Why Am I Doing This Again?

By Shamus Posted Thursday Nov 29, 2012

Filed under: Game Design 181 comments


This was originally going to be part 3 of my series on plot holes, but it kind of got away from me and we’re no longer talking about plot holes per se. Better to make a clean break. Also, I’m going to be talking about The Walking Dead comic / TV series / Game in this post, but there aren’t any serious spoilers here. This is more a discussion of how passive and engaged audiences relate differently to the characters.

First, some clarification. I’ve been dumping on The Walking Dead as a world / setting quite a bit, and in our own show you’ll hear me say mean things about it. To be clear: I’ve never read the Robert Kirkman comics. I watched just a few episodes of the TV series and really disliked it. When I complained about it, people said it was just staying true to the form of the source material, so I’ve been assuming I wouldn’t like the comic either. But I haven’t read it. So understand that when I say “the source material”, keep in mind I’m not talking about, you know, the actual source material, but only the stuff I’ve experienced. I’ll try to be more precise in referring to things if you’ll agree to not give me a hard time about it when I mess up because I’m old and I forget things quickly.

I think the biggest surprise for me was just how much I liked The Walking Dead Game, even though I don’t care for the source material. (That one was just a test to see if you were still paying attention.) I attribute this to the fact that by turning one of the characters into a player character, they cured one of the big problems I had with the show. It’s not that playing a character makes me like him more, it’s that putting a character into the hands of the audience limits what the writers can do with him.

Can I axe you a question? No, I’d rather you didn’t go shooting your mouth off.

TV Tropes talks about the idiot ball – a plot that is advanced or sustained through the sheer power of one person’s (usually willful and uncharacteristic) stupidity. The Walking Dead TV seemed to have a variant of this where the characters would pass around a Total Jackass Ball from one episode to the next. Hm. Who will create drama and tension by being unreasonable, aggressive, paranoid, and confrontational this week? The end result is that sooner or later I hate everyone and want to see them all die, which sort of drains the tension out of the setting unless I want to turn around and start rooting for the zombies.

Telltale wisely understood that players wouldn’t accept playing as a character who deliberately creates problems and conflict. The Walking Dead TV drama is mostly driven by the tension between the audience and the characters: We want the cast to get along, cooperate, and survive, and the writers make them bicker to sustain the conflict. But in a videogame the audience is also one of the characters, and games don’t usually survive an adversarial relationship between a player and their character. Remember how much hate everyone poured on Commander Shepard when he started waving a pistol around and forgot his super powers in cutscenes? Remember how we got angry at Alan Wake when he kept dropping all his weapons and bullets? And that’s just your character being incompetent. Imagine how much more hate we would feel if Alan Wake threw his weapons away on purpose and kept getting rid of his flashlight batteries because they were “heavy”.

I’m sure you can make a game where the player is in conflict with their own avatar, but it would probably be some indie thought experiment game, or some deconstruction like Spec Ops. If you’re just trying to tell a story, then the player and the protagonist need to be in some kind of harmony.

Prince of Persia 2008 – The Prince and Elika

An interesting example of this sort of thing is at the end of Prince of Persia 2008, the protagonist formerly known as Prince used the world-destroying magic to bring Elika back from the dead, thus re-releasing the evil magic the player had just spent the ENTIRE GAME fighting to contain. Worse, this plan worked, and all of the player’s gameplay was basically rendered pointless. In a book or a movie this would work just fine, and this was pretty understandable from a character perspective. But this was a videogame and people didn’t like to “lose” the game by writer fiat, especially due to the actions of the main character. I won the game, then my avatar un-won it. At the end, you had to guide your character around and make him do the thing you didn’t want to do and he did. Looking back, I see it as delightfully subversive. (If he wants to do this and I don’t, but I’m the one holding the controller, then who is really driving, here?) But at the time I remember feeling kind of miffed that it all sort of seemed to be for nothing.

I can’t blame people who rejected the ending. It’s one thing to lose. Its another when your lose because your avatar turns on you.

Press Q repeatedly to not have the world devoured by Zom- oops too slow.

Getting back the The Walking Dead:

By making Lee the player character and giving us Clementine, the writers effectively created two characters who were off-limits for the Jackass Ball. No matter how much you may hate Kenny, or Larry, or Lily, you’ll always have Lee and Clem to root for. These two grounded characters then give us a lifeline to the others. Yes, Kenny is annoying and abrasive in a perfectly realistic and believable way. But he’s the first real friend you make in the zombie apocalypse and so you can kind of understand if Lee doesn’t hate him. If Lee was also abrasive and unreasonable, then they would fight more and I would come to hate them both.

That said, a couple of the characters do seem to come from the TV show and are insufferably awful people. Yes, I realize that this is part of the point of the setting: The apocalypse makes monsters of us all. Perhaps it’s my latent optimism showing, but I like to think that adversity tends to amplify our existing personalities and good people can shine in those circumstances. Also, adversity ought to drive people together on some level. Find six guys who have shared a foxhole together and insult one of them. Before they pummel you unconscious, take special note how their common hardship has not caused them to turn on one another over petty bullshit.

No Glenn, YOU hold them off alone. You’re a cameo from the source material! You’ve got plot armor!

But this is nitpicking. “War makes monsters of us all” is a totally valid theme for a story to explore and if the TV show presents a world where everyone turns into jerks and can’t get along, then that’s how things go in that world. It just makes me feel lousy inside and so I don’t watch it. The point is: There are a couple of characters who really tested my patience in the game, and if my character had responded in kind then I wouldn’t have wanted to play, even if that was more true to the setting and the message.

But this brings me within brick-throwing distance of the plot hole problem again. One thing I’ve noticed is that I’m much more sensitive to plot holes when I’m playing a videogame. One of the reasons is that when I find myself in the driver’s seat of a story, I will insist that my own actions make some kind of sense. Why didn’t Jack Hero pick up the gun from that bad guy he killed? In a movie you can say, “In the confusion, he just didn’t think of it.” But that doesn’t work in a videogame because I’m piloting Jack and I’m thinking about it right now! It’s right over there! Let me pick it up!

We accept that sometimes movie characters make mistakes. We’re less accepting of games that force us to do obviously stupid, pointless, or counter-intuitive things in order to proceed. For me, this is probably the leading cause of losing trust in the author. In Fable 2, the game presented you with a clear goal (kill the bad guy) and then never, ever let you pursue that goal until the last ten seconds of the game. It presented you with an obvious truth (Theresa is sketchy, untrustworthy, and not on your side) and then never let you act on that knowledge. The gulf between “what is the smart thing to do” and “what you are forced to do” is so vast that I spent the entire game in constant agitation, waiting for the writer to get his act together and explain why I was doing any of this.

”No Held?” I wonder what that’s all about?

This is something that the videogames-as-movies developers really need to work on. In a movie, you can assign any motivations you like or any personality you like, and you can have characters pick up an Idiot Ball, or a Jerk Ball, or a I Am Suddenly A Coward Ball, but you can’t give those things to the player character without putting the entire story in peril. You can do those if you’re writing a character study, but most games aren’t anything approaching a character study and I wouldn’t trust your typical AAA game writer to attempt one. They have enough trouble pulling off a boilerplate Hero’s Journey without blundering into plot holes and lazy contrivances.

The last thing that kind of stretches the typical game story is the pacing. When Alan Wake arrives somewhere we have a clear goal. Forty-five minutes of murder and easy-but-time-consuming puzzles later, and we’ve lost all sense of purpose. Imagine watching a movie like this, where every car chase was half an hour and every gunfight was an hour. It would be exhausting and eventually you’d just lose the emotional thrust of the whole thing. It would all blend together in a big blurry conflagration of noise and shouting. (And because it’s a videogame, shouting the same three phrases over and over.) Sooner or later you start thinking, “Okay, why am I murdering these dudes again? And who are they?”

Worse, that long interval gives you a lot of time to ponder what you’re doing. Why am I doing this again? Is this REALLY the easiest way to get into the enemy base? Because this is a pain in the ass. Now that’ I’m thinking about it, can’t that one character teleport people? Why isn’t she just teleporting us past these guys? We couldn’t go over that electric fence, so we’re blasting our way through the barracks? Heck, we could have run to Home Depot and bought ourselves some ladders and insulation and gone right over that fence. And now that I’m thinking about it, if disabling the generator cut power to the turrets, then didn’t it also disable the fence? And if so, why are we fighting our way through Mook Central?

Things that wouldn’t be plot-holes in a movie will become plot holes when imposed on a combat-driven videogame world. In a movie you can say, “There was probably an explanation that the main character knew about that the audience didn’t. But in a game, that explanation needs to be given to me (or at least acknowledged) because I’m driving. As the hours of combat pile up, the emotional thrust is slowly eroded, the preposterous level of danger is driven home (multiple Game Over moments) and the player has lots of time for little nagging questions to take root and blossom into resentment and contempt towards the writer.


It often takes a few days to get through a videogame, and those days are sometimes far apart. I’ve put a game down on Sunday night and not looked at it again until the following Friday. By that time I’d forgotten the important bits of plot and sort of lost my place in the story. In a movie or book you can skip back a scene to get your bearings, but in a game that usually means starting the game over.

I can’t escape the conclusion that writing game stories is just that much harder than movies. Or if not harder, then a very different sort of challenge. The player can aim the camera wherever they like, so you can’t hide contrivances and geographic cheating with editing and cuts. It’s not enough to give the main character a sense of duty and call it a day, you need to make the audience care about the conflict to the point where they are willing to get involved themselves. (Play the game.) You’ve got huge blocks of combat between your plot points, so you need to have “reassurance points” scattered throughout the combat, giving the player low-key reminders of their goals and the stakes, just in case they’ve lost their way. All of this is on top of the need to avoid problems like ludonarrative dissonance, where the gameplay can undercut the plot or theme. (Such as a story where the player has to shoot 100 mooks to bring a single accused murderer to justice.)

These are challenges you don’t face when you’re writing a 90-minute movie with no gameplay, full directorial control of the camera, and a protagonist with a mind and will of his own.

Movies aren’t books and games aren’t movies, even though they all tell stories. You have to know how to use the medium.


From The Archives:

181 thoughts on “Why Am I Doing This Again?

  1. zob says:

    I’d like to clarify one thing about tv show. I was going to say this in the first episode after Josh’s comments but forgot it. I like comic version of the TWD. It explores what would happen to humans when our social constructs suddenly crumble, law and order suddenly ceases to exist.

