Have a long, good think about it and check out my answer in the process!
Some of you may have realised that we didn’t post at our usual time, which isn’t like us – Well, the article scheduled for today for some reason didn’t publish. So, in the interests of keeping a conversation going, I thought now is a perfect time to introduce a new series of articles.
We thought we’d stick to the theme of atmosphere in gaming, as it’s such a broad subject.
What turns me off of a game the most is that feeling that I cannot be in that world; that I cannot sympathise with that world in any way, shape or form. For this, I have one game in particular that I will be picking on and I apologise in advance as this is a popular game and I’m sure many people won’t agree with me.
Before this though, let’s talk some more about good atmosphere in games that you might not necessarily think had any form of atmosphere. How about a game like The Sims? I’m talking about the original game of The Sims, the first in the franchise.
The Sims in concept is pretty bland. You basically have these characters that you create who needs you to hold their hands lest they turn into little slobs and finds life to be pretty tough. The Sims is one of these games that splits the audience somewhat, due to some gamers believing that a game should have some form of action. The Sims does have action for the record, but it depends how you play it.
When you start, you’re looking down at your little Sims and you’re trying to make sense of who and what they are. These guys are near clueless as to what to do and you have to help improve their home, their social lives, their careers and yes, their finances. You can have the walls of the house up, or the walls down so you can look in the house easier. The standard view alone gives you the impression that you are in control of what you’re looking down at. In fact; Compare the view to children playing with their doll set. That is basically the premise of this game: You are playing with some dolls. They’re your dolls, made to your specification. You are in control, not them!
To add to this, you feel like you’re in the world of the Sims. You watch them while they watch TV. You listen to their conversations which is seemingly a language devoid of any true reasoning; Simlish. The scariest thing is: That language is “proper”, it has an actual meaning behind each weird word they say. Check out this blog that I found dedicated to Simlish and tell me that isn’t cool?!
So whilst in The Sims, the world tries to make you believe it’s a real world, there are other games that have atmosphere without trying to make you “believe in the world”. They want to give you that amount of disbelief to where you just happen to think it is indeed a “real world”.
Toe Jam & Earl was a really simple game, where you literally go around and get pieces of your rocket ship together. The game the whole time is ridiculously silly and over the top. This is why this game has a perfect atmosphere. Your characters are aliens who have crash landed on this bizarre world called Earth.
The game was satirical and yet you could completely believe the world these aliens landed on. See, these aliens were really far fetched, I mean just look at them both in the above picture. It was silly, it was “radical” and all in all – It was fun. These were funky aliens who landed on this strange world that you and I see as normal. It was really well done and the whole point was for you to explore this weirdly different world.Whilst the aliens were different to you and I, they found our world alien and strange. It looked strange to them too – Which is why this game worked so well. It was just a simple, easy to relate to story of an outsider looking in at our (okay now outdated) culture.
So then, those are two games with great atmosphere for the world they built. So what is that popular game that I mentioned that didn’t have such a good atmosphere? I’m very sorry:
Take this not as an insult to those who enjoy Doom 3 as it is a super game. It’s well done and it’s very, hmm, scary? I’m not really too big on jump scares in games as it never feels like it worked for me, however that was exactly my point.
Each moment the game felt like it was going to open up more and become a bigger, scarier game – Well that was all it did. it just got scarier and didn’t leave me “included” in the game. I couldn’t get behind the characters and it didn’t feel like it was going anywhere any time soon.
Instead all I had was random jump scares and incredibly bland, stale characters. I am afraid to say that the voices of the characters felt like they were done by one man only. It didn’t matter what the character looked like, they were just different octaves of one guy and on top of that: The characters didn’t really react to things or talk in “human ways”. To me, this killed the suspense through the dialogue alone.
For all of its accomplishments and how great fun the game itself is (I’d recommend playing it!), it’s not particularly “absorbing”. You don’t feel connected to Mars and you don’t want to really get involved with the world: Because you can’t.
