Monday, August 20, 2012

Lessons that can be learned: Bastion

Narrative has always been a focus for myself and many of the minions. It's a credential to receive a perfect score in a hulk review, has been a firm backbone behind every game that has ever inspired us to become something more then we are right now, and most essentially... it helps bridge the gap and immerse the audience with whatever you are trying to say.

Modern game companies however, are really giving up on narrative in games either because they know they don't have the right talent to get things right, or for more absurd reasons like, "graphics sell the game , not story" which in the end feels more like excuses. I was once asked how can a modern game use light story narrative, while also creating a "AAA" experience without fear of producing something terrible from a narrative perspective.... in other do I make a narrative work right when I don't have a phd in story telling...

The first thing I told the guy is that PHD's are not necessary for a good story.... the second thing I said is that  it takes a world, a few points in that world, maybe some unbreakable laws, and something for people to focus on in that world.

Bastion by all means is not a perfect game, but narratively it used those imperfections to enhance the sense of mystery behind that world. We're never given a full explanation of every land inside that game and we certainly never learn enough about all the character to make decisions on what we believe was right or wrong in the present situation. We're just given personal accounts and hard facts like we'd see in a good history book, and in the face of modern videogames it broke all the rules. We had a silent protagonist that wasn't silent in nature, an enigmatic narrator breathing life into this world we're visiting as if this were some kind of children's story meant to teach moral lessons, and a couple complicated cultural love stories meant to teach us all a lesson about never waiting until the last moment, or missing your moment because you fell asleep.

In alot of of ways the narrative of Bastion is also considered character design... why not say we try mixing the two together?

Actually... you know what? Deus Ex already did this.

We never learned a great deal about Adam Jensen, we saw instances of his inflamed past, other instances of where he try and died doing what he saw was right, and then a second life that we ourselves was able to manipulate and control. We decided how Adam preferred to deal with situations and it also spoke volumes to how he was deciding to be in his second life. Did you kill people randomly? Decided to only do what was just? Serve the corporate interest? It all psychologically became a line on the face of what we call Adam Jensen. It's also an excellent way to sell the sequel... your decisions and philosophical beliefs changing how Adam Jensen later becomes.....I Pray they can pull it off.....

This type of narrative is not difficult... hell you could write up the basics for any videogame with one sheet of paper. What "AAA" publishers ultimately need to work on is where we go in the next few pages afterwords. Does our main character have a past? any family? yes we just stated that he's traumatized, but are we going to talk about how? why? do we explain to the audience what this is? any ways to cure it? do we leave it undiagnosed? A few very simple questions on what you want to happen in the story, what has happened to the main character, and executing these points  is all the difference between a Call of Duty storyline and Deus Ex., and almost no one bothers doing this.

Part of this is our own fault for just continually buying games and hoping the studio will do better next time. The final blame I think lies more with publishers. Our own Lemon hatchet feels that Bioware may have envisioned a different game then what ea ultimately told them to make, and I'm slowly beginning to see what he means. Instances of the Jedi storyline sound for lack of a better word, "epic" whereas other storylines like storm trooper kept you entertained up till about 3/4ths of the way in. The game at this point begins to feel like something is missing, and this is something that seems to happen alot with games in the 3 out of 5 fists category with hulk. Somewhere it just stops feeling like the same game you were playing earlier. The game is here, the main character is here, the missions haven't changed, but the soul of the game begins to fade or rather "wane"... maybe its the Zynga Icarus effect again? Did our publishers get so close to the sun that they just burned themselves with their own mistakes?

I'm going to keep thinking on this. I think we have a little while left before the "calamity" strikes again....

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