    First season of the TWD I didn’t like. The moment main character got out of the tank the show was over for me. I started nitpicking. I started researching. I can list many issues but thing is I found the guy responsible, Frank Darabont. Between 1st and 2nd seasons Darabont fired most of the writers, claiming that he was doing most of the job anyway. Then he left the project for budget reasons. So remainin producers had to find a new writing team (and dent the already insufficient budget). So Darabont warped story into survival documentary of morons in first season then torpedoed the second one. Now in 3rd season show is relatively more close to it’s source material comics. While some developments are different in mediums main concern of the story is not about survival against zombies. Story is now about what zombie apocalypse does to humans. What happens to tolerance, gender equality, xenophobia, racism, governments, laws.

    I’m not claiming it’s the best thing out there. But now it’s a decent enough show to watch. Considering it’s a zombie story.

    1. evileeyore says:

      zob: “I like comic version of the TWD. It explores what would happen to humans when our social constructs suddenly crumble, law and order suddenly ceases to exist.”

      Yes, and the comic does it better.

      I hate to say it, but you hit it on the head, Darabont took what could have been an excellent tv drama and burned it to the ground, pissed on the ashes, and then bailed when his “vision” was a failure.

      Shamus: “First, some clarification. I've been dumping on The Walking Dead as a world / setting quite a bit, and in our own show you'll hear me say mean things about it. To be clear: I've never read the Robert Kirkman comics. I watched just a few episodes of the TV series and really disliked it. When I complained about it, people said it was just staying true to the form of the source material, so I've been assuming I wouldn't like the comic either. But I haven't read it.”

      If you know someone who has the first 6 issues (or the first collect volume) borrow and read them.

      Give it a shot, it’s a completely different world plot-wise.

      1. LunaticFringe says:

        The comic gets bonus points for killing off Shane really early on rather then dragging it out as a stupid contrast to Rick.

        1. Wraith says:

          I’m not so sure, until it started REALLY dragging out later in Season 2, I liked the Rick/Shane dynamic and Shane’s gradual descent into outright psychopathy. The place where Shane would have died in Season 1 had they been following the comic rigidly helped show that Shane wasn’t quite over the ledge of the slippery slope. S2E3’s ending was probably my favorite moment in the season – and it demonstrated that Shane was, in fact, irredeemable. The ending of the mid-season finale also demonstrated an important part of Shane’s character – that he was a massive hypocrite.

          Season 2, however, could have been abridged. If I had been writing it, I probably would have made it 9-10 episode instead of 13, cut some of the less necessary naval-gazing, definitely abridge the big Rick/Shane fight in S2E10 to only being PART of the episode rather than the focus, made Shane kill Dale, having gotten wind of him asking questions about Otis (That character’s death was noticeably contrived and very poorly written, and occurred because the person playing the character wanted to quit the show in protest of Frank Darabont’s firing), but keep the final Rick/Shane confrontation the same. The moment where Carl shoots Zombie!Shane was an amusing reference to the comic.

          1. LunaticFringe says:

            I can somewhat agree to that, I think that Shane’s arc would’ve been done a lot better over five or six episodes rather then two seasons. I only favour the comic because of how horribly the series did it, not because his character arc lacked potential.

    2. Soylent Dave says:

      The comic definitely does it better – I think in part because the TV series (which is fairly average zombie fare) doesn’t seem to understand what the ‘it’ is.

      The characters in the comic aren’t all turning into arseholes; it isn’t a nihilistic story about gazing into the abyss (or the zombie).

      It’s a story about how some of the characters believe that they have to do that to survive – and, more importantly from a story perspective, are quite often proven wrong. Sitting alongside this are the characters who are trying to retain their humanity in the face of this, and those characters who start towards one extreme and move into another (from either direction).

      It’s that variety of characterisation & direction which makes the comics work – you’re not looking at a group of people becoming less and less human, and being told “this is the only way to survive”, because you’re constantly having this idea questioned – and you’re constantly being reminded that it isn’t the only way to survive, or the best way to survive, by those characters who just aren’t like that.

      Like a lot of good stories, it’s a look at what it actually means to be human much more than it’s a story about what people are willing to do to survive.

      I think the biggest fault in the TV series is that it’s really just a story about the latter.

    3. Steve C says:

      “I like comic version of the TWD. It explores what would happen to humans when our social constructs suddenly crumble, law and order suddenly ceases to exist.”

      While it explores, I’m strongly torn on its believability. I consider the most believable “zombie-apocalypse” of all time was Shawn of the Dead. One of the key things there was that humans did not turn on each other like in most zombie movies. I’m sure that sounds strange to some but I just don’t believe the vast majority of the world would resort to Lord of the Flies.

      Now that said, there’s a show called “Talking Dead” which airs right after “Walking Dead” that discusses the show. In it are polls about what happened and what the audience would do in those circumstances. The polls consistently say that 10-20% of Americans would turn into sociopaths. In some scenarios it’s significantly higher. That is worrisome but I think unique to America. (I would be very interested to see the same questions asked of audiences in other parts of the world.) I think the majority of people would pull together in the face of adversity. Especially when talking about small groups as in Walking Dead. But even if it’s 10% that means that one in ten people would turn on the other nine if given a reason. So I’m really not sure how believable it is.

      But you don’t have to go much farther than a history book for a true exploration of what happens to humans when society collapses. There are plenty of examples. Each society handles it slightly differently.

      1. Luhrsen says:

        “The polls consistently say that 10-20% of Americans would turn into sociopaths.”

        I myself am a slight sociopath, and yet I still consider these characters to be irredemably stupid and don’t understand how any logical person would act this way in front of others. I certainly wouldn’t be foolish enough to throw these kind of motives out in front of people if only because of the possibility that they might then turn on me. It’s just self defeating.

        Making plans in secret with a few trusted accomplices now, that’s a better idea. Just not in front of the whole group. Even a sociopath doesn’t want to be a target. That would be a psycopath.

        1. WJS says:

          Exactly, if one person in ten turns on the other nine in a situation like that, then nine times out of ten you wind up with nine normal people and one dead psychopath. And it’s not like that wouldn’t make for good drama, because it totally would. You could explore the effect that killing a living human would have on people who’ve up to this point only killed zombies.

  2. Thomas says:

    >the protagonist formerly known as Prince


  3. Even says:

    “games aren’t not movies”

    That’s a typo, right?

    Anyhow, I think part of the problem with game writing is the certain mindset a lot of people have that it doesn’t need to make sense because it’s a game, like the plotholes etc. are something you should expect and accept by default. Not all games need a compelling story, but if they insist on trying to make the player care about their story, then they really need to stop treating him or her like a lab experiment.

  4. Yanni says:

    “Movies aren't books and games aren't not movies”

    I feel as though I should point out your unintentional double negative.

    Otherwise a very nice read, as always, Shamus.

    EDIT: Ninja-ed by Even as I read the article.

  5. Urs says:

    I'm sure you can make a game where the player is in conflict with their own avatar, but it would probably be some indie thought experiment game, or some deconstruction like Spec Ops. If you're just trying to tell a story, then the player and the protagonist need to be in some kind of harmony.

    I wonder, what is your opinion on Bioshock? I withhold mine for now.

    1. Thomas says:

      There’s a seasons of Spoiler Warning dedicated to that if you’re interested, although I admit a reply is probably a quicker (but maybe less entertaining) method =D

      1. Urs says:

        I’d like to watch, now that you mention it, alas… meh.

        1. Thomas says:

          Oh yeah. I forgot about that, sorry. Gosh it’s going to be annoying until we’re caught up

    2. Shamus says:

      System Shock was my #1 all-time favorite superfuntime game. (Or perhaps System Shock 2. It’s complicated.) Then BioShock came along, ripped out the leveling, non-linear exploration, tense atmosphere, inventory, varying builds, and all the other stuff and called itself a “Spiritual Successor”. So I was REALLY not happy about that. It would be like a “spiritual successor” to Doom that was set on Earth and was based around melee combat with wild animals. That’s not spiritually successive to anything.

      I went into the game with System Shock 2 expectations, so I saw it as a HORRIBLE System Shock knock-off instead of a moderately smart shooter with sidequests and a unique setting.

      So, I’ve never been able to look at the game objectively. No pun intended. I thought the ideas about messing with player choice were kind of interesting, although marred somewhat by a bit of sloppiness.

      1. drkeiscool says:

        So Bioshock was a shock to your system?

        I am so sorry.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          What a shocking pun.Are you systematically trying to replace Rutskarn?

          1. Regardless of that, Billy Idol’s album Cyberpunk is actually pretty good.

      2. Robyrt says:

        That must be why I liked Bioshock so much. System Shock 2 was great, with a masterful sense of atmospheric storytelling, but the inventory and leveling and repairing and whatnot were my least favorite parts. So when the spiritual successor came along, with all those parts stripped away and cutting-edge graphics added, I was thrilled.

        1. Cineris says:

          Bioshock is a good example of a game that would’ve been way better if the developers had a clear idea of what they were doing. Instead of throwing away things that didn’t work, they took a laundry list of things from previous System Shocks and did a mediocre job tossing them all in a pot and trying to adapt it for the XBox crowd. Bioshock was a “Meh” shooter game with a terrible & gimmicky main plot, boring, repetitive enemies, uninspired guns with uninspired upgrades, an awful “hacking” minigame that you were forced to play 1000 times, wildly imbalanced Plasmids that trivialized the gameplay, and gameplay itself that undermined the best aspect of the game — Wandering around this ominous and beautiful ruined city.

          Probably one of the most overrated games of the last decade.

          1. LunaticFringe says:

            The so-called ‘commentary’ on Objectivism was incredibly weak at best and intellectually dishonest at worse too. Only thing that really pulled me into the game was the art design and the much better done commentary on player agency.

            1. Cineris says:

              Agreed. I didn’t feel like there was any commentary on Objectivism in the game at all, and that’s speaking as someone who explored every nook and cranny and listened to every audiolog. It’s more a part of the aesthetic of the game than anything else.

              Not surprisingly, people who praise this game tend to argue its merit based on its supposed trenchant criticism of Objectivism… Conveniently missing that the story is about free will and making metacommentary about player agency as you say. I happened to think the metacommentary fell flat, particularly because the gameplay itself was identical both pre-and-post the big Ryan scene. It’s a gimmick moment to me since your options are pretty much (a) Continue playing the game until you finish it, or (b) Realize you’re just a puppet with no free will and exit the game forever. Although thinking back on it, (b) would’ve been the better option since that last quarter of the game isn’t worth playing.

