The Sunday Papers

By Jim Rossignol on January 22nd, 2012 at 11:32 am.


Sundays are for magnetically aligning ferrous particles and awaiting the release of the new Pye Corner Audio transmission on Monday. Perhaps we can find something to do in the meantime, eh?

  • Killscreen continue to produce some worthy reviews. Mr Zacny just about nails Need For Speed: The Run, like this: “The mission is scripted to make most of this lengthy race utterly pointless. You cannot pull ahead, and you cannot fall behind. I tested my theory by driving across the bridge like Miss Daisy was napping in the back seat. I calmly sidestepped the oncoming cars while the overwrought soundtrack gave itself a heart attack. Nor did I push too hard through the subway tunnels. No matter what you do, Jack and the wise guy will end up side-by-side in Brooklyn, and Jack will be forced to escape into the subway. And no matter how quickly or slowly you go through the subway tunnels, Jack will always come flying off the tracks to land a few car-lengths behind his opponent. Nothing you do makes a difference.”
  • Do MMOs need death? “What if I proposed a new Earth, where no humans could die, ever. Also, we could never be stolen from. Once you bought something (which is the ONLY way you could lose money), it would be in your possession forever, unless you gave it away. Nothing would break down and become broken; everything in the world is indestructible unless you are supposed to destroy it for a gain. Then that thing will respawn so you can do it again later. Everyone in the world can only go UP in the world from where they are when they start out. Everyone can, and will be a super-powerful bad-ass if they simply just log enough time.” Having talked to the Salem devs this week, I think death is going to make a come back as a mechanic in MMOs.
  • Sneaky Bastards is about stealth games.
  • Yang has some post-mortem notes on the Level With Me project: “I was shocked, then, by the most common line of criticism I saw: a refusal to read, an insistence that a level without a puzzle-y Portal puzzle is a bad level. It’s like the rhetorical equivalent of donkeyspace. I literally can’t go through the mental gymnastics required to conclude that challenge is the only interesting thing about first person single player games. Comments like that make me miss all the people who said it was pretentious; I want a higher level of criticism.”
  • Starbreeze talk Syndicate, and AAA development, with this interesting news: “When I look at any project, I look at it from a commercial standpoint, I look from a creative standpoint, and a production standpoint. So it depends on what kind of game we’re doing. We’re not doing that right now, but we’re actually self-funding one original IP right now. If we’re going to take it to market ourself — I haven’t decided yet. It’s always about how you maximize what you can do.”
  • More from Raph Koster with Narrative Is Not A Game Mechanic: “Games are a compound medium. They are made up of multiple other media, typically in the feedback. In other words, we rely on media such as film, writing, visual arts, music, and so on in order to provide the feedback. Games that do not rely on these other media much tend to get called “abstract” — a completely stripped bare game is actually a mathematical diagram or formula, not something easily seen or comprehended, so all games have to make use of other media at least a little.”
  • Eurogamer’s Amy review: “Amy fails on all counts. It’s plagued by jerky movement, poor scripting, weak puzzles and shoddy checkpointing, but it’s also a characterless mess of themes and ideas swiped from a dozen better horror titles. Neither quirky enough to be forgiven its unfinished feel nor polished enough to satisfy the base gaming itch, Amy is a crushing disappointment with little to recommend it.” And so on.
  • Questions from the community on Tomb Raider. I’m not sure why I am linking this, other than being able to point to the idea that there is a community for everything.
  • Are you a playthrough perfectionist? Share a life with a completist? Grave has some thoughts that you might share: “The Perfect Game is a sop thrown to the Completionist. It justifies his or her compulsion to do everything by rewarding them for their toils. Struggling to choose between saving the city of Amaranthine or the fortress of Vigil’s Keep? Struggle no more! You spent the extra time and effort upgrading the Vigil’s walls and rearming its soldiers, it will stand without you. Onward to Amaranthine! Sound familiar?”
  • It’s interesting for me to read people’s taste in games, even – or perhaps especially – when it is totally antithetical to my own. BrainyGamer on Zelda, and Leigh Alexander on Zelda.
  • Reasons why beginner games journalists should write for free.
  • Reasons why beginner games journalists should not write for free.
  • A brilliant promotional video by Si Spurrier.
  • Brian Appleyard interviews Geoff Dyer, in which Dyer talks Tarkovsky’s Stalker by way of trashing Julian Barnes.

Music this week is Silent Girl by Red State Soundsystem, which is a tribute to a character in Kieron Gillen’s Phonogram comic.

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191 Comments »

  1. Andy_Panthro says:

    Wasn’t the general point of the “don’t write for free” discussion that you shouldn’t write for free if the people you are working for could afford to pay you?

    It was never “don’t write for free, ever”, but rather that by writing for free for someone that can afford to pay, all you’re doing is making it harder for everyone to get paid for writing. Many people recommended starting a blog or similar.

    • Tei says:

      Perhaps the rule to life for is “never work for free”, but accept payments in “experience”, wen experience is exactly what you need. Then as soon you have some experience, ask for real money, and real money is not given, use your experience to get a job somewhere else.

      New.. anything, need experience way more than money.

    • JackShandy says:

      Yeah, it seems like all the things he’s talking about can be achieved by working for yourself. If we were back in the Print days you’d have to work for someone to get your stuff out there, but right now the barrier to entry is as low as it could ever be. Your 2-bit blog is as easy to reach as any other website out there- it’s just a matter of getting people to notice it.

      Gamasutra linked to a piece of mine the other day. 0 to 400 views in no time flat. Table crumbs, obviously, but it just goes to show.

    • Gap Gen says:

      If someone has a business model that only works if they don’t pay their employees (and, I guess, if they’re not a registered charity), it’s probably a bad idea to work for them.

      It’s a massive shame that companies that hire journalists have realised how oversubscribed journalism is as a career and are creating slavery internships because they can, and because enough students will do it because they feel they have to. Especially as I think they’re illegal in the UK, and yet no-one prosecutes companies who do them?

      Tei: The point is that if some people work for free, the whole industry lowers its salaries. Experience is something that you’re always getting, so in an ideal world new recruits would get a starting salary and industry veterans would get a salary to reflect their years of experience.

    • NathanH says:

      Getting people to do stuff for you for free when you are going to make money from what they do is despicable and should not be tolerated.

    • Gira says:

      As a former games journalist of questionable repute, I’d like to throw my lot in with Walker here (something I thought I would never do under any circumstances). By writing for free you not only devalue your own work but lower the market value for gaming journalists, and then journalism overall, elsewhere. Starting a personal blog is not related to this, obviously.

    • Veracity says:

      Additionally, by writing for free, they are leaving a paid opportunity open elsewhere for people who actually need that source of income.

      What outrageous shite! It’s at least – imo far more – likely you’re doing work for free that someone else might’ve been paid for if you’d refused. If your work’s decent enough to make someone money, why does having a day job mean you shouldn’t take a fee?

      A lot of the rest of that stuff, as noted above, is tangential because he’s talking about people who can’t pay you because they have no money themselves. And that doesn’t leave much besides his contention that loads of other industries are also run by exploitative scum who’ll abuse the naive or desperate, which I can’t imagine convincing anyone of anything much.

      I do think the can’t/won’t pay distinction can be murkier than this occasional controversy tends to allow, though. The minor drama a few months back about The Escapist paying late, if at all, springs to mind.

    • The_B says:

      John actually clarified his stance on the whole writing for free aspect in his very next post.

  2. Gira says:

    Koster is absolutely, 100% right, and I am so infinitely glad that there is a videogames developer out there who’s actually championing these ideas (read: facts). Narrative is irrelevant to game design and often hampers it. The further games studios delve into Cinematic Emotional Narrative Immersion or whatever, the less gameplay they actually leave available to the player. It’s nice as a backdrop, but too often it’s used to obfuscate overly simplistic (or non-functional) games design.

    • thegooseking says:

      No, he’s wrong. His arguments make sense, but only if you accept the initial arbitrary assertion of what a game is or isn’t, which is about as fruitful as arguing about what art is or isn’t.

      Human Revolution is a good counterexample because it relies on agency and interactivity to support and explore its narrative themes. Not as much as I’d like, but more than most games.

      But the thing about Koster’s argument is that it’s predicated on a game being heavily rule-based and having concrete win/lose conditions. That wasn’t even true of all games before videogames came along; it’s a specific subset of e.g. the taxonomy of games proposed by Caillois (who was writing before videogames were invented). It’s a kind of ludic purism that’s completely unhelpful because it arbitrarily over-limits the corpus of what can be considered a game for seemingly no other purpose than to attempt to rationalise and codify one’s own preferences.

    • BigJonno says:

      It’s not irrelevant and that’s certainly not what Koster is saying. Just because it’s not a game mechanic, it doesn’t mean that it has no place in game design. It just has to be properly balanced with things that are game mechanics, which is a point I heartily agree with. It’s been my chief criticism of many popular titles of the past few years, but it often falls on deaf ears because it can produce an immensely enjoyable game. That’s why I feel he absolutely nails it when he says “I also feel fairly comfortable in labelling a game with that sort of structure as “a bad game design” even if it may be a great game experience.”

    • DocSeuss says:

      @thegooseking: It could be because I am about to fall asleep, but I don’t understand many of the words which you have used. However, I believe I agree with your sentiment.

      My own sentiment is this: Video games can (and should) be a great many things. They’re a medium that can stretch from Zork to Tetris to, at their very apex at this point in time, STALKER. One thing video games can be is a storytelling medium. They’re quite interesting as a storytelling medium, because they can basically create entire worlds and experiences for people to have. They can also have a unique kind of meaning. Bioshock 2, for instance, is all about how our choices affect people close to us. In a book, you’d see one person do a thing and someone would react. In Bioshock 2, your decisions can lead to several different outcomes which will all effect the characters differently. It’s an interesting artistic direction, and the close-minded people who say “well, video games can be without stories, thus, stories are irrelevant” are really missing out on gaming’s grandest potential. No idea why these people basically just want digital board games. It’s silly.

      …and now I should sleep. I am very headachey and probably lacking in lucidity.

    • Gira says:

      It is entirely irrelevant to the argument of games design, which is fundamentally the creation of game mechanics, rulesets, and the means with which those mechanics and rulesets interact.

      Does it sometimes enrich those mechanical interactions by providing added meaning or resonance? Sure. But that’s a secondary consideration and thoroughly irrelevant to the creation of a “game” (as a functional and/or philosophical entity).

      Human Revolution is a good counterexample because it relies on agency and interactivity to support and explore its narrative themes. Not as much as I’d like, but more than most games.

      Human Revolution is laughably simplistic and restrictive with regards to the agency provided to the player, especially in comparison to the original DX.

    • thegooseking says:

      Human Revolution is laughably simplistic and restrictive with regards to the agency provided to the player, especially in comparison to the original DX.

      The agency was more restrictive because it was more focused and thematically significant. Which is pretty much what I said.

    • Gira says:

      And you don’t see that as a problem? Actually restricting gameplay – the purpose of games, remember – to serve the arbitrary whims of an irrelevant narrative?

    • Justin Keverne says:

      Raph makes some great points. I just wonder if maybe creating a great experience is more worthwhile that creating something that conforms to some formal definition of what makes a great game. The end result should be what’s important not whether it a meets specific criteria as to what does or doesn’t make a great game, or film, or pop song.

      Also why exactly is game play the purpose of a game? That’s like saying reading is the purpose of a novel. Play and reading are two means of experiencing something they are not the end in and of themselves.

    • DocSeuss says:

      Gira, that is an incredibly stupid thing to say.

      The narrative justifies the rules of the game. If anything, that’s better than “hey, for some arbitrary reason, you’ve got to build four houses here before you build a hotel,” and then citing “game balance,” when someone wants to know why.

