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Friday, Jul 11, 2014
The kinds of choices that force us to define what we value and how a game is about what we value are best implemented at the end of that game.

A couple of weeks ago here at PopMatters, Eric Swain wrote about a more complex form of moral choice in games.


It’s not a question of right or wrong, but a question of priorities. The player is offered up two rights and asked to make a choice between them ... The morality here isn’t based on abstract rules, but on the individual player—what they would do and why is up to them” (Eric Swain, “More Thoughts on a More Complex Form of Moral Choice in Video Games”, 24 June 2014)


I agree with everything Swain has written, but I’d also like to add an important caveat to the conversation. These kinds of complex moral choices, the kind that force us to choose between two philosophical truths that will go on to define who we are, what we value, and how the game is about what we value, these kinds of choices are best implemented at the end of a game.


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Friday, Jun 27, 2014
Episode four of The Wolf Among Us feels mostly unnecessary. Maybe this is a sign that Telltale should mix up their episodic structure some more.

Structurally, Telltale’s games are pretty linear. We’ve realized that now after seeing the format repeated in both The Walking Dead Season 2 and The Wolf Among Us. Our many choices in these games exist to make that linearity feel unique and personal to us. This is particularly noticeable in The Walking Dead with its constant concern with life and death stakes. As a result, our every decisions feels like it carries that heavy dramatic weight. Each death of one of the game’s cast members feels partially like our fault because of the choices we made, and this gives us a sense of personal responsibility for the actions that have played out. These extreme consequences keep us invested and interested in every little choice made in that game.


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Friday, Jun 20, 2014
Playing Hack RUN is like living Watch Dogs.

Early on in Watch Dogs, our protagonist Aiden Pearce meets with his contact for the hacker group DedSec who goes by the alias BADBOY17. To his surprise, BADBOY17 is neither 17 nor a boy, but a grown woman, and he tells her, “You’re nothing like I was expecting.” She responds, “Funny, you’re exactly what I was expecting.” And with that one sentence, she sums up everything that’s wrong and disappointing with the character of Aiden Pearce. He’s exactly what you’d expect.


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Friday, Jun 13, 2014
Bound by Flame is bad in such good ways.

The best part of Bound by Flame is its story, but even that is far from flawless. It’s quite flawed, but those flaws actually make the story more interesting. In a weird twist, the things that make Bound by Flame unique—at least amongst its epic fantasy RPG peers—are also the things that make it a lesser story overall. There’s barely any character development for either the protagonist or the supporting cast; the world isn’t well developed; and the game sets up an epic war only to end after a single skirmish. The narrative constantly undercuts everything that makes an epic fantasy epic and almost gets away with it.


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Friday, Jun 6, 2014
By its nature, luck should be inconsistent, but Badland, an iOS puzzler, can evoke the feeling with easy regularity.

All games want to be beaten, even the hardest ones. All games are made with the idea that a player will eventually see its end. If not, the game would just be a single level. The danger of this desire is that a game that wants too badly to be beaten can become too easy. Without challenge (and a good story, but that’s besides the point of this post), there’s only boredom, but luck can make a lack of challenge exciting. Luck may be looked down upon in most mechanics-driven games, but it’s an important factor in creating tension. The tricky thing about luck is that it is, by its very definition, inconsistent, which makes it all the more impressive that Badland, an iOS puzzler, can evoke the feeling with easy regularity.


Badland is not a hard game, it clearly wants you to progress through it at a steady and relaxed pace. There are hard parts, sure. The puzzles get more inventive and tricky as you get further into it, but for most of the early levels, it’s the kind of game that you know that you will be able to reliably finish a couple levels during a short bus ride. It’s a game that wants to be played, and it wants to be beaten. However, it doesn’t want the player to get complacent. It wants to be simple and thrilling at the same time.


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