|By PlatformPCPS3Xbox 360Wii U3DSPS VitaAndroidiPhoneiPadOther HardwareEditor's Choiceby Author||By LatestThe best and worst s : May Returns Pillars of Eternity Jump'N'Shoot Attack of Thrones: A Telltale Series:... Life is Strange: Out of Time Fossil Fighters: Frontier Bloodborne Frozen Cortex Bladestorm: Nightmare Resident Evil Revelations 2:... Tales from the Borderlands: Atlas...More reviews||By GenreActionAdventureFightersFree-to-playMMOMusicPlatformShootersSportsRPGStrategyMore genres|
This week, I will discuss the possibility that videogame journalism is or could ever be gonzo journalism, similarly to Dr Hunter S Thompson's Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas.
So recently I had a scrape-in with gonzo journalism, if you can call it that. This wasn't anything planned really, as the best forms of gonzo I find tend not to be. After my Q&A session with ArenaNet, I knew I would have to dedicate an entire article to it as it would cheapen the opportunity I had gotten if I had just slapped it with the rest of the “games I had tried” articles. So once I got back to my house, I got the recording and threw it to someone who also writes for the website I work at. A few days later, after much frustration of the poor quality of the recording (including one part where the speaker was especially quiet amongst a noisy background), he throws it back to me along with the transcription.
Three days later, there is nothing. I'm still staring at the transcript, trying to bring myself to dismantle it into key points so I could assemble something resembling an article from it. I had played Payday 2 enough to find it stale, Bravely Default was testing my patience and the idea of picking a dry game like Analogue: A Hate Story to finally play through at this moment was a poor idea akin to rubbing my face on my desk while begging “why?”.
Really, as much as I like the idea of Analogue: A Hate Story, a game where you just read a rather lengthy tale involving Korean history while manipulating a computer database is not the game to play when your patience with everything is completely fried.
So, during the darkest hours of the morning, two or three pints of beer in, I figured “okay, maybe if I write the introduction, that'll get me into the swing of things”. So I slam on the keyboard for an hour or three, I don't know how long it took. I figured “okay, maybe if I write it as a narrative, getting my experiences of doing my first ever Q&A and slowly meld it into the information-filled aspect of what the interview actually contained, maybe it'd be good enough”. However, nearly half a page later, I knew I'd have to consult if I should stripe it down for parts so I could salvage a much shorter intro still or if a page long intro wouldn't get me stabbed in the throat by the editor The writer who did the transcript had idea number 3: Complete the piece, hand it in.
At the time I thought it was insane, I mean, it lacked absolutely any information at all. It was just me talking about how I am incredibly anxious. However, I completed it. The co-writer loved it, despite me still feeling like it was a glorified blog post, and later the editor loved it too. Using such phrases like “I totally felt emotions and stuff with it” (actual wording) felt like poor plasters on that itch that perhaps it was simply awful, although in the end it got published anyway.
If your editor uses the phrase "I totally felt emotions and stuff with it", either they are being sarcastic or a robot. If the latter, you should seek help. If the former, you've come across a real human editor.
So, four paragraphs later, I haven't even touched any form of factual information. Which, as I've been pondering upon what to write about for this analysis, struck me as something somewhat common in the audience-favoured reporting styles of videogame journalism. This type of lack of pure factuality is something acknowledged when it comes to things such as reviews (which has been satirised by Jim Sterling, using Final Fantasy 13 to show what a purely objective review would look like), but as we also favour an injection of character in even our videogame news stories it may mean that videogame journalism may be one of the, if not the, only forms of journalism to favour a (perhaps watered down) gonzo style.
So first I will discuss what is gonzo journalism, and then argue for and against the possibility that either we currently do embrace it or that we may in the future use it. Finally, I will try to conclude on if we are gonzo, if we could ever be gonzo and, if we're not already, discuss the reasons why.
Well, I should perhaps start with an all important question: “What is gonzo journalism?”. Which this is a bit of a trickier question than it suggests. Due to the chaotic fashion of perhaps the father (probably the wrong word, “diabolical alchemist” may be better?) of gonzo journalism, Dr Hunter S Thompson, the real specifics of what makes it so has a few firm details and a lot of vague possibilities. So let us lay out onto the table the two core fundamental details that Dr Thompson would always stress: Subjectivity and the narrator as the main protagonist in the tale.
The concept of subjectivity as a journalistic style reaches beyond a simple preference, into a full on philosophical statement on the nature of reporting on events. The idea there is no objective way to report on a story was something that Dr Thompson held true, going as far as to say that attempted objectivity and giving a balanced view had corrupted politics (in an interview, he went as far as to state “you can't be objective about Nixon”).
If you want the UK equivilant to Nixon, here's a picture of Margaret Thatcher.
While this philosophy does lead to a greater freedom to the journalist of what, in their subjective opinion, is important about the event (or, in the case of Dr Thompson who once was tasked to cover a racing event and ended up writing Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, if the event its self was event important to talk about at all), the lack of a guiding hand can lead to a final article that is less informative and more just entertainment. This can be fine, but if a person had hoped an article that set out to report on an event and twenty pages in they realise the event was never going to be covered, this can lead to a betrayal in expectation.
Perhaps independently, there has also been a sociological movement that has concerned its self with the possibility of if there is an objective reality to study, or just various different streams of unique personal interpretations of reality. Depending on if you feel there is an objective reality or not would help determine if it is possible to report on a firm objective and balanced truth, or if the best we can accomplish is either a balancing of many collective interpretations or to full on embrace the researcher's own unique perception on reality. The latter, taken to its extreme, could end up as a sociological form of gonzo journalism.
