View Full Version : Human Revolution and thematic game design

12-11-2011, 03:44 AM
I wrote a length piece about DX:HR over here: http://gaming.thedigitalfix.com/content/id/454/human-revolutiongame-that-asksquestion.html (http://gaming.thedigitalfix.com/content/id/454/human-revolutiongame-that-asksquestion.html)

But I'm not just trolling for reads (but clearly am a little bit), but the basis of it is that DX:HR was a very focused game, it was about the concept of human augmentation and focused on that concept above and beyond plot, character, world-building or anything else. When you first get to Detroit, it's this huge open-world hub, and you can talk to everyone in it. And 95% of them will give you their opinion on augmentation. It's silly, totally unrealistic, and yet it works.

The more I looked at it, the more it seemed to have a very clear vision in mind of what it wanted to do, which I felt was kind of interesting. It felt authored. I struggled to thing of any other games that have done something similar, built everything around one idea (except where that idea is an actual game mechanic). And I like it because it eschews realism, eschews characters choices, doesn't bother with complex characters and doesn't have much of a plot. It ignores the rulebook for this laser guided objective of making the play think about the whole augmentation concept.

Do any other games do that sort of thing? And is it a good thing?

12-11-2011, 04:00 AM
Ultima IV. It's all about the virtues. Almost every single piece of dialogue in the game relates to one of the virtues in some way. It feels totally unrealistic in many ways because it's like talking to a bunch of robots who have no personality outside of expressing their knowledge of the virtues. However, it works. It allows the game to focus so much on the virtues that everything else is secondary. The virtues are hammered into your skull so much that you play the game totally aware of the consequences of your actions. And that is the goal of the game. That was the goal of its creation. That set the tone for morality in the genre as well as giving a backbone to the rest of the series. It's quite genius, really.

12-11-2011, 04:06 AM
I think what Human Revolution did interesting was that it understood the concept of theme as applied to an interactive medium. If you read literary theory, a lot of people will talk of 'theme' as some kind of statement that the story is setting out to prove or demonstrate. Human Revolution turned it from a statement into a question, which is something I've written about a bit before. Literature does that sometimes, but it just presents the question; it doesn't really follow through. DX:HR is the video game as moral dialectic (except for how limited it was in responding to your choices, which is technically understandable given the authoring approach), which I would definitely like to see more of.

12-11-2011, 03:47 PM
Portal - a comment on games and the anti-shooter. But it holds a similar central theme to Half-Life 1 and 2, mental liberation. You practically run though series of obstacles to find freedom at the end. But why mental? Because you're present in a very imaginary world that physically does not exist. Duh!

It's a commentary on how games are being designed today, as obstacle courses with test chambers, with a game master that invests all his power in seeing you fail. It clearly says that the player is a "test subject", but also that there's nothing that a game designer can do that a player won't beat, as long as it's fair in the confines of the game. And isn't that what every game makes you out to be? A rat in a maze?

But Portal is also the anti-shooter, in the way that you do not kill anyone (apart from the boss/mom/GM) but also in the fact that it does not rely on trigger happy impulsive and reactive gaming, but on stop-think-solve type of gaming. This is also visually represented in the world by the oval portals, the oval (non phallic) gun and the fact that you play as a woman. There is also much to say about this symbology, the meaning of the gun (uterus?), the meaning of the portal (rebirth?), the companion cube (male?) and the relationship between Chell and Glados (daughter & mother).

Portal 2 builds further on these ideas but is not as clinical or clear in their meaning and execution. Still a great game though.

12-11-2011, 05:30 PM
Ultima IV.

D'oh. I can't believe we've discussed and argued this stuff as much as we have and yet it still completely flew out of my mind when I was writing it. But yes, that's exactly it.

12-11-2011, 06:58 PM
But I'm not just trolling for reads

I wish they started teaching Internet in schools. They could combine it with sex ed too.