Okay, we looked at the mechanics behind horror in the prior post [LINK]here, and now we’ll look at the story and setting that makes horror truly possible.
Horror in games is not a simple concept. Sure, there’s jump scares, but anyone that can produce a loud noise and have something suddenly appear on screen is able to create a jump scare. Games have an advantage over other media in that they can immerse you in a world with mechanics that govern how things function, ambience and atmosphere that surround you as part of the setting, and a story that can shape the way you perceive everything you see.
I like things that deeply disturb me, so I’ll do my best to break down what aspects of a game make that happen.
I love Persona. I’ve played 1, half of 2 (or 1 of 2 of 2? there’s no good way to describe that quickly), and 3. I hear 4 is the best, but it’s still on the list at the moment. I love the idea of Shin Megami Tensei (I actually read a fan translation of the first two Digital Devil light novels before I ever played any of the SMT mainline or Persona sereis), though at this point I’ve only played the first one and part of the fourth. In spite of my love for brutal RPGs (I’m working on EarthBound Zero on my WiiU) and the SMT franchise, I just can’t keep going on SMT IV. There’s fun tension, and then there’s tension in SMT IV. What makes the difference between the two?
My hard drive died last week (as of the writing of this – it could have been a few weeks ago by the time this is posted). It was a slow build up and a sudden burnout. I didn’t really have any indication things were wrong until I shut down explorer and it didn’t restart. This would have been resolved by a reset, but that reset never came. That would have been resolved by something, and so would have the next problem, but ultimately, it was quite dead.
I’ve been thinking a lot about game preservation lately. The incident with Silent Hills PT got me thinking, and that got me reading. I quickly became aware that this was a much bigger issue than a single demo I’d never get to experience – video games are engaged in a losing battle against the very progress that brings about new video games. As a lover of retro games, that’s a pretty serious problem.
At this point, few console game players have avoided playing a Bioware RPG. Between the incredibly popular Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, the also incredibly popular Mass Effect series, or the one that no one seems to talk about anymore Jade Empire, there’s usually at least one of them that someone plays. The morality systems and the choices surrounding them are well known and much discussed, but, well, painfully simplistic.
They break down choices into a simple black and white, good and evil dichotomy, but anyone that’s actually been out in the real world is aware that things are far from so simple. What benefits one can easily harm others, and the angles on that are just waiting to be explored. Not to mention choices that could change the actual game flow, instead of just the flavor. It’s time to look at what Bioware has done (and all of the copycats to follow) and what can be done in the future.
I had heard Fury Road was a fantastic film. With the exception of some genuinely absurd complaints, I heard exclusively good things. As a somewhat fan of Mad Max (the old trilogy is fun enough) and a somewhat fan of action films in general, I wasn’t terribly worried about getting to see it in theatres. I have a one and a half year old daughter, and while she’s amazing, she makes it very hard to go see films (which I tend to drag my feet on going to see in the theatre when I could just watch it at home in comfort later). In spite of my lack of interest in catching it quickly and my daughter keeping me quite busy, the stars aligned and my lovely wife and I were able to go watch the film on the glorious big screen.
The movie was brilliant. I knew half of why within fifteen minutes at the start. The other half I didn’t realize until after it was over and we were on our way home. Both halves are very important to talk about. So lets do that.
There’s a lot of ways that story can be conveyed within a game. Some games use mechanics to tell us about the characters and the world (the abilities available to characters based on class in an RPG, or the way some objects are placed in a Metroid title). Some games use an impressive amount of text to convey highly detailed stories (the second half of Xenogears is a perfect example of tell instead of show).
Other games contain such highly complex and detailed systems that they don’t inherently tell a story: they allow one to emerge naturally from the events that occur as a result of available interactions. You know, they don’t even need incredibly detailed systems to accomplish this: they need systems that are just detailed enough to allow unique playthrough experiences.
How about we take a little look at both types (as they are and in relation to each other)?
Some thoughts on what it’s been like disengaging from popular culture in general, and how it feels now trying to get back in the loop with current games.
It’s important to note that I love jrpgs. They are likely my favorite genre in spite of their issues, and going by sheer number of hours, they are my home in the world of video games. That being said, there are issues, and places where jrpgs include game mechanics that are (to me, at least) just plain unfun. So lets talk about one of those mechanics: random encounters.