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2:59 AM on 02.13.2010

Death and Immersion

Death is a ubiquitous gameplay device. The conceptual “death” of the player requires a certain amount of the player’s understanding that the gameplay falls in line with a narrative (no matter how large or small in scope). From the first explosion of a Space Invader’s ship, the player understands that this event signifies a failure in terms of gameplay marked by death in terms of the narrative scenario.

Traditionally, gamers are forced to understand this gap in by separating the videogame experience into the categories of gameplay and narrative. In order to reconcile this gap, players have attempted to create their own rules for game in order to increase immersion in both the realm of gameplay and narrative, especially through the rise in the “permadeath run.” But as narrative has become an increasingly important part of the videogame experience, mitigating this dissonance between the player’s death and the game’s narrative has increasingly become fundamental in the developers duties to create a cohesive game universe.

Through an analysis of typical videogame mechanics and game narrative methods, I hope to help reveal what it means to us when we “die” in a game, as well as offering a suggestion in how death can be reinterpreted in order to create a better overall narrative experience in gaming.

How do we interpret resurrection?

When one “dies” in a game, the player is forced to understand this event separately from his or her investment in the fiction. Analyzing the experience along a purely “game” dimension, the player interprets his or her death as having failed within the rules of the game. When the player is allowed to reattempt the game, he or she understands that it is important to reinterpret the gameplay space in order to result in winning the challenge that has been created by the developer.

However, when death is interpreted within the narrative field, the player often must leave the universe of the narrative in order to understand his or her sudden “resurrection.” In order to understand his or her death, the player must put her involvement in the narrative on hold and understand the death and subsequent resurrection purely as a function of gameplay. When the player is forced to interpret his death solely along the “gameplay” dimension, a certain level in the narrative’s immersion is inevitably lost, for the player is forced to parse out the videogame’s experience into its separate parts.

What can be done?

In order for a game to better integrate gameplay mechanics with narrative, the narrative must include causal explanations for its gameplay mechanics. Bioshock’s vitachamber mechanic is a perfect example of this type of narrative device. When the player dies in Bioshock, he is able to interpret this within the context of the narrative—it is possible for the player’s (temporary) death and resurrection to exist within a consistent universe. Another game that does this well is the Grand Theft Auto series—when the player dies or is arrested, the gameplay transitions to a hospital or police station, from which the player has been recently released.

While the former example has arguably adheres to narrative at the expense of gameplay quality—many believe that the lack of a gameplay consequence to death hurts the Bioshock experience—the latter has created punishment mechanisms for the player’s death. The mission must be reattempted, the players funds have been diminished, and (if arrested) the player’s weapons have been removed. The reason or possibility of resurrection need not be plausible within the real world—a certain amount of suspension of disbelief is in order. However, the useful aspect of this solution is that the level dissonance between the player’s death and the game’s narrative is reduced. The player does not need to mentally separate the moments when the videogame is being “a game” and when it’s being “a story.”

I propose that the age of “unexplained resurrection,” must come to a end, at least if the developer hopes to form a cohesive game-world that is interlinked with its narrative elements. This imperative is not meant to apply to all videogames—different games have different goals. Some games are meant to be more “gamey”, while others are meant to be strong narrative experiences—and it is in this latter category which the developer must strongly consider the importance of integrating gameplay mechanisms with narrative structure, especially with respect to death as a gameplay mechanic.   read

12:40 AM on 08.02.2008

Skate 2 - Trailer Reactions



From IGN

The interview at IGN goes over some of the new features in Skate 2.

According to the interview, the vert mechanics in the game have been improved [read: become not broken], there's more of a story in the game, and you'll get even more "xtreme" advertising jammed down your throat.

One thing I am a little dissapointed about is that they have come up with ridiculous ways for Skate and Skate It! (Wii version) to fit into the same universe. Apparently, in Skate It!, the city blew up or some bullshit like that, because the Wii engine won't be able to handle the detail of the PS360 version of the game, and in Skate 2... well... San Vanelona is rebuilt!

Here's an idea EA - Make more than one fictional city! Is it that hard to put San in front of a random Spanish word?

Best feature in the video – I can walk up the stairs!!!!!!
Seriously, it’s the hugest problem I have had with the first game – that to get up stairs is the most frustrating thing in the world.

Actually, this is one of the most efficient trailers I have ever seen in the sense that it gives you a taste of MANY new game play options available in Skate 2. It looks like skaters will be able to rearrange their city’s obstacles manually – hopefully it’s better implemented than in the most recent Tony Hawk (which I only played a demo of). Also, the handplants seems almost like something they left out of the first skate game so that they could have more substantial additions in the sequel. The “walk on the rail” mechanic and “grab grind’ moves look interesting, but not groundbreaking. I also wonder how flexible the “jump over stuff while the board keeps moving” mechanic will be – I feel like it will be something VERY fun to experiment with.

I also hope that they fix the PS3 framerate issues from the last one and up the saturation in the color scheme.

Also, less load times, please!

Other features I noticed:

Go down hills really fast into traffic cones!
Be a woman (and get hit on online)!
Be a true gangtsa!   read

8:57 PM on 07.31.2008

Bioshock - Initial impressions

So, I've FINALLY started to play what many claim to be the holy grail of video games - Bioshock.

I've been playing the game on a PC that can run it decently (I've been slowly weening myself off PC gaming due to the absurd price of the hobby), but I really wish that I could be playing it on my PS3 since I feel I'll be able to get much more out of the aesthetics if the game were able to run the way it was meant to be played. Below is a screen shot of how the game looks on my PC.