The second aspect, the narrator as the main protagonist, is perhaps an extension of the previous key aspect of gonzo journalism but, I feel, is also an independent part. Not only is this is a committal to subjectivity, as you are emphasising it is your personal interpretation of events, but the interactivity allows a greater manipulation of the subject at hand. It makes it more possible, if the journalist feels, to delve deeper into the main story or even take a diversion they feel is important to make. It not only grants even more freedom to discuss what they feel, even philosophical parts (e.g. as I was on the train on the way to London, I noticed a small town called Three Bridges, thinking to myself the simplistic town-naming system of what might have been ancient England, compared to the semi-complex naming system of America where the origin isn't easily apparent, what this could infer about the people at the time), but also makes it possible to discuss events as it occurred to you in your view rather than as an objective distant photograph.
"Ancient England". Also known as 1841.
However, beyond these two characteristics, there are further ones. Alayna Smith in When The Going Gets Weird briefly talks about additional possible parts others have theorised such as the participation of a male bonding figure, constantly struggling to meet deadlines and “incisive, but often not sustained or highly developed, social satire or parody” (p4). There have also been suggestions that for a piece to be gonzo it must require the reporter to commit to the gonzo lifestyle of heavy use of swearing, alcohol and some dabbling in drugs (although Dr Thompson even professed that while it worked for him, drugs isn't for everyone). However, while the above factors definitely worked for Dr Hunter S Thompson, I feel that in the videogame journalism industry they are either unimportant or even possible hindrances. While it is possible that you could replace the cutting social satire or parody with statements on videogame culture and the industry, the other aspects would be hard to imitate beyond reasons than for the sake of imitation. Due to this, for the sake of ease, I'll be using the two basic characteristics as outlined above.
Now with our rough definition of modern gonzo journalism (subjectivity and the narrator as the main protagonist) in our hands, hopefully we can now assess how this compares to videogame journalism. So lets look at why it is or could become gonzo journalism.
The first aspect that could hint at videogame journalism being gonzo already is the distinct possibility that one of the core parts of it, reviews, already mostly fit the two parts that make up gonzo. While there is always the attempt to be analytical and fair with an assessment, most reviewers acknowledge that to be objective in reviews is an impossibility. In fact, Jim Sterling at one time made a satire of the notion there ever can be an objective review with a purely objective analysis of Final Fantasy 13.
"You can't be objective about Nixon, Thatcher and Final Fantasy 13".
While there is an avoidance to cast the the reporter as the main character in their own article, there are often references to personal experiences and examples of play when making a particular point. While not offering specifics, Darren Nakamura talks partially of his personal choices in his Game Of Thrones: The Lost Lords review (http://www.destructoid.com/review-game-of-thrones-a-telltale-game-series-the-lost-lords-286943.phtml). So while the reviews fit the first criteria as a glove, it would likely require a very particular writing style to fit with the second. However, it is a very real possibility that shows up in very minor ways, especially revolving around games that brag that your choices affect the plot.
There are also some news coverage that does tend towards injecting the author into the coverage. While this doesn't necessarily confirm the “subjective coverage” angle of the first requirement, although it does suggest it, the injection of the self allows accessibility to the reporter's views. One such example is Jonathan Holmes's coverage of if Playboy is a legitimate news outlet. The avoidance of a neutral tone seems to be to inject charisma into what could be dry coverage, thus making it more interesting for the reader, as well as to infer a subjectivity to the matter to allow the possibility of disagreement with mutual respect of opposing opinions. This combines together to present a more light-hearted and less-serious article that perhaps something more dry and factual would have seemed.
However, there are two aspects that could make gonzo journalism with videogames an impossible goal.
The first is the typically refined and friendly tone of videogame journalism. While there are exceptions to this rule (like Jim Sterling's Inquisition, although that could be considered more a commentary than journalism, and, possibly, John Walker's interview of Peter Molyneux (although my personal view of Walker's style in the interview is a very negative one)), there is a tendency for articles to be written in either a neutral tone or a positive outlook.
If your interviewer for a job asks you if you're pathalogical liar, perhaps it isn't the job for you.
This is in contrast to the typical gonzo style that is very raw, critical and satirical. While it doesn't fall under the characteristics I mention, the very refined aspect can run counter to the typical opportunities of rawness that pure subjectivity and being the main character in your own article offers. Especially as a neutralised version of yourself in the story could be seen as not a real representation of you in the article's tale. So while it could still be technically gonzo to be as friendly as, say, Jonathan Holmes tends to be in articles it could be argued to avoid the spirit of gonzo that Dr Hunter S Thompson laid down.
There is also the problem that videogame journalism does have a tendency to stay very close to the topic. Going back to the Jonathan Holmes coverage of if Playboy is a legitimate news source. It appears to stay very much on topic, something that runs in the face of traditional gonzo coverage where the author is given a chance to go off-topic if needed. However, this could start to define a modern form of gonzo coverage due to the tendency for roughly 500 to 1000 words to a news piece, rather than the book-sized coverage of Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. As there isn't enough words for typical divergence, an article would either have to be dedicated (either fully or mostly) to being centred on the author in a subjective way, or on the intended subject of the piece.
Outside of gonzo journalism, usually divergence in journalism ends badly.
To conclude, I think the possibility videogames use gonzo journalism currently is obviously no. Even cutting down the requirements down to just two factors, it is rare for something to remotely come close to embracing both parts. If we could one day approach the modern form of gonzo journalism I've outlined, with a bit of determination it is a very real possibility. However, even excluding the other characteristics others suggest are required to embrace the soul of gonzo, the type of experiences or philosophical insight required to produce one article is something that would have to be somewhat rare to keep the charm that comes with something like Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Done too much, it could lead to just being a commentary track on the background of the subject matter or, worse, be dragged into boredom as the author delves into the monotonous dull parts of their life.
