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.
[~2700 words; ~1600 on jump cuts; ~1100 going off on tangents towards the end]
I was musing about video games the other day and for some reason, out of nowhere, I got this vision for the use of a sequence of jump cuts that I don’t think has ever been seen in a game before.
And the more I thought about it the more I realized that the act of suddenly, and without effect, cutting from one scene to another is almost never used in games. Almost all games have an uninterrupted, linear sequence of events that play out through an unbroken span of time. The breaks that do happen are between levels, if the game has levels, or through cutscenes that create bridges between two different locations.
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.
For whatever reason I started thinking about a game I used to play long, long ago called Pocket Tanks. As I thought about all the strange and different weapons in the game, I thought I’d make this post a Fun Gun Award and talk about some of the most creative weapons. However, with 400 different guns (30-40 in shareware versions) I realized this would be pointless.
And I as thought about the quantity of different weapons I realized that the majority of them were not balanced and despite this the game was still fun. I realized something about how the quantity and variety of weapons affects the very nature of the game.
So, here we go…
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.
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.)
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.