GWJ Conference Call Episode 97

Conference Call

Braid, Geometry Wars 2, Multiple Narratives In Games, Your Emails and more!

Everyone is back in the saddle this week on our last show before Gencon. In fact, we might have some special edition Gencon audio pieces throughout the rest of the week! So keep on eye on the page.

To contact us, email [email protected]! Send us your thoughts on the show, pressing issues you want to talk about or whatever else is on your mind. You can even send a 30 second audio question or comment (MP3 format please) if you're so inclined.

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Show credits

Music credits: 

Intro/Outro Music - Ian Dorsch, Willowtree Audioworks
"Epilogue II" - Zoo (Workbench) - www.workbench-music.com - 0:22:27
"Zoo (Dawn)" - Zoo (Workbench) - www.workbench-music.com - 0:38:52

Comments

What about Half-Life: Opposing Force? Sure, the narrative is fairly light, but you're still out there playing on the other side.

MMO storylines are overrated. In fact, I'm starting to think they should drop them altogether and find a different way of carrying a compelling gameplay experience than to try to make you believe you make a difference when you clearly do not.

I don't care how convoluted and well written a story is. When it's scrolling text that someone I have no idea who is is also reading right beside me, it loses all its meaning.

I think it was Jonathan Blow who said MMOs are unethical and until we see some dramatic changes in the way the players are ''rewarded'', he's absolutely right. What's the point of playing a game for hours on end if you cannot find the end for the life of you and no matter what you do, it has no effect on the world you inhabit?

I don't know which of you guys is in love with MMOs in the podcast but the reality clearly hasn't hit him yet.

I'm surprised nobody mentioned the original Half-Life series regarding multiple narratives, they did that with the first expansion Opposing Forces and then again with Blue Shift. I like both expansion and I got sucked in as each character.

Re: Controlling multiple characters each with their own narrative...

Would Lords of Midnight do?
It was a (sort-of) turn-based strategy game where the player controlled several characters concurrently during their turn (daytime). Each character could perform several actions each day, and the interface was constrained to the characters' points of view.
One interesting feature which is particularly relevant to the discussion was that at any point the game could emit a printout of the games' history as a story (again, from the characters' point of view).

Benticore wrote:

Also, does Dreamfall count?

That's the one that immediately sprang to my mind after Eternal Darkness. Sure, the gameplay falls completely flat, and it relies a lot on The Longest Journey to make you connect with one of the characters, and the third character doesn't receive nearly enough time for you to get invested in them, but it does try really hard at certain points to get you to appreciate the different perspectives (literally, at times) and worldviews the characters bring to the table, and to thrust them into some sort of opposition of each other. Of course, that's also the strand of narrative that they feel the least responsibility towards actually resolving within the game.

Are they ever actually going to do those episodic continuations? Didn't they get some funding from the Norwegian government or something?

4dSwissCheese wrote:

Are they ever actually going to do those episodic continuations? Didn't they get some funding from the Norwegian government or something?

Apparently on the back-burner until they're done with The Secret World.
There was a post about it on Ragnar Tornquist's blog
http://ragnartornquist.com/?p=461#more-461

When is comes to heroes and villains, some games cast you as the main hero/villain based on your choices (e.g. Jedi Knight). Not quite the same because it doesn't show the same story from different points of view, just the same story unfolding differently as the player makes alternate choices. Of course, usually it's the exact same gameplay experience with a different ending cutscene.

Ensemble Narratives? There are many games that include sections where the player controls an alternate party of characters when the main protagonist is incapacitated, etc. This includes games where the alternate party is either in a completely new timeframe/setting (e.g. Final Fantasy VIII) as well as those where the alternate party is tasked with "rescuing" the protagonist (e.g. KotOR2), or perhaps conducting a side-mission or simultaneous action (e.g. Halo 2).

Other games incorporate alternate parties/characters into the structure of the game itself. In Day of the Tentacle, the ability to switch between characters is required to solve puzzles and advance the narrative.

Betrayal at Krondor is another example of how multiple characters are mixed and matched to create an ensemble narrative. Those sorts of games are already here, and they have been for years. That said, I do wonder why we don't see more of them.

I'm surprised nobody mentioned Odin Sphere. It did what I thought was a good job of having multiple parallel storyline which dealt with different perspectives on a single story line. It had other issues, a lot of them, but I think it proved that it can be done.

I hope Rob has finished Braid since recording the podcast and realised just how badly he put his foot in it by saying that it has a simple story

I see how this goes. We tie by the PREDEFINED rules and you guys are calling a win?

Looks like we might have to have a grudge match.

Why is Rob so angry about game pricing when all he plays is TF2?

Why is Rob so angry about game pricing when all he plays is TF2?

Perhaps that's why he's only playing TF2.

Playing characters on opposing sides of a conflict and no-one has mentioned Halo 2? How odd. You play as MC and the Arbiter, I don't know how it ends because the game was totally boring and I gave it back, but that does seem to be an example of what Rob wants.

