The Walking Dead EP19: Every Day’s a School Day

 By Shamus Jan 17, 2013 155 comments


Link (YouTube)

I agree that Episode 4 seems to be the strongest. It’s got a strong theme, interesting choices, quite a few tense scenes, and the gameplay feels a little more polished. They even mess around with some very mild shooting. We’ve shed the adventure game mechanics of the earlier episodes and the characters have more going on than pointless bickering.

The cast is stronger now that Larry and Lily have been replaced with less crazy people. Larry and Lily were really great for making DRAMA, but it was cheap, stupid, frustrating drama that never led anywhere and always left me feeling angry. The moment where you have to get Clem out of the jail cell was far more emotionally rewarding and rang more true than any of our arguments with Lar & Lil’. And that fight featured lazy-writer ninja zombies. I hated them, but they weren’t villains. They were a chore to be around, but having them die didn’t feel like an accomplishment or a victory. It was just more wasted life.

Maybe I’m just mistaking my antipathy for the show for an improvement in design, but now that we’ve moved on from “surrounded by assholes” to “working with reasonable people who don’t always agree”, I find the world and the story much more interesting. I care about Omid and Christa, and I’m invested in seeing them survive.

Kenny is more interesting now that he’s lost his family. As the only guy who still had a family, he was the richest man in the apocalypse. Now that he lost it all in a single day, his personality quirks are a lot more tolerable. He’s driven. He’s got a plan. It’s not a good one, but it’s all he has left.

I don’t know if it’s fair to say that every episode is objectively better than the last, but I do see an overall improvement as we progress.

At least, until we get to episode 5. Then all bets are off.


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  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

    This is my favorite comment on this spoiler warning episode about the walking dead.

  2. qwksndmonster says:

    I’m assuming you mean that Episode 5 is amazing. Episode four was definitely my second favorite.

    • aldowyn says:

      My issue with Episode 5 is that most of it, IMO, is just kinda ‘let’s go see what happens!’ without nearly as many of the interesting character interaction. There’s some strong points, but half of the main issue was definitely totally predictable and caused by ninja zombies.

  3. Sean Riley says:

    I find it fascinating how far apart we are here:

    o. I found episode 4 to be especially weak. It introduced Molly, easily the series worst character; an uber-competent, impossibly lethal hunter who stretched believability. And (as noted later) it has the most railroading of your intent of the series.
    o. While Larry was aggravating, his motivations to me were clear and his methods, while misguided, made a fundamental sense. He wanted to protect his daughter, and saw Lee as a convicted murderer whom she needed to be protected from. His great crime was his inability to rejudge Lee. (I always wondered if he was also a quiet racist.)
    o. By contrast, Kenny began to bug me the more and more the game went on. His whole boat plan is a disaster: What about food? What about water? How do we gather more? Worse, the game forces you to focus on this plan. If you’re instead more interested in investigating the tantalising possibility that Clemetine’s mother is still alive, you’re out of luck.
    o. I couldn’t care about Christa and Omid, who just seemed dull.
    o. I did care about Chuck, who is unceremoniously written out.
    o. For me, the high point is Ben. Easily the game’s most (pointfully) aggravating character, he’s a cowardly, horrible traitor… and a kid. Clementine’s faith in him forces you to consider your desire to cut him off at the first opportunity, and I found myself being verbally harsh with him, yet refused to let him die.

    Also, this was the episode that hit me with the game import bug that stopped me playing episode 5 ever. :(

    • Roland Jones says:

      1. Molly is relatively competent, but I never found her unbelievable. I’ve seen crazier in real life.

      2. Larry tried to murder you. That’s a pretty big freaking crime right there. He’s also the reason Lilly refused to let the group move elsewhere, even after he died. He was an active detriment to everyone, including Lilly and himself, almost constantly. He even did less work than the other adults, but got more food since Lilly babied him. The more I write this the more I remember why I couldn’t stand either of them; they were the biggest obstacles to the group’s continued survival, bar none.

      3. Kenny’s a professional fisherman (established back in episode one when you meet him, I believe), I’m pretty sure he could get food while on a boat. There are also ways to collect drinkable water while at sea. (That’s not to say it’s a good plan, but you’re not finding the worst problems in it.)

      6. (Skipping 4 and 5, though I too wish Chuck had been around a little while longer) I actually liked Ben too, though I didn’t consider him a horrible traitor. At the end of episode two, the video reveals that the bandits are reliant on the dairy for supplies and would probably attack the moment they’re not getting supplies anymore. In episode three, the bandits attack the moment they’re not getting supplies from Ben anymore. His main mistake there was not telling anyone about it (admittedly, it’s hard to blame him for not bringing that up around Lilly, at least). I do agree that he’s interesting as a character, though, and I also refused to kill him (though I wasn’t harsh with him, except when I tried to tell him to shut the hell up before, well, we’ll get to that).

      Also, sorry to hear about the bug. My playthrough was mostly bug-free, except for a point where Duck disappeared (physically, I mean) for a scene in episode three. Resetting fixed that. Was still odd, though.

      • Thomas says:

        I liked Molly but I think she was out of place (probably why I liked her, clutching at straws for some hope). Pretty, confident, ridiculously abled, swoops in and helps everyone. She’s not oppressive, she doesn’t find life difficult, she’s more talented than a normal person. Chuck was incredibly competent, but in a way that felt like it fitted, he was used to a life by himself, independent and without resource or much in the way of hope or a normal life to look forward too (whilst still being a train driver, my thoughts on Chuck were confused and at the same time as seeing this I didn’t let go of my original assumption).

        Molly is like finding the bubbly official girl or happy adventurous student is perfectly cut out for the apocalypse.

        I agree with 1,4,5 and I would add that this is even more of a Two Towers episode than 3 for me, for some reason I didn’t feel comfortable with the geography of events and why things were happening in Ep 4 (also worst written Ben moment ever and not being able to shoot that zombie was rubbish)

      • Deadpool says:

        “He’s also the reason Lilly refused to let the group move elsewhere, even after he died.”

        That seems like a stretch. Blaming him for his daughter’s actions after his death is a bit much. Might as well blame Kenny for bashing his head in in front of her face and psychologically damaging her beyond repair for Doug/Carley’s death. How far do we go to assign blame here?

    • Amnestic says:

      Wait, so Chuck was actually written out after that scene and we don’t see him again?

      What wasted potential.

    • Isy says:

      Episode 4 was kind of weird. It had its really good moments (the kid in the attic), its really bad moments (hi Chuck… bye Chuck…), its really… Kenny moments (sure Kenny, let’s sneak up on this random survivor and threaten them with a wrench, I have no will of my own and can’t argue), then what felt like a bunch of filler until you get to Crawford, which was simultaneously one of the best parts of the game (it had the strongest theme to it in relation to the entire game) and one of the worst parts of the game (Ben. Just no. That’s not stupidity on the character’s part any more, it’s terrible, contrived writing.) And then a gripping ending with just a minor burr that seriously, who didn’t know Clem would be kidnapped, and who wouldn’t guess there was a zombie there.

      I kinda liked Molly, though. You know there’d be one person like her in an Apocalypse. And since she was a part of Crawford, the hyper-hardcore-survivalists, complaining she’s “too competent” seems odd.

      • Thomas says:

        It’s her survival after that. Particularly the ninja building climbing skills. The devs say she was designed to be a bit different from the rest and I think they just overstated it. Considering the overall message of The Walking Dead is “Life sucks in an apocalypse” (literally the title message) and the game has and will go out of its way to press this home, no-ones safe, no-ones happy and everything loses its innocence having a safe character who seems to be fairly happy and comfortable with her life (now) is a bit…

        • aldowyn says:

          But you don’t really get to know her that wel. She’s lost more than some, I think, she’s just better at hiding it.

        • Isy says:

          Why not? There are rock climbers, martial artists, and parkour runners (yes, I know everyone’s sick of le parkour now) – we all seem to act like they don’t exist because both the military and anyone who isn’t a mundane Joe all mysteriously sucked and died for no really explained reason. But there ought to be people like her around. Hell, there ought to be more people like her around, because all us dumb couch-loafers should have been eaten by now.

          Given the horrible, violent acts of brutality she commits on already dead people I wouldn’t really call her “happy go-lucky”.

    • Ben was not a traitor. Ben was a screw-up. There is a difference between deliberately screwing over your allies because MWAHAHAHAHAHA, and indirectly causing damage you didn’t mean to. A traitor does something destructive on purpose. A screw-up can’t help it.

      Yes, the distinction matters. Doesn’t mean Ben was good for the group, but it’s the difference between being a good or bad person. It’s also missing the point of Episode 3 entirely to see Lilly shoot Doug/Carley in the head because of an argument, and then think BEN was the “traitor”.