              1. ima420r says:

                The game was so fun though, and it looked great. I enjoyed it a lot, expecially the last part of the game. And I hate shooters. Though I never played System Shock, and Bioshock 2 was an abomination…

              2. LunaticFringe says:

                Well I put ‘commentary’ in quotes considering that the majority of it is just references to aspects of Rand’s work (posters that say ‘Who is Atlas’ for example) and vague speeches from Ryan that kind of sound like something a Rand character would say (without any actual philosophical backing however). Objectivists tend to roll their eyes at Bioshock and I can totally understand why, most of its setting is a complete antithesis (why would Ryan populate Rapture with people who didn’t share similar views and expect it to work? The writers were clearly aiming for a ‘Galt’s Gulch’ scenario but ignored the fact that the whole point of the gulch was for the ‘Prime Movers’ who shared the same ideals).

                I’m not quite sure why Bioshock is praised as a criticism of Objectivism. Maybe public ignorance of actual Objectivism or some gamers’ desperate need for the medium to be taken more seriously?

        2. The Nick says:

          So you didn’t like picking up every shotgun, removing the single shotgun shell from the jammed device, and putting it in your inventory so that you had enough supplies?

          1. Michael says:

            You know, oddly enough, STALKER actually makes you do this, and it works. It makes you feel more like you’re scrabbling to survive and scavenge enough ammo to get by. The only real criticism for System Shock 2 on that front is that the interface for emptying a gun is needlessly complex and that every hybrid breaks their shotgun on death. Other than that, it is a really solid design decision if you’re wanting to create a desperate tone for the player.

      3. Duneyrr says:

        The game you described sounds like a spiritual successor to Morrowind.

      4. Urs says:

        Now, actually, I can hardly write a reply without condescending into a raving rant, but I find the praise that Bioshock gets and continues to get really puzzling – for a lot of the very right points you’ve made.
        In short, and to be kind of neutral, it seems like a shining example of why writing for games is indeed a very different beast than writing literature or movie scripts. Or: a shining example for the immatureness (as a matter of fact of age) of our beloved medium Video Game.
        I mean, I got the idea and I applaud the developer for trying this (after reading about the game) – but about 75% into it, I just got so pissed off at having to be this idiotic puppet running those erratic nonsensical errands (among other things), that I quit and uninstalled.
        I guess it will be a long time before video games can pull off a Usual Suspects or The Murder of Roger Ackroyd* without annoying their players.

        *An Agatha Christie Poirot-Whodunnit where the murderer turns out to be… the narrator

        1. krellen says:

          For the record, you descended into a rant, you didn’t condescend into it. Very different things, those two.

      5. Eruanno says:

        Interesting, I walked into it completely blind and loved it. (Pipe Dream was still tedious as hell.)
        I had literally never heard of it before, but back then I didn’t frequent gaming sites as much as I do now, so… yeah. The plot smacked me in the face and I was very pleasantly surprised.

        Comparing experiences is fun, kids!

    3. PAK says:

      I cannot recommend Spider and Web too highly as a wonderful exploration of the unreliable narrator concept in gaming. Or, if you’re shorter on patience, 9:05, though it’s not as deep. Are they indie thought experiments? I don’t know exactly how that term is being used. They are fun ways to play with traditional narrative construction and player agency by writer/designers who have a well-developed sense of both.

  6. Aldowyn says:

    The thing about TWD video game is that the ‘idiot ball’, ‘jerk ball’, etc. etc. aren’t balls to be passed around. They’re relatively consistent character traits that are occasionally subverted. It just makes the characters feel more real.

    That and the PHENOMENAL voice acting. Next time you’re playing and listening… I recommend closing your eyes for a few seconds. You might not think that the graphics detract from the immersion, but when the voice acting is THAT good, it does.

    1. anaphysik says:

      It’s one of the few games that I’ve considered turning the subtitles *off* for, just so that I’d only have the voice acting to go by. (Haven’t yet, though.)

    2. Wedge says:

      Yes, this, wow. The voice acting is just astoundingly good. Not even, like “good for videogames” which is an unfortunately low bar, but like, objectively fantastic.

  7. Thomas says:

    I’m not sure if you meant it to be this, but this is probably the most convincing reply to the Film Hulks comments that I’ve heard. It’s probably going to be a long time before we find reasonable ways to solve these problems (because with so many people playing your game and so much time to think people are going to think of so many alternatives to situations etc). Particularly the time one.

    It’s clearly solvable because there’s lot of game that don’t cause disconnect during the long gameplay situations and motivate the protagonist properly (and other games are fairly good at distancing yourself from the protagonist, which is hard. To The Moon doesn’t really have a me and I never really used ‘I’ to describe Tidus (luckily *shudder)

    I found the Walking Deads Protagonist really interesting in that regard. He’s clearly got an independent personality and drive and most of the time I was thinking of ‘him’ rather than me. But all the choices were mine. I’m not sure how that works. I think when you chose dialogue it was written well enough that it was all something _he_ would say. Rather than different good/bad personalities. And the game reacted to the path of the story well enough that it always new who was friends with who and his dialogue would adjust to reflect that

    1. Nick says:

      The only real points I felt in conflict with Lee were (nonspoilery) 1) his walking speed in some segments when I really felt some urgency was appropriate and (spoilery) 2)not being able to point out Kenny’s hypocrisy over not dealing with Duck properly when he was so gung ho about dealing with Larry. I mean, I know those are slightly different situations but I was pissed off because I tried to revive Larry first and he nearly decapitated me with that block as well

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Really?After seeing what an unhinged person that lost her family is capable of doing when irritated,you wanted to point out the hypocrisy to another unhinged person that lost their family?

        1. Aldowyn says:

          To some degree (Episode 3 spoilers) you can point out the hypocrisy. I kept going “we have to take care of this”, getting more and more insistent until it came to a head. It just wasn’t as insistent as Larry, because A: As established, Larry is a BIG DUDE and B: Duck wasn’t dead yet.

        2. Nick says:

          To force him to see the reality of the situation, yeah. Besides which, Katjaa is only just -about- to die at that point, which wasn’t exactly certain. Unless you’re talking about Lilly?

  8. Joshua says:

    Well, a key difference between games(video, rpg or otherwise) and other media is that in a game, the audience and protagonist are the same person/people.

    So, things that may work in a movie or book won’t necessarily work in a game, especially things like having the protagonists act foolishly and/or be humiliated.

    I like to use the example of Meet the Parents. People may(or may not) laugh at the protagonist and how everything he does backfires or makes him look bad. Could you imagine this concept as a game, where nothing you do works and all of your “allies” insult you or are outraged by every one of your actions?

    1. Zukhramm says:

      Ugh. That Prince of Persia ending sounds horrible and I played through a game that left me with the same feeling just last week. Not sure I should say what game because the rest of it was amazing and I wouldn’t want to spoil it.

      Sure a game character is separate from me, but I’ve been the driver for 25 hours it can be really hard to take when the character suddenly acts the exact opposite of what I find reasonable.

      The problem, of course is that everyone has different opinions on what behavior and reactions are reasonable, I assume the writer thought that the main character seemingly no longer caring about being put in all kinds of dangerous situations once the bad guys revealed their motivation but I can’t do that after fighting them for my life for hours.

      1. swenson says:

        Not to bring up Mass Effect 3 again, but…

        That may have been the most annoying thing about the ending. My Shepard went through the entire three games, fighting and wheedling and making deals and whatever to drag the galaxy to safety. And then the Catalyst shows up, and there’s no option to really argue with him, no way to try to point out what I’ve previously accomplished, nothing. It’s just like “oh, you say things, so clearly I must believe you instantly.”

        I get that the Catalyst is supposed to be so far beyond me that there’s no logical way I could argue with him, but I feel like there should at least be an option to try! But I guess that goes back to Shamus’ “pick up gun” example, where you can try to justify it if it’s a movie or book, but in a game, we know Shepard’s motivations. They’re the ones we’ve been giving her.

        1. Ateius says:

          It doesn’t help that the Catalyst’s argument can be disproven by the game you just played.

          1. swenson says:

            Yes, that’s true. If Shepard could just say “But the quarians and the geth–” and then the Catalyst would go “We’ve seen it before, it’ll end badly in a few years”, I feel like it would’ve improved it greatly. But of course, this goes back to Shepard being able to argue something, anything, no matter how stupid her arguments are, just please let her do SOME arguing!

            1. Jeff says:

              Especially because it takes a specific series of actions and imported save states to allow for that peace you forged. So they not only dismiss your actions in ME3, but previous ones.

              1. alienprayer says:

                What really irritated me was that all they would have needed to fix their choose your own adventure etch-a-sketch deus ex machina was to make it a paragon/renegade debate with the conduit. Then at the end of the conversation, you get the ending appropriate to your playstyle.

                It still would have been insulting and unsatisfying, but at least the player could feel like Shepherd was taking some kind of action. They even could have lampshaded their sad aLL MaCHineS iz EEEVILLL nonsense. Instead, the whole trilogy is reduced to “turn left” or “turn right” or “walk forward” without even the satisfaction of a potential Grue-eating.

        2. LunaticFringe says:

          Once again, was done better in the original Deus Ex mainly because JC Denton asked a lot of good questions and responded cynically to each choice. Also, the choices were presented by three characters who’s philosophies we already somewhat understood, rather then a new character who has no personal stake in it whatsoever.

      2. Andrew Bell says:

        AC3? Because, man, that ending almost had me putting the controller through the screen.

        1. Klay F. says:

          Yeah I’s pretty sure Ubisoft was taking lessons from Bioware for the ending to AssCreed 3. Somehow it managed to be EVEN WORSE than ME3’s ending. But because nobody cares about the Desmond story of AssCreed, nobody is going to get that worked up about it. Its a shame really. I’d love Ubisoft to receive some flak for pulling the same shit Bioware did in the last ten minutes of the game.

    2. swenson says:

      This is a good point. In a book/movie, the protagonist doesn’t have to be good or interesting or even likable for the story to work. In fact, they can be deliberately evil, flat, and unlikable! But in a videogame, there must be something that keeps the player want to keep playing as the main character. If you hate the character you’re playing as, the odds that you’re going to drop the game and go do something actually fun are very high. This doesn’t even mean the protagonist has to have an interesting character, to be honest. A nigh-featureless protagonist (such as Gordon Freeman, who can pretty well be summed up as “probably pretty smart and very, very determined”) still can keep the attention of the player because the player projects themselves into the story, and of course we are the most interesting people in the world, right?

      Although, I’ll admit most people seem to get this. Or at least I can’t think of a game I’ve played myself that had a main character I just didn’t like and didn’t want to play as. There was always something that kept me going.

      1. Thomas says:

        But the idea of inhabiting your protagonist is Western idea and doesn’t have to be true. Party based RPGs (where you control all members equally) kind of have a main protagonist but it’s easy to think of you just controlling the whole party, or designing a game where it’s not true.