Trying to keep the release schedule somewhat rare (maybe once a month or less) would be unfeasible without the writer managing to make it last as long as a book and then releasing it in chapters, which at that point it could be argued it could be better to just publish it as a book if you have something resembling a following.
Despite this, it is okay. Gonzo journalism isn't something you have to turn on all the way constantly, but rather something you can flick on-and-off as you desire. Nor is it something you have to keep pure and whole, but rather instead something you can dissect what you desire and shuffle on writing. While the philosophy can run counter to some other mainstream journalistic philosophies, such as analytic journalism where they wrestle with a complex singular reality to try to create a public understanding of it, it doesn't mean you can't pick-and-choose what works for you without delving into double-think territory. It is really up to you, when and if you do write, to pick a style that fits your own philosophy, or even make one up. Just write until you can report in a way that reflects your understanding of what is truth and the best way to present it. That, I believe, is the only way we can write in a way that helps us comprehend and communicate the reality as we know it.
Sorry about missing last week. Doing the interview analysis ended up being a lot harder than I first figured and I wasn't able to write anything up. Once my gonzo article and interview article has been posted on GHT, I'll be sure to link it below.
Tonight, I wish to recommend to you a videogame that embraces a B-movie feel without being too on-the-nose about it.
Remember those nights staying up a bit longer than you perhaps should, how you would flick through the channels for something to watch? You'd just pick any odd film or TV show that caught your eye, especially the shlockiest, cheesiest and cheapest looking B-movie they were showing. After all, after the midnight hour who doesn't love something as ridiculous as Night Of The Lepus? Ever since then, videogames have tried to embrace the silliness and campiness of B-movies to mixed effect.
ESPECIALLY you House/Typing Of The Dead: Overkill.
For me though, I had always wondered why videogames could not scratch that B-movie itch for me. Then, I stumbled upon a game that made me realise why. As I grew up in the 90s, that overly-gritty cheese was the type of flavour I was used to. Warhammer 40k always made me smile at how silly it all really was, and it took one game to make me realise that the same ridiculousness that goes into Warhammer 40k could make the leap to videogames. That game is The Haunted: Hells Reach.
The Haunted: Hell's Reach is a third-person shooter by KTX Software, where you must survive wave after wave of hideous demons as they wish to destroy your body and take your soul to the depths of hell. Once you kill your way through the waves recommended, you must over-come the main boss Abaddon or, as the game tells you, “be trapped in Hell forever”.
Where this game does incredibly well is its cheesy characterisation. You get to play as one of four characters: Jacob the priest, Hector the South American mercenary, Bruce who is a blood-thirsty warrior and Caleb the veteran of war. Each one of these, every so often, will utter a cheesy line based on who they are. I'll admit to being particularly fond of Caleb, as he mutters with a guttural tone phrases as though he's just chewing on the scenery with the lines them selves being just as cheesy and hammy as a sandwich factory. Just to hear a gravelly voice utter “you can kill the warrior, but you can't kill the war.” and “Here's the missing nail in your coffin.” as you blow the head off some monster just makes me grin at its overly-serious ridiculous way.
It really almost gets as cheesy as Warhammer 40k sometimes.
Another rather impressive inclusion in the game is the use of breakable stones to avoid players defending one spot and rewarding risks. There is an important thing for designers to consider when making their game, and that is something called Dominant Strategy. The simplistic explanation is that it occurs when strategies aren't formed from personal preference and imagination, but rather when there is a very cold and obvious correct strategy that will win out over other strategies. While this isn't too much of a problem in PVE games although is best avoided (as it does discourage the fluidity of planning-as-you-go), this does become incredibly problematic in PVP games.
How The Haunted: Hell's Reach avoids this dominant strategy is by luring the player out of tactically powerful positions by either rewarding them if they do or punishing them if they don't. Every so often, breakable stones will spawn. These are either Chronostones which if left unbroken unleashes a level-specific environmental effect (e.g. very thick fog, acid rain or meteor showers), Healthstones that heal you to max health if you break them or Soulstones to bring back dead allies upon breaking. If you leave the stones alone for too long, a minion will pick up the stone and run with it; with the creature eventually exploding and taking the power of the stone with it (or triggering the environmental effect if its the Chronostone). This leads to a very nice mechanism in the player where they have to weigh up the risks and rewards of leaving a strong place to go break a stone for extra health, to resurrect a friend or stop a disastrous event from occurring.
The third interesting part is they use an upgradeable weapon system with increasingly insane weapons. In The Haunted Hell's Reach, you get four weapons: Melee, pistol, shotgun and machine gun. As you get an amount of kills, a gauge fills up which upon completion allows you to upgrade the weapon you are holding to the next tier. Due to it being level specific, it allows you to go from basic stock weapons to duel-wielding pump shotguns long before the game ends and experiment with other upgraded weapon combinations. Maybe focus on using duel-revolvers and a big bloody mace? This adds not only an arcade-like feel that encourages pick-up-and-play (as the upgrades don't go beyond the match) but it also allows mental comparison to B-movies as you equip increasingly over-the-top weapons.
However, of course, there are some down sides with this game.
Damn, why can't games be, y'know, perfect? Would save me time at least...
The first you'll quickly notice is the multiplayer isn't as good as the single player. Even with the various multiplayer modes, the game doesn't really encourage team-work beyond resurrecting dead allies. This can make the game feel a little solitary. Plus, as there is a limited amount of enemies and kills lead to upgraded weapons, it can lead to some players having a lot of upgraded gear and others having none. It usually works out more fun to at least have friends to organise and set out tactics with or, better yet, play on your own.
