Escapist Podcast: 065: Universal Horror and Writing in Games

065: Universal Horror and Writing in Games

This week, we discuss writing in video games and why it's often not very good. Susan also talks about her trip to Universal's Halloween Horror.

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I believe this is the game you're thinking of:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E.V.O.:_Search_for_Eden

I never actually played it - but back when I was a kid I remember reading about it somewhere (probably Nintendo Power or something) and really wanting to play it, but it was never at the place I rented games from ...

Weird how you remember a game for never having played it ...

I never played silent hill, what does the siren mean.

I have never known a siren to be good.

Wait, talking about video games. What podcast is this?

I'm with Tito, Transformers the Movie is amazing still.

bdcjacko:
I never played silent hill, what does the siren mean.

The siren is kinda of a warning that the world will change to something different.

JoaoJatoba:

bdcjacko:
I never played silent hill, what does the siren mean.

The siren is kinda of a warning that the world will change to something different.

That would be awful

The Extra Credits video this week talked about how we keep classifying games based on their mechanics (FPS, RTS, Racing, RPG, MMORPG, Puzzle, etc) instead of their aesthethic values (like drama, fantasy, horror). I guess that's why mechanics always take priority over writing, since many developers keep thinking first about the interface they want to present the gamer and not the atmosphere and experience they want to engage people with. I agree that as long as this mentality persists, writing or storytelling in general will take a backseat to gameplay concerns instead of being developed in synergy. Either that, or once the gameplay is built the "story" is made up to adapt to the gameplay in place, even if it makes no sense.

bdcjacko:

JoaoJatoba:

bdcjacko:
I never played silent hill, what does the siren mean.

The siren is kinda of a warning that the world will change to something different.

That would be awful

It's hard to tell more without spoiling it (though I would if you like me to), so if you can, play the first two of the series.

shiajun:
The Extra Credits video this week talked about how we keep classifying games based on their mechanics (FPS, RTS, Racing, RPG, MMORPG, Puzzle, etc) instead of their aesthethic values (like drama, fantasy, horror). I guess that's why mechanics always take priority over writing, since many developers keep thinking first about the interface they want to present the gamer and not the atmosphere and experience they want to engage people with. I agree that as long as this mentality persists, writing or storytelling in general will take a backseat to gameplay concerns instead of being developed in synergy. Either that, or once the gameplay is built the "story" is made up to adapt to the gameplay in place, even if it makes no sense.

The thing is that games can be all gameplay and no story, but never the other way around. Even so, I fell that is a cultural issue of the industry to disregard the importance of the story and it consistence. If you have to put a story in your game, make it at least good!

JoaoJatoba:

shiajun:
The Extra Credits video this week talked about how we keep classifying games based on their mechanics (FPS, RTS, Racing, RPG, MMORPG, Puzzle, etc) instead of their aesthethic values (like drama, fantasy, horror). I guess that's why mechanics always take priority over writing, since many developers keep thinking first about the interface they want to present the gamer and not the atmosphere and experience they want to engage people with. I agree that as long as this mentality persists, writing or storytelling in general will take a backseat to gameplay concerns instead of being developed in synergy. Either that, or once the gameplay is built the "story" is made up to adapt to the gameplay in place, even if it makes no sense.

The thing is that games can be all gameplay and no story, but never the other way around. Even so, I fell that is a cultural issue of the industry to disregard the importance of the story and it consistence. If you have to put a story in your game, make it at least good!

Of course games can be all gameplay and no story, but aesthetic values are not derived from plotlines (if I got anything from the video http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/aesthetics-of-play). Narrative and fantasy are only two of them. The idea is to first decide what atmosphere/story/aesthetic values you want to convey and then decide what mechanics will allow you to generate that atmosphere/story/aesthetic values, and then develop them in parallel. As the podcast crew mentioned, Journey doesn't have any specific plotline at all but it was developed thinking of a specific...I don't know,aura...that they wanted to instill. Sometimes that aura requires a detailed story and therefore a good writer. If that was the way the process worked, a lot less crappy plotlines would be pushed around.

