theft Auto? Turns out, its creator now works at YoYo Games, and seems determined to remake the 2D classic in Game Maker, this time in 3D and also running in HTML5. We’ve come far indeed.
But that’s pretty much it for today. More next time, I hope. Have fun!
I remember watching a friend play the default intro to Dragon Age years ago. He was systematically choosing the rudest dialogue options, yet the NPCs barely reacted. Their attitudes didn’t change, the same amount of information was revealed… It made me wonder why they even bothered to call that roleplaying… or make it interactive at all for that matter.
More recently, I noticed a disturbing trend in Match-3 games, a niche I normally appreciate. Namely, if you stop and think for a few seconds, the game will “helpfully” indicate you a likely move. Apparently, the developers never realized that it just makes the game play itself…
Three years ago I wrote an article about Final Fantasy XIV, a game that should have changed the MMORPG scene. And it somehow did, but not in a way that anyone could have foreseen. The initial release of the game got some pretty bad reviews, both from the gamers and the critics, being considered a failure. It was rejected even by most of the Final Fantasy fans, which I guess it was a sign of a bigger problem here.
About the Final Fantasy franchise
The Final Fantasy franchise is an interesting case when it comes to MMORPGs, because fans of the single player games (FF I-X, FF XII-XIII) do not exactly overlap with the fans of the online ones (FF XI). Of course, back in 2003 most of the people who started to play FF XI were probably fans of the series, but I think in time that game attracted a more “MMO hardcore” audience, which kept growing and which usually would do some activities more specific to games of the genre (Everquest), like raiding. There is a large FF fanbase population who never even touched the MMO or they tried it and never liked it, or simply just moved out along after a few weeks/months. Some of them also probably never liked the idea of paying a monthly subscription anyway.
I just had this conversation in an online venue that doesn’t need to be named:
Xor says, “You know, I’m sitting in front of a fairly powerful gaming computer, with a bunch of new-to-me games.”
Xor says, “And I’m playing a GBA emulator on my tablet.”
You say, “Xor, you’ve made my day.”
Westly says, “Sounds like you’re doing right, Xor.”
Westly nods approvingly.
If that’s not a sign of the times, I don’t know what is. Happy gaming.
Over at the Rampant Coyote blog, Jay Barnson is at it again, writing an article I wish had occurred to me. Namely, about the way games trying to be art at any cost is a trap. I would add that trying to make Art on purpose doesn’t work. Indiana Jones never tried to be more than good old pulpy action fun; it only ended up having such a tremendous influence on subsequent cinema because they did what they set out to do as well as they could. Which just happened to be very, very well. Same with the Barsoom series, Conan or any other classic franchise you care to name, regardless of medium.
This is especially relevant to me, because for the past two years or so I’ve been writing a bunch of science-fiction (which is why I haven’t been so active in the game-making department), and one of the most common accusations leveled at my writing has been that it’s pulp.
Felix just wrote a post on Seltani and its work to create a more accessible MUD experience.
There is another project which has similar aims, but more indirectly. It’s aimed at the developer who wants to customize their MUD completely, using a language that offers quick development: Python.
It’s called Evennia, and it brings a host of game-changers (pardon the pun) to the table.
I don’t care for puzzles, as for stories, suffice to say that I play text adventures (and many videogames) mainly for the joy of inhabiting a virtual world which I can explore and play around in. That’s also why I was attracted to MUDs, the text adventures’ multiplayer cousins. It’s an amazing feeling, being able to not only play with your friends in a fantasy world, but to build that world piece by piece from within even as you play.
But MUDs suffer from the same problem as text adventures, namely that nowadays most computer users have been educated to fear command lines, not to mention equate videogames with flashy graphics. Moreover, as the Web has pretty much subsumed the Internet, to the degree that many don’t realize e-mail exists outside the browser, explaining to potential players why they have to download a dedicated client can be hard. And putting a command line inside a webpage comes with its own set of issues.
It’s our third anniversary, and things have changed in the past year.
Oh, I don’t mean to be all doom and gloom. Life has ups and downs. We’ll be better again. But I can’t help but notice how in the past few months we’ve dropped below the one post per week average. Lack of time and energy will do that. At least there hasn’t been a month without some sort of update — I’ve seen websites go utterly abandoned, and it’s sad. Especially when life continues elsewhere, and you can at least keep taking part in the conversations.
Not one month has passed since I was writing about the relationship between story and medium. Barely one week since Jay Barnson argued that in an RPG the dungeon itself has to tell a story. And here’s an interview with Rhianna Pratchett reminding us yet again about the disconnected way in which AAA games get their stories. Namely as an afterthought, tacked on to generic levels and enemies.
I’ve heard people say that Planescape Torment, a game much praised for its story, actually has a mediocre one that wouldn’t pass muster in a novel. Perhaps. But what story it does have pervades every little corner of the game, to the point that dungeon fixtures and even an entire neighborhood of the city turn out to be self-aware NPCs with little stories of their own, in which you become enmeshed as opposed to merely hearing them out.
Take any game famous for its story (of which there aren’t many at all) and you’ll probably find that it shares this same trait: the story is integral and fundamental to its entire design. That, more than some vague notion of “quality”, is what players notice and appreciate, even if they’re not aware of it. That and agency: taking part in the story as opposed to being a spectator. Which doesn’t fly even in “static” media; why do you think fan fiction is so popular?
The medium is the message, folks. Learn to see things as a whole.
Game stories, the final frontier by Felix Pleșoianu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.