    • Chris D says:

      Big Jonno is right. Narrative isn’t a mechanic but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Arguing that mechanics are the deifining feature of games therefore they are what games are about is like arguing that the stage is the defining feature of theatre therefore the stage is what theatre is about.

      It’s true that in bad games narrative can overwhelm the mechanics, as in Need for Speed:The Run, but the solution isn’t to scrap narrative, it’s to learn how to integrate narrative and mechanics well.

      Edit: I see I am too slow and Justin has said most of this before me. Oh well, I agree with him too…..and some other people as well.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Wha? Isn’t this discussion also going on in the Alan Wake comments right now too? My head hurts.

    • Gira says:

      The narrative justifies the rules of the game.

      It has to in this case, because the rules of the game and the mechanics they convey are deeply flawed and overly simplistic. This is my point: if you look at it from a purely economic perspective, you are actually getting less game for your buck, in exchange for more arbitrary exposition. You are playing less and watching – or to use the buzzword, “experiencing” – more. Your interactions are reduced significantly so the developers can shoehorn in some hamfisted take on transhumanist literature they barely even understand (and probably only ever consumed in turgid anime form, anyway).

      It’s a strange new perspective on games – that we the players should be restricted so designers can have their way with their storyline. That we should have less gameplay available to us so we can “watch” a storyline unfold – something we could easily do by watching the cutscenes on YouTube.

      Also why exactly is game play the purpose of a game? That’s like saying reading is the purpose of a novel.

      Gameplay refers to the game mechanics and the means with which players can interact with them, resulting in “play”. Different gameplay results in different games, resulting in different play. It is the very essence of a game.

    • thegooseking says:

      And you don’t see that as a problem? Actually restricting gameplay – the purpose of games, remember – to serve the arbitrary whims of an irrelevant narrative?

      I think restricting gameplay is fine if the resulting gameplay is more meaningful than if it had been unrestricted. I don’t think that’s such a difficult thing to understand.

      Also, you are really bad at arguing. I’m not going to bother any more.

    • InternetBatman says:

      I see the merits in his points. However, I think he is cherrypicking cinematic narratives as his examples in games. He doesn’t examine games like Dwarf Fortress, where the engine is designed to create narratives (in essence, narrative and gameplay system become one and provide infinite replay value), or adequately contrast cinematic games with ones where the narrative is literally just another puzzle, Alpha Protocol being a good example.

    • Gira says:

      DXHR was pathetic from a narrative perspective, anyway, unless you’re the kind of person who considers Ghost In The Shell to be high art.

      I think restricting gameplay is fine if the resulting gameplay is more meaningful than if it had been unrestricted. I don’t think that’s such a difficult thing to understand.

      It’s not that I don’t understand this idea. It’s just that I think it’s completely wrong. If the mechanics do not function in and of themselves – that is, if they cannot be interacted with ad infinitum resulting in different and compelling systemic interactions each time, as was and remains possible in the original DX – then no matter what adolescent transhuman babble you shout over the top, you’ve still got a broken game.

      InternetBatman – Dwarf Fortress is the perfect example of story generated through gameplay, and Koster’s piece thoroughly supports that idea. Dwarf Fortress is brilliant.

    • Chris D says:

      Gira

      “Different gameplay results in different games, resulting in different play. It is the very essence of a game. ”

      No it’s not. It’s one axis that you can describe games with, the fantasy axis is also equally valid. This article from a couple of weeks back describes it in more detail.

      http://whatgamesare.com/2011/12/the-four-lenses-of-game-making.html

      I mean, yes you can have games that are pure mechanics, such as Tetris, but the vast majority of games ever designed go further and add a theme, a setting or a narrative. The definition of games is irrelevant, the magic of games is in taking a story or taking a world and allowing you to have an active role within it. It’s the combination of narrative and gameplay that’s the real crack.

      Even if you could pass a law to say that only games that were based purely on the mechanics were could be called games and anything else was a “pretensionator” or some other name, I think you’d still find that the pretensionation industry would become far more popular than one dedicated to pure-bred games.

    • AndrewC says:

      This is exactly the same argument as ‘comics must be funny, right? They’re called *comics*’. And it took a hell of a long time for comics to culturally get past that fallacy, but they got their in the end by circuitous route of necessary, if ungainly, terms such as ‘graphic novel’ and ‘sequential art’, and by people Just Getting On With It.

      Oh, and this argument is also down to slightly geekier people not quite being able to imagine that people partake in an activity for different reasons than they do. That problem, however, is unlikely to go away.

    • Gira says:

      No it’s not. It’s one axis that you can describe games with

      The concept of game mechanics, the very thing that makes a game a game, not being the essence of a game, is mind-boggling. But whatever – you may well be getting stuck on semantics, since you seem to think I’m implying all games should be Tetris. As mentioned above, Dwarf Fortress does a wonderful job of facilitating player narrative through the complex systemic interactions the game allows. The same could be said for STALKER, or ArmA II, which both prioritise ludonarrative over tightly-scripted designer narrative. These games are satisfying on a thematic and story-centric level whilst also being mechanically complex and designed around player agency.

      This is exactly the same argument as ‘comics must be funny, right? They’re called *comics*’.
      Not really.

      Oh, and this argument is also down to slightly geekier people not quite being able to imagine that people partake in an activity for different reasons than they do.
      haha ur rong cos ur a nerd lol

    • JackShandy says:

      I admire the purist “Gameplay is all that exists” point of view, but the point of a game where I’m disregarding the theme completely and engaging purely with the mechanics is always the bit I like least. Think of grinding through an RPG. This applies to board games as well, by the way. I like performing an action the most when I can get behind it’s thematic significance.

      Deus Ex was good because the choices you made during gameplay affected the narrative. A lot of it was terrible mechanically, but redeemed by the compelling theme. Gunther Hermann was a terrible boss-fight, but I loved the story of it.

    • InternetBatman says:

      I was more referring to the world creation part of the game and the stuff that happens in adventure mode. I’d argue that when the history of the world creates a big freaking monster that lives under your base, when your lava floods lower your diplomacy with the elves, or when you lose control of important workers so they can make murals that show what’s been happening, at that point narrative stops being a feedback mechanism and starts becoming a gameplay mechanic, which undermines his point that they’re two separate systems.

    • Gira says:

      As I’ve attempted to clarify, there is nothing wrong with enriching mechanics with thematic significance; this often gives purpose to ludonarrative and makes it more cohesive and meaningful. The issue is static narrative intruding on gameplay.

      Like, I want to make that distinction really obvious.

    • royaltyinexile says:

      Narrative can certainly have a role to play in games; yet, it’s got to be born of the gameplay, rather than stand in its way.

      Critics, for example, were split between liking and loathing Take On’s ‘plot’; yet, we were satisfied in the sense that it didn’t get in the way of the gameplay.

      Rather, it was a useful (and valid) tool to both structure and present gameplay to the player. We discuss our design objectives (at length, sorry) here: http://bit.ly/TakeOnHNarrative

    • DiamondDog says:

      So basically you don’t like cutscenes?

    • DocSeuss says:

      @Chris D: Thanks for that link. It was really cool.

      I, personally, think that so long as a game is something that is primarily being played (how you play is irrelevant), it’s a good thing. Uncharted is an example of a step in the wrong direction. It’s removing gameplay or player control and saying “no, I don’t want to be played. I want to be observed, and I’ll tolerate your existence.”

      If we look at the dictionary, all it says about a game is that it’s “a structured playing.” I think it’s interesting to note that in this and the Alan Wake thread, what Gira and those who have agreed have argued, is essentially that mechanics are the only form of structure that a game can have, but if they’d take time to think about it, they’d realize that story is merely another form of structure. The debate over there started with a throwaway remark about pacing–which is ultimately a way of structuring both the narrative and the gameplay. So… yeah. They’re silly, aren’t they? I should sleep. I really should. My ability to argue anything coherently should probably get a nice long break.

      @Gira: “The concept of game mechanics, the very thing that makes a game a game, not being the essence of a game, is mind-boggling.”

      Well, they’re not. Tough shit. See my remarks to Chris D for further clarification. I’m going to go dream about electric sheep.

      @AndrewC: “Oh, and this argument is also down to slightly geekier people not quite being able to imagine that people partake in an activity for different reasons than they do. That problem, however, is unlikely to go away.”

      You win the prize for saying the thing I ought to have said before I wasted a good fifteen collective minutes typing up replies to various comments on RPS.

    • Gira says:

      No, it’s more than that. (Cutscenes, that is, if someone replies in the interim.) It’s the problem of, to borrow a Clint Hocking term, “ludonarrative dissonance”. You know the joke “and in the game”? It’s like that. It’s having the story and the gameplay tell you different things. The story should be generated by the player through his actions – actions the designer has made available to player, and actions that are consistent with whatever story you’d like the player to tell. This leaves plenty of room for setting the scene, but the script must be written emergently and systemically for the story to have any meaning or relevance where gameplay is concerned.

      And this is something that is achievable, to varying degrees, in the games I’ve namedropped so far.

      Well, they’re not. Tough shit.

      Charming. So, can you actually explain to me what a game is, without linking to another article or using soft descriptions like “experience”?

    • Chris D says:

      Gira

      I don’t think you want all games to be Tetris (which I think is a fine game) but I still think disallowing the importance of narrative is too restrictive. The examples you give; ARMA, Stalker and Dwarf Fortress are all simulations to one degree or another, games that try to realistically model a theme. I’m prepared to bet that none of them started life as “Here’s an interesting collection of mechanics, that’s really all we need for a game, but let’s slap some guns on there for the marketing.” More likely they began by someone saying “Hey, let’s make a game that model’s what it’s like to be a soldier, wander a nuclear wasteland, build the most detailed dwarf fortress imagineable.” In other words, the mechanics came from the theme, not the other way around.

      Now theme is not the same as narrative but it is a non-mechanical element that adds depth and shape to the experience on an emotional level, so it shares a similar role. Game design is full of trade offs, and not everyone shares the same priorities but if you have to lose a tiny bit of mechanical depth in order to make a significant gain in emotional depth I think many people would consider that a worthwile trade.

    • John P says:

      The agency was more restrictive because it was more focused and thematically significant. Which is pretty much what I said.

      Christ on a bike. This is the attitude that led us to Uncharted and Metal Gear Solid.

      cutscene -> shoot a guy -> cutscene -> walk five metres -> cutscene

      Only a few years ago, a site with RPS-like sensibilities would have been filled with people slamming that kind of crap. It wasn’t long ago that people absolutely hated cutscenes, and magazines and websites, particularly PC ones, were filled with calls to never use them. That was when there was still an inkling about what games were.

      Now it’s all about Having A Great Game Experience with Majestic Views and Top Quality Voice Acting.

      Something happened. Bioware happened, probably. And they took proud PC gamers down with them.

    • DiamondDog says:

      Why? Why does the story have to be player driven and emergent? Can’t game designers attempt to tell you their story? So what if a gameplay is restricted by the narrative, so long as the story works and is engaging.

      I’m not sure why you want to restrict the scope of game narrative.

    • Gira says:

      BioWare, Infinity Ward, and whoever the hell makes the Uncharted games. The unholy three.

      More likely they began by someone saying “Hey, let’s make a game that model’s what it’s like to be a soldier, wander a nuclear wasteland, build the most detailed dwarf fortress imagineable.” In other words, the mechanics came from the theme, not the other way around.

      Yeah, and that’s fine. Inspiration comes from the craziest places. It’s also irrelevant to what I’ve been saying – yes, ArmA II is vividly detailed and thematic and so on, but the point is, the game is built around systemic interaction and player agency.

