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Friday, Jul 2, 2010
My version of a story is bound to be different, but as co-author of my experience, it’s just as relevant as the developer’s version.

This post contains spoilers for multiple games.


Red Dead Redemption feels like it has multiple endings, three to be exact, but only after the third one do the credits finally roll. That’s when you’ve reached the end of John Marston’s story, but your story can continue for as long as you want it to. Games have always been fickle with their endings like this, offering multiple endings, secret endings, joke endings, and more, and through all of them there’s a constant disconnect between the developer’s desired ending and the player’s desired ending.


Fallout 3 is a now classic example of this disconnect. The game was released with a fixed ending that forced people to stop playing. There was a backlash against this sudden conclusion to the player’s story, and eventually the ending was changed through DLC to let us keep playing beyond the developer’s intended end. A recent patch for Portal shows this same conflict from a different angle. The original ending was satisfying and critically well regarded, but the patch changed it to set up the sequel. In both instances, the original ending was changed, one at the request of gamers and the other by the developer themselves, but in both cases, it’s worth noting how the change was met with praise. No one seemed bothered by the fact that the original vision for the story was altered, but this makes sense considering that original vision is still just one version of the story. My version of the story is bound to be different, and it’s just as relevant as the developer’s version.


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Friday, Jun 25, 2010
The first level of Indigo Prophecy represents the Holy Grail of branching narratives.

Inspired by L.B. Jeffries’s post last week (“Plot Twist Overkill in Indigo Prophecy, PopMatters, 15 June 2010), I replayed a fair bit of Indigo Prophecy, and as much as I enjoy the game, his critique of it is spot on. The game’s narrative downward spiral is infamous amongst the gaming community, and it stands as a powerful reminder of what not to do with a game’s story. However, the reason that its ending is so confusing and so infamously bad is because it has such a strong beginning. The first level of Indigo Prophecy represents the Holy Grail of branching narratives; it presents you with a problem and gives you a variety of ways to solve it. However, every choice has obvious pros and cons. Unlike most games with branching paths, there isn’t a “best” choice given the situation. The game’s lack of direction in telling us what to do and our own lack of certainty regarding what we should do make the opening scene of Indigo Prophecy one of the most memorable moments in gaming.


Tagged as: indigo prophecy
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Friday, Jun 18, 2010
As worlds become more open they demand more attention, and there’s a clear trade-off between story and environmental details.

Last week I wrote about how the open world of Red Dead Redemption is constrained by its focus on story. Soon after, a friend started playing Mass Effect 2 and I realized that New Austin is practically a sandbox of imagination compared to the world that BioWare created, but both games still fall way short of the freedom offered in Fallout 3. These three games represent the full spectrum of open worlds, and each developer is a master of their respective type.


BioWare
The worlds of BioWare are “open” only in the barest sense of the word. We’re given a group of missions and we can choose what order to do them in, but the missions themselves are very directed. The Mass Effect and Dragon Age games are structured like an old school JRPG. There are towns, maps filled with shops that resupply us, and people that need our help. There are also dungeons, maps filled with enemies to fight, and there’s a stylized overworld that connects them all together.


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Friday, Jun 11, 2010
New Austin is not an open world, not in the purest sense of the word, not at first.

Red Dead Redemption and Fallout 3 will always be connected in my mind. I started playing the Western after discussing the Wasteland on the upcoming episode of the Moving Pixels Podcast, so I had Fallout on my mind during my initial exploration of New Austin, and the introduction to these two worlds couldn’t be more different.


At the beginning of Fallout 3, the entire expanse of the Capital Wasteland is open to us. We can literally go anywhere and there will be something to see and do. There are locations to discover, each with their own unique history. Abandoned buildings aren’t just cookie cutter copies of each other. There are quests to discover, hidden in the far corners of the world. I met multiple characters that friends of mine didn’t even know existed. There are items to discover, ranging from the practical (guns, audio journals, computer terminals, schematics) to the pointless (teddy bears, pots, boxes of irradiated food) and being able to pick up every object that we see gives us a powerful sense of interaction with the world. All of this is true from the moment that we leave Vault 101.


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Friday, Jun 4, 2010
When a game asks us to “Press Start", we get a glimpse of its aesthetics.

When a game asks us to “Press Start”, we can do as we’re instructed or immediately begin testing the limits of the game by hitting the A button (or X, depending on your console of choice). Like a linear game suddenly expanding into an open world, we come to the main menu, our first real taste of the game. We get a glimpse of its aesthetics (does it want to be charming or frightening?) and its priorities (does it value style over simple organization?), and through these details, the menu sets our expectations for the rest of the game.


Some menus do this better than others, and here are three of my personal favorites:


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