  4. Jokerman says:

    Overall episode 4 had the least impressive reception – but i did not mind it at all, i think playing them all together like i did made this ones less heavy tone helped.

    I did really enjoy every episode though and ranking them all is hard, i thought episode 2 was great and i did not really get that the St Johns eat people, just that something was going on. 3 was really great….and the pacing issues did not bother me – maybe playing them all together helped here also.

    1 was the weakest, and it was able to hook me for the entire series…..so yea…..not bad.

    • As I recall, the developer commentary stated that they wanted this to be more of a lighter-hearted breather after what happened in Episode 3.

      I question the logic of this. By the time it would’ve rolled out, the audience would’ve had 2 months to digest the episode and move on. Also, since they only had 5 episodes, they should’ve placed more thought into how they use their screentime.

      Still, Episode 4 isn’t bad. It does some things and moves the main plot forward a bit.

  5. Mersadeon says:

    Also, as a side-note, Rutskarn already told that cat-in-a-box story during the Fallout 3 season.

  6. Thomas says:

    I love how Omid collapses on the car at the very start. It’s such a beautiful clever little moment, no-one would have thought of doing something so inventive with that little shot. I don’t know enough about films to justify how much I enjoy that little moment.

    (I’m saying something positive because later on I’ll probably rant. Ep 4 was my least favourite, except for the fact that Ep 5 tipped me over the edge of tolerating sad)

    • I am not sure whether Episode 2 or Episode 4 is my least favorite, but it’s close. They both feel, aside from certain key details, filler. That doesn’t mean they are bad, but it feels like a waste considering you have only a limited running time.

  7. Pregnancy raises a few interesting questions. First, if the baby dies before being born, does it “come back” as a zombie in the womb? Second… Um, That would be pretty terrifying actually. (Shudder) Ok, you know what? Let’s forget the rest of these questions and go straight to never speaking of this again.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      And that kids is how xenomorphs first came to be.

      • James says:

        the new (the really new one) Dawn or day or whatever of the Dead, in the mall, that happens she has a zombie baby and its really odd, not early zombie films odd, not even early “of the Dead” odd just odd

    • LunaticFringe says:

      Isn’t there a scene in Braindead (Dead Alive, or whatever it’s called) that has a zombie baby rip itself out of someone’s womb? Though I vaguely recall that being a product of zombie sex instead of a usual pregnancy (Peter Jackson’s early movies were weird).

  8. Torsten says:

    With all the characters there are in episode 4, it was in retrospect good that Christa and Omid were introduced in ep.3 already. You get to know them earlier, so they are not used as plot device as much as the other characters we will be seeing.

    So now Chuck is a walker.

  9. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    Chuck reminds me of the Heron Warriors from Myth: The Fallen Lords (OK, technically, Myth II, but you know…).

    Anyway, they probably introduced him, Christa, and Omid in ep 3 so that they could kill one of them and make everyone think that “wow, just because they were introduced last episode, doesn’t mean they’ll live out the game.” This makes Omid’s injury seem more serious.

    But that whole scene has some major problems. Someone in an earlier thread mentioned that if Ben has room to run away, then Clemintine did too. Likewise, unless Chuck had to hold the Zombies off, then if there was time for Lee to escape, there was time for Chuck to escape. The fight doesn’t seem dangerous enough to cost a character.

  10. LunaticFringe says:

    As soon as Chuck started quoting Ernest Hemingway, I knew he was a dead man. Not exactly sure why, perhaps some genre-savvy assumption about pithy hobos dying. Or maybe because For Whom the Bell Tolls is all about painful death in battle.

  11. Thomas says:

    At the start of the episode Chuck hints at seeing some zombies the group doesn’t understand him, they turn around and see the horde of zombies and then run…straight through a horde of zombies who were in front of them?

    It makes sense they’d come from all directions but why did they need to look behind them to see the zombies? They run into zombies so quickly it always gives me the impression that they misunderstood Lee and decided to run _at_ the zombie horde

  12. Zoe M. says:

    Enough puns, Rutskarn, you chucklehead.

  13. Khizan says:

    Episode 4 was easily my least favorite of them:

    -Molly is way, way too capable. Did you SEE her climbing those building windows. Ezio Auditore would have called bullshit on that.

    -Christa and Omid were inoffensively dull, because they were basically introduced so that the game wouldn’t have to leave Clem with any of the entirely incapable people you were travelling with, and as such their entire purpose is to be clear candidates for surrogate parents.

    -Chuck, who is easily the most interesting of the characters introduced so far, is written out of the game almost offhandedly.

    -It takes several blatant swings at Ben with the idiot ball. The axe thing is a standout moment in “sloppy immersion breaking writing”, and easily the worst part of the entire game. I’ll buy that he legitimately panicked and abandoned Clem. No problem, I may have well done the same thing. I wouldn’t die for her. I’ll buy that he’s 18 years old and made some stupid decisions. God knows I’ve been there and done that. But I won’t buy that he’s so stupid he just pulled the axe out of the door handles when there’s a screaming horde of zombies pounding on it.

    The presence of Molly alone is enough for me to gauge this as the weakest episode. I can believe magic generators that generate zombie frying current for ounces of gasoline easier than I can believe in Molly and her climbing pick flying up buildings all Assassin’s Creed style with a car battery in her backpack.

  14. LobsterEntropy says:

    I really found episode 4 to be the worst episode, both writing and gameplay-wise. Even from the opening, when it showed a bell, I turned to my friend who I was playing the game with and jokingly said something about the next line had better not be about “for whom the bell tolls”. Bam, next line. Molly is a really annoying character, and not in an interesting way like Larry. They wasted the potential of seeing some juicy “humans are the real monsters”-type stuff by having Crawford be overrun by zombies (and missing out on the chance for an awesome heist mission). And the entire section in the school I found to be extremely tedious and annoyingly long, with way too much wandering about. I’m surprised to see Shamus call it his favourite- I don’t think I’ve seen anyone like this episode best (other than him, of course).

    • X2-Eliah says:

      “humans are the real monsters” Ugh, no. Just no. That is such a boring, overplayed, stupidly overexplored trope in all zombie media that has pretense at a story. That is THE laziest, most easily identifiable aspect that instantly says “this will be a crappy Zed thing”, if it falls back to that cliche.

      • ooli says:

        You mean like when human resort to cannibalism a few week after an apocalypse?

        • aldowyn says:

          or when a domineering older man tries to kill the man that saved his life?

          • Thomas says:

            Or when a disaster causes the end of the world. A survivor (normally with some sort of secret in his past) slowly meets up with fellow survivors (including a vulnerable person) and fights off the disaster that cause the end of the world.

            After a few weeks the disaster-causer is no longer seen as a real threat and they start encountering small groups of people using violence to exploit the situation.

            They overcome and avoid these people and a while later come across more organised societies ruled under dictatorships with a firm ideological founding, excluding all people who disagree.

            Protagonists get past this event and eventually discover that said society has torn itself apart and the in-fighting has allowed the original threat to take them over.

            Finally they find a safe haven, normally an island and found a more peacable agricultural community. Because thats how this ends right?

            To be fair, some of the books this describes are some of the greatest all time sci-fi books, so being cliche doesn’t have to hold you back

            • Dave B. says:

              This brings up an interesting point. From what you described, it looks like the protagonists are encountering a progression of societies ranging from the “barbaric” to the “enlightened.” (Quotation marks because those words are currently defined by the values of our own culture.)

              No doubt this is used by some writers as an easy way to comment on these various societal arrangements, and simply saying “humans are the real monsters” is missing out on a lot of opportunities to speculate on the nature of governance.

  15. silver Harloe says:

    Despite having the three of you thoroughly search the house, if you leave Clem behind, when you get back, she saved Omid by locking a zombie in the closet – damn amazing ninja zombies. Grrrr. This ep has so many wrong things. But I liked Crawford – although I found the supplies situation in Crawford to be laughable – they stripped all of Savannah and have one battery, a handful of meds, and less food than the cancer group in their “central supply compound”.

    • Jenson says:

      Huh, for me she shot the zombie in the head and said it got into the house from the outside.

      Also, regarding Crawford, could be that when it went to hell, people grabbed all that they could carry and run. The Cancer patients and whats-her-face wouldn’t know since they all avoid Crawford, so it’s plausible.

