For those of you who didn’t know, I’m taking part in NaNoWriMo this year. Writers around the world will be trying to complete the first draft of a 50,000 word novel. For some of us, it’ll be our first ever attempt at writing a novel and for others, they have multiple books under their belt. In my case, this’ll be my first attempt at writing a whole piece of fiction – and I’m excited by the prospects. The organisers of NaNoWriMo appear to be hard at work as well, but instead of working on literature, they’ve been working on their website – and it looks great. Here’s what to expect from NaNoWriMo’s website this year.
Through Azeroth, to Paragon City, I’ve played a number of MMORPGs in my life. All of them adhere to vaguely similar rules; create a character, run through a huge open world and do some quests. Get coins, do a few professions – If you’re a fan of MMORPGs, you’d know the drill. I’ve played so many, that I was trying to look for one that could potentially replace the massive void that World of Warcraft left in my heart. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before I picked up Elder Scolls Online – But what did I make of the world of Tamriel? Read on to find out more, along with a screenshot gallery of my journey.
Grief, anger, denial, frustration – There are many emotions that go into a character who has fallen from grace. These are the men and women who have done something bad, when they’re not supposed to be bad. These can also be the people who have lost their way, forgetting their purpose. These are the sad, heart-wrenching characters who help you invest in a story. We’re all human, we all occasionally forget what we’re fighting for – And this is how I’d portray them in writing.
For the past eight or so months, I’ve been pretty much devoted to Tekken 7, a game which has rekindled my love for the fighting game genre as a whole. So, when I heard there was a mobile version, you can imagine exactly what I said…
“This is going to be dreadful! How can I get my beloved combos on a tiny phone?!”
So, uh, I went in with pretty low expectations for the fighting game franchises first foray on mobile – a hard platform to do any form of video games as a whole. However, what I experienced ended up being something I genuinely didn’t expect… And hey, it’s free, so let’s read on!
This will be a short story, it is quite late as I write this, and I am also beavering away at some of the other projects that we have going on in the background. Book layouts are not as fun to play around with as you might think.
After about six years in retail I have passed the point of putting on a facade of normalcy, and instead encourage my customers to see things from my perspective. Aside from the fact that I am sick to death as being treated like some kind of subhuman, shambling manservant – good for heavy lifting and raising lightning rods – encouraging people to see me as human actually sparks some great conversations. (more…)
Since the dominance of the sandbox, railroading gameplay through linear non-divergent story and specific plot paths has become something of a faux-pas in game design, and was never looked upon favourably in tabletop roleplaying. As a player you seek agency, and often that comes from such simple things as choosing which path to take to the same inevitable end, and not following the obvious trail of breadcrumbs laid out for you. These days we laud games for open worlds, multiple endings, and the ability to approach one problem a dozen ways, to play it your way.
All but gone are the days of the 3D platformer, and the rail shooter, technology and computing power has given us the power to create actual worlds and weave beautiful stories into them rather than just telling a story and dragging you by the nose along it.
But is it so bad a thing that we’re better off entirely being rid of it, and casting away the strictly linear narratives of old?
There are times when actually taking your players by the nose and dragging them to the plot is not necessarily an unforgivable act. Here are a couple of examples of uses for, and in defence of railroading your story.
Here’s a nice easy one to get this started off. When beginning a campaign, or game, or whatever interactive experience your trying to share, you’ll usually have a few fundamentals to share, basic bits of information to share that’ll allow the player to understand the experiences to follow. A little bit of railroading aids “showing not telling” like the opening test chambers of Portal encouraging thinking with portals. Obduction drives you down a path in pursuit of one of the world-shifting seeds, and leaves you in a small bubble that tells you everything you need to know about the transition mechanics you’ll be playing with.
It’s a form of tutorial, but done right it’s so subtle that you barely notice it every replay. We’re guided through set pieces that leave us without doubt about where we’re going or what we’re doing for the rest of the game.
There are occasions where your story takes a turn that irrevocably changes everything. No turning back, and no matter what you have done up to this point this moment was unavoidable. Moments like the time-shift in Guild Wars, where the entire “tutorial” felt like an open world in it’s own right, only for everything to change in a single moment. Transitioning from one Mass Effect or Witcher still leaves you with a short period in which games are identical, no matter the decisions you’ve made.
Now, actions and decisions made before this pivotal moment can alter the events that follow, but all paths lead here ultimately. Most games use this kind of narrative, the storyline quests that so often get ignored in pure sandboxes, but there are times where that epic moment changes everything to the point where there’s no going back or wandering off to finish that sidequest you’ve been ignoring.
I’ll skim over this because this one’s more of a cheap trick, somewhat less acceptable. False choices are the doors you walk up to that suddenly slam shut and lock you out, or those decisions that immediately kill you or end the game. Arkham City did that with Catwoman’s story at one stage, where she had the option to simply walk away with loot in pocket, but because the game needed you to save Batman the game simply ended there. Sorry guys, given a real choice I’d have taken the money and run.
