Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Beyond: Two Souls Is Ahead of It's Time (In the worst way possible)

Time for another boring lecture.

DISCLAIMER: This essay is not here to say Beyond is "actually" good for those who think it's not. This is going to be very specific, and very much about one thing: The Invisible choice system, where it's applied in Beyond, how it works, how it fails, and why it hasn't been noticed. The whole game is not like the examples I will discuss. I am going to single out particular examples from a particular discussion piece for a reason. This is not a blanket statement on how all choices are handled in the game.

When I replayed Beyond: Two Souls, I was astounded to find so many little and big things I missed on my first playthrough. Little things like vision objects, and big things like scenarios that were actually dependent on a choice I made earlier. I found out about so many little decisions I made that caused subtle changes throughout the game. Changes that never seemed like variables, but rather scripted scenarios. I found out that I played through scenes that some players never saw, and missed more exploration-based interactions than I ever would have guessed.

After watching various "let's plays", group discussions, reading the negative reviews, and examining my initial playthrough, I noticed a pattern:  

Players had no clue that they were making choices, or that they missed whole scenes until they talked to another player, or replayed the game.

 Seriously?
This kinda sorta happened with games like Heavy Rain and The Walking Dead. But with those games, and others, it was on a binary and clear scale. It was more, "Who did you save? What did you say? Did you lie or tell the truth?" type of questions that had very clear and obvious separate outcomes. In Beyond it was more like, "What did you do? What did you see? Where did you go?" type of questions that revealed the differences between playthroughs.

David Cage used what he calls an "invisible" or "organic" choice system; all options are not 
always explicitly presented to the player, because they are either implied or have to be discovered by the player themselves. This caused players to feel that their story was completely linear and pre-determined.

To put it simply:

In most choice-based games, players are aware that X happened as opposed to Y. In Beyond, most players are aware that X happened, but are actually oblivious to Y's existence. Therefore, they assume X is the only outcome.


How can that happen?


It became clear when IGN posted their Beyond: Two Souls spoilercast (YT: IGNs Beyond: Two Souls Spoilercast)The discussion is an uncanny heap of bad luck. All three panel members happened to make a lot of the same decisions, missed a lot of the same content, and all chose the same macro ending scenario. The panel members' opinions of the game were greatly affected by this. This is precisely why it's a great place to grab examples from.

Also, I want this analysis to be open for those who have yet to play the game. I will drop heavy focus on only a three examples derived from the video. These are light spoilers, so if you are on the fence, you can use this essay to see if the game might tickle you fancy. I won't be using the ginormous plot points for examples.

The spoilercast will be the primary source for analyzing how "invisible choice" caused Beyond's downfall.


This isn't to say that the things this essay examines are the sole causes of Beyond's negative reaction. The story itself, the script, etc are not going to be discussed because the quality of those things is not unique to Beyond. I am going to dissect and analyze only a specific gameplay element of the game that separates it from other games. That is, the way the game handles choices and exploration, and how the lack of hand holding for those systems ruined a lot of players' experiences.

Now, the panel all thought the game was more or less the same for everyone. They say that their choices didn't matter, things aren't explained, and that the story doesn't make sense.

They also assume that they saw everything. 





Jodie's Breakdown

In "The Dinner", adult Jodie is having dinner with Ryan. After the dinner, the player can accept Ryan's romantic advances and take things to the bedroom. If fun-time is engaged, Jodie and Ryan will either bang, or stop abruptly due to Jodie having some kind of panic attack. This depends on what happened years earlier in Jodie's life, in the chapter called "Like Other Girls", where teenage Jodie is alone in a bar with a bunch of creepy older men.

Ready for disappointment?
In the panel's playthroughs, they snuck out of the DPA as teenage Jodie and went to the bar. While playing pool, she gets sexually assaulted by some douche-canoes. This causes her to break down if she attempts to sleep with Ryan later in the game.