    • Thomas says:

      I liked how Crawford went around dispatching zombies. They seemed to realise that there’s only a finite number of zombies and with patient searching, you should theoretically be able to clear a city out

      • Nick says:

        Well, right up to the point a herd crashes through the town yeah. But looking really long-term, a couple of generations down the line, the walkers would be mostly taken out – especially if you’re taking care of your dead

        • Thomas says:

          The last line is why what happens to them is a bit nonsensical and I didn’t buy it, if anyone who dies turns into a zombie to be functional they must have plans to deal with zombies singular in their midsts. Any society would require the ability to cordon off areas and have emergency weapons to quickly deal with an outbreak. I was hoping they weren’t going to put it all down to one zombie

          • Indy says:

            Well, it’s somewhat implied that the woman who killed the doctor went on a rampage through the school, where all of Crawford’s leaders were. And for a reason I don’t know, possibly because he was losing his grasp on Crawford, the leader hung himself from the school bell, thinking that when he came back, the walker would keep ringing the bell attracting more and more zombies to Crawford. And that’s how I interpreted the Crawford scenes.

            • Thomas says:

              I just expect Crawfords leaders to be the sort of people who would keep weapons around all the time, to look tough if nothing else. I think its just one of the things you accept with zombies, that they’re more effective than they have any right to be, but it jarred me a little

        • MrGuy says:

          Which is precisely why Carwford makes no friggin sense to me.

          Specifically, their whole “no pregnancy!” thing. Who the heck are you saving the world for if you don’t have a second generation?

          Yeah, I suppose you could argue it’s a temporary thing until they clear out the zombies, but that feels hollow. First, given how many walkers are still around, it will probably take a long time to clear out the town’s zombies (and, by the way, that’s NOT a realistic plan IMO – walkers from out of town can, y’know, walk.)

          Second, you’ve got what you believe is secure shelter. Taking a few people out of action for a few months to ensure survival of the species doesn’t seem like a bad investment. In fact, it feels like you’d be crazy NOT to. Maybe have a controlled breeding program with permission of the council, but why not start while you still have what you think is enough people? It’s not like you’re ever going to have MORE people than you have right now. Unless, y’know, you make some.

          I realize the whole abortion thing is a bit of a plot point, but there’s ruthless-but-necessary and then there’s ruthless-for-no-reason.

          • Thomas says:

            There can only be finite zombies though, and considering once they’ve cleared out the city they’ve then got large expanses of rural low-populated areas with no reason (apart from the train) for the zombies to be drawn to the city and there will be other groups out in those areas attracting and killing zombies.

            And because a dead person becomes a walker they have to keep guns close to hand at all times, so if the city is cleared out, the stragglers wandering in from the countryside aren’t a threat at all.

            But it’s Shamus’ zombie post thing, Crawfords plan was too clever for the setting. In zombie films zombies can get close to trained people with guns, population density doesn’t matter, where ever you are zombies show up and the best place for a zombie to hide is in that blank bit of open space right beside you.

            • MrGuy says:

              There are not a finite number of zombies.

              A breeding human population implies a growing number of zombies over time.

              Unless you accept a non-growing (I.e. non-breeding) human population. In which case you might as well lay down and die, because what’s the point?

              • Tse says:

                Shouldn’t the zombie population actually decrease over time? I mean, if, on average, every human gets more than one zombie before dying, it makes sense that the zombies would lose if the outbreak doesn’t kill all people quickly enough. And let’s not forget that most survivors wouldn’t turn after death, thanks to other survivors shooting their corpses in the head.

                • MrGuy says:

                  Currently decreasing doesn’t mean non-infinite.

                  A breeding and viable human population (of whatever size) means an effectively infinite supply of humans.
                  Humans that die turn into zombies, except for humans that die from very specific causes.
                  Not all humans die from those causes.
                  Therefore, there will be an effectively infinite number of new zombies created over time.

                  Unless there’s some kind of zombification vaccine developed, the only way to have no more zombies is to have no more humans. You can reduce their numbers to a lower leve than the currently have, but never permanently to zero.

                  To paraphrase Dr Ian Malcolm, unlife finds a way.

                  • Thomas says:

                    Okay technically yes (and to be fair my plans would have them planning for people dying amongst them and turning) but for their to be an unknown dangerous non-finite source of zombies out of the city would require a large stable population producing lots of kids who get picked off in small groups without destroying that population. And it would still take 2-3 years before they produced viable zombies (and thats assuming the adults survive and let their children get picked off)

                    Whilst there are infinite zombies over time, the amount of zombies in any place drops off quickly and sharply and wouldn’t recover for a very long period of time. Crawford would have had to start investing into agriculture for multiple years before zombies really become a threat again (well actually when bullets run out, or the survivors become too weak to fight them I guess.)

          • Steve C says:

            The “no pregnancy” thing I completely bought. Real life survivors in war-zones have historically put in those kinds of rules. It would be particularly important for zombieland because childbirth with zero medical help can be dangerous. And if anyone dies = instant zombie threat.

            It’s been less than a year since the apocalypse. Repopulating is way down on the priority list compared to knowing you can make it through winter. It’s still on the list but pregnancy in this world is a really bad idea for the short term. Couple of years later sure.

            What I didn’t buy was “let’s go rob a bunch of well armed and organized people with our band of losers.” There’s nothing wrong with the train. They could have left the way they came in and came back with gas and a battery. If working cars are rare (even though there’s currently more cars in NA than people, and the cars didn’t all die and turn into zombies) they could get those supplies from the truck at the train-bridge puzzle.

  16. Dasick says:

    Big post coming up regarding interactivity, games and stories. I’m presenting my opinion (which I’m trying my best to keep objective) in a factual manner, but I am aware that I may be completely wrong. I’m open to discussion, but I’ve given this topic a *lot* of thought.

    The point I want to make is that mixing story-telling and interactivity (games specifically, but all manner of interactivity in general) is a bad idea, at least the way people currently do it. The short reason is that stories are inherently linear, and interactivity of any sorts is inherently non-linear. You can come up with something good as a result, and such works often have many points of merit, and there are bound to be cases where one benefits the other, but the potential of such a work as a whole is also limited, and chances are it will never be great (I hate making such broad statements, but this is a statement based on observations of the *underlying nature* of stories and games. It can’t be anything but broad). This article goes more in-depth on the reasons why: http://www.dinofarmgames.com/games-hurt-stories-stories-hurt-games/

    Let’s dissect the situation with shooting Duck, the strongest point of interactivity in TWD. Obviously the fact that TWD tasks you to execute that decision enhances the scene, but is it really enough to trigger an emotional response, tasking the player with shooting a child, aside from shock value? I don’t think that the Kidd in ME3 would be any more sympathetic if there was an equally contrived reason for Shepard to shoot him – I firmly believe that shooting Duck causes emotion in the first place only because of the storytelling on the part of the writers. But what about the inverse, if you were to remove the interactivity from the scene, would it still work? It might be less impactful, but this is serious drama happening for characters you are attached to – attachment that was grown through non-interactive means (dialogue menu isn’t the dialogue itself, it’s a means for distributing story content to the player. That’s like calling a vending machine “tasty” because it gives out tasty treats).

    The Duck scene is enhanced by interactivity, but given to a skilled writer, can it not be just as powerful? And if the Duck scene is interactive, it also means there must be more interactivity in TWD, otherwise the duckhunt is going to stand and it can break the scene. So let’s take a look at other interactive aspects of TWD and how they work with the story (or don’t).

    Here’s a good example of what I’m talking about with ‘focus’: this interesting exchange between Lunatic Fringe and newdarkcloud and how the story is better in one case and worse in other. The audience is potentially missing a lot of story-important details, and it’s not telegraphed like ME’s ‘explore’ option for asking questions and stuff. But then, if a story is stronger without a certain detail, why even give the audience the choice to see it?

    I’m not even talking about the big choices, which effectively split the story into two streams and require the writers to focus on writing ‘two (MORE) stories’ instead of just one GREAT story.

    Shamus has already mentioned how during any sequence which presented danger, actually dying is incredibly immersion, tension and pacing breaking. Movies and books never have to worry about player skills and can concentrate on presenting something that’s more tense *and* appropriate to the story.

    What about looking around? The camera controls are carefully rationed and severely limited – TWD looks better and tells a better story by taking away even such a seemingly minor aspect of interactivity. Giving player controls takes the tools away from the writer and commits the story to be just a bit more non-specific.

    • Thomas says:

      I still think there’s trace in that argument of the idea that games have a specific type of satisfaction.

      ” TWD looks better and tells a better story by taking away even such a seemingly minor aspect of interactivity.”

      I’d interpret that statement as suggesting that greater interactivity was better for example. Maybe you’re making a limiting argument, that the further you reduce the interactivity the greater the story gets and vice versa, but then above you also say

      “if you were to remove the interactivity from the scene, would it still work? It might be less impactful,”

      Which wouldn’t work with the limiting argument. You do follow it up with

      ” but given to a skilled writer, can it not be just as powerful?”

      but naturally that doesn’t work, because its arguing that if the story was better than it would be just as good as the story+gameplay now. One would argue that if the scene was as is and with a better writer it would be more powerful. Or you’re saying that there’s a limit on the potential of how good a game+story can be, unlike pure story. But then that limit is set with games+storys producing much better products for less effort than the majority of other media consumed. We may not be able to get Shakespeare but if the hack writer of games is able to produce better stories than the average blockbuster film we actually go to see on a weekly basis, does it matter?

