People have said that it’s hard to make a Superman game because he’s just too strong. How do you make fun combat or create any tension or excitement when your hero is literally invincible? In many of the reviews for the recent Godzilla game, I’ve been surprised by the assumption that making a Godzilla game should be easy. Fight a giant monster here, blow up a building there, and presto. Fun! Right?
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Warning: This article contains spoilers for Telltale’s Game of Thrones Episode 5: A Nest of Vipers.
One of my earliest memories is trying to figure out how old my parents would be as I aged. I’ve always been bad at math, so as I counted my age each year on my fingers, I accidentally added ten years to my parents lifespan for each one. You can imagine my shock when I predicted my parents would die of old age before I was even ten. I don’t remember how old I was then, but I do remember crying so hard it was tough to breathe. It was terrifying to know I couldn’t do anything about it.
In “A Nest of Vipers”, the latest episode in Telltale’s Game of Thrones series of point-and-click adventure, you can’t do much about death, but you can choose who lives and who dies. During the climax of the season’s penultimate episode, two brothers, Rodrick and Asher, are ambushed by Whitehill soldiers. Their only escape route is under an iron gate, but one brother has to stay behind to hold it open. How do you choose who stays and who goes? How do you decide who lives and who dies?
When she was a little girl in the late 1970s, my wife often spent the night at her grandmother’s house. She says that the thing that she remembers most about those visits (besides getting to play with any of her grandma’s costume jewelry that she wanted to) was waking up, coming downstairs, and seeing her grandma at the kitchen table, cigarette dangling from her lip, mug of coffee steaming on the table, and a deck of cards in her hand, dealing herself a game of Solitaire.
Especially since the advent of online gaming, every few years folks in the video game industry make predictions about the dismal future of the single player video game (see articles like ”Single-Player Games ‘Gone in Three Years’” or “EA: Single-Player Games are Finished”). Single player games are seen by some as a kind of aberration in the history of gaming more broadly. After all, traditionally the idea of playing a game of a non-digital sort, a board game or card game, is considered to have a social component.
Gods Will Be Watching is a difficult game. So difficult in fact, that it was patched after release to add in several easier game modes. This was good news to me, so I bought the game and tried the first of the new modes, Puzzle Mode. I failed several times and gave up. Then came Puzzle Mode Lite. I failed several times at this mode and gave up. Then came Narrative Mode, the easiest mode by far, a mode specifically designed to remove most obstacles in the game so that a player can experience the story with little frustration. I was finally able to beat some levels, but not without some hardship. People still died. I still failed to be a good leader, and it irked me throughout. But after finishing the game, I realize now that that’s the entire point of Gods Will Be Watching.
What sorts of video games represent the best that the entire medium has to offer? I talk to lots of people about games and the various answers to that question often fall into recognizable buckets. Super Mario Bros. or Doom for their ability to withstand the test of time and also for their long reach. Ico or Shadow of the Colossus for their ability to evoke a rich world through understated visual effects and mechanics. Journey for telling a poignant story while seamlessly (and wordlessly) connecting you to other people.
What sort of video game best represents the medium’s potential? It’s a question that inspires high-minded thinking and lots of pondering about the nature of art. It usually doesn’t elicit talk about cars that can do rocket-boosted backflips, but maybe it should. Rocket League is a ridiculous game, and it is a beautiful game.
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