Stolen Pixels #203:
While You Were Sleeping

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Jun 15, 2010

Filed under: Column 97 comments

I’m sure I’m not the only person to have noticed this.

Like I said in the linked text, this trope isn’t anywhere on TV Tropes*. Elements I consider crucial to this Trope:

1) It takes place at the start of the game.
2) You awaken in an unfamiliar place.
3) You are in your underwear or otherwise deprived of basic stuff you’ll be collecting during the tutorial.
4) A local calamity is going on. (“Darth Malak threatens the galaxy” doesn’t count. “The Endar Spire is under attack” does. Ideally, this calamity should be resolved within the tutorial.)
5) Bonus points if you’re alone and someone has to guide you from a remote location.
6) Bonus points if you’re in some sort of medical facility.

Someone suggested that this Trope should be called “Good Morning, Disaster”. It fits. Now someone who knows what they’re doing at TV Tropes* needs to add this.

And yes, this is the comic I was trying to make when all of this happened.

* Warning: The link labeled “TV Tropes” links to TV Tropes*.


From The Archives:

97 thoughts on “Stolen Pixels #203:
While You Were Sleeping

  1. Zombie Pete says:

    In Saints Row 2 you wake up from a 5-year coma — in prison. No real disasters, though, except for the ones you create trying to escape.

    1. Josh R says:

      “being in prison” would be a disaster in my books

      1. Drue says:

        In the medical facility of the prison too.

  2. Zukhramm says:

    Does this mean you’re playing Alpha Protocol? I hope you enjoy it more than some reviewers seem to have done, I like the game.

    1. Corran says:

      I really like Alpha Protocol too.

      There are many (small) flaws but it’s still really enjoyable.

      It’s about what I expected for a lower budget game by a studio with no experience with the Unreal 3 engine. Reviewers never pinged Mass Effect 1 for the exact same things they criticize Alpha Protocol for.

      1. Raygereio says:

        I’m with the ‘I like Alpha Protocol’ crowd, this game won’t blow your mind, nor is it the most polished game out there; but I had fun.

        Pretty much all the complaints for Alpha Protocol I’ve seen in reviews are downright unfair though; from the ‘texture pop-up’ (every Unreal 3 engine game has this), to the horribly long loading times ranging from 3 to a terrible 15 seconds! The humanity!
        And if you want to know something hilarious; Joystiq apparently released a podcast (I think it was in response to their somewhat failed review of Nier, but it can easily aply to Alpha Protocol) in which they stated that there are a lot of games coming out this year and naturally you’re better off investing your time into whatever brings you the most entertainment and thus Joystiq’s review are “relative to the other games coming out this year” (or some nonsense like that).

        And people wonder why I still read gaming journalism: where else would I get entertainment like this?

        1. Zukhramm says:

          There’s three games comming out later this year that I’m interested, so that kind of argument does not hold for me. And one of them is another Obsidian title.

        2. Falcon says:

          from the “˜texture pop-up' (every Unreal 3 engine game has this)

          Just because every other Unreal game does it does not excuse it. If the Unreal 3 engine is buggy, and a developer uses that engine, sure such things might not directly be their fault, but since they chose that engine over others without that problem, it is still a legitimate gripe.

          1. Yes, it’s an annoying feature, but the engine is designed to do that so the “empty” or black screen load times are shorter. The problem is that to criticize Alpha Protocol heavily for this is pretty lame when the other games get a free ride on that “failing”.

            I haven’t played the game, but I’ve read a fair number of the reviews – those same review sites haven’t complained in the same manner about texture “pop-in” in other games or even mentioned it necessarily.

  3. Jarenth says:

    I appreciate the TV Tropes warning, Shamus. I really couldn’t have used the timesink.

    Also, Morrowind sort of counts; you wake up on a prison ship, in your underwear. Admittedly, there’s no immedidate calamity, and it’s no medical facility, but otherwise it kind of fits.

    1. Factoid says:

      Every elder scroll game actually opens with you in prison.

      1. Andy_Panthro says:

        Not in Daggerfall actually, where you awaken in a “smugglers cave”.

        You also get a say on your starting equipment (if only slightly).

