Categories
Hey Dylan

Spycraft: The Great Game (PC Game) [Open Letter Series] #4

[Please see Dylan’s opening letter (#1): http://www.augmented-vision.net/2020/09/07/game-club-spycraft-the-great-game/
My response to Dylan’s letter here (#2): http://joannatovaprice.com/wp/index.php/2020/10/30/spycraft-the-great-game-pc-game-open-letter-series-2/
Dylan’s response to my second letter here (#3): http://www.augmented-vision.net/2020/10/01/game-club-spycraft-the-great-game-letter-3/]

Hi Dylan,
I actually think about what a fun spy game would be like a fair amount, in part because I think you could play a really exceptional one using social media. One of the things that I think doesn’t get talked about a lot in terms of the lack of sexiness that is spying for the state, is that state secrets aren’t very interesting, except to conspiracy theorists. The few conspiracy theorists I know very much enjoy talking about color revolutions, but frankly nobody else cares too much – if anything, state secrets are embarrassing. But secrets in general sure aren’t boring.

So what would a good spy game look like? I think the first requirement is that the player’s character shouldn’t be working for a state agency. Whether it be big tech, or personal intrigue, or a more cerebral concept, like a game where you follow one piece of information and watch as it gets shaped and molded into different narratives, the days of revealing how state affairs that seem interesting and sexy are actually institutional and boring are probably behind us. I think we’ve all kind of figured that out.

If it were me, I would probably attempt to design the game that I think Will Wright is always attempting to design: the one that transcends fiction and integrates with the real. Because spying is about information – and because we are producing information at such an incredible rate that we now have books about information anxiety – it should be possible to create a game about spying using real world, real-time information. Rather than trying to get information that is locked up or classified, the player would be trying to find public information that is obfuscated, connect clues and uncover narratives.

I’m not sure whether I brought this up in the first letter, but another thing that sticks out about this game is the kind of serious that it is. It has a sort of tangential relationship to Kentucky Route Zero in that I think it’s trying to do something subtle to reveal a complex condition. In the present time, that can be very comforting or it can feel like work, because either it is nice to be reminded that thoughtful people produce work that defies rhetoric, or it feels like the work many of us must do now to breach the very real rhetoric around us. Like my mom says about The Sims – why would I spend hours pretending to live when I have to actually live? Still, bringing that seriousness to the game (which is already very present in the opening which as you mentioned, and I mention, I love) is ambitious, and I have a lot of respect for it.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend the game to players who don’t already have a particular love of playing old games. Unlike Grim Fandango, for example, I think Spycraft: The Great Game is not the kind of cult classic that will charm you immediately or will hold your attention. The audience for the game is really people who enjoy the aesthetic of older games and the population of people, which seems to me is likely to be small, whose interested in thinking about complex stuff spans all types of media. Most people I know who game don’t do so in order to think philosophically, although I do know many people who enjoy thinking philosophically who game – they just tend to separate the activities.

As for me, Games Club allows me to experience games I would otherwise never pick up or never finish, and this is one example. I would like to be the kind of person who would finish this game because of its novelty and thoughtfulness without the extrinsic motivation, but I can tell you that the mini games feature is difficult for me to stick with when I’m only playing for my own entertainment.

The ambitions of earlier game developers, particularly where narrative is concerned, often amaze me. When I think of some of the Infocom games, The Longest Journey, this game, and more – and when I think of the narratives of games coming out more recently that are modeled on the old games, like Broken Age – I can see sustained effort that often goes unrecognized. I am not talking about the “Are games art” debate or even “can games be serious,” and not “can games show you the experiences of people unlike you,” but I think, rather, “do games have roots in the examination of the human condition?” I think the answer is yes. As happens with books and films too, it sometimes feels like work just because of that fact, and that was the case with this game for me.

Looking forward to the next game, Spiritfarer, which is somehow about mortality and death and still a much lighter game – ha!

