Friday, 6 April 2018

Choice games are Out Run




Since my post a few days ago, I have been thinking about interactive stories some more.

Picture a game like Out Run, from back in the day. You drove a car along a pre-determined route while dodging through traffic. You had an element of control, but the game play came from quick reactions and anticipating where you needed to be.

However, there were splits in the road, so if you completed the course, you could end in five different places.

I don’t remember Out Run being advertised as being all about the choices and that had five endings.  Then again, I don't remember Out Run being advertised as I was only about five when it was released.

Let us consider a badly drawn and, dare I say, highly inaccurate Out Run ‘story map’ would be like this:




I would argue that is the same ‘story map’ in many recent story driven choice games, such as The Witcher 3; Mass Effect 1,2,3, Andromeda; Life is Strange; etc, etc.

I would even go so far that some of these games offer less choice that Out Run regarding endings. Disclaimer - I think all of the above games are brilliant and I loved playing them.

Now picture the actual map from the latest (2013, ha! But it is.) Rockstar game, Grand Theft Auto V. You see a road on that map and you can drive on it. You see a field, you can drive on it, walk on it, ride a bicycle on it.

Now imagine that being a story map!

That is the choice game I would like to play. The story possibilities would be immense. Messy as hell to program – maybe even impossible. But as a writer it is exciting to think about creating a world full of story potential and allowing the player to decide what story they want to pursue.

By the very nature of video games, those individual stories would have to be scripted and predetermined in some way.

Just imagine, you are faced with a number of different things, events, people, to investigate. You choose one, time moves on and your options narrow and maybe new options open because of the initial choice.

Gah, I guess I am just fed up of making a choice in a game that promises to have a big impact but the game conspires to force what it wants to happen regardless of your choice.

I’m going to pick on Life is Strange, which I really don’t want to as it is so good, but it is the freshest in my mind.

Spoiler Alert!

In Episode 1 you get to choose whether to report Nathan to the principal for having a gun, or staying quiet.

First time I played I reported him, and the principal got arsey and basically said I’m lying. Later, Nathan confronts you in the school parking lot and threatens you. Then he paints graffiti on your dorm wall and leaves a nasty photo in your room.

Second time I decided to keep quiet about him and the gun.

The principal gets arsey because I am hiding something. Nathan still confronts me in the car park – with no explanation as far as I can see. You get no graffiti on the wall and no nasty photo.

This was one of the main choices in the game, and those are the consequences.

Wouldn’t it have been interesting if in the second choice, Nathan doesn’t confront you? You meet with Chloe in some other way. Maybe you absent mindedly step into the road after talking with Warren and she has to brake hard to avoid you.

Maybe Nathan, who is troubled, confides in you.

I lament what could have been, he said, overly dramatically.

Spoiler ENDS!

Anyhoo – no one is reading this, but if you are and want to argue, hit me up.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

The Future of Gaming



I have recently finished playing Life is Strange, one of those games that promises that your choices matter.

I knew nothing about this game when I played episode one, which you can download for free on Xbox. But I love the idea of the choices you make in a video game mattering, shaping the path you take and ultimately having some effect on the end.

But I am yet to play a game that does this enough for my liking. I am probably expecting too much, but allow me to ramble somewhat before I get to the meat of what I would like to see.

I started playing video games back in the 1980s when the main choice in a video game was whether you made a sandwich or grabbed a packet of crisps while the tape slowly loaded the game. No matter what anyone tells you, things were not better then. The game play was often terrible and poor design made games hard rather than any skill by the developers. And there was rarely a story.

This may be controversial but even games people rave about like Super Mario, Sonic, Pacman, Defender, Bombjack, etc, were utter dross compared to what we have now. Even a shonky mobile game like Candy Crush is better than 90% of games from the last century.

I was there, I lived it and enjoyed the games at the time. But every time I go back and play a game I used to love I am disappointed. I understand that this is objective, but I am almost certain there aren’t too many people that choose to play Dizzy down the Rapids over a newer release.

However.

I recently replayed Sid Meier’s Pirates! It was great. And why was it great?

Choice.

Why was Civilization great? Choice.

There was no pre-written story in these games, but your actions created a story of sorts. And the ending was based on those choices.

Look at the history of film for example. It all started with a film of a train driving towards the camera. Yet now we have documentaries, news, movies, music videos, cartoons, porn, sitcoms, reality shows – the list goes on and on.

Gaming is undergoing the same process. I would estimate we are in the 1940s Hollywood era of video games. Some people still think it is a fad. Some think it is dangerous.

Those early films of a train or a crowded London street certainly hold historical interest, but they are not entertainment in the same way as To Have and Have Not or Star Wars are.

Gaming is becoming as diverse as film and the route I find most interesting is those I would call interactive stories, a subject I have covered before.

I am aware of games like Colossal Cave, Jacaranda Jim, Day of the Tentacle, Monkey Island. They were the early seeds of interactive stories. I remember playing Leisure Suit Larry and getting to a point, on an aeroplane I think, and realising I could go no further because I hadn’t picked up some item earlier.

I was pissed but impressed a game had the nads to just say, ‘Bad luck, buddy.’  You just don't get that in a traditional film or a book. You can't get that.

With all that ramble out of the way I can get to my point.

Imagine a game that allows you to make the wrong choices.

I don’t mean the minor side choices that they slip in to make the claim ‘your choices matter.’

Oh no, you didn’t speak to Hank and warn him about the milk shortage! Now he has to eat dry cereal! Wow, what a deeply varied gaming experience people will have.

I also don’t mean – You forgot to peel the banana and now the President is dead. Game Over.

The decisions have to make sense.