They thought that's what always happens. It seemed like a pre-determined event.  They also began to wonder why Jodie broke down. They actually wondered if the bar scene had anything to do with it, but didn't bother checking. They wondered about it, despite Jodie saying to Aiden, "Yeah, I'm aware of what happened at the bar... fuck you for reminding me" before Ryan arrived. Even though they ignored clear exposition, that's not the only thing that soiled their understanding of the scenario.


First of all, you can get caught when sneaking out of the DPA, and never even step foot in the bar. Second, if you do go to the bar, you can leave before anything happens. This let's Jodie bang Ryan because she avoided the traumatic experience. The incident at the bar and the bar itself can be non-factors in the story.

But why wasn't this obvious? Why didn't the panel know that their dinner scenario was based on their previous actions? Why did it seem pre-determined?


Why? Tell me!
It's because they were never given the explicit option to leave the bar. They assumed the bar scene was supposed to just play itself out and that's it.

When things got fishy, some players decided to walk to the door themselves and leave. They thought that they should at least attempt to avoid the douche-canoes, and were rewarded for making their own decision. They didn't need the game to tell them they could do that. Logical exploration revealed logical options.

That sounds like a good idea.
Most players are used to a "choice" moment, i.e. "PRESS X TO THIS, PRESS Y TO THAT". Since they never saw that anywhere in the bar, a lot of players didn't know they had the option to leave. 

Players are also used to the outcomes of choices being obvious. Someone dying, someone leaving, someone lying, etc. Subtlety and nuance are not things that games are implementing left and right. When something as low-key as a buried phobia rearing it's head hours later in the game is a consequence, it's understandable for it to go over a lot of heads.

We are so used to systems like in The Walking Dead that explicitly tell you when you are making a choice (even when it doesn't change anything), and the Heavy Rain system where the bulk of consequence is literal death (like a "normal" video game). 


See, it really is interactive I swear.
David Cage's design philosophy sticks to the notion that if players don't know when they make a choice, and the ramifications aren't obvious, their experience becomes more akin to real life. The flow of the story is more organic. You don't "choose" between option A or B with reassurance of what will happen. Your decisions speak for themselves. When you don't think of alternate paths, the story feels more like your own, it feels more real, as opposed to just "one of the branches". 

If Beyond was more like other games, players would think to themselves:

"Oh, Jodie broke down because of that one choice I made at the bar which obviously had a consequence. Therefore, if I made the other choice, she'd be bangin' Clayton right now."

This exposes the systems of the game, and reminds you that you are playing a system and not a story. In real life, you wouldn't know if that one event in the past would surely change the present in the exact way you think it would. 

Most of Beyond's subtleties, fail states, and alternate paths are like this. This is good in theory, but the current gaming environment doesn't support this style of story malleability outside of works like open world games or rouge-likes. An Adventure game like Beyond that does away with standard HUD elements just doesn't look like it's as advanced as it is. Players are most likely to assume what they are seeing is a pre-determined part of the game, and not results of actions they have taken or not taken.

A more immersive and natural storytelling system also makes the game seem less interactive. Quite the double-edged sword.





Burning Building

One of the panelists, Mitch Dyer, wrote an opinion piece on the game, where he went to town showcasing the exact mentality I explained above. Pretty much every scene but "The Party" is completely linear and lacking in explanation according to him. "The Party", interestingly enough, has one of the few clearly prompted binary decision points of the whole game.

One such scene that he found unexplained, was the abandoned building that catches fire in "Homeless". He never found out who started the fire, and tried explaining it himself by talking about how memory works or something. He eventually just blamed Cage, like he wrote the fire in for no reason.

Little did he know, his path through the ending of that scene was different from the path which reveals the firestarters.


His Jodie died while trying to escape the fire, due to him failing the action sequence. If he made it out alive, Jodie would have gotten ambushed by those hooligans that she beat up earlier. Camera in hand, the hooligans admit they started the fire, hoping to get revenge on Jodie to quell the butthurt they acquired from earlier.