-Joanna

Categories
Hey Dylan PC Games

Spycraft: The Great Game (PC Game) [Open Letter Series] #1

[Note: This is a reply to Dylan’s opening letter]

Hello Dylan,

Lovely to be returning to this after so much time, and so many different life events!

I will start by saying that I didn’t love Hypnospace Outlaw – I know, I know, but for me, the aesthetic and mechanics were extremely grating, even though the story was strong. I had to force myself through it. But as you know, I absolutely got into Her Story, Digital: A Love Story, and I have yet to jump into Telling Lies but I look forward to it. I also come to this with the history of having played Phantasmagoria, the FMV horror game by Roberta Williams, a bunch when I was younger. I can still vividly recall some of the scarier scenes. In my later years, I can say that the great appeal of that game is that I wasn’t allowed to play it. It belonged to a friend’s mother, and we stole it from her home office. But as you know, I absolutely, positutely, *adored* Toonstruck, which was a little like Who Framed Roger Rabbit in terms of how it transitioned from live action to animation. However, the puzzles were admittedly ass, in that you often had to look stuff up, especially towards the end of the game. It has been so long since I’ve booted up Toonstruck that storywise, I can remember only the very beginning and the moment at the halfway point when the big plot twist happens which at the tender age of however young I was the first time I played it, I absolutely did not see coming and was completely floored and excited.  Thus I was pleasantly surprised by Spycraft: The Great Game because unlike Phantasmagoria or Toonstruck, it was a good game — good play, good acting, and even a decent script.

The opening immediately captured my attention. I loved the way they had the cynic giving his tell-all while the actual CIA mission statement played across the screen. I immediately felt like I could trust the developers to deliver an intelligent and compelling story. I also thought the “test mission” to choose which agent will move forward as a mechanic for introducing a tutorial was really cute. I did worry for awhile that I had to take notes, because there was a lot of information, and unlike a point and click adventure, there was no scribbling sound followed by a blinking journal icon to let me know that this was information worth storing and I could find it again in the journal. Oh my god, the first person walk made me so happy too! It just immediately reminded me of The West Wing, so that was squee the second for me (the first was the opening). I didn’t come into this with a bias about FMV games per se, because I really only had good experiences playing them as a kid, but I was wary of one particular aspect that usually gives me trouble in video games: stealth. Fair concern, right? Coz spies have to be stealthy.  But for people who are tired of getting stuck having to race to disable the thingamajig while the big red numbers tick down, the good news is this game is a lot more about information processes and a lot less about the sexy spy thing.  Like you said, more realistic than a James Bond flick. But even with the technology. A film camera with a chip in it that records low res backups is far more believable than any Bond gadget.

And at least part of the reason why it’s more realistic is because it combines actual CIA footage with 35mm film and really makes an effort to disillusion the player, including the ending that you mention. One thing I wonder is whether the plot is as involved as it is in order to portray reality as well. In a movie, I think there would be less people, and less things happening. You mention it’s nonlinear and I agree, but I wonder if it was an attempt to be nonlinear originally or an attempt to to make an unwieldy amount of plot work. Either way, it is engaging and not a downside.

The minigames situation that you refer to was a little annoying for me in the same way that minigames usually are. I am one of those party poopers who hates the arcade game that you can play inside the game you’re playing. Not the interfaces, which I often found charming, but the structure of having to complete this challenge, then “go back” to “the real game” and then repeat. But overall, I also enjoyed this game and the mechanics.

You know, I don’t really understand why it’s so intent on disillusioning the player, but I do feel like that is both what gives it its authenticity and an underlying intention. When I was in graduate school, the CIA came to a job fair and they absolutely struck me the way you describe, ” tool for people who know better than you.” But why would you build a computer game around that idea. In particular, why would you design a computer game that leaves the player particularly unlikely to value the CIA or what it does? Not that I think it’s a bad thing, but it does make me wonder hmmm, who were the developers friends with? Where did the money for this game come from? Because it is, ultimately, a political narrative, even if it’s one I agree with. But I will say I really like that aspect from a literary perspective, it’s really nice to play a spy game as a top spy who is basically forced to be a dead eyed state functionary in all the ways that really mean something and get the fire burning. In short, learning that the everyday person is more likely to have the room for bottom line ethics than a superspy. Kinda neat.