Another problem with the game is the final boss is incredibly hard. Even if you know the tactics to take down Abaddon, the amount of health he has and the amount of damage he delivers means it is a very hard time to hurt him. Add to this the limited drops of Healthstones and ammo, and it'll be lucky to defeat the final demon. I'll admit I've never managed to win a game, usually due to Abaddon. This can mean you will lose usually, leading to a pretty unsatisfying end.
Abaddon being hard? Its like he is a demon or something.
If you are looking for a quick and easy cheesy survival game to just play every so often on PC, I highly recommend picking up The Haunted: Hell's Reach during a discount. The amount of scenery chewing by the voice actors, the cheesy script writing and the silly levels of gore will be sure to remind you of a B-Movie. Failing that, the semi-simplistic survival gameplay as you upgrade your weapons as you go along will definitely be some fun. Which I feel the fun will be worth the £5.50 (assuming 50% off) price tag. I hope this under-rated and mildly obscure game gets the love that it definitely deserves after all the years of being released on Steam. Just don't take it as anything more intellectual than a B-movie made into a game, after all I feel there is still value in being a game that is as dumb, silly and incredibly cheesy as The Haunted: Hell's Reach is.
So today I hope to analyse if episodic games could last or if the “episodic game bubble” will burst, and if they could last then what purpose they could hold.
Episodic games have had a surprisingly long history. While it has existed since the late 70s/early 80s, and even includes non-adventure games like Half Life 2, the format we see today (where you buy a season pack, and episodes are released every so often) only really burst onto the scene with Telltale Games's Sam & Max Save The World (also known as Sam & Max Season One) in 2006. Since then, for eight years, Telltale Games have continued episodic games from the comical Sam & Max and Tales From The Borderlands to the dramatic Game Of Thrones and Walking Dead series. Along side this, there have been a few developers who have joined this model such as Double Fine Productions (Broken Age), DONTNOD Entertainment (Life Is Strange) and Red Thread Games (Dreamfall Chapters). I believe there will be more developers in the coming years who take up this episodic method of development for their game, which may even be in genres beyond the choose-your-own-adventure style Telltale Games have embraced.
So, that leaves an important point: How useful is this episodic method in development? After all, there are clear advantages and disadvantages to using this method of production. So today I wish to consider these pros and cons and then reach a rough conclusion on if this episodic game bubble will burst. In this conclusion, I will also try to briefly talk about what particular game styles the episodic game method would be especially problematic or useful for. As some genres slide nicely into what I feel the episodic game format can provide, while others don't mesh at all. With that done, I guess its time to jump into what is good about episodic games.
"I name all my bubbles after trendy bandwagon things! Then when they eventurally pop, the trends pop too! Its like the cheapest form of voodooism, and if I know places with economic success it is the most destruction!"
The first positive use of episodic games is it allows the games to be released as piece-meal, allowing shorter-development time until the first releasable product. Some games are announced a year or two prior to the release of the product. However, by allowing the product to be shipped episodically, the consumer instead is given five small games in shorter time frames rather than one large game after a long wait. As it is more spaced out, the consumer may feel less irritated by a singular long wait due to multiple shorter ones.
However, this factor also helps the developer out. If their price model allows for episodes to be individually bought, this allows their development budget to be focused on shorter development times as some people may opt for this method of purchasing episodes rather than a season pass. Even if they decide to go with season pass only, journalists will be covering the series per episode. This allows a series of exposures in the form of reviews per episode, leaving people to be more aware of the game's existence. These two aspects lead to more sales of the game which lead to a higher budget of further episodes or even further games.
Although the amount of times a review will say "this review will feature spoilers of earlier episodes" often means those who haven't bought the season pass yet can only have a quick glance at the score and then move on.
The second positive aspect of episodic games is its ability to shift the game's direction depending on the response. After the first episode of an episodic series is released, it is bound to create a lot of data on what people liked and what people didn't. While things such as graphical direction are mostly set in stone, things such as writing direction of the future episodes can be less so and then manipulated based on things such as what characters people like, what they thought of a particular event in episode one and even which parts people acknowledge more than others. This can then be used to create future episodes that are better received and to finish off the series in a way that is more pleasurable for the player.
The third advantage is it allows for a natural release from the tension of a severely dramatic event. There is a consideration in story-telling pacing about creating tension and releasing it over and over. While the tension is there to keep you highly invested and interested what is going on, the release occurs so you don't end up with mental fatigue. Using the graph below, which uses Star Wars as an example, the tension increases more and more to indicate advancement in the stakes as a positive end result becomes more and more important due to things such as the resources invested by the main characters to win over the antagonist.
There are actually a lot of similar graphs based on major films, especially one which follows the "Hero's Journey" story pattern. Link to the source of the graph.
However, videogames have always had a bit of a harder time creating necessary down-time without boring the player. While in earlier days loading screens helped, advancement in technology have allowed an increasing minimising of its use. There have also been uses of exploration/casual-talk scenes where the player learns more about something at their own easy pace. However, this episodic means of distribution creates its own opportunity for a release from tension: The episode ending and the player having to wait a few weeks for the next episode. This is something that may be a hassle for the player, but allows the writer to slide in lengthy tension-filled scenes without risking psychological fatigue by the end.
