Up until very recently, one of the ideas that was getting all the buzz in video games was the concept of offering “moral choices” to players. Games built around such offerings nearly always boiled down to whether you wanted to play a good, traditionally heroic character or one who was a bit of a prick. Those who tried to play as a character with some amount of complexity were summarily punished because the game system required the player to maximize one side or the other in order to get access to the best items, abilities, or what have you. In fact, most games boiled down to a single choice that the player was forced to make over and over. These weren’t moral choices at all, but mathematical problems hidden behind a thin veil of fiction.
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Myst is a lot smaller than I remember. Recently I went back and played the Cyan Worlds classic from 1993 and couldn’t help but notice that simple fact. I originally played it in 1993. My dad had just gotten a new CD-ROM drive for his self-built PC and Myst apparently came with all PC CD-ROM drives back then. For all intents and purposes, it was the first video game that we played together, and it took us months to get through.
I played it to completion the other day in an afternoon. Maybe it’s that I’m older or more experienced with adventure games. Maybe it had something to do with how I remembered how the world of Myst worked. In any case, the essential fact remains that Myst was a much smaller world than it was 21 years ago.
Since the recording of our podcast episode on Hearthstone, I’ve been playing the game pretty much every single day and have yet to spend a dime on it. I was a huge Magic: The Gathering player for a good many years, but I eventually had to give up as I could no longer afford the constant influx of new sets and the need to buy the new cards for the new metagame that would arise as a result. And I’ve lamented having given up the game ever since. I still get that itch to play a card game, and I’m grateful for Hearthstone‘s free-to-play set up because of this. I can scratch much of the same card flopping, spell slinging itch with Hearthstone that I did with Magic for free. Economically, Hearthstone makes a lot of sense for a player like me.
Comparing the prices of packs is never going to be an exact science. While Hearthstone packs are cheaper than Magic packs, they come with fewer cards. Yet there is a smaller maximum of any specific card that one can put in a deck in Hearthstone and duplicates can be unmade for crafting dust. You can’t trade Hearthstone cards like you can Magic cards, but packs can be bought with in-game gold earned by winning games. In the end, though, it’s not about comparing these prices but what the effect each model has on the flow of play. I feel that there is a trade off in strategic depth that comes along with the free-to-play model—even one as well done as Hearthstone‘s.
When a developer is told to create a video game, the average mind will always drift to what has already been done. Given a blank canvas with which to work and the mind is assailed by the tyranny of possibility, creating nothing. The mind needs some structure and limitations to create, and often they are the limitations that creators impose on themselves. And often those self imposed limitations are the conventions of what has come before. It is a safety net that those steeped in a medium understand.
Conventionality in the arts leads to the exclusion of ideas that fall outside the norm, not by simply refusing to grant admittance to those outside the boundaries of what is accepted as a game, but through the subtle denial of new thought. Saying those limitations no longer apply in this instance is never enough. New limitations, specially crafted, are needed to break away from the old and into a new arena of possibility.
I sometimes wonder if it is form that dictates content or the content that dictates form. We have conventions and genres that sign post certain content and indicate whether the content of a game will meet our expectations. Computers, lasers, and space means sci-fi and all the connotations that go along with that genre. Alternatively, fantasy immediately dictates a mental image of a feudal medieval Europe with swords and sorcery. Do these tropes comes arise from the content of a fictional work or does certain content mean that we automatically shift into telling a story a certain way? It’s an eternal back and forth in all things, not just art. It could also be true of venues.
The broad variety offered by IndieCade East would be unimaginable at a trade show like E3 and is pretty much absent from a fan convention like PAX as well. Does the museum environment persuade developers to display games that would feel out of place and alienated in another setting? Or does a commitment to the games that you wouldn’t find elsewhere lead to the adoption of the museum setting in order to comfortably contextualize this particular set of avant-garde gaming options?
// Notes from the Road
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