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It was Nietzsche that wrote, “What does not kill me makes me stronger”. In reality, that’s regularly true. When it comes to videogames, it really depends on how you are about to be killed. In some cases, dying is part of the learning process. In other games, your demise will only result in a minor punishment, or have no impact whatsoever. It’s uncommon for a video game to kill you in a way that doesn’t make you stronger.
In other words: videogame deaths are odd. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, dying in-game usually lacks permanence. Each fatality can be brushed off with nonchalance. Secondly, there is an ever-expanding variety of ways to go out. Whilst they may fit the game in some way, there’s no hiding their bizarre nature.
So the discussion I place before you, morbid as it might be, concerns weird deaths. What are the oddest ways to kick the bucket? Do you have a preferred way to go out? Below is a list of some – but by no means all – of the unusual ways game will kill and resurrect the player’s character(s).
Cute Resurrection (It’s okay, you didn’t really die)
Sometimes death can be adorable. In each and every Lego game, a player’s passing is marked by a shower of Lego bricks and an almost instant return to the fray. The enemies you face also crumble in the same fashion. In Disney Universe, the cutesy game that introduced my fiancé to videogames, your Disney-cosplaying avatar faints dramatically. In a flash, they are restored, skipping about the level with fish-sword or lollipop-club in hand. And in Little Big Planet, Sackboy pops. He is soon stitched back together, good as new, with a smile/grimace/frown on his face.
In all of these games, you could blink and miss the moment where the character dies. You can almost hear the game speaking to the young people playing: No no, don’t get upset! See? Your character is fine! Be more careful next time ^_^. It’s a wonder that a health bar and ‘death’ animations are even present, when the resurrection is so close behind. But then, these games also have ‘friendly fire’ in them. The game knows all too well that little gamers want to play fight, but don’t really want to hurt their friends. You can slap, throw and pop your friend without feeling too guilty.
Groundhog Death (If at first, you don’t succeed…)
I’ve had this topic in mind for a while now, and two recent events have pushed it to the front of my mind. Firstly, I read a very interesting community blog on Destructoid which compares Groundhog Day to Majora’s Mask. Secondly, I watched Edge of Tomorrow (a.k.a. Live Die Repeat), in which Tom Cruise must repeat the same day over and over until he can defeat an alien invasion. Without really meaning to, this movie emulates the way that many of us play action games. The more we die, the more we learn.
There are lots of games that have a ‘Groundhog Day feel’ to them. In most Action-Adventure Games or First Person Shooters, the player’s existence is ‘reset’ at the time of death. Whilst you know that you died, the game replays the same events from the last save/checkpoint. Only this time, you know what happens next. From this perspective what has killed you has actually made you stronger.
The harder the level, the more times you have to replay it; the more times you replay, the better you will get. After a few, frustrated minutes you will know where each bad guy will spawn, where the best cover is, where the health packs are… to the NPCs around you, your clairvoyance and inexplicable reflexes must look astonishing. For a moment, you looked pretty weak, but that tutorial level turned you into an epic badass!
Immortal Renewal (Life number 42, please step forward)
The Groundhog Death acknowledges the fatality, but only you know it happened. Those countless deaths were ‘not canon’; you didn’t actually fall. In other instances though, the deaths are not only accepted as part of your story, but also recorded for your convenience.
Scroll down the vast list of statistics on any Grand Theft Auto game, and you will be reminded how many times you were arrested, and how many times you were ‘wasted’. Of course, GTAs definition does not mean ‘killed’, but instead means ‘horribly and violent incapacitated but going to be ok’. A few hours later your character struts out of the hospital, ready to put that whole messy affair with the explosion and bullets behind them. Remember the time I was completely perforated by minigun rounds and then run over by a flaming motorcycle? Good times, man.
Whilst in the previous form of death, the use of checkpoints was simply a place to reset to, there are a few games that make the checkpoint part of the story. My favourite examples was in the Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver games. You character, the vampire husk known as Raziel, was meant to be immortal. To give this meaning, the checkpoints were given greater purpose. When defeated, the ‘Angel of Death’ would not die as such; he would ‘snap back’ to one of these totems. The ornate sign had captured a piece of Raziel’s essence, allowing him to return to a safe place if things got too murder-full.
Misremembered Demise (No wait, that didn’t happen)
It was only natural that I would refer to Prince of Persia when discussing death in games. By now, the way in which the Sand of Time trilogy dealt with a fail state is infamous. In each game, the narrator is also the protagonist, and as he tells the story he errs. So, if you appear to have been turned into a corpse through violent means, the narrator realises he has made a mistake. Why would he ever think he died on his own adventure? I’m not sure. But it’s a clever little mechanic that suits the time-bending nature of the series.
It’s a shame that the 2008 version of Prince of Persia did away with this notion. In that game, your magic sidekick Elika would intervene at the moment of your death. You could never fall to your doom because the floaty lady could throw you back to solid ground. This was another clever way of coping with the player’s clumsiness, but Prince’s tendency to misremember his own story added to his charm.
The Empty Space (He’s coming back…right?)
Permanent Death is becoming an increasingly popular aspect of video games. There’s no greater way to intensify a situation that including a fail state which starts you at the very beginning. Whilst some games include this as a core mechanic, others implement Permadeath as the most difficult mode. Whilst this can make a game more challenging and memorable, it can also lead to frustration and an appropriately shorter experience.
The form of Permadeath that I find more fascinating and more likely to promote a more entertaining experience is the lasting demise of a member of a team you are controlling. Whilst killing off the player’s character forever results in a begrudging restart of the game, when a member of a group kicks the bucket it can change the dynamic of the game. We are force to adapt to survive, and hope that another character can fill their boots.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown, one of my all-time favourites, can take a teammate from you in the space of one turn. There might be a shred of a chance to save them, but if your soldier doesn’t return with you on the dropship, that’s it – they are gone forever. In my case, these poor souls are usually new recruits, thrown into the crossfire without enough experience, whilst the elite members of the party hunker down and wait for the newbie to bait the aliens…
In the last two weeks I have been enjoying the cold and unforgiving world of Darkest Dungeon. Groups of four adventurers journey out into the evil unknown in search of redemption, in the form of a micro-managed RPG. If the characters don’t come back mentally unhinged or disease ridden (did a mutant pig just give me syphilis? I think that mutant pig just gave me syphilis!), then they probably didn’t come back. The stakes are so much higher when you can’t phoenix down your way out of the situation. It’s a comprehensively brutal situation, but all the more fascinating because of it.