-Joanna

PS:  I was looking at reviews of this game on Steam and check out this quote: “I remember this game like it was yesterday. This is how I first applied to the Agency, using this game. I was one of the first recruits to be digitally recruited using the internet.” I can’t think this is remotely true, especially because it ends with him getting hired by the Wizards at Langley, but I found it hilarious nonetheless.

[Dylan’s response here: http://www.augmented-vision.net/2020/10/01/game-club-spycraft-the-great-game-letter-3/
My final response here: http://joannatovaprice.com/wp/index.php/2020/10/30/spycraft-the-great-game-pc-game-open-letter-series-2/]

Categories
Hey Dylan Media

Podcast Pondering (Is this Part 4? I think so)

Hi Dylan!
Let me start with a quick PSA: there have been many a technology issue as of late. We were fine playing “Salt,” but then video chat (which seems relevant) took a dump on us. So there’s an outstanding question of whether we can do a podcast. Caveats include the fact that I now have access to a separate space in Manhattan, because as of this weekend, Neal (who I’m not sure I’ve ever formally introduced on this blog, but who is my boyfriend of 7 months) will have a place in Kips Bay with a home office and that we haven’t tested a wired connection on my end yet. That said, I will proceed with this post as if it is happening for sure, and answer your questions about content.

In addition to your outlined areas, which were current events and media, I think we can add “topics that Dylan and Joanna talk about a lot,” such as the relationship between social technology and social relationships, Reasons why All of Our Friends Are Wrong About Politics, Where Did All The Good Journalism Go, etc.  From an organizational perspective, having discrete, ordered ideas for each episode (episode?) is probably good practice, but I don’t think we necessarily need to be extremely formal in presentation, we can transition however seems easiest as we go.  I do like the idea of episodic themes, but themes that run the gambit from, say, “topics that start with the letter ‘A,'” to say, “mortality and transition.” Which is to say, I don’t think we need a theme for the themes.

I think lists are a good example of editorial content and more of that would be fun — an unsolicited advice section, a “mail” section, perhaps we can finish off with a playlist of three songs put together by you (this is really more your cup of tea than mine) each episode. One thing is upon occasion I think it would be fun to feature our friends and guests as they relate to things we are excited about.

I think the main challenge is going to be coming up with a back end structure. Do we, for example, want to have many possible modules, and do five of them or three of them per episode? Do we want to make sure to have exactly the same modules? I’m using “module” here to refer to a type of section. So “lists” would be one module. Is it: Intro > Module 1 > Module 2 > Every Episode Thing > Module 3 > Playlist, or some variant thereof?

Titles are hard, but we came up with one related to our tech frustrations recently that I liked a lot, but now can’t remember. Do you remember it?

Please forgive the lateness of this post, things have been crazy and I caught a breather today due to an unexpected snow day. I expect them to slow down in April after I get back from Chicago, because Neal being in the city means that my entire weekend isn’t automatically swallowed every week.

At any rate, I will see you in the usual place at the usual time, and we can sail around a bit.

Yours in Podcasting,
Joanna

 

Categories
Hey Dylan PC Games

Bernband (PC Game) [Open Letter Series] #2

[This is the third letter in a four part series about the PC game Bernband.
1) My first letter.
2) Dylan’s reply.
3) This post.
4) Dylan’s final reply, finishing the series.
]

Hey Dylan,

I think there are a couple of reasons going in that I felt like there might be some reaction from the NPCs, which is notably different than interaction. The first is that voyeurism, as an activity in the world generally, is almost entirely dependent on the observed reacting to their surroundings and each other. Without those features, it is exactly like the Bernband experience – like watching a computer program repeat processes over and over.

