I want to talk a little about games that subvert traditional mechanics at the expense of the player, that poke at the player's assumptions and maybe make an example of him/her.
Spec Ops: The Line (Yager Development, 2012) is the big, mainstream example which I already covered in some detail recently but what has brought the subject back is a conversation I've been having with Boson X developer Ian MacLarty about a jam game he made called Booot.
It's given me a different perspective on such subversions, a perspective relating to player education.
In this episode of Counterweight, Eric Brasure and Joel Goodwin discuss three HAUNTED games for Halloween. The Rapture is Here and You Will Be Forcibly Removed From Your Home (Connor Sherlock, 2013), CHYRZA (Kitty Horrorshow, 2014) and Into the Gloom (Emmanuel Ramos, 2014). This is pretty much a spoilery podcast so, uh, sorry about that.
The Rapture is Here and You Will Be Forcibly Removed From Your Home (Connor Sherlock, 2013)
03:10 "There is a sense of menace about it."
04:30 "The actual environment you are in is interesting to run around in but the story bits just didn't seem to make much sense conceptually."
12:50 "As a cohesive whole, it doesn't really gel."
CHYRZA (Kitty Horrorshow, 2014)
15:10 "It's like one of those very odd horror stories where you really don't know what's going on... but it's a bit creepy and disturbing."
16:50 "I like it because it teaches you how to play the game very quickly."
21:20 "I need gameplay to justify why you're going to be listening to my story. I need the story to justify why you have to do this ridiculous game play."
Into the Gloom (Emmanuel Ramos, 2014)
25:40 "It reminded me a lot of playing games when I was a teenager."
27:50 "I gave up near the end because I found it quite frustrating."
37:40 "It's definitely a game where you have to take it on its own terms."
Download the podcast MP3 or play it right here in your browser:
- TIMEframe (Tyler Owen, 2014) - Ten minutes to see the world before it ends
- Imscared (Ivan Zanotti, 2012)
- The 4th Wall (GZStorm, 2012) - Electron Dance on The 4th Wall
- Deep Sleep (scriptwelder, 2012)
- Five Nights at Freddy's (Scott Games, 2014)
My latest Rock Paper Shotgun piece went up a few hours ago. It contrasts Michael Brough's local multiplayer epic Kompendium with Alexander "droqen" Martin’s Starseed Pilgrim, highlighting how both games have a spoilery exterior that prevents you from talking about them in too much detail.
Here's an excerpt:
We were locked in a duel with unknown rules – so we talked rather than competed, exchanging theories about what we were supposed to do. Even though each game in Kompendium is a fight to the win, the ambiguity of its rules means players often start out in a cooperative struggle against a common enemy: the opaque system.
Of course, there’s a dangerous point after this where the fog lifts more quickly for one player than the other and they acquire the knowledge to win. I figured out “March Eternal” before Gregg did and had to consider whether to explain to him what I had figured out. I considered it and then I destroyed him.
Look, this is going to be a short post as I am still working on resurrecting my PC. The above image from Watch Dogs (Ubisoft Montreal, 2014) snowballed on Twitter this month. Perhaps the one with 2,000 retweets is the original although I've found a mention of this unfortunate juxtaposition back in June on the Giant Bomb forums:
How about after his tear jerking moment at the grave, you are immediately presented with a "Vault" prompt on the tombstone. I hoped over my niece's grave 4 times, having a good laugh at how silly it was.
It's true. Over the grave of the protagonist’s niece hovers a ghost. A ghost called Vault. This means we can finally discard that monstrosity ludonarrative dissonance and instead write the game vaults the grave.
It’s a brilliant example of where systems clash with narrative intent but... also misses the point.
This is the concluding part of The First Open World in which we discuss the true nature of Mercenary, the ending and its legacy.
Because Mercenary could conceivably play for ever, there is a save gameplay facility. A winning situation should also be saved, as this will give beneficial entry into "Mercenary II".
– Mercenary: Escape from Targ instructions
Mercenary is a game cleaved into two.
The city and the underground represent its two sides that maintain an uneasy coexistence. The surface has been drained of function, whereas its underground maze game is saturated with it. It's as if a true, borderless open world cannot support anything resembling player agency.
With Woakes' predilection for challenging the player with opaque systems, perhaps it was destined that Mercenary's approach to the open world would eventually fail as a commercial model.
But that view is short-sighted and misunderstands what Mercenary is.
This is the second part of The First Open World.
Technically, Mercenary: Escape from Targ (Novagen Software, 1985) was not the first open world. That title probably goes to Ultima (Richard Garriott, 1981) like the Wikipedia entry for “open world” currently suggests. But Mercenary stands alone as representing the open world sandboxes that are big business today. This is why it was critically acclaimed and jumped from the Atari 8-bit to practically every other home computer at the time, even the ZX Spectrum which I had believed too underpowered to support it.
But lest we get too wrapped up in golden age nostalgia, let's cut some of the crap here. Mercenary did not deliver on all the promises Novagen sold to the gaming public.
This is an appendix to the Where We Came From series.
For Mercenary, author Paul Woakes, has created what can only be described as a world simulator. The first release using this technique is sub-titled "Escape From Targ".
– Mercenary: Escape from Targ instructions
Paul Woakes’ debut title on the Atari 8-bit home computer was a tense and memorable re-imagining of Battlezone (Atari, 1980) called Encounter! (Novagen Software, 1984), using vibrant raster graphics instead of the flickering green wireframes of the Atari arcade original. It quickly became a favourite for Atari owners who liked their action games to be fast and responsive.
Shortly after, hints of Woakes’ followup title began to seep into the news sections of computer magazines. What could Atari owners expect next from a developer whose first title had conquered the action genre?
A first-person 3D open world offering intrigue and complete freedom to explore a planet.
I've talked about Boson X (Mu & Heyo, 2013) a few times now. First, it was my way of explaining why I didn't get into Twine. Then I released a video to explain how players navigate the fast-moving space of the game. Finally, I came out and admitted that I had become addicted, desperate to get on the leaderboards. It was my little Super Hexagon (Terry Cavanagh, 2012) for a while and then I put Boson X away behind a thick wall of lead, with all the other radioactive isotopes.
But Boson X is back.