      And then
      “– attachment that was grown through non-interactive means (dialogue menu isn’t the dialogue itself, it’s a means for distributing story content to the player.”

      We have this which I disagree with. I argue that attachment is made through the act of choosing dialogue and not the dialogue itself. As evidence, I believe Clem would feel like a very flat obviously manipulative character as written but the interactivity changes our perspective on that. The way Heavy Rain was elevated despite having a crud story suggests the power of this type of interactivity exists.

      Finally, would the emotions created by the rationing scene be possible in a non-game? I would argue no, in presented media there’s always a level of detachment which means we focus on the outward emotions and interplay between the group rather than the very personal emotion experienced by the protagonist. At best we feel his emotions through our empathy. Games don’t do that, we don’t empathise with Lee, we’re experiencing those problems ourselves.

      The strength of a games narrative is a)it can guarantee a story is relatable to more people by providing different options and tailoring the story to the analysis of the audience tastes it conducts and b) it can use gameplay to drive the audience motivation in line with the protagonist. I cite the Hanako storyline in Katawa Shoujo (again =D) where the central story theme is about white knighting but by making the players choose Hanako out of several people it’s actively encouraging that thought in the minds of the player. They arent watching a protagonist do that they are actively doing it themselves when partaking in the game which completely changes the impact of the games message in a way unexperiencable in other mediums

      • Thomas says:

        By the way, the article you linked to doesn’t agree that Minecraft, The Sims etc are games and is using the definition I was attacking in a previous episode, so I’m happy keeping away from it as representing a viewpoint wholly irrelevant to mine.

        What he says about games can be true and that has no impact on me because what he defines as games is excluding the things I enjoy playing and so any statements about the quality of games within those narrow confines doesn#t affect me playing articles on those outskirts. The only point of relevance is that I need a new word for what I play and then his ‘games’ can be a small subset of the things defined within the word i use

        • Dasick says:

          Well, what is the unifying concept of what you like to play? What is the defining characteristic, goal and focus that ties it all together?

          Even if the form you are looking for, the points brought up apply to all forms that use or rely on interactivity. Interactivity still creates that complex web of interactions, and if your are free to traverse it, you are messing around with the meta-elements like pacing, or you may experience a scene that is supposed to be payoff for an earlier set-up, without experiencing the set-up scene.

          A point of clarity on the definitions:

          Keith Burgun (the author of the article) divides the realm of digital interactive entertainment into four forms based on their fun-engine. This is not a judgement of the forms, but rather a recognition of their differences. It creates a set of standards to judge the interactive media by the goals they set out to accomplish, and it praises focused design because what’s good for one form, may hurt another.

          interactivity, messing around with the system
          = Toys – just horsing around with the system feels good and it encourages the player to create their own goals and games, but the possibilities are too numerous to tie it down to a solution or measure it in any meaningful way
          + a solution/goal
          = Puzzles
          – they’re about finding the solution to the problem. A good puzzle uses the established mechanics in a creative way. Not finding the solution leads to frustrating experience, so they need to be intuitive, yet surprising. If the gameplay is too loose, the players will instead want to horse around with the mechanics and be annoyed by the restrictive nature of the goal.
          + a measurement
          = Competition
          – a test of reflex or memorization, or some other attribute. The more clear the measurement is, without any external factors muddling it up, the better a competition is. The goal needs to be immediately obvious (but without a ceiling), mechanics simple and unambiguous so that the measurement is as clear as possible
          + Decision-making
          = Games
          – by presenting the player with ambiguous, meaningful (to the system) options, a game is created. The ability of the game to remain unsolved determines it’s value as a game (as opposed to a puzzle, where the solution is what tickles the brain)

          Again, calling something a game is *not* a value judgement for this lens, rather it is the closest word in the English language to mean the concept of a contest of ambiguous decision making.

          • Steve C says:

            I’m not fond of the article linked above. It’s goal appears to be to create better set of academic definitions and terminology but it undermines that goal by the language used. The author clearly agrees with the ludological view while is arguing strongly against the narratological position. That’s fine. But then argues using terms and language that would only be relevant in a narratological view.

            The statement Games Hurt Stories, Stories Hurt Games isn’t a value judgment about games, but it is a value judgment about the relationship between the two. However if you want games to be understood on their own terms then that statement is neither true nor false. But it is both invalid and irrelevant.

            It’s like saying prose hurts pictures and pictures hurt prose. Which isn’t a valid statement because soon as you combine them they stop being prose/pictures and become a comic or a movie. Combining the two media types destroys both and creates a new media so making a value judgment of the relationship makes no sense. (The medium is the message.)

            Take Dungeons and Dragons as an example. The author would say that the mechanics hurt the story and the story hurts the mechanics. Therefore if I want to make the best story I should ditch the rules, or vice-versa. However if I’m playing D&D I don’t want either of those things… I want D&D. It’s a unique experience that’s only possible by combining the two. It’s like saying adding salt to water diminishes both. That’s a totally irrelevant statement if I want sea water.

            This is a better analysis of the relationship between narrative (story) and rulesets (games.)

            • Dasick says:

              The problem is that TWD and it’s ilk aren’t combining the story and game, they’re trying to use one(game) to support the other(story), but the game aspects puts a cap on how good the story can be, because the net effect is that the writer is loosing more opportunities to tell a better story than she gains. Perhaps a storygame blend exists in an undiscovered state, but TWD is a dead end to that means.

              Dungeons and Dragons is played by a group of humans, with a human acting as a referee, not a CPU. Maybe that will be possible when we have human-like AI and genetically engineered pigs that are capable of flight.

              At any rate, DnD isn’t about telling a story, and as it was demonstrated in DMotR, it’s a bad idea to be trying to tell a finished story through DnD. Rather, DnD is about the act of storytelling, or some sort of a heavily structured improv circle, both of which can be measured by a human referee. Although, it is very out-of-focus and could do with some design and a clear goal. Is it supposed to be a stat-building or a tactics game? Or is it about improv? Or is it about coming together and making a story?

              There’s a difference between trying to tell a highly authored narrative and using backstory elements to explain mechanics. There is also a difference between those and using interactivity to communicate highly abstract ideas. I should have been more clear, but when I say “story” I mean the first, a “composed sequence of events”, largely because this is what TWD is trying to tie to interactivity.

              • Steve C says:

                I disagree entirely with the premise that there is a box of potential and that box is limited by a second box of potential when both are absolutely necessary and fundamental to the kind of thing someone wishes to create. That’s true for any category of anything and however you wish to label the box. And even if true, it could never be proven because the evaluation criteria is based on things that did not happen. It’s like trying to measure fun based on distanced traveled and time spent on a vacation I did not take.

                The statement that “(D&D) is very out-of-focus and could do with some design and a clear goal” I not only strongly disagree with, but it also makes it clear that we won’t be agreeing on the fundamentals. D&D is not supposed to be a tactics game. It’s not supposed to be improve. It’s not supposed to be a story. It is supposed to be a blend of those elements. D&D is cooking with those ingredients and it’s inappropriate to measure the result based on the inclusion of ingredients rather than taste. You can certainly say it would have been better with more of X and less of Y, but you can’t say it should have zero of Z because then it would stop being what it is.

                For me, TWD failed as entertainment. I can accept that others enjoyed it. Separating the elements, it was a bad game, and a bad story. Together the game was significantly enhanced by the story, and the story was significantly enhanced by the game. Take shooting the kid and burying him. The choice (gameplay) has gravitas due to what’s just happened with Kenny. The act of burying is engaging because of the act of pointing and clicking dirt into the hole has gravitas for the player. Or take the ep3 train. The train elements are fun only because of the mix of story and game. A pure focused game like Trainz 2010 is not fun. And even if that wasn’t a buggy POS it still wouldn’t be fun. Mundane activities that you are performing have significantly more weight because something mundane can be important. Likewise stronger emotional bonds are formed due to your player actions. Both are only possible due to the blend.

                For me, ICO is a better example of this working. The gameplay was repetitive. The story was literally gibberish and not translated. The story made me care about the gameplay and the gameplay made me form form an emotional connection to the story. It’s the only game that has ever made me cry at the end. It could not have been improved by being two separate experiences. And more importantly if it had been two separate experiences it would not have been what I experienced.

