In the meantime, I'm just a guy who writes about videogame theory and how the medium can achieve better cinematic emulation (while keeping its own indentity). Though, if that's too boring, you can always find something delightfully fluffy in the following:
Recently I played Rosemary after stumbling on it in one of Anthony Burchís indie game reviews. The game really appealed to me not because it was a particularly exciting game (itís over before itís begun and youíll guess the ending long before the puzzle solution to activate it), but because the narrative was based on what I see as an untapped potential in video games.
Rosemary is a game where the title character remembers her childhood as she wanders around her old hometown and tries to recall an old friend. The game doesnít suddenly pull a Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy and ditch its own rules in effort to sex things up. The weirdest thing youíll ever see is a mirror world which is explained away as Rosemaryís nostalgia. Thereís still interaction and puzzles involved, but thereís nothing that would lead to a grand adventure in the usual LucasArts sense. And yet, the game is mechanically (and essentially) an adventure that warrants such a pigeon hole. I really liked the idea that it was just a woman reminiscing about her past. Ultimately, thereís a dark denouement to the whole event but even then itís not like she goes down a well and ends up fighting Pennywise the Clown. Nothing extravagant happens, other than a self discovery. No worlds are saved and no epic quests are completed. Just a girl who remembers a boy she grew up with. But for this reason alone, it serves to remind me why I play story-driven games.
More often than not, I buy games for the narrative more than the gameplay; which probably explains why I own a lot of survival horror and blast through GTA games. The stories donít have to be amazing, just so long as they immerse the player enough to overlook faults and keep interest in their tale (something I touched upon in my 'Fun Simulacrum' blog - http://www.destructoid.com/blogs/Stevil/fun-simulacrum-24-the-game-142569.phtml)
Rosemary also lead on to another non-adventure I looked up called Snow. Basically, itís a game where a surly woman goes out and gets a cup of coffee. Thatís it. Thatís the adventureís goal. Yet, I really enjoyed the writing on display, the comic book roots and the mid-90ís slacker feel to the proceedings. It was artistic in the way that it was an indie comic book tale (which the game is based on) and it allowed you take as much or as little interaction you wanted from it. Everything was of interest and delivered with dry humour; so it paid to have a look around and talk before you hunted down that all important coffee.
Both games got me thinking about the mundane adventure and how we missed the window of opportunity to try it out. Now Iím not making up a genre or scene to group these random games together or even lay claim something that doesnít really exist; but they do share the same narrative elements despite differentiating tones. So for now, Iím generalising it as the Ďmundane adventureí genre.
Back in the day, all those LucasArts games were big puzzlers, but they were also heavily story-driven. As we all know, some of the plots were completely outlandish and played for laughs. When they tried more serious stuff like The Dig it was met with indifference. But at the same time, they earned that kind of freedom to experiment. Later, adventure games edged towards a more realist approach and copied cinematic ideas, like Broken Sword with its animated approach or Police Quest IV, which mixed daily police procedure with a serial killer tale. Most of these games would start off normal in their own context and then end up going a bit crazy. I still have no idea why game developers opt for daft finales, but thatís something else to talk about entirely for another blog.
At the time, I was getting into a lot of US counter culture and Nickelodeonís non-cartoon shows, so Iíd be reading comics like Confessions of A Cereal Eater or House of Java while watching stuff like The Adventures of Pete and Pete. Musically, Iíd be playing Pavement at full blast and then watching the odd indie movie on late night TV...which is weird for your typical Welsh kid to say the least. But all those elements got me thinking about games in a different light. I wanted to play something that was completely Ďslice of lifeí but at the same time utilized the SCUMM engine for its narrative. I never really thought much of it after that, but at least all those influences eventually ended up in my university years when I created short films.
Snow reminded me of the kind of game I wanted back then and now years later I was playing it. It proved to me could be done with the right material. When I say Ďmundaneí, I donít mean nothing happens or the whole experience is a dull walkabout. What I really mean is that you could make a game with dry humour with an everyday quest and interact with a bunch of quirky characters without being too broad or ultimately going daft at the end. The goal is ultimately down to the characters learning something in an oddball indie movie kind of way rather than saving the world.
Recently, I read a comic book series called Local by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly. It involved a girl named Megan travelling around the USA and trying to find her place in the world. I got to admit, it wasnít perfect but after I finished the 12-issue run, I realised that this could easily be made into some kind of point and click. Not because it had scenes where you could imagine a mini-game or brief key and door puzzle, but like Rosemary you could direct a story that played out like a quest. Of course, thatís more of a complex game really that runs the risk of being non-interactive...but could you imagine The Adventures of Pete and Pete as a LucasArts game?
The show itself was based on the day-in-day-out lives of two brothers, but at the same time, the plot devices and story developments edged on the realms of surreal; if not passing it entirely. Think about Sam and Max Hit The Road for a minute. Ultimately, thereís a quest for the duo but the game is more concerned with poking fun at tourist traps and convenience store culture. When we compare the two, we find they share a likeness where the surreal opens up progression in a normal everyday goal.
If Kevin Smith got away with his early career making films about dumb afternoons with Gen-X slackers, whatís wrong with there being a game about two brothers named Pete getting through a suburban Saturday using the SCUMM engine? Or maybe a point and click story featuring Faye Wong and Tony Leung? Actually, Iíd love for someone to try and attempt a Chungking Express-esque game; but thatís wishful thinking on my part.
The problem though is nobody really plays adventure games anymore. Thereís no money in it either. We have the small resurrection of Sam and Max and Monkey Island, but these are established franchises; enough for Telltale Games to stay in business. Thereís nothing being experimental in this kind of genre out there. The last adventure game I played was Overclocked: A History of Violence and while it had a great opening premise (with a shattered timeframe), it was still your standard conspiracy thriller with a daft ending. The best time for the mundane adventure to be attempted was the probably mid 90ís and as the PC games die out, I donít see it happening any time soon. Maybe I just wished on idea that seemed way to complex to start with (and not very interesting if you donít get where Iím coming from), but if indie developers have started toying with personal issues as quests like in Rosemary, Snow and to an extent Braid, then it makes me feel better to know that the idea was more near-impossible than just plain stupid.