Flotilla.

Feb. 14th, 2011 01:10 pm
puddlesofun: (Default)
Just recently I have been playing Brendan Chung’s Flotilla, which has some interesting narrative design. The game at its heart is about turn-based space combat (the design of which is elegant, but it could do with better camera controls), but the framing story is that you are a spaceship captain with seven months to live, and are determined to make the best of it. As such the framing story has you rushing from planet to planet on a map, and at each planet you are met with a (randomly generated) encounter. Many of these are not space battles, but simple situations for which there are two possible answers. Such as the following:



It’s a very simple in conceit and execution, but it allows me to decide what kind of space captain I want to be. I decide that I’m a rebellious sort who doesn’t submit to bullying from authorities (“Hell no I won’t pay your space-toll/hand over my hitch-hiker who turns out to be a galactic fugitive!” *fights*), but also one who will never refuse a plea for help, no matter who it comes from.

Well, I break that last vow once, when I come across some white-collar criminal pigs (literally, with the ears and the little twisty tails) who are being attacked by a pirates. Ignoring their pleas for help, I instead steal all their stuff. A couple of planets later, a psychopathic leopard in an aviator cap says he heard about it and that he likes my style, and he joins up with my flotilla with his spaceship. Bonus! Did I mention most of the characters are various species of animal? There are Toucans!

Anyway, my point is that randomly or procedurally generated gameplay tends to call for new narrative strategies, and there are some nice new ones here, albeit painted in broad strokes. I think the “limited time to live” thing might become a classic trope in this kind of thing. It’s nice for things with a random element to have a short play-time for a single game, because it helps give the feel of a beginning middle and end, and because because part of what makes randomness fun is replaying and seeing what changes. Terminal illness is an effortless way to make such a restriction seem more poignant. It effortlessly justifies the limited gameplay the same way the classic old “you wake up with amnesia” chestnut was used in the past to justify the player character asking a bunch of obvious questions.

Did I mention making a game was on my list of things to do this year? Right after writing a novel. Yeah.
puddlesofun: (Default)
I’ve been playing “Super Columbine Massacre RPG” recently. I decided to do so because it seems to have figured in a lot of arguments which have the terms “video games” and “art” placed in close proximity to each other. And also, controversy. For fairly obvious reasons.

It’s not a well made game. It has the look of a top-down console rpg from the early 90’s, and fairly simplistic gameplay. Get up, go to school, set bombs without getting busted, get your guns out, commit horrible slaughter. Most of the dialogue is taken from diaries and records on the two boys involved in Columbine. Although there are lots of optional levels and secret bits, there aren’t really any branching paths to the story in a moral sense. I suppose you can choose to kill more or less people, but people will die either way.


After all the cartoonish (although bloody) violence, you suicide or are killed, and then you are hit with a slideshow of photos of the real victims and their bodies, followed by shots of their friends and family grieving. Followed by childhood photos of Eric and Dylan. This device is curiously affecting. You do become more connected to the tragedy through having perpetrated it in simulacra.

As I said, it isn’t a well-made game. The gameplay is primitive. Someone else might have made a better statement about this event in videogame form, if they had tried. But the fact remains, noone else did try. Few people tackled this issue in any medium, let alone lowly video games.

It has got me thinking that the impact and consequences of violence might be an issue that games are uniquely suited to addressing. There has after all been so much violence in the last 20 years of computer games, so many conventions and tropes to do with it have arisen that could be subverted or tweaked.

*

Anyhoo, the "art" part of the debate in a nutshell: Obviously there was proportionally more media negativity heaped upon this game than there was upon, for instance, Elephant or Bowling for Columbine, and it was pretty clear that most of the people calling for it to be banned hadn't played it or even seen it, so I think we can leave out the quality of the game when we look for the reasons for that. It was just their preconceptions of what a video game is or is for that caused their objections.

Some relevant stuff:

The game reviewed by a Columbine massacre survivor:
http://kotaku.com/gaming/feature/columbine-survivor-talks-about-columbine-rpg-171966.php

The game's creator being interviewed on a current affairs show after a massacre in Montreal:
http://live.canoe.ca/TheShow/Archives/2006/09/14/1839452.html

Apologies for rambling.

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