Despite this, a problem does emerge. This does rely on the player buying into the game before or just after the release of episode one. After all, if a player can go straight from episode one to two, they will do. Which if the developer has intended the break between episodes as a tension release, this can lead to the player avoiding the much needed gap to mentally unwind. Although the credits could serve as enough of a rest if the lengthy tension-filled scene before the end of the episode isn't too tense or long. This does present a situation of if a developer wishes to risk doing a large shocking and/or bombastic ending to an episode, or to hold off until the final episode to avoid draining the player of patience and concentration if they're marathoning the game series.
However, there are various problems that plague episodic games.
The first problem is a negative side of the last advantage I talked about. By requiring the player to wait until the next episode is made, this does potentially create the problem of breaking the flow. While this isn't too much of a problem in more narrative-focused games that rely on low-intensity gameplay, this problem becomes a lot more apparent in more action-orientated episodic games such as Afterfall Reconquest (note: I have not played it) as you are forced to take a break in the action. It is possible this disadvantage can be avoided if the episode is long enough that the flow-breaking is more of a tension-release than just a source of frustration. This disadvantage can also be avoided by playing the game in one go once all the episodes have been released, but this runs into the problem that the developer may have designed the tension-graph on the assumption that people play each episode one at a time. So the flow must then mimic a TV show style rather than the typical videogame style.
Although fortunately Telltale Game's The Walking Dead mimiced the graphic novel series rather than the TV show. After The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, it is no wonder Overkill's The Walking Dead is going to be also based on the graphic novel series.
A second disadvantage is it does require the game to be story-focused or have some form of campaign mode. This problem mainly is one of semantics and what it means to be an episode. According to Dictionary.com, the definition of episode tends to revolve around a series, including the explanation: “one of a number of loosely connected, but usually thematically related, scenes or stories constituting a literary work.” Without having a narrative to follow along, the extra content is more considered along the lines of map-packs or expansions. Although to be fair, the question of “what is an episode” is something that could be an interesting topic in its self.
However, for now, lets just run with the definition offerred by Dictionary.com and say it does require a narrative connection between scenes or stories. Which means without the story-focus like in a campaign mode, it would be hard to pull off an episodic system as even if you label it as such there is a risk people will see a story-lite episodic system as just map-packs.
The final consideration is a problem for reviewers. By making it an episodic system, it makes the reviews a lot more piece-meal. At least speaking on personal experience of having to review Life Is Strange, Tales From The Borderlands and Telltale Games's Game Of Thrones, the most problematic part of reviewing episodic games is the limited amount of aspects to talk about without repeating yourself. As the gameplay and graphics pretty much stay the same, it falls upon the quality of the writing usually to discuss.
Due to having to avoid dipping into spoilers (if possible even avoiding spoilers of the earlier episodes), it leaves a very vague wishy-washy approach to analysing the game with regards to the quality of that current episode. It is still possible to talk generally in terms of puzzles, the rough plot set out at the start of the episode and the quality of writing; but speaking broadly without revealing too much about the earlier episodes means the review can come off as incredibly unfocused.
"Everything same. Writing still strong. 8/10."
Despite all these flaws though, it is very unlikely we'll see the episodic bubble burst as such. After all, there isn't anything really too specific to videogames that prohibits a similar structure to TV shows or long lasting book series like Stephen King's The Dark Tower. What is more likely is as developers look upon Telltale Games's success we'll continue to see more and more episodic games. While games like Life Is Strange will succeed, it is likely there will be a large amount that will fail for one reason or the next. These failures will be learned from as a cautionary tale regarding what works in the production method and what doesn't. However, this will likely damage the public's trust in the medium and it will be up to companies like DONTNOD and Telltale Games regarding if they with to stay committed to the episodic method despite the public's cynical view on it, or to depart to different genres. Although I will admit the assumption above is simply guess work based on previous waxing and waning of trends.
With regards to which genres would work especially well or especially badly, the episodic medium is pretty much designed for the delivery of the story. So any genre that risks pushing story-telling to the background, even just for a limited time, risks being problematic for the episodic genre as there is a limited amount of time to deliver a story that's substantial enough for the player to feel satisfied. There is also an expectation for being able to make choices that affect future episodes, although I am not sure if there is any reason why an episodic game can simply not have choices that affect the story.
Besides that limitation, there is no reason for a heavily-story based game outside the typical genres. Maybe get an episodic racing game where you must convince people you're legitimate despite being a cop by making sure you do the right things at the right time while not getting too corrupted by the world around you, with maybe a side game where you do race on the streets. Perhaps you have to make sure you don't hurt anyone while raising, or it'll affect HQ's view on you. Another possibility is a real-time/turn-based strategy game where you must lead a rebel army to over-throwing a kingdom, meanwhile deciding how much food you have, how many people you will willingly send on suicide missions and if you'll betray/ally various factions. Both these games I feel would have interesting choices that could fit in an episodic manner, although I am sure there are even more radical and imaginative genre-twisting episodic ideas out there. So, I think, the future of episodic games is going to be interesting as the severe experimentation begins. Just grab your favourite popcorn, and watch the evolution occur.
The crazy episodic ideas are already rolling in? Sweet! Bring them on!
So, for a bit of fun for the Band Of Bloggers, I wish to consider if the layout of Fallout: New Vegas makes it a TV show in a videogame format.
[Disclaimer: Okay, while I have played Fallout: New Vegas previously most of the way through, this month I just didn't get the chance to play it as a refresher. I don't have a good excuse. I'm really sorry.]
