When taken as a whole, it’s really only been in the most recent sliver of video game history that we’ve seen an explosion of robust narrative development. Sure, we must acknowledge the early pioneers, companies like Infocom and their titles like Zork. Still, modern video games, thanks to Bioware, Telltale, Quantic Dream, and others, have provided immense richness within the limitations of hardcoded storylines, settings, and decision points, richness that was not reachable earlier on.
Tabletop RPGs arguably got to this point earlier and have been there longer. It is simply more straightforward to write out several possible endings to a given module or adventure path than have to code them out and make more ingame content knowing that many players will never see it. In a weird way, though, that’s why I think looking at how narrative complexity presents itself in video games is so interesting and instructive. When video games fracture their storylines into multiple endings or complementary subplots (like, for example, character romance subplots), it has to be deliberate. Everything is designed intentionally, and for some players figuring out the combination of actions that leads to a given outcome is part of solving the puzzle of the game.
Continue reading Decisions and Endings in Video Games
I’ve spent years adventuring through the mysterious, whimsical, dangerous lands of HORIZON PROPHECY ONLINE, a science fantasy MMORPG that peaked at about 161,000 concurrent players. The game always had a scope and reach too ambitious for its budget, but now, with daily player counts in the hundreds, the studio has announced that they’re shutting down HPO for good. With four hours to go before the servers are switched off, I decided to create a new toon and go through the starting area one last time, as a final farewell to the world I’ve given so much of my time.
Continue reading Solitaire Storytelling: A Requiem for Horizon Prophecy Online: The Final Four
Role-playing games and video games came of age around the same time. While D&D was published in 1974, the very first attempts to emulate D&D with a computer came in 1975; Dungeon and DND were written for mainframe systems like the PDP-10 and PLATO, though they were unlicensed and never saw commercial sales. The first licensed D&D video game came in 1982, and it paved the way not only for later licensed games like the SSI ‘Gold Box’ titles and Baldur’s Gate but also virtually the entire video game RPG genre, from Final Fantasy to The Elder Scrolls to Diablo.
Role-playing video games were fairly direct emulations of rulesets like D&D early on, but as the software became more sophisticated they played more to their strengths. Current titles have gorgeous graphics and complex storylines, but narratively are mostly static affairs. Meanwhile, tabletop roleplaying games have always had the flexibility of a human GM to give them more breadth and a personal touch that video games couldn’t match. So what happens when a digital game designer tries to make their video game feel more like a tabletop RPG? You get Wildermyth.
Continue reading A Glimpse Into The Vault: Wildermyth
Having a con ‘season’ of sorts is a new experience for me, with PAX East 2020 following close on the heels of PAX Unplugged 2019 (thank goodness attending South wasn’t remotely an option), meaning that I’m going into this work week pretty darn exhausted . . . and with oodles, noodles, and toaster strudels of new content to write about! Let’s talk a bit about the con at large, and then get down to the details with some games.
Continue reading A PAX East 2020 Roundup