Recently I watched a good video by Mark Brown about the Last Guardian. He analyzes how the game communicates story through gameplay and he looks at one specific moment in the game. If you don’t mind mild spoilers on the Last Guardian then go check out the video, it’s pretty good.
This got me to thinking about other moments in games when story is being told through narrative.
Of relevance is an older post I made about Riven and how it manages to merge narrative and gameplay so that they are one and the same. The image at the top of the post is also for Riven, but there’s no storytelling going on there. I just like that view.
The Necromancer was always my favorite class in Diablo 2, and one of the things that always struck me was how unique he was compared to all the other characters. His entire design paradigm was completely different. This uniqueness changed slightly in the expansion with the arrival of the Assassin and the Druid, but this is primarily because those two classes cribbed some of their design from the Necromancer.
(I analyzed the unique and intriguing design of the Necromancer in a post long ago, but that analysis was obfuscated by me also trying to do other weird gonzo, humor things; in early posts on this blog I did a lot of experimental things that didn’t pan out.)
This has also been on my mind recently because I am designing a coop dungeon crawler board game and some of the character classes are inspired by my revelations about D2’s Necromancer design.
So, let’s get into what makes the D2 Necromancer so unique and different from the rest of the D2 classes (I’m not really going to talk about Diablo 3 at all, fyi).
The first image isn’t actually a good example of what I want to talk about; it’s just a cool map in a video game. What I want to talk about in this post are maps that actually represent the level or playable space in a game, but which don’t actually serve a gameplay purpose to the player.
Let’s dive in.
I used to play a lot of a mobile FPS game called Midnight Star and I thought it was pretty good. Several months ago I beta-tested its sequel, Midnight Star: Renegade. I thought the changes between the two games were fascinating to observe.
Midnight Star is designed like an older PC FPS: it consists of large, hand crafted experiences delivering the developer’s specific vision to the player. Meanwhile, Midnight Star: Renegade is designed to consist of smaller, quickly iterated, quickly consumable experiences which focus on letting the player create their own “vision”. The changes feel like a microcosm of the changes taking place in the game industry in general, especially in the mobile market.
I thought the shift in game design was so interesting that I wanted to write this post back when I was playtesting Renegade, but I didn’t have time then (ironic considering I had the time to beta-test the game). At this point in time, both Midnight Star and Midnight Star: Renegade are available on the app store or google play store or what have you. They are micropay games where you can play for free and either grind a heck of a lot or pay real money to get equipment and upgrades.
Both games were developed by Industrial Toys, which was founded by Alexander Seropian (one of the co-founders of Bungie Studios and Wideload Games).
The Fun Gun Award™ is an award I give to video game guns that aren’t necessarily effective, aren’t necessarily balanced, don’t necessarily give the player any tactical advantage, but which do have creative behavior, unique design, and which are fun to use. These guns might suck (or they might even be overpowered), but they’re so fun to use that they’re worth talking about.
I don’t think the Resistance series gets enough credit.
It’s visuals and enemies were a little dull and plain (everything is mostly grey and brown), but I actually kind of liked the Chimera’s design with their weird back pillars and multiple eyes. The game also had a health system that was a sensible compromise between regenerating health and static health. The story even had some creative moments: for example, in the Resistance 2 the player character is slowly becoming evil and has to be assassinated by the end of the game; in Resistance 3 you play as the killer.
But, of course, the most important thing that needs to stand out in an FPS are the weapons. And that’s one of the things that really shine in Resistance. Some of the weapons are pretty standard fair, but a lot of them play around with creative and clever mechanics that change the way the player thinks and changes the way he plays the game. Among these imaginative weapons, none of them are useless, all of them are effective, and some of them are flat out overpowered (which is a change pace for a Fun Gun Award).
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.
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.