Because Mitch failed, he lost more than just the other story path; he lost tangible (albeit not that important) expository content.

But wait there's more! Mitch still had two more chances. In the following scene, Jodie wakes up in a hospital from a months-long coma. If Mitch decided to explore the room instead of bolting straight out the door, he could have seen a newspaper right on the wall that shows the hooligans being arrested for the arson. Or, he could have touched the flowers, which gives Jodie a vision of Stan's visit, where he mentions their arrest.

Because Mitch chose to ignore his surroundings, he lost his chance to recoup the expository content he lost.

Why would he do that?
Beyond, like Heavy Rain, invites players to move around themselves to find objects. When in proximity, a prompt shows up over an interactable thing-a-ma-jig. This replaces a pointer. Frequently in The Walking Dead you can just click on something across the field, and simply watch Lee walk over to it automatically. Instead of navigating the world like it's a menu, you navigate it by controlling the character at all times. It also means there's no HUD aside from the little dots that serve as the pickup prompts.

Large prompts over every interactive element throws discovery out the window
Adding more immersion and interactivity is exactly what caused Mitch's problem though. It's very easy to miss dozens of important interactions if you don't explore the environment. Because you don't see everything on an overlay, you have to search around to see what can be toyed with. Sometimes, you simply don't expect things to be of any importance. He didn't walk past a prompt on purpose, like if it were The Walking Dead, in which case he could infer that he skipped what he was looking for. Instead, he just has no idea there is more than he saw.

Even I missed every object that sits in the hospital room at the end of "Homeless", just like Mitch. There's the flowers which give a vision of Stan's visit to Jodie during her coma. A picture frame that shows Tuesday's visit, where she talks about Zoey and reveals her real name. There's also a Jimmy vision, and the newspaper vision. You learn that the group is living in an apartment together and Stan got a job, all by interacting with the vision objects. I missed all that stuff because I never walked toward them, which would have spawned an interaction prompt. I didn't expect there to be so much crap worth looking at in a single room, so I didn't bother, and that's my fault.

So the game's better form of discovery also comes with the chance of unintentionally leaving things behind. Yet another double-edged sword.


It's worth noting that Mitch failed an action sequence, died, missed the explanation, and still believed it was all pre-determined. It shows just how well the "organic" choice system works; it felt real to him. He didn't think about anything but exactly what happened to him. "This must be the canon path," one might say. No systems, no text boxes, no reminders, no nothing. Just the flowing story.

The problem with this, of course, is that he actually does think it's pre-determined, rather than just feeling like it is. He assumed there is absolutely no explanation for the fire, and that he could not have escaped the building.

He got the wrong impression of the game, directly from the game's most unique mechanics. What a riot.

How could they not see this coming?


Panhandling

Earlier in the "Homeless" chapter, there is a sequence where Jodie walks along a city block in an effort to make some money so she and her new group can eat for the day. This part the game serves as a more drastic example of content discovery, where what you can miss isn't mere exposition, but whole scenes.

From Let's Plays and "whoa you can do that?" discussions, it turns out that many players had no idea you can cross the street. They either sat down and made a sign to beg for money, or walked far enough until they stumbled across the ATM-- the only two options on the initial sidewalk. 

There is no prompt that says "CROSS STREET?", letting you know you have the option. The only way to find out is if you try, and actually walk onto one of the crosswalks. Players who didn't cross missed the bulk of options; A creepo who offers 10 bucks for you know what, a store to beg in, a mailbox that Aiden can blast change out of, a trashcan that has a rotten pizza in it, and the guy who lets you play his guitar.

These aren't just ways to get or not get money. They each say something about Jodie, Aiden, the current state of their relationship, and even the player (making money via prostitution or stealing are obvious self-reflection points).