Multiple, parallel narratives sounds like a great way to do episodic games. Instead of being consecutive games about the same characters you can have concurrent games about different ones. The challenge would be to make the individual parts interesting enough on their own, yet tell a complete story when put together.

DSGamer wrote:

Why is Rob so angry about game pricing when all he plays is TF2? :)

How often is Rob not angry?

MrDeVil909 wrote:

Playing characters on opposing sides of a conflict and no-one has mentioned Halo 2? How odd. You play as MC and the Arbiter, I don't know how it ends because the game was totally boring and I gave it back, but that does seem to be an example of what Rob wants.

I was wondering about that too -- Halo 2 does seem like a pretty decent example. In case anyone else started it but didn't finish it, they totally make out at the end.

MrDeVil909 wrote:

Multiple, parallel narratives sounds like a great way to do episodic games. Instead of being consecutive games about the same characters you can have concurrent games about different ones. The challenge would be to make the individual parts interesting enough on their own, yet tell a complete story when put together.

Sounds a bit like those three episodes of South Park that take place at the same time, focusing on different, intertwining events, or The Simpsons "Trilogy of Error", which does the same thing but within the three acts of the one episode. I think it could definitely work with the episodic gaming idea.

pneuman wrote:

In case anyone else started it but didn't finish it, they totally make out at the end.

Thanks, I was wondering how it ended up.

Not sure where you guys are getting the anger from. I believe all I said was that I can see why people are complaining about the price. I never said I was angry with the price myself. In fact I am pretty sure from what I have seen of Braid that it is definitely worth the 15 bucks. I would hate to see prices on XBLA get higher than that. Although if a game is worth the price it's worth the price, and in the end I have the choice to buy it or not.

I get my anger from Target. It's pretty cheap there and is of a better quality then the brands of anger they carry at Wal-mart.

Gaald wrote:

Not sure where you guys are getting the anger from. I believe all I said was that I can see why people are complaining about the price. I never said I was angry with the price myself. In fact I am pretty sure from what I have seen of Braid that it is definitely worth the 15 bucks. I would hate to see prices on XBLA get higher than that. Although if a game is worth the price it's worth the price, and in the end I have the choice to buy it or not.

Rage issues. Sad to see, really. Have you considered anger management?

I get my anger from Target. It's pretty cheap there and is of a better quality then the brands of anger they carry at Wal-mart.

Classic!

Couple things: Pathologic supposedly allows you to replay the game from 3 dramatically different perspectives that all explain different parts of the narrative. It sounds deeply flawed and Russian, so I've not played it to verify.

re: price. Penny Arcade's game is $20. Why is everyone moaning about Braid when the price has already been well past the $10 mark for an XBLA title.

Yellow5 wrote:

Couple things: Pathologic supposedly allows you to replay the game from 3 dramatically different perspectives that all explain different parts of the narrative. It sounds deeply flawed and Russian, so I've not played it to verify.

re: price. Penny Arcade's game is $20. Why is everyone moaning about Braid when the price has already been well past the $10 mark for an XBLA title.

Aren't there a number of 1200 point games already? Puzzle Quest occurs to me off the top of my head.

It's just that crazy internet thing, it never makes sense.

MrDeVil909 wrote:
Yellow5 wrote:

Couple things: Pathologic supposedly allows you to replay the game from 3 dramatically different perspectives that all explain different parts of the narrative. It sounds deeply flawed and Russian, so I've not played it to verify.

re: price. Penny Arcade's game is $20. Why is everyone moaning about Braid when the price has already been well past the $10 mark for an XBLA title.

Aren't there a number of 1200 point games already? Puzzle Quest occurs to me off the top of my head.

It's just that crazy internet thing, it never makes sense.

Puzzle Quest, Penny Arcade, Bankshot Billiards 2, Lumines, and probably some others, all started at $15 or more.

Feel free to question my sanity, but there is one forthcoming MMO that could fit the multiple narrative model that was discussed in the podcast. Obviously, the problem off the bat for MMOs is having a position of importance in the narrative, in that in most of them, you're only just some person in the crowd. Games like WoW, LOTRO, SWG, DC Universe Online, and even The Matrix Online have hero characters who drive the story of the game. You can't play as Arthas, Frodo, Luke Skywalker, Batman, or whatever Matrix character they haven't killed off yet. You're a footman, or a random hobbit, or just another smuggler, etc. But, I think there's one MMO that could change that.

Enter Star Trek Online. Yes, the Trek universe has larger than life heroes, but by the time period that STO is set in, they're all gone. Picard's gone senile, Sisko and Janeway have spoilery fates*. You, as a starship captain in the 25th Century, have the ability to write your own adventures. You can explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly go where no one has gone before. Or blast the crap out of stuff if it suits your tastes. Based on what info has been released, you discover a new planet, that's it; you're the first player to make first contact with a new alien race or unearth ancient ruins. Or, if you feel like it, switch over to a Klingon captain and conquer the same alien race your Federation captain found.