      2. Kdansky says:

        Technically Fallout 3 begins in Prison too ;)

        Although “You are born and choose your name” is not very similar. It’s quite original, truth be told.

        1. Joe says:

          Actually, I’d say “You are born. Your mother dies” Fits pretty well.

  4. ACHV_Dragon says:

    Just for you Shamus, i’m going to add that in for you. Hopefully it will pass.

  5. skeeto says:

    Did you eventually get KotOR working or did you have to get that screencap from somewhere else?

    1. Shamus says:

      Got it working without sound or movies.

      …which is just as well. As soon as I was done with the shot I wanted to keep playing, and I should make some sort of headway with Alpha Protocol first. :)

      1. Jarenth says:

        I predict this will last until the first poorly-designed bossfight. Which is all of them.

        1. Zukhramm says:

          I would have quit at Brayko if it wasn’t for the music.

          1. Jarenth says:

            I too feel this way.

  6. Marlowe says:

    1) It takes place at the start of the game.
    2) You awaken in an unfamiliar place.
    3) You are in your underwear or otherwise deprived of basic stuff you'll be collecting during the tutorial.

    Has any game started out like this in a Tijuana whorehouse?

    See also: the beginning of System Shock 2.

  7. MintSkittle says:

    I guess the closest trope would be Good Morning Crono;

    But that doesn’t involve immediate danger.

    1. ps238principal says:

      I looked up “The Walking Dead,” since it starts out much in the way Shamus describes, and it suggested “Convenient Coma.”

      1. Worthstream says:

        Or even a subtrope of Action Prologue

  8. 8th_Pacifist says:

    Congratulations, Shamus, you have now inspired two entries in YKTTW, one of which was posted twice.

  9. Zaghadka says:

    I’m waiting for them to take it to the next level:

    1) You wake up in your underwear
    2) You die.

    1. Heron says:

      3) You get resurrected by a terrorist organization.
      4) ???
      5) Profit!

      1. X2-Eliah says:

        4th point wouldn’t be questing for an absurdly issue-plagued crack team of ‘specialists’ while ignoring the Reap… err, I mean, the bad guys until a convenient point in your progress?

    2. Moridin says:

      Vampire:the Masquerade:Bloodlines does that…well, sort of.

      1. ehlijen says:

        Wasn’t it:

        1: die
        2: wake up in your underwear
        3: get killed some more
        4: wake up again for your execution

        in vampires?

        1. acronix says:

          And it got away using it twice in a row!

    3. Smirker says:

      Planescape: Torment almost did this.

      Instead it was:

      1) You die
      2) You wake up in your underwear

      then of course.. 3) You die again. ;)

      1. Jeff says:

        As I recall, you wake up in your loincloth in the beginning of the game (and never wear anything else). You also don’t have anything else, not even memories. You’re not in any immediate danger, though.

  10. Nathon says:

    NWN 1 started with a tutorial disaster and the player started in a bedroom…and the third expansion, Hordes of the Underdark, started with a dream sequence after which you wake up in your underwear in a room in an inn.

    1. some random dood says:

      Hehe – I remember that! I was playing as a monk character, so as soon as I realised that the game had forced a “knife of considerable crapness” into my hand, and dropped it, the fight was remarkably easy ;-)

    2. seanf says:

      For a moment there, I thought that said “Hordes of the Underdak”, which seemed to fit the underwear theme a little too conveniently…

  11. far_wanderer says:

    Well, it doesn’t happen at what is technically the beginning of the game, but Fallout 3 starts the “present day” period like that once the childhood scenes are finished.

    1. Raven says:

      I was going to say that too… it actually fits everything to a T and even almost gets Bonus Points #6 as you do travel through a medical facility on your way out of the disaster. I would still count it, even though I guess it is borderline.

  12. Lupis42 says:

    Well done Shamus, two people beat me to submitting that one on TVtropes.

  13. Kotenku says:

    For other examples of the trope, see also: Fallout 3 (the start of the adventure, anyway), Halo, Chaser…

  14. Meredith says:

    Yay for new tropes. :)

    I understand why games do this, but the wake up to disaster bit was the one thing I thought KOTOR did clumsily.

