Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus: by Mary Shelley is considered by many to be the first science fiction novel ever written. That makes it the perfect title for our first Literary Design Challenge BoRT. Many attempts to translate Frankenstein to other formats have fixated on the science of bringing the monster to life, but the book itself doesn’t focus on this aspect at all. Instead, it examines what it means to produce life and the impact that has on those who comes are directly and indirectly involved with the process.
For this month’s BORT entry it’s about the book Frankenstein which I’ve read now on 3 different occasions. I’ve already spoke about my big game idea for the book here and it wouldn’t be all that original to just copy and paste that idea and call it a month. Instead I thought I would do something interesting and use the dynamics of the book to discuss interesting game mechanics that are derived from the story.
The Anti co-op experience: An idea that I’ve had bubbling around in my head for awhile is a different take on co-op gameplay. Both players are effectively working against each other but not in a competition like setting. Imagine a game where player A and player B both exist in the same world, both players have completely different objectives and actions and inactions that one player does will affect the other and vice versa. The two players may not ever meet each other in the game space but both will be cursing the other one as sections of the world or even abilities are closed off due to the other. I can imagine encounters between the players as they both must work towards the same goal while at the same time trying to complete their objectives at the expense of the other, think a disturbing buddy comedy to have an idea.
A hate-hate relationship: This one comes from my board game idea for Frankenstein. For this one, player A will determine what abilities and stats player B has access to. The better player A makes player B the harder it is for A to defeat B, however player A will receive a greater reward for beating B depending on how hard A makes B. I’ve seen parts of this idea in games where the player can tweak the scenario of the game making it easier or harder, which in turn affects the possible score the player can earn. This idea is like that except instead of tweaking the game, the player is tweaking another player.
A love story: Don’t ask me how this popped into my head from thinking about Frankenstein, I think it’s the idea of how both characters in the book both had love taken from them. Something that I really can’t think of anyone doing this before is creating a game revolving around a love triangle. The idea is that multiple players are in love with the same person which is controlled by the AI (although having another player as the love interest would be a very interesting experiment). The players must find a way to woo the love interest and at the same time sabotage the other players, without letting the AI know that it was them.
Frankenstein is an interesting book and one that I like to read periodically. I love to come up with game ideas and mechanics from any source and with Frankenstein it is interesting to come up with them that don’t involve “slay the big monster” as the only mechanic.
I have a love/hate relationship with the adventure genre, I love the amazing settings and unique storylines, but hate the fact that I feel like a complete idiot playing them. This kind of relationship has made me avoid a lot of what the genre has to offer and I have missed most of the games that people would call a masterpiece for the genre. Over the last few years I’ve tried the Sam and Max titles, The Longest Journey and even picked up The Monkey Island one reboot. In terms of gameplay I did not enjoy any of them, Sam and Max comes out ahead for the humor but I did not love any of them. The only series that I did like which I’m not sure if it could be called an adventure game in the normal sense was the Phoenix Wright series. Recently I picked up Sanitarium thanks to GOG. This leads me to the point of this article, a look at the adventure genre from my point of view and where I think improvements and suggestions are needed. Note: most of my comments can be solved by having an out of immersion hint system (think Monkey Island remake) so I’m not going to mention it for each segment as I want to focus on ways that don’t break the world of the game.
We’ve all been at this point before when trying to figure out a puzzle, saying to ourselves “who the hell thought this up!?” The problem is that one man’s common solution is another man’s mystery. Personally I mentally cannot do any music based puzzles, like matching tones or recreating songs or sounds, my brain just isn’t wired like that. What that means is that all a designer has to do is include one puzzle like that in their game and the game becomes unbeatable for me without resorting to a guide. This to me raises an important question “what is considered common knowledge?” Another example from me, let’s say a puzzle requires you to pick which children’s rhyme is a metaphor for the black death and use that as the base for the solution. I’ll give you guys a minute to think about that and join you in the next paragraph.
The answer is the rhyme “ring around the rosey”, which I know because I had to do a research project on the Black Death in high school and that fact stood out for me. For me that is common logic and if I put that into a game it would make total sense for me but would it make sense for everyone else? I think there are 2 solutions for this, one is if you are developing a puzzle around something real give the player clues about it. For example in one of the Penumbra titles you had to create various mixtures using chemicals. Instead of relying on everyone to take advance chem the game gave you a journal entry on various chemical mixtures and asked the player to deduce it from there.
Option two is for games that don’t take place in the real world, if you want to design a puzzle using a real world application, try warping it to match the setting. For example in the above example of creating a mixture using chemical components why not ask the player to use alchemy to develop a magic potion? Give the player clues as to how different ingredients work and go from there. The advantage is that everyone is starting on equal footing in terms of knowledge. Designing puzzles around real world applications is always a tricky issue what’s worse is when real world items are used in a not so real world.
