Video Games

The Garden of FTW: Video Games and Nonlinear Narratives

A good amount of my friends were at the 2011 Game Developers Conference here in San Francisco this week.  As I looked through their program scheduling I noticed that once again there was a lack of panels on storytelling. Matt Peckham has written multiple articles on the subject that we as gamers need be critical of the story-writing wrapped in many of the “cinematic games” that have come out recently. This doesn’t mean we need to criticize a game like Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, because it honestly did its job right in making great one-liners and amazing action sequences. For that matter,  Heavy Rain, despite the at-times awkward gameplay and dialogue, still managed to take the player deep into a serial killer thriller to great effect.

I’ve asked those that I know in the industry a simple question: what are the first three games that come to mind, in terms of story and writing, what is the best games they’ve played? The one that has come up the most is the Mass Effect series and Dragon Age: Origins. Bioware, the game company that developed both game series,  have not only made great strides in gameplay, but also have also set up a good universe to create stories in. Dragon Age: Origins is particularly interesting in the fact that one could get a very different path of the story depending on what race you choose in the beginning.

The problem is that all the games mentioned  are  like many games in that they give you the illusion of choice. Most games have a narrative structure often called “the creamy middle” by people in the industry, where there are many options of things to do in the game, but it eventually comes back into one ending. It’s that particular ability a player has, that of choice, is what could take storytelling in games reach new levels.  I gave another look at this video of Salman Rushdie discussing how video games can affect storytelling . He brought up “The Garden of Forking Paths”, a Jorge Luis Borges short story that’s primary focus was on a man’s obsession with making a novel that was quite literally a labyrinth composed of all the multiple paths one can conceivably go down.

Game writers and designers should shoot for that garden, so to speak, and find ways to produce content that would create a game that has not only multiple paths, but have true multiple endings and outcomes as well. One way to do it could be through using  procedural content such as the type used in games as recent as Minecraft to make randomly generated landscapes. Why not use it to make randomly generated story paths?  This could definitely add the replay value of a game, as the next time it’s played a completely different story emerges from the differences in choices you can make.  Another option is to add user-generated stories that work in-game as a mod, similar to what some people  are doing using the StarCraft II Editor to make small games that are vastly different from the actual game.Will we ever actually see games like this? Probably not for a while, but if I see any game that does something genuinely cool with its story, I’m going to make damn sure all my friends buy it.

Culture, Links, Poetry, Science

FoldIt to Heinlein

It’s always cool to find some science articles, so I’m going to start of a bit strong with it today. First off,  some researchers over at the University of Washington have used video games to start  FoldIt, which is a game where users can guess how the protein will fold. Now, anyone who knows about the structure of protein knows how difficult it is to determine it (if you don’t, here’s the Science article for FoldIt that can help you understand it a bit better). Using crowd-sourcing to figure out some of the things of the universe is not a new idea of course ( Seti@home comes to mind), but the gaming angle brings other ideas to mind. If this game or another one like it could capture the same amount of users as say, Farmville, this could really help with research efforts in the future.

Alasdair Wilkins over at io9 posted a pretty interesting article on how our ticket to a longer life is not in the DNA in the cell nucleus, but in the mitochondria. I also read the abstract posted, and for some reason it set off certain flags in my mind. I conferred with a friend to help me figure things out, and to make things easier for those of you that don’t know much about cell or molecular biology, there’s a lot of other external factors that need to be addressed when it comes to DNA (Like how metabolism affects evolution in bats, for example).  While this take on aging  is a new and interesting one, I’m going to have to see some more research before we can start rubbing beetle juice on our faces.

While reading an article on James Franco he mentioned this poem, “The Clerks Tale“, by Spencer Reese. All you nine-to-fivers, give it a read, it’s a good one.

Top end it, I found one of my favorite quotes and decided to put it up. It’s from one of sci-fi’s greats, Robert Heinlein:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Culture, Film

Heavy Rain and the New Cinematic Experience

My friends and I watched Quantic Dream‘s latest, Heavy Rain for the last couple of days. I say “watch” for this, a PS3 game, because in reality only one of us played it while the rest watched what happened on the screen. This is not an entirely new phenomenon in my group of friends; we had done the same for games like Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and Batman: Arkham Asylum. what made this one much more interesting to me was that, as a lover of film and the way the medium works, it was really amazing to see how work normally used for film-making could really be applied to video games, and how that in turn can change the way we as gamers play games. Continue reading