There are, of course, many other examples. I have omitted the kinds of deaths that set out to punish you for failing – such as the soul-carving resurrections of Dark Souls. I could have also drawn on many other cases – the Bioshock games also treat the player as quasi-immortal, reconstituting the protagonist inside giant test tubes. I’m sure you can think of various other forms of death in video games, and hope that you will share them.
What is the weirdest video game death type, in your opinion? What is your most/least favourite way for a game to deal with dying and rebirth? Is there a style you would like to see implemented, but have not come across yet?
As Always, Thank You For Reading.
Might the Gaming World forgive me? May my sins be absolved? In my youth, I was foolish fool of fools. In my haste, and childish recklessness, I made a grave error: I sold my copy of The Orange Box less than two weeks after purchase. Please! Hold your chastisements for a moment, dear merciful reader. Allow me to repent, before judgement is passed.
As with most games I play, I arrived late to this soiree. I must admit that I had yet to play Half Life 2 by the release of the collection. I bought The Orange Box in 2009 – the last year of university – on the recommendations of countless, honourable gamers. I’d been told how good the Half Life games were. (Yes, I had not played Half Life 1 at this point either; the scroll of my misdeeds will only continue to unravel.) I had also heard hearty praise of Portal and Team Fortress 2, and was anxious to share in the collective ecstasy.
So the Box arrived. I played Half Life 2. I then played Half-Life 2: Episode 1. And then I played Half-Life 2: Episode 2. Once I was done… I had little feeling towards the whole experience. I hadn’t spotted what all the fuss was about. To the dismay of my adult self, I mentally shelved my memories of the experience into an alcove marked “Video Games: good, but not great”.
Now before a cavalcade of keyboards crash against a multitude of monitors in righteous rage, I must emphasise that I did not dislike my first playthrough of Half Life 2 and its extra bits. The gameplay seemed entirely competent, the atmosphere was right, and there was a visual appeal there. Whilst the story was wild and wonderful sci-fi, I was less than invested. I liked Alyx Vance – for both honourable and less-than-honourable reasons – and felt that she brought some motivation to proceedings. Nevertheless, most characters came across as superfluous, and it rarely seemed clear where I was going or why.
There were lots of nice locations and variety in weapons and vehicles, but it all seemed like lots of pieces that had been mashed together. If there was a narrative, my ignorant mind had found it wanting. The gunplay was solid, and the enemies original, but I couldn’t see exactly why this was such a momentous series.
Such a moron I was. Yet the extent of my accursedness has yet to be fully revealed; the ragged, dirt-ridden curtain has been only half drawn to reveal the full monstrosity that is to be my damnation.
As the credits fell on Episode 2, with the absolute feeling that I had gathered all enjoyment that I could from Half Life, I wheeled to face Team Fortress 2. Multiplayer games have never been my strong suit, but I had enjoyed a handful in the past. You see, I lack the competitive streak of a good online gamer. If I’m to play alongside others, I would rather play alongside them. A cooperative video game will always trump the competitive variety. The inclusion of a ‘Team Deathmatch’ mode isn’t a guarantee of my support; you’re not really working in a ‘team’, there are just people you don’t have to shoot at.
Regardless, I was willing to give the next item in The Box a chance to entertain. I didn’t…really…give it much of a chance. I played no more than four and a half matches. The ‘half’ was the last match. In my idle lunacy, I dismissed TF2 as ‘just another multiplayer’. Another ridiculous blunder on my part. To my younger, idiotic senses the game had a great visual appeal, and clearly wasn’t about to take itself too seriously. However, the few games I had enjoyed had kept me coming back by employing a feel of progression. I was comfortable with games that drip-feed the content – gain enough experience, unlock the next class of warrior or weapon – but in Team Fortress it was all already there, on a plate. With no past experience, I had no understanding of how the classes differed, how I should play, or why I should care.
As if matters could not get any worse, we turn to the final game in the set, and perhaps my greatest moment of imbecility: I played Portal… and decided that it was only ‘very good’.
The audacity. The delinquency. The unmitigated travesty that is my past existence. Whilst all about me friends and gamers unknown revelled in the majesty and hilarity of this tremendous game, I was content with the belief that Portal was a “good idea”, that was executed “really well”, and gave me a “few laughs”. Oh the shame. And what’s more, I found it quite short. I’ve since heard compelling arguments that the game was the exact length that it should be, but I was not so fair and forgiving. Whilst Goldilocks may claim that something can be ‘just right’, when something is good I want what Daddy Bear is getting: more of the good stuff. By which I mean more game time…not more Mommy Bear…
So with each game given a brisk and unfair overview I was idiotically convinced that The Orange Box had performed admirably, but at a standard that could only reach up towards my high expectations. So the collection was promptly dismissed; sold without remorse. May the Gaming Deities have mercy.
Six years have passed.
Last year, I purchased Half Life 1. There were a few reasons for this. Firstly, it was cheap. Secondly, my aging laptop needed something less challenging, as games produced in the last five years tended to leave it weaving and dizzy. Thirdly… I’m a console gamer by default, so all the games I was most interested in were on the PS3 or 360. Even after purchase, the game sat alone, unwanted, not even able to gather dust inside the virtual library.
This Christmas, I purchased a new PC, and my gaming options expanded. I bought myself a few new games, but as I glanced over my older collection on Steam, I realised that there were a few games that I should really play if I was to justify the new editions. So I dutifully, and a little begrudgingly, opened Half-Life 1.
A few weeks passed, and realisation began to brew and boil. I gradually began to realise that my dismissal of The Orange Box have been a mistake. I’d dip in and out of the game at first, playing an hour or so when I had time and between other games. I then played the second half without interruption from any other media. I’d found the experience increasingly entertaining, and was compelled to re-buy The Orange Box last week, this time on PC. I was about to realise what a fool I had been.
When I first played Half Life 2, I had snubbed the story. To me, back then, it had felt like there wasn’t much of a coherent narrative. There were lots of ‘chunks’ of very good gameplay, with a larger story hanging around in the background. Fragments of narrative, if you will. Now that I’m older, I see that this is actually a strength rather than a weakness. Most games place the protagonist at the heart of every element of the story, but in Half Life the story is bigger and deeper than Gordon Freeman. A lot of importance is placed on him, but in the end he’s another human scrambling around trying to piece it all together. Once I saw the game this way, the randomness of the set pieces – the fliting from stealthier, creepier sections back to full-on action – all makes much more sense.
