replay post

the replay site is pretty cool. (but who chose bright green as the color to read against? a non-computer user?)

my response to the ‘democratizing storytelling’ thread got chopped off because, i suppose, their site has some kind of text posting length barrier. so here it is.


in my mind, all this misses the idea that computer games are not about story-telling. that’s not what computers do well. that’s not why i play games. stories are generally linear, prescripted dramatic constructs. games are environments in which the player has a great deal of control.

control. for perhaps the first time, an art medium in which the user is the one driving the process and making the decisions.

i don’t personally want my character named for me (a la lara croft). i don’t want the game to reach any moral conclusions for me. i don’t want to find out what happens next–rather, i want to dictate what happens next.

games like system shock are incredibly powerful because the player’s imperative is something so fundamental that it is universal: fight to stay alive. my actions *are* the story–i am the center of the universe.

by contrast, the parts of games that are pre-scripted story bits are far less interesting to me. a good example is baldur’s gate. part of the game was powerful for me–i got to design my character to a very fine level of detail. then i set out across the landscape. periodically i would randomly encounter groups of monsters. i would deal with the obstacles in often interesting strategic combinations and settings, sometimes made interesting because of my actions through the game–allowing my character’s health and spells to run low, for instance. at other times made interesting because of the unpredicted actions of my human companions (in multiplayer mode). i loved all of that. that part of the game was great.

contrast it with the other parts of baldur’s gate–the blocks and blocks of character dialogue, the animated flicks, and the pre-told elements. (like “oh, no, my old mentor just died.” do you *really* think i care–i met him 2 minutes ago and he is a blob of pixels–despite the fact that the developer tried to establish that he “raised me from an infant.” whatever.) all of these parts of the game held virtually no interest for me. i ended up skipping most of them.

think about it: for those prescripted segments of the game, i was just sitting there in front of my computer. for the elements in the previous paragraph, *i was making decisions*. i was affecting the world. i was in control. i was free to act and to express myself.

to me, this is an important point. games can be divided into two groups, in my mind: those that rely on the strengths of older media and those that revel in the strengths of the new media. user control is the primary strength of computer games. i think someday we’ll be able to fully merge these two approaches–when the game can create compelling ‘storylines’ and characters on the fly in response to the player’s actions and decisions, “stories within games” will take on new meaning and finally the concept of telling a story within a game will not detract from the primary strength of the high end simulation games. this won’t happen until the technology is capable of creating games like the Giant’s Drink from the novel Ender’s Game or the little girl’s book from Diamond Age.

today, games like system shock and mario 64 allow the player to influence the world directly. they all have some measure of ‘premise’ but most importantly they focused on allowing me to move myself through an interesting world and make decisions.

last month i re-read faulkner’s The Unvanquished. a month before that i went to see Gods and Monsters. awesome experiences. both taught me something, but both were mostly reactive. last month i also played through system shock 2. another awesome experience. much more active–much more centered on giving me control and allowing me to express myself.


btw, i am absolutely in love with certain parts of game fiction–a strong setting, great atmosphere, compelling characters. it’s prescripted plot, or embedded narrative, that i am less enthusiastic about.

System Shock 2

i was up until 1am playing system shock 2. (and my wife made me get up at 6…i feel like death warmed over.)

but the upside is that shock 2 is the most amazing game i’ve played in years. it is going to be the “Dungeon Master” of 1999. it is that well executed, that clever.

last night i was sitting in a dark room, upstairs in my house, playing the game and jumping at every creepy sound. my character is finally a badass (very specialized in a couple of directions.) i think i’m like 80-90% done.

i’m not exagerating–i think this is one of the best games i’ve ever played.

Planet Riva and Deus Ex

Voodoo from Planet Riva had some questions and i answered them.

most of my time lately has been spent with warren and chris norden, working out some design feature modifications for Deus Ex. other than that i have been playing a beta copy of System Shock 2, which is honestly one of the finest games i have ever played. sensational.

meanwhile, here’s the link to Planet Riva

thief music

as you probably know, i think Looking Glass Technologies is the coolest game company in the world. not just because of their awe-inspiring games, but because you can learn so much from their developers.

well, to top off their design/programming might, they also have eric brosius, sound/music engineer phenom. the Thief music was really innovate and suited to the game. the sound effects were even better. anyway, as an MP3 fan, i’d like to pass along some Thief MP3 links.

original Thief music by Eric Brosius, mixed by Dan Todd (Digital Nightfall).