Also, the pizza and guitar harbor some of the more poignant scenes of the whole game: 

If you go to a certain trashcan you pick out a pizza from inside. You see that it's old and rotten, and you have the choice to put it back. If you eat it, Jodie will take one slimey bite then break down into tears. She looks at the pizza and realizes she hit rock bottom because she decided to run away. She ran away because she was used. She was used because of Aiden. This explains why Aiden is willing to sack the ATM and murder the creepo in this sequence. He wants to make amends in any way possible, even going so far as stealing and revenge-killing so Jodie can see that he just wants to help her no matter what pickle they're in. If you miss this, Zoey's birth fills that gap automatically, but the pizza scene is a heap of icing on the cake that makes the whole chapter more meaningful. It also means a lot more if you ordered pizza in "The Dinner", because then it reminds her of Ryan and how her first relationship went down the drain.

If you walk all the way to the other homeless guy with the guitar, Jodie can pick it up and start playing. She sings songs all day (it's manifested as one for us) and makes bank. It's one of the most beautiful scenes of the game, and can be easily missed. If I recall correctly, playing guitar is also the only non-criminal way to get enough cash to buy the group chocolate.



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


In Conclusion:

For the panel, and many other players, their play was influenced by their preconceptions of how a game normally presents opportunities. They didn't expect that they would have to actively seek out the things they wanted to see: 

  1. The game only displays and telegraphs the main objective. All other interactions are the player's responsibility to look for. 
  2. Therefore, players did not do any exploration. 
  3. Therefore, they missed a ton of content related to story, choices, choice explanations, and entire gameplay segments. 
  4. The game doesn't explicitly tell them what their choices were, and doesn't tell them what they missed. 
  5. Therefore, they assume that the small amount they saw and did is actually all there is, and deem the game to be super linear, lacking in choices, and not open for exploration. 

Player's were just not ready for the kind of responsibility Beyond puts on them to better their own experience. When a game does everything for us, we complain that it doesn't give us the freedom to express our agency in the story. When a game gives us the freedom to express our agency in the story, we complain because we don't know how to use it.

This also happened in some capacity last year with Spec Ops: The Line. There were a few invisible choices with subtle outcomes. Some people caught on, but we needed a sort of "movement" in the games writing sphere to really get it out there. I hope this happens with Beyond. Like Spec Ops, the non-handheld choices and exploration are a small part of the grand scheme, but that doesn't mean it should be ignored. 

For the most part, we still need HUD and markers to tell us where we can go and what we can interact with. We still need a menu to tell us what our choices are, and a text box to make sure we know that Clementine will remember that. We are used to being handheld through the story and shown everything so that no development time is "wasted".

Beyond is one step in the right direction, but I think it just stepped too early for it's own good.


I should have known this would happen.
In Beyond you simply play, and accept that things will change based on how you play. You don't need to think about the game and its systems, its branches, or its consequences. That stuff is a given. It's supposed to go without saying. It's invisible and organic. Most games shove the choices and options in player's faces.

They make the player adapt to the game, while Beyond adapts to the player. 

I'm not saying that's it's your fault if any of this stuff flew over your head when playing the game. I think, just like Heavy Rain, Beyond employs some things that are ahead of it's time. It, also like HR, just lacks the sheer story quality needed for players to care and notice.

----------------------

Thanks for reading, and as always, stay tuned for more posts!

https://twitter.com/Boojro


Essay DLC

I'd like to thank those who gave up their time to read the crap I wrote. I never imagined this would get so many pageviews and comments. Again, thanks so much!

I'm going to plop in a little 'extra' content for you guys. After some discussions, I realized that I'm going to have to put back in a section I took out before publishing this (that's why I'm calling it DLC hehehe). I was going to flesh it out and put it in a different topic, but it seems to be too important to leave out. So here it is:


Non-linear chapter placement

A lot of people don't like the non-linear chapter structure. I don't like it either. The idea is sound; You go from playing a part of Jodie's teenage life, to her as an adult, then a child, then an adult, then teen, then child, yadda yadda yadda. It's a fine idea, but didn't work out that well most of the time. It easily could have, but a ten hour malleable story is hard enough to design in order as it is.