I’m almost through Half Life 2 for the second time, and I’m absolutely smitten. The story, the visuals, the brief snippets of excellent human characters, the subtle humour and the darker corners of the story are all parts that I adore. I find myself more invested too: I give a little jump each time an unseen head crab pounces. I find myself looking round for every nook and cranny that might be explored. With each new encounter I find myself trying to imagine Gordon Freeman’s thoughts on all this. You know, apart from all the internal screaming that must going on inside that big brain of his.
I appreciate the little things as well now. I love the way the weapons stack up on the number keys. In a moment of panic I hit the mouse wheel or number keys one too many times, causing Freeman to juggle through his inventory so that he appears to mirror my own anxiety. I appreciate how few enemy types and available weapons there are at first. The introduction of each new feature carries some quietly implied importance. The world too, that gorgeous world that shows better than most how dystopia can be incredibly fascinating.
More than anything, playing Half Life 1 has allowed me to see just how far Valve moved things forward. The difference between the two games is staggering in many ways. The amount of thought gone into improving on the prequel is self-evident. No one was resting on their laurels; so much of the old game is replaced, enhanced or improved to make the experience as awesome as it can be.
I could go on, but that’s not why I’m here. Convincing you that Half Life is a great series would be like trying to tell a baker about the merits of bread cutting. No, we’re here because an idiot gamer has realised the error of their ways. I haven’t yet approached Episodes 1 and 2, but I have already begun to look back on the decisions my younger self has made with the serious contempt. However, my self-induced humiliation does not stop there.
With a new-found affection for one element of The Orange Box, I decided I should devote some time to what had been my least favourite segment: the multiplayer. If I could enjoy Half Life this much more than I once did, could it be possible that Team Fortress 2 could also provide some thrill? I seriously doubted it. I’d heard about different maps and game modes that I hadn’t credited the game with, (they added Hookshots recently, sounds like fun) but competitive multiplayer has to go a long way to draw me in.
So, a few days ago, I half-heartedly loaded up TF2. I played the tutorials, had a look through the inventory – some potential to customise and find new gear, that’s nice – and went to join a match. As I went to click “Play Multiplayer” I noticed…
Wait…… Huh. Why does that say “Play co-op”? What…...what’s “Mann vs. Machine”? Does this game have co-op mode? I think this game has a co-op mode! When did this game get co-op mode??
Suddenly, the moronic man-child of my past looked all the more ridiculous. Sure, this feature wasn’t there when I bought the game, but if I had given The Orange Box the love and care it deserves, then I could have been playing cooperative TF2 for the last two years! Even now I’ve only played a few rounds, but I already know that it’s exactly the kind of multiplayer I can get behind. Someone hand me a crowbar and a time machine. Someone’s got to go teach me a lesson!
There is then, one other part of The Orange Box left without a revisit. And you know what? I’m not sure I deserve it. Portal was my favourite part of the collection, but I still threw it out with the rest (of what I now know is an incredible set of games). I gave that superb video game the cold shoulder for finishing “too early”. I looked that gift horse in the mouth, poked at its teeth, and then sent it to the glue factory. If I do go back to see the Companion Cube again, it will be with flowers, wine, chocolate, and the promise of some real quality time.
I’ve got two things to ask you lovely commenters this week. Firstly, have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? Have you ever rejected a game, only to return to rediscover and enjoy the experience? Are there games you hated, but on closer inspection realised you want to be their friend after all?
Secondly, do I deserve forgiveness for what I have done? Is there redemption to be found after spurning The Orange Box? Or is my gamer soul doomed forever? Must there be punishment before forgiveness can be granted? Maybe something elaborate involving the gravity gun…
Thank You For Reading
I enjoy finding parallels between Gaming and History, and the treatment of gender in each field shows some commonality. Within the realm of videogames, gender is a topic of debate/discussion/angry rants all of itself. The representation of women is continuously dissected and revaluated. It's not something that should have to be so scrutinised, but it's good that the discussion is so positive a lot of the time. In History, women are also considered as a separate topic for discussion a great deal of the time. It's not ideal, but to avoid the topic at all would be far worse.
[Educational Warning - this blog contains mild amounts of learning and me being more grown-up than usual]
Whenever you might learn or teach a topic from any era, a section of that study will be devoted the study of the women. If you are studying World War 2, there will be one chapter or lesson on the 'role of women in WW2'. From one perspective, it may seem a shame that the distinction between male and female must be made. Yet this is our History; we can learn from it and agree/disagree with it. The role of men and women has been diverse since the beginning.
"Women in gaming" and "women in History" are therefore equally defined and distinct topics within a broader field. What I find odd is how these two topics often intertwine, especially when gender in videogames is being evaluated. On numerous occasions I have heard the case for the defence of male protagonists because 'History shows us x" or "this protagonist should be male because women didn't do x" or "men were knights/soldiers, so it makes more sense", and so on. It seems like a sensible, logical argument, which is not intended as a reinforcement to gender bias (you would hope).
In the past, I have made various connections between games and historic events. I've picked out historic bits of Skyrim and presented real life gun-blades and animal weapons. This time around though, I'm assessing a topic which, three months ago, I honestly had very little understanding of. I would never pretend to be the expert in any topic, but in this scenario I am quite the novice. I recently began reading up on female fighters with one specific question in mind: does History help the arguments against women warriors in videogames or not?
Today, I wish to address this particular line of argument, and debate whether Historic evidence does in fact support the notion that certain protagonists should be male. To keep the debate trim, I'm narrowing the focus to warriors – does History show that the female contribution in times of conflict is largely passive? Or is the female combatant overlooked for some reason? There are many arguments for why there should be more/less male/female characters in games, but which side does History land on?
The addition of a female character or the option of gender in a historic game (or a fantasy game with a historic theme) often draws scrutiny. Whilst gamers are often happy to play as whomever, many gamers question whether women would actually be in that role. Whilst this view is often shot down by those arguing that it's "only a game" or that the "world is fictional", if you take a piece of History to set your game against, you do take the stereotypes and predispositions with it. If the fantasy or science fiction world is a "Kingdom", then the ruler is a "king", and the society is patriarchal. A game might implicitly challenge the notion of gender roles, but many gamers will approach with the belief that the knight or soldier is a male occupation. To alter that perspective, there has to be evidence that women did fight.