                • Dasick says:

                  The true value of mixing several things is the bleed-through effect, where both aspects reinforce each other. However, stories and games have aspects that put restrictions on each other, at least the way TWD does it. My arguments are kinda scattered, but they are present in the big wall-o-text that is the root comment.

                  DnD *is* out of focus. It’s a boiled down wargame that was designed to be played competitively in tournaments. Then on top of that base a roleplaying system was build, but the old bones are still poking out and hurting it in many ways. For example, if you are good at abusing the tactical/strategical stat system, then you’re killing a lot of sources of tension for the story. And a lot of new roleplaying systems start by copying DnD or adapting it to work with a specific setting, never questioning the need for certain features or how they affect the way people play those. Case in point: munchkin vs roleplayer debate.

                  I’m not saying that roleplaying games are a bad idea, at least with a human DM, or aren’t greater as a whole than apart. But to extend your cooking analogy, when one flavor dominates the taste instead of complimenting the meat and potatoes, then the other elements get lost.

                  Xcom is pretty focused game, and it’s being played today, 10 years after release, making players make new, difficult decisions. Go is a focused game, being played 2000 years after release, making players make new, difficult decisions.

                  The story made me care about the gameplay and the gameplay made me form form an emotional connection to the story.

                  You said yourself that the gameplay was boring and the story was gibberish… so how do the two bland things combine into something uber-mega-awesome?

                  • Steve C says:

                    How do the two bland things combine into something uber-mega-awesome?

                    Because it did.
                    That’s the joy of art and one of the best things about the medium of video games. I gave ICO as a specific example that the premise that stories hurt games and games hate stories is faulty. There is no maximum sum or limiting factor. The two bland things didn’t really combine because they never existed apart. The content of a medium are other mediums.

                    • Dasick says:

                      You keep linking that video and I keep watching it. It still doesn’t explain how the story-game works, or how it has meaning, they just claim it does and take it as granted.

                      Sure gameplay can be used to convey abstract ideas, but because it’s so abstract it’s prohibitively hard to tell a literal story the way TWD attempts to.

                      So you mean to say that even though ICO has garbage game and story, they auto-magically combine into something awesome? Or is there more to it than just mashing things together?

                    • Steve C says:

                      Yes it’s more than mashing things together. It’s more than a bleed through effect. It’s art.
                      Take classical music. It has no words and conveys meaning beyond it’s component parts to the point where it can make a man cry. If art (which includes games) creates an emotional response in the audience then that’s proof that it had meaning.

                      Music conveys meaning outside of the notes.
                      Film conveys meaning outside of the script.
                      Games convey meaning outside of the mechanics and narrative.

                      It’s true of games because it’s true of all media which was demonstrated by McLuhan. It would first have to be proven that games are a special case for them not to have meaning.

                      I disagree that the video makes unproven claims and I can’t do a better job of proving their points than they did so… idk. Check out McLuhan’s works? His work has gone through 50yrs of academic scrutiny is generally accepted. Extra Credit’s said “We have to start examining the meaning that adheres in the action within games rather than the words themselves.” And that’s the medium is the message. That’s McLuhan.

                      There is no auto-magical combine here. If you physically have a printing press, a radio and a film there’s no way to magically combine them and create the medium know as the internet. But that’s exactly what the internet is… those previous mediums combined to form a brand new medium.

                      The same is true of video games. It’s the combination of a story and mechanics. It’s not the physical combination of those 2. Phrasing it terms of a physical combine is not relevant. If you dissect a game you won’t be able to put the story nor the mechanics into separate distinct piles in the same way that if you dissect the internet you won’t find a printing press.

                    • Dasick says:

                      If I dissect the Internet I will find how the “printing press” aspect reinforces the ‘radio’ and the ‘TV’, how they interconnect and how it exists harmoniously with the other aspects. I don’t see that with videogames. I can see the way the game and story are competing with each other, and I have given many examples in the big-wall-o-text and in my numerous comments around this site and this comment thread. I’ve also given an explanation that aims to prove that games and stories will hurt each other because of their natures.

                      You’re (at least the Extra Credits people are) also suggesting that interactive systems have no meaning by the virtue of their mechanics, which strikes me as wrong. Games are highly abstract beasts, complex systems that work in multiple dimensions to prod and test our minds, and to react to our reactions. “Making decisions” is the natural state of a game, and I don’t mean false-choices, I mean making changes that send a ripple effect through the current and future web of relationships. Those have no meaning unless it’s a metaphor for something?

        • He defines (and I quote):
          “Game – a system of rules in which one or more agents compete by making meaningful decisions.”
          Minecraft is one agent competing against himself making meaningful decisions about where to place blocks. Just because the author has mis-interpreted his own definition as applied to one game doesn’t mean that you can ignore everything he says.
          Personally, I think the article (if longwinded) is full of excellent insights. Well worth the read.

          • Dasick says:

            Nah.

            Decisions as Burgun defines them are somewhere between a guess and a solution. But, a solution requires a goal. Competition also requires a goal and a clear way to measure it.

            Minecraft has neither a *stated* goal nor a way to measure it (and I don’t think it would be improved by the addition of those – look at the Ender Dragon and the score when you die, and see how many people care about those). The value of Minecraft is that it’s systems are loose, and interact in a way that creates material for compelling puzzles, competitions and games, but it’s up to the player to make those.

            • I’ve done a bit more reading, and you’re right about Burgun’s definition. But then again, just about all of what we do in life is a “game” by his definition, which he doesn’t seem to see. What people are doing when they “play minecraft” is play a game. Sure they are making up the rules, but the rules they make up are implied by the system.

              One could “play mario” by falling down the first hole over and over, since the “rescue the princess” thing isn’t formally defined as a win state. Games exist in the mind before they are expressed either formally or informally.

              The implied goal in Minecraft is “make something out of this”. The implied competition is between the player and the game world. the implied decisions are about the ambiguous state of the world (should I mine here or there? What materials should I build with? etc).

              Anyway, I’m not interested in debating terminology. I do really like what Bergun has to say about understanding the point of the system you are designing. I’m sure he doesn’t have all the answers, but he sure has a few of them.

      • Oh Heavy Rain. Without the interactivity of that game, I’m convinced it would’ve been an utterly shitty story. The fact that it WAS interactive was its saving grace.

        David Cage is a bad writer.

        • Thomas says:

          It makes you wish someone else would try to do what he’s doing. It could be so good

        • LunaticFringe says:

          Interviews with Cage where he makes some general complaint about the games industry while praising himself are so much better now. My love for The Walking Dead increases substantially due to the comments often saying “Hey David Cage, remember that time Telltale made a game conceptually similar to your work but was actually good?”.

      • Dasick says:

        I still think there’s trace in that argument of the idea that games have a specific type of satisfaction.

        They do. So do other forms of interactive entertainment, so do stories, as do movies, comics, book, plays, pen-n-paper RPGs, and lots of other things – that’s also the reason we have so many different forms and mediums, and continue to search for new ones. I also think that it’s incredibly useful to categorize human activity by the type of satisfaction they deliver rather than superficial elements.

        you’re saying that there’s a limit on the potential of how good a game+story can be, unlike pure story

        Yep. At least, the way TWD does. Look at all the complaints about TWD, and how they would require either creating yet *another* special case (Paul Spooner gave a really handy formula a couple of episodes back on how to calculate just how many of those special cases there will be… though I am too lazy to look for it), making the story a bit more generic or taking away yet another bit of player interactivity.

        We may not be able to get Shakespeare but if the hack writer of games is able to produce better stories than the average blockbuster film we actually go to see on a weekly basis, does it matter?

        Shakespeare’s work is still as powerful today as it was back in the 1600s.

        You keep using the word ‘elevated’ and here are some funny parallels in different genres and mediums, where they too discovered tricks* to ‘elevate’ an otherwise boring product. And for a while, those worked *really* well.

        *trick = a device used on it’s own, expecting people to care just because they used a device, kinda like a insta-awesomesauce, just add water.

        -Jump scares in horror movies, even if you see them coming a mile away still startle people.
        -A moving musical piece that starts blaring out of nowhere still evokes emotion and sends chills down people’s spines, even when all it’s about “Some Kidd dying”
        -Horror movies that show gore get people disturbed and disgusted, even when there is no reason to show it.
        -Games and CGI films with unprecedented levels of graphics are considered spectacular when they come out, even if in a couple of years a game that came out earlier looks miles better due to it’s art-style (Compare FarCry1 and XIII)
        -3D has been hailed as the next level of immersive storytelling… since the 60s.

        in presented media there’s always a level of detachment which means we focus on the outward emotions and interplay between the group rather than the very personal emotion experienced by the protagonist

        Movies? Yes, to a certain degree, although books and comics are much better about it. That’s why the narrator device is a thing (and it was a popular device back when movies were leaning on literature to be respected as a mature medium). In Death Note, I have 0 problems with knowing what the protagonist is feeling due to their use of internal monologue, and even Shakespeare was fond of the ‘aside’ to let the audience know what the characters are thinking of.