    • Archonsod says:

      “The concept of game mechanics, the very thing that makes a game a game, not being the essence of a game, is mind-boggling”

      Never play Cowboys and Indians when you were a kid?

    • Gira says:

      Sure did. A victory was generally regarded as being one side exterminating the other. Obviously not everyone played fair, but hey, we were kids, and I probably wouldn’t let that shit fly as an adult.

    • JackShandy says:

      Gira, you started by saying that narrative is irrelevant to game design and often hampers it. Now, you agree that it’s fine to design a game around a thematic idea instead of a mechanical one (“Running a dwarven fortress”). You’ve contradicted yourself, so Chris D’s argument isn’t irrelevant.

      I would assume that all the games you mention were designed with narrative first in mind: Taking a theme, then building mechanics around it. I know for sure that Dwarf Fortress is.

    • Gira says:

      I haven’t contradicted myself at all. “Theme” and “narrative” are not the same thing. I should think that would be obvious.

    • NathanH says:

      Narrative isn’t a game mechanic, that’s a pretty sensible position to take I think. Narrative is, for me, part of the icing. The icing doesn’t matter to me if the cake is not edible. Things like narrative build on solid game foundations to make good games better. I rarely see them make average or bad games better.

      Having said that, although I mostly take the same position as Gira, I think I want to stress that the solid game mechanics on which we’re building don’t have to be too complicated to be good. Gira’s examples are primarily of complicated systems with emergent narrative. Those are good games, but not the only type of good game. I was playing Audiosurf last night. The interactions there are simple and there is no emergent narrative. There isn’t much of anything. But it’s still really good fun. Adding state-of-the-art graphics and gripping narratives to simple-yet-compelling game systems can make great games.

    • Justin Keverne says:

      The concept of game mechanics, the very thing that makes a game a game, not being the essence of a game, is mind-boggling.

      I asked whether they were the purpose, not the essence. Game mechanics exists to entertain or engage, they are the method by which games create an emotional response, they are not the reason games exists. Words, sentences, paragraphs these are the essence of literature but they are not the purpose of literature. Suggesting otherwise is putting the cart before the horse.

      If you can create something that is game-like that provokes an equally strong emotional response, why is that a bad thing? It might not personally be to your taste but not everything is going to be. Maybe the problem is with trying to define such a broad range of works as “games” in the first place.

    • Chris D says:

      NathanH

      I think you’re right, and I don’t think anyone here is saying that narrative excuses bad mechanics or that we want to see more games in the style of whichever FPS it was that John infamously described as a horrible un-game.

      On the other hand I do think the icing is the main reason why people like cakes.

    • Cooper says:

      The “games are fundamentaly a ruleset to be followed with more or less clear goals” is about the most impoverished description of games I have ever seen so vigorously defended.

      Games are experienced as more than this, and they do not even require this. The overlap between unstructured play and gaming is, and should be, very large.

      Games can be and are designed to allow for and encourage experiences and interactions that are not dependent upon rulesets. Story telling is just one of the many things that can be an alternative basis than rulesets.

      Gira’s argument is based upon a fundamental statement of what games are. It leads to impoversihed and impoverishing games. I worry for him. And for a world where his opinion takes precedence.

    • thegooseking says:

      Christ on a bike. This is the attitude that led us to Uncharted and Metal Gear Solid.

      cutscene -> shoot a guy -> cutscene -> walk five metres -> cutscene

      I never said everyone had to like it. At most, I said it was valid from a theoretical perspective. By responding to my comment in that way, what you’ve said, there, albeit probably unintentionally, is that theory should be informed by what you, personally, like or dislike. Which is insane.

    • JackShandy says:

      Oh, I understand now. After that clarification, I’ve got to say: I enjoy choose-your-own adventure games, and Silent Hill 2, and Portal, and the rest. I think you can definitely argue that they’re not the most worthy games, or that they don’t capitalize on what games do best, but gaming would be thinner and poorer without them.

    • Gira says:

      Deeply impoverishing games like the ones mentioned above, Deus Ex, Thief, Jagged Alliance 2, the entire immersive sim genre, grand strategy games …

      For the record, you can’t actually build a game around “storytelling”. That’s a lovely idea but it doesn’t make any sense from a structural or developmental perspective. At some point you’re going to have to stick some rules and mechanics in there, unless you’ve found a means of computationally creating an Everything, Everywhere simulator.

      I enjoy choose-your-own adventure games

      Like the Steve Jackson books? They’re interesting, because they actually attempt to use narrative in a switch-and-sort, choice-and-consequence kind of way; they attempt to “game” the narrative, if you will. It’s not particularly sophisticated, but it’s certainly something that could be developed on.

    • Doesn'tmeananything says:

      “Gira’s argument is based upon a fundamental statement of what games are. It leads to impoversihed and impoverishing games. I worry for him. And for a world where his opinion takes precedence.”

      Right, so in the world, where his opinion takes precedence and where game developers adhere to this idea of what games are, we would only have games like Stalker, Dwarf Fortress, Deus Ex, Europa Universalis III, Arma, Fallout 1-2, Jagged Alliance 2 or Mount & Blade?

      Yeah, what a sad world would that be.

    • John P says:

      The “games are fundamentaly a ruleset to be followed with more or less clear goals” is about the most impoverished description of games I have ever seen so vigorously defended.

      ???

      Can you find a definition of ‘game’ that does not include these criteria in some form or another? I mean a scholarly definition, not an idle thought from some idiot with a Blogspot account.

      Look, maybe you’re so culturally impoverished that you enjoy watching Visceral Cinematic Screensavers. I’m not judging. Just don’t call them games.

    • thegooseking says:

      Can you find a definition of ‘game’ that does not include these criteria in some form or another? I mean a scholarly definition, not an idle thought from some idiot with a Blogspot account.

      Perhaps something like the definition of games in Roger Caillois’ Man, Play and Games, which is the fundamental text of Game Studies, and one of the main ideas of which is that games exist on a spectrum between rules-driven, goal-oriented ludus-type games and less rules-driven, less goal-oriented paidia-type games. You mean something like that?

    • DiamondDog says:

      “I’m not judging.”

      You are. Of course you are. How else can you get that warm feeling of superiority?

    • John P says:

      This post was pretty funny.

      Never play Cowboys and Indians when you were a kid?

      That’s a theme you’ve got there. Any narrative comes from the kids playing together, as it should be.

      Imagine if Cowboys and Indians was structured the way some of you like having your so-called games structured.

      The adults stand watch over the children and direct all their actions. Sam, run around the corner! Okay stop. Now Sally, you run around the corner! Ooo, surprise! Sally, raise your finger-gun. Say Bang! Sam’s dead! Sam, fall back slowly so your death is more emotional. Great story everyone!

      You see how that kind of structured narrative eliminates play? Extraordinarily, some of you actually seem to think that’s acceptable.

    • John P says:

      Perhaps something like the definition of games in Roger Caillois’ Man, Play and Games, which is the fundamental text of Game Studies, and one of the main ideas of which is that games exist on a spectrum between rules-driven, goal-oriented ludus-type games and less rules-driven, less goal-oriented paidia-type games. You mean something like that?

      Is this the same Roger Caillois whose definition included ‘governed by rules’? If so, yeah. Something like that.

    • Gira says:

      less rules-driven, less goal-oriented

      Note the use of “less” here. I do believe John P asked for a definition that completely omitted the relevant criteria.

    • DiamondDog says:

      I think it’s extraordinary that some people can’t accept there is room to explore both.

      What you just described there, John P, is a director telling a story. Obviously it’s different in games in that the audience is also participating, which makes the directors work harder. I think it’s a design idea worth trying to perfect. I like being told stories.

    • BigJonno says:

      I think cake makes a great analogy here. The mechanics are the cake itself and the feedback (in this discussion, narrative) is the icing. What Koster is saying is that many games get the ratio wrong and have too much icing to too little cake. This I agree with. However, I can’t agree with Gira’s suggestion that the icing is irrelevant and holds no place in game design. Fruit cake is yummy, but Christmas cake with the addition of marzipan and royal icing is even better. Throwing some chocolate buttercream on that same fruit cake would not be anywhere near as tasty. Some cakes get away with no icing whatsoever, or just a sprinkling of icing sugar. That’s cool, but they aren’t the only cakes on the block.

      The point is, videogames, like cake, need to be considered as a whole package. I’m totally onboard with the idea that the mechanics are the most important bit, as they are what makes a game a game and differentiates videogames as a medium. That doesn’t mean that everything else that goes into a game should be considered of secondary importance, it’s just that they shouldn’t take over.

    • Chris D says:

      Ok, some counter-examples:

      Immortal Defence – Mechanically a fairly average tower defence game but it’s the narrative that makes it special and gives you the reason to keep playing, and it’s what will stay with you when you stop.

      Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth – Buggy, Mechanically downright horrible in places, completely broken in others. In terms of the experience, the suspense and some of the most generally terrifying sequences in any game it’s unrivalled. Broken, yet fantastic.

      Portal 2 – Ok, mechanically it’s pretty slick, it’s Valve after all, but it’s the humour the characters and the story it tells that raise it up to be a contender for best game of 2011.

      Vampire:The Masquerade: Bloodlines – Again – Mechanically average to just broken. The story is the game, the characters are the game, the world is the game. And it’s a classic.

      Final Fantasy 7 – Controversial pick, I know. Many people hate it, but many love it and I am one of them. Yes it’s repetitive, yes it’s grindy (but only if you choose to grind). But it’s the game equivalent of a road movie. You’re trying to save the world, but the goal is not as important as the journey. You’re travelling with your mates on the way you’ll see the world, face betrayal and also redemption and find that people aren’t what they seem. Mechanically this idea has been done better hundreds of times but if you were to erase the memories of all the games I’ve ever played apart from one I think I’d choose this.

      I can enjoy sports, competitions, challenges and puzzles. I can also enjoy novels, films, theatre and just making stuff up. I’m happy to stick the label “game” on anything in the space in between. If you want to stick with your “Games are all about the mechanics” stance then fine. I’ll be over here playing with my pretensionators. I suspect a lot of people will join me. Although we might still be arguing about the name.

    • Gira says:

      How is Bloodlines mechanically broken? The ruleset it uses is pretty interesting and allows for a significant level of character/agent differentiation. It also ties into the concept of “gaming” narrative as mentioned earlier.

    • NathanH says:

      Yeah, Bloodlines is absolutely not the sort of thing that’s even being raised in the article. The mechanics are solid enough and give you plenty of playing to do, and things aren’t broken up by minigames or quicktime events or anything like that in the name of “narrative”. There are a couple of special challenges like the zombie optional quest or the werewolf encounter, but they’re still governed by the basic mechanics and are quite meaty. Bloodlines is a game that is absolutely set up on the right foundations, and then iced in a very pleasant manner. It may not be the fruitiest of fruitcakes, but it’s fruity enough.

    • BigJonno says:

      Plus, a lot of what makes Bloodlines great isn’t just story, but dialogue. I’d argue that when you have control over that dialogue and it has a variety of consequences, it becomes a game mechanic. Bloodlines takes this further by specifically tying dialogue in to your abilities.

    • Gira says:

      Dynamic dialogue trees, especially ones dependent on specific character traits and proclivities, are absolutely a game mechanic.

    • Chris D says:

      I see mention of Bloodlines has alienated people who I was formerly in agreement with. I am happy for that piece of evidence to be struck from the record if it is problematic, though I thought it was generally regarded to be broken especially in the later parts, particularly the sewers.

      “Dynamic dialogue trees, especially ones dependent on specific character traits and proclivities, are absolutely a game mechanic. ”

      Fair enough, though I would still argue it’s the narrative that makes them meaningful.

      “Yeah, Bloodlines is absolutely not the sort of thing that’s even being raised in the article.”

