Quest Line

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Quest Line

I’m finding myself in a somewhat positive situation now. Well, it has the possibility to be positive, in spite of the fact that it very well may change the trajectory that I’m on. Or it may be positive for exactly that reason. I’m trying not to get all worked up over it though. It’s a little sad in some way that cynicism has found a home in my otherwise perpetually bright-sided brain, but I guess it comes with the territory.
In any event, with this given opportunity I was told to create a quest (hence today’s title), but the quest has some severe limitations placed on it, regarding length, and who it was for, and how many people it would involve. After getting this, and staring at it, and then staring some more, I decided that staring at it blankly wasn’t really going to do me any favours. In fact, I find that I do some of my very worse thinking in the cold glow of a computer screen. So I closed up the laptop (the requirements burned into my retinas at that point), grabbed some snacks and sat down to watch a recorded Manchester United game. Although it’s completely off topic, no, I’m not British.
Well, sort of watched. Soccer is like Baseball, you can half pay attention and look up when the crowd is making a noise. In any event, the kernel appeared right in my mind. A core conceit that only needed some fleshing out. So I was off to the World of Warcraft wiki to look some stuff up. After looking about for a bit I was able to add the final pieces that would make my concept work from a story and mechanical level.
The stupid thing is, I seriously doubt that my quest design will ever appear anywhere. On the other hand, I wonder what kind of information the NDA specifies, since it’s pretty vague (although less vague than I’m trying to be), but I assume that it would prevent me from posting that particular quest up. If and when I find out, I probably will.
There was a point to this whole bit of nothing once. The thing is, in spite of my last post and the worries it contained regarding atrophy and my creative juicy mojo, there seemed to be nothing of the sort. Quite the opposite. Once I had the goal and my ideas, I turned on the spigot and pure, glossy creativity poured right on through. Focused even. I didn’t have to reign it in, pull it back, try to divert it. Hours passed that felt like minutes, writing came fully crafted to the page, new ideas would come out and fit into the overall structure fully formed and ready for installation. My brain just went like a train (rhyme!) in a single direction, with a single destination and an inevitability that it would get there with the passengers all quite pleased with the experience.
After these long months, it felt awesome to just let it loose like that. To unleash it at a task and see where the train would take me.
Yeah, yeah yeah, I know, that whole thing seems like a stupid nonsense, and writing about it seems self congratulatory at best. But after a while, it is possible to forget why I love doing this so much. It’s something to say, “I like designing because it makes me happy,” and finding that after the 4th hour of actually working there is a smile on my face that I don’t remember putting there. Please don’t mind my self indulgence, I’m just happy, and it makes me glad to say.

-On another topic, I was thinking recently about The Star Frog EP, mostly because it’s something I can think about on a purely abstract level (unlike say, Paper Zeppelin or TTT, which have code which musses up the abstraction). I starting thinking about telling a story or making a point via mechanics. I mean, there are a few ways to tell a story in a game. You can always write a wall of text, or show a movie, or have talking. Those are the easy ones. The harder ones are things like using items in the game, or doing something with the art direction and style, or setting up a scenario that the player may find themselves in or notice in the background. I suppose that these can be classified as Direct and Indirect respectively. So an example of Direct is having a character tell you that the Wizard has stolen a Princess. An Indirect example would be to find the Wizard’s Tower and see a Princess weeping in the tower. The Indirect method gives you a bunch of clues and asks you to figure it out. Braid does that. SqueEnix does 7 discs worth of movies and text. Games tend to want to use Indirect storytelling, so that the player figures it out.
If you still with me, I started this chunk by talking about Mechanical Storytelling. This one is kind of weird. I mean, it’s an Indirect method, but not in the way you would expect. You see, the story in a game is the story about the characters in that game. The player deals with constants regarding the mechanics and uses them to progress throughout the story. I was thinking however, that Mechanical Storytelling affects the Player’s Story.
What the hell am I talking about? Well, stick it out for a moment. You see, the Player’s Story is the story of what happens to the player, and what they are experiencing. Generally, these are pretty small and deal with Id and emotions. So you have your joy, and your fun, and being scared and adrenaline and all of that. However, the biggest way to get something across to a player is to give them another way to perceive their interactivity with the world itself.
A good example is in the original Super Mario, when you get to the first water level. Suddenly, the mechanics are changed and you have to deal with swimming. I would bet that most people hate those levels, because the gameplay is altered. We can construe from the mechanics in the new area that, A) Mario is a terrible swimmer, and B) He should avoid water whenever possible. Now Mario doesn’t emote. He doesn’t say in his borderline racist Italian voice, “Mesa Hatesa Aqua,” or whatever. All of that stuff that comes with it is from the player. They hate and fear the water. Their own story is about barely making it out alive.
GTA 4 does something else like it. In the game, you can get drunk, which effect the way the screen looks and how well Drunkle Nico is able to drive. These things change the player’s ability to do them and further, it ties their inability to drive while the game is doing that to Nico’s inability to drive because he tossed back 17 JaegerBombs.

-Speaking of drinking, I’m playing Fable III now. I’m finding it in most regards to be just like Fable II, which I think is a good thing. Only now you can use your own hero when playing multiplayer, which is nice. Although me and the wife argue a bit when I want to go clothes shopping. The biggest change, and this may be stupid, is that the simplified the combat. Well, except for swords, those still work in the same boring way. But now you can only use one spell at a time, and the shooting has become less interesting. Regarding the magic, it’s not a big deal. In the last game the wife played the role of Sorceress, and she used the Fire based Inferno, and the Summon Creatures (or Darklings and they’re known in our house) Spell. Although now the Darkling Summoning is a potion, and you can combine spells together to make new ones (try the Flaming Tornado or as I’ve dubbed it, The Fire Swirly), so it’s kind of a push really.
The thing about it that makes me sad is that the shooting is simplified, which makes it boring. You see, in Fable II, once the gun was powered up you could pop of crack shots on a person and aim at specific body parts. My hero The Scarlett Sparrow would be able to rock his pistol and land shots on heads and nads with impunity. His son seems to lack Dad’s skill with firearms, and all he can do it point and shoot like a DSLR. Not being able to aim takes something away, and doesn’t replace it with anything useful. So now you can charge a shot for extra damage. So what, the aiming mechanic did the same thing and was a skill you could get good at. It was a kind of metagame in my house with II, could the Scarlett Sparrow shoot the bandits to death before the Wife’s one two punch of Darklings and powered up Inferno?
It just seems a little less somehow. with II each of the methods of combat felt different. Swords were button mashy and kind of messy, guns were powerful but required skill to use really well, and the power up to charge nature of spells offered a high risk, high reward option. Now shooting feels like longer ranged close combat.
That’s why my hero in this game uses magic almost exclusively – it’s the most unique option for combat, although it is far easier than trying to play the whole game with a pistol. Then again, the combination of sorcerous fire and lightning would be.