If you had asked me Last year to name women warmongers from History, I would have fared poorly. I would have first thought of Mulan, but then reminded myself that she is almost certainly mythical. I would then have created a list of just two people: Boudicca of the Iceni and Joan of Arc. However, only one of these women was (possibly) a fighter. The former may have charged into battle on chariot, as her statue suggests, but the latter only wore armour for show and provided inspiration to her army, never going into combat. Upon my earliest investigation, this began to present as a common theme.
Whenever I came across a new famous warrior woman, I discovered that they played the part of commander rather than a front line warrior. Fu Hao, high priestess and all-round military powerhouse during the Shang Dynasty, was responsible for numerous successful military campaigns, but as a General. By the thirteenth century, the Georgian state was at the height of its power thanks to the ingenuity and military success of Queen Tamar, but said military success seems reliant on her subordinates. Elizabeth I is famous for crushing the Spanish Armada in 1588, but her contribution can be reduced down to an inspiring speech at Tilbury. Many women saw battle, and proved women can wage war, but in many cases they were at the back.
This does of course show that female characters could play leadership roles within an historically affected videogame setting. If the game in question is a strategy game, for example, then the protagonist leading those troops does not have to be a man.
There's a curious trend amongst the tales of female warriors; many of these women became combatants because a man in their life couldn't fulfil their role. Boudicca takes on the Roman legions in Britain because her husband dies and the Romans think they can dethrone her. Zenobia of Palymra, an Arab queen, took hold of her husband's military after his assassination. I'm not sure how the gender-minded proportion of the gaming world would react to a protagonist storyline based on this premise. On the one hand, the protagonist would be proving they can perform a masculine task, but on the other hand they are only able to prove themselves because the man isn't around.
For many of the female war leaders, whether or not they actually fought their own battles is not always clear. I read about the courageous efforts of Laskarina Bouboulina – heiress, revolutionary and naval commander – who organised and funded her own personal regiment in the Greek War of Independence, but I've not actually seen definite proof that she herself took up arms. I hope a greater historian than me can provide the details. Whilst these leaders often wore the armour and weapons of their male warriors, few female fighters followed their forces into the fray. It's also important to note that many of these women war male armour; few of them would go in for boob-shaped plate mail.
As I dug a little deeper, I began to find exceptions to the rule. Tomoe Gozen was the first real fighter I came across. If you'll pardon my mild misogamy: what a woman. It turns out she has already made the leap (sort of) into videogames via Persona 4, but from what I've seen it doesn't do her justice. Whilst much of her life history has been entwined with legend, it is clear that she was an incredible archer and sword
sman swoman sperson, as well as an impressive cavalry fighter. At the Battle of Awazu, Tomoe Gozen faced a force of over 5,000 cavalry with only 300 accompanying cavalry from her Lord, Kiso. She is allegedly one of only five of Kiso's warriors that survived the subsequent massacre, and only left the battlefield when ordered to do so. She cut the head of the nearest and most important looking enemy combatant, then left begrudgingly. The term 'Samurai' may be a male term, but I see a video game protagonist right here.
As aforementioned, Mulan is most likely fictional. Yet the story of a woman pretending to be a man is very real. This brings us back to that trend of female fighters taking the male role. In the 14th century Agnes Hotot, from the House of Dudley, put on her father's armour. Her father had died an hour before fighting a duel against a man he'd argued with. So Agnes went in his place. Not only did she win the fight – she knocked the man off his horse with a lance – she then decided to humiliate the man. Where some would have settle for a derisive "ha-ha! You just got beaten by a girl, na-na-na-nana", Agnes took it a few steps further, exposing her hair and bosom to the crowd. She made it very clear that a woman had just knocked a man down.
I wish I'd have been there… to see the looks on the faces of the crowd. No other reason.
Ever heard of a Shieldmaiden? It's a term most will recognise from Lord of the Rings (take a moment to remember how awesome Éowyn is). For me it was also a term assigned to Norse mythology. Lagertha is a Viking woman of legend that chose to fight alongside male Viking warriors. In one battle she apparently used her 'delicate frame' to her advantage, sneak-attacking the enemy from behind and scaring the mead right off of them. To my delight, I recently discovered that shieldmaidens are potentially real, and there might be quite a lot of them. Early archaeological assumptions have led to the misidentification of Viking skeletons – women aren't buried with swords, so this one must be a dude – and there's increasing evidence to suggest that Norse women went on raids alongside men. What proportion were women, and in what era they were most prevalent, time will hopefully tell.
Stories like Tomoe Gozen and Agnes Hotot are few and far between, often shrouded by legends and suffering from a lack of historical study. Try as I might to find the full picture of ancient female warriors, like the Shieldmaiden, evidence is very fresh or very limited. Nevertheless, the evidence is there. They might be the exceptions to the rule, but the exception is often more interesting than the norm. What's more, when we see that women who either fought or led battles, it demonstrates that women can fight. I didn't need History to know that, but History shows us that if a character in a video game is female and a fighter, then it's justified. Fictional male warriors are often placed in non-fictional environments because that makes sense to us. Well, now female warriors in the same role should make sense too.
There are many positive factors that should be considered when choosing a characters gender. Sometimes a character 'should be' male or female for a particular reason, and in other cases the player can be given the choice because it doesn't affect the game in any way.
What is clear is that History does not provide the definitive defence for why a historic (or historically influenced) game should have a male protagonists. Female fighters are in short supply throughout History, but they do exist. They are also quite awesome. I plan to find out more about them in the next few months.
Next week, I'll spend a bit more time talking about Gaming rather than History. However, I intend to revisit this topic in the future. Rather than belabour the point that female fighters exist in History, I wish to share some other female characters from History that might inspire brand new games. Those examples will include more modern references to warrior women in History. This will hopefully lead on to a broader discussion on the untapped potential of History where gaming is concerned. There are hundreds of events that could inspire some great videogames.
If you have more history to add, or a view on History and gender or Gaming and gender, please leave a comment below.