        And you get games where you control different people at different times. You could write thesis’ on the players’ relationships to the people they control and still not fully suss it out. Like when people talk about the multiple characters they have on the Sims, makes a complete mess of I#s and heäs and they’s

        1. Aldowyn says:

          Well in something like a JRPG, it’s probably beneficial to be on the party’s side. Basically the entire party is the PC in that case.

          1. Thomas says:

            Oh yeah that’s true. But it gives room for flexibility, because the individual members can be prats, providing their overall goal is good

        2. Zukhramm says:

          To me, that was just him doing something stupid. I mean, that might seem like the same thing

          I’m not sure about that. [Citation Needed] maybe? In most games we are given control over a specific character (or multiple) and by having that control we are implicitly inhabiting at least some part of that character, being able to influence them. Somewhere there’s a line between what parts we control and which ones we do not. What parts are what? Depends on the game, I guess. Regardless, it is not so much were that line is that is the problem as much as the feeling of that line suddenly moving.

        3. swenson says:

          A party-based game is different, that’s a good point. There’s a lot more separation from the protagonists. However, in this case, I still maintain you need to not hate all of the characters. My point isn’t so much that the character’s motivations must be my motivations or whatever, but more that it’s a lot more important in a game for the player to be invested in the main characters than a book or a movie.

          1. Fleaman says:

            I think being invested in the main character may only be important to immersing the player in the story, not the game. I think Alex Mercer is a weiner, but I can still play Prototype because playing as Alex Mercer is plenty fun; certainly more fun than watching or listening to or thinking about him. I’m dissociated from the story, but not from the game as a whole, because the fun gameplay outweighs Alex Mercer’s weinerishness.

            I’m bringing this up because I think a distinction should be made between a good game story and a good game while thinking about this. There are many good games with unspeakably shitty stories, but are there any good game stories with shitty main characters? More specifically, are there any games that are able to immerse you in the story without a protagonist who is either a good character or a good vessel for the player’s identity?

            1. Thomas says:

              The areas I’m thinking about are Raiden in MGS2, Tidus in FFX, the waste of space of the investigator storylines in To The Moon, the blandness of the guy in Quintessence (but that’s a very obscure game). then you’ve got the character turns out to be evil in a twist (In The Company of Myself [it#s a flash game. Check it out! has a very interesting use of story through gameplay] Lightning in FFXIII, maxbe Batman in Akrham Asylum? He’s not very interesting but I don’t know if he’s bad. Maybe the guys in Modern Warfare 1 being dicks and possibly meant to be recognised as such (not true for later games). A demi twist example in Heavy Rain. Kratos in God of War (1 I guess we can’t call the sequels as having good stories) Spec Ops. Vaan in FFXII (there seems to be a pattern here). Sora in Kingdom Hearts isn’t great but he fits the tone. Welkin in Valkryia Chronicles is a bit preachy.

              But all of these, they’re either the biggest flaw of the game story or they have something about them that makes them interesting or good. And I don’t think any of them come close to the blandness or repugnance you can get away with in non games. I think Vaan comes the closest to being a completely uninteresting protagonist, but 1)it’s a party-based game and 2)has a pretty bad story

              (Btw unrelated, but during my research I came across this Charlie Brooker article =D

              1. Fleaman says:

                That thing right there is yay.

            2. Michael says:

              Mercer and Heller both crack me up, just because they’re so damn schizophrenic. Especially Heller. That said, I do disconnect with them both so hard, the Prototype games actually feel like parodies to me.

        4. I take your general point, but–Western idea? I don’t agree. Ever see a Japanese dating sim? (actually, I haven’t, but the characters talk about ’em in manga) They inhabit their protagonist like crazy!

          1. Thomas says:

            Ah okay that’s definitely true, but that possibly a degree further Japanese than I’m willing to go =D I was thinking JRPGs vs CRPGs (also someone claimed that there was a time when most Japanese games were third person and lots of western games first person)

            1. Fleaman says:

              I get where you’ve come from here I think. Western RPGs are far more likely to have character creation options, open worlds, and CHOICES THAT MATTER; JRPGs generally have fleshed-out, predesigned characters in predetermined plots that the player participates in but doesn’t influence. That is a real trend, but only in the context of a comparison between these genres, and that itself is a sticky business as while JRPGs and WRPGs share some ancestry they’ve since diverged and really don’t have much in common at this point.

              Inhabiting the protagonist is an extremely basic idea, and I don’t think it can just be attributed to one culture or origin. After all, plenty of Japanese games have silent protagonists, including some JRPGs (Chrono Trigger, for example), and Korea has become a limitless font of MMO titles with robust character creators (Tera Online, Vindictus, many games from NCSoft) that often dwarf the customization options of Western RPGs. Also, Japan’s near-complete domination of horror games, a genre which relies heavily on mood and atmosphere, suggests a deep understanding of techniques to control player immersion, even though many games in the genre often buck a lot of the techniques that we in the Occident normally think of as encouraging immersion, like first-person perspective and silent protagonists.

    3. Daimbert says:

      I think that comedy adventure games like perhaps the Leisure Suit Larry series have a lot of that, actually. The whole “protagonist keeps failing” only even works in movies that are either comedies or tragedies, because the context makes it so that you pretty much expect it and it stays on theme. Where I think this matters is in the personality you’re expected to play in these games; if you’re forced to play someone who’s a jerk and manipulative, then you won’t like it. But, then again, if you’re watching someone manipulate their way through things and are just a jerk, you won’t enjoy that either unless they get their comeuppance or learn something.

      So I think it can work, and I think it can work in the same way that movies work, in that you have to set it up so that all of the events fit in context in a character that you can cheer for or against. Well, the only difference might be that it’s harder to make a game work where you cheer against the protagonist than in a movie …

    4. Michael says:

      Sounds a bit like the Max Payne games, honestly. :p

      To be fair, those pick that up as a bit of a genre conceit. They’re drawing on some unholy mesh of 30s detective pulps and Noir, with a heavy dose of John Woo action films in the gameplay. But, especially with MP3, everything the player does simply ends up making things worse for most of the game.

  9. sab says:

    “Imagine watching a movie like this, where every car chase was half an hour and every gunfight was an hour.”

    Oooh, you saw the Matrix sequels too?

    1. Shamus says:

      And ironically, the car chases were the only part worth watching.

      1. swenson says:

        This is why I can’t dislike the second Matrix movie all that much, actually. The fight scenes and car chases are pointless and stupid, but they look cool!

        1. False Prophet says:

          But all of them go on at least twice as long as they need to. The worst being Neo’s first fight with the army of Smith clones–if Neo could have flown away at any time, why did that fight need to be 10 minutes long? The only action scene that didn’t bore me in that film was the short Neo vs. Seraph kung-fu fight.

          1. swenson says:

            Yeah, that scene’s probably my least favorite. I give the car chase and the chateau fight a pass for having some cool visuals, but you’re absolutely correct.

          2. Dork Angel says:

            Perhaps he only flew away when he finally realised he couldn’t win. Up to that point he had been kicking Smith’s ass (or asses to be precise…).

            1. Jeff says:

              I agree. He only flew away when he got piled on and it didn’t seem like he could win. Until then he was holding his own.

          3. Wedge says:

            The Matrix: Reloaded was the first movie I ever saw that had a fight scene that I found BORING. That’s an incredible feat.

          4. Steve C says:

            There’s a very good reason he didn’t leave… It’s the same reason you don’t walk away from overwhelming odds in a video game. Neo understands that the Matrix is not real. And he knows it more than anyone else to the point it makes him special. Basically it’s just a video game to him.

            BTW I likewise did not like that sequence. Just not for the reason “He should have left earlier.”

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        I think matrix reloaded may be the only time I asked myself “Wait,what were they doing again?”,and it was after the highway scene.Granted,I liked the scene,and have rewatched it multiple times later,but it is just god damn long.

    2. Spammy says:

      Ehn… at this point, after years of The Internet telling me the Matrix sequels are bad… I think the whole trilogy is problematic. Yes, first movie included.

      1. Klay F. says:

        Well yeah, the entire motivation of the humans hinges on a completely idiotic understanding of how the human body works. But once you can get past that (though it is a big hurdle, I admit, and you are well within your rights to give up on the movie at that point) most of the movie works really well.

        1. Spammy says:

          Even for just the first movie…

          What is The One actually supposed to do?

          If your mind makes it real, why can’t everyone do what Neo does?

          Exactly why can’t everyone fight Agents if they’re freed from physical limits in the Matrix?

          What’s the difference between taking impossible leaps and taking flight and why can only Neo do the latter?

          Why did they just flush Neo when he was awakened from the Matrix instead of killing him?

          When did Cypher have his meeting with Smith and how did that happen without everyone knowing?

          Why do the Squiddy-bots fly into EMP range instead of just parking outside and shooting resistance ships with guns or their lasers?

          I’m not looking for point-by-point answers, I’m just pointing out that you can ask the same kind of “Why didn’t Neo just fly away?”/”Why does Neo go to the Machine City?” questions for the first movie.

          At this point I think the whole franchise is problematic, and they’re all on about the same level when it comes to the ratio between making clear sense and scratch-your-head question-inducing stuff. I think the sequels really are just as good as the first one, they just focused more on the religious overtones and less on the “Free your mind.”

    3. James says:

      I was thinking more along the lines of any Michel Bay movie.

      1. sab says:

        I can’t comment on that, I never finished one :/

  10. Doctor Broccoli says:

    To be fair, Lee DOES get passed the Idiot Ball in episode 3 when he has to get the propane torch.
    I mean, first he HAS to use his melee weapon to hold the door open, there is no other way to keep it open (despite there being plenty of crates and planks lying around.) and there is no way to do anything until you do this (the game actually kicks you out of the building after a while if you don’t do anything.)
    After you give up your melee weapon you have to throw Clementine into a room without giving you any way to check said room for zombies. This despite there being plenty of other ways to get in (go in through a window from the outside, use a long stick to get the keys, pick the lock, break the door etc.)
    And the worst thing of all is that, after things inevitably go bad, Christa comes in and berates you for being stupid and taking unnecessary risks.

    So yeah, other than that particular moment the game is pretty great.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      Well that scene had some narrative importance in Clem’s character development that required her to be put in that kind of danger, IIRC. *shrug* Also, I’m pretty sure you NEVER pick a lock. It’s suggested a couple times, but no one knows how.

      1. Doctor Broccoli says:

        Sure, I get that it had to happen from a narrative perspective. It’s just that I was being forced to make stupid decisions and then got berated for doing so. That’s just plain silly.

      2. Khizan says:

        At one point, Kenny even basically says something along the lines of “You’re “urban”, can’t you pick that or something?”, and Lee gives him a “You didn’t just say that” or something similar.

    2. Klay F. says:

      Yeah, I found that part pretty annoying as well.