    “Oh, hi, I’m your roommate you’ve never seen before. Do you need me to teach you how to get dressed?”


    1. ehlijen says:

      “Afterwards we can go find a bad guy together so I can heroically sacrifice myself for you!”

      Good ol’ Trask Ulgo :D

      Is there a “Trask Ulgo” trope for obligatory mentor character that dies within the tutorial ‘to remind the player that this isn’t a picnick!’?

  15. Tom says:

    Does Infocom’s torturous version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy count? As in the book, you wake up and someone’s trying to bulldoze your house.

    Also see Unreal (wake up on a crashing prison spaceship) and Risen (wake up on a beach after a shipwreck, IIRC).

    1. Brian says:

      Infocom’s Suspended pre-dates their HGttG.

      You wake up to find that the planetary systems your mind was controlling while you slept have gone haywire. You have to figure out how to get things under control, and make repairs before the planet’s inhabitants arrive to disconnect (kill) you.

  16. Vegedus says:

    It’s nice you included a warning, but don’t you think the original Escapist comments should have had one as well?! I got caught on Tvtropes for 2 hours, you jerk!

    1. Peter H. Coffin says:

      That’s only the beginning… You can blow two hours there just reading about significant hair colors.

  17. Alan De Smet says:

    Second Sight hits 1, 2, 3, and 6. If, “you have to escape” counts as a local calamity, it hits 4. (On that note, it’s an amusing, if disposable game, with a reasonably clever plot twist that ties nicely into the premise. Totally worth $5 in the bargain bin. For people who just want to know the plot twist the second to last paragraph in the “Plot” section of this Wikipedia article spells it out. It sounds a bit silly, but in play it works)

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      I was thinking of the same game when reading the comic.Its like psychonauts,only with more adult theme.Good game indeed.

      1. Andrew B says:

        Apart from the inexcusable crime of not allowing you to invert the Y-axis. (Os is it the X-axis? I can never remember. The looky up and down one, anyway.)

  18. Don Alsafi says:

    This doesn’t necessarily fit all of your criteria (such as underwear), but the earliest videogame instance that leapt to my mind was Space Quest I, where the game begins with you, the janitor, waking up from a nap in the broom closet of a space station – only to find aliens on board and everyone else murdered.

    Oo! Apparently there’s an online version playable here!

    1. Roy says:

      I was thinking the same thing. That was the first thing that popped into my head when I read the article, heh. And while you don’t start in your underwear, you do start without much by way of items.

  19. nerdpride says:

    Real Life, you wake up and have to pee. Which direction is it again? I’ve lived in so many houses and hotels that I can’t remember!

  20. MichaelG says:

    No one mentioned the first Halo? Master Chief, you’ve been forgotten!

  21. JB says:

    Portal, of course!

    1. Abnaxis says:

      I can’t believe it took this long to mention portal. I thought I was going to have to do it…

  22. Jep jep says:

    Opposing Force

    1,2,3,4 and 6: Check!

    Of course you could argue where the tutorial actually ends and what goes for “local”.. there’s the headcrab-soldier-in-MRI Machine scene at least. I’d say it’s pretty much a tutorial until the chopper.

  23. Hey shamus speaking of TV Tropes iv’e looked at it today and you’ve been qouted on there.

  24. Tizzy says:

    Isn’t there a provision in the Geneva Convention that prohibits links to TV Tropes, with or without warning? If there isn’t, there should be!

    1. Zeta Kai says:

      No, you’re thinking of 4chan.

  25. Deoxy says:

    The self-referential warning about TV Tropes was funny.

    The comic wasn’t bad either. Lots of those – though not ALL in your underwear, as lots of older games abstracted clothing away entirely, with only things that were considered “armor” listed.

    Heck, if THAT counts, just about every old school RPG gets 1,2, and 4 right off the bat. Quite a few of them get 3, too.

    Heck, no less a classic the Final Fantasy 6 starts that way, doesn’t it?

    If you just count any 3 out of the four, you’d get almost ALL of the old-school console RPGs, I think.