PS: Susan, can I guess that you finally got around to playing Amnesia:Dark Descent?

JoaoJatoba:
[quote="bdcjacko" post="6.391575.15768233"]

It's hard to tell more without spoiling it (though I would if you like me to), so if you can, play the first two of the series.

It is a 12 year old game, knock yourself out. Probably wont be playing it ever. While I recognize there is something to it, survival horror isn't my cup of tea.

shiajun:

JoaoJatoba:

shiajun:
The Extra Credits video this week talked about how we keep classifying games based on their mechanics (FPS, RTS, Racing, RPG, MMORPG, Puzzle, etc) instead of their aesthethic values (like drama, fantasy, horror). I guess that's why mechanics always take priority over writing, since many developers keep thinking first about the interface they want to present the gamer and not the atmosphere and experience they want to engage people with. I agree that as long as this mentality persists, writing or storytelling in general will take a backseat to gameplay concerns instead of being developed in synergy. Either that, or once the gameplay is built the "story" is made up to adapt to the gameplay in place, even if it makes no sense.

The thing is that games can be all gameplay and no story, but never the other way around. Even so, I fell that is a cultural issue of the industry to disregard the importance of the story and it consistence. If you have to put a story in your game, make it at least good!

Of course games can be all gameplay and no story, but aesthetic values are not derived from plotlines (if I got anything from the video http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/aesthetics-of-play). Narrative and fantasy are only two of them. The idea is to first decide what atmosphere/story/aesthetic values you want to convey and then decide what mechanics will allow you to generate that atmosphere/story/aesthetic values, and then develop them in parallel. As the podcast crew mentioned, Journey doesn't have any specific plotline at all but it was developed thinking of a specific...I don't know,aura...that they wanted to instill. Sometimes that aura requires a detailed story and therefore a good writer. If that was the way the process worked, a lot less crappy plotlines would be pushed around.

PS: Susan, can I guess that you finally got around to playing Amnesia:Dark Descent?

Nope. I don't really do PC games. For starters, I don't own a PC anymore. :D

Susan Arendt:

Nope. I don't really do PC games. For starters, I don't own a PC anymore. :D

It plays on Mac and Linux and uses very little resources. No excuse! Well...except the "I don't do PC games" part. Though, being such a horror junkie, you owe yourself to make at least this exception.

I miss my OG 360 now. We went through thick and thin together. He died earlier this year and Microsoft sent me a new one with super quiet fans. I haven't done anything with my new one yet, seeing how I have two other ones (my parents are divorced and my brother and I don't share well) and I recently started college.

Ol' Over Heaty
2006-2012

EDIT while I listen:

I remember I named my first Wurmples in Viva Pinata. Ironically I named two of them Rosencrantz and Gildenstern--cookie for the reference. Some of my named Wurmples actually lasted pretty long too though.

Olivia Mun (not sure that's her name, I forgot) naked? Fuck it, I'm sold.
Now about Morgan Web...

bdcjacko:

JoaoJatoba:
[quote="bdcjacko" post="6.391575.15768233"]

It's hard to tell more without spoiling it (though I would if you like me to), so if you can, play the first two of the series.

It is a 12 year old game, knock yourself out. Probably wont be playing it ever. While I recognize there is something to it, survival horror isn't my cup of tea.

cynicalsaint1:
I believe this is the game you're thinking of:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E.V.O.:_Search_for_Eden

I never actually played it - but back when I was a kid I remember reading about it somewhere (probably Nintendo Power or something) and really wanting to play it, but it was never at the place I rented games from ...

Weird how you remember a game for never having played it ...

Yes, that's the game they were talking about and it is amazing! Love that game.