I’m imagining something more akin to this:

Developer’s vision for the story –

You are a Fast-food worker who stumbles upon a conspiracy to murder people by poisoning fries. You follow the clues and discover the butler did it. He gets arrested and everyone lives happily ever after.

How you play -

You follow the clues and decide your enemy did it, so you create a case against them. Seeing evidence everywhere you look because that is how you see things. You enlist the help of the old butler who comes to the fast-food joint every Thursday. You end up getting killed and eaten by him.

That is just a mad example, but you get the general idea?

I know they cannot programme every eventuality into a game, but it would be nice to screw things up. You still get an ending, just not the one they envisaged.

Think of Mass Effect 3, a staggeringly good game in terms of story. The culmination of the choices you had made over three games. Some of these choices resulted in crew members either living or dying, which is exactly as it should be. Choices with real consequences. But then the final choice reduces everything to three options that happen regardless of all the other choices.

The same happens in Life is Strange.

After all the work to make choices matter, you are given a simple A or B choice. Why not slip two or three extra endings in? The scope was there.

The following contains spoilers, so don’t read if you don’t want to know what happens.

SPOILERS START

What if you could have sided with David more? My gut said he was trying to do the right thing and I wanted to speak to him about things. The outcome could have been different. Less exciting, but that is not the point. Give the player the choice!

What if you screw something up and can’t get away from the Dark Room? You just die. The game ends, another missing girl.

Maybe you could investigate more thoroughly but that alerts the real killer, who comes after you? A confrontation that gives the chance for further different outcomes.

SPOILERS END

After all this, I really, really liked Life is Strange, which is why I wrote this up. If it was just a game that sucked I could dismiss it. It is a 90+% game.

The final choice feels a little like it is there to force a little more emotion into a game that didn’t need that. In many ways the freak weather, etc, could be removed along with the last choice.

A game with choices that matter would never need to offer you up one final choice if those choices really did impact the game. The last episode would have you reacting to all the crazy crap you set up in all the previous parts, allowing you to curse yourself to hell or pat yourself on the back for being such a clever bastard.

The story is powerful and emotional and the characters all feel well-rounded. I just felt at different points I was being funnelled to a destination rather than making choices.

This could be something developers want to achieve but technological limitations are the problem or maybe it is just a mindset issue. 

Either way I am confident that in years to come we will play video games that allow us much more freedom to screw things up or even create our own stories.






Wednesday, 4 June 2014

For Sale: Detached Property

Allow me to go into details, Estate Agent style.  To be entirely accurate I would need to litter the description with spelling mistakes, but I cannot bring myself to do that.

RARE OPPORTUNITY!!!!! 

This is a RARE opportunity to purchase a desirable DETACHED property with spectacular views of the sea.  Situated only 70 miles from London this property benefits from AIR-CONDITIONING as well as INTEGRATED HEATING.

This FRENCH DESIGNED property, built in 2000, simply oozes continental charm from every angle.

The local railway station provides hourly trains to London every hour.  And the vibrant towns of Colchester and Ipswich are only 30 minutes away.  This property truly is a commuters DREAM.

Particulars

Entrance can be gained via four doors, situated in the north-east, south-east, north-west and south-west of the property.  To the rear there is access to a large outdoor store, suitable for a variety of items.

The internal layout is in the popular 'open-plan' style with highly adaptable features.  At first glance it may appear to be merely a seating area, yet a dining area is concealed within a clever box.  To the rear of the property is the sleeping area, roughly the size of a modern build double bedroom.

An added bonus of this property is the abundance of windows.  A panoramic view is always on offer, whether entertaining guests in the sun-room or in the boudoir!

Wardrobe space is offered throughout the property, so storage need never be a problem.

Competitively priced at only £30,000, this property is move in ready.  This really is ideal for both the first-time buyer and investor alike. 

With capital appreciation of 130% (in line with housing trends) since it was built, you cannot go wrong.

EPC and photos to follow.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Inspirational People


People often ask me, ‘Rob, who do you find inspirational?’  Really, it happens all the time.
Ok, no-one has ever asked me that, but I’m sure you are wondering now.  Yes, you are. 

Well I’m pleased to announce that today I am going to tell you.  But only a couple (plus one in passing) because I'm terribly lazy.


First up we have scientist Richard Feynman - ‘The Great Explainer.’  Feynman worked on the Manhattan Project and later won a Nobel Prize for his work on Quantum Electrodynamics, although it is worth noting that he felt that titles and prizes were pointless and the work was what was important.
A little fact is that while working on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, Feynman was so bored by the isolation that he broke into the locked filing cabinet of another scientist and left cryptic notes inside – leading the scientist to believe the top secret atomic bomb research had been stolen by spies.  You can't beat World War Pranks.

However, while these things make him interesting, it is his skill as ‘The Great Explainer’ that gets him here.  You can find videos of him on You Tube and the BBC, from lectures in the 1960s to interviews in the 1970s & 80s.  He is very watchable, especially if you have an interest in physics.  If you don't have an interest in physics, he may be the man to give you one.  An interest in physics that is.
Feynman strikes me as one of those people, like David Niven, who you could just listen to for hours without getting bored.  People who have been instrumental in our history, be it scientific or cultural development, and can go on to talk about it with a genial finesse.


Next up is Alan Watts, a philosopher.  I don’t know a lot about him other than he helped popularise Buddhism and Eastern religion in the Western world.  Again, he is another who is eminently listenable and his message often strikes a chord with me. 
 
There are others, but I've gone on far longer than I expected and I don’t want to get bogged down in some sort of crap top ten inspirational people list. 

Feel free to share anyone you feel inspires you.