Monday, November 14, 2011

open world video games suck

been awhile, but link times at work are absurdo-slow, and thus i cant get anything done. seriously it took me longer to build my main executable than it did to leave the building, go to the salad place, have them build me a wrap, and walk back. today is clearly a lost cause.

so! Gabe has a really good point:

he laments that, basically, when games present you with a choice, it is as much about forcing you to choose what _not_ to experience as it is anything else. as neo says, the problem is choice. and this for me is a huge problem, because i'm clearly not getting "everything" out of the game. which is fine, i clearly dont get "everything" out of any media, but games are extremely upfront about it. they smack you in the face with a "hey, this right here? this is you missing out on something. deal with it". and there's no way in hell i'm going to invest the time to re-play vast sections of the game just to do a few things differently - diminishing returns make that clearly not worth my time.

at a broader level, letting players choose how aspects of the narrative play out is akin to writing a choose-your-own adventure book, instead of a novel. it completely destroys any semblance of pacing, narrative cohesion, or character that may otherwise have been established. so as far as i'm concerned you can effectively toss the story out of a game like Skyrim before you even start. and once you've done that, you have this grand, huge world to explore... and no reason to explore it. sure, there's probably some giant boss dragon or demon or something somewhere, and you may have to go through a lot of plot/quests to get there. but if no one in the world cares if you piss off hundreds of hours in an NPC's basement, why the hell should you bother? i mean games have an extreme potential for narrative art, because of the inherently deep level of interaction and immersion the player has by being in control. and players should be in control, and should have lots and lots of options - about HOW to achieve the narrative goals of the plot (ie, save the world). they should be able to use their sword or their axe or magic or items or whatever they want. but they should not, NOT, have any choice about what goals to set. it'd be like letting the audience decide in the middle of Hamlet to bail out on this depressing mopey dude and go see what Fortinbras is doing. it may seem like a cool idea, but its really going to have an extremely destructive effect on the play as a piece of narrative art.

a few other rants: you cant do "anything" in these games. and honestly the more they try to let you do, the more the 4th wall shows when you can't do something. i have never played an open world or sandbox game that actually felt like it existed without the player character - so long as NPCs' are asking you to clear out their basement for you... hell so long as they're asking you to do _anything_, it wont feel that way. this is a huge problem with non-character player characters (ie, player characters that have no voice, not dialogue, express no opinions or only the opnions the player chooses for them). in fact in my opinion, non-character player characters should be done away with entirely. there are other narrative techniques to draw in your audience, without watering down your narrative to if not non-existence, than at least irrelevance.

and these games are, artistically, socially, irrelevant. they may be fun, but they are not important. and maybe you dont care, maybe you just want something fun. but i think in a few decades, kids could be playing games for literature classes. i think there's going to be a shakespeare in a few generations whose complete works will be purchased for the xbox. stories have always, will always, be an extremely important way for humans to communicate with each other, ideas, warnings, lessons, the human experience. and games provide a seemingly unique level of interaction with the story.

but as soon as the player gains control over the story - any aspect, even something like pacing, then the story looses.

and so i will not buy skyrim. instead i will just read and write about it, to express my disappointment with the development of the medium, and the, as i see it, stagnation thereof that skyrim represents.

games that promise "open" worlds and "non-linear" gameplay while simultaneously claiming to have "epic" storylines are full of shit. those things are in direct and irresolvable conflict. the games may be big (and probably therefore muddled), but they are not really open. nor should they be. games that set tight limits on themselves, games like portal with its extremely short play time, or dark souls which basically ignores narrative in favor of mood, are, in my opinion, better games. if i were picking a curriculum for a Comp Lit class in video games, i'd pick them, and not elder scrolls, or GTA.

Bioware mostly manages to walk the line. but i'd still rather they take control of Shepherd.