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Polite Gentleman's blog

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Polite Gentleman avatar 11:29 AM on 09.21.2011  (server time)
Should sequels provide some backstory?

This is my 1st try on writing about gaming, and I'm not very good at writing at all (hey, it's one of the reasons I chose to be an engineer)... still, I hope you enjoy it.

Despite loving video-games, I often feel like I'm a pretty bad gamer: I have missed plenty of amazing games by not owning any console nor owning many games when I was a teenager. [Not to mention that gaming in Brazil can be pretty expensive (a new console game usually costs R$200,00 - or 110 American dollars), but that's another story].

Right now, however, I am "picking things up": I had a 360 for a few years and this year I bought a PS3. I love(d) them both, but I couldn't help but notice the great amount of sequels both consoles have - and how often it is hard to figure out what's going on when you're a newcomer.

So, I decided to write a little about my experience with some sequels I played, and how confusing and frustrating it is to be a "late gamer".

Let's get started with Halo 3. Being the most marketed game for the Xbox360, I surely got interested in it, but I can't help but say that I was a little disappointed with it. It was not a bad game, and I did have fun with it, but I just couldn't "get" the story, which made the entire single-player experience feel a bit shallow for me. Why should I care to try and save someone I was simply told to like?

I won't put the blame entirely on the game: I could have done some research beforehand... but being the first game of the series on the 360, I was expecting they would provide some backstory for the ones who never played the other 2, despite the fact that it already had a large fanbase.

Not only that, but it also made me not care much about the other games that were further released, such as ODST and Reach.

Things got only worse by the time I went on to the PS3 this year: not only there were already plenty of sequels from previous gens. (such as MGS4 and God of War 3), there were already sequels from this gen: Mass Effect 2, Uncharted 2, Killzone 3, Assassins Creed: Brotherhood, etc. And I haven't played any of the previous iterations.

You are probably figuring out right now that if MGS4 is already confusing for gamers familiar with the series, to me, it was basically a mindfuck. I mean, what the hell was going on?

Basically, that's what I understood from the game. Watch out for spoilers. Freaking nanomachines

As for the current-gen sequels, while my feelings with KZ3 are basically the same as with Halo 3 (despite the fact that I love KZ3's multiplayer), the same can't be said about ME:2 and Uncharted 2.

Uncharted 2 tells a completely new story, not immediately following the previous iteration. Even the initial characters that Drake interacts with (Chloe and Flynn) are new to the series. This alone would be enough reason for a newcomer to understand it, but the game does a little bit more: it tries to explain who the recurring characters are and what is their relation with Drake. It may be a simple establishment (such as Chloe asking who Elena is and figuring out she was Drake's love interest) but it works pretty well and makes the whole experience much more interesting.

With Mass Effect 2, however, not only the story is more complex, but also the previous iteration has a strong part to play... For this reason, it was quite important for the player to have some knowledge about the previous events... what was the solution? Genesis.

Oh, you clever boy

That interactive comic not only helps to understand (a little) about what has happened, but it also gives the player the opportunity to make six of the major plot decisions of the 1st game. This is was done mainly for PS3 gamers, since the original was never (and will likely never be) released for the system, but it's safe to say that, even if does not cover everything, it was a quite clever idea that managed to really grasp newcomers. So, why don't we see that happening more often?

The reason, I believe, is that there is usually a strong and massive fanbase behind most sequels, all of them fully familiar with the settings/story/characters/etc. They are the ones that will represent the biggest share in the sales figures, they don't need to be told what they have just done, do they?

It is a fine line indeed: how much explanation can you provide so that it will please newcomers and will not bore the fan? If it's not well implemented, the whole storytelling can be ruined, after all, "exposition dump" is not a literary technique to be proud of.

Basil Exposition at your service

All in all, I know that you cannot simply jump into the middle of a story and expect to understand everything, but I believe it is always nice to take newcomers into consideration, after all, the more people you have playing the game, the better, isn't it?

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