Epic Quote from Matthias

Matthias Worch said something that really resonated a while back. With his permission, I repost it now:

Bioshock is a great recent example of visual storytelling done right. Bioshock also demonstrates how visual storytelling is a big part of creating the overall narrative of 3D action games.

On a low level, visual storytelling is about filling a space with history. The gamer plays detective: the designer has left clues about the history of a place, and those clues, once combined, give the player a better idea of what might have happened here long before he arrived. A bloodstain on the wall, a dead body slumped beneath it, a dropped gun on the opposite side of the room and footprints leading away from the scene – pretty easy clues to the events that transpired here.  But that’s cool! I immediately feel like I’m playing in a living, breathing world.

On a higher level, visual storytelling is a great tool to create the game’s narrative. And for that to work, the levels’ individual storytelling moments need to be derived from the overarching premise of the game. If the game is about an infection that spreads like wildfire and creates quarantined cities, I expect to find lots of hints about what happened to the city as the infection started spreading. I expect to find hospitals that had been overrun with patients. Nobody is there anymore, of course – but there’s ashtrays overflowing with cigarette butts, waiting rooms that are filled with extra chairs etc. I expect to find school classrooms with half-completed formulas and ideas on the chalkboards. The chairs are all in disarray – everybody was evacuated in such a hurry that the place feels like it’s been frozen in time. I expect old newspapers on the street that show title stories about the evacuation.  I expect to find homes with dead parakeets in the birdcage. The animals couldn’t be taken, so they starved to death.  Starved dogs might be scouring the streets, trying to tear open the body bags. Fun stuff like that.

Bioshock does a good job at this kind of stuff. I can piece together how Rapture turned from the envisioned utopia into the broken down wreck that it is now. Yes, there’s audio logs which explain events in detail. There’s a bunch of scripted sequences.  But there’s also countless silent storytelling moments that greatly add to the atmosphere. The music is still playing. There’s banners celebrating the New Year. Splicers are still wearing their costumes and masks.


This is so key to some of the stuff we’re working on now, related to the type of game I’m most passionate about. Good stuff, Matthias.

Last Night in Austin

Last night the Alamo Drafthouse hosted film director Monte Hellman for a double feature. This would not have happened without the efforts of my friend Charles Lieurance, who loves Hellman’s work.

We watched The Shooting (with a young Jack Nicholson) and Two Lane Blacktop (starring musician James Taylor). Both were interesting and beautiful films. (It was actually a triple feature, but I didn’t stay for the Weird Wednesdays showing of the third Monte Hellman film…)

Below are phone pics of 1) Lars talking to Hellman, and 2) the poster the Drafthouse put out. Unfortunately, I was too busy listening to Charles’ passionate introduction to catch a photo of him on stage.

5 Moments

At lunch we were babbling about games over BBQ, a common practice for Arkane’s Austin studio. The subject today was emotional moments in 2007. All part of the ongoing, endless drive to knock it out of the park with a great game no matter how many times you have to get up to bat.

I rattled off my emo moments without hesitation, which means it was a great year:


1) The first time I saved a Little Sister in Bioshock. The perfect swell of music, the little form struggling in your hands, the voice…all perfect. Much more powerful that first time.

2) The moment the puzzle game became a story game in Portal, via empathy for whoever had come before me… Never has so much been said with so few “words.”

3) One of the rainstorm gun battles in STALKER, with an enemy in the dark breathing hard on the opposite side of a pillar. I felt hunted. Honestly, it was like playing an intense game of Capture the Flag in the woods at night at age 13…exhilarating, scary and empowering.

4) The staggering death, post nuke, in Call of Duty 4. “Omg, someone finally did it.”

5) The pistol slide sacrifice at the end of Call of Duty 4. Captain Price is counting on the FNG in a way that is still emotionally evocative. Amazing use of drama.

I think 2007 reinvigorated my faith in games, which had (perhaps understandably) flagged. And all but one of those moments came via console.

I can wait for the followup to these games (in addition to Fallout 3, Far Cry 2 and Mercenaries 2)…omfg, so much goodness.

positive and negative weights

I’ve been craving an iPhone since the first one came out. But I knew that a 3G version was on the way, so I waited. This time, I assumed there would be crushing lines and bugs, so I waited. I’m still waiting. In part, it’s probably due to the fact that I love my Blackberry Curve’s keyboard. Hard little buttons that I can mash very fast.

I’ve been watching a few new people deal with the Apple paradigms and, of course, struggle. I remember the first time I got an iPod, vs the prior non-Apple MP3 players I had. It’s always a struggle at first for me, no matter what platform. “You’re converting my files to what format? Where are they…hidden now? I can’t sync my iPod at home and at work? I can’t back my music from home up on my work machine…why not, since my iPod is basically a portable harddrive?”

Intuitive just means “like something I’ve done before.”

What’s interesting to me is the weight we give to annoying features vs pleasing features. For instance, the iPhone does most things much better than my Blackberry. I am fascinated by the fact that the iPhone supports web browsing so well, has YouTube, the screen is gorgeous, the fingertouch interface is revolutionary, and it doubles as an iPod. But again I still have a Blackberry simply because the iPhone keyboard annoys the hell out of me.

So which is “better?” Do negative or positive weights matter more? How strong one way or the other does something have to be to overcome all other considerations? For that matter, is the suckiness of the iPhone keyboard a negative, or is the Blackberry’s a positive?

I will eventually get an iPhone: One device, with phone, camera, the web, my music, etc…it’s unbeatable. So I’m sure I will eventually overlook the 3 or so really annoying things about the iPhone in favor of the pleasing features. In currently prefering my Blackberry, I’ve simply already accepted the features that annoy me on the Blackberry. (And there are a bunch…)

The murky depths

I’ve mentioned before how much I love Fl0w. Lots of smart people have commented on how the game’s setting and mechanics manage to evoke various feelings.

Additionally, I find that there’s an interesting flirting with death feeling that comes to mind when I’m playing. There’s the sensation that as you go deeper the layers of the world get darker, colder (imagined) and more dangerous; early in the game, the entities that swim several layers below you seem truly threatening. And so in addition to evoking a number of peaceful, positive feelings, the game also sometimes gives me this type of self-destructive thrill…oblivion is below, just keep diving.

It’s amazing that so much springs from such a minimal, elegant game design. I love it.