The second is that while obviously a lot higher budget than Bernband, there are indeed plenty of games that feature NPCs with a higher reaction level to the in-game world than the NPCs in Bernband. As I’m writing this, I’m thinking of all sorts of multiplayer voyeurism games (and I don’t mean that in the dirty sense, although obviously that is also a possibility).  But as a single player game, I think the production value would be too high for the niche market it served. I  think it’s literally possible to make an interesting one,  I just don’t think the industry would support it.

I can completely understand the mapping nostalgia. However, probably unsurprisingly, I had no love for it the first time around and I have no real interest in it now. I think mapping is fun in a weird literary way, never in a literal “figure out the map of this level” way, though.

For me, alienation is not an issue one way or another. It’s not a lack of interaction – that is, it’s not that I can’t interact with the NPCs, it’s that the NPCs are not convincingly reacting to their surroundings. Moreover, it is the very notion that the people the voyeur watches have agency that makes voyeurism so interesting. The better AI gets, the less it seems like a program is controlling it, right? However, the idea of Bernband is still very strong, and the cute moments the game offers are not to be missed. I would call Bernband “heartwarming,” if not necessarily super engaging from a voyeuristic perspective.

-Joanna

Categories
Hey Dylan PC Games

Bernband (PC Game) [Open Letter Series] #1

Hey Dylan,
Bernband was a short, interesting exploratory game. For readers who don’t know, it’s a short game by Tom that drops you into an alien world (they’re called the Pff, so good) where you can run around and watch aliens be aliens. That’s the whole game. I will say upfront that there were some perspective issues for me (motion sickness), and once or twice, I ended up in places I couldn’t find my way out of.

This is the closest thing to a literal walking simulator I’ve ever played, and as such, I spent a chunk of time determining the limits — I jumped on tables aliens were sitting at, I jumped in front of cars, I jumped up on the bar, etc. The aliens ignored me entirely. I think “ghost simulator” might be the better label.

I am a voyeur at heart, I could watch forever. But a distinct advantage to real life watching is that it’s less algorithmic. While I love the idea behind Bernband, and even the name, I think this is the variety of game that would be almost impossible to do well: it would have to be high budget for a very niche audience. It makes up for the fatal flaw of being rather obviously computational by being both short and free (or, I guess, exactly as long as you want it to be).  I notice the game developer comments that it’s family friendly, and I like to think children would have a different experience than I did, one in which the Pff really seemed quite alien.

Nonetheless, the game is ambitious both in terms of “what is art/what is a game” and also in terms of world building. I’m glad I played.

-Joanna

[This is the first in a four part series:
Dylan’s reply to this letter.
My reply to Dylan.
Dylan’s reply, finishing the series.]

Categories
Hey Dylan PC Games

Longest Night and Lost Constellation (PC Games) [Open Letter Series] #2

Hey Dylan,
A libguide, blog post, or other resource that compiled and categorized a list of high quality, free to play games would be an excellent resource for the public and also for other librarians! That sounds like a great project, if you ever find the time for it. I feel like Facebook has been on the front lines of taking legitimate media (news, games) and turning them into illegitimate media (fake news, “free to play” games). This would indicate that there is something about marrying social relationships and technology that produces one dimensional experiences.

Anyhow, to get back to the games, I do agree that ambiguous, less trope-tastic dialog is certainly more realistic. I also often prefer ambiguous spaces to ones where the agenda (moral or otherwise) is obvious. However, I personally don’t use the word “warm” to describe “ambiguity,” (my word) or  “comfort in discomfort,” (your words). I notice a contrast in these games, where the graphics and interface tend to be warm, there is a warm aesthetic, and this serves to highlight the dialog’s unusual ambiguity even more. But that’s not a bad thing, it gives the game some character.

I understand and agree completely with your commentary on AAA games. I also think they’re just not even trying to reach the same narrative level that indie games depend on. Their audience doesn’t expect it. Someone recently told me that Lin Manuel-Miranda, the writer and star of the popular Broadway show “Hamilton,” once told a reporter that he found himself in an unsavory neighborhood in Miami, and used knowledge he gained from hours of playing GTA to navigate his way out. Regardless of all the ways in which the whole statement might be a problem, it indicates that someone who is very interested in creating interesting narrative experiences for audiences is also very interested in consuming uninteresting narrative experiences. It may be that the AAA games are actually filling a niche and not only for a specific type of gamer, but for the multifaceted gamer that likes both kinds of games.