      Perhaps, though I think it is the type of game threatened by the philosophical stance of “The important part of games is the mechanics” If what people are objecting to are cutscene heavy ungames then I think a better fix is to integrate narrative and mechanics properly rather than to say it shouldn’t be done.

    • Bhazor says:

      Planescape Torment and Dwarf Fortress are the epitome of videogame story telling. Both take completely different approaches.

      PT is a densely scripted story in which the player explores through conversations and optional quests.

      DF is completely unscripted and lets the game mechanics tell its own story.

      Both are fine. What isn’t fine are Alan Wake/ CoD style Michael Bay films.

    • Gira says:

      Actually, like Bloodlines, Torment focuses on player agency within narrative chunks, and allows player choice (both in terms of dialogue, game actions, and character attributes) to have a significant effect on the proceedings. It would be foolhardy to suggest its mechanics aren’t actually the driving force behind the “storytelling” (as indeed they are, since a lot of Torment is about navigating D&D alignment mechanics and so forth).

      Having said that, Fallout (1) is a much better example of this than Torment.

    • Urthman says:

      This is exactly the same argument as ‘comics must be funny, right? They’re called *comics*’.

      No, no. Something called “comics” need not be funny, but they must have a happy ending.

    • Cooper says:

      Rhetorical question to those who are hanging onto a rules-based definition of games.

      Those who play games in order to have fun with bugs, who play with the game specifically in order to break, work around or deviate from the ruleset.

      Are they playing something other than the game? Or are they playing the game wrong?

      Rules can help give meaning to play. But rules are not necessary for play to happen, nor for it to be meaningful.

    • Lone Gunman says:

      Good narrative helps me care more about the character in a game.

    • NathanH says:

      Cooper, you might not be playing the game that the designers intended to make, but you’re still playing by some rules. Trying to take advantage of rules specification or implementation is very much part of playing a game. Similarly, if you’ve modded a game, you’ve changed the rules but you haven’t changed the existence of rules.

      I don’t really see the link to the discussion, though.

    • pilouuuu says:

      Narrative isn’t irrelevant if it makes the experience different, richer. It shouldn’t get in the way of the gameplay, of course, but it well integrated in a way that both make sense and work together then it can only make everything better.

      Games have the advantage that they can include all kinds of art. Think about this game I made in my mind as an example (creating games in my mind is a really fun game for me!):
      - you could have a museum in the game, in which you can appreciate beautiful pictures
      - the museum could be an amazing building, a really outstanding architecture creation
      - the museum could be located in a living city where the procedurally generated citizens would go around doing their own activities (I don’t know what kind of art this is, but I wanted to include it. A.I. art?)
      - you would complete quests in this city, which although are fun make much more sense because you’re the main character of an epic story and you meet interesting characters which you can talk to (storytelling art)
      - you have an MP3 player in the game where you can listen from Bach to heavy metal or if you don’t use it you can listen to the game’s amazing adaptative soundtrack, that suits the mood of the game (music)

      I pretty much described a Bioware or Bethesda game here, I noticed. Just think about those games, how worse they would be if they relied merely upon gameplay mechanics and missed the narrative aspect.
      I think that since Half-Life I’ve been deeply impressed and amused by narrative in games and it shouldn’t be lost, simply polished and made to fit better with the gameplay. Valve in my opinion are quite talented with that.

      It doesn’t mean that abstract games like Tetris should go again or that we should put a story on them to make them fun. Now, that would be forced and unnecessary. That’s what I like about art and gaming. That there’s variety on them. You can look at a Da Vinci and a surrealistic Dali or an abstract Miro and enjoy all of them. It’s the same with gaming. I even think that there may be some space to all the Call of Dutys and Need for Speeds, but please make them better than Michael Bay’s movies! That’s the thing. If you’re going to include narrative make it good. Not commando macho fights aliens. Make it an emotional, dramatic, funny and fun, full of twists, a deeply spiritual journey.

      More related to the article, I agree about the whole feedback thing and that’s why Call of Duty is not as fun as it could be. You simply shoot some guys in a fantastic looking shooting gallery and you get one of those awesome set-pieces. What you do in terms of playing should be proportional to the feedback you receive in form of set-pieces. Set-pieces, please. Done in the game engine and not some FMV that looks totally unrelated to the game. This is another example that Half-Life 2 got right and all games should follow it.

    • Wizardry says:

      @Gira: I was reading through this comment thread and was ready to post that I agreed with you entirely. You made many of the points I usually try to make. But then you mentioned a few questionable games as examples for your points and you left me scratching my head. Your justification for Planescape: Torment is especially odd. How does it in any way conform to your point of view? It’s almost entirely scripted. Each line of dialogue was hand written by a writer. Each branch in a conversation was hand structured by a writer. Each skill check was assigned to branch points by a writer. There’s hardly any mechanics at play here.

    • NathanH says:

      I guess it backs him into a corner a little bit because you Can’t Criticize Planescape…

    • mazzratazz says:

      Have to agree with Wizardry here. Well, sort of. I disagree with Gira’s point of view entirely, but his arguments seemed incredibly solid. Until it came to some of the concrete examples. This whole thread seems to be built around the question of whether or not narrative in games is useful/valuable. But if you’re going to include things like Torment and Bloodlines in the pile of things that get it right, I’m not really following the sharp critique anymore. Those are pretty clear creator-authored storylines, that, sure, allow for some room for player agency, but that are really quite heavily structured and.. delineated narratively in essence (as opposed to the emergent sim-games the opponents are championing).

      Isn’t the criticism here pointed towards a very, very specific type of narrative as opposed to narrative in games as such (referring of course to cutscene-heavy things like Metal Gear or “cinematic experiences” like Uncharted)? I mean, I find it a bit odd to argue that something like Torment or Bloodlines puts mechanical (player-directed) systems ahead of an already present narrative. Torment especially is all about the story it tells – obviously there are DnD systems going on in the background and there’s some sort of player authority, but surely the main reason to play (and enjoy) Torment is the Avellone-penned narrative?

    • Bhazor says:

      @ Wizardry

      Thats why I picked Planescape Torment. It is entirely scripted but still gives the player a lot of agency in deciding the story and exploring the world. Stick to the plot and you’ll miss maybe 75% of the actual content.

      The way I see it there are two ways a narrative can improve a game. Either “set it up and walk away” letting the mechanics be the point of playing (Dwarf Fortress, early RPGs) or give the player the ability to explore the story that is given to them (Planescape, Deus Ex). Either let the player explore a place using sandboxes and branching paths or explore a story withits optional dialogue and repercushions. Give the player at least the illusion they have control. If all your game does is tell a story (and you don’t go all Kojima with the mechanics) then why are you making a game? In other words the key question is “What would I miss out on if I watched a Let’s Play instead”?

      In the olden days games seperated themselves by their mechanics, by their actual gameplay. Now though games have seriously lost the way as far as narratives go losing all sense of agency until all you’re left with our ungames like MW3. Most of these games don’t even bother with new mechanics instead sticking to either quasi-serious shooting or chest high fence cuddling so the only differentiation between two games now *is* the story.

      With the quality of most videogame stories?
      That is The! Worst! Possible! Thing!

    • NathanH says:

      Mazzratazz, I don’t think the debate is about whether or not narrative is a good thing to have or not. It’s more about how much you should allow narrative to impede the player’s ability to actually do things. I don’t agree with Gira that dialogue trees really count as mechanics, not very often anyway, but absolutely agree that Bloodlines is not an example of the narrative impeding the player’s ability to do stuff.

      You’ve got a lot of freedom to do things in that game, when it comes to the actual gameplay. There’s not a lot of arbitrary restriction to what you can do and how things react. Obviously there’s going to be some restriction in games like that, but I don’t think any restrictions there may be are deliberately desired by the designers. I’m sure that if they could give you total freedom and have all your actions affect the story coherently, they’d have done that. But such a setup is just wishful thinking. There are plenty of games, though, where you get the distinct impression that even if they did have the ability to let you play and let the narrative shift around how you play, they wouldn’t want to do it, because their Big Idea is more important.

    • Gira says:

      Since one of the biggest reasons Torment remains praised is for the means with which players can have a noticeable impact upon the progression of the plot – thus “gaming” the narrative as referenced in the choose-your-own-adventure example – it’s ludicrous to suggest the only reason to play it is for the “Avellone-penned narrative”.

      Having said that, yes, Wizardry, Torment is not particularly great when it comes to the things I’m talking about, and is definitely guilty of heavy player funnelling and so forth. And its RTwP combat system is inarguably dreadful. I was simply responding to Bhazor’s example, and how criticisms of Torment are kind of unrelated to criticisms of, you know, Uncharted.

      Still, this is a rudimentary form of emergent narrative; something like Dwarf Fortress – or even, to use a closer example, Jagged Alliance 2 – goes a lot further than Torment ever could, and really should be the ideal.

      I don’t agree with Gira that dialogue trees really count as mechanics, not very often anyway,

      I didn’t say dialogue lines counted as mechanics – I said dialogue trees tied into gameplay-pertinent choices and consequences count as mechanics. Most RPGs have fluff dialogue, yes, but I’m not talking about that.

    • NathanH says:

      I’m not sure we should be thinking of “ideals”. I like many different kinds of cake. The “narrative only emerge through gameplay mechanics” ideal is currently limited in some ways and likely always will be. A straightforward game with good icing can provide something different.

    • Qazi says:

      Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hold up.

      “You know the joke “and in the game”? It’s like that. It’s having the story and the gameplay tell you different things.”

      That isn’t how the “and in the game!” joke works at all! This is a travesty.

    • Gira says:

      I’m aware that’s not how the joke works. I was repurposing it.

      I’m not sure we should be thinking of “ideals”.

      We should absolutely be thinking of ideals, and degrees of success within those ideals. Anything else is doing the possibilities of ludonarrative a disservice, and allowing for idiotic and pointless discussion about how It’s All About The Emotional Engagement or Sometimes You Just Want A Cinematic Experience.

      Besides, it’s not nearly as limited as you’re suggesting. I’ve seen some pretty amazing things happen emergently in ArmA II, for example – things that, in a lesser game, would probably be scripted in a setpiece so as to demonstrate The Horrors Of War or whatever. Whereas in ArmA, they just happen because it’s possible within the simulation. That is so far and above the territory to which most games are aimed these days it’s breathtaking that people can actually stomach Modern Warfare when something like this is so readily available.

      Basically, Bohemia are gods among men.

    • John Brindle says:

      Koster is emphatically not saying that narrative is irrelevant to games or that games cannot benefit from having good narrative. He is not saying (as NathanH puts it upthread) that “narrative only emerge[s] through gameplay mechanics”. What he claims is that all narrative content (it is unclear whether he includes stuff like ‘character models’, but it seems likely) is feedback about the game rules, and that we should therefore not be dazzled or fooled when the feedback massively outweighs the complexity of the rules. in essence he claims that a quick-time event is the equivalent of a machine that tells you ‘GREAT JOB’ if you press a button. He’s careful to acknowledge that a game can provide a great “experience” without having great game design, but sees the black box portion of his model – the rules – as the fundamental part.

      Which is fair enough. But the implicit statement here is that narrative in games is only comprehensible in terms of the game design. To put it another way, game rules are ontologically privileged as the most real and most fundamental part of a videogame. From a designer’s standpoint, this makes sense, because games are built as hierarchical ontologies: from hardware, to code, to ‘engine’, through map and model editors, to final build, to player experience. But players don’t get any unmediated access to the game rules, so for them their experience is the most fundamental part – and obviously there is on some level a difference between the GREAT JOB machine and a well-directed cut-scene. For many players, game rules are not the end in themselves but the principal means to an end that may be narrative, simulatory, experiential, political, thematic, artistic, therapeutic, or any combination thereof.

