Montag, 25. November 2013

Epic Story

Again, I sadly have to confess that this is no epic story. But if you've read the title and wanted to know more, that's perfectly why I'm writing this rant. Do you buy games with epic titles and epic gfx and epic whatsoever?

Check this one: A Dark Room

Not so epic, is it? And still striking. The reason are self-explaining game mechanics supporting the simplemost way to immerse a player into an interactive world. You don't even need a tutorial. You do not need to know a prologue to play. But the story makes things better. Wait until the stranger stumbles in and ... you will want to know what's up with her. Feed the fire so that she doesn't freeze to death!
In an epic RPG, she would have uttered something like "save me, keep the fire burning". Of course you would have done so, this smells of experience points. But in A Dark Room, you simply do, without even a question for help of the stranger. It's all between the lines: the questions who she is, where she's from, what brought her here and why she's in her desolate state. Even the world builds around the dark room and your little fire with everything that happens - and everything depends on you taking action! The NPC only offers her skills and thus more options for you, but should you stop to feed the fire, everything will fade away. It is amazing how, without any reward offered directly or task given, immersion draws a player into this game.

Now check your random epic game instead: the story has an intro. People pop up like in a movie, get introduced, the story takes its first steps, often without you or your point of view character even being around. NPCs will likely tell you what to do in the beginning, cram information in your head and, worst of all, seldom leave you alone with the situation to think about.

I already ranted about the Choose your quest issue, so back to topic: the big difference is that the random RPG puts the player into an existing story, while the story of A Dark Room unfolds only due to the player. You don't solve tasks set on you by other people, but because it is necessary and because you can. Of course AAA games also employ the base mechanics "Choose And Do It Yourself", but there's always the usual fetch-and-bring quest or simply action around a linear story.

All of that is fine as long as linear story still includes doing things by yourself, not only when an NPC tells you when and how to act. The only point is that your random marketing guy will likely ask for an even more epic save-the-world story than all the other games had, and forget about these base mechanics, if he is so much as aware of them. Players will, too, 'cause players read "World Of Epic Awesomeness" in one ad, and "A Dark Room" in another.

If you find yourself comparing these two games with each other in earnest, stop reading, play for ten minutes, and read this rant from start again. Comparison is not what I'm talking about - that's why I left all the other issues needed for comparison out of the talk - but base mechanics, the skeleton beneath the World Of Epic Awesomeness. Please keep in mind that really good games old and modern do have a solid background and do involve the player directly. Anyways, sometimes the most epic story ends up in the ditch. Why?
I would play A Dark Room with shiny 3D graphics; but I would not play many big titles without them. A game gets best when all it's bones are in place, and none are fixed with glue and a stick just to put something even more epic on top. Of course there are bazillions of possibilites between the two extremes, depending on the type of game and the individual impact of its components on the player. In the end, this is simply a hint to poke at your project in order to find out where you hit solid structure and where you punch holes in the façade.

Players (including me) are quite conditioned to like the shinies and care not so much for the structures below as long as they work and make us happy with a monster to whack for loot. Yet the best, and the only lasting reward is not loot, nor experience points, but the knowledge and feel that you accomplished something only due to your own actions, decisions and wits: the real experience that cannot be valued by numbers. Thus a hollow shell may turn out to be not epic, but rather an epic fail.

Donnerstag, 21. November 2013

Yay, shortlist!

No rant this time. Getting into the shortlist of the best German book cover reader's choice really doesn't cry for a rant. :)

Here we go with "Buchland" by author Markus Walther:

He also did the awesome title writing. It's based on a font, but done by hand. Kalligraphy is really beyond my skills. I can only gasp at the perfect handwriting, put it on the cover and make it red and stuff.

So now I have to run in circles and chew my fingernails, though I don't expect to get the prize in the end. There are some pretty neat covers in that list who totally earned it, and I'm curious which one will win.