One of the reasons why I stayed away from adventure games in the 90s was that crazy logic designers called gameplay, where an inner tube, glue and some kind of stick are actually a key to an ancient door. This to me is a design no-no on par with unskippable cut scenes or not having a save feature in your games. I’m fine with using real world items to solve a weird or not so common problem if you keep them to their real world uses. Don’t ask me to use a can of soda to shake up, put in a plastic clown’s mouth so that when it opens it explodes knocking the head off so that I can use the head for some other inane task. A great example of what I like was in Sanitarium which I’ll try to reveal without spoiling it outright, the second chapter of the game requires the player to use real world objects to defeat a not so real world threat and it made perfect sense while I was doing it (let’s not ask questions about why a game dealing with insanity and mental asylums make sense to me).
Besides the usual “Pc games are dead” motif I’ve heard over the years “adventure games are dead” is another popular one. Unfortunately from my time spent trying to play what was considered the best ones I could see why. Finding the examples that avoid the pitfalls in the genre is like trying to find a diamond in the rough. It is far too easy to create a poorly designed adventure title compared to other genres; at least with the other genres you can leave crazy designer logic at the door.
As a continuation from a previous blog entry I talked about ordering Demon’s Souls and how it is going to be the game that forces me to buy a PS3. I did some research on the system and such; I realized that the higher ups at Sony are idiots. Granted with Sony these days that statement can be used to rationalize the many quotes and decisions they’ve made this console generation. For today’s knock at them it’s about their stance on backwards compatibility or BC.
As I looked at the PS3 on Amazon I saw not one, not two, but 5 models not including the brand new slim one released recently. Looking at the 360’s different SKUs at least you can make a point that they were each aimed at a different subset of gamer. The PS3 however seems to be designed with the goal of confusing the consumer, having done customer service at Comcast I do not envy the people at Sony support who had to answer the “what is the difference between the various models?” question over and over again. Outside of different box art and drive size the main difference with the evolution of the PS3 models is the phasing out of BC with the Ps2. If you ask most mainstream gamers if BC is important chances are they are going to say no. However I think it is incredibly vital to the industry.
I admit that last statement may contain a bit too much hyperbole but I do feel strongly over the debate of BC. When we compare great examples from other industries or disciplines such as art, movies, books and so on to the games industry we have of course of advantage of being an interactive medium, however I also think it is one of our weaknesses as well. When it comes down to it, reliving our greatest works is noticeably difficult compared to other mediums, classic books we can read, movies and shows we can watch on DVD but our problem is that we have that extra wrinkle of the platform to consider. For our industry it’s not enough to find a rare game you also need the correct platform or all you have is an expensive Frisbee or door stop if we are referring to cartridges. To put it another way imagine if to read books from specific publishers you need to buy a specific pair of eyeglasses that after 5 years they don’t make anymore; so cross your fingers that after that time those glasses don’t break or you are SOL. You can make a point in terms of design that a lot of older titles (NES and earlier) aren’t exactly masterpieces but there are many titles that are worthy of being remembered.
Without going into list mode, I can think of plenty of titles that we won’t see again, maybe the developers tried to capture the magic again and failed, or the game didn’t sell well, or the game was downright crazy and was a once in a lifetime idea. On the other side there are games that did sell well and were great, but are trapped on older consoles, which right now I’m thinking of almost the entire Atlus lineup for the PS2. Going to the PC chances are we each have a horror story of trying to get an older title to play on today’s computers. My point is that it shouldn’t be this hard to play the games we love and it’s a major oversight that other creative mediums don’t have to deal with.
The big debate as always is if videogames can be considered art, but I like to think that videogames are like a fine wine. They need to be preserved or they lose all their value. This is why I have such a crush over the model of Good Old Games as it is slowly but surely taking care of this issue on the pc side. However consoles are another story, Nintendo with their Wii store is going randomly through their back catalog bringing games. Microsoft has thrown the towel in last I heard with updating the 360 to allow BC, but there are plenty of titles that were able to make the transition. Sony seems to have shrugged their shoulders in the issue as we have seen with the lack of talk about BC with the PS3. Sony should be scrambling for an easy way to get full BC on the PS3 due to the PS2 library which in my opinion has the biggest amount of high quality titles in it from the last 2 generations, which of course one reason is due to Atlus again (no I’m not a shill for them I just like their games).
My dream solution is that someday there will be a catalog service like GOG for the consoles that we can use to play all these games again and that it won’t be tied to one console, of course chances of that happening are the same as me beating expert vocals and expert drumming at the same time in Beatles Rock Band. Which incidentally if I ever achieve that feat it will trigger the end of the world but I think we have at least another 20 years before that happens at least. With digital distribution models taking off all around I do wonder how much of my idea of revisiting the classics will be considered fantasy for long.
Thinking about BC I do wonder how things will be in 5 or even 10 years from now when most of the games that us older gamers have played go beyond the life expectancy of their platforms. Perhaps someday people will say games from the late 80s into the 90s are mysterious relics long lost to a previous age and historians will discuss what kind of games did we play back then … you know before the whole Matrix concept happens.