Amateur writing from a game designer and producer. I hope you enjoy!
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Gone Home is an experiential game about adolescent discovery and identity. The player is just coming home from a trip, and arrives to find her sister and parents mysteriously absent for her arrival. As you explore the house the mystery unravels piece by piece through narration tied to the places and objects you are discovering. There are no game mechanics per say but you can pick up objects and examine them more closely in order to uncover additional details. This, with the exception of a few click-to-open options and a lock, are the interaction points within the game.
The essence of Gone Home is its narrative and environment. Yes, it is an experiential game lasting around two hours, if that, but Firewatch showed that you can make a great environment and narrative while still engaging the player to actually participate. While I found Gone Home’s narrative to be an intriguing and emotional one, I also found it lacking in originality. The plot as told through the voiceover narration and the object information within the house are interesting, but that interest tapered off as I progressed and grew used to the formula. The interactions between family members are interesting to stumble onto in different areas through object placement, but can also be very easily missed or overlooked.
The developers, Fullbright, do a lot of interesting things with an ostensibly “normal” family house where the object placement and detail are very well done and reinforce the narrative and voiceover at key locations. They really do build an atmosphere that I found immersive but they only do it as a frame for their narrative. Due to the premise, the setting is only so interesting, and while I feel that Gone Home has a good art style it does not have one that turns tables and couches into anything besides your run-of-the-mill tables and couches. If the player is not interested in delving deep into the backstory behind a picture or a newspaper clipping then they have little in the environment to keep them intrigued, putting more stress on the story instead of spreading it throughout a mechanically fun experience as well as a narratively interesting one.
I enjoyed Gone Home immensely, but for many it will be a sparser experience than they might be looking for. It has a very well made narrative and a well composed environment, but that environment is a suburban town house and that narrative, while excellent in my opinion and well delivered, is a story and not the game. For what Gone Home is, a video game, it does not present much in the way of graphical fidelity or gameplay innovation. If you require either of those to enjoy yourself then it is likely not for you. But, if you find Gone Home’s narrative compelling enough to pull you forward, then expect a fulfilling and well executed experience, if a short one.
Dominic, 2 hours.
Spoilers (Weapon types, enemy types, upgrades, companion options, settlement options)
Boring, that was the first thought I had when I started playing Fallout 4. It seemed to lack the kind of draw, or spark, that I saw in previous Fallout games and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The systems were there, all of the “go here, kill this” objectives and the initial hook for the main story. The small pre-war section was great, but after that I didn’t think it had much going for it that was new or original. I still found it to be a great sandbox video game, and so I started playing it as a first person shooting game. Enter – The Responsible Maniac.
I cared heavily about my settlements, but pursued side quests and exploration over following any particular storyline. Fallout 4 fills the space of its map better, I feel, than previous Bethesda games have and that helped keep my invested and immersed. I always felt with Fallout: New Vegas that there was too much empty space, and it hurt my immersion. I cannot honestly say the same for this game, because every area has enough unique enemy or side quest possibilities that I became satisfied much more often than I was disappointed.
Mid game was a lot of me building up my power armor and acquiring the perks to make it last longer with fusion cores, diving into dungeons and clearing rooms with particular zeal. I found the variety in weapon customization very enjoyable and didn’t mind that there were fewer bases for each option (sniper, shotgun, assault) because of all the options within that were given to me. I made sure I got better and better weapons that continued to be fun to use and fun to shoot with.
Then I met my buddy, Nick Valentine. Nick, you see, is a robot that has the personality of a 1980s beat cop. Lots of drawling dialogue and the accent to match. If you follow a particular quest you will encounter him and have the option to keep him as one of your companions. Never in Bethesda history have I felt attached to a companion before this guy. The whole game touches on the question of whether robots can be sentient and the writing for Nick gave me no doubt at all that he was a thinking feeling conflicted being. You meet other companions that I enjoyed as well, but Nick felt more like a partner to me in my playthrough than any forced partner in other video games.
Settlements was actually I new feature that I enjoyed immensely. Late game I had enough money to buy any amount of resources, and had salvaged much more. I started dressing up every settlement with extreme defensive capabilities and better overall settlement quality. I enjoyed seeing more and more people flock to my settlements and loved defending whenever they were attacked. It gave me a sense of permanence and personal effect on the world of Fallout 4 which was something other Bethesda games often lacked for me.
I actually felt that the in-game factions, both the ones you can choose from or others, had their rivalries and opinions about the other factions very well described. Whether it is ghouls and super mutants, raiders or a settlement village, or one of the main factions you encounter through the story, all of them have their thoughts and opinions on other factions fleshed out. At no point did I feel a faction was strangely disconnected from the world, and that is also something I have experienced with Bethesda games before. Instead I was able to decide how I personally felt about each one, and consider whether I should discriminate against a faction because of their opinions. I had a lot of fun navigating through moral questions as a result of that.