Neither of these games (Longest Night or Lost Constellation) were deeply immersive for me personally,  so I found myself waiting a lot,  but that is not unusual for me with video games. It is the rare game that I play for hours without noticing. As I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed that I am able to accommodate fewer and fewer kinds of clumsiness in media. There are books I read when I was younger that I loved and still love due to who I was at the time that I read them, but that I would not be able to read now.  There are books that are coming out now that are like those books and I can read maybe one in ten of them. Games, however, are moving in the opposite direction. As time goes by, there are more and more games that meet the higher standards I have for media consumption.

Re pics – the software which periodically takes screencaps automatically sounds ideal. Definitely let’s figure that out!

-Joanna

[This is the third in a four part series, as follows:
 1) Dylan’s opening letter.
2) My reply to Dylan’s first letter.
3) Dylan’s reply
4) This post, finishing the series.

)

Categories
Hey Dylan PC Games

Longest Night and Lost Constellation (PC Games) [Open Letter Series] #1

[Author’s note: this is the second post in a four-part series. This is in reply to Dylan’s letter. You can see his response to this post here, and my final reply, finishing the series, here.]

Longest Night and Lost Constellation are both games by Infinite Fall.

Hey Dylan,

I definitely agree with you that there is a layered mythological story here. At almost every access point (story, aesthetic, interface), there seems to be a one dimensional surface that is representative of a lot of stuff going on beneath it, which is true of myth.  One of the roles of myth, both in these games, and generally, I think, is to be just this side of comfortable. That is, to be familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. That’s what stuck out about these games for me, the side scroller interrupted by alarming discussions of mortality that are actually inside a bedtime story for a child that is explicitly anti-sentimentality. You ask, “and what is it about these games that makes them feel so…warm-hearted in an often cold, mechanistic medium?” I am not sure either is true in my own experience — these games do not strike me as warm-hearted, nor do I find the medium particularly cold (although mechanistic, certainly).  What makes these games unique, I think, is the way they resist tropes. Another series of games that has done this is The Longest Journey/Dreamfall/Dreamfall Chapters. In both cases, the games fit a certain type of expectation: heavy on narrative containing recognizable human themes. But they also go sideways when you think they’re going to go forward. They’re ambiguous and in my own opinion, more real than likable, more nuanced than warm-hearted.

To get into each game:
The conversation in Longest Night was interesting to me, but I admit I did have a little bit of that “walking simulator” (obviously not with actual walking, but “playing” a game that’s really watching a game) feel. I think for me, it was about re-configuring my expectation. Omniscience is totally a playable possibility, but I have a certain anxiety if I’m waiting to be asked to do something, and it took me a while to realize that wasn’t super happening. I completely agree the dialog was believable. Above all, what made it feel most authentic is that we were simultaneously omniscient, and yet not, the inside jokes remaining inside. And this is how we are, really: very good at developing processes for probing the outsides, very hard to really get into the insides of so many phenomena. That translates really well into a conversation between teenagers, because adolescence is really all about that, how to process insides.

Lost Constellation was a lot more game-y, and it was also beautiful. A petty complaint of mine is that the dialog system is too time consuming. I am a fast reader and prefer an interface that matches my natural mental speed, or at least can adapt to it. I’m really coming to appreciate the side scroller though, in terms of being simple upfront but capable of producing many layers of narrative. Counter-intuitively, fancier games like Skyrim, for example, sometimes lack narrative layers simply because of the fancier interface. That isn’t to say the fancier games are worse or are not doing something right, but rather it’s a thing I’ve come to appreciate about side scrollers, and I’m a person who isn’t super into platformers, as you know. I thought the death preamble (pre-woods) was a little too long, but otherwise, I found the story very compelling. I’m curious to know how you found the pacing in Lost Constellation. 