      Because I’m genre savvy, I knew that as soon as he put his weapon down, he would get attacked. I understand Lee being stupid in Episode 1, but by now he needs to be smarter than that. That whole scene was just an excuse to crowbar in a quicktime event anyway which is pretty stupid in its own right.

      1. It’s not as much stupidity as it is “narrative-on-rails”.
        But as Shamus pointed out, in games this does not work and are usually considered plot holes.

        1. Aldowyn says:

          The entire game is narrative on rails, really. The validity of the choices break apart when you analyze what happens if you pick a different option – that’s not the point. The point is having to make a decision.

          1. Michael says:

            I remember someone’s editorial that giving the player agency in TWD wouldn’t make much sense. The ability to actually alter the world is kind of an antithesis, of the setting’s themes.

            In other words, having Mass Effect style “you can change the world” decisions undermines the themes of a zombie apocalypse.

            Instead the decisions change who Lee is. It stays within the themes, keeps the branching narrative down, but still keeps the decisions themselves relevant, just not in the way we’re conditioned to expect as gamers.

            That said, I haven’t actually played the games. The first six or so years of the comic pretty much filled my depressing bleakness quota for the next few decades, and I say this as a fan of STALKER…

  11. Hal says:

    I don’t watch The Walking Dead anymore, but that’s because, um . . . it gives me nightmares. *shrug* One of the dangers of being young at heart, I suppose.

    In any case, the part about pacing, piloting the hero, losing trust in the author? That struck a chord with me, and I think it’s one of those distinctions about why some games tend to resonate well with people where others don’t.

    The example I’m thinking of is Deus Ex (1 or 3, take your pick). In that game, level design was something along the lines of, “You are at point A. You need to get to point B. Here’s your toolbox, see you at point B.” The game world gets to make sense to the player because the decisions more or less rest in the hands of the player.

    I’m playing the Halo4 campaign, so we’ll use that as a counter-point. (Do note, I’ve not played any of the other Halo games previously, so I don’t really know any of the stakes.) The player has little-to-no input on things. See a waypoint marker? Go there. Shoot stuff in between. Then story stuff will happen, and you’ll get a new waypoint marker. Repeat. Does anything make sense to the player? It doesn’t matter! Just move to the next waypoint and survive and/or shoot everything in your way.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      *shrug* the toolbox is different. In Halo your toolbox is essentially your weapon set and some equipment, and that’s it.

      1. Jeff says:

        I disagree. A toolbox implies multiple tools, as in multiple methods to get past a problem – such as fight past, sneak past, or talk past.

        Having only one method is only having one tool. Which is not to say that I don’t enjoy games that are basically like watching a movie where I aim the protagonist’s gun.

        1. Aldowyn says:

          different tools – grenade, gun, melee, shield… there’s lots of different tactics. It’s just a much more specialized toolbelt :P

    2. Nyctef says:

      Halo 4’s actually an interesting case, because it lampshades/deconstructs/whatever this pretty heavily. There’s several points where Cortana will say “We need to do X and Y because interesting thing Z” will happen and MC basically says “Give me a waypoint and things to shoot”. The game ends up basically saying that, ironically, Cortana is the more human of the pair.

      Bulletstorm is also an interesting case. In the intro sequence, your character is basically a drunken asshole who is actively distasteful to play. The rest of the game is basically his redemption.

      1. Eruanno says:

        I wish they had built more upon the intro of Halo 4 where the interviewer talks about the Spartans showing sociopathic tendencies and asks Dr. Halsey “Do you believe the Master Chief succeeded because he was, at his core, broken?”

        And then we go shooting aliens in space. Again. Damn it.

  12. X2Eliah says:

    On the subject of “this is part of the point of the setting: The apocalypse makes monsters of us all.”, I cannot express enough how damn tired I am of this zombie-apocalypse supertrope. I don’t even care if it is realistic or not, I just *loathe* games/books/moviestvshows that have the premise of “zombie apocalypse, we follow a group of people who bicker and hamper each other, oh and some die to zombyitis”0 I don’t know how much of WD game’s characters die and to what causes, but I bet you that there’s at least one “BIG DRAMA MOMENT” when [generic follower character] contracts [zombiebite/zombiespit/zombiebrain] and [isLeft/isMercifullyKilled] while the audience/player is supposed to shed tears. I am so fed up with that trope, and the entire subgenre of Zombie Media – especially where it is the aforementioned “focus on a group of assholes/idiots” – that I can’t even imagine playing and enjoying any zombie game.
    I’m sure WD has great writing and whatever. I will watch the SW season, becuase so far I am liking it. But I don’t see this as a good game *for me*, because screw zombies.

    1. swenson says:

      I think Left 4 Dead does pretty well with this, actually. You’ve got a strange group of characters that are forced together by circumstances. There’s some definite conflict between the characters. And yet I think there’s a real sense of a bond between them, that they recognize they need each other and grow very close. Also they’re all immune, so we get to avoid the same old “X IS INFECTED O NOES” storyline.

      And this bond is shown through occasional random lines in combat and a couple of cinematics (and the comics, but the bonds are clear even without that). Not bad.

      1. X2Eliah says:

        True. It still has the ‘zombie apocalypse’ and ‘a group of people trying to survive/defeat/escape from zombies’, so that’s still not a game I’d praise.

        1. swenson says:

          I’m curious about that, though. From your original comment, it sounded like what you disliked was specifically the “group of bickering idiots” trope, which Left 4 Dead avoids. But you dislike zombie-related material in general, then? Or is it that the “group of bickering idiots” zombie material has ruined everything else for you?

          1. X2Eliah says:

            Bit of both, I suppose.

            1. Wedge says:

              As sick to death as I am of Zombie stuff, I give L4D a pass because the zombies aren’t so much the point as they are a backdrop to justify some really cool, unique gameplay. And, as others point out, they took pains to avoid the most annoying and overplayed zombie tropes when making it.

      2. Jeff says:

        Left4Dead feels like a more “realistic” depiction of what would happen to me. Sure people may disagree and bicker, but at the end of the day, you’re more likely to survive with an extra gun (so to speak) on your side, and the desire to survive is overwhelmingly strong.

        When threatened by a foreign enemy, even a Republican and a Democrat will band together to fight back.

        1. I don’t want to get into specifics about politics and what have you as that’s verboten here, but a great many things that went on after 9/11 disabused me of the “we must all put aside our differences to do the right thing” idea so often used in fiction.

          It made the old Outer Limits episode, “The Architects of Fear” (as well as the ending of the Watchmen comic) seem childishly naive.

          1. SharpeRifle says:

            I think the willingness of people to set aside differences goes up the more direct the threat is (or seems).

            And politicians never count. 8-P

            1. Thomas says:

              I can’t find the appropriate articles but I believe there has been a lot of research into this (particularly by the military) and I think the answer (although greatly lessened by lack of ability to find research) is that it really depends. A lot of human interaction is degraded by crisis situation, rates of drug abuse and alcoholism are unsurprisingly often higher amongst soldiers, I’ve seen the Bay of Pigs invasion put down to unfavourable emerging groupthink from people under pressure. So I think you can end up with people who will bind together in a crisis and you can end up with people who can’t handle it and start picking petty arguments with each other.

              Overall I’m favouring the petty arguments/fights side of it. Momentary pressure can bind people together but I feel like constant pressure is going to make people snap at each other. I think marriages often degrade during periods when life is stressful

              1. SharpeRifle says:

                Individuals will of course vary.

                But for the most part if the threat is more…esoteric the more likely people are to argue(the Bay of Pigs example or more recently the Fiscal Crisi in multiple countries).

                The more direct the threat is (troops are storming the town right now, zombies are attacking us) the more likely people are going to respond without consideration.

                Course the more of a rear end you are the more likely people are to want to hang you out to dry….Larry I’m apparently looking at you.

                (have’nt played TWD or watched the videos….sorry got no interest in Choose Your Own Adventure since I was 8)

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      “but I bet you that there's at least one “BIG DRAMA MOMENT” when [generic follower character] contracts [zombiebite/zombiespit/zombiebrain] and [isLeft/isMercifullyKilled] while the audience/player is supposed to shed tears.”

      Funny you say that,because (slight spoilers,but if you dont want to play it,read on):the two instances where this does happen,you wait to the very end(the person is seconds from chomping everyone)to actually kill them off.And in fact,the second time it happens,you dont even have to do the did,you can just leave the person to become a zombie.And those scene work.But,youll see why in spoiler warning season 10:episode….yeah,I said Ill stop the joke,so there.

    3. krellen says:

      I’m putting this in spoilers for the benefit of everyone else, but since you don’t care, Eliah, I’m assuming you’ll read it.

      The only people to survive the game to the end are the ones that are not cynical assholes who lose their humanity and turn into monsters. They’re good-hearted people doing their best to survive and helping others along the way at every turn.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        (MAJOR Ep 5 spoilers) I don’t think there’s a single person in the group that would qualify as losing their humanity. Not like Crawford. Larry was the closest, but he died before really getting a chance to prove any loyalty. Kenny started out that way, but he actually became LESS so as time went on, at least for me, and eventually died protecting someone else – as did Doug (in my playthrough), Ben, Chuck, and probably quite a few others I’m not thinking of atm.

        My point is of course the ones that survived are decent people – they’re pretty much ALL essentially decent people. And there’s some obvious clues that Christa and Omid (the only surviving adults) avoided people pretty devoutly before meeting the player’s group, so the ‘helping each other along the way at every turn’ doesn’t really work for them.

        1. krellen says:

          Christa alludes heavily to the fact that she and Omid have helped out and traveled with other people before, but that they never stayed with them, which is very different from avoiding them altogether.

          1. Thomas says:

            Really? I didn’t get that impression. I thought it was out and out avoidance. Christa wasn’t a big fan of helping your people out at all. Basically just got overridden by brother and she wanted to help out Clementime

            1. krellen says:

              Omid is her husband, not her brother. And at the moment you meet her, she has only recently learned about a further complication, namely her pregnancy. She doesn’t fight Omid very hard on the subject, and is outright eager to help Lee find Clementine at the end of Episode 4/opening of Episode 5.

              In fact, if you hide the bite and go alone, once you hook back up with the group she exclaims “you idiot, we would have gone with you!” If you show the bite, going alone isn’t an option – Christa will not let you go alone if you might die on the way.

              1. Thomas says:

                I knew about both the marriage and the pregnancy (my game bugged out here I think. I’d guessed the pregnancy thing a very long time ago (women appears to be weak and is hiding it for unknown reasons? =D That’s as clear as a man coughing in a Western) but never got her to reveal it. Yet in the ending scenes with them they were talking as though it was out in the open), for some reason I find it hard to stick in my head and keep slipping into thinking brother and sister.