Now I won’t say that I offered inspiration to the latest Call of Duty… because I obviously didn’t. What I did do was suggest a change to the game franchise that kind of, sort of, made it into the game. Which I think we can all agree is still pretty impressive… if you’re easily impressed. A year ago, I stated that Call of Duty would be improved by the Power Glove from The Legend of Zelda, and Advanced Warfare included exo-suits. That’s basically the same thing (if you ignore all the differences). I’ve always known I was a visionary…
I began blogging just over a year ago. So far I’ve written about being a Gamer-Teacher, explored some of my Weird Theories about various videogames and generally talked about why games are good things. Yet the blog I began with was on this particular subject: Which Games would benefit from a Zelda Weapon? Because the conversation were so fun the first time, and I’m looking for a nostalgia trip for myself, I’d like to revisit this topic.
Below are examples of weapons from Link’s arsenal, and the games I believe they might improve. Some are my own ideas, whilst at least one is inspired by the reader response from the previous blog all those one year ago. The last blog offered individual games that would benefit from a Zelda item, whereas these suggestions are a bit more general.
The Hylian Shield.
There were a couple of replies last year that called for this item of glorious gorgeousness to find its way into another game. The claim made at the time was that it would have livened up the otherwise murky landscape of the Gears of War franchise. It was also noted that the design and shape of this handheld barricade could lend themselves to the firefight.
The slanted edges at the top could allow the user to peer over whilst keeping the shield held high; the fact that it can be easily wielded in one hand ensures that the fighter can use a firearm one-handed; the colourful pattern would distract the opposition or focus them on you if your aim is to ‘agro’ the enemy away from your allies. Link’s shield is often used to great effect at deflecting or reflecting enemy attacks, making it way more versatile than your average lump of wood or metal.
Of course, the shield itself does not need to carry the well-known symbols and imagery of the Legend of Zelda series. Keep the shield, but add a colourful design more relevant to the game in question. Why not make this a customisable feature? I’d love to see what patterns and visuals other players could create for their own shields. And by ‘love to see’, I of course mean ‘dread to think’ and ‘wonder how phallic’.
The Flame Lantern.
When explorers like Nathan Drake or Lara Croft trip, slip or face-plant into a cave, they usually have two lighting options. Firstly, they may have remembered to pack a torch like good little adventurer. Alternatively, they can search for the nearest, most inexplicably convenient torch living nearby. In the Dark Souls games, the player’s created protagonist/punching bag is sent down darkened corridors and crevices with the most meagre of lighting.
A simple light or lantern serves as illumination – and a striking atmosphere – but usually inhibits the player-character’s ability to fend off foes. Not the Flame Lantern. Not only with this object light your way (and any other extinguished lanterns) but it can also set flammable objects ablaze. This little fire-starter can get you out of serious scrapes, or get you into areas that you though were impassable. Should your adventure game take you too close to a giant spider’s web or a group of particularly dry Zombies, the Flame Lantern will burn right through them. It’s not the most impressive weapon, but it makes all the difference when monsters get a little bit cuddly.
The Wall Merge ability.
In a recent edition to the franchise, but no less versatile, the Link of A Link Between Worlds is able to drop a dimension and fuse to smooth surfaces like a painting. At first this quirky feature allows Link to slink between tiny gaps in the stonework, or cross gaping holes in the floor. The game then reveals further opportunities to use the Wall Merge: it’s quite useful for prising objects stuck to walls, and is really useful for sneaking up on other people.
I’m very open about my uselessness where stealth games are concerned. I have patience in spades, but lack the timing and forward thinking approach that more sneak-orientated games demand. I need all the help I can get, and the Wall Merge ability gives me hope. I rarely seem to reach the baddies before they about-turn, and my hiding places would make the average hide-and-seeker grimace, but if I could blend into the nearest wall… I might have a chance.
The ability to pass through barriers and bridge gaps offers a multitude of gameplay opportunities, but it’s the sneakiness of the Wall Merge that appeals to me. Sidling silently past guards, watching there confused faces as they try to remember if that picture was always there, then suddenly barrelling over with the force of the dimension shift. This might take the serious, gritty feel away from most stealth games, but I think it would be worth it for the expression of the henchmen’s face as they are ‘surprise-glomped’.
Besides, there are very few stealth games where the Wall Merge couldn’t logically fit. Whilst Assassin’s Creed presents itself as historically accurate, we could imagine this new ability as the user of the Animus exploiting a bug in the system.
The Gale Seeds.
My opinion is completely torn on Fast Travel. On the one hand, I think a large game deserves to be personally travelled and appreciated. If I’m taking part in a Role-Playing Game, then I feel I should appreciate the whole experience. On the other hand, sometimes the only side-quest you have left for 100% completion is on the wrong side of the map and...well…
What I am more certain about, is that Fast Travel often feels tacked on to the overall game. Whether you hold to a sense of immersion or not, blinking across the map via a loading screen feels somewhat dislocated. Unless I missed a briefing that explained that all open-world game protagonists suffer from serious blackouts, there is rarely an explanation for skipping chunks of game time.
I’d like to see Fast Travel made more ‘included’ within the games they are employed. A wonderfully ludicrous way this was achieved was with the Gale Seeds in Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages & Seasons. There are five different magical seeds that could be harvested from trees across both maps, and the Gale Seed had two attributes. If fired against an opponent the seed would summon a mini-tornado which enveloped the target, forcefully removing them from existence. However, when used on the player, the created wind storm would whisk Link into the air and deposit him at one of several locations across the map.
I’m sure there are gamers that would argue that this form of Fast Travel would contrast with the aesthetic of most open-world videogames, but I’m sure the more innovative game developers could find a way to make their own version of the Gale Seed fit the game design. What’s more, the fact that the Fast Travel is now a consumable item means that players will, perhaps, rely less on the ability to skip the journey. Too much Fast Travel is wasteful, in more ways than one.
Think of a game where you could jump. That should be a fairly easy task to complete. Now think of a game that let you jump-glide. Slightly more challenging, but I’m sure you can think of one. Now ask yourself: did you prefer the jump or the jump-glide? The answer to that question is really easy.
There are already oodles of games that give more than just a traditional hop in the air. Videogames of all genres are fully aware that gamers enjoy gameplay that doesn’t ground the player. Whether it’s an unexplained double-jump or a rocket repelled boost jump or a broken-winged glide we can appreciate a big jump. It’s simple, gleeful fun. Very few games make the jump-glide look as fun… and fashionable… as the Legend of Zelda, however.