Lastly, just a quick note to say that I really appreciated your contextualization of this game within the “free, distributed, indie game” culture, if just because we so often think of free-to-play games as being poorly designed at best, and scams at worst. But as we recently discussed, there does seem to me to be a niche for a kind of making and sharing of content that is unrelated to money, and more related to something like street art: the sharing of complicated experience via media but not in any kind of tradition so much as for the human by the human. Approachable art, perhaps.

-Joanna

PS: I don’t usually take pic caps in story games because it destroys the immersion for me. In this case, I didn’t go back and take any because time was too short.

 

Categories
Hey Dylan Media PC Games

Quadrilateral Cowboy (PC Game) [Open Letter Series] #2

This is a response to Dylan’s reply to my first post about Quadrilateral Cowboy.

3100020-20160721155557_1Hey Dylan,

I think you’re right that my coding experience made the puzzles less exciting in the way you describe (the feeling of genius). But I also agree that for many people, especially people who are immediately engaged by puzzles, this game offers a unique opportunity to get that experience, regardless of background. And I remain very impressed with the game, despite not being a big puzzler myself. For me, the a puzzle is only as good as its relationship to the story. Games like The Witness work for me even though the story, and the relationship, are obscured. Games like Portal are less interesting as serious work for my own taste, but I happen to enjoy that kind of casual experience, that relies on wit, as well. I will say,  I am reaching my internal limit on the number of games I want to play that have consistent timed elements to them. Besides being naturally slow moving myself, I think that how fast you can do something right is just not that interesting as a consumer — e.g. watching shows where participants have X amount of time to finish a meal or a race or somesuch.

I did leave out the story bits from my first post, because there is a hole to fall into having to do with one’s own body and “authenticity.” It’s a lot to digest and though I agree that there is some sadness in departure from one universal state of being (non-cyborg), I’ve come around to the idea that cyborg-humans will be entities with their own agencies soon enough, at which point, we will have to learn to treat them as such (that is, as subjects and not objects). I bought a graphic novel in Seattle, the last time I visited you, called Alex and Ada, and it also deals with this theme. I honestly think it’s a unifying topic for artists, scientists, scholars, and critics right now and more should be done to encourage that unity.

I was especially taken with your point about how it’s a serious game that almost seems to be an RPG/puzzle hybrid. The obvious seriousness (and of course the aesthetic) of the game is what immediately won me over, I loved that someone did this with a puzzle game. Usually, when I think of serious puzzle games, I think of that particular demographic of people whose stake in rational thinking is so high that all other things become subject to it. I like The Witness a lot, even the way the story (such as it is) is obscured, but I do think it’s a product of a design process that cannot distinguish between the system and the system’s experience. In The Witness, I am the process, but in Quadrilateral Cowboy, the puzzles comprise a struggle for an experience that is greater than simply progress.

OK. So I think we can spend a little more time complimenting one other aspect of the game, too — the presence of NPCs without NPCs. From hand scrawled note tutorials, to the sticky notes, to the fact that it is a simulation within the game — something created in-universe prior to your character appearing — you are not alone, and yet, there is also a pervasive sense of loneliness because none of these characters are there. And yes, you’re right that slowly becoming machine seems to also speak to this different form of thereness.

And the desktop interface. Be still my heart. <3

Someone should just make a list of games that involve phony desktop interface. Someone named Dylan.

-Joanna

 

Categories
Hey Dylan PC Games

Quadrilateral Cowboy (PC Game) [Open Letter Series]

quadrilateral_cowboy_coverHey Dylan,
Quadrilateral Cowboy 
was, for me, interesting in that it combined a sort of dystopian technocratic future with a puzzle game that, in terms of its own mechanics, was more serious (it made me think of The Witness, only insofar as how non-casual it sees itself as a puzzle game).  It’s hard not to analogize, like a more serious Portal. But — there is a thematic darkness in this game that is not humorous like Portal or zen like The Witness. Rather, it seems to be constantly lonely. It seems significant that all the jobs in the game are set up, clearly, to protect something, and yet there are no other people. Your enemies are all objects.  I found this loneliness the most appealing part of the game, the way it shaped and informed the coding and my presence in the game.

