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Text:AAA
Friday, May 9, 2014
Until now, stories in multiplayer-only shooters have only been bad, and while Titanfall doesn’t buck that trend, it does offer some hope for the future.

Titanfall is a multiplayer-only online shooter that also features a story campaign that tells a linear narrative. Those two things shouldn’t work together, multiplayer shooters and linear narratives: One is unpredictable, the other is entirely predictable. One has a random cast of dozens, the other has a defined cast of a few. One is chaos, the other is organized. One is highly interactive, the other is not.


Titanfall tries to marry these ideas, and the results are mixed. The presentation of plot points before, after, and during a match is so rushed that the story quickly becomes nonsensical, but the general structure that story takes on in order to fit into a multiplayer-only game is very clever and probably could have worked with some better writing. Until now, stories in multiplayer-only shooters have only been bad, and while Titanfall doesn’t buck that trend, it does offer some hope for the future.


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Text:AAA
Friday, May 2, 2014
All a story really needs is an intro to establish context and that can be enough to make a game feel unique.

As the title implies, a little bit of story goes a long way in separating a game from its peers. Whereas the mechanics of a game are limited by its genre, platform, budget, or other factors, the story isn’t limited by anything practical. All a story really needs is an intro to establish context, and that little bit of context can be enough to make a game feel unique. For example:


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Text:AAA
Friday, Apr 25, 2014
Year Walk is a carefully crafted experience that uses its limitations to its advantage.

If Device 6 (as I argued last week) conveys a good sense of space (i.e. the physical layout of an environment) but a poor sense of place (i.e. the unique characteristics of a location), then Year Walk is its mirror opposite. Made by the same developer, Simogo, Year Walk is an iOS (and now PC) puzzle/horror game that conveys an excellent sense of place but a poor sense of space. However, unlike Device 6, which suffered limitations because of its design, the poor sense of space in Year Walk feels purposeful and actually adds to the overall mood and horror.


Year Walk is a 2D game that still allows you to travel in three dimensions because the 2D world is made of multiple layers. As you swipe to move left and right across a single 2D layer, you’ll come to certain points where you can swipe up or down to move to the next layer. It’s pretty straightforward when you think about it; the world is a grid of interlocking planes. However, what makes the environment so confusing is that you can’t cross an entire layer just by moving left or right. Invisible walls block your path, forcing you to, for example, move up a layer and continue in a direction until you can move down again. These invisible walls carve the straightforward grid into a maze and distort our sense of space.


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Text:AAA
Friday, Apr 18, 2014
Device 6 does a wonderful job conveying the physical layout of an environment, but does a relatively poor job conveying the unique characteristics of a location.

Device 6 is a puzzle game wrapped in a text adventure. Most of the story is expressed through text, while sound and an occasional picture are used to facilitate interactivity and add flavor to the environment.


The excellent sense of space comes entirely from the presentation of the text. Chapters begin like a normal book, in which the story is split into paragraphs meant to be read from left to right and top to bottom. Soon the text changes, and it’s no longer organized into paragraphs, it’s organized into shapes that correspond to the layout of the environment. If you’re moving through a hallway, the text is displayed as a single long line, if you’re going up stairs, the text is cut into steps and the screen automatically pans up, or if you reach an intersection, then the text splits off in multiple directions. It’s a clever trick that makes the act of reading unusually physical. The end result is that we have a stronger sense of space than text can usually convey by itself.


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Text:AAA
Friday, Apr 11, 2014
The template of Dark Souls is more sustainable in the long run as an action/horror franchise.

Years ago I wrote about how Demon’s Souls represented the future of survival horror because of how it evoked the same sense of helplessness as that common video game subgenre, but in the context of an action game. I wrote that after playing the game for several hours, but not getting very far into it that I still hadn’t gotten comfortable with the world. Now, after having put days into both Dark Souls games, I realize that I was ignoring how empowering the action can be and how it is that empowerment that drives you to confront the horrors of the game. Dark Souls (and by extension Demon’s Souls) is still a great survival horror game, but it’s also a great action game. It succeeds at both genres because it doesn’t try to mix the two. Instead, Dark Souls uses a much maligned trick of level design to give each genre its time to shine.


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