As I was thinking on what to write about with regards to Fallout: New Vegas, various things begun to strike me about how the game is paced. After all, even if something is open-world there is usually a rough rhythm depending on where quests are situated, where the cut-scenes are placed and even NPC placement. It dawned on me that, oddly enough, Fallout: New Vegas may be a game so similar to a TV show in its pacing that it could make the transition without much harm to it. This likely isn't intentional, as I feel most of the characteristics that could make it into a good TV show made it into the game for entirely different reasons. So I wish to examine four aspects of what I think would make Fallout New Vegas into a good weekly show while also discussing why they're probably in the game, to also talk about any changes to the features that would need to be done to make it better and wrap it all up with a conclusion
The first particularity is how the hero is a faceless form with a limited back story. Excluding what the player projects onto the hero, they were a courier who was specifically chosen to carry a chip before the player character was gunned down by a man from New Vegas. That is, even by the end of the game, the extent of who the character really is excluding some minor details surrounding their time at the job and why they were picked.
This probably sounds like a very distinct disadvantage, after all you do have to have a main character to create a TV show out of them. You can't just have a first person blob who speaks in text to preserve that “could be any gender, or look in any particular way”. However, I believe if there is one thing a writer loves to do it is leave their mark on material. It is the equivalent of etching “I was here” onto a tree, although perhaps more meaningful as people can now ponder on their interpretation.
Although considering the state of things like the ending to Dexter and the latter series of House MD and The Walking Dead, there are perhaps more thought-provoking things that could be scribed onto trees.
So in the original game, the character creator and vague background existed so people could inject their own characters with their own back-stories into the New Vegas universe. When making the transition to TV, the writers get their own chance to do the same. While this can just descend into “cool, white heterosexual male #572559 with limited back story still, or a dull love interest”, you could get a writer who decides to grasp the material with both hands and inject an interesting aspect to it.
Perhaps a black character could examine the casual racism of pre-apocalypse America compared to post-apocalypse? Maybe a gay character will see how many people are nonchalant about their partner choice? There could even be a transgender character who is trying to disguise themselves as their identified gender all the time, and how scavenging cosmetics is something useful to the character. This character creation onto the blank canvas that is the player character by the writer could inject a very interesting sub-plot in a Fallout: New Vegas TV show.
I think the quest design in the villages you visit one by one is also something that links to a TV show design. As every quest design is mostly contained in each village, very rarely requiring town-to-town travel specifically, it allows each location to be treated as their own specific episode with their own intra-episode story arc that begins, climaxes and ends before the episode is done.
One such example of this is in Novac. As you stumble on in to find more information about the way to New Vegas, you get told to take care of the ghouls at the nearby REPCONN test site as they could provide a danger for Novac. This quest in its self could easily be the arc of an episode, with the reward where you get information your moment to walk on to the next town/episode.
For about half an hour I kept trying to find the name "Novac", with "what's the town with the big dinosaur" as the only real source of information.
I think the reason for this system of quests is it allows the distribution of side-missions, without forcing them upon you. As it is possible to get away with carrying on the main mission by finding a way around the Come Fly With Me quest holding information necessary to continue on. However, the method of “an episode or three per town” could allow a TV show to think of any general story arc and set it in any sort of town they feel would inhabit that type of problem, while also keeping the environment fresh for audiences. As every few weeks at most, people would expect to see a new place with new characters, and writers wouldn't be held down by a location having only particular facilities or people.
While this may be a method that audiences would catch on to what the writers is doing and it does risk making the show too short as you wouldn't be able to have too many towns without repetition and experiencing the tediousness of greetings and goodbyes; it is a tool that does exist for any writers who wishes to utilise what is already there.
The layout of the path to New Vegas also suggests a TV show quality to it. Rather than a map akin to Fallout 3 where locations are dotted around, locations favour a more linear path in the rough shape of a logarithmic spiral that ends at your final destination: New Vegas. While it makes back-tracking a long process to those who wish to perform it, this scheme allows the player to experience all the major locations in an efficient manner from starting-town to the goal-town.
To those deciding it would be a good idea to go clockwise and not counter-clockwise to New Vegas, here's a picture why you're just asking for death.
In terms of a TV presentation, it allows an easier display of a traveller going from the starting place to the end-goal. It provides a legitimate method of how a character can keep stumbling into towns to solve problems for people before leaving on to the next step of the journey. Although as stated in the previous reason, if this is done too long then it can feel too cheap of an excuse of why your character isn't in New Vegas yet. At worst, it can lead to a shaggy dog story without an ending. So caution would need to be made for length.
The final perfect aspect for a TV adaptation is you do build up a collection of companions as you walk on down the dusty road. In Fallout New Vegas, in some towns you do get the opportunity to recruit people to your squad to help fight people. Although at most you can bring along two people (well, one humanoid and one non-humanoid) with you, you can return to their home base to re-recruit them. In the game this allows not only to have combat-assistance but to have a travelling character to talk to about the current events in the game.
This plays into the opportunity to have inter-character dialogue in the TV adaptation on a team of travellers and makes it easier to create a cast of characters to play off on for episodes. For instance, it would allow Veronica to play up her ties to The Brotherhood Of Steel with regards to events surrounding them, and maybe the rest of the team to react how they would to her still non-wavering dedication to them. This would help flesh out the world of New Vegas and help create interesting conflicts.
Although interestingly, Veronica is one of the few non-straight characters in New Vegas. So that could play further into if the writer decided to have a non-straight main character in a New Vegas TV show.
I think, in conclusion, this is a TV show that would likely end up being shot in a very similar manner to, as strange as it is, the Pokemon or Cowboy Bebop anime. While I am sure there are apocalyptic TV shows I am forgetting about, there isn't a TV show that fits the rough guideline of a wanderer stumbling through towns and fixing the problems with the town. If this is down to that rough plotline not working on a TV setting, being something not tried before or just simply forgetting an obvious TV show that does it, its something I am unsure of. However, I do believe that unlike most videogame adaptations, this is one that could quite possibly work.