The train heist at the very beginning, especially the car that just had desk after desk after desk in it, was in many ways the perfect example of this. Train heists are generally depicted as  about the of three things around the object to be stolen: moving vehicle, moving people, self. By eliminating the other people, you’re suddenly wondering about the point in an existential way. When you walk through a train car full of empty desks, you can’t help but wonder about where everybody went.

Aesthetically, I thought the game was beautiful, and obviously recognizable from Blendo Games’ earlier work. I thought this game took advantage of the familiar aesthetic in a particularly compelling way. Maybe that’s because there is something gratifying about squares in a game that is about subverting objects. And I immediately loved the desktop interface. When I first went to save and it popped up, I think, was the moment when I really got sucked in.

Imagine my surprise when I realized that I had been playing the game offline, and thus did not have access to what seems like a small thing at first but turns out to be thematically important: sticky notes left by friends playing the game. What is really interesting about that feature is that it changes but doesn’t absolve or resolve any of the isolation in the game. It almost makes it more real and more complex.

I ended up replaying much of it on tourist mode, which was for me personally an even better experience, because my own preference would be to avoid timed puzzles. In tourist mode, you don’t actually have to do any of the coding, because the doors and etc just open with a click, but you can still do all the coding. It was basically the best. I was also really taken with the obvious encouragement to mod the game, and build community. I hope it becomes a cult classic, where in some odd number of years, some weirdos will be famous for having built brilliant levels!

I got really lucky in that I didn’t encounter any bugs — probably a side effect of accidentally playing offline — but when I started to dig around for why you weren’t coming up, I saw that there are some bug reports coming in. While obviously not ideal, the good news is that a developer who is active within his own community is more likely to encourage consistent participation in that community. Overall, I was really taken both with the actual game, the look of the game, and the spirit of the game, and I hope it lives to see some cool mods.

-Joanna

Be sure to see Dylan’s reply here, and my reply to his letter here.

Categories
Hey Dylan PC Games

1979 Revolution: Black Friday (PC Game) [Open Letter Series] #2

bf2Hey Dylan,
With player agency and games, we obviously run the gamut. I have played games where the apparent player agency doesn’t exist (e.g.,  it turns out that your character is lying regardless of what you choose in the dialog box). There’s the basic agency to continue, as opposed to turning off the computer. There are minor deviations, major deviations, and no set path at all…

But in the case of 1979, we have an unusual combination of Walking Dead like reminders that our choices affect the game, and yet, they don’t seem to appear to, or they do so in a much more limited way than the game implies. So it isn’t the lack of player agency, or the presence of player agency, it’s the promise of a particular kind of player agency that doesn’t ever seem to be realized. This seems to indicate that the designers were interested in both being the ARTEUR and also appearing to be doing something with narrative that is in many ways limited to the game space. I suspect that this is because they were trying to attract people who were interested in computer games, as opposed to people who were interested in Iran.

Still, the end result is that the strange relationship between the player and the designer is a little strained. Again, we are more forgiving of this with new designers or perhaps, people who aren’t really game designers at all. So this is a critique of the game itself and not of a studio or of the designers, I suppose.

The biggest strengths and weaknesses of this game were both narrative related. The mechanics of the game suffered from it being a port — as you mentioned — but this seems secondary to me than the elements of the game that are endemic to it on every platform.

Anyway, on the whole, I personally tend to experience games that have three billion endings because of decision trees are necessarily sloppier and it usually makes me miss authorial control. Theoretically, you could (and esp. in postmodernist stuff, authors have) design an actual novel according to a system design instead of a more traditional narrative design. While games are getting better and better at being literary, I think books are getting worse and worse at being ludic. Just an outside thought.

-Joanna

[Author’s Note: This is the final letter in a four part series. Here are the first three:
Dylan’s first letter.
My first reply.
Dylan’s second letter. ]