    Edit: except the Dragon Warrior series! Those all seem to start with some kind of “You are a great and mighty hero – go forth and save the world!” That’s so rare in RPGs that it’s actually kind of refreshing.

  26. B.J. says:

    Planescape and Baldur’s Gate 2 did it as well.

  27. acronix says:

    Dragon Age does this twice:
    1) In the Noble origin, you go to sleep and after waking up you learn your castle is under attack and half you acquitances are dead.
    2) After Ostagar, you pass out and wake up in a cottage to learn that the king´s army has been slaughtered and that the Traitor of the Day fled with the reinforcements.

  28. Blanko2 says:

    far cry2 does this, at least i think, at the first playable part of the game, when you wake up, the whole town is getting shot up

  29. Mari says:

    I have frequent dreams featuring this trope. Never had the “go to school/work in underwear/naked” but I frequently have the “Good Morning Disaster” dream. Possibly because of the video game trope. Or maybe nightmares inspired the game trope. I guess it’s a chicken and egg thing.

  30. Grey_Area says:

    Anyone thought of Unreal? – you’re a prisoner at the beginning of that one aren’t you? Can’t remember completely and it was a while ago.

    1. eri says:

      Kind of. In Unreal you wake up on the crashed prison ship Vortex Rikers. It differs in that it’s one of those games where your character is a faceless nobody, and the events before the game starts don’t really matter at all to learning the story. Also subverted in that it doesn’t really have any combat until the second level or so.

  31. Jokerman89 says:

    In oblivion you wake up in a prison….under attack from assassins…Shamus i admire you great nack for noticing stuff like this while i also am glad i haven’t got the skill my self as it would send me crazy.

    Ive been noticing a lot more cliches since visiting this site.

    1. eri says:

      Interestingly, Morrowind starts out with you… doing paperwork.

  32. Sydney says:

    Golden Sun is the same way. You wake up during an avalanche…volcano…rockslide…calamity. Thing.

  33. Sanguine says:

    I’ve played Alpha Protocol.

    I wish I hadn’t.

    1. eri says:

      Why not? Because it has slightly bland visuals and occasionally poor character animation? Aside from general aesthetic issues I’m finding it a much, much more fulfilling and enjoyable game than something like Mass Effect could ever hope to be, even with all the alien sex.

      1. acronix says:

        Didn´t he say that because of all the bugs?

  34. eri says:

    There isn’t anything horribly wrong with this idea. Games can’t afford to start out slow these days because gamers don’t have the time or attention spans to deal with them – hell, many reviewers criticised Alpha Protocol because of its “slow” opening, which sees you put into a combat situation within less than five minutes.

    Frankly, I’m a bigger fan of games that will teach you their concepts gradually through gameplay, without necessarily telling you explicitly. Super Mario Bros. might be the ultimate example of this, but even something like Overlord lets you figure things out through trial and error, by introducing concepts and then letting you experiment in a relatively safe place until you’ve got them down. It doesn’t really work with every genre, of course – sometimes you just have to accept that game mechanics and interfaces are too complex to figure out without some guidance.

  35. evileeyore says:

    The MMO Fallen Earth does this as well.

    It copies the System Shock 2 start with an eiry closeness.

  36. Wazza says:

    Medal of Honor, rising sun.

    Same thing.

  37. Joshua says:

    Honestly, it’s easy enough to understand why a lot of games do this.

    2. Waking up in an unfamiliar place. –> Easiest way to explain what you were just doing without using a cutscene, rather than, say, suddenly starting the game walking through the woods. An unfamiliar place also allows the player and character to be on even footing with what they know.

    3. Waking up in your underwear. —>When you wake up, you seldom have much clothing or weapons handy. Main purpose is to explain why you start the game with little or nothing.

    4. Violence is imminent. –> Get the player and throw them in there before they get bored.

    1. ehlijen says:

      Tropes aren’t always bad. What gets used most often is often used most often precisely because it works best most often. I like the word often.

      1. acronix says:

        I often like it too!

  38. (LK) says:

    Is it just me or is The Escapist formatting your article as black text on a black background? Looks like the new theme buggered something up.