Anyway, thanks for reading my attempt at Band Of Bloggers. Again, really sorry I couldn't play the game in question and for being so hard-pressed on time. I hope the next time I get involved I do things a little better.
So remember two weeks ago I talked about making two announcements every Tuesday? Or was it three weeks? Time wizzes by at a speed that it could render anyone daft. I first talked about going to EGX Rezzed two weeks ago, but then last week I suddenly went silent. Well, the reason for it was I was incredibly ill. In fact, I was fortunate that I had written my article a week in an advance or I'd have nothing to deliver. So, a week later and on the far end of illness, I have a cool announcement to make.
Every Thursday and Sunday, I am hoping to do streams on Twitch.
No. Wrong Twitch. Not even an original joke. How are you even meant to stream on it?
On Thursday, from 6pm to 8pm GMT, it will be Riobux's Thursday Conquest (okay, I couldn't think of a good alliteration for Thursday). You see, Mount & Blade: Warband has been one of those games I've been wanting to complete for years upon years. Now though, now I put my shoulder to the plow and finally put my character as ruler on the lands. With the guiding help of the audience who will tell me how to finally put a crown on my head and how to just stop being a complete boob.
On Sunday, from 6pm to 8pm GMT, it will be Riobux's Sunday Snooze. You know those days when you don't know what game to play? You run your finger along your library of games until, at random, you slide the case out. Sunday Snooze is just a day where we get to pick a game at random (perhaps even co-op or multiplayer for audience participation), perhaps talk about it like one does a fine wine and generally banter about various things.
Both these can be found on my channel, right here.
Either way, I do hope the streams will be enjoyable for everyone involved. They'll be starting this week on Thursday, with a somewhat minimalistic build for now (I'm 90% ready, but haven't put into place one or two art/music things). You can make sure the streams will be up by following me on Twitter.
Hey, so today I'll be offering some small tips on how to improve your reviews.
So recently, I ended up in an interesting position. Despite being an amateur reviewer (seriously, compare mine with anyone at Destructoid's, I'm still very shaky, formulaic and dry), I've ended up offering advice out to people trying to get into reviewing. Just some starting tips of how to improve their reviewing style. So I thought I'd write this little article with some advice of how to write your own reviews, with references to my own reviews and reviews on Destructoid as examples. I admit these four nuggets of knowledge are very basic tips, and I am far from a professional, however I do hope they are a launching pad to jump off from. Anyway, may as well get on with the show.
The first important part, as you open up your favourite word document, is to pick the right game to review. I admit this sounds a bit forceful, a tad daunting and maybe a smidge odd as well, however there is a logic to reviewing some games over others. When you set out to review something, you need to consider one thing above all else: “Will someone want to learn about this?”. A handy cheat-sheet for this question is this: “Is the game in the public's interest or is it a good game?”.
Although it does help with your word processor has a spell checker.
To break it down further (I'm really sorry if this comes off as pedantic or patronising), “is it in the public's interest?” means is it in the public's eye currently. These tend to be games with a strong word-of-mouth and/or a lot of hype behind them. Like for instance, it can be a game that is being made by a popular developer (e.g. Nintendo), are part of a popular series (e.g. Call Of Duty) or have been generating a lot of press coverage (e.g. Hatred). The main goal for the reviewer in this scenario is to dispel or reinforce the hype these games have. They are the handy guide of if someone should buy the game or give it a miss, depending on the reasons you give to rate it how you have.
The alternative scenario, “is it a good game?”, sounds like you're rigging the deck to just give positive scores out. However, in this scenario the role of the review isn't to say if the game is good or bad. After all, it isn't even in the public's eye (I'll get to what if it's bad in a moment). The role, rather, is to raise awareness of the game that you feel is good. You're going to be discussing what the game is, how it is good and dwell a bit upon the negative parts, but due to it being a good game you're more likely to talk about the things you did like. The role then is for the reader to consider what you liked and disliked, and conclude if it is a match for them.
However, remember that you are helping the audience work out if the game works for them, rather than just simply selling them on the game. If you perhaps “forget” that the game you really love has game-breaking glitches or features sexualisation and make the game seem faultless (well, sexualisation is a subjective fault) when it does have issues, the end result is a lot of anger. So you still have to review it, rather than do a “fan perspective” where you talk about how it is the best thing since sliced bread.
No matter what, I have to remember that sexualisation is a subjective fault. No matter how hard it is to think otherwise.
Although it is important to note that games in the “is it a good game” category are ones that fly under the radar of attention. So, what if the game is unpopular and isn't good. To put it bluntly: Why review it? The end result will be this: The game escaped people's attentions, so they weren't going to buy it anyway. You'll raise awareness of the game by writing a review of it, just to tell people not to buy it. So then nothing has changed, except now people know of a game that is likely bad in an inoffensive manner and will fade into obscurity once more. So by picking a game that is in the public eye and/or good, there is a chance to change (or don't, if a game has good press, nothing really wrong with reinforcing said positive perceptions) the outcome.
So now you have your game picked, and you're just vomiting words onto the paper. You've never been so excited in your life. However, there is just one more step before you type even word one: Think about who your audience is. I know, I know, “it's for people who play games” and “that's just marketing, I'm just doing small reviews non-professionally”, but this is still important. I mean, you do this anyway whenever you talk to anyone or write anything technically (e.g. you likely wouldn't talk to your friends like you speak to your parents, and vice-versa). Just now you need to think about it on a concious level rather than the sub-concious rules you use when talking to different people.