A Good Story
Halflife, Telltale Games, Psychonauts, hell most games will railroad up to a point. When your story is good and worth telling there’s nothing wrong with taking agency from the players in terms of narrative direction. In the drive to create bigger and more incredible games let’s not lose sight of a good story and the ways in which we can tell them, putting the player into the hazard suit of a mute scientist as he weaves through supersoldiers and alien parasites to reach the incredible conclusion of his epic tale (that will have been stuck on a cliffhanger for ten years this October) or filling the boots of the intrepid archaeologist as she shoots her way through adventures far more thrilling than any actual archaeologist would ever encounter.
I consider myself a world-builder first and foremost, so I’ll advocate for the ability to wander aimlessly around the whole world and delve its deepest corners and unveil every shred of lore, even if I have to sit and spend time that should be shooting down killer robots reading books on killer robot maintenance. But sometimes when a moment needs to be shared, or an idea is so stunning that it simply must be seen, there’s nothing wrong with putting the plot on tracks and asking everyone to enjoy the ride for a while.
I love a good side-quest, to the point where whenever I make a tabletop campaign, or work with modding tools, I add in side-quests. They’re fun and they build upon a story beautifully. Recently, I’ve been replaying through Final Fantasy IX, my favourite game in the series and remembering all of the incredible minute details it presents. Join Timlah as we discuss the importance and the joy of side-quests and what makes a game linear.
When is big too big?
A story should grow as it develops, but too often a story can peak too soon and then the climax that follows ends up feeling… well, anticlimactic. Can you have a war in the middle of the book only for the final showdown to take place between hero and villain in a cave somewhere? The stakes could be higher, but the grandeur is lost. When you’ve bested a dragon, can rescuing the princess from the stumpy lord who you passed her onto be just as awesome?
Scale can be an important thing to plot ahead of time when preparing any new piece of work, be it the dramatic impact of a scene, the ramifications of a particular deed, or even working out how to leave yourself somewhere to go when you still have a long way to the finish line.
In any narrative with multiple dramatic moments there should be peaks of excitement and tension separated by lulls of recovery. You simply can’t keep building tension, fear or whatever emotional pinnacles you’re pursuing, your audience will get bored of the constant rising drama. “Oh, somebody else has died? Who’s nex- oh her! And now everything’s on fire. Great.”
In between there must be time to process each event as it passes, a release of tension so that the viewer/player/reader can be built back up, and perhaps further this time. Horror films, slashers in particular do this exceptionally well, each kill is followed by more of the confused and terrified teenagers trying to work out what’s going on in that mysterious old diamond mine, as shadows creep along the wall, strange creeks, plans are made that will inevitably lead to one person being separated from another, or an ominous door to be opened and then BANG! Or possible crunch.
This kind of story structure is essential, and not because it’s a familiar and safe format but because the contrast of rise and fall makes each event so much more incredible, and the “come down” gives us a brief moment to feel satisfied before we start the cycle again.
Level 1 is practically the same in any fantasy RPG. Goblins, kobolds, giant rats, basically nothing much taller than waste high for a few levels until you can take on something as big as you are, then on to the dragons and whatnot, the big scary things with glowing weak points. The largest thing you’ll face at that stage is another person. Now here we must surely be able to make a few changes. Escalation in terms of threat needn’t only be represented in terms of size, but in terms of cunning or the threat represented.
For example, when you’re faced with a dragon your choices are fairly obvious. Point the biggest, meanest, most damaging thing you have at it and pull the trigger. But when your nemesis is little more than a face in the crowd with the power to bring a nation to its knees, you can’t be so forthright in your approach.
Where size really matters is when your protagonist is concerned. As time progresses and situation demands, guns should get bigger, magic powers should get more epic. While in game terms your character may only be chasing larger numbers, it helps a lot if they’re represented by a bigger boom, making the development more abundantly obvious. Perhaps it isn’t their individual power that matters, but the influence they have over others, the size of their group, their army, or the power to change a nation, which brings me to my final point rather neatly…
Many times we see a story about one very particular and seemingly insignificant thing turn into something far more dramatic. Harry Potter can be held up as a prime example, the mystery of the Third Floor Corridor being so very Enid Blyton in its make-up, becoming a step along a path towards open and highly climactic warfare, with clearly marked levels of importance along the way. With each book something more important is at stake: The lives of students, an escaped convict, international relations, soon the very magical governing body becomes the focus of attention.
There are only so many times you can save the world. It’s ok to save the farm first, or even save yourself for now until you get the bigger guns to come back and save the world, the galaxy, or even time itself. As the drama increases, so too should the burden of responsibility on your characters, the amount of power they wield in terms of both combative strength and political sway contributing to the tension, the drama, and the scale of the plot.
Hello one and all, in this article I talk about the latest two episodes of GeekOut Plays Stonekeep, Episodes 22 and 23, where we’re making amazing progress. No GeekOut Plays Beyond Good & Evil this week, as I’ve been feeling poorly. Sorry about that! So, onwards with this weeks Stonekeep episodes!
Today one of my oldest gaming friends left town, and it looks like he’ll be gone for a long time.
This is a friend who I have spent the last fourteen years casually talking to about games, films, philosophy, one of the people who got me into Warhammer, and one of my favourite D&D players. Here is someone who became a verb, one that will stay with us for many years to come as new players come and go, and to openly mock and criticize one another over poor behaviour in games. (more…)