Plus, in terms of multiple narratives, each of your starship captain characters has a posse of senior officers under their command. You have your own Spock, your own Scotty, or your own Wesley Crusher if you're feeling masochistic. Though we don't know the details, perhaps these officers have personalities of their own. Suppose the one who keeps cracking jokes gets killed by the poison plant on Omicron Persei VIII. The more time you spend training and leveling up these characters, the more invested you could get into them. If they're mortal, then perhaps you as the captain might not want to send the brunette into danger.

I know, it's a stretch, but it sounds like something different than your average MMO.

* Spoilers wrote:

[color=white]In the novels, Sisko came back from Bajoran Heaven and retired from duty and Janeway got whacked after becoming the new Borg Queen. Since the guy giving the speech at the convention in Vegas wants to adapt the books to serve as the game's backstory, those little nuggets will probably come up.[/color]

Edit: And I think the statute of limitations on KOTOR has come and gone, especially after action figures, novels, comics, and reference books have revealed the twist already.

I came here to yell Halo 2 also. It's pretty much exactly what you guys were talking about on the show.

Higgledy wrote:

Didn't Warcraft 3 (and Starcraft before it) have split narratives from the point of view of the 'villains' as well as the 'heroes' in their single player campaigns? I remember it being very striking that, when I played the Night Elves, I wanted to eradicate the Undead but then, when I was playing the Undead, I became completely invested in their story line and got pissed with the Night Elves for having the audacity to get in my way.

I was thinking the same thing. Those cocky self-righteous night elves! In WC3 you played heroes, villains, heroes gone bad, villains turned good, and characters that didn't want to be bothered but got sucked into the mess. They covered most of the bases.

Hey Gamers With Jobs -- first post!

I've been listening to the podcast for about six months, but with Sean "Elysium" Sands being a prominent member and my acute pogonophobia... I was quite apprehensive to join the forums... but I'm muscling through it for the sake of video games!

After listening to the topic of playing as the villain and the hero interchangeably in a game, the first thing that leapt from the shady void of the body (aka my mind) was Legacy of Kain: Defiance. For those unfamiliar with the game, you play as both Raziel, the hero from the Soul Reaver games, and Kain, the antagonist from those same games (and original anti-hero from the Blood Omen games). In order to obtain revenge for being forsaken/murdered, Raziel actively sought Kain out during Soul Reaver and Soul Reaver 2, coming close both times but ultimately thwarted. Yet, in Defiance, you start the game as Kain and then after a chapter, move to Raziel. The game swings back and forth between both characters and their respective chapters. Slowly, the chapters begin to entwine until both heroes and villains come face to face. Having kept both Kain and Raziel alive and kicking (through time, space and many adversaries) you begin fighting each other. You switch between them during a battle (where the boss AI plays just as good as the player has been) -- but it reaches the same ending.

What made it interested was knowing that you couldn't stop the outcome. You had come to know the villian, Kain, and saw that all his actions had not been performed simply because he was "a villain", but because he was the scion of balance and was doing what he must for the sake of the world (leading, in some cases, to what we perceive as "evil") -- not his own ambition or whims. The blurring of a clueless hero and a noble villain was something incredibly refreshing as was the chance to play as both in the same game! Defiance, and the series as a whole, has stuck with me since.

I'd recommend it for the story... shame the game play wasn't quite so impeccable.

We can add Call of Juarez to the list. I'm a little surprised Certis didn't mention it, as he recommended it to me.

Cramps wrote:

I get my anger from Target. It's pretty cheap there and is of a better quality then the brands of anger they carry at Wal-mart.

I, too, get rage from Target.

It seems to me that a fundamental problem of having the narrative split between the hero and the villain is the issue of connecting with a character and then having to cross that connection. The strongest narratives are the ones in which you have some sort of intellectual or emotional connection to the main character. I don't think Bioshock would have worked nearly as well for me, for instance, if I hadn't truly hated Frank Fontaine, and felt that it was *me* trying to get out of/save Rapture. If that game had suddenly made me play AS Frank Fontaine, trying to get Jack, I would have been very resistant. (SPOILER: As it was I was very resistant to entering the room with Andrew Ryan, because I suddenly felt that I wanted another choice besides killing him). A split narrative would necessarily have to be structured in a way where you wouldn't feel compelled to strongly identify with one character over the other -- but without that identification, the narrative would risk losing its punch.

Like many others, Indigo Prophecy was also the first game that popped to my mind, although of course the game blew at the end. I did find it compelling in the opening parts of gameplay that I first had to run away from the police, and then had to BECOME the police and... chase myself. I even played two different tracks where, in one game, I made a poor composite sketch, and in the other, I got it exactly right. I didn't know if I wanted the main character caught or not! It sounds like there are a few oddball games that manage this multi-character narrative quite well.

I love that Braid has made this conversation ubiquitous on the internet. I've been interested in narrativity in video games since Zelda: The Wind Waker, which reminded me so much of epic sea voyage tales like The Odyssey! I'm psyched that everybody's talking about it.

Now I'm going to go back to listening to the rest of the podcast, before the next one comes out today ...