With Star Wars: The Old Republic’s subscription numbers down by roughly 400,000 and the response to Zenimax’s Elder Scrolls Online announcement tepid at best, it seems that MMOs have lost the power to grab and hold our attention. Even Blizzard’s Mists of Panderia expansion seems unlikely to draw back the millions of ex-World of Warcraft players finally liberated from their addiction. Yes, Bioware, Blizzard, and numerous other MMO publishers still turn a profit, but the allure of MMOs has faded dramatically since WoW peaked at over 12 million subscribers. Nevertheless, plenty of studios continue to wade into the genre, realizing that even minor innovations in the tired MMO formula can spark success.
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So, yeah, we have spent the last decade or so eulogizing the adventure genre. It’s a genre of game that really belongs to the era that saw the first waves of personal computers and that still maintained some relevance thanks to LucasArts during the 1990s. Nevertheless, its relative absence as home consoles took hold and the integration of its elements into faster, more exciting genres like platformers and shooters have left the recent landscape of the gaming medium largely bereft of “pure” adventures.
Sure, The Longest Journey is an incredible experience and Telltale has at least made the niche audience that still feels some hunger for this style of gameplay more interesting with games of this sort coming at us through a more modern innovation, episodic, downloadable content.
Last week, Daniel Tovrov wrote a piece for Popmatters on the cult of iconic movie “bad guys” (“It Must Feel Good to Be as Bad as Gordon Gekko”, PopMatters, 1 May 2012). Through the characters of Gordon Gekko of Wall Street, Tony Montana of Scarface, and Patrick Bateman of American Psycho, Tovrov argues that, even though these figures are cautionary tales about unchecked power, audiences come to worship them because the idea of relinquishing control to the id is more appealing than the consequences of doing so. Audiences might not want to behave like these villains or even condone what they do, but wouldn’t it be kind of nice if they could?
That left me wondering about how audiences react to similar figures in video games because in a sense they do become these villains. In games, after all,The audience takes control of the sociopath with no limits that Tavrov writes about. This isn’t something that always works all that well in games because—in theory—if the player can’t relate in some way to their on-screen avatar, then there is nothing compelling them to keep playing. But there are a few cases in which the protagonist is a true, rotten-to-the-core bad guy, and—as Tovrov says—it does feel good.
Fez is an amazing phenomenon, generating a unique community that both works together to solve its many perspective driven puzzles but also shares in its appreciation of secrecy with its and tehir desire to maintain the mystery of the game. Keeping hush hush on anything in the Internet Age is a rather unlikely feat, but Fez enthusiasts seem committed to the cause.
This week we discuss that community, the game itself, and, well, spoil a few of those mysteries. So, listeners, be warned (though, for a change, we actually announce when the spoiler section is coming up in deference to those committed to encouraging players to experience how Fez‘s mysteries unravel from your own perspective).
Fez is a easily the most personal puzzle game that I’ve ever played. It’s not personal because it “spoke to me” in any way, but because the biggest puzzle in Fez is figuring out what you know and what you don’t know. This is a puzzle game built around the idea that people’s minds all work differently.
The game, in my mind at least, is split into three layers:
The first layer is the perspective shifting puzzle. This is what you solve to progress in the game. In other words, basic exploration is built on this puzzle. You’ll find cube bits that make up full cubes that unlock doors to more hub worlds, and you can get through most of the game by focusing only on this first layer. However, the final cube bit is hidden behind a rather obtuse puzzle that is not apparent if you are only focusing on this first layer. In this way, Fez nudges you over the edge, down to the second layer of puzzles.