    1. Jep jep says:

      I got the same problem, expect it’s happening all over the site. Tried to clear caches and even reboot, but nothing helped. Pasting over the text helps with reading, but it’s still kinda annoying.

      Edit: Looks like it’s just a problem with Firefox. It works fine on Opera.

      1. Moriarty says:

        it works in forefox if you disable your adblocker.

        Somehow that doesn’t seem like an accidental error to me

        1. Talorc says:

          Oh, I was wondering what the hell was happening. You can play with the filter rules as well to fix it.

  39. Danath says:

    This probably exists as 2 tropes instead of just one specific one.

    Might be on there as well.

    There was also one relating to waking up and looking at a different ceiling, too lazy to go find it again though.

  40. Soopaman says:

    Neverwinter Nights Original Campaign, the player wakes up with his “starting” clothes and goes through a tutorial, followed by an attack on the castle, in the midst of a plague.

    Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark expansion wakes you up in your underwear with a Drow trying to assasinate you, in the midst of underdark monsters attacking Waterdeep.

    Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer expansion wakes you up in a strange cave, luckily with your belongings, but you have no idea how you got there.

    I’m seeing a trend here. I loved NWN though, or at least the toolset. It actually really got me into computers and CRPGs and the whole online geek world.

    1. Raygereio says:

      And addition: NWN2: Storm of Zehir.
      You’re on a boat and go to sleep. You wake up to sounds of the boat crashing and those of an attacking hord of goblins.

  41. Jarenth says:

    So yeah, it seems obvious at this point that this is, indeed, a common trope.

    To add to the pile some more: Risen, Age of Conan and golden oldie Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening all start with you suffering a shipwreck and washing ashore in some unknown land. Both Risen and AoC even force you to scavenge for supplies and learn how to fight while still on the beach.

    I wonder how many more games start like this.

    1. acronix says:

      Oh, Dungeong & Drangons Online starts like that too. Thanks for the implicit reminder!

  42. Ramsus says:

    *blinks* Um…oh I was reading this about two hours ago I guess? Two hours? How did I lose two hour…s…..damnit! Tvtropes is like an unconcealed bottomless pit with a Siren living in it or something. I know the trap is there but end up walking over to see what’s down there and end up falling in anyway.

  43. ehlijen says:

    UFO Afterlight: The player characters wake up from cryo sleep, get chased off their space station (which promptly explodes) and have to go conquer the next one over (this is the tutorial).

    And wasn’t it Perasus? Or Peragus? I’m pretty sure it wasn’t pegasus, but meh.

  44. NBSRDan says:

    Alone In the Dark, 2008: Oh no! I’ve just woken up and my eyes have been replaced with Silly Putty!

  45. Zeta Kai says:

    The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past hits 1, 3, 4, & 5. Number 5 is the clincher, with Zelda herself sending a telepathic plea for help, reeling you in. Number 4 might be a stretch, as the coup-in-progress might not qualify as a calamity per se, but the thunderstorm helps to ramp up the tension of the tutorial.

  46. Sorry, but I’ve got to ask – am I the only person who had the text at the Escapist come out as black on black, or are other people having that problem too?

  47. TehShrike says:

    Oh, and by the way, I really appreciated the recursive footnote. :-D

  48. Vyolynce says:

    You might want to check the Good Morning, Crono trope. It’s not quite the same thing, but the Mass Effect 2 scene is mentioned…

  49. whitehelm says:

    Your mention of not taking a job “where the commute to and from work involves sedation” made me think of Juliet from LOST. Is that common enough for a trope?

  50. Septyn says:

    It strikes me that many of these elements are present in the opening chapter of Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber.

  51. squishydish says:

    Good for those who mentioned “Nine Princes in Amber” and “The Walking Dead.” The earliest example in literature that occurs to me is John Wyndham’s 1951 “The Day of the Triffids” (also known as Revolt of the Triffids), which meets 1), 2), 3) and 6), 4) applies both locally and globally, and 5) is true in that the protagonist is alone, but it’s worse since there’s nobody around to guide him. He wakes up in a hospital to find that most of the population has been blinded by an eerie meteor shower, and ambulatory plants are attacking and eating people.

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