Electric Cartilage And The Games That Don't Exist

Using decorative gameplay to add depth in Myth 2

myth briefing

Here’s a brief post about an interesting moment in a level of the real-time-tactical game Myth 2: Soulblighter. The level is called “Into the Breach” and it involves you trying to get your troops to infiltrate the motte-and-bailey castle of a traitorous baron who is creating an army of Thrall (essentially zombies with axes).

In what amounts to the mission briefing, the narrator mentions how in the night he and his comrades saw an army of 1,000 thrall leave the castle and march off towards a friendly village.

This bit of narrative is reflected and reiterated in a moment in the level itself.

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Exploring unusual mechanics: how Swarm Racer let’s you quickly control a swarm of insects

swarm racer big circle

I was musing idly one day about game mechanics when I remembered an indie game I played many years ago that had an interesting mechanic for controlling a group of units.

The game is Swarm Racer by Lexaloffle Games. The game is still available for free on his website.

In the game you control a swarm of bees and your goal is to race them around a track against a timer while collecting gems.

The way you control this group of individual units is kind of unique from anything I’ve seen in other games (such as RTSs). So let’s get into it:

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Lack of Free Exploration in Video Games or blah blah Dark Souls Easy Mode blah blah blah

#nopics #walloftext

So, recently I watched Chris Franklin’s Errant Signal video essay on Dark Souls 3 and he touches on the idea of an easy mode for Dark Souls to make it more accessible to a greater number of gamers; he posits that you would lose something special about the game if you played on easy mode.

I guess there is a bit of a discussion going on about this in the game community because recently Franklin tweeted an essay by Cameron Kunzelman who responds to the Errant Signal video as well as several other sources that suggest an easy mode for Dark Souls 3 would be a bad idea. Kunzelman argues that this isn’t true, and you can read his thoughts in the post I linked to. (Right as I was about to publish I saw Chris Franklin tweet another well written essay, by Joe Köller, that’s basically saying the same things that I’m saying in this blogpost, except in fewer words and slightly different focus.)

All of this got me thinking. So, this discussion about whether there should be an easy mode for Dark Souls 3 goes beyond Dark Souls. It goes much deeper, into the very nature of how games are designed and played.

The real issue here is: How much control should the players have over their own experience? Usually the game community will argue for more player agency because choice is integral to the gameplay experience. So, it’s ironic and hypocritical that when it comes to Dark Souls 3 (or, as an older example, skipping combat sections in Mass Effect) suddenly players are saying that there shouldn’t be any player agency regarding how you progress (See Appendix A).

This kind of strict authoritarian control over the audience is something I’ve argued against for years (the link is to a post I made years ago arguing the same thing as in this post, although it is long and rambling and even I don’t have the patience to read the whole thing anymore). Players shouldn’t be forced to replay sections of a game over and over just to progress to the next area unless they want to engage in that experience. They should have the option of either playing the game as it was intended or playing the game as is most enjoyable for them. And if they choose not to play the game as intended, and they miss out on something, then that’s their loss.

Giving people more options opens up the medium to exploration, analysis, interpretation, and intelligent discourse, which only benefits the community and the individual player. (See Appendix D)

And part of what frustrates me with how restrictive the Dark Souls method of design is that other mediums don’t have these restrictions. Books, film, and even board games don’t force me to experience them in only one way (See Appendix A).

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Using level design to increase game difficulty in Myth 2

no trees 1

Most games change their difficulty by making the enemies more numerous or more powerful. But, I always like it when games designers do something unique and off the beaten path. Which brings me to something that happens in at least one level in Myth 2: Soulblighter, developed by Chicago Bungie. (I know System Shock 2 did some really cool things with custom difficulty settings, but I never got to play it and I certainly can’t play it on the computer I have now.)

trees 1

Myth 1 & 2 are some of the best games of their kind, of all time. No exaggeration. They were real time tactical games (no base building, no resource gathering, just armies) that were ahead of their time with 3D terrain, real physics, and weather effects. In my opinion, they were far superior to their RTS counterparts Warcraft, Total Annihiliation, and Command & Conquer due to Myth’s heavy reliance on quick thinking under extreme pressure. Friendly fire was “on” for all units and you couldn’t get new units, which forced you to be very tactical and intelligent in how you played the game.

(Gaming history sidenote: All Bungie products have acronyms on them that stand for actual phrases; fans figured them out and Bungie confirmed them. On Myth the WACCSMD stands for Warcraft and Command & Conquer, Suck My Dick; and on Myth 2 the TATRTSTS stands for Total Annihilation True Real Time Strategy Totally Sucks. HA HA! Game developers had real spirit back then. Can you imagine modern Washington Bungie doing something like that? No way, it wouldn’t be PR friendly.)

ANYWAY, let’s get back to talking about game difficulty.
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How gameplay can be humor: a lesson from the Secret of Monkey Island

monkey island underwater puzzle

Humor can be one the of the hardest things to pull off in any medium of entertainment. It might also be one of the most rewarding for both the audience and the creator.

And if game designers find it hard to combine narrative and gameplay then combining humor and gameplay is even more difficult.

The Secret of Monkey Island is pretty famous for being fun, creative, and, of course, funny. Along with standard forms of visual or verbal humor, one of the things that Monkey Island does well is make sure that the gameplay itself is funny. There’s a few different moments where this happens, but there’s one particular example that exemplifies the idea of interweaving the humor and the gameplay so that gameplay and humor are the same thing. Playing the game is actually funny, not just reading a conversation or seeing something silly on the screen.
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How gameplay can be narrative: a lesson from Riven

wahrk

Riven (the sequel to Myst) has a game design philosophy in which the gameplay and narrative are the same thing. So, I decided to look at one clever example of this.

Waxing about Myst:

Myst was a great game and perhaps one of the first “art” games (I could probably write a whole blog post about this alone). “Walking simulators” like the Stanley Parable, Dear Esther, and Gone Home owe their existence to Myst paving the path over a decade earlier. Its artistry has been overlooked by most people because at the time of release (1993) no one gave a damn about games as an art form. And then Doom came out and the only thing people cared about were those types of games.

One of the consequences of Myst being passed off as a novelty of its time is that its sequel, Riven, never got the intellectual and academic scrutiny it deserved.

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Story in games is like story in porn

“Story in a game is like a story in a porn movie. It’s expected to be there, but it’s not that important.” – John Carmack, some point in the ’90s

#NoPictures #WallOfText

So, I was thinking about that quote by J C-Mak, as he’s called by his close confidantes. And I have three responses to it. (I’m not going to bash John Car-Car, I’m just am taking this old quote as a jumping off point for some ideas).

1) It’s wrong.

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