                I thought Clem was an exception and the only reason Christie actually endded up helping and her helping in the end was the result of a character arc where she started to trust people more. Even then, I never received the impression that she was about to start meeting up with other people. I thought avoiding cities was because she didn’t trust people and wasn’t willing to risk interaction

      2. Shamus says:

        Interesting. I never noticed that.

  13. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Off topic,site stuff:

    Shamus,I dont think your anti slowness measures worked.For me (serbia,balkans,southeast of europe;using opera) the site not only is still slow,but it is giving me grief when I am posting comments(fails to load about 2 times out of 3).The rest of the web works fine,so the problem isnt in my connection with it,but somewhere between me and twentysided specifically.

    1. X2Eliah says:

      Yeah, the site’s still as slow as it was. Not having any actual fail-to-load cases though, it’s pretty reliable…. but slow.

      1. Dragomok says:

        Poland here, both site and RSS are a bit slow here.

      2. Deadyawn says:

        Yeah, same here and I’m in Australia so make of that what you will.

    2. Nick says:

      Ditto for the UK

  14. Daemian Lucifer says:

    “Movies aren't books and games aren't movies, even though they all tell stories. You have to know how to use the medium.”

    If only the developers realized that.I have a question for everyone who knows movie history:How long did it take the medium to stop being made like a book shown through pictures?

    1. swenson says:

      Interesting you should mention that. I saw the earliest movie version of The Wizard of Oz (made in 1910!), and in my opinion, it’s basically incomprehensible if you didn’t already know the story (or were willing to fill in a LOT of gaps).

      1. Games are about interaction and choices, movies and books can never get that.

        Now combine a good story and sensible plot, logical interaction and meaningful choices, and you have an experience that is above and beyond any other medium.

        If somebody says that games are not art, tell them that they are wrong and that games are indeed art as there are almost nobody in the world capable of truly mastering the art of games. Most of the games out there are just paychecks rather than art, and are thus time and budget bound. The majority of art that I’ve seen have not been time nor budget bound; nor always planned as art intentionally.

        1. Isy says:

          Someone – I forget who, but they were someone respectable and smart (so I’ll just fill in Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore or something) – noted that when you decide on a medium for your story, you need to understand one thing: what can this medium do for you that another medium cannot do better?

          The answer, for games, is interactivity and immersion, and I think if you look at games that people call “art” (I’ll name Braid, Bastion, and Shadow of the Colossus just off the top of my head) you’ll find they master that, and furthermore that it would be impossible to reproduce them in another medium. Compare it with Grand Theft Auto 4, which had a great story but would have been better as a TV show.

          To be fair, improving technology helps. It is hard to program an interactive world that takes your actions into account, and it is really hard to write for a game protagonist, because if they screw up the player is much faster to get frustrated with it.

          1. swenson says:

            Yeah, can you imagine Braid as a movie? It’d be… well, it’d be boring. And it wouldn’t work at all. Bastion has more of a story, I guess you could make it work, but… meh. It just wouldn’t have the same impact at all. Actually being the driving force of change in a game, even if it’s just the illusion of choice, is a very powerful thing. Like Spec Ops, the ending, the realization that you’ve been playing as someone going crazy and hallucinating, not to mention that you’ve done horrible things to innocents would not be anywhere near as effective if you hadn’t been controlling the main character personally.

            1. Isy says:

              The scene in Bastion where you rescue Zulf the second time would not have any impact at all in a movie, IMO. I’d even say it’s expected in a movie. But it’s probably the strongest point of the game.

              However, SpecOps’ revelation was done in a movie via Fight Club (Shamus even uses the analogy in his review) and it was very powerful to the people who saw it. I think the more powerful “game” moments are the ones where you are given a choice, but don’t know about it, such as the bit at the end where you can fire into a crowd of civilians, or into the air, while everyone is screaming and pressuring you. That’s something a movie won’t convey as well – though I’m certain a movie can convey it.

        2. Deadyawn says:

          I agree and frankly that’s what makes the walking dead as good as it is. After some experimentation it becomes quite clear that you don’t have a whole lot of control over the narrative but your choices actually do matter, not because of the outcome, not necessarily at least, but because you have to make that decision and live with it. The whole story becomes that much more potent and relevant to the player because its now their story impacted by their own decisions. This is an effect that is completely impossible to achieve without interactivity which is a feature unique to video games as far as narrative media is concerned.

          Of course, a game where your choices can have many multiple branching effects based on a wide variety of variables would be better but right now that kind of complexity just isn’t feasible. Maybe one day.

      2. StashAugustine says:

        So Harry Potter?

        1. Aldowyn says:

          I honestly can not objectively contest that statement. Seven was pretty bad because of lack of setup in six, but the rest seemed pretty clear to me. Of course, I’ve read the books at least half a dozen times. :/

    2. Hitchmeister says:

      I don’t know enough to give a really authoritative answer. But many early movies, once they got around to actual stories and not just the novelty of something moving, were basically point a camera at a stage play, which had been around for centuries. Now, apparently, it took quite a while for stage drama to get around to actually having the characters on stage act out the bulk of the story rather than having an on stage narrator tell the story with a few actors as visual aids. Because before that you just had a story teller all by himself next to a campfire.

    3. Shamus says:

      I remember a lot of early movies were basically made as stage plays that were filmed. This was particularly true of musicals. I gather that one of the big breakthroughs of Citizen Kane and Metropolis is that they abandoned “stage thinking” and were doing stuff that just wasn’t possible without a camera.

      Those old “stage movies” are dull for me to watch. I hope “movie games” are viewed similarly someday. And I hope that happens before I get too much older.

      1. krellen says:

        Because I kind of feel guilty about it, this is a shameful, not shameless, plug, but I wrote about this very thing on my blog a while back. Citizen Kane was sort of the breaking point that defined what differentiated film from stage, and that, not some nascent glory inherent to its story, is why Citizen Kane is Citizen Kane.

        The Walking Dead might be coming pretty close to defining what a story-driven video game should be like.

        1. Aldowyn says:

          I’d agree on that last statement.

          Games are unique due to their interactivity, and to make a story that NEEDS to be a game it HAS to capitalize on that. TWD the game focuses on making decisions in the heat of the moment and doing terrible things in the name of survival – both of those are about actively DOING. Neither of those feel right unless they feel realistic, because if they aren’t realistic then they aren’t relatable.

          The Walking Dead does a good job of this because the characters are extremely well written and most of the actual actions don’t seem fundamentally implausible like ‘movie games’, so they are things that you could somewhat see yourself doing.

          So, basically, video games differentiate themselves from other media because the PLAYER commits the act. TWD wouldn’t work AS well without that, I think (although you could easily relate to an acted Lee following a script, I think)

          Hmm. Some of that may have been completely wrong. *shrug*

          One question: What advantages for storytelling does a movie have that a game does not?

          1. krellen says:

            Primarily tighter control and focus. Also a greater ability to do more with a lesser budget, since the filmmaker controls where the camera is pointed and what actions the characters take and doesn’t have to account for deviance from the story.

          2. lurkey says:

            Also actors. Most of them emote incomparably better than a cluster of pixels (as with everything, there are exceptions) and games should stop with photo”realism” or even emphasis on pixel people emoting until technology gets better…much, much better. From what I saw so far, TWD more or less pulls it off and I agree with Shamus it’s because of stylized, “painted” people, but things like this are way more common.

          3. guy says:

            Most obviously, people playing a game expect gameplay. A lot of gameplay. The entire Lord of the Rings extended edition trilogy back-to-back is only twelve hours or so. People complain when a game has less than ten. Spending ten hours of running time on a single linear story thread at the same time as really compelling gameplay is more-or-less impossible. Sure, HL2 gets a lot of praise for its story-gameplay integration, but in most segments the story is spread kind of thin. Ravenholm is pretty much: “Gordon Freemen emerges in a ruined town full of zombies and deathtraps. He proceeds to trigger a lot of deathtraps and shoot a lot of zombies or bludgeon them to death with heavy objects, and eventually meets Father Grigori, the man who set the traps. Gordon recieves a shotgun and instructions to go to the edge of town, and encounters some new kinds of zombies. He gets to the edge of town, shoots more zombies, goes through the cemetary with Father Grigori and shoots more zombies, then enters a mineshaft.”

            That’s enough story for a few hours of gameplay, but it’d start to drag in other media. Now, imagine that the story was implemented poorly and you had to spend a few hours doing something confusing and nonsensical.

            Also, movies do not need to deal with software glitches, which can totally kill the mood.

            Oh, and CGI can tie up several terabytes of RAM on a giant server farm, while games have to do some of their rendering on the fly. While Serious Story People like to dismiss CGI as meaningless flash, certain types of story require lots of special effects because they’re about spaceships or wizard duels or something, and if the special effects aren’t high-quality (e.g. visible wires on actors) the audience will burst out laughing during dramatic scenes.

      2. X2Eliah says:

        Best stage movie example I can think of – Dune. I just don’t get it, it’s an utterly terrible movie and yet is so often praised.. for what? It’s just a theatre play on camera!

    4. Urs says:

      Well, you have about 2500+ years of stage plays preceeding cinema. And like others said, that’s what movies originally emulated. I’d say, THE first movie defining the ultimate departure from filmed plays was, no, not Citizen Kane, sorry Krellen and greetings from the Old World ;), but Battleship Potemkin, playing with montage, juxtaposition and such and really digging deep into the possibilities of camera work and editing.

    5. wererogue says:

      I can’t really get behind this.

      Games took *decades* to make any workable experiments with cinematic narrative. They simply couldn’t do it before, any more that flip-book comic panels. Gameplay alone drove the industry forward.

      Nowadays, we have the power and the talent in the industry to be able to take an in-game character and seamlessly run them through a cinematic sequence, and it’s a precious tool.

      It bewilders me that so many critically think of cinematic sequences as a blight upon gaming – the mainstream audience don’t seem to agree. Maybe a shift in terminology is needed, because it looks to me like “stories where you get to play around with the main character and, through that, feel a unique ownership” are here to stay.

      I agree that some games don’t find the right balance – particularly the ones that really have an interesting mechanic to sell. But, to be honest, I wonder if there isn’t even a market space for games with *less* interaction nowadays. Interactive movies died in the 90s – but they didn’t look like real movies back then, either, and there weren’t so many people that knew how to use a controller.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        Actually, traditional gameplay puts some pretty severe limits on storytelling because you’re just necessarily limited in what the protagonist can do. Not so with something like TWD or Heavy Rain or something like that – which, IMO, makes it much easier to make a realistic seeming story.