        At best we feel his emotions through our empathy.

        See below for a longer version. Simply by observing a piece, you are interacting with it on a personal level. When a book presents a tough choice, no matter what the character chooses, people imagine themselves making such a choice, or being in that situation. See also: Self-Insert Fanfiction.

        a)it can guarantee a story is relatable to more people by providing different options and tailoring the story to the analysis of the audience tastes it conducts and b) it can use gameplay to drive the audience motivation in line with the protagonist

        a) “Tailoring” a story is a silly concept, because you are splitting the focus from telling one great story (a monumental task by itself) to trying to tell multiple great stories.

        b) By continuing reading a story or watching a movie the motivations of the audience *are* inline with the motivations of the protagonist. If the audience thinks the protagonist should be doing something else, then the work has failed. This applies even to games – if I want to do something in a game that the game doesn’t let me, or restricts me or punishes me, then that game doesn’t work for me.

        Storytellers have been playing clever tricks on their audiences for a really long time now, playing with audience expectations and doing clever plot twists. That’s not unique to games.

        • Dasick says:

          Regarding tailoring:

          Tailoring may be a noble goal, but tailoring a story perfectly for a human being is a monumental task that requires human(like) intelligence or *massive*(like, almost impossible) list of possibilities.

    • Blovski says:

      The link above confuses the fact that the conventional media of storytelling are basically linear with the idea that the stories themselves or the way we experience them are linear. This is wrong.

      Aside from the obvious types of non-linearity you can introduce into a narrative (you might argue that the work enclosing temporally non-linear narratives remains a linear ‘story’), there are also issues with unreliable narrative, odd types of narrator that interact with the audience (for instance, the narrator of Tristram Shandy invites the reader to skip bits of it) or deliberate impossibilities within the narrative, the idea that there is one specific way in which the events of the story happened is undermined.

      This leaves out the whole problem of how you define a story or narrative (for instance, is the film Man With A Movie Camera a story?).

      • Dasick says:

        “Linear” doesn’t mean “chronological”. Linear means the events and scenes are presented in a set order. If you take a look at old film reels, they’re a sequence of images going in order – they’re linear. If you were to cut it up and be able to choose which shot to see after another, that would be non-linear.

        If a story encourages the audience to skip to a certain part, and you heed the advice it is still a linear story, just a bit meta- about it, and also inefficient.

        • El Quia says:

          “Linear” doesn’t mean “chronological”. Linear means the events and scenes are presented in a set order. If you take a look at old film reels, they’re a sequence of images going in order – they’re linear. If you were to cut it up and be able to choose which shot to see after another, that would be non-linear.”

          You may want to read this book

          • Dasick says:

            I would if your link wasn’t broken.

            • El Quia says:

              Argh, trying to do linking the fancy way didn’t work ¬¬

              Try this:

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rayuela

              • Dasick says:

                An author’s note suggests that the book would best be read in one of two possible ways, either progressively from chapters 1 to 56 or by “hopscotching” through the entire set of 155 chapters according to a “Table of Instructions” designated by the author.

                Even though you are skipping chapters, there is still an order to read the book, one that is (or at least, should be) carefully crafted by the author.

                I’d have to read it to actually tell you if it’s any good, but writing a book that can be read in any order and still be a great story feels like a genius-leveled feat.

    • aldowyn says:

      I’ve been espousing this exact idea for a good portion of the series :/

      So, obviously, I agree with you, but a caveat: That doesn’t mean linear stories and games don’t mix. It just means that you should stop pretending that choices are about the actual narrative instead of just your interpretation of it.

      So, basically, TWD is about MAKING the choices and not so much the choices’ consequences.

      *edit* After actually READING your article, I am closer to agreeing but still don’t quite. I think you can make an interactive narrative story that is stronger or at least more effective (not the same thing) than the same story in a different medium due to the player being the one making the choices. The best parts of TWD support this, I feel.

      I DO agree that they need to be considered separately from movies instead of always being compared to them. It’s worth mentioning that movies are a combination of many other mediums with the addition of cinematography.

      • Dasick says:

        I do think that merely by observing a story, most people start to interact with it. For example, if a book asks a character to make a choice, no matter what the character chooses, most readers will imagine themselves making the same choice, especially if the choice is really mind-boggling and set up in an interesting way.

        Active Reading is what they called it in high school (I think), and while it is a skill of sorts, most people do it automatically. It’s an essential tool for understanding people – basic empathy exercises include imagining yourself in someone else’s position.

        Can you really take out the parts of TWD that don’t work? If, for example, you only have interactivity when you have to shoot Duck, wouldn’t it seem strange and out of place? You’d have to give the player interactivity frequently and consistently… but everything that is interactive takes away a tool from the writer as I’ve explained below.

        To keep the interactivity, the solution is to account for every combination of interactivity. Considering this games lets us walk around and look around, that’s a *lot* of things to account for. Financially speaking, especially for a game with dialogue, voice acting, 3D modelling, expressive, emotional animations, that’s impossible.

        I don’t think that a fusion of story and games cannot exist, but TWD seems like a very brute-force approach. It’s in the realm of *possible* but I just don’t see it happening.

    • Zukhramm says:

      The Duck scene is enhanced by interactivity, but given to a skilled writer, can it not be just as powerful?

      But given that skilled writer could it not be even more powerful with interactivity?

      • Dasick says:

        The writer has less tools to work with. Every ounce of interactivity given to the player takes away an opportunity for the writer to do something specific that reinforces the idea or emotion the writer is trying to convey.

        A genius writer can probably make a story that works either way, or a series of great stories, chosen by the audience through the interface of ‘gameplay’, but that author would be hindered (by splitting focus or lacking the proper tools) either way, so the 100% potential of the writer is not achieved.

        • Indy says:

          I’d say making the player load a shell into a shotgun before executing a child would enhance the scene, going through the motions to do something you just really don’t want to do. That’s interactivity without the choice so the writer can incorporate it quite simply.

          • Dasick says:

            Even interactivity without consequences takes away the tools from the writer.

            Did you load it fast, or did you take a long time? Did you do it immediately, or did you linger? Where were you looking at, and for how long?

            These are all tools the writer can use to set a particular mood, create a focal point, give insight into the emotions experienced by the characters, and insight into the characters themselves.

            If you do it fast, then you might not notice a detail like the hands trembling (or not trembling). Loading up the gun fast, then pausing when it’s actually aimed at Duck; or taking a long time to load the gun, then doing it quickly; both have a different pacing, a different impact and feel and reveal something different about Lee.

            • Thomas says:

              But in practicality. Looking at the stories I’ve witnessed where someone has shot someone they loved and looking at the stories I’ve played where I#ve shot someone my character loved. The latter has been more powerful.

              If this is theoretically true, there’s still not really evidence in practice that writers have been able to capitalise on that theory

        • Zukhramm says:

          I’ll believe it when I see some proof of it, but so far I’ve multiple times seen both games improved by stories and stories improved by interactivity.

          Both your post and the article you’ve linked make many statements about games and stories without really having any arguments for why those statements are true.

          • Dasick says:

            Sorry, trying to keep posts short. Tell me which statement below you disagree with, and I will provide arguments.

            1.Stories are linear.
            2.Interactive media are non-linear.
            3.To reach the true potential of a story, every single detail of it must be aligned towards a single core idea
            4.Every bit of interactivity you give to the audience is a detail the writer can not use.

            I’d also like to see the examples you speak of. Who knows, I could be way off.

            • Zukhramm says:

              I disagree with none of them, maybe 4 depending on what you mean be “use”. Yet I do not think they need to be unsolvable problems.

              As for examples of either side improving the other? Super Mario Bros., Shadow of the Colossus, Dear Esther, Metroid Prime and VVVVVV are a couple where it’s fairly clear.

              • Dasick says:

                By ‘use’ I mean tailor a detail to enhance the big picture. Like, if you’re doing a horror movie, and you have a scene where a character is going to be chomped, every shot should be building tension, presenting dangers and conveying a sense of fear. Cinematography is an important thing in movies, and sometimes the things that make or break scenes are angles and timings, which is something you have *no control over* when you give the player free controls and camera look.

                Super Mario, Metroid Prime and VVVVV (is it 5 or 6 V’s?) have very bare-bones stories and use story elements to explain their mechanics. By story-games I mean narrative-heavy games like TWD, partially because that’s the kind of game we’re discussing here. Do you see how the story in TWD and any one of those games are completely different beasts?

                I haven’t played Shadow of The Colossus so I can’t say much.