I love the fact that any part of your body that you upgrade changes your appearance.

when it comes to story in games there are really 2 continuums that a game can exist on:
there is the continuum of pre-existing details about the character we are asked to represent in the game with one end having everything about the character being determined by the player (Fallout3) and the other being where everything about the character is just going to be told to you over time one way or another (Final Fantasy 13)
the other continuum deals with the way we are presented with exposition, and story with one end being able to just walk by most of it, and not care (Half-Life1), and the other being forced to sit through most all of it no matter what (Final Fantasy 13)

usually games will rest somewhere on a cross point of these 2 continuums with extreems of both being Final Fantasy 13 where a major criticism was "when am I going to get to play", and the other being a game like journey (yes journey has a story: the world). not to mention that when game developers request funding for a game either being the first in a series, or a 1-off they usually do something to the effect of: "a third person shooter set in the wild west when the player character has to fend off bandits while protecting a plot of land from being overrun." you notice that in that statement which is most everything that would be needed to pitch a game I made little reference to any kind of story saving some sudo-plot points, and then there would probably be a list of what kind of mechanics would be in the game.

the reason for this focus on mechanics is that the mechanics can take the most amount of time to develop, and those mechanics are what the player is going to be spending the majority of their time doing 6-8-10-20-40 hours, so those mechanics should be solid (should), and then because video games are considered such an "interactive" medium the story aspect itself is considered to be backseated because it has such a tendency to be changed because of levels/mechanics being added removed, and also because many games are designed by comity in one sense or another they are generally either treated as secondary, or in the case of a few exceptions one of the key focuses along with gameplay.

also on the statements about data size you do realize that in terms of those sizes game mechanics are rarely ever even talked about as taking up space. they are talked about as number of operations, number of calculations, amount of overhead, amount of time, and amount of active memory, but never data on disk. when it comes down to it 1 image at 1440X1280 usually takes up more of the data on the disk then 100k+ lines of code. then you throw the different resolution images (which are different files), audio files, and video files(this is usually the most expensive so they usually remove the audio from them, and then if at all possible use engine animation instead as it takes up a miniscule fraction of the same space.

this is why if you ever come across a 100% procedurally generated game (textures, audio, video, gameplay) which is just a group of code files it will maybe be 10MB because your just talking about text files.

shiajun:
The Extra Credits video this week talked about how we keep classifying games based on their mechanics (FPS, RTS, Racing, RPG, MMORPG, Puzzle, etc) instead of their aesthethic values (like drama, fantasy, horror). I guess that's why mechanics always take priority over writing, since many developers keep thinking first about the interface they want to present the gamer and not the atmosphere and experience they want to engage people with. I agree that as long as this mentality persists, writing or storytelling in general will take a backseat to gameplay concerns instead of being developed in synergy. Either that, or once the gameplay is built the "story" is made up to adapt to the gameplay in place, even if it makes no sense.

The podcat, when Steve Butts was around, covered that a few times as well.

gardian06:

the reason for this focus on mechanics is that the mechanics can take the most amount of time to develop, and those mechanics are what the player is going to be spending the majority of their time doing 6-8-10-20-40 hours, so those mechanics should be solid (should), and then because video games are considered such an "interactive" medium the story aspect itself is considered to be backseated because it has such a tendency to be changed because of levels/mechanics being added removed, and also because many games are designed by comity in one sense or another they are generally either treated as secondary, or in the case of a few exceptions one of the key focuses along with gameplay.

The problem, for me at least, is that Publishers started to recycle the mechanics, adding in a new bad written story on top of it on the attempt to sell you a brand "New" Game... This is just being lazy and greedy.

bdcjacko:

shiajun:
The Extra Credits video this week talked about how we keep classifying games based on their mechanics (FPS, RTS, Racing, RPG, MMORPG, Puzzle, etc) instead of their aesthethic values (like drama, fantasy, horror). I guess that's why mechanics always take priority over writing, since many developers keep thinking first about the interface they want to present the gamer and not the atmosphere and experience they want to engage people with. I agree that as long as this mentality persists, writing or storytelling in general will take a backseat to gameplay concerns instead of being developed in synergy. Either that, or once the gameplay is built the "story" is made up to adapt to the gameplay in place, even if it makes no sense.

The podcat, when Steve Butts was around, covered that a few times as well.

