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Wednesday, Apr 14, 2010
It is a pleasure to bask in the delightfully awful glory of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Game.

Finally, a video game adapted from another work that does justice to its source material.  Okay, well, it isn’t really a game, but it looks like one.


Doctor Octoroc’s adaptation of Joss Wheedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog into an 8-bit video game is really only a video itself (but that’s okay, the “blog” was really just a video as well).  Nevertheless, the “game” is a clever re-imagining of Wheedon’s successful experiment in transforming his televisual sensibilities into web video.


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Tuesday, Apr 13, 2010
A breakdown of the economic elements of Fable 2 that make it a more complex RPG. Mild spoilers are included.

Fable 2 breaks tradition in the RPG genre by de-emphasizing combat to create a very robust play area for the player. The closest parallel that I can think of would be the Quest for Glory games, which layered a simplified RPG and character system onto the Sierra Online adventure game formula. Like the QfG games, Fable 2 is essentially driven by its story elements. The combat is an example of a simple but deep system that allows you to play just want to bash things with a store bought mace but adds enough that is interesting if you feel like coordinating weapons and magic. The story itself is a bit uneven because of the way that all of the sidequests are presented in an off beat or comical way while the main story has lots of tragedy and tear gushing moments, but then again, I just described the problem with every Western RPG of this generation. What makes Fable 2 interesting is how it grafts a simplified economy game into the usual combat and quests to blend together a full-scale hero simulation.


The basic principles of how Albion’s economy work goes like this: good economy = low cost and low rent, bad economy = high cost and high rent. The player is able to effect this in several ways. Buying goods from a store raises its value and the economy of the region, stealing from the shop or killing the owner lowers it. Just about every piece of property in the game can be purchased and the rates adjusted as the player sees fit. Houses and shops can be rented out to produce an annual income. Any extra terror or do-gooding that you add to the region also factors in. At the start of the game, you’re not going to have enough money to purchase anything except the cheaper stalls or gypsy wagons. You’re encouraged to just give it a try by buying one of these locations and then slowly noticing the benefits of rent being paid every 5 minutes. This is the basic foundation of the entire game and how you will be procuring goods until you hit the higher levels. You don’t harvest gold by killing monsters like you normally would in an RPG. Money can only be acquired by working a job, finding a chest, digging it up, selling crap, or through rent. So while at the beginning of the game you don’t really have to pay attention to anything except bashing stuff and grinding away as a Blacksmith, eventually you’re going to realize that it’s a lot more efficient to own property.


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Monday, Apr 12, 2010
This week we continue in our series on storytelling in video games by discussing the centrality of mystery to many video game narratives.

Curiouser and curiouser.


Given the tendency for “solution” to be an end goal in video games, it is probably unsurprising that solving a mystery is at the heart of many games’ plots.  In this edition of our six part series on stories told in video games, we look at the centrality of mystery to many video game narratives, including games that may or may not be considered traditional fare of the mystery genre.


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Friday, Apr 9, 2010
The men of B-Company are those rare kinds of anti-heroes that are extremely likable, completely selfish, and show zero desire to ever change.

In so many games, we’re always tasked with saving the world, sometimes the universe, or at the very least, the day. It can get tiring after a while, so I find it refreshing when a game gives me a different kind of objective, something selfish and un-heroic. The first Battlefield: Bad Company did just that. It put me in a squad of likable, selfish soldiers who would rather go chasing gold than follow orders. It was a fun adventure, but in creating these anti-heroes the game walked a very fine line.


Anti-heroes are nothing new in games, but creating a likable anti-hero is a challenge in any medium. Kratos from the God of War games has always been held up as the epitome of the anti-hero: violent, seemingly without morals, and uninterested in any conversation that doesn’t further his quest for revenge. Yet, despite these traits (or because of them?), he remains a very popular character. However, one of the more common criticisms against God of War 3 is that Kratos has gone over the edge. The level of violence that he inflicts on others is excessive to the point where he seems more like a villain than an anti-hero, and so picking a side in this battle between Kratos and Zeus is really just picking the lesser of two evils.


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Thursday, Apr 8, 2010
For a large portion of Heavy Rain, I was angry.

I’ve written three thrillers, novels with complicated plots that relied in part on big reveals at the end of the stories. Because I know so much is riding on those final revelations, one of the first things that I do is give early drafts to friendly readers and quiz them mercilessly about any plot holes. Did anything not make sense to you? Were the surprises satisfying? Are there any huge, glaring plot holes? What the hell is wrong with this thing? I always get some useful feedback. Outside readers see things in the text that I didn’t. Likewise, I’m often confronted with the fact that I’m thinking with a whole different set of assumptions than my readers are, mostly because I tend to know the ending well before I’ve written it. For me, the logic of the story has to hold together at every stage or it all just falls apart and I get angry.


For a large portion of Heavy Rain, I was angry. I think that the gameplay is fun and innovative and builds tension well. I think that it does a great job of splitting the narrative among different characters who are each distinct enough that their perspectives on the hunt for the Origami Killer are all different and interesting. There’s a lot to like and admire about the game’s structure. And when all was said and done, when all the secrets were revealed, I thought it was okay. The big, huge reveal at the end was one of the few plot points that really worked for me, and if you’re only going to have one plot point that works, they picked the right one. I was surprised, it made sense, and it made me rethink much of what I’d seen in the story up to that point. These are textbook examples of a good surprise ending. If only I hadn’t been yelling, “Why are you so stupid?!?!”, at the screen so much on the journey to those final scenes.


 


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