                Dear Esther doesn’t really have a story to tell. It’s using a bunch of generic story-bits and places, and by randomizing the order it’s giving the player the job of filling in the blanks by creating a story using what Dear Esther gave the player. Again, very different than the highly authored, highly detailed style of The Walking Dead.

                • Zukhramm says:

                  That’s not what your original post said. You didn’t specify it was about “story-games”, the opposite in fact:

                  “The point I want to make is that mixing story-telling and interactivity (games specifically, but all manner of interactivity in general) is a bad idea, at least the way people currently do it.”

                  Even something linear like a movie is in some way non-linear. The author never controls everything. Although made up of a sequence of images in a linear fashion, my eye movements and where on the screen I look is withing my control. And books! Don’t get me started, I’ll reread sentences, I’ll read different parts at different paces and sometimes I’ll even stop and pause for a while, just thinking about what I just read. Does this make movies and books bad at telling stories?

                  • Dasick says:

                    Huh. Well, I was wrong about that. I was looking at TWD, so I got a bit of a tunnel vision. Sorry.

                    The control an author has isn’t going to be 100% complete, I agree. However, when it comes to ‘linear’ ways of storytelling there are some implied ‘rules’ for ‘proper’ experiencing, or that seems to be the case. Like, if a movie has a shot of something important right in the middle of the screen, and you were looking at the corners or away and miss that thing, you weren’t supposed to do that. You can do it, but there’s not much you can fault the director for, he was merely working within the framework of the natural laws. You’re not supposed to read a book out of order either, and manga that isn’t flipped has the instructions on the traditional front.

                    However, this might be the case with videogames (and not with tabletops by the way), I find that people have this interesting expectation that whatever you can do in the end-user program is valid input, and it’s valid: if doing something results in a worse story, for example, why did the game go out of it’s way to include that input in the first place?

            • Thomas says:

              It’s number 4 that I disagree with. Are we only talking about a very very specific type of game here? Because as far as games being harmed by story, is this so theoretical that we’re going to ignore that Uncharted, FF VII, FFVIII, FFIX, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Valkyria Chronicles, inFamous, Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2005), Shadow Hearts, Chrono Trigger, Demons Souls, Catherine, Knight of the Old Republic, Halo, Batman Akrham Asylum, Silent Hill 2, Resident Evil, Deus Ex, Bioshock…

              are elevated by narrative and in many cases would be unplayable without it? Narrative contextualises gameplay and creates long term goals that drive motivation and bind together different gameplay elements. Even at it’s most basic, it conveys understanding of the gameplay rules. Things fall down. You shoot at this because its a badguy. Etc. If you replace a shooter with rectangles and circles, it’s generally not so fun

              And a gameplay mechanic is a carefully crafted thing designed to produce an intellectual or emotional response, sadness, fear, excitement, satisfaction. So thats a detail which is used to enhance narrative, not a restriction. It’s doing the job that words are meant to do and in many times more effectively

              • Valkyria Chronciles was just a beautiful game and story in so many ways. It’s fantastic.

                Uncharted is also good in its own right. A great story with fantastic characters and a wonderful homage to Indiana Jones. (Even if 3 wasn’t as good.)

                I am glad to find someone else who played Shadow Hearts.

                Bioshock’s first 2/3′s would have flat out not worked if it wasn’t a game. It just wouldn’t. That’s the whole point.
                The same could likely be said of the original Deus Ex. If that wasn’t a game, its story, particularly its ending, would not have worked.

                Final Fantasy leads to many intense debates, so I won’t get into that.

                I will give you all of that.

                But for inFamous, I don’t think you can argue that its gameplay, particularly its worthless moral choice system, really did hurt the story of the game.

              • Dasick says:

                Uncharted – entertaining story, too bad you have to suffer through 10-20 (depending on difficulty level and how trophy hungry you are) minutes of repetitive whack-a-mole shooting or solving tedious puzzles to get the next scene of it. That’s completely awful in terms of pacing, and every time you die – boom, more tension is just gone (not resolved to a deeper satisfaction – just gone). So yeah, gameplay has hurt that story.

                Final Fantasy – is that the series where you spend 10 hours grinding to take a whack at the next boss/cutscene? Same as above.

                Call of Duty – the mechanics are constrained to meet the goals of the story (not that it’s that good). Levels are completely linear, your only options are to do what the script requires, anything cool is totally scripted. “Story” as Michael Bay would call it has hurt the gameplay. SPOILER WARNING. Skip to 3:23 to see my point. The story demands that you blow off his arm, and it can either force you to take a pitiful attempt after attempt, coming up with insulting ways to give you a non-standard game over, or it can do what it did, and I can’t tell which is worse.

                KOTOR – their D20 based system was not only severely lacking in the strategy/tactics department and was horribly inbalanced, it also made zero thematic sense. Same formula – 10 minutes of game, for the chance at a “conversation”, and to be honest (warning, subjective opinion ahead) the only reason I kept playing was because I wanted to hear more of the companions’ story, but I couldn’t because of reasons. Gameplay has hurt the story.

                Halo – similar to Uncharted. 10 minutes of gameplay to get the next cutscene. Even though the both are ok, that’s killer for pacing and there’s still the issue of lost tension every time you die. Gameplay hurt the story

                Batman – Same formula. They also have a big missed opportunity with the beginning where it’s obviously a cutscene but they’re giving you control over camera and “movement”. The first time I experienced that scene, I completely missed the killer croc because I was out exploring the limited space, looking at awnings and making small talk at the guards. Here was an opportunity to introduce a villain, and make his threat pervade the rest of my time with the expereince, but it required the developers have control over camera ie reducing the amount of interactivity the player has. Story has a big missed opportunity because of ‘gameplay’.

                Resident Evil – is that the series that show you long unskipabble cutscenes with quick-time events in the middle, and you have to start over if you fail one? Again, horrible for pacing, destroys tension, and it puts too much scrutiny on those few minutes of a scene you’re re watching before you finally pass (any plot will start to show holes after enough scrutiny, the job is to make the plot airtight for as long as possible… and by putting undue stress on certain parts, you’re just begging the audience to start poking holes there. I don’t have the statistics, but if Shamus is any indicator, I’d bet this is where a lot of plot-collapse happens for people playing those kinds of games). “Gameplay” hurt the story.

                Bioshock – I forget, but hasn’t the Spoiler Warning crew grilled this one already? Either way, I haven’t played it, so I can’t say much about it.

                Deus Ex – Gameplay is good, and so is story. Except… the format of x minutes of gameplay -> y minutes of dialogue/reading books -> x minutes of gameplay is still there. That still *hurts* pacing, when the story is being presented in short bursts over long periods of time, and it’s not like a (good) TV show where each story bit tells a self-contained story *and* advances the larger plot arc. The best it gets is with the voices playing over the game, giving tidbits when you get to a certain point, but these are restricting gameplay in a major way – the game cannot have random elements that change significant things to keep presenting unique situations, because of the story and how each unique situation requires it’s own comment.

                The problem with no randomness is two-fold: #1, there is no in-game reason to try anything different. I mean, there is the meta reason that “ok, i’ve exhausted this approach, and doing it again is no fun so let’s try thing other thing” but that just sucks. Several playthroughs are not enough time to explore a system to any satisfying depth. I wanna keep playing around with certain systems and combinations (like, tranq-darting everyone in the level for example) but I can’t because I’ve already exhausted the situations involving those, yet the gameplay system is not yet exhausted. A significant amount of randomness can be a system for presenting new and interesting situations to the player to play around with the mechanics. BUT, how do you tell a fleshed out story when you can’t even keep the locations and the actors consistent? A good GM can come up with something decent on the spot, but what about a CPU? That’s how having a plot and a narrative hurts the game.

                Second problem is the lack of a meaningful, persistent threat as a motivator. If I am patient enough, I can takedown all the guards and even if I die or mess up – no problem, quickload all the tension away. Even if I don’t want to, I often have to (when I die) and then I just face the same situation over and over again. After a while, I’m not learning to strategise and adapt and learn from my mistakes, I’m memorizing a dance routine.

                I can’t say anything about the other games because I don’t have enough information about them.

              • Dasick says:

                Sorry to double-post (not sure what the etiquette for double-posting is on these threads), but I feel the need to separate the list of examples from the more general points.

                When I say “story” I mean an overarching plot or narrative, the kind TWD does. A self-contained story told through an element is perfectly fine for the purposes of gameplay, and I would say that it greatly enhances the game when you use it to turn literal the abstract relationship between the game elements. But that’s not what TWD is doing, is it?

