Dungeons & Dragons might be its low tech form, but video games have not strayed far from the formula of getting some friends together, killing some monsters, and collecting loot. From Gauntlet to Diablo to Torchlight, the hack and slash game is an experience both social and individualistic, steeped ironically in both greed and co-operation.
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Last week, I wrote that Amnesia: The Dark Descent undercut its psychological horror by tying that horror to game mechanics. If we assume this to be true, then the obvious solution would be to make a game without those mechanics. Don’t tie the horror to any kind of system that can be exploited by the player, thus ensuring the horror stays above any possible gamification. In that case, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs should be the perfect sequel, as it does exactly that. Developed by The Chinese Room (the makers of Dear Esther and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture), A Machine for Pigs removes most of the survival mechanics that made The Dark Descent famous in favor of a game more focused on narrative and theme. I appreciate the new direction, and I think it’s a step in the right direction for evoking and maintaining horror. However, it’s also a risky direction since it puts all the weight of success on the story. The entire game will be judged on the success of that one facet, and unfortunately in this case, the story can’t support the weight of its own themes.
What begins as a fascinating mixture of Lovecraftian horror and economic anxiety eventually grows too big for its own good. The story oversteps its bounds in search of its themes, and then, just to fully shoot itself in the foot, puts the blame for all of its horror at the feet of one man. What was once a Lovecraftian nightmare is reduced to a madman’s plot for revenge.
I am one of those people who will plot petty revenge on anyone claiming that video games are merely “a waste of time”. This medium has worked hard at being taken seriously, and by this point, you’d have had to be living under one big rock to still think of it as merely a silly pastime. However, there’s one part of gaming that still makes it hard to decidedly consign that embarrassing label to the history books. The repetitious grind still remains at the core of modern game design.
I beat Zero Time Dilemma, a 20+ hour game, in five minutes.
This actually wasn’t hard to accomplish. Zero Time Dilemma‘s narrative structure is based on a series of branching storylines, the root of which is a choice determined by a coin flip. I won that coin flip. The nine potential victims of the maniacal Zero were saved from having to experience his series of puzzles and death traps as the result of my lucky guess. The credits rolled.
Following up on our discussion from last week of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, this week we discuss that game’s follow up A Machine for Pigs.
Machine for Pigs was handed off from Frictional Games to The Chinese Room. As a result, we consider how the new developer handles a classic property and reconsiders what kind of horror the Amnesia franchise can offer.