April’s GotM is a masterpiece of atmosphere, where disturbing imagery, haunting sound effects, and an incredibly real sense of danger lurk around every corner. Amnesia – The Dark Descent offers some of the most pure survival horror gameplay ever brought to the genre. Developer Frictional Games has delivered a beautiful, immersive game that achieves great success in three major areas: emotional effect, environmental completeness, and narrative momentum.
Gaming is often compared to film in artistic discussions, and for a lot of reasons, this is an apt comparison. Both media are multimedia representations of art, and both are created by a collaborative team rather than a single artist. With regard to perspective, however, video games have much more in common with literature, and therefore a much more flexible approach than film has. This flexibility in viewpoints allows gaming a unique approach to the art of storytelling that film simply cannot achieve.
For the last week or so, it seems like every other video game article I see is about the controversial ending to BioWare’s space epic, the Mass Effect trilogy. I hadn’t finished the game yet, so I had avoided reading any of these articles. But last night my Shepard (a fiery, curt FemShep with a heart of gold), completed her story. Today, I went ahead and looked at what all the hubbub was about. I originally didn’t want to do a piece on this because, well, everyone else was. However, given my chosen subject matter, I think I would be remiss not to talk about it. THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD, so if you haven’t finished the game yet, I urge you to do so before reading, and please, try to avoid all the other crap out there until you’ve seen it for yourself.
Video game technology has advanced greatly in the last 20 years, but the medium will always be limited by the capabilities of the hardware and software involved. “Invisible Walls”, in a gaming context, refer to methods of handling the limitations of the game’s environment. This concept is an oft-overlooked, but commonly encountered, issue in game design. This week we’ll talk about how four games, all of which excel at world-building, handle restricting the player to the environment created for them.
Dear Esther’s meandering and ponderous narration has many valid interpretations, and the following is simply how I viewed the story. I have strived to stay away from other analyses on the forums, and the only tool I’ve used other than my own insight and the game itself is a script of the possible monologues and a couple of wiki entries on the Bible. It’s taken me longer than I anticipated to really get this together, so I apologize for the delay, but without further ado, here’s my thoughts on the story of Dear Esther.
Dear Esther is a surreal, somewhat eerie exploration game that forces the player to rely on their own eyes, ears, and brain to unravel the intentionally vague mysteries presented. By leveraging the concept of replayability, and by never holding the player’s hand, developers Robert Briscoe and Thechineseroom have delivered a deep, moving story that is as much or as little as the time put into it.
Video games started as a simple collection of pixels on the screen that you could move about with a controller, but in the short time they’ve been around, they’ve grown into a powerful vehicle for storytelling. Much like film, gaming has taken huge strides in storytelling as its technology and audience matured. Unlike film, however, interactivity with the player adds a new layer of storytelling depth. After the break, we’ll talk about a few games from the ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s that I feel show great steps in video game storytelling, and highlight what makes the story connect with us.