      As Gira says, this is about ideals (plural). Koster is entirely correct when you’re considering narrative content qua game rules. But maybe there is sometimes cause to consider game rules qua narrative – or, as Ian Bogost advocates, move from aberrance to aesthetics (or, from a more philosophical perspective, practice a flat ontology).

      Which implies nothing about my opinions of emergent games like OpFlash (i.e. stratospherically high), or whether quick time events are actually any good for anyone’s purpose. You can’t ignore mechanics if you want to analyse a game as a text that means (because the mechanics are ineluctably a part of that meaning). And personally, I think that severely limited game mechanics are often if not usually a shite tool for whatever ideal you’re seeking, because they’re aesthetically hokey and transparently obvious to an audience that’s videogame literate, i.e. most gamers and probably all RPS readers. I sure as hell can’t see what a QTE is worth unless your goal is ‘express a message’ and your message is ‘sometimes everything comes down to one stupid unfair chance’. Which is a pretty limited goal.

    • JackShandy says:

      What a great thread.

      I can’t get behind your backing of choose-your-own adventure stuff. Surely that’s the epitome of designing a game around a narrative?

    • Gira says:

      No, Dragon’s Lair (or its modern equivalents like Uncharted) is the epitome of designing a game around a narrative – that is, the gameplay is rigidly adhered to the progression of the narrative, and there is no room for player agency beyond that.

      A CYOA book, on the other hand, actually offers rudimentary agency in the form of players being able to choose different outcomes based on both player actions, die rolls, and stats (if indeed the book has those things). It is therefore not designed around narrative, but around the ability for the player to alter and shape the narrative arc through gameplay. I want to stress (for Wizardry, primarily, as I think that guy’s on the money) that this is a very, very primitive form of ludonarrative, and it’s easily outclassed by something as simple as chess, but it’s still a minor example of agency.

    • DocSeuss says:

      “Charming. So, can you actually explain to me what a game is, without linking to another article or using soft descriptions like “experience”?”

      Pick up a dictionary.

      Open it up to the definition of a game. You should find something along the lines of “a structured play/playing.”

      All a game is is play with some sort of structure to it. Narrative is one possible form of structure.

      You are wrong on a definitional level.

    • Gira says:

      I’m not going to bother responding to this since a) you obviously haven’t read the rest of the thread, b) I don’t think you understand what I’m saying anyway, and c) your ridiculous idea that a game can exist without some kind of ruleset has already been dismissed here. It’s nonsense.

    • Chris D says:

      Gira

      “your ridiculous idea that a game can exist without some kind of ruleset has already been dismissed here. It’s nonsense. ”

      Yeah, it’s been dismissed by people saying “No it can’t” but no one has actually made the argument why that’s the case apart from asserting “games means rules” as a definition. That’s a definition that many of us are disputing.

    • Bhazor says:

      @ Chris D

      A game without rules is a toy and you cannot have computer toys. You have to have rules in a computer game or it doesn’t exist. If there were no rules, for a start there would be no control input there would be no game engine or graphics no scoring system. Programming automatically creates rules.

    • Chris D says:

      Bhazor

      Nice try but by that logic a screensaver is also a game, I don’t think anyone would go for that definition.

    • John Brindle says:

      It’s hard to see how you can dispute a definition of ‘videogames’ that involves ‘at least one rule plus a computer’ – except perhaps on the basis that it’s not stringent ENOUGH. Hell, they have rules by virtue of being on a computer. People have mentioned theorists like Callois and Huizinga but they discussed the freeform ‘play’ of children (or in Callois’ case, fairground rides and recreational drug use) alongside what we’d call ‘games’. And anyway both their definitions explicitly include rules or ‘order’.

      also, is anyone else taking ages to get their comments moderated? I made a great big post and it’s just sort of sitting there invisibly.

    • Gira says:

      Exactly. There is no way to conceive of a videogame without rules. It’s inherent in the bloody programming. People have tried to bring up pie-in-the-sky soft definitons like “storytelling-driven” and so forth but all these ideas fundamentally rely on some form of ruleset, or they simply wouldn’t function. They wouldn’t exist.

    • Bhazor says:

      @ Chris D

      Your question was can you have a computer game without rules and as I stated you simply can’t. You have to have limits which means you have to have rules.

      I have no interest in continuing the debate if you’re just going to quibble over semantics.

    • John P says:

      Arguing that games don’t need rules is like holding up a novel and saying ‘This right here is a film, see? Because who says films need to be, you know, filmed and viewed on a screen and stuff? You’re just stuck in an old definition of film. You’re just holding back what films can be, man.’

      If you structure your ‘game’ solely around a narrative, what you’ve made is a story. Congratulations.

    • Chris D says:

      Bhazor

      I’m sorry you feel I’m quibbling over semantics but I think the implications are important to the debate. For a sufficiently broad definition of rules, that includes coding, then no games can ever be excluded so yes, maybe you win the computer games need rules debate but only by sacrificing the relevance to the wider discussion.

      Really though, it was probably my mistake getting sidetracked by this as my argument would be more that the defining characteristic of a thing is not necessarily the point of a thing. For the sake of argument I’ll concede games need rules if you like but it’s irrelevant because the rules are not the only reason people enjoy games.

      John P

      Don’t confuse having a story with being a story. Also, being on film may make something a film but it’s never the reason why any film was ever watched or made.

    • John Brindle says:

      Chris D: But saying computer games must have rules does not amount to saying that anything with rules is a computer game. Which is why the screensaver example does not work. I’d be interested to know what distinguishes rules from coding and if there are any works which you consider to be computer games yet which have the latter and lack the former.

      Point is, you’re right: if games must necessarily involve rules, it doesn’t follow that the rules are the point of them. But it isn’t necessary (and is indeed pretty puzzling) to argue against the definition in attempting to prove this point.

    • Bhazor says:

      @ Chris D

      And if all a developer want is to tell me a story then they should write a book/comic/movie. Needless interaction does not improve a narrative when all it amounts to is turning a page. This is what more and more games are turning into to the point that MW3 feels the need to tell you every step to take. Unless you give the player some agency they may as well wait for the movie adaption to come out. All super linear games do to a narrative is drag it out and ruin the pacing.

      All a tightly scripted narrative does to a game is restrict it.
      All a game does to a tightly scripted narrative is ruin it.

    • Chris D says:

      John Brindle

      It wasn’t intended to be petty but I may be guilty of overreaching a bit. The example I mainly had in mind would be something like cowboys and indians or any other game of pretending. We’ve always referred to these activities as games so my point is that anything descended from this tradition is equally validly referred to as a game as much as more rules based games such as chess or football. Given that most computer games contain elements of both I’d say it’s more useful to just call them all games and then talk about whether they’re good or bad games than it is to exclude half of them from consideration for not having a sufficiently large quotient of rules.

      It’s been a long thread and I think we might be wandering a bit. Let me see if I can clarify things a bit.

      As I understand the argument put forward by Gira and others goes something like:

      Games are defined by their mechanics
      Therefore mechanics are the most important part of games
      Therefore narrative considerations are either of secondary importance or irrelevant when designing games.

      What I and I think others are arguing is:

      Games might be defined by their mechanics
      But that’s not the only reason people play and enjoy games
      As one of the many reasons people enjoy games narrative considerations can be important when designing some kinds of games
      and also Games based around fixed narratives may be equally good games as other types providing they’re designed well.

      Is this a fair summary? I think there’s a fair amount of common ground to be had and maybe we can reach some kind of consensus?

    • John Brindle says:

      Bhazor: “And if all a developer want is to tell me a story then they should write a book/comic/movie.”

      But comic books, movies and literature all have their own formal methods which have their own joy, so this is a bit like saying “if all a writer wants is to tell me a story (rather than give me beautiful language and networks of meaning and metaphor)” then they should write a movie/game/comic.” Actually, I’m /not/ interested in a book that has nothing but story, but game design and game rules themselves constitute a rhetoric which can convey meaning or narrative. If all you want to do is tell a story, and you’ve chosen the videogame form, and you’re intellectually honest, then you can’t ignore this rhetoric and you can’t neglect game design.

      In fact what you really seem to be saying is: “if all a developer wants is to tell me a story (of the kind which is incompatible with games)…” At the end of your comment you qualify the word “narrative” with “tightly scripted”, but you should be doing that all the way through, because ‘story’ is a pretty wide category.

      I would also argue that your free usage of the word “restrict” is problematic because videogames necessarily entail some restriction. Limited or focused systems can also be valuable even from a pure ludology perspective – if the weren’t, and if value lay only with the amount of freedom possible in the system, then game development would be a race to create Just Cause 3000.

      *

      Chris D: I think your summary is fair, but on the contrary I don’t think we’re drifting at all. The top of this comments thread has a lot of weird misreadings of Koster’s article, which does not actually say that games should never have stories or that games cannot have good stories or even (like Bhazor does) that stories harm games. All Koster says is that games must have good design first. His argument is extremely sound as long as you’re considering narrative content qua game design; the biggest point of dispute is surely that we often consider game design qua narrative. So an argument about the definition and purpose of the form is probably more relevant than almost anything else.

      For me, I think (and I say I think because I am not sure), heavy scripting, trivial game design and QTEs are lame not because they transgress against the fundamental purpose of games but because in many if not most situations they are A) badly or lazily implemented, B) transparently and obviously boring, and C) shite tools for the job of expressing meaning or artistic achievement or whatever you like.

      As Jesper Juul notes in Half-Real, the English language tends to distinguish between ‘play’ (a wide category) and ‘game’ (more specific rule-based things within that category). Other languages, including those which hosted some foundational games crit, do not have this distinction. The problem with failing to make it is that games like cowboys and indians (a class of play defined as “summer games” by Brindle, J, 1884; this definition was disputed in Arthur, D, 2012, on the basis that they can be played in the rain; Mendicant, B.J. 3012 notes that these definitions are not inconsistent, because British summers are often wet) – the problem, I say, is that such games do actually have rules, even if they are not well-enforced or well-implemented. if I shoot you, you SHOULD die, even if your actual dying ends up subject to negotiation. When there are no rules (“let’s pretend”), what separates the so-called ‘game’ from a social practice bound by behaviour conventions, like dating (“let’s pretend we’re not TOO interested in each other”) or small talk (“let’s pretend, when you ask me how I’m doing, that I’m doing fine”).

      In Half-Real, Juul does argue that videogames are a hybrid form with imaginary and creative elements joined to a system of rules – but I’m still in the dark as to why a line of code dictating what the player can and can’t do doesn’t count as a rule on a basic level. This is essentially the same as a rule in a boardgame (“you are not allowed to move there”), but automated and indisputable. Can you actually name any videogames that would be excluded under a definition that had ‘rules’ as a necessity?

    • Gira says:

      Chris D, you’re still missing the point. Narrative is inherently a secondary consideration because the designing of a “game” – that is, the collection of game mechanics that result in gameplay, not “game” as in a boxed product you buy in a store – is exclusively about rulesets and interactions with those rulesets. Everything else belongs to different disciplines – even the creation of a story in a choose-your-own-adventure game can be divided into the content of the narrative (the “feedback”, as Koster puts it), and the actual means with which you interact with that content (the game).

      I would also argue that your free usage of the word “restrict” is problematic because videogames necessarily entail some restriction. Limited or focused systems can also be valuable even from a pure ludology perspective

      Absolutely. The problem has always been arbitrary and inconsistent restriction to serve a narrative. In other words, taking control away from the player to serve a narrative that no longer has anything to do with the player’s ludonarrative.

    • Chris D says:

      Gira

      Ok, we can do this.