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        But see the thing is that cutscenes can be done without wrenching the controls from the player.Half life showed us that decade ago.That scene where you exit a building and see the alien ship bomb the soldiers is way better than in call of battlefield X where you lose control simply to see something like that.Heck,the part in modern warfare 1 where you die becuase of the nuke was sort of a cutscene,but you still were controlling the guy.They couldve done it just by giving you a third person view with your guy walking out of the wreckage and dying,but it wouldnt be nearly as good that way.

        However,thats not exactly what I was complaining about.Cutsenes arent bad per say.They are bad when they clash with the gameplay.I like prototype,but I still think its ridiculous that you can mow through hundreds of people in a blink of an eye,and then cutscene comes where mercer is thinking how killing that one dude was really tough for him.Yeah,right.

        The story of a game has to be told through its gameplay.Even if said gameplay is really minimalistic,and a bunch of cutscenes interspersed with quick time events.Heck,walking dead has its fair shere of cutscenes,but they dont clash with what you are able to do in gameplay.Youll never have lee choke a walker to death with a quick time event,only to get a cutscene of him doing the exact same thing,only failing.

        1. Thomas says:

          I think it’s important that it should be a decision rather than going either way. I’m still not convinced by Half Life style cutscenes are better in general. It clearly works for a lot of people but I can’t retain attention and just find it weird the way people talk into space whilst you stand on their desk hitting their equipment with a crowbar. I’m quite bad at being able to make my character behave realistically in cutscenes even when I do have attention. Even in Assassins Creed where they limit your ability to control the protagonist, I still can’t wait for the bit where they remove control completely and you can see a nicer camera angle.

          So I guess where it should be is that the designer should always be thinking about the amount of control the player has and what it should mean without automatically deciding either way

      3. Asimech says:

        Cutscenes are a tool, but tools can be over- and misused. And when a tool is misused often enough it can become unusable. Cutscenes have been, and are being, abused so badly that they’re very quickly becoming something that will automatically kick the majority out of the experience. When this happens they will cease to be a valid tool.

        When people are decrying against cutscenes it’s because of the mis- and overuse of cutscenes. It’s no different from people complaining about a cliché. Think about if every movie (still) used montages a lot and badly. It’s a valid cinematic technique, but people would be quite right in complaining about it and using it in a serious production would be a bad idea because of the negative associations people would have with it.

        Which in turn is a natural aspect of art & entertainment, since neither exists in a vacuum.

  15. Hitchmeister says:

    I’m going to pretend the line about Alan Wake throwing his batteries away because they’re too heavy is a dig at Josh and his incinerator, because that makes me happy.

  16. burningdragoon says:

    “give the main character a sense of duty and call it a day” *snicker*

    Man I really was soured by the Prince of Persia ’08 ending. Especially since it was not just invalidating the entire game, but also because it was a cliffhanger addressed by DLC. It may be subversive, but I don’t accept “well you could have turned the game off” type reasoning as good. Especially because of how little narrative control you have in that game, or games where the player being the main character isn’t a very strong factor. Specs Ops gave a few chance to buck the programming (of players do just do what they’re told). PoP said “the game’s not over until you undo everything.” If you had the in-game option to just leave things how they were, that would have been very cool though.

    1. Isy says:

      I second all of that. I was particularly soured by what felt like a “we’re not giving you a real game. Buy our sequel” moment. I came to terms to it by deciding, “Hey, no. Actually your ending works just fine, if I’m willing to take a bittersweet/downer ending. And I think I am.”

      But I too would have appreciated an option to just walk away – I think it would have solved most the issue. The problem is the climax only works if you really cared for Elika as much as the not-but-might-be-Prince does. They’re gambling on that, kind of like Miranda, it doesn’t necessarily pay off (though it certainly didn’t backfire as spectacularly as Miranda).

      1. burningdragoon says:

        Ubisoft is really good at fat middle finger cliffhangers apparently. Some of the Prince of Persia games and every single Assassin’s Creed (unless 3 doesn’t) game practically end saying “HA! See you next time!”

        1. Aldowyn says:

          Nope, AC3 pretty much qualifies there too. Not that I particularly CARE. (Interesting note: It’s interesting, but I don’t really CARE. That’s a huge distinction after playing TWD)

  17. Spammy says:

    On the idea of the player character doing things that the player doesn’t tell them to, that was a major, major problem I had with Far Cry 2 when compared to Half-Life 2.

    Both games have dead silent protagonists, so you don’t really know anything about their motivations. Except, gordon Freeman’s motivations are pretty understandable. You’re fighting the Combine, because just from the level in the train station you can tell how messed up things are. You’re working with Barney and Eli and the rest of the Resistance because they’re easy to get along with and want to work with you. I never really felt myself playing Half-Life 2 and wondering, “Why is Gordon doing this?”

    In contrast, “Why the hell am I doing this?” was my thought everytime I got a mission in Far Cry 2. You’re a Western mercenary in an African civil war (One of the worst possible people in one of the worst possible situations)and you’re playing both sides against each other, because… Hell if I know. I don’t know anything about the two factions besides what their acronyms are (Don’t even know what they stand for), why I’m trying to play both sides against each other, or why I’m not either getting the hell out of this country or trying to find the Jackal. Just one of the (many) problems Far Cry 2 has, is that the character is making decisions that the player doesn’t get to sit in on and can’t understand.

    1. Jeff says:

      I could have sworn there were scenes where the camera panned out to show your character and have him talking on a radio.

      Maybe I’m thinking of Far Cry 1, since I picture him sneaking through the jungle in a bright red Hawaiian shirt.

      1. Spammy says:

        Nope, Far Cry 2 is all first person all the time, like Half-Life 2. With an equally silent protagonist. Making so many more strange and/or bad decisions. And I don’t necessarily mind that my character is being an amoral asshole playing the two sides against each other, what I mind is never being in on why. If I can’t see a good reason, then I have to assume there is no good reason, so it then pisses me off that I have to keep doing it because the plot demands it.

  18. Deadpool says:

    I know this isn’t your style, but you know what games did this really well? Persona 3 and 4.

    Persona 3 was a game I played with my roomate. Thanks to scheduling differences and the length of the game (100+ hours on the clock. Not a lot of reloading, but some) it took us about 3 months.

    And through all of it, I was never bored, never fatigued, never lost in the story.

    This is in large part because of how the game was framed. The game plays out the main character’s life for a year. He goes to school, hangs out with his friends, gets part time job, etc. Every day you are given a set amount of actions you can take and every day you have slightly different options (based on day of the week, and holidays, etc). Every full moon a big event happens, a story dungeon and a boss. In between these, the player does whatever he wants.

    It’s a game of balance. You can’t do everything every day, so you have to pick and choose. You have to go dungeon crawling to gain levels and new Persona, but you need to build your social links (i.e. hang out with friends) to be able to equip and fuse more powerful Persona. You need to study and build your social stats (Courage, Intelligence, etc) so you can have better relationships for more Persona. You need part time jobs to have money to buy new weapons and armor for yourself and your party members (who contribute NOTHING to the war effort btw… cheapstakes).

    The end result is that the story STRETCHES but nothing feels worthless or pointless or stupid. And the length of the game allows them to do something that no movie or book has ever managed to do to me: Proper foreshadowing.

    In the first hour of the game, the big secret and reveal is done to you. You won’t notice because you’re not informed yet. 80 hours later, when you’ve all but forgotten that scene, the game will explain it to you and you will kick yourself for not getting it at first.

    No movie could do that because I’m not gonna forget that scene in two hours. It will nag at me “what does it MEAN?!?” and I’ll figure it out long before the movie tells me because I’m looking for the hints.

    The possible length of a game gives writers the opportunity to pull off things movies couldn’t get away with. The trick is keeping the player interested and invested enough to CARE… And it is HARD.

    1. SougoXIII says:

      The problem with P3 and 4 is that they heavily encourage efficiency. If you want the best personas, you going to have to work your arse off maxing those s.link with your face is glue to a guide. Even if you don’t care about the s.links and just want to focus on the story, you’ll end up skipping the days until the next plot point happens making everything in between boring and pointless fillers. Especially in P4 where you can rescue some one as soon as possible but still have to wait until a certain day for them to ‘recover.’

    2. Daimbert says:

      I agree, but I tend to hate the dungeon parts of Persona 3 and try to get through them as quickly as possible because they’re a bit disconnected from the story. Persona 4 did it better in my opinion because the story elements are woven into the dungeon sequences, and so what you’re doing is trying to get to the next point so that you can see the story progress. That makes it, to me, far more interesting.

      I don’t think it takes me quite that long per game, but I’ve played the two of them (including FES) about 500 – 600 hours total, and can keep coming back because of how it lets you run your character the way you want WITHOUT letting you really impact the story. I recently picked up the Vita version of Persona 4 and then the PSP version of Persona 3 and am playing with the female protagonist, and the latter, at least, really does feel fresh even though it’s essentially the same game.

    3. Cupcaeks says:

      Yes! I absolutely LOVED those two games, despite not really liking JRPGS in general. The visual-novel-esque bits and the time frame of the story did something that I don’t think would be possible in any other medium: It made me feel like I had genuinely forged the relationships that I had with these characters, that I had really gotten to know who they were. Aside from some grindy dungeon action and the sidequests linked to that aspect, nothing I was doing felt like a waste of time, and I think it was because I found myself actually caring about the fates of these fake people. It was a rare case for me of gameplay actions that seemed fully informed by the narrative and vice versa.

    4. Kdansky says:

      Persona 4 only made one mistake: It forced you to think about “going back to the save point” constantly. It’s like they tried to break your immersion.

      1. Daimbert says:

        It was the entrance, actually, but that made sense because that was where the Velvet Room was and so where you’d merge Personas.

  19. Dan says:

    One of the best games with choices that change the outcome is way of the samurai on the PS, PS2
    If you get the chance to try it, do so

  20. ccesarano says:

    Oddly enough I wasn’t pissed off at the ending of Prince of Persia 2008. I actually enjoyed it, because I liked the idea of a hero making a difficult choice even if it wasn’t practical, and I liked the idea of a not-so-happy ending. In fact, I’m sick of every ending in a video game being “You won! Hurray! Go you!” So when a game comes around that does something different (wink wink) it resonates that much more.

    Not that I dislike all happy endings. I just don’t think every story should have one, and I always respect a risk.

    But I also think that I don’t always want a video game to be about my choice. Sometimes I want the equivalent of, say, The Avengers, only have me play out the action scenes instead. Is this the best use of games narratively? Oh Hell no. But considering Prince of Persia ’08 is clearly a game whose goal is to tell a story and is, on the whole, one giant linear experience, I don’t give two craps. I’ll judge a game trying to use the interactive nature to its maximum potential to its own merits, but something like Prince of Persia ’08? Not really.

