Thursday, August 5, 2010

Goals for the next few days and also the adventures of Jon Arbuckle in Sad Land

Present work: Building a prototype app in flash to display a narrative choice architecture. I'll be using the Choose Your Own Adventure book "Space and Beyond" as a placeholder for original content. By Monday I want a prototype working.

Present research: Hamlet on the Holodeck, Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty, Heavy Rain.

Still waiting for Hamlet on the Holodeck to arrive from Amazon--with my luck it'll turn up Monday, if at all--but it should provide some kind of perspective on interactive narrative, which is a body of research I'm lacking in right now. I've got a few more gaming textbooks on the way also, all of which comprised basic reading for other SCAD students but none of which I've ever laid eyes on.

Heavy Rain... time to indulge in the adventures of Jon Arbuckle in Sad Land. I've found a Let's Play that actually does a good overview of the different kinds of decisions you can make, but it's only gone about as far as I have--which isn't far enough to show the ramifications of the branching paths... Meaning it's time to bite down and spend a couple of evenings playing it. Right away I can tell that it's not really a game about choice and personalization so much as a game about success and failure. It's more like they wanted to test how much players wanted to get into the story than that they wanted to provide room for personalization.

Poor Mr. Arbuckle. So sad that Garfield shipped his son off to Abu Dabi.

There's still a sense of personalization to it in that everything that the player interacts with skews their interpretation of the characters; for instance, on one hand Ethan can be a responsible, loving dad, on the other he can be a broken-down, tormented, and cowardly drunk. The events don't change, but who and what he is ends up falling on the player. Otherwise the branching element comes down to mostly success or failure on specific tasks. There's probably a lot more to it than that, which is why I've got to play it far enough to see that branching element at work, but that's the impression I have so far.

Meanwhile I also have to play Starcraft 2, which purportedly ALSO features a narrative decision system. I dove in and I'm actually surprised at the level of detail they put into the narrative so far. For ONCE these characters don't feel like they're just blips on my radar. Mainly the decisions boil down to which missions you take and which ones you don't take. I've only hit the third mission, which presents such a choice, and I have yet to see if you give up one to take the other at this stage, but I'm aware that this DOES happen and that the magnitude of decisions escalates quite a bit.

Evacuate the colonists, or help an old friend...

The decision I've got: nab a priceless artifact for a bunch of black marketeers, gaining hundreds of thousands of credits in the process, or help a colony evacuate from a zerg invasion, gaining hundreds of thousands of credits--but a few thousand less--in the process. Each one gives me a different heavy unit--some generic heavy infantry unit called a Marauder or the classic Firebat, an anti-infantry flamethrower trooper; thus a gameplay incentive behind the decisions is attached as well. Additionally I've got a buddy character named Tychis with me who has a deal with the guys I'm selling the artifacts to. Already I'm feeling a lot of weight behind this choice as Tychis purportedly saved my ass in Starcraft 1/Brood War and he's already helped me gain a lot of ingame resources, but at the same time in fulfilling the identity of main character Jim Raynor I feel an obligation to help the colonists; plus I'm left wondering which of these two units I want more. It's legitimately a dilemma as I have no idea what consequences there will be, if any, further down the line. I've got a rebellion to organize and zerg to squish... choices. It SEEMS like a good reflection of the practical philosophy behind WDL--IE practical decisions over moral decisions--but we'll see how far Blizzard took it.

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