      If I understand right you’re using game in a mathematical or platonic sense and I concede that in that sense it is indeed all about the ruleset.

      But I would say that game in the sense of a boxed product that you buy in a store or from steam is the sense that actually matters to most people who play them. It is a hybrid form in many ways, with multiple disciplines involved. People enjoy games for many reasons and I think so long as narrative is one it’s valid to make that a consideration. Something with only narrative isn’t a game but I think so long as there’s some element of interaction we can still consider it to be one.

      “The problem has always been arbitrary and inconsistent restriction to serve a narrative.”

      We can agree on this, but while I think you see this as a reason to reject narrative as a consideration in game design I see it as what happens when you do it badly and don’t see it as a reason why it couldn’t be done well.

    • Moist says:

      Bhazor: “And if all a developer want is to tell me a story then they should write a book/comic/movie.”

      But comic books, movies and literature all have their own formal methods which have their own joy, so this is a bit like saying “if all a writer wants is to tell me a story (rather than give me beautiful language and networks of meaning and metaphor)” then they should write a movie/game/comic.” Actually, I’m /not/ interested in a book that has nothing but story, but game design and game rules themselves constitute a rhetoric which can convey meaning or narrative. If all you want to do is tell a story, and you’ve chosen the videogame form, and you’re intellectually honest, then you can’t ignore this rhetoric and you can’t neglect game design.

      If your desire is to create a narrative that is the same for each person then you should use a medium that is unchanged by the person experiencing it. The complexity and beauty of interactivity comes from an interaction with a system. The player themselves becomes a poet as their story affects the system and the system responds. The best games allow the most player expression and the best systemic responses to that expression.

      Interactivity with rules is my definition of a game. That has the scope to encompass most of the current videogame industry, and it’s usually not that something like To the Moon or Modern Warfare 3 is not a game, but that they’re really bad games. The whole “ungame” thing is silly when you can demonstrate that there is minimal player agency, that the narrative takes precendence to the gameplay, and that what minimal gameplay you get is pop-a-mole and banal puzzles.

    • DocSeuss says:

      @Gira: “I’m not going to bother responding to this since a) you obviously haven’t read the rest of the thread, b) I don’t think you understand what I’m saying anyway, and c) your ridiculous idea that a game can exist without some kind of ruleset has already been dismissed here. It’s nonsense. ”

      I have, and it’s mostly just you and a few others going “NO! GAMES MUST ONLY BE RULES! THE ADDITION OF ANYTHING ELSE IS DETRIMENTAL!”

      I’m fairly certain you don’t understand what I’m saying, though, or rather, you appear to be misattributing Chris D’s question to me. I never said that a game can exist without rules, because for a game to be structured play inherently means that there are rules to give it structure.

      I have argued that stories are an additional form of structure and can enhance a game, which is quite different than what you seem to think I’ve saying.

      @John P: “Arguing that games don’t need rules is like holding up a novel and saying ‘This right here is a film, see? Because who says films need to be, you know, filmed and viewed on a screen and stuff? You’re just stuck in an old definition of film. You’re just holding back what films can be, man.’”

      Gira’s arguing that any sort of ordered structure is inherently detrimental to games, which is patently false. Games are simply structured play, and that can include both rules and narrative. In the case of a game like Alan Wake, the narrative structures the pacing of the game and its levels. The narrative shapes one’s reasoning from moving from point A to point B.

      @Moist, your definition is all well and good, but what good is using the English language if you’re going to make up your own definitions for things? I find it a bit strange that people would consider Modern Warfare 3 a bad game from a definitional standpoint, since it is a structured form of play. At least it’s not something like Uncharted–those games keep trying to push away the player so they can play themselves.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Having read all of this discission (really interesting for the most part) I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t really mind whether a game gives primacy to mechanics or narrative, so long as there’s something in it to enjoy.

      I think a game where all you do is walk along and discover parts of a story (Dear Esther, To the Moon) can be great if it’s a good story and the walking along part isn’t too boring. Remember: when we talk about designers we’re talking about people. Maybe they don’t have the right kind of mind to write a novel or a comic (vastly different disciplines themselves), but are more comfortable telling their story using graphics and a rudimentary interaction system. I don’t think we should deny that person the chance to tell their story. But similarly, we don’t have to like it.

      Make sense?

    • Moist says:

      @Gira: “I’m not going to bother responding to this since a) you obviously haven’t read the rest of the thread, b) I don’t think you understand what I’m saying anyway, and c) your ridiculous idea that a game can exist without some kind of ruleset has already been dismissed here. It’s nonsense. ”

      I have, and it’s mostly just you and a few others going “NO! GAMES MUST ONLY BE RULES! THE ADDITION OF ANYTHING ELSE IS DETRIMENTAL!”

      This is ignorant and dishonest. Gira has been arguing that structured narratives are irrelevant and out of place in games, and that theme can inform the player’s motivations and in certain games make a world more interesting but it’s auxiliary rather than ancillary to the game mechanics.

      “Structured narrative” means a narrative that is unaltered by the players actions. Think about that, if the narrative is set in stone and the player can have no interaction with it, then it’s not interactive and surely we can agree that interactivity is one very important thing that defines a game?

      You’re confusing narrative with theme, an example of a game that uses structured narrative and theme well is STALKER, the structured narrative is a brief cutscene at the beginning of the game and a message to “KILL STRELOK”. Beyond that, you have a few points where you have to progress this narrative through visiting certain areas and learning more about “strelok”. That’s the narrative. The theme is the SF nuclear wasteland and it’s rendered in exquisite detail. The various anomalies that can spawn in random locations and the wandering mutants and stalkers all create a theme of instability and a very real fear of the unknown.

    • DiamondDog says:

      “And if all a developer want is to tell me a story then they should write a book/comic/movie.”

      What a wonderfully limited thought.

      If someone only wants to tell a story you should strike movies off that list too, because you have to filter your ideas through actors and composers and cinematographers, who might muddy your vision. Actually, get rid of comics as well because the artist you work with might not interpret your words quite how you want.

      Stick to books, because why even bother putting the effort into any other medium to tell a story when we already have books that allow us to tell a pure narrative, with no distracting visuals or third parties.

      If it’s hard, and we haven’t figured out how to make it work yet, Bhazor’s answer is to just stop trying. Great.

      Personally, I find it incredibly saddening that so many people seem OK with squeezing games into a corner where they only have a limited range of expression. Why, exactly, do we have to strictly define what games can and can’t do, just because a few of you don’t like bloody Uncharted?

      I guess some of your are arguing from the position that games are inherently unable to tell a structured narrative, so to try would be a waste of time. I just can’t buy into that.

    • Raiyan 1.0 says:

      Aren’t you all a grumpy lot.

      If you’re using structured narrative, make sure it doesn’t intrude into gameplay rules (one shot in a cutscene kills you while you’ve been sponging up bullets seconds ago) or overstay it’s welcome (cutscenes way too long, with tiny amounts of intermediate gameplay). Portal did it fine, Half Life 2 did it fine, Bastion did it fine, and the world would be a poorer place without these games’ structured narratives.

      And the outlook that the narrative should be an afterthought is the exact reason why video game writing is so terrible. Proper dynamic narration requires the narration to be closely developed with the gameplay mechanics for proper integration. Emergent narration is great, but so is Fallout: New Vegas (where gameplay mechanics like Speech and Sneak can alter the narration) and Deus Ex. As are abstract games with good mechanics that say ‘fuck-all’ to narratives.

      Gira’s interpretation of the article was, to put it bluntly, stupid. The author wasn’t arguing that narrative as a feedback hampers gameplay, it’s just that disproportionate amount of it does. And feedback is an important part of game design.

    • Moist says:

      This october has five australia days. This only happens once every empire. It us called money begs. Retweet or you don’t win your sports and no

    • John P says:

      Gira’s arguing that any sort of ordered structure is inherently detrimental to games, which is patently false.

      No he’s not. You just have some bizarre conviction that structure = narrative.

      Games are simply structured play, and that can include both rules and narrative.

      Correction: Must include rules. Need not include narrative.

      In the case of a game like Alan Wake, the narrative structures the pacing of the game and its levels. The narrative shapes one’s reasoning from moving from point A to point B.

      What you’re saying is that the narrative provides a fictional place to play. It does not structure the play itself.

      If someone only wants to tell a story you should strike movies off that list too, because you have to filter your ideas through actors and composers and cinematographers, who might muddy your vision.

      Film is a storytelling medium. Games are a storymaking medium. If you don’t understand that difference you need to go away and have a think.

      Personally, I find it incredibly saddening that so many people seem OK with squeezing games into a corner where they only have a limited range of expression.

      There’s a unlimited range of player expression possible in games that are built around systemic interactions and player agency. That’s not limiting; it’s liberating.

      You wonder why people are arguing about this. It matters. It matters because Call of Duty is ‘the most successful entertainment launch in history’. It matters because Uncharted is hailed as a beacon of Emotional Cinematic Majesty. It matters because the static environment of Skyrim is bizarrely regarded as a frontrunner in systemic design. It matters because To The Moon is considered a landmark independent game. It matters because Bioware’s glorified yaoi stories about bisexual elf sex generate more discussion than anything related to game design. It matters because genuinely interesting games from actual game designers are sidelined so we can spend all our time discussing the emotions of Mass Effect and the misogyny in Battlefield 3. This discussion is about the enrichment of a unique medium, and about trying to ward off the shameful debasement of it.

      I don’t want to speak for Koster. So I’ll just quote him.

      “The bar that designers should strike for should include a rich set of systemic problems precisely because that is what the medium of games brings to the table. It’s what lies at the center of the art form.”

    • Bhazor says:

      @DiamondDogs

      If all you want to do is tell me a story then use a story telling medium.
      Was MW3 improved by its strait jacket scripting?
      Would HL2 be worsened if they got rid of those “No progress until I finish talking” rooms?
      Would Stalker be a better game if it got rid of all those messy open spaces and unscripted spiffs?
      I’d argue no for each. Games are not good storytellers because you can’t control what the player does. All you end up with is a diluted story and a restricted game.

      Stories in games are fine right up to the point they slap your hands away from the controller and say “I can do this bit better than you”. It’s great when its just “Here’s you, here’s where you are, here’s what you have to do. Now get cracking”. Its fine right up until it becomes the point of the game. Sadly, this is a growing trend.

      Edit
      Basically what John P said. If you think emergent storytelling somehow limits you then you really shouldn’t be making games.

    • DiamondDog says:

      You’re purposely ignoring what I’m saying aren’t you?

      Fine.

    • Bhazor says:

      @ DiamondDog
      Which point? Your argument is that games can tell stories. My argument is that games aren’t designed to and there are plenty of alternatives if thats all you’re doing. A film maker or novelist can exercise absolute control over what the viewer/reader experiences. A game maker can’t. At most they can just force the player to do exactly what they’re told. Sounds fun ‘ey!

      Just because you could tell stories by semaphore doesn’t mean its the best medium to tell the story.

    • Kaira- says:

      “Film is a storytelling medium. Games are a storymaking medium. If you don’t understand that difference you need to go away and have a think.”

      Games can be both. There is absolutely no need to exclude one in favor of the another.

    • DiamondDog says:

      “Games can be both.”

      Thank you, Kaira.

      Bhazor, you still fight against any possibility that games might be used to tell stories. And no, a film director does not have absolute control over what the audience experiences. Between what the director wants and what the audience sees, there are many ways that the story can change. Through your argument that stories should only be told in the most fitting medium, books would be the only logical choice. Hell, even then an editor might get in the way.

      Games struggle to tell stories in a structured way. I’m not, and never have, argued otherwise. What I’m saying is that is no reason for developers to not even try.