Finally, I want to talk about two areas of the game. The main city, Boston, and the fringes of the map. Boston feels, for the first time to me, like a real broken down city. No Bethesda games have really made me feel that a city was a city. They always felt too small, or too empty. Boston in Fallout 4 is neither. Every new street corner could lead you into a firefight between two groups, or a trap waiting to be sprung by an irradiated monster, or any of the dozens of other encounters you can experience navigating through the city. There are multiple places where you can take advantage of verticality to get onto roofs and into buildings, and the whole place just felt real and was more than enough to immerse me.
On the very edges of the map is where I felt was the most fallout in the sense that the monster and quest design became much more weird and unpredictable. You the player became much, much more likely to run across an unexpected boss monster or a very creepy locale. Some of Fallout 4’s best side quests were located on the edges of its map and discovering them was most of the fun.
There are many opportunities in Fallout 4 to play it in a way where you will enjoy yourself. They give you a whole host of weapon options, you can play in first person or third, and there are actually a good variety of moral choices to make throughout the quest options, even if they have less detail than previous titles. I have spent 131 hours enjoying this game after I thought I would have less than twenty, all by figuring out how I could best enjoy the world. Best of luck in doing the same if you try out this game.
For popular or very successful games like this I am starting a new category called “How I enjoyed this game” to express the ways that I had fun playing these very popular video games. In no spoilers impressions I describe how I feel about a game after playing it, and avoid narrative spoilers. In this new section I tell you how I, personally, enjoyed playing these games and may spoil certain things to accomplish that. What I am spoiling will always be at the top of the article.
The Wolf Among Us is the only Telltale game that I have not gotten bored while playing. All of the features that the Telltale system shines with show themselves in this game. A stellar narrative where your choices actually have consequences, characters interesting enough to invest you continually in that narrative, and a setting intriguing enough to keep you visually entertained. Wolf offers all of that in the setting of a comic book series, matching Telltale’s art style very appropriately and seamlessly. As you play you get to see your favorite fairy tail characters re imagined in a Noir style detective story, with you as Detective Bigsby, or The Big, Bad, Wolf.
The Wolf Among Us boasts a huge collection of main and supporting characters. Depending on your choices, a lot of them can die. Not die and come back, not die and resurrect, just gone forever from your game experience, hammering home that impression of meaningful choices with consequence. Wolf really is a detective story, but due to your past being faithful to your fairy tail, everyone is prejudiced against you as Bigsby, because you’re the big, bad, wolf, and presumably did horrible things in this universe’s past. This comes up again and again as your reputation precedes you throughout the story and you encounter more and more diverse creatures of mythological origin.
Prepare to be pulled in by more than just the cast. You live in a town full of only mythological creatures, that you see, but it isn’t that large of a town. Most of the creatures you meet know each other to some extent, or have heard of each other. This creates the real feeling of a familiar town where everyone knows everyone else. For me, that deepened the sense of isolation they make you feel as Bigsby, the guy whose only friend is a talking pig. No matter where you go it feels like you are intruding. You usually are, but this reinforces how negatively every mythological creature in the town views Bigsby and really drove the loneliness of that home.
The writing to keep all of this cohesive is there, and it is very well done. While Bigsby, you, are trying to discover the mystery you will run into a lot of other things that require your attention as well. Crooks, residents breaking the law, and you have to make the decision of how to handle it. Do you throw the poor family trying to make ends meet into jail, or let it slide this time? How aggressively do you punish criminals? How much do you indulge yourself? The game gives you characters that you can get invested in while being the wolf that you want to be.
They also manage, in a point and click choose your own adventure game, to make Bigsby feel particularly powerful. Every mythological creature is supposed to look human while they are trying to, in order to successfully blend in with humans. Bigsby, you, slowly turns more and more wolf the harder he has to fight. This creates a progression where I couldn’t wait to see how much stronger I could become, and the kind of creatures that cannot match up to me. It really puts the fear everyone has for Bigsby into perspective while still helping you enjoy the experience.
The plot itself never fell into the usual trap of easy suspects. Oh, you have plenty of creatures to suspect, but so many of the individuals you talk to are suspicious that you can’t tell who actually committed the crime you are investigating. Even people on your “team” who run the town, including Snow White or “Snow” can be suspicious.
What really enticed me through it all was the way the mythological premise was integrated into a more realistic world. The picture above is a great example of this – a frog wearing normal clothes owning a house with normal things. You can see on the mantle a picture of him and his son, pictures on the walls of places, things, and people. No matter where The Wolf Among Us took me I was excited to see how it would go, who I would meet, and what they would be like in this half fairy tail, half deadly realistic world. Wolf was an amazing experience, I’m glad I gave it a try.