Roc’s feather imbues Link with the power to front flip with style across pits and enemies. Whenever this item is unlocked, the hero of Hyrule will spend every journey bouncing and tumbling through the air because walking is for squares. With Roc’s Cape however, the front flip is combined with a swift glide through the air, clearing huge distance in one effortless leap. On top of this, each version of the Cape looks pretty stylish, which I think we can all agree is the most important thing when equipping your character for battle. Simple, elegant, cathartic and well worth sharing around.
Pick a game. Any game. Add a Hookshot. It’s now a better game. Yes, even Tetris. No, I don’t know how that would work. But you know I’m right.
This was a consensus reached in the ensuing discussion of this blogs first outing. There are so many games that employ a grappling hook or gun of some description, and they are always entertaining. Link’s Hookshot is one of the best adaptations of this idea. This is partly due to the satisfying clinking of the metal chain as it launches from the handle, and partly due to the physics-bending way it pulls Link towards the target surface without any influence from gravity. The Hookshot serves as an excellent ‘fetching’ tool too, snatching dropped items from distant ledges or tugging the defences from an armoured enemy. Whilst the abrupt, swift motion looks painful at times, Link has never express any discomfort.
The Hookshot is simple, effective and versatile. The possibilities for this weapon in other games are vast, and the delight they would bring to each game would be tremendous. To prove this point, I refer to Team Fortress 2 and the recent decision to add a Hookshot-esque grappling hook to the game December 2014. I personally think Valve know I just bought a new gaming PC and heard how much I love Hookshots...
Link has a wide variety of toys to share with the other boys and girls, and each one would transfer beautifully into a wide range of games. Since last year I have seen numerous new games try new gameplay features that remind me of tools I’ve seen in Legend of Zelda. Whilst the inspiration is probably not drawn directly for the Zelda series, I’ve no doubt that the series will continue to offer inspiration for years to come. For now, why not leave a comment suggesting a game and Zelda weapon that should be combined, or offer an opinion on any of my suggestions?
Thank You for Reading
As the New Year begins, reflection of the Old Year takes precedent. The World Wide Web is awash with Top and Bottom lists of Games from 2014. The general consensus seems to be that last year saw a few excellent games hovering above a majority of… games of a significantly lower calibre. Big promises were left unfulfilled, which left the community somewhat dejected. I personally had a good year of gaming, but I have spent the last two months playing Skyrim… so my opinion probably doesn't count.
I'm quite often late to the party when it comes to games. I'm a patient sole whose always been taught to save the pennies. The only game I played on its release date last year was Destiny, which was a gift from my fiancé. Otherwise I've been enjoying my time playing Xbox 360 and PS3 games that were released months and, in some cases, years after their release. This has often meant that I have played a videogame long after the media hype or critical sneering has died away.
Even when opinions are taken out of the equation, it can still be difficult to enjoy videogames. It might be that it isn't your usual type of game, or that there's an aspect of the games that bug you, or something feels missing. Either way, having simple fun with a game isn't always so straightforward. Below are a few videogames that I've struggled to settle into, or enjoyed only because I was in the right frame of mind. Have a read, and consider just how easy you find it to fully enjoy your gaming.
I started playing Dead Space 3 long after the initial scathing and derision was over. There was a lot of gamers disappointed by the direction the franchise went in: the horror element of this series has been increasingly supplanted by action; the unwelcome growth of the micro-transaction; odd little changes to the inventory. The third iteration is hardly a massive alteration of the franchise, but there were just enough minor changes to rub gamers the wrong way.
I tend to agree, to a lesser extent. I'm not the most ardent fan of scary games, but I liked the way Dead Space would scare me. The game put you into a desperate situation, but gave you just enough power to fight that desperation. In Dead Space 3 I was practically shedding ammo and small med kits and the tension gradually fell away too. My personal grievance was just how lazy the jump-scares were becoming. When the Necromorphs are popping up out of the snow every two seconds, the scare isn't really there.
How I enjoyed it: Knowing that the game was going to be more action-based, I found myself considering the series from Isaac Clarke's perspective. In Dead Space, Mr Clarke was terrified of a new monster made of blades and dead colleagues. In Dead Space 2 he's come to turns with his role as monster-killer. Despite his early complaints, the Isaac of Dead Space 3 is more at home amongst the Necromorphs than a pig in mud.
Whilst it's not nice to see a horror franchise forget it used to be scary, the action-shooter aspect of the game is as strong as it ever was. So, following Isaac's lead, I revelled in the killing of monsters rather than waiting to be scared.
Once I was in the right frame of mind, Dead Space 3 became fun. The gunplay is still immensely satisfying, and each weapon is wonderfully entertaining. I'm quite fond of any game that lets me build and modify my own weapons, and Dead Space 3 let me attach a flame thrower to the bottom of a rocket launcher. Unfortunately, I can't quite explain how they both take the same ammunition…
Providing I hold back my disappointment concerning the absence of horror, the Dead Spacefranchise remains an enjoyable romp, and Isaac Clarke is a suitable central character. He's not scared anymore, so neither am I.
I should completely adore Sniper Elite V2. I'm fond of any game set in an historic setting, and the whole notion of a lone soldier sneaking around with a sniper rifle has instant appeal. Despite this, I do struggle to fully enjoy the game, largely because it suffers from repetition.
Sniper Elite V2 has a very focused gameplay style. You find a spot to shoot from, and watch as the game takes absolute delight in showing the slow-motion, x-ray vision view of every kill shot. Each time you make a successful shot the game reacts like it didn't think you could do that. The only way the game could further emphasise how awesome you are is by awarding you points every time you kill- oh wait the game does that too. The game does a very good job of making sniping entertaining and rewarding – which is great for a game about a sniper – but after a while there is a feeling of 'rinse-and-repeat', taking out enemies in the same fashion, with only minor changes to scenery.
How I enjoyed it: I rarely play Sniper Elite V2 for more than twenty minutes. It makes a great break from the work I bring home, and passes the time if I'm waiting for friends to join a multiplayer session. If I finish a game and there's time left in the evening, this game gets brought out. I play it just long enough for the act of hiding and sniping to entertain and not become stale. It also makes for a wonderful stress reliever.