      But you’ve decided that this doesn’t fit with what your idea of a game is. That’s fine. Problem is, the rest of the medium will carry on changing and mutating and moving on. For better or worse. You’ll end up like one of the many types of music fan I come across that have no comprehension of music outside their own tiny little niche. Often that niche is just a dead version of a genre that has moved on long ago. Like people who only listen to 70s punk. They decided that nothing else is really punk, while the rest of the scene moved on without them.

      Me, I want all possibilities. Warts and all.

    • Bhazor says:

      @ DiamondDog

      I did not say games shouldn’t tell stories. I said a game should not be made just to tell a story.

    • John Brindle says:

      “You’ll end up like one of the many types of music fan I come across”

      thanks mom

      (is it possible to argue a point without trying to frame yourself so intensely as part of some weird narrative? Not on RPS comments threads!)

    • DiamondDog says:

      Hey, it’s the only way I could think of explaining my point! I’m outmatched in the literacy department here, I don’t mind admitting that.

    • John Brindle says:

      Nothing wrong with that specific comparison – I just found your “well, you can keep your fixed definition, SIR; I for one choose to live, and to breathe!” schtick rather patronising.

    • mickygor says:

      While I’m sure this is all great for debate society and/or stoking the ego… I can’t help but thing it could all be solved with a simple meme – why don’t we have both? Video games are like any other creative medium – largely unrestricted, and not forced upon people. When I read things like “a game should not be made just to tell a story,” what I actually think is “don’t buy games that tell stories, then.”

      I’ve no interest in a narrative I have to work for. Either tell me the narrative, or don’t have one. If I want to play with game mechanics, I play puzzle games. If I want to hear a story, I play heavily scripted, linear games. Both have a place in the world. There’s no need for elitism in game design. If anything, it’s counter productive.

    • Selix says:

      Narrative seems just the way in which a game creates meaning in its simulated realms. Whether that’s cinematic or told in small chunks or in some relative free form, is an open choice, although a free form seems certainly more interesting to explore and more genuine to games. In that the analysis is correct. But meaning should always be guided in some way, no matter how subtly or generally, or else it’s just about achieving success or whatever strange things may occur and present themselves to you as “meaningful”. If “staying motivated” is enough, it simply becomes a question of genre.

  3. Squirrelfanatic says:

    “Ocelot discharge.”

  4. Lone Gunman says:

    MMOs need dieing to mean something. I don’t would want to spend 100s of hours with a character to have them die and loose them for ever, but loosing all your current gear or some other from punishment adds to much more interesting and exciting game. Back when I was younger venturing into the Runscape Wilderness was really terrifying and adventurous as if I died i would loose all my stuff.

    • Tams80 says:

      RuneScape did the dying ‘thing’ quite well. If you died you could keep at maximum four items. With those items being ranked in order of their value given by the developers (and now GE?). This punished you for dying (and sometimes rewarded others) more than just the annoyance of re-spawning, but not so much that you wanted to give up. In return you often got better loot and/or more experience points.

      What made it more interesting was that something you could value in game could be very little in the ‘database’. For instance you have some expensive armour, but also have a load of prayer potions. The potions may be worth more to you, but you’d loose them over the armour. It made you think: “What if I die? How long will I have to work to get what I lost back?”.

      With the introduction of gravestones though, this effect was weakened. This does show that there were players who didn’t like this ‘meaner’ death system.

      I avoided the Wilderness msot of the time and only really liked the games were you weren’t penalised much for dying e.g Castle Wars and the Void Knight island.

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      EVE-Online.

      It exists & yet it’s a marmite type of game which suggests the vast majority of MMO players can’t stomach the concept of “perma-death”.

  5. Rao Dao Zao says:

    The perfectionist article is so true; I did the exact same thing on my first playthrough of ME2. Kelly is the best romance character, I hope she comes back in ME3.

    • Matt-R says:

      Aye, though I’m not so sure I agree with the crew example as being a true example, at that point due to the way my particular type of completionism strikes me I’d already done everything else in the game so losing my crew and what to do next was never really a choice at all, it does kind of annoy me that writers are so inclined towards allowing everything to be sunshine and rainbows to the expense of drama, I feel like I have to purposely want to fail in order to actually get any sort of failure.

      But then, failing becaue I want to fail just doesn’t really sit right with me.

    • McDan says:

      I’m a perfectionist and happy to say so, I’ll try and do everything if I can in games but in my own way. I don’t know what the “absolute perfect” playthrough is so I enjoy doing mine. Like with the Mass effects, I have 5 different playthroughs now waiting to go into ME3 and I loved every minute of doing it.

    • DigitalSignalX says:

      He wasn’t a perfectionist though – you can save Kelly as well as ace the suicide mission with all complete companion / side quests if you hold off key plot quests till the absolute last moment. You’re allowed two more normal missions once the reaper IFF is active before saving the crew (and Kelly) enter a fail state. That gives you time to do Legion’s quest and enter the Omega relay.

      On another note, that epic fail video was awesome. I’d never seen a 100% failure replay, and it was interesting to see all the death cutscenes. Makes me want to play ME2 again and aim for complete failure just to be able to import it into ME3 along with my “goody two shoes perfect ending” and evil chick “killed a couple crew off but lived” save games.

      Regarding the lack of drama for a well explored game, that’s really just up the game writing. Clearly the bits you need to know is lamp shaded in ME2 (upgrades and loyalty) but how it all plays out can still be dramatic and interesting rather then making the predictability of death the deciding factor.

      In DA:O you could play 100% and still have different endings depending on your choices and each were reflected then uniquely in the import to DA:2. My hope is ME3 will do the same.

  6. Unaco says:

    When will be getting an Amy WiT? I know it’s delayed for PC, but can we expect one when it finally arrives. All the buzz it’s got, and the attention from the Hivemind… would be good to see if it’s deserving of all that now it’s out.

  7. Alexander Norris says:

    I had the exact same problem as was described on Grave regarding ME2 – the game was touted as a suicide mission, wherein there would be a real chance that Shepard would die, and presumably quite a few casualties. Instead, if you did the side quests, you get out fine with nothing bad happening.

    The “bad ending” video linked in the article managed to be so much more interesting, so much more memorable, and so much more meaningful than what happens if you “complete” the game.

  8. DocSeuss says:

    Doesn’t EVE feature player death?

    • jalf says:

      Not really. It features player *loss* (you can lose skills and money and equipment and so on), but you can’t (perma)die.

      On the other hand, I don’t think “death” as such is essential. What is essential is the possibility of loss or of going DOWN as well as UP.

      People so often talk about (perma)death as the one killer switch that separates “carebear” from “hardcore”. In reality, it’s just one out of many ways in which players can experience loss, and that, I believe, is really the important mechanic. Death is just the reliable old standby for when we can’t think of other ways to implement loss.

    • DocSeuss says:

      I’m with you on this, I think.

      Death is a form of punishment for playing poorly. There are other ways to do this, of course. One of the weaknesses with regenerating health is that punishment is ultimately binary. Either you die or you don’t. A healthkit-based system is more mature than this, because it effectively punishing you for poor playing by denying you resources. You must think harder about how you play, ultimately crafting a more intelligence experience. Death, I think, loses meaning if it’s binary. In a healthkit game, Death is the ULTIMATE punishment, not the only one.

      I wish people would explore this idea more often.

    • Tams80 says:

      I think in terms of health kits and regenerating health, it is a sliding scale. On one end you have regenerating health at a rapid rate, on the other you have health kits scattered around a level. In-between you have the likes of health kits that a player can deploy, which in turn can be limited in different ways. Then you can mix all these up to varying degrees.

      Then you have the punishments for loosing health or dying. On top of that you also have varying punishments you can met out on the player when they play badly that aren’t health related.

      There’s lots of ways to implement punishment of a player for playing badly. it depends on the game and the people who play it. Sometimes these two don’t match.

  9. InternetBatman says:

    Honestly, I’m kind of tired of people talking about Ocarina of Time. It was a very good game. I played it for the first time two years ago, finished it and really enjoyed it. But I’m kind of sick of reading verbose lovesongs about either it or Final Fantasy VII (which has an adolescent story that doesn’t hold up well, but is still a good game). I get it, I feel the same way about Baldur’s Gate, Fallout, Planescape Torment, and VtmB, but eventually you have to look at the games of your past with a critical eye, recognize what was good, what was a clever workaround for the technical limitations, and what your nostalgia largely glosses over. I liked the Leigh Alexander piece because it touches on a lot of these points. I just wish someone in the industry would chastise the most saccharine and verbose writers.

    The Starbreeze interview was really interesting. The interviewer didn’t really pursue FPS remakes of old series, but honestly they probably just would have gotten a PR line. I found this interesting though:

    Do you have your own tech, or are you using licensed tech?
    MN: No, it’s our own tech. It’s 14 years old now.

  10. pandora says:

    In a case somebody is interested, as I can’t find any news in English, yet:
    Poland learns about ACTA

    ACTA has been approved by the Polish Prime Minister to be signed by Poland in Tokyo at 26th January, sometime during personal changes in the polish government. The decision has been published on the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage’s site in a well hidden place. Immediately the preceding EU decision last month and Poland itself signing ACTA have been declared a success of Poland’s EU presidency. The decisions has been made with no real public discussion, even after numerous assurances by Polish Prime Minister made to non-governmental organizations that such a decision would never be made without talking it through with the society.

    Some official commented decision can’t be possibly withdrawn now, as Poland would shame itself.

    Mainstream media were silent on the subject. However, kids took note of the SOPA blackout, and seeing some chance of “activism” for themselves…

    Yesterday evening polish parliament site (sejm.gov.pl) has been defaced. Afterwards it was most probably taken down for maintenance, however, somebody started a rumor that it is being DDoSed… and as soon as people heard about this, all government pages started to be under a real load, both natural (citizens’ curiosity) and activist’s real DDoS.

    Now boards are full of people who support anti-ACTA petitions, can’t distinguish between ACTA, SOPA, piracy, cyberterrorism, DDoS and deface and others, and a real discussion is impossible while both official documents and NGOs and activists’ sites cannot be accessed. But, ACTA has been noticed by mainstream media, and polish officials started claiming that “the decision is not final”. There are also talks of manifestations and such.

    • InternetBatman says:

      The internet censorship laws that so many countries or approaching seems unfortunate and somewhat inevitable. We may have won this single battle, but I’m not sure if we can win the war against money, power, and communications monopoly controlling something that lessens their influence.

    • alundra says:

      We may have won this single battle, but I’m not sure if we can win the war against money, power, and communications monopoly controlling something that lessens their influence.

      The problem lies in that far less people are aware of things like ACTA or NDAA, which is precisely why, and stating that the way people rallied against SOPA was awesome, I viewed SOPA a lot more than a sophism of distraction than anything else.

      I agree with you that the fight for the internet is far from over, besides trying to fight back in any way, now is a good time to explore freenet, darknet , TOR and all the emerging alternatives to the WWW, which is their main target anyway.

      These crooks (the powers that be) are relentless and very cunning on their attacks on people’s freedom and will not rest until they pull something out to legislate it.

      http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2011/05/france-attempts-to-civilize-the-internet-internet-fights-back.ars

  11. wu wei says:

    I really wish Gutsville would finish up. Spurrier’s writing with Frazer Irving’s art is just fantastic.

  12. Om says:

    I’ve always enjoyed reading Zacny’s words. “Lumpenproletagonist” makes me smile

  13. Jamesworkshop says:

    The grave article is a perfect example of how I play those games, saved crew and the city/vigils keep in ME2 and DA:A

    However it does not persuade me from playing games in that fashion in fact I couldn’t stand playing dragon age on consoles simply because I can’t stand missing all the items that didn’t get properly integrated into the game.

