Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Saturated storytelling

Storytelling is something that’s rather saturated in the world at this moment, from my point of view. Maybe I’m just narrow-minded towards the subject, maybe I just suck at telling a story, or perhaps I’m not that deeply involved with narrative techniques. But for me, at least, whenever I enter the theater, the first 10 minutes is all that’s needed for me to figure out who’s the villain, who’s the hero and what the main conflict will be. Or at least have a pretty good overall idea of what it will be.

Let’s take Iron Man 2, for example, which I recently went to see. In the first 3 or 4 scenes it was made pretty clear who the villains were, of course we already knew who the hero was, we also got a hold of the bad guys’ motivations in those scenes. My point being: what’s left? We already know who the bad guys are and why they do what they do. Their actions have almost always nearly nothing to do with their pasts, so there’s no connection there too. Which is something that could be explored for more interesting plots and plans. The question I ask myself is: Is the audience only interested in the explosions and special effects? Do they don’t care about trying to figure out the plot by themselves, by being surprised by a big revelation at then end, or even deceived until the very last minute by a smart trick pulled by the writer?

Let’s take a more successful movie then: Cameron’s Avatar. From the start I knew that the guy with the big scar in his face would be the ultimate challenge presented to the protagonist. And I also knew that the protagonist would become a Na’vi in the end. Now, I’m not saying these stories were bad or didn’t have meaning. Because they all do, especially Avatar, which had a lot of bitch slaps for the human race as a whole. Topics like, recycling, morals and ethics were all subtly mentioned and explored. It’s not that. They’re pretty good at that. What’s lacking, remember, in MY opinion, is the unfolding events, what happens in the story and how it happens. I feel like there’s no room for expansion or change there. Everything is simply based off of something previously released. Which is the normal course of things, as humans usually use the evolutionary process for everything: Take something old, change it a bit for the better and there you have something new. But if I take a mouse, paint it yellow and call if a Shbuck, it doesn’t mean it’s something new, just something sold to you as new. And I feel that’s exactly what’s been going on in storytelling. Movies and games alike.

I do have come across some interesting books, so I can’t complain about that. And I’m a little off of the new books and new stories that have been coming out, so book-wise I think we’re good. Maybe it’s because a deeper story and a more complicated set of events would keep the masses away from the theaters afraid of not understanding half of what’s said in the movie? Who knows. I just wish we could go back to ages that making something new was more valued than making money.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

To be regenerative, or not to be…

I was always fascinated by the handling of health in games. How do you honestly convince someone that the damage they take, no matter how severe and utter it is, can be treated with a simple med-kit that can be found in the next room. It’s something that eventually grew old in games. Then someone had the brilliant idea of changing it. Instead of having the player collect health packs, the player’s health would regenerate if they avoided any kind of damage for a certain period of time. It first appeared in a game called Faceball 2000. Many think it was first introduced in Halo, but that’s not right in more than one way.

It’s a feature that can help the surprise aspect of the game. In games that do use normal health, more often than not I found myself running into a room and finding med-kits, of course the next thing I though was that something up ahead was going to make me need those. And more often than not I was right. Which kind of broke the surprise aspect of those encounters.

Regenerating health on the other hand, doesn’t cause the same problems, though it does emerge some of its own: How the hell can the player take so many bullets and heal himself. Or how can he fall from such height and heal his ankle out of nothing. For me, regenerating health, or realth as I’ll be calling it from now on, has always been misused and misinterpreted. If it were up to me, and it will be soon enough, I would use realth not as health, but regenerating focus, or stress. For me, realth is more about being able to consciously avoid, not evade, bullets and damage. And when that realth is completely lost the player is susceptible to damage, like being pumped and unfocused enough to forgot make that rolling move when you jump from a certain height, or becoming sloppy when performing that disarm on the opponent. Forgetting to jump for cover when thugs make a corner and start unloading their automatic weapons on you and that kind of stuff. Something believable enough. After all, in my mind, if a bullet hits you, it’s over or at least the beginning of the end.

It’s that kind of thought and experience I would like to pass to players in games. Something believable and still fun. Many developers get to the point of neglecting a certain aspect of a story or a reality for the sake of gameplay. I believe the true challenge lies in creating something good enough that can please both hardcore fans and casual gamers alike.

I’m currently thinking about the possibilities for the combat gameplay in my Game² project. I’m pretty sure I’m going to use a realth system, the details are all in my head, somewhere, I just can’t get around putting them into paper yet. I feel like a long path extends into the horizon ahead of me, I’ve never been so excited to find out what’s on the other side.