This blog could easily become a smug reflection on just how great I am for enjoying games for what they are, so let's balance things out with a game that I tried to enjoy and failed hard. I never quite found a way to appreciate Crysis 3, despite getting along with its prequel.
I played Crysis 2 to its fullest, and very much enjoyed the journey. I tried my best to follow the stealthy approach, and I'm the kind of person who fails miserably at sneaking. I was much more at home with the second option: gunning down enemies behind reinforced armour. Despite my ineptitude at stealth, I still appreciated the game mechanic. The fact that your invisibility has a limit, and weapons fire nullifies its effect adds a very real need for strategy and quick-thinking.
Why I didn't enjoy it: I was therefore disappointed to discover that the game developers had attempted to undermine the primary game feature – the Nanosuit - by adding a new feature that shuns its very premise. The Predator Bow lets the player stay invisible after firing off a shot, thus negating any need to sneak around, picking enemies off. On top of this, the bow is inexplicably powerful, thus rendering all non-stealth weapons pretty much unnecessary. The player can simply stand at the edge of an arena, fire off kill-shots one after the other, and then sneak around collecting the arrows to repeat the process. The games core gameplay was now made almost obsolete.
Now I know I could have ignored the existence of the Predator Bow and done things the old fashioned way (the kind of old-fashioned that uses guns instead of a bow…) but what bugged me was just how much emphasis is placed on the Bow in-game and in its advertisement. "I have a bow now!" the game beams, "and bows are cool. Everyone likes bows and this one's from the future. All the cool kids like bows." I was therefore facing two options, play the game without the bow and ignore a focal point of this iteration of Crysis, or use the thing and make the game tedious. It was at that point that I realised that I was having to overthink a game that features a dead dude in an alien suit and I lost interest.
Every possible opinion that could be expressed about a videogame has been linked to Destiny. The sheer magnitude of debate and diversity of reaction around this game has been extraordinary. Saying that I quite enjoyed the game feels quite out of place amongst the many, heated arguments, but I found Destiny to be a good game. Not quite good, not very good, just a good game. Those that criticise the lack of story our correct, but those that argue for the effective core gameplay have it right as well. This was the one and only videogame that I played new this year, on release day at that, and simply playing and enjoying the game was challenging at best. Even when I joined a strike team currently in session, the people in my group playing the game would often argue about the quality of Destiny.
Whilst I did enjoy playing, you might also have inferred that I am not playing it any more. I sank many a happy hour into the game, and enjoyed completing and re-completing (and re-re-completing) each and every mission. The main reason I felt I could do no more with the game was that I couldn't complete the 'raids'. As a teacher my work can carry on into the evening, so I can't promise a group gaming session in advance and certainly can't give a game more than a couple of hours in an evening. I didn't stop having fun, but I reached the limit of what I could do with the game. Once I stopped playing, the need to play subsided.
How I enjoyed it: I've always described Destiny as if it was a spinning top. It's simple, colourful, and when you get it going it's entertaining in a straightforward away. If you keep the top spinning, you won't see anything new, but it's still wonderfully cathartic. Apart from getting a little bit better at spinning, you don't really achieve much. As long as you find the motion entertaining, you'll keep spinning, and it will keep your attention. Once you've lost interest, it can be easily put to one side or replaced by a new toy.
I played Destiny because, despite its flaws and 'unfulfilled potential', it was a very fun experience. Just like a spinning top, it isn't a toy I will remember too fondly or want to play with again, but it was entertaining at its core like every video game should be. Some people will play it until they've levelled and unlocked what they can, others will play for much longer because that core gameplay entertains them. I won't likely return to Destiny because I feel that I've had all the enjoyment I can.
The act of sitting down and purely enjoying a videogame isn't always easy. The more we think about games, the more we dissect them. A single fault with a game can override our ability to appreciate the strengths. Time and concentration we can afford a videogame can vary wildly. If someone points out a feature of a game they disapprove of, that can be all you ever notice when you get your chance to play.
I'm curious to hear how easy you find it to enjoy a videogame. Does hype affect your outlook? How do you allow yourself to appreciate a game for what it is and not what it could have been? Are there games you won't play because "they're not your sort of game", or will your leap into a game that even the most positive reviewer has struggled to praise? Can you think of any games that you began hating and then learnt to love?
When I first asked the above question, I didn't think I'd be able to write a third part. I was so sure that as I trundled further into the fantasy landscape, less historic details would present themselves. As magic and mythical beasts become increasingly prevalent, I expected to spot fewer references to the real ancient world. Whilst this is very definitely the case, Skyrim is still presenting quirky little historical accuracies.
For those who've missed the first two parts, the aim here is to highlight all the little ways thatSkyrim is influenced by History. In some cases these comments refer to very real events, whilst in other cases I refer to things that people believed were real throughout History, such as dragons. And no, I've still not found any historic evidence to prove that dragons were real. I'll keep looking though.
So here are a few more aspects of Skyrim that show the mighty influence of historic events. [Educational Warning: Minor amounts of learning ahead.]
Have you ever considered how odd it is that this fictional world is ruled by a 'king'? The writers could have selected any imagined title for the local despot, but instead they opted for a pre-existing label of leadership. Well, that isn't the only title pulled from History. Each region of Skyrim is governed by a 'Jarl', which is the Scandinavia word for an Earl.
It's all well and good trying to convince the common man that they are ruled by one, single person with a fancy hat, but it's another thing to organise. Whilst a King rules the state, his most loyal and powerful subjects would each rule a section of the country in the King's name. These Jarls also had the chance to become the next King in the previous fellow met an untimely/violent end.
Whether you are using the word Earl, Jarl or Count, these individuals are vital the success of a medieval king or queen. With their support the King can raise troops and taxes from every 'Earldom' in the Kingdom, uprisings can be swiftly dealt with, and news from the four corners can reach them quickly. If the Jarls are less than loyal to their current King... well then you get a Civil War like the one boiling over in Skyrim...
Thane is also an historically accurate term. Once you have completed enough missions in a region to prove to the local Jarl that you are indeed a purveyor of awesomeness, they will bestow this title upon you. In Skyrim a Thane receives a new weapon and special friend to follow you everywhere no matter how far you fast travel. In medieval Scandinavia, a Thegn is the early version of a Knight, and could become a Jarl themselves one day.