    It’s not just story consideration for me when it comes to being a completionist, thanks to the feast days gifts, I actually carried so many unused gifts into DA:Awakenings that every companion had max 100 approval points.

  14. Kaira- says:

    There is an interesting AAR-ish blog detailing Dark Souls. Beware, spoilers are inbound.

  15. asshibbitty says:

    I ain’t seeing what’s special about that snippet form the NfS review. My theory is that it’s utterly overwrought.

    The LWM (which would’ve been a great feature if it weren’t so fucking wordy) post. If you’re not gonna read it all, just read the part after the last pic. I am so not sure if it’s supposed to be a joke. A designer who doesn’t know his target audience is bad enough, a designer who tells them to go back to school…

    • Urthman says:

      What? Are you saying there’s nothing wrong with a racing game where most of the time it literally doesn’t matter how fast you drive?

      I look forward to your FPS where you walk through the level and the monsters die at scripted moments whether you shoot them or not.

    • Llewyn says:

      @Urthmann: Isn’t that MW3, if some of the un-reviews are to be believed?

      @RPS: Any chance we could have the facility to reply directly to a comment reply please?

    • asshibbitty says:

      This is getting symptomatic.

    • Baines says:

      There is a Youtube video of someone completing the first level of Call of Duty Black Ops without firing in any of the gun battles, including the on-rails shooter section at the end of the stage.

      I watched a friend play the demo of the XBox port of the Goldeneye remake. He quickly became annoyed with the scripting and design of the game, so when it threw an on-rails shooter section at him, he simply stopped firing. And the game just rolled right along. Enemies appeared, shot him, and then left and his health regenerated before the next enemies started shooting. He only died because you eventually reach a tanker that blocks the road, which you apparently have to shoot before your vehicle hits it.

      As FPS have continued to try to mimic the experiences of a blockbuster movie, they not only have become heavily scripted, they’ve also tried to embrace players of every skill level.

  16. GreatGreyBeast says:

    If only that Raph Koster piece had come out in November! It does an excellent job of backing up Walker’s “un-game” criticism of MW3, which was so frequently misunderstood. He was NOT complaining about linearity… but it was difficult to say exactly what he was complaining about. Now we can put it more concretely: he was saying that MW3 (and it’s ilk) matches the graphs included at the bottom of Koster’s article. It was a game almost entirely composed of massive feedback segments interconnected by challenges so paltry as to almost not even exist.

    I do disagree with Koster, however, that narrative is inherently “consumable,” and irrelevant after the first playthrough. That’s only true insofar as most game narratives are pretty crappy. But great narrative can be the least consumable part of a game – the part that keeps bringing me back, just as I’ll repeatedly return to a movie I’ve loved before (which is nothing but narrative). For that matter, gameplay is just as fragile. For a straight-up puzzle, once you know the solution, the challenge is gone, and it won’t really be part of the graph next time. And I suppose even with a physical interface problem, like racing, the more skillful you become with each play, the more that yellow circle shrinks. Maybe it’s like a drug or something, but I return to games more often for the “feedback” than for the gameplay. I replay Myst every few years, for instance, and I surely don’t do it for the puzzle design.

  17. ulix says:

    On a side note:

    The Space Shooter thingy “Sol: Exodus” is coming out next week on Steam. Can we expect a WIT before the 29th, or am I just gonna have to buy the damn game?

  18. Gira says:

    delete misposted

  19. Muzman says:

    Gotta love a bit of cranky Radiator.
    Form does become the definition of things, unfortunately. It’s like people who don’t think The Wire is actually any good because it’s not episodic, it doesn’t have an A plot and B plot like a TV show is supposed to, therefore it’s failed at being one.
    Likewise a game is just supposed to tell you everything you need to keep you playing and lead you by the hand like you’ve never played a game before, or it is failing at being a proper video game.
    “Dammit man, we’re consumers not cognisant intellectual voyagers! Facilitate our consumption!”

    • Terragot says:

      Radiator cracks me up, whatever point he’s trying to make here is just lost in how insulting he’s being to his audience.

      personally, the maps weren’t to my taste. But that’s just my opinion man, don’t feel the need to blog about it.

  20. Juan Carlo says:

    “Do MMO’s Need Death?”

    Yes.

    I might actually consider playing one if the experience always had an end point and the question was more “How long can you last?” rather than “Let’s keep going for years and years and years!”

    Project Zomboid in MMO form would be awesome.

    • ffordesoon says:

      I’d love to see an MMO that plays with death in an interesting way. That being said, if anyone still wants to ape WOW at this point, I’d actually like to see a couple of things happen in that space that theoretically lessen the penalty for death, but would ultimately result in a less bullshitty game:

      If you’re going to make the choice upon death to resurrect immediately with slightly weakened stats, make it so that I can resurrect at the graveyard OR at the place I died. TOR already does this, sort of, and it’s very welcome, because it drastically reduces the amount of time I spend doing tedious bullshit. However, I think there’s a more interesting way to do it than TOR’s method, that method being to just throw up a black screen and ask if you wanna wait a few seconds and resurrect where you were with a slight stat penalty applied for a couple of seconds, or resurrect instantly at a safe zone. That’s not really a choice, because of course you’ll wait the few seconds. They try to cover it up by making you wait longer and longer the more you die, but that’s not the most interesting way they could do it.

      I think there should be at least three options available to dead players: resurrect instantly at the exact spot where they were killed for a substantial stat penalty, resurrect instantly at the graveyard for a much less substantial stat penalty, or hike all the way back to their corpse and resurrect there for no penalty, and perhaps even a slight stat boost. The point is not convenience, necessarily, but to make every choice attractive.

      The other thing I’d like to see, though perhaps not in the same game, is for your ghost to have something to do. The point of this is to alleviate boredom, remember, and running across a monsterless wasteland with nothing to do until you get back to your corpse is pretty damn boring. I’m not sure what I’d want to replace that, exactly; some roving permadeath-dealer you have to avoid while running back to your corpse might be cool. Being able to communicate with fellow dead players might be good. Obviously, the most interesting choice would be to have a whole layer of the world that’s only accessible once you’re dead, but that would be tough to create, and there’s got to be a reason to get out of the Land Of The Dead, right? Player-controlled hauntings could be cool.

      I dunno. Just a few thoughts.

  21. Tams80 says:

    Those Zelda articles were particularly interesting, especially the Brainy Gamer one. I had to skip some of it; damn spoilers.

    And, some music in The Sunday Papers I really like for a change! I could tell instantly, it has a sort of beat that I really like.

  22. Hoaxfish says:

    I’m a little surprised that the Lara questions included “will we see a relationship”… kinda feels like someone got Eidos confused with Bioware.

    The answer “she’s busy trying not to get killed” is quite satisfying

  23. greenbananas says:

    That Need For Speed evaluation is dead on. This scripted sequence + rubberbanding combo is utterly destroying single player gameplay. Particularly the rubberbanding on most if not all sports/racing games of late. It’s making skillful gameplay completely pointless. Used to be you’d learn the basics and continuously strive to get better by better understanding the nuts and bolts of the game and what you need to do and when to get past a particular level. Now it’s like player input has no tangible consequence and it’s very obvious when you know you’re playing well and yet the game is having none of it, punishing good play with difficulty level-justified failure. Yet either no-one notices or seems to mind this, looking at either game reviews/scores, when it’s so damn prevalent and oh so frustrating.

    It’s fortunate that the text ends by mentioning how much better multiplayer is. Tin-foil hat me would certainly argue that it’s on purpose, a deliberate move making single player content annoying and pointless over multi in an effort to use netplay to justify a future of monthly fee game “services” instead of one-time game purchases.

    • John P says:

      Judging from the big discussion on the first comments page, a lot of people actually wouldn’t mind a driving game that drives itself — as long as the story is good. Games don’t even need gameplay now, apparently.

  24. Selix says:

    The reviews and articles of this blog are almost always worth considering and either getting in an angry kneejerk or anti-elitism reaction or seeing games from a different but engaging perspective. I admit the latter is not always totally accessible to me. (In any case, I greatly prefer this to many meandering, arbitrary musings on main sites (present company excepted).)

    http://metavideogame.wordpress.com/

    • NathanH says:

      I judge that site The Enemy.

    • Eddy9000 says:

      I think that skyrim aritcle falls on the wrong side of the ‘being thoughtful and clever’ and ‘vomiting up a dictionary’ spectrum.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Yeah. I read half of it and needed a shower. It’s dreadful.

    • Selix says:

      Well, in the case of Skyrim I part ways with the perception and interpretation of the game as not for a long time before. I can only assume there is some exaggerated “counter-trend” agenda underlying many of the review’s points. It is, however, often interesting to see his counter-examples that fail the notice of the mainstream. Skyrim has the greatest landscapes since ever? Well, there may be some that have a more carefully and skillfully crafted sense of immersion. Even if it may not meet complete agreement (and I say, it sometimes does, or at least it’s interesting to see where he comes from), such subtleties of perception of aspects that remain unaware in the public awareness, are often interesting to consider.

      But look at some of his very favourable reviews to The Witcher and Planescape Torment (in the case of western RPG). All 5/5. I’d say the perceived mentality behind the creation a game does in a great way determine the favourable or hostile reception in his reviews. So it’s in some way idealistic, but sometimes highly perceptive and favourable. On the whole, I find a sense of consistency and logic in this whole project (as opposed to mere worldplay) very noteworthy for this genre of review.
      But it may be the extreme opposite to an extremely open but also completely random way of theorizing about games as art (as opposed to games as pure games). Also, the core of his ideas about art seem solid as hardly anywhere else I’ve come across (though it is probably just a certain theoretical flavour of art criticism).

      The point may also be that I already follow this site for a while, and that I have already gotten over this review of Skyrim (and perhaps some general aspects) at the time of posting the link (although I first found it awful)…

  25. magos says:

    Voice of reason (drinking ginger wine, so this is probablycertainly a lie).

    We’re kinda looking at things from Catholic vs. Orthodox perspectives here. No–one is going to agree until they can grok the desires of the other party.

    I remember Josh Sawyer saying that RPG fans will put up with a whole lot of failed game mechanics just to experience narrative. I totally understand this viewpoint – it’s my own,effectively. I struggle to play a great game unless I have meaningful motivation, but I can play a terrible game given enough motivation.

    As far as I can see, from the beginning of the industry, the merging of narrative and gameplay has been the holy grail. Its a merging that we require, but from which we are still miles away.

  26. John Brindle says:

    oh darn, this is a mispost.

  27. Chris D says:

    Another reply fail, dammit.

  28. John Brindle says:

    Does this make us spammers? This is terrible.

  29. Chris D says:

    John Brindle

    You, sir, are not kidding.

  30. Craig Stern says:

    “Well, whatever you took from it is what it meant.”

    Ugh. I hate it when artists say this. It is the job of an artist to convey a message through his or her chosen medium, not to throw things together and simply hope the player manages to think up a plausible message for it.

    • MattM says:

      Some works are open to interpretation and require the viewer to participate in forming the narrative or message. Unfortunately many bad works of art are defended as being open when they are simply unclear or vapid.
      I have noticed that different people have different interpretations of the story of Shadow of the Colossus, but that they often don’t realize that there were other interpretations.

    • eclipse mattaru says:

      It is the job of an artist to convey a message through his or her chosen medium

      Not really. David Lynch’s explanation for Mulholland Drive‘s whole blue box/blue key business was something like: “I have no idea what that was all about”. He has repeatedly talked about how most of the crazy, dreamlike scenes that define his work are just about following an inspiration that pops up in his head without giving them much thought. He’s an out-and-out example of an artist intentionally not delivering any message through his work -and indeed often not making any sense-, and I for one wouldn’t have him any other way.

  31. DiamondDog says:

    Reply fail.

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