So, what did you all think? Can you give us any more examples of popular games that aren’t particularly atmospheric? What about older games that are incredibly atmospheric? Alternatively, what games are atmospheric?
Behind the scenes, we (Joel and Tim) always talk about our various fandoms, our nerdy passions, and what we want to write about next.
Recently we have been discussing gaming in general, what it is that brings us to gaming and what side of gaming we stand by the most. Whilst Joel has been talking about his experiences with tabletop gaming, Tim discusses his passion for video games.
Our first blog-versation will focus on storytelling in gaming. First up, we have Tim who will explain what it is he loves about storytelling in video games.
Storytelling in Video Games
For the longest of time, I have been fascinated with video games. I guess I found my fixation for the medium when I was a child, perhaps back when I was playing games such as Superfrog, Putty and Zool on my Amiga 500. The problem for me was that storytelling on these games in particular wasn’t very deep. You couldn’t have a meaningful story, you just played something that was fun.
There’s nothing wrong with this, but in enters Valhalla and the Lord of Infinity. Valhalla is a puzzle-solving adventure game with some amazing voice work for its time. Voice work aside, this game was a wonderful telling of a simple story. You play as “The Prince” who is looking to return to his family home of Valhalla and avenge the death of his father, who fell to his brother; The Lord of Infinity.
Playing through the game you find books and letters, all of which develop the story. It told a story that I wanted to progress through and it was simple enough for anyone to follow; even my young mind at the time. Check out Valhalla, as it’s now available on Windows for free might I add?
Final Fantasy shares its story
Moving forward some years, we managed to get ourselves the PlayStation. It was a family console, but I found myself on it more than anyone else. One day with my own pocket money, I bought a game called Final Fantasy IX. This game to me showed the true depth a video game could go to.
Some of the cinematics told such huge stories without ever saying a word. From our hero Zidane chasing the princess trying to rescue her, to the destructive weapons that are the Black Waltzes, the cinematics are stunning and were a breath of fresh air at the time of release. Final Fantasy IX also brought about side-quests and mini-games in a way that they didn’t feel like they took away from the game completely; Be it Quinna catching frogs, or the Chocographs which you collect throughout the game, everything felt like it had a purpose. It was a cohesive story, with relevant side-quests.
From a long list of characters who are built over time, to full scale cinematics; This game had everything! Fantastic music, a fantastically complex story involving genomes who were sent to destroy Gaia, sci-fi themed with a nice nod to its original fantasy routes. To me, this game truly had everything. It got me thinking though… “What more can we get out of a game?”
Morrowind was the game that truly changed my concept of video games and storytelling. The story itself wasn’t the only story within this game, but there were all of these sub-stories and side-quests. You could join factions, you could interact with NPCs in ways that you couldn’t in games such as Final Fantasy IX.
You were able to forge your own destiny, follow your own story and to this day I am proud to announce I have still not finished every mission in this game. This game is a masterpiece of storytelling and it does so with a simple mechanic: By giving stories and quests for you to follow, but giving you a few ways to go about it. You didn’t have to be the good guy, you could be the bad guy. Ultimately, you followed the linear story, but you could go about it however you wanted to.
I am fully aware this isn’t the first game to have done it, but Morrowind was the first game to truly make me understand the story complexity that video games could portray.
Why I think video games are a great medium for storytelling
Video games allow you to play through another persons imagination; but as time has passed us by, the technology underlying video games have improved immensely. In such a short amount of time, we’ve come such a long way! We’ve come from the humble game of Pong to games with great story; Games such as Valhalla, Final Fantasy IX and Morrowind.
Video games are a kind of interactive visual story that allows you to traverse through a uniquely crafted world. You can see and usually hear all of the goings on, you are there. You are in the story and you are able to escape the realism of the world we live in.
Most importantly: You can explore a world, as vast as the developer imagines. So long as technology keeps progressing the way it has been, we should see bigger and more impressive worlds. I can’t wait to see the future of storytelling in video games.
Join us again next week for the views of Joel on storytelling in gaming. If you have any views on the above, why not join in this blog-versation by commenting below?