I wrote about Tower of Fortune, awhile ago, and I enjoyed it immensely for what it was—a simple game that could be played for seconds at a time. I was impressed by how it condensed and simplified RPG tropes like combat and “fun times at the tavern” into an entertaining slot machine mechanic. The key word there being “entertaining”. The game struck an impressive balance between the randomness of the slots and a consistent progress up the tower. It’s the kind of balance that’s easy to take for granted because when it works it is not noticeable. We simply play the game and enjoy it, not questioning or realizing why it’s so enjoyable. The sequel is even more impressive for how it maintains this balance while also significantly expanding the scope of the mechanics and world.
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In most cases, we think of game stories as something that happen around the mechanics of a game or gives context to those mechanics. But around the end of the last decade, there was a movement by developers to systematize storytelling in games. Emergent storytelling was the term coined to describe when various mechanics in a game interact in such a way as to create unique stories in a game’s play session. However, in practice, the attempts didn’t create stories so much as they created anecdotes.
More recently, several games have been released that present themselves as storytelling engines. These games set up their circumstances and establish a theme, but the specifics of the story are determined by your play session. These storytelling engine games provide an arc-like structure for the player to fill in the details of, resulting in narratives with a beginning, middle, and end. This type of game can and does create personally affecting stories. A narrative remains in the player’s mind more when it exists solely because that player picked out the melody amidst the noise. Yet, I find most attempts at this type of experience eventually fall flat thanks to the fact that overall they are still chained to a narrative goal constructed by an author.
Since Hardcore Henry released over the weekend (a film that I will be writing about later this week), it seemed that it might be apropos to re-run an older episode of the Moving Pixels podcast about the ubiquity of the shooter in American gaming.
Wolfenstein and Doom made them essential, but the shooter has been with us almost since the advent of the video game. Space Invaders, Contra, light gun games, the variations on how we can murder pixels on a screen seems nearly limitless.
There are quite a few hacking minigames in Pony Island, so many that I’m not sure if this is best described as a hacking/puzzle game or a platformer/parody game or something in-between or encompassing all of those things. But for the purposes of this post, all I care about is the hacking gameplay. Thanks to some surprisingly clever uses of art, Pony Island makes the same puzzle mechanics feel like actual software coding and also like a children’s educational game.
I’ve been playing The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker and thinking about the legend of Zelda—the central narrative of good and evil and light and dark that these games keep retelling. Wind Waker opens with a cutscene that summarizes the series’ recurring myth. Once, the land of Hyrule contained great power in the form of the Triforce. An evil man named Ganondorf stole that power for himself but was defeated by a young boy clothed in green. The young boy went away. The evil man came back. During the course of the game, it’s revealed that Hyrule was submerged beneath a flood in an attempt to seal away evil forever.
It didn’t work, of course. If evil was completely banished, there would be no game to play and no story to retell. Wind Waker’s intro cutscene presents Hyrule’s history as a sort of folktale, as if the story had been passed down from generation to generation. But you, the player, know the story. You’ve lived the story. If you played through Ocarina of Time, you got to travel across Hyrule and defeat Ganondorf yourself.