    Something I have been wondering, however, is if games need to get over their influence from film and look more to books and television. Video games aren’t short 1.5 to 3 hour experiences. You can’t really tell a story in three acts the same way you can with a film. It might be better to try an approach where you separate one long three-act-structure into several smaller three-act-structures. In other words, each level of a game is a television show episode.

    I know this is literally what Alan Wake was going for, but the big failure is there was no sense of rising action. The action just plateaue’d for a long ass time as you wandered the woods or whatever redneck setting was required, and then suddenly spiked at the end.

    This method won’t work for all games, but I feel like it could help the pacing of a lot of shooters if each level had its own small story that pushed the larger one along, but still had its own sense of calm at the start, the sudden call to action, the gradual rising action as things get more desperate, and then suddenly the big set piece climax where everything is on the line (as opposed to “here’s a set piece just because set pieces are awesome, and now go down some corridors until you reach the next set piece”). Then you wrap everything up, and tie it all into pushing the main story forward.

    Make these smaller, isolated plots focus on individual characters and their role in the story for added effect.

    1. Cupcaeks says:

      I’m bringing up the latest Persona games again, because I think they did what you’re describing very well. The games take place over the course of a school year, and each month is essentially its own mini-arc in which you have a climactic showdown that advances the plot and sees visible character growth up-to and as a result of that action. I’m thinking more Persona 3 here (because crazy stuff happens every full moon), but Persona 4 did it pretty well too.

      1. Thomas says:

        My one gaming desire at the moment is to play Personna 3, I’ve been wanting to play that game since before this console generation existed. They’re releasing Persona 3 FES on the PSN, is that the same thing? (but they haven’t released it for Europe yet :( )

        1. Cupcaeks says:

          Yes, it includes the original Persona 3 campaign plus the expansion. Hope they get it out to Europe soon, it’s really worth a look!

          1. Thomas says:

            Thanks! I will be unbelievably happy, although I might have passed the hype line by this point

  21. Daimbert says:

    “The last thing that kind of stretches the typical game story is the pacing. When Alan Wake arrives somewhere we have a clear goal. Forty-five minutes of murder and easy-but-time-consuming puzzles later, and we've lost all sense of purpose.”

    I think if you’re getting this, then it’s a problem with the combat and action and puzzle sequences … or maybe the story. The combat should be the thing that you’re doing to get to the next story part, and it should flow from the gameplay itself. I can name a number of games that did this well, where you forget about the combat because you’re just doing it to get to the next story element. KotOR 1 and 2, the Personas, the Fatal Frames, and even — for me — TOR generally are games where there’s a lot of combat — perhaps too much in the case of TOR — but if the story is engaging I don’t forget what I’m doing as the combat itself fits into the background. It’s “Let me just clear this out so I can find out what happens next”, and so I don’t really forget it. If you interweave it a bit so that it isn’t quite that long, then it’s even better … but I think that good movies should try to do that, too.

    The big issue with movies is that if the movie is only about an hour and a half long, that long of a sequence means that there’s no time to actually put a story in there. In a longer game, you do have more time and so people expect there to be more of a commitment.

    1. Joshua says:

      And then you have Valve, who through their commentary reveals that they actually care a lot about the pace of the game, and will insert additional exposition and/or puzzles if the player is getting too much combat fatigue, or by spicing up an area if the player seems to be getting bored. It’s like they’re the only ones who playtest their games and pay attention to the responses or something.

      1. Thomas says:

        What they are, are the only company who release commentaries on their games. If you check the cut comment from Bioware it’s clear they playtested KotoR and cut stuff from the beginning for pacing issues (there used to be a section of game inbetween Mission and the Podracing). Heck I was playing Blackwell: Deception which is a one man game (with commentary) and it made it clear that he playtested for pacing as well.

        I mean we know that the people who made that game where you kick people onto Catuses with the ridiculously swearing playtested everything including the colour of destructive barrells. We know that Halo is so extensively playtested they create heatmaps of player deaths and adjust the game so that the deaths occur in properly paced sections. I#m certain this happens for CoD too (actually no. I#m not certain except for the multiplayer. I’m only certain for MW1). I think it’s fair to say that unless you know otherwise, every company playtests this stuff. It’s just only Valve has had the smart idea of actually telling people that

        Whats interesting is that the Walking Dead didn’t have playtesters, it thanks ‘focus groups’ on the credits =D

        1. Shamus says:

          The difference with Valve is that the testing is part of development. They bring people in and have them play very early versions of the game, and they test as they iterate. I gather this is actually pretty unconventional.

          Most companies bring in the testers when the thing is 90% done, and the only changes you can make are bolting on little things. You can’t ,for example, decide to cut an entire character, rethink your approach to a section of the game, or change core mechanics. At least, not without incurring massive costs.

          1. Thomas says:

            Okay I hear your point, but I raise you a link showing that Halo 4 was being playtested whilst they were still prototyping gameplay mechanics and hadn’t even chosen how jumping works
            (1/4 down, title ‘Way Back When’)
            The description of the process is probably clinical enough to make you vomit, but that definitely wasn’t 90% of the game complete.

            SC2’s new multiplayer is being _beta’d_ before they’ve decided which units go in the game and this article is Epic Games (as well as Bungie and Valve) talking about the need to be playtest continuously

            I stopped looking for links at this point because I think it will come off as aggressive if I add more, and also you’ve actually worked on stuff and know people and I’m setting myself up as looking like a fool to a better link or even an authoratitive word. I also learned that Naughty Dog did barely any playtesting on Uncharted 1, but much much more on Uncharted 2. I hope at least that we’d compromise that some other big names apart from Valve clearly do an awful lot of playtesting at lots of points of their games, even if it will turn out that most don’t. (Spore had 393 hours playtesting, Half Life had 400 hours exactly)

            1. Thomas says:

              I’m sorry. You do all this stuff for us and then you have to put up with me being a complete prat to you too, it’s not right and I really am sorry for what I wrote

  22. Kagato says:

    “I've put a game down on Sunday night and not looked at it again until the following Friday. By that time I'd forgotten the important bits of plot and sort of lost my place in the story. In a movie or book you can skip back a scene to get your bearings, but in a game that usually means starting the game over.”

    Totally going on a tangent, but that could be a really awesome feature for a story-driven game.

    When you reload a game save, before the gameplay starts up you get a “Previously, on…” recap, with snippets from game events & cutscenes relevant to the next section of the game. The length of the recap and the amount of material covered could depend on how long it was since you last played.

    Restart within the hour, and you don’t get any recap. Play again within a couple of days and you get scenes relating to recent or upcoming events. If it’s been a week or more, you get a short refresher of all the major plot elements so far.

    1. Klay F. says:

      Darksiders 2 did that, and I really liked that feature.

      1. WJS says:

        I’m pretty sure the Arkham Asylum games did that too. It really does need to be more common.

    2. Somniorum says:

      I do believe, to a *certain* degree this has occasionally been done. I’m sure there’s a better example of it, but… Spec Ops would, when on the loading screen, often give a quick recap about what you were doing. This could be rather useful, I found, at points where I’d been doing rather poorly, had been fighting (and dying) for some time which lead to that nigh-inevitable memory loss.

      1. Thomas says:

        FFXIII tried to do that, but one the snippets were lame and 2 if the game loaded I think they didn’t let you finish reading them =D

        1. Olly says:

          Despite otherwise being a fairly terrible game, Alone in the Dark did just this on loading a save. It would provide a recap of all of the important story points leading up to where you were now in a short cinematic.

  23. Anachronist says:

    After watching the videos, I reiterate what I said in my comment to the first installment of this series: It looks like one of those old Infocom adventure games, only with audio and much better graphics. I mean, if Infocom was still around, I imagine their games would have evolved to look something like this.

    I enjoyed those games. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was particularly devious because the game deliberately lied to you about stuff like objects in the room (“Seriously, there’s nothing at all of interest here”) unless you repeated your command a few times to get your “guide” to cough up useful information. I could be wrong, but I don’t know of any game since then in which deliberately misleading the player is part of the fun.

    Take one of these games, give it better graphics, as well as animation and sound, and make it real time, get rid of the sentence parsing and provide a menu of conversation choices, and you get something like The Walking Dead. I think that’s pretty cool.

  24. Jeysie says:

    Maybe it’s because I grew up playing adventure games and Eastern RPGs that had characters with defined personalities, but the disconnect between what makes sense to do and what the character can do never bothered me much.

    When your main character is a womanizing layabout, a ditzy janitor, a genuine Prince Charming, a jaded retired astronaut, a snarky Grim Reaper, a bumbling wannabe pirate, a down-and-out after-the-end private detective… well, the point is, of course they’re not always going to do what you would do, since they don’t have your personality. It’s instead your job to be someone else for a little while and think like them and come up with what they would do.

    This is a lot harder to pull off in genres like FPSes and Western RPGs because the main character is obviously usually meant to be more of a player avatar much of the time than their own distinct character. As such, the fact that you can’t do certain things certain ways becomes a lot more glaring.

  25. Porecomesis says:

    I always felt that, in dire times, we more help our allies. I mean, hell, soldiers get ridiculously attached to robots of all things now. I can understand paranoia but I believe our innate desire to help others trumps that.

  26. ima420r says:

    “TV Tropes talks about the idiot ball”

    You had to link to TVtropes… don’t you know the dangers of that?! Not for you, of course, but for us readers. 75 minutes later I am posting this comment.

  27. John the Savage says:

    “I'm sure you can make a game where the player is in conflict with their own avatar, but it would probably be some indie thought experiment game, or some deconstruction like Spec Ops.”

    They made that a decade ago. It was called “Metal Gear Solid 2”. Really flew under the radar; most people were too outraged to notice the finer points of how it deconstructs a sequel, the difference between player goals and avatar goals, and a lot of other things. Somebody wrote a terrific formal analysis here.

  28. Phantos says:

    That said, a couple of the characters do seem to come from the TV show and are insufferably awful people. Yes, I realize that this is part of the point of the setting: The apocalypse makes monsters of us all. Perhaps it's my latent optimism showing, but I like to think that adversity tends to amplify our existing personalities and good people can shine in those circumstances.

    I don’t think that’s optimism. I think optimism is loving people even when they screw up, or say or do selfish or stupid things.

    Which might be why I come close to loving both the show and the game. And I’m a pessimist, so… yeah.

    1. Shamus says:

      You missed the point. The optimism part is “I don’t think people will turn THIS bad.” Or, “I reject the notion that only the very worst people will survive.”

      Which explains why you, a pessimist, like the show and I don’t. It’s revealing to you reality that seems plausible to you.

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