“What would it be like to read a story that changed it’s shape every time you read it? What would you need to know to write such a story?”

This question was put to our class and immediately I thought about video games (crazy right?!). There are a good number of games that use morality alignment systems (think Dungeons and Dragons type alignment systems ie. neutral good, chaotic evil and so on) that change based on the action you take. I’ll use Mass Effect as an example. Yes I’m aware I’ve used it as an example before but quite honestly the game excels in so many faculties.

What I want to reference specifically is one of the final sequences of Mass Effect 2. To save you a wall of text the short version is, based on what missions you completed and for whom earlier in the game determines who survives the finale gauntlet run. Should you not help any of the characters’ requests, you do not gain their loyalty, and they will die, but if you do help them, they will survive. Survival is also dependent on picking the right characters for the right roles. For my first time playing the game I neglected these missions and my entire crew was killed (including my favourite character of all time) during the finale sequence. proceeding onward my role in this role playing game was vengeance for my fallen crew members. On the flip side my second time playing it I meticulously completed everything I could (with the help of an online guide, of course) which lead to an immensely more favourable outcome where everybody survived with plenty of time to spare.

Now in terms of a story that changes every time I read it, this is exactly what I think of. It’s outcomes – or shape – tangibly alters based on choices you made earlier. What was required of the writers and developers to write this though? Take a brief trip through the Mass Effect Wiki site and you’ll quickly find yourself overwhelmed with information about millions of details of the diagetic universe (there are some fantastic examples of design fiction mixed in too, such as I referenced in a previous blog post). The writers of these characters, and the universe that contains them, would have had to think of the various ways a single event could pan out. Who would survive in different situations, and what would change further under different circumstances? How realistic is it that this character survives this event? Would these two characters work well together? Many details would have been planned out for this to work without any plot holes or errors.

But lets take it closer to the narrative side of things. Dear Esther – another game I’ve mentioned previously – is designed by The Chinese Room and written by Daniel Pinchbeck. Dear Esther tells am ambiguous ghost story, and until you play the game through you really can’t define what the story is. What it does do however is provide a story with multiple meanings, not only due to it’s ambiguity, but the order of how the story is told.

You simply move across this island landscape, but depending on which direction you choose to take and at what point you make this decision the story’s fragments will be told in a different order. This can quickly change how the story is perceived. The game almost embodies Hyper Text, it only lacks being able to enter it at any point, and I were to give the developers any suggestions it would to have that very choice available; to have all of the chapters unlocked from the start and allow the player to enter the already fragmented story at any point. I highly recommend this game and if you at all enjoy poetry, mystery prose or anything of the like you will love what the developers did with this game. The narration by Nigel Carrington only amplifies the mood of the whole game.

I do trumpet it often but when it comes to discussing media (at least, entertainment media) I find video games set new standards. They provide such versatile platforms for techniques from film and literature which make for some potentially amazing ideas.

Dear Esther: A Brief Look

This is a brief analysis of the game Dear Esther I wrote a little while back but forgot to publish, originally meant for a website I contribute to novede.com. I wanted to have a go at breaking down it’s elements and how the game works to motivate the player to try and give it a little more credit as a ‘game’.

Dear Esther is an experimental game/visual novel by UK development team The Chinese Room. It’s solemn and poetic, but somewhat controversial amongst players as to whether it should be called a game or not due to it’s stark lack of ‘features’. This isn’t rhetoric meant to persuade you but I’d like to break down the few techniques and mise-en-scene as it were that act within it. Continue reading