Like most RPGs nowadays, Game of Thrones begins with a character creation screen where we get to choose a fighting style and skill set and so on. It’s very standard until you start to pick your “traits.” These are permanent modifiers named in such a way that it encourages us to think of our character as more than a collection of stats (“Ambidextrous,” “Honed Reflexes,” “Gifted”), but the best part about these choices is that once we’ve picked three positive traits, we have to pick three negative traits that permanently weaken our character.
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A few months ago Thomas Grip, co-founder of Frictional Games, the developers behind Amnesia: The Dark Descent, wrote a blog post about the ten ways horror games can evolve. Grip makes a lot of good points, but the first one that stands out to me the most because it almost never happens in video games is the idea of establishing a sense of normality:
In most games the player usually starts out in some strange and not very normal situation…However, much of the good horror in other media starts of very mundane. They build on having the audience strongly relating to what is taking place and being able to draw close parallels to their own lives. For horror games this would mean to establish a very familiar situation and then slowly introduce the horror there. The goal is for the terror to not just be inside the game’s virtual world, but to reach into the real as well. (“10 Ways to Evolve Horror Games”, In the Games of Madness, 26 April 2012)
Then, as if right on cue, Telltale Games released The Walking Dead, which does just that.
There’s a lot of good writing in Max Payne 3, from its handling of character arcs to Max’s self deprecating narration. I love the moments when Max stops narrating with a noir flourish and just calls someone an asshole. It’s a way of representing his exhaustion though the narration: he’s too tired to think of a metaphor. But what really stands out to me are the seemingly throwaway lines from minor characters that give those characters depth despite their little screen time.
This discussion contains spoilers for Max Payne 3.
Max Payne 3 is an exciting shooter. The controls allow for some impressive precision. The options of choosing how to target enemies in “hard lock,” “soft lock,” and “free aim” modes separate shooting difficulty from enemy difficulty (which is a great idea that deserves its own blog post). The combat scenarios are varied and interesting. On the whole, it does everything that a good shooter should do, but it takes a very different road to get there. Call of Duty, Gears of War, and the rest are also exciting shooters, but their excitement stems from their sense of empowerment. Playing them is fun because it makes us feel stronger than we really are, capable of going toe-to-toe with an entire army and winning. The same can’t be said about Max Payne 3. Sure, you still go toe-to-toe with armies and win, but just barely. Max Payne 3 is not about empowerment.
There’s a lot of bad exposition in games. Exposition itself isn’t a bad thing, sometimes it’s helpful and even necessary, but video games—with their need to create entire new worlds—constantly fall back on the bad habits of lazy execution: characters explaining things that they already understand or going off on a whole history lesson with the slightest provocation, purely for the sake of the player. It feels forced and leads to bad dialogue, since it’s hard to make an encyclopedia article sound like anything other than an encyclopedia article.
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings ends with a massive exposition dump between the protagonist Geralt and his antagonist Letho. This political thriller fantasy game involves dozens of character, all with their own motivations and secret plots, interacting with each other, playing off each other, using each other, and betraying each other. One conspiracy mastermind might just be a pawn in someone else’s larger conspiracy. It’s an incredibly complex web of character relations, and it’s all laid bare in the final conversation of the game: a climactic Q&A session. Some of it is forced—and horribly so—but for the most part The Witcher 2 excels at doling out large doses of information in a very short time. It does the exposition dump right.
// Moving Pixels
"This week we consider the beautiful world that Campo Santo has built for us to explore and the way that the game explores human relationships through its protagonist's own explorations within that world.READ the article