Florence and Narrative Through Gameplay

When video games began gaining traction as an entertainment medium in the 80’s, most games kept their lore and story relegated to the manual distributed with the game. Games just didn’t have the capacity to tell stories any other way than through text, and more importantly, through the gameplay itself. Nowadays, the devices we use allow us to create experiences of all different kinds, but storytelling hasn’t seemed to evolve to fully utilize the potential of games.

Games like Bioshock and Horizon incentivize exploration with audio logs that flesh out the lore of the world, while games like Telltale’s series of licensed choose-your-own adventure games have let players directly influence the narrative to feel more connected. Though these approaches do a great job at making the player feel engaged, and they certainly involve the player more than other forms of entertainment, it doesn’t feel like these games are getting the most out of the interactivity of the medium. There’s a clear disconnect at times between the gameplay and story, such as the hordes of gunned-down soldiers contrasted with the charismatic protagonist in Uncharted or the godlike strength displayed by Kratos in God of War that is relegated to quick-time events. We’ve seen some exceptions, like last year’s brilliant Nier: Automata and its interesting uses of gaming tropes like replayability, character customization, and UI, or the cult classic Shadow of the Colossus and its subversion of the hero and open-world standards, but the list is surprisingly small.

A few days ago, I played a game called Florence that changed my opinion on that. It’s a short game by the creator of Monument Valley, a popular mobile puzzle game, and it genuinely took me by surprise. Within the half an hour I spent with the game, I performed mundane tasks like rubbing the screen, adding numbers, and putting together simple puzzle pieces. But Ken Wong and the team at Mountains have made those minute activities much more than just an interaction. They are part of the experience, and they help connect the player to the story of the game more than I’ve really ever seen. So let’s talk about what makes Florence‘s story feel so personal beyond a typical love story, thanks to the interactive nature of games.

Warning: spoilers for Florence are contained in this piece. It’s a 30 minute game and it’s well worth the time to check it out.

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Persona 5 and Finding Accessibility in Complexity

I’ve always been intrigued by the worlds, characters, and stories that are brought to the table when it comes to Japanese role-playing games, or JPRGs, but the genre is often placed in tandem with turn-based combat, which I’ve very rarely been a fan of. I don’t really see the skill or appeal in battling mindlessly to raise your stats enough to beat the boss and proceed through the story. JRPGs like Kingdom Hearts and The World Ends With You have been among my favorite games ever, given that they have the narrative elements that interest me in the genre, but the combat is much more action-heavy and feels involved and skill-based. The one game series that has subverted everything I’ve said up to this point is Pokemon. I am very indifferent towards the stories of Pokemon games, but there’s something exciting, beyond the nostalgia and hype, about collecting a myriad of interesting creatures that evolve and have elemental strengths and weaknesses. Somehow, it took me until the fifth entry in the Persona series to find a game with a good story and engaging turn-based gameplay.

What I love most about Persona 5 is hard to pin down, but one thing I admire greatly is how well the game makes its complexity approachable. The game is roughly 100 hours, and there’s so much to do that it would be easy to consider it daunting in any other game. When you consider that it takes elements of dating sims, Stardew Valley, Pokemon, and many other titles and mashes them together, it’s understandable that so many are taken aback. However, I think Persona 5 is a fantastic place to jump into both the Persona series and JRPGs as a whole, if you have the time to spare.

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2017 In Review: My Top 10 Games of 2017

Now that that pesky best game design tidbits list is out of the way, let’s get right to the main reason you’re all here: to read yet another best games of the year list. I’ve played a lot of fantastic games this year, and I personally had a harder time narrowing down a list to just ten games than I have in previous years. In fact, I’m starting off with four honorable mentions before we even get to the list. For most people that keep up with the industry, you probably will not be surprised with the inclusions on this list. However, the order of them is what may shock and appall some, so be sure to let me know what you agree and disagree with. Without further ado…

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2017 In Review: The Best Bits of Game Design I Played

It feels like every year for the last few years, it’s been fairly easy to say, “This has been the best year in games!” With a market that’s filled to the brim with releases weekly, it’s no wonder that we see more great games coming out now than a decade or so ago. Amidst a sea of microtransactions, lootboxes, and games as services, developers have been crafting truly remarkable and innovative experiences, and it’s a great asset to look at these creative bits of design and learn from them. This isn’t a list of my favorite games of the year – that will be coming towards the end of December – but all of these games are ones I would wholeheartedly recommend.

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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Designing a Good Open World

Slight spoilers for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild ahead. Please play through most of the game before reading. You will regret not playing the game whether you read this or not.

If you have been even remotely in tune with games media in the last month, you probably have seen a multitude of headlines regarding Nintendo’s latest entry in the acclaimed The Legend of Zelda series. Somehow, this series has become even more acclaimed with the latest entry, garnering the most perfect scores ever for a game on Metacritic and sitting comfortably at an average score of 97. The game features the same charm and adventure that have become attributable to the success of the series, but this game turns every staple of the series on its head while still revitalizing that feeling of wonder and excitement that made the original game on the NES so popular. However, when you look at it from the outside, Nintendo is simply years behind the industry in seeing that open-world games have value to them. So why is this game a critical success? No, it isn’t because the reviewers were paid. Zelda games clearly get a bit of a pass if we look at the scores for Skyward Sword and Twilight Princess, but that’s a debate for a different day. Let’s talk about how Nintendo watched from the sidelines for years, tested the waters, and then stuck the landing on their first real open-world game, as well as why Breath of the Wild‘s Hyrule is the best open world that gaming has probably ever seen.

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Danganronpa, Zero Escape, and Ace Attorney: Visual Novels as an Evolution of Point-and-Click Adventures

Video game genres are numerous and multi-faceted. There are a staggering number of them, and so many of them share characteristics and can be mixed and matched to make truly unique experiences. Recently, I watched a video by Barry Kramer of Game Grumps explaining, as a smaller part of the video (which you should totally watch anyways), how video games are different from other forms of media because there is an advanced vocabulary used to categorize them. Gamers can understand a bit about a game without even playing it or researching it simply by knowing a few terms like “platformer” or “roguelike.”

In the last year, I’ve spent a good amount of time being enthralled in visual novels. I always enjoyed a great story in a game, and puzzle games are some of my favorite games to play, so it seemed only natural to be drawn in. However, as I played more and more, I begin to see a lot of similarities with a genre I was not as fond of: adventure games. I became curious as to why I enjoyed one type of game over the other, but it soon became clear that visual novels are simply the adventure games of a new generation.

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Why To Market The Nintendo Switch as a Handheld

Let me preface this entire piece by saying I pre-ordered a Switch already. Through every disappointment I had with that presentation, I knew that eventually I was going to get that console for some game or another, and that I’d rather have The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in its premium form. I am completely sold on the Switch as a concept, and I think Nintendo’s innovation has finally reached a key make-or-break turning point that they’ve been approaching in recent years. This piece is meant as a quick analysis of what Nintendo did right and wrong overall, with an actual thesis and discussion of one possible fault.

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