Yes, I know, I regularly listen to the podcasts. I think the fact that so many people are aproaching the topic in the same direction is a good thing. I just thought the scholarly flair the EC guys bring to the table could add a little to the discussion, by concretely defining what mechanics and aesthitic values are, listing specific categories of the latter (with examples), and giving references to published papers on the matter.

shiajun:

bdcjacko:

shiajun:
The Extra Credits video this week talked about how we keep classifying games based on their mechanics (FPS, RTS, Racing, RPG, MMORPG, Puzzle, etc) instead of their aesthethic values (like drama, fantasy, horror). I guess that's why mechanics always take priority over writing, since many developers keep thinking first about the interface they want to present the gamer and not the atmosphere and experience they want to engage people with. I agree that as long as this mentality persists, writing or storytelling in general will take a backseat to gameplay concerns instead of being developed in synergy. Either that, or once the gameplay is built the "story" is made up to adapt to the gameplay in place, even if it makes no sense.

The podcat, when Steve Butts was around, covered that a few times as well.

Yes, I know, I regularly listen to the podcasts. I think the fact that so many people are aproaching the topic in the same direction is a good thing. I just thought the scholarly flair the EC guys bring to the table could add a little to the discussion, by concretely defining what mechanics and aesthitic values are, listing specific categories of the latter (with examples), and giving references to published papers on the matter.

If by scholarly flair you mean pompous soap boxing.

That naming discussion reminded me of this Better off Ted quote:

(they are talking about a test tube meat the company is developing)
Phil: Blobby, like Bobby, only with an "L"
Lem: Don't name it or you won't want to eat it. Remember Chester the carrot?
Phil: Yeah, I miss him

I am surprised no one could relate to Raistlin Majere from Dragonlance. He was my definite favourite.

shiajun:
The Extra Credits video this week talked about how we keep classifying games based on their mechanics (FPS, RTS, Racing, RPG, MMORPG, Puzzle, etc) instead of their aesthethic values (like drama, fantasy, horror). I guess that's why mechanics always take priority over writing, since many developers keep thinking first about the interface they want to present the gamer and not the atmosphere and experience they want to engage people with. I agree that as long as this mentality persists, writing or storytelling in general will take a backseat to gameplay concerns instead of being developed in synergy. Either that, or once the gameplay is built the "story" is made up to adapt to the gameplay in place, even if it makes no sense.

Game are in a semi-unique position that there doesn't need to a chicken and egg situation though. A good aesthetics can be built around an awesome mechanic and vice versa. Polarizing to either end is equally bad for game making.

Radio lab (google it) did a story about Centralia, I don't remember mentioning them the Silent Hill inspiration, that's really cool.

On the Universal horror thing, there are 2 main things that would bother me there:
1. I'm glad that they judge which people can hurt, because I think I maybe would be one of those people that scream, but also go into a berserk mode and punch them
2. in a house like Walking dead, there would be like the slightest part of my brain always thinking - What if there's a zombie outbreak right now and guy is bitten but I think that they're just in costume and I don't run/react!?

Whenever I have questions about alignment (I've never played D&D), I refer to these handy charts!

There's always one you can relate to!

reciprocal:
I am surprised no one could relate to Raistlin Majere from Dragonlance. He was my definite favourite.

I got my love of reading and gaming from the Dragonlance books. You can check out a Spanish dub of the movie on YouTube, but its so hard to watch. It's like someone did a speed run of super mario fbrothers, the someone who had never played a video game edited the footage into small chunks.

The movie edits out a good 1/3rd of the book at least.

A few points to the discussion regarding the Transformers. 1st: The '86 Movie is amazing. 2nd: regarding the various continuities... Beast Wars has characters that are from AFTER the 80's series but it takes place DURING the 4 Million Years prompt early in Episode 1 of the original series (Time Travel lol). 3rd: The planet CHAR that Susan mentioned is from Season 3 of the original series, which starts up immediately after the '86 animated movie.

Just wanted to bring some of my knowledge to the Podcat. Hope any of this helped.

I LOVE YOU GUYS!!!

 

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