The main question to work out is this: “What do I expect people who read my reviews to know and like?”. What language you use, what references you make and even what games you review rests upon this. After all, there isn't any point in bringing up the Buddhist term “mu” (as in, “the question is wrong”) if the expected readers are those who may have a very casual understanding of Buddhism at best. Similarly, it may not be a good idea to review a PS4 game and make references to a X-Box One game to an audience that are primarily Nintendo fans.
However, if you really can not work this out at the start, don't worry. As you write to your own style and develop it further, you will tend to gravitate a particular audience. If you tend towards morbid jokes in your reviews, you will draw in those who like that. Similarly, if you start making hyperbolic exaggerated jokes (think Angry Video Game Nerd or, at least, Yahtzee from Zero Punctuation) then people who like those jokes will stick around.
And if you tend towards no jokes, like I mostly do, then that's fine too I suppose.
It is when you begin writing for a website you have to be more careful, as most websites have a particular type of audience they cater to. For instance, Gamers Honest Truth is PG when it comes to reviews/previews so you have to avoid going too far with morbid or sexually-charged humour. Although most websites will tend to recruit based on previous work, so they'll be familiar with your style. Plus, you will likely naturally gravitate towards websites that share your train of thought when applying for a contributor role somewhere.
So while this step may be the hardest to really pin down, it is also the one that is most likely to just slide in place on its own. It just really helps to be able to work it out, especially as it allows you to focus your style more towards what people want. Just like you can notice a subtle style change of Yahtzee Crowshaw pre-Escapist Zero Punctuation and Escapist Zero Punctuation.
So now you're bursting to write something, ANYTHING! You've got writing blue balls as you just want to jump in and worship that amazing game you played or to throw down the stairs that horrid piece of trash you had to experience. However, just wait a little more. You'll get to write something, I promise, but you can't jump into the meat of the matter quite yet.
You see, reviews are like hot baths. You must ease the audience in. If they go in too quickly, they'll just leap back out and complain about 1st degree burns. So you must slide them in gently by using an intro. There are many ways to do this, and it is really about finding your comfort zone. I tend towards making commentary about the videogame scene related to the game (e.g. in Life Is Strange Episode 1, I talked about the genre “episodic choose-your-own adventure”). Jason Faulkner uses personal opinions to create a more personal feel to it in his review of #IDARB. I notice Chris Carter in Legend Of Zelda: Majora's Mask and Patrick Hancock in Apotheon using the introduction to set the scene by talking about a bit of background. If you do take my proposed route, I tend to feel it is important to just set the scene and introduce the reader into the general area of your game. As strange as it is, I feel a good sign you're on the right path is if you've written a few sentences into the review and you haven't name-dropped the game.
Although some reviewers like Ben Davis in Grow Home and Greg Tito in Nihilumbra do jump straight in by talking their general view of the game without the nitty-gritty, so introductions are really something you have to feel out.
Although, like beginning an interview, I believe its best to not call someone a pathological liar in an introduction.
Another reason why reviews are like hot baths is once you're done, you have to dry up. Otherwise you're soaking wet, you're dripping water around the house and you look like a boob. So you have to wrap up the review in a nice little package before punting it out the door. After all, the majority of your review people are going to remember the best is going to be the conclusion. The most basic of conclusions will just be a quick discussion of your score, your pros, cons and any misc thoughts. Again, this is something you're going to have to feel out.
Failing everything when it comes to introductions and conclusions, feel free to just look through reviews you enjoy reading. Observe how they do it, work out if you like that style and go for it. You will likely subconsciously give a twist to your influence, so don't worry about doing this type of research.
My final piece of advice in this collection is something I admit took me some time to learn. It will save you from talking needlessly about, say, graphics or sound in a game where those parts aren't really important. Plus, it will help focus your piece to be more to-the-point. When you are writing your review, think about your average reader from your targeted audience. Then think on what questions they are likely asking about the game and what they are likely thinking.
For instance, lets assume your target audience are PC gamers who willingly spend 4+ hours a day playing videogames. If you were to review Payday 2, what will they be thinking about and be asking about? Chances are, I wouldn't need to even acknowledge the graphics or the soundtrack (as nice as the soundtrack is, the average reader will likely not pick up on it).
Maybe I'll talk about the levelling system, the amount of weapons and the amount and variation of heists, as they reflect the amount of time a member of my target audience is able to dump into the game before growing bored. I would also mention the stealth system, as this could potentially offer more replayability, although some may get annoyed at the awkward nature of it. It may also be an idea to talk about single player and multiplayer, and how these work, as they would warn the less social members of my target audience that they would likely need to play with others to enjoy themselves.
Payday 2 players who don't already hate the community, tend to be at least mildly peeved the 10th time someone bags all the engines in Big Oil Overkill/Deathwish.
Although if you want something to start off with, I feel answering “what?” (what is the name of the game, and what is it roughly about?), “who?” (who are the developers?), “where?” (what platforms is it on?), “why?” (if it has one, what is the rough plot?), “how?” (what is the gameplay?). These are questions that I'd say about 90% of audiences ask of most games. However, once you know your target audience, you will know more what questions and thoughts they are having about the game you are reviewing.
With these four pieces of advice, I hope you are able to at least start off writing your own reviews. It is only once you start writing reviews that you may begin improving and getting better. Through practice and reading and studying reviews you enjoy you may hone your craft and build a style others will enjoy reading. If you feel your quality of work is good enough and want to get your foot in the door of games journalism, the place that I work for are looking for volunteers to write reviews/previews, you may find more information here. Either way, good luck with writing reviews and I am more than happy to hand out more pieces of advice if people want me to (even if I am still an amateur at what I do).