The title makes you a 'servant' or 'attendant' of the king. As with a knighthood, the title of Thegn/Thane is traditionally awarded by the King rather than the local Earl. Just as a Thane in Skyrim can get away with petty crimes – so long as the bounty is low – no one except the King was allowed to pass judgement on the King's Thegn.
The only 'inaccuracy' that can be found with the use of these two terms is that they were, even by the middle ages, fairly primitive words. As stated, 'Thane' would give way to 'Knight' and 'Jarl' would switch to 'Duke'. Perhaps the intention was to use lesser known words to give the impression of fantasy. Then again, the original word for Duke is 'Dux'... and I think I would have preferred everyone in Skyrim calling each other Dux instead of Jarl.
Spells and Wards are a big part of the combat in Skyrim. They are also, sadly, very historically inaccurate. Magic is one of those features that is accurate in the sense that History inspired it. In part 2 of this blog I argued that without the historic belief in dragons we wouldn't see them in a fantasy setting, and the same is true for magic.
Throwing fire, ice and lightning across the horizon is a bit much for most superstitious historic civilisations, but the ability to heal through magic exists throughout history. The use of healing abilities on the wounded or sick is an event witnessed throughout History. Hildegard von Bingen, an eleventh century saint, was apparently blessed with healing powers through physical touch and through a more tangible combination of herbs and stones. Yes, Hildegard's levels in Restoration and Alchemy were pretty high.
Whilst Charles II of England may not have learnt 'Grand Healing', he was believed to possess an equally fanciful ability: Royal touch. This ability is also where the term "lay on hands" originates from. French and England Kings had for centuries possessed the ability to heal the sick through touch, and Charles II used his ability to heal over 100,000 people during the Great Plague.
Whilst the act of summoning a healing light from the palms of your hands is disappointingly far from the truth, there are countless instances in History where healing magic seemed to play a part. This is true of even more recent History. When the Russian Tsar discovered that his son was a haemophiliac, even the most expensive doctors failed to help the boy. When all seemed lost the Tsarina called on the help of the self-proclaimed holy man named Rasputin, who indeed appeared to bring the boy back to full health. Whilst luck and coincidence offer better explanations for this feat, the Tsarina was wholly convinced.
There are other magic abilities in Skyrim that have roots in History – the abilities to turn or banish the undead are another example – but the ability to heal through touch or simple words is regular feature of more sensible and logical points in time.
Very early on in the game, your created character is threatened with a swift head removal. In Part 1, I discussed the accuracy of this practice at length. For a long stretch of my playthough it seemed that beheading or imprisonment were the only forms of punishment available to the citizens of Skyrim. How happy I was to see a twin pair of stocks set up in the lower corner of Markarth, the most Western settlement.
Medieval crime and punishment is a fascinating topic, and one that would take several blogs to fully explore. The vast multitude of ways in which the peasantry and nobility could be maimed, killed, humiliated or tortured for even the most menial crime is astounding. A low-level thief in medieval Europe risked loss of fingers, hand or eyesight, having an ear lobe or nostril sliced or having their hand or forehead marked with red-hot poker (to name just a few methods). Yet few methods of punishment were more simple and effective than the stocks.
You may recognise the contraption. You might have once posed for a photo with your head and hands through the holes in the wood, trying to look guiltily and sad. Yet there is no denying that the stocks are one of the most widely used methods of punishment, and also interrogation, in history.
When you have a moment, try standing like you would if in the stocks: bent forward, head down, with your arms up to the level of your neck (I'd probably warn the people you live with before you start standing round the house like this). After a while, it will start to get uncomfortable and a lot more humiliating. Now imagine you are standing like that for an hour. After a short while, everything will start to hurt, and there's nothing you can do about it. To make matters worse, an hour is probably the shortest amount of time you'd expect to spend in the stocks. Four hours, eight hours, three days... these are all periods of time that criminals are known to have spent between these blocks of wood.
And what possible crime would you have to commit to spend a whole hour in this contraption? Swearing. Yup. If you were caught cursing in medieval England, it could mean an hour in the stocks.
We get things easy in Skyrim. When you're caught pick pocketing or Fus Ro Dah-ing the local population, your punishment is a restful night in the cells. Wouldn't it be a much more effective deterrent for your character if they were physically tortured in the stock? Well... probably not... you'd just skip the hours until freedom, but it would be more historically accurate. And if the townsfolk turned up to verbally and physically harm you whilst you were bound, well that would just add to the historical experience.
The windows of houses in Skyrim are incredibly small. Larger windows appear to be lots of small segments of dark glass stuck together. Once you're inside a building there seems to be very little to see of the outside world. This makes sense from a game creator's perspective – interiors don't have to be loaded until necessary – but there is also historical accuracy to this: making glass is hard.
A medieval; craftsmen would often have one particular skill that they honed in order to make money. We can't all try our hand a bit of blacksmithing whenever we feel like it (and there's certainly no real chance in mastering metalwork after hammering together a few necklaces). Glassmaking is a new skill altogether, and given that most medieval houses coped with wooden shutters, learning to make glass was rarely a way to make money.
We think of glass as smooth, clear and colourless, but Anglo-Saxon glass usually had a distinct blue-green colour and a rough, bubbly surface. The wine bottles in Skyrim are perhaps the most accurate examples of what medieval glass would look like. Impurities in the mix and the basic nature of the technique would mean that clear glass vessels were near-impossible. It's also the main reason why most medieval vessels are deliberately coloured; to hide the murkiness of the material.
So glass is much more common in alcohol-holding form than as windows throughout history and in Skyrim. Those lattice windows are also very common in the homes of medieval nobility. The thin and rough characteristics of the glass meant that large panes of glass were out of the question. However, the main form of glass in early medieval Europe was neither windows nor bottles. Glass was more often used to make beads and decorative pieces in jewellery. The logic is pretty straightforward here: whereas in Skyrim precious stones and jewels seem to be more widespread than food, in the real world the average person would need something cheaper and more obtainable to make themselves look pretty.
So this game continues to tease out historic nuggets amongst the magic and mayhem. So much so, that a Part 4 is surely on its way. For one thing, I'll probably need to comment on how everyone in Skyrim is far too healthy all the time. Either way, I hope you enjoy these tangents from Gaming into History.
I've had a very family-orientated Christmas this year, and haven't been gaming or blogging all that much for the last two weeks. I hope to be writing on a weekly basis again. May that news bring you joy and/or dread. Happy New Year!