                Where I come from, a gameplay mechanic, while a carefully crafted and balanced thing, is a device for sending a ripple down the web of relationships between the elements. They don’t produce emotions on their own, but combined with a complicated system they emergently (one might say procedurally) evokes emotions based on the states of the relationships and when the player realizes how she drove them to this point. I don’t see how one can use that for the purposes of telling a big overarching narrative, unless you’re going for something really loose or reactive, but that gets hairy *fast*.

                At any rate, when you give the players the option to do something, you’re also giving them the option not to do something, and that is very hard (impossible?) to integrate into a tight narrative.

  17. Blovski says:

    I dunno, I played the game in about a week and I found Episode 4 the weakest installation in terms of having great moments and compelling bits of gameplay. In addition Chuck died for no obvious reason, while Molly’s super-competence made her an odd fit. I kind of liked how *terribly* Ben’s day turns out, just because it made saving him an actual choice. Wasn’t a huge fan of the adventure game stuff at the docks either. Crawford kind of felt anti-climactic after the build-up to it. Great episode for setting things up but I think I wouldn’t have liked it if I’d had to wait for 5.

    What’s really rewarding about 4 is that the sort of narrative constructed around your conversations starts to pull together, so the child in the attic was a sort of redemptive narrative for Kenny if he didn’t shoot Duck and Ben’s ineptitude and friendships with Clem and to an extent Kenny makes your attitude to him more important to his characterisation, Clementine’s growing up is nice.

    • Jokerman says:

      It would of been a good choice if there was any point what so ever in not pulling him up – i would pull anyone up in that situation as long as they are not out to get me…Ben is an idiot, i think if you want him gone just ditching him would make more sense.

      • Indy says:

        There is a reason though. There’s simply not enough room on the boat. If you don’t have to worry about Ben and plan on leaving Molly behind (at this point she wants to go with you), you have just enough room. Really, if dropping Ben guarantees your spot on the boat, you might consider it.

    • Interesting that you talk about that particular choice in that way, because in the developer interview, they say (EP4)the whole point of the choice to save Ben is to reflect upon the themes and beliefs of Crawford. Throughout the episode, you learn about Crawford’s policy of culling the weak to protect the strong and where that led. At the end, you have to decide whether or not they were right by choosing if Ben dies, as he is the weakest member of the group.

      • Blovski says:

        Um, I think the default choice for me in this sort of game is to do the not-a-git thing. If Ben hadn’t been so aggravatingly, infuriatingly stupid for the entire episode, and if he hadn’t endangered people, I’d have done it automatically – I did pull him up but not automatically.

      • Zukhramm says:

        That does not work at all to me. There is a massive difference between to leave someone behind when you’re overrun by zombies (you already did it with Chuck!) and to methodically cull the “weak”.

  18. One of the things I enjoyed about TWD is that it’s such a brilliant execution of a Freytag five act play.

    I think this also has a massive impact on which episodes different people regard as the weakest –

    Ep 1 Exposition – the key characters (Lee, Clementine, Kenny) are each introduced. The zombies are introduced. The group is formed.

    In a metagame sense, the idea that characters can die is introduced (and that we have a choice in who lives or dies).

    Key objectives are even introduced (protecting Clementine, Kenny’s boat), and the episode gradually builds to a point where we know that the apocalypse can only worsen.

    Ep2 Rising Action – the situation for the characters increasingly worsens; they’re infighting, they’re running out of food, they fall prey to the St. Johns, Larry dies, minor antagonists are confronted – throughout the episode, the problems the group face continue to grow, until at the they’re in the motel waiting for bandit attack (still low on food).

    Ep3 Climax – the bandits attack, Doug / Carley die, Lily cracks up, Duck dies, Katja dies… the group is now at its lowest ebb, as problems have mounted to a point where there are few of them left – and one of those (Ben) has betrayed the group and indirectly caused the death of another.

    The story has very steadily built us up to this point, but death has never come so thick or so fast, and the emotions attached are definite high (or low) point. This is also the major turning point for Lee’s parenting of Clementine.

    He has to sacrifice some of her innocence; teach her to fight zombies, acknowledge both that she lives in a dangerous new world and that he won’t always be there to protect her – and be confronted with the reality that she is vulnerable, both by events and conversations with new characters.

    Much of what happens from here on out are consequences of these climactic events.

    Ep 4 Falling action We’re still only at the start, but this episode sees the pace continue to slow (from the height of episode 3), allowing us time to reflect on what has just happened.

    The episode also ends with a confrontation with the antagonist – who can either be the kidnapper, or just Lee’s failure to protect Clementine – and the story leaves us in doubt over what will happen next

    Ep 5 Denouement We resolve the conflicts and experience catharsis (and avoid spoilers!)

    -

    It’s rare for film to tick all the boxes as well as this; occasionally a TV series manages it. For a game to achieve it is superb.

    But in doing so there are always going to be acts (or episode) which feel disappointing to some gamers – the episodes either side of a climax are almost by definition disappointing (acts 2 and 4 are anticipatory and deflatory, respectively), especially when you’ve experienced the climax and you know what the rising action is building towards.

    • Thomas says:

      I think there’s a little bit of this in that description
      http://filmcrithulk.wordpress.com/2011/07/07/hulk-presents-the-myth-of-3-act-structure/

      Because there’s clearly a climax in the edge of 4-5. I’d say it’s easily a bigger climax.

      In fact the way TWD ends doesn’t seem appropriate for Falling Action or Denoument. I would make a good case that the last scene (teaser aside) was the emotional climax of the series with the scene before it being more of the plot thread climax

      • Thomas says:

        EDIT: I agree that Ep 4 is Falling Action though, the devs said as much in a Playing Dead.

        As far as denoument goes very little was resolved as such and ‘feeling of carthasis or release of tension and anxiety’ is the most inaccurate and misleading description possible =D

        ‘ Conflicts are resolved, creating normality for the characters’

        Also doesn’t occur. Wikipedia says “Freytag’s analysis was intended to apply not to modern drama, but rather to ancient Greek and Shakespearean drama….Contemporary dramas increasingly use the fall to increase the relative height of the climax and dramatic impact (melodrama). …This confrontation becomes the classic climax”

        Which would fit better. Although I agree with newdarkcloud that Falling Action was something of a mistake. Particularly when experiencing it episodically you don’t need a lowering of expectations and detense moment when there’s a 2 month gap between playthroughs. Even on a straight playthrough it still felt a bit weird, it never established a place of safety or feelings like that. The end of Ep 3 was a better falling action and Ep 4 sort of consistently raised stakes (it starts with a death) even though its designed to be this quieter period

    • Steve C says:

      Soylent Dave said:It’s rare for film to tick all the boxes as well as this; occasionally a TV series manages it. For a game to achieve it is superb.

      Yes it did tick all the boxes. But that’s all it was… box ticking. It went out of it’s way and screwed up the pacing to the point it broke utterly. (At least for me.) Watch the first 2 mins of this. Replace the words “Hero’s Journey” with “Freytag five act play” when you do. Or if you don’t want to here’s a quote: “Like any theoretical concept, it’s a lens. A way of looking at certain storylines and ideas. It’s a tool to help us gain perspective and guide us when our own writing is rudderless.” Many problems are caused in storytelling by viewing it as a formula on how to create rather than a tool in order to examine our creations.

      • I don’t think it was going out of its way to fit the 5 act structure – as some have pointed out, it’s not a perfect match (there’s also the ‘secondary climax’ which is common to more modern media – in fact there are two, if you count the low point at the end of ep 4 and the pre-credits point at the end of ep 5)

        What I do think is that stories that ‘tick the boxes’ of a five act play – and I mean tick them properly, in a character-driven way, rather than going through the motions – are often incredibly well executed, because those 5 acts are excellent checkpoints for a self-contained story, and provide enormous room for character development.

        I do think the TWD game is a good example of one of these.

  19. Abnaxis says:

    RE: Dog collar working. That’s actually perfectly reasonable. Both the collar and the door would be battery-powered (think about it–how do you suppose you’re going to run wire through a solid door? To say nothing of installing in a way that it doesn’t get destroyed and doesn’t restrict movement as you open/close the door.. If it were locking/unlocking the door itself (instead of the pet door) it would probably run off line voltage, but a doggie-door security system would definitely be battery-powered.

    Also, I’ve never worked with doggie-door security systems, but the commercial wireless scanners we install at the company I work for have a battery life measured on the order of years if the lock isn’t being operated. Having enough juice to work 3 months after the apocalypse is not out of the question.

    • I think the main objection was that it was buried in a wet area. Soil saturation occurs quickly just after a rain, and a few minutes of soaking wet is all you need to ruin electronics, short things out, discharge the battery, and generally make things useless.
      Of course, a dog collar is probably designed to withstand at least a bit of moisture since it’s attached to… a dog.
      On the other hand, why would they bury the dog with the collar still on? Those things cost money!

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