This game is available on Steam for fifteen dollars. That price will never come up again in this article. The value of That Dragon, Cancer
is decidedly not something you can measure or weigh. You cannot take its play time (2 hours), the depth of its mechanics, or its visual presentation as a measure of its quality. If you don’t enjoy any story without those components – this game might still be the one to convince you to give it a try. It is without a doubt one of the most human stories that has ever been conveyed to me through any art form, ever.
This game tells the tale of a family’s hardship when one of their children develops cancer at a young age. The mother and father made this game to tell that story, and it comes across with incredible authenticity. The story is primarily conveyed through audio sound bytes, actual recordings of the family, the mother, the father, and Joel, the child himself, as you play through the game. More or less every actual mechanic in this video game, or interactive part of the experience, is made to invest you in their story. Whether by pushing Joel on a swing or blowing bubbles for his enjoyment you as the player get to play the part of both the parents and an onlooker throughout the experience.
I want to get some of the popular criticisms out of the way. Religion plays a part in this story, and that part grows heavier as That Dragon, Cancer comes to a close. I am Agnostic, do not practice any kind of religion, and its presence within the game felt nothing but essential to the story that the Green’s are telling. Even if religion is not a large factor in how I live my life, it obviously was for them during this experience and it would have diminished the story to force it out of the telling. It is part of what they went through, and understanding that and the struggles it represented is part and parcel to what makes this game such a great and authentic experience.
Another primary concern is the design of the mini games that you encounter while progressing through the story. They are often designed to mirror the emotion that the story is depicting at that point in time. Often that emotion is frustration, though sometimes it differs, and I found the simple games-within-games to add to the experience even if they were not as polished as one would expect from games released today. At least in my case, they never once took away from the story, and usually they added to it in a way that made it better.
Playing through this game provoked me to think about a whole host of things. Connections to my family. Connections to anyone. How I cope with trauma, or difficult decisions, and how that will affect the people around me. I truly feel that just experiencing this game has been beneficial to me as a person and as a storyteller. The depth of emotion that it conveys is something that not only video games but art struggles with in general, so it is nice to take That Dragon, Cancer as a game that really accomplishes driving the player to have that deep a connection and investment into its heartfelt narrative. Not only that, it does it in a point and click game with no other action needed beyond looking around and clicking on things.
That Dragon, Cancer accomplished all of this with 104,491 crowdfunded dollars. Any team who can create a story or tell a real story with this kind of heart or authenticity, but with a bigger budget, will have a masterpiece on their hands in the form of a video game. That Dragon, Cancer probably doesn’t represent a masterpiece as a video game, but it did create a masterful telling of a story within a game.
My heart and best wishes go out to the Greens for what they went through, and I thank them for taking the time to tell a story as painful as this one. We the players are better for it.
Hey look! It’s another Marvel television show, so what can we expect? Someone putting on a mask, beating up bad guys and taking back the world from some kind of terror or evil. Jessica Jones sure delivers on the bad guy, but the rest of it is decidedly not what you expect from a Marvel film. Jessica herself is no superhero, something the show throws at you time after time, and there are no heroes to speak of in the film. Jessica Jones features a great cast of supporting characters, some of them heroes, but none of them being superpowered heroes running around fighting crime.
Jessica Jones is more a story and television show about survival, and what horrors can happen to people if these supernatural powers were actually real. That guy in the image above? That is Kilgrave, the main villain for the series. His name may be a bit on the nose but he himself is nothing short of deadly. Hearing his voice is enough to make people do whatever he tells them to. They clarify his powers, but the controlling is the important part. You see, he took control of Jessica for an unspecified but extended period of time and kept her hostage, commanding her to love him and raping her throughout the experience. Yes, rape. Kilgrave stripped away from her all freedom for choice, of free will, and felt that it was “okay” simply because he told her to like it. Jessica Jones delves deep into Jessica coping with that when she encounters him again. It is obvious to the viewer that she has PTSD from the incident, understandably so, and you see her handle it by distancing herself from others and attempting to drink herself under the table intermittently throughout the series.
This battle is much more of an emotional and mental one rather than a, “crush all the bad guys until the final bad guy” show, but Jessica is no less the hero for it. Throughout the show she sacrifices and strives to save the people around her from Kilgrave, but it spirals out of control thanks to Jessica’s restraint and Kilgrave’s sociopathic ruthlessness. The man really could not care less about people, in general, but is obsessed with Jessica to the point where he time and time again tries to control her but rarely tries to kill her until the end of the show.