Now imagine that at 20 frames per second (and possibly less if there's a lot of action going on). I knew the game wouldn't run super great since I had tried a demo beforehand, but I saw it on Steam on special for 15 bucks and I couldn't pass up the offer.

Also, I should mention that this article contains *spoilers.*

The Beginning...

Bioshock has a pretty great opening - the plane crash really puts the player right into the middle of a mystery that (I assume) will slowly unravel as the game continues. A lot of it seems to draw from the Half-Life series (but doesn't every story driven FPS nowadays?) in the sense that the narrative is told through gameplay instead of through cutscenes. I prefer this method of exposition, especially for PC gaming. I am fine with watching cutscenes on the couch, but never at my desk.

Apparently, this game draws a lot from Objectivist philosophy - I myself have never read Ayn Rand novels (although maybe I will after playing this game), but from what I have read about the philosophy, it seems to me that it is dominated by anti-socialist views, which is what many consider to be "backwards thinking." But hey, I love getting multiple perspectives and it is especially important at my age (18) when my moral code is taking its roots and my philosophical choices have an effect on those around me (i.e., through voting).

I am very impressed that a video game will take on themes deeper than "don't fuck with nature" and "hero's are remembered, but legends never die."


So far, the game is pretty fun. The variety of plasmids is enough to keep things interesting (I have 3 now) and the gunplay stays interesting and feels very different since the ammunition available to the player is much more sparse than in most action games.'

I'm not crazy about the hacking - It would be nice if they had more types of minigames for the machines in order to make it more interesting and more inciting. Also, I kind of suck at it.

I just got the part of the game where they introduce the camera mechanic, and that's pretty neat so far. Also, there's something about the mouse shooting that just doesn't feel right. I've been playing around with the sensitivity a little, but it doesn't seem to help much. Maybe it's better with a gamepad (Heresy!)...


Well, I can tell that the developers have been putting a lot of time into the aesthetic look of the game - Rapture seems very well realized through the art direction. On the technical side, I always feel like PC developers haven't done well at optimizing their games for lower level PC's. I believe Valve is one of the best companies at doing this, especially when they give you so many advanced options in the user interface in addition to the rendering customization available in the console.

Another company that put good time into PC optimization is Starbreeze. Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay looks GREAT on my computer, yet it has the look of a next-gen console game. Games with a similar look (especially anything on the Unreal 3 engine) run MUCH slower

On the audio side, the whole jazz theme is unique, unsettling, and immersing. The use of audio diaries was also a great inclusion as well - I hate picking up crap I have to go into a menu and read in order to get more out of the story (Serious Sam comes to mind, although that was reading material about how to blow up headless suicide bombers). Technically, however, I've noticed that when too many sounds are playing at once, the engine will cut out certain ambient noises, as if there is a limit on simultaneous tracks being played.

Final Remarks

Overall, Bioshock so far feels like a "best of both worlds" gaming experience - it has the seamless storytelling of Half-Life combined with the thematic punch of a Kojima game (or at least the thematic punch that he attempts at).

I'll make sure to follow up with a final judgement once I finish the game.   read

11:03 PM on 07.30.2008

First Post Evar: My Summer of Gaming

Yeah, so I've always spent many many hours going through Destructoid stories and the clogs, but I never have blogged myself. So here I go... so where should I start? Eh, I'll just talk about games I've been playing recently and whatnot.

I have a feeling this is something I'm gonna get addicted to.

I've just joined Goozex. So far, I'm a little skeptical of the value of me joining this trading community is. So far, I've given A LOT of games, but have kind of put myself in a position where there's nothing I really want in return. For now, Final Fantasy XII is on it's way - I've never played a Final Fantasy game and I thought it would be a fine place to start. I've also purchased Final Fantasy IV - I'll see if I get into the series or not.

Last night, I rearranged the way that a bunch of my consoles (from Snes to PS3) are hooked up to my living room set and kept it all organized. By the way, if you're a gamer with a family that can't understand switching television inputs and they go nuts when you leave the TV on the "not cable" station, I recommend you purchase a remote with macros. I use the Harmony 880 and it does the job very well.

This summer, starting from mid June (right as high school was ending for me), I've played through Metal Gear Solid 4 and Uncharted. I've also been playing a lot of Skate (I have no idea why I am so addicted to this game) and some Singstar with my little sister (possibly I'm a narcissist, but the best part of the that game is basically anything that involves using the eye. I find watching myself in replay utterly hilarious). I've also been slowly going through Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes and Ninja Gaiden Sigma (I refuse to go to Ninja Dog difficulty!). Right now though, my focus is on a recently purchased Bioshock. It was on Steam for 15 bucks, so I HAD to buy it.

This summer, I'm basically going through all the games I've ever wanted to finish (AH! Just thought of one - I NEED to complete Grim Fandango, I started it in December and just kind of stopped after a family vacation) before I go to college. I've decided to postpone my gaming for my first semester so that I A: Don't fail out and B: Because I'm rather shy, I know that with the option of gaming I would end up like a hermit in my dorm instead of making friends.

I kind of like this blog thing. Here's what I'll do. I guess I can jump start this thing by talking about my impressions/progress in the games I'm playing this summer. It will probably be better though if I separate the games by post - this one is getting too long (that's what she said).   read

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