There is a love triangle and lawyer that probably more time is spent on than necessary, and a character that lives near Jessica that many viewers may find a more annoying presence in the story than anything else that character adds to it. Jessica’s best friend, Trish Walker, is a wonderful character that shows how someone with tenacity and willpower might react when faced with Kilgrave. Her efforts don’t always pay off in the show but the viewer can see how desperately she is trying to improve herself and her ability to fight back.
Luke Cage is another super powered character in the show. His relationship to Jessica changes as the show progresses, but he is portrayed as a man who wants to stay out of the world and any kind of superhero life. His wife dies before the show even starts and tragedies continue to pile on for Cage until Jessica Jones closes. His super strength and durability was interesting to compare to Jessica, whose power is super strength.
Jessica’s power didn’t come up earlier in this article because, well, it really isn’t that big a part of the story. She suppresses it when fighting people because of a traumatic event that happened to her under Kilgrave’s control, and otherwise just uses it to jump up to buildings or break locks. Her power simply isn’t the focus of Jessica Jones, her internal struggles are.
I’ve done a lot of talking about the show, because I think it is great. It’s not great because of the cinematography, which really reinforces tense and reflective moments in the show. Or the acting, which really shines whenever David Tennant, playing Kilgrave, is onscreen. It shines because it departs from the normal expectation for this genre and for this medium. Television shows rarely dive deep into PTSD or people’s handling of mental trauma, or much more physical trauma such as rape. Jessica Jones does so and does it justice. You can almost feel Jessica’s confliction in some scenes. The internal struggle taking place between two decisions presented to her. You can see how it holds her back, how it affects her relationships and her lifestyle. Finally you get to see how she overcomes it and by that time you really do care. You might be a tad frustrated with her by then, but you will care, and that is all I can really ask for from any show, much less a psychological thriller as good as this.
Camp Santo has done a great job of weaving an intriguing and just plain well-written story into a video game. Often, I have found that video games sacrifice either narrative or game quality for the other, but Firewatch does the exact opposite. It weaves a story through a series of simple but realistic exploration factors and environment interaction mechanics to form a fluid overall experience.
Henry and Delilah are the two main characters in Firewatch. I rarely remember the names of characters in games that I play, but I did this time because of the excellent narrative that they were both present within. Henry’s tragic relationship with his wife, a detail you find out at the beginning of the game, really hits home as something horrible as does an event in the middle of the game that calls back to it.
I am a very restless gamer, and that tends to come out more with experiential games that want you to really breath in the air of an environment, look around and take stock of what your character is seeing and going through. Firewatch really brought that through for me, really carried out an amazing feat in terms of pacing and never quite making me feel bored. You could attribute that to its limited run time but it is more than just that. Every objective came across as sensible and realistic. The effect that has on immersion is immense, and each objective was separated in such a way that I never spent too long of a time seeking something out. The compass and map never felt clunky while navigating and the wilderness around my lookout felt real thanks to the clever placement of unique items, the audio that brought the forest to life, and the events that were pushing me through it all.
Its narrative is where Firewatch ties this environment together. There are only two characters, Henry and Delilah, and each of them is someone you can identify with and comes across as a personality. No sir, no 2D cardboard cutouts here- Both of the characters had dialogue that fleshed them out and showed you what kind of person they really were, the challenges they were facing, and how they coped with each one. I never felt limited because I chose what my character said to the other, if anything, and I never felt that the options were unreasonable or too limiting. That freedom of choice is something I have never experienced before. In games like the Mass Effect series I always felt limited, constrained to words that were not my own. I didn’t get that while playing Firewatch, not once.
The plot itself weaves a masterful tale of mystery and, no spoilers here, every red herring was well placed, every story point kept carefully dangling so that you can attempt to piece it together yourself along the way.
To me, who always identifies what I think will happen when experiencing a mystery in media it was a pleasant surprise to not know how Firewatch would tie it all together. Once it does tie together it made sense to me, did not feel forced or overly contrived, and supported the overall message of the game- How would two people feel stuck in towers all summer in the middle of the wilderness? Why did they choose to be there? How do they adapt to it, a new environment for your character and an old one for Delilah, who has been there ten years longer than you? The result is satisfying, and the player even has choice in deciding what exact form that resolution takes.
Firewatch was more than worth my money. I pay for experiences, not time in front of a screen, and I would easily say that my twenty dollars was worth it, and yours would be too. I would pay thirty and still feel satisfied with the three hours or so that I spent within the game. Within the game, because that is exactly what it felt like, being in the world of Firewatch.
Do not go into this game expecting an action romp, a very long play time, or a huge amount of replay value, although some of that is there.
Go into it expecting a great world that grows as you play and characters that will grab you and make you care about them. Firewatch shines as an experiential title and as a video game so long as you know what you are getting into!