It's generally regarded as a failed experiment.

Say that to my face.
But was it actually an experiment?

I think it's pretty obvious that the chapter structure was not a creative decision from Cage nor Quantic Dream. I actually think the game was originally designed to be played chronologically, and there was never any real intention to mix things around.

The earliest part of the timeline is the chapter called "My Imaginary Friend". You play as Jodie during downtime as she just lives out a typical day in her house. You can walk around and interact with things and people as Jodie or Aiden in a calm environment You can go upstairs and get the mirror scare, or play with dolls and see Aiden get jealous, draw on her desk, find a secret box that shows why Jodie was adopted, see that her dad ignores her, mess with her dad as Aiden, etc. All the controls of the game are shown in the house in some way while offering narrative and character elements on top of them.

Sound familiar? This is the exact same setup as Heavy Rain's opening. A downtime level where the player is free to explore and learn the controls through various interactions, while getting used to the shoes and life of their character.

Instead of this, what we play first in the real game is "The Experiment". Players are thrown into the game with the same ability to explore and interact with things, but with a catch; the story is already rolling. Cole is right there telling you to stop dicking around. You are keeping someone waiting when you try to learn the game at your own pace. That caused a lot of players to simply not take control of their agency, and go directly to the door.

Could this have contributed to the misinformed style of play that has been examined in this essay? In "The Experiment", players are trained to follow orders, and are explicitly told by in-game characters that they are wasting time by interacting with their environment. If we played "My Imaginary Friend" first, we would get used to having the world to ourselves, and feeling in control of what we see and do.

How could you let this happen?

I think Sony came up with the idea to mix up the chapters, not Cage.

There are 7 chapters where you play as wee-Jodie. If the game was in order, the first 2 hours or so would be spent playing as a little girl. I would not be surprised if Sony told Quantic Dream that it was never going to happen on their watch (or rather their wallet).

If you change the order, you can like, put the train escape and the CIA shooty bits early, so the precious gamers won't get bored or too weirded out by playing as a kid.  - something a publisher would say 

David Cage himself only ever described it as some form of variety. You get to do something here, then something totally different there, and it's really quiet here, then it gets crazy there, etc. When asked about the structure during preview season that was pretty much all he had to say about it. It was clearly not something he had a big idea for, and the game was not written with that in mind. Many negative reviews made the comparisons of intent to movies like Pulp Fiction, in an effort to make it seem like Cage was just trying to be clever or something.

The Last of Us let us play as a normal teenage girl in the intro, and it was astonishing just how new and fresh it felt to be in the shoes of that kind of character in that kind of game. Such a large portion of the main demographic was experiencing something different in a game for once. Everyone loved Sarah, and loved feeling what she felt while playing as her. But of course, the game was absurdly quick to give us control of the manly man so we can feel like a hero carrying the damsel in our arms in less than ten minutes. There was also the heartbreaking shit Dotnod had to go through when pitching Remember Me.

Playing as a kid (a girl no less) in a big production is still some kind of taboo for a lot of the industry AND the community. Unless of course, they get to murder people with knives and guns just like their male contemporaries (Ellie is great but come on now).

With complaints against Heavy Rain's slow start, (despite being the most completed story-based game this gen), the hate for child characters in general, and the odd vibe the industry has when it comes to playing as them, it's understandable that Beyond may have been tampered with in regards to the Childhood act. I can't fault QD for trying their best to make it work though.


ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS ON THE CHAPTER STRUCTURE

It really works with the aforementioned scene, "The Dinner". We see Ryan act like an ass to Jodie as a teen in "Separation", and then we play "The Dinner" which takes place years later. Jodie tells Aiden how much see likes him, and that she's a good guy. Most people saw this as bad writing and nonsense, having us believe Ryan is a good guy right after seeing him make Jodie cry years earlier.

What no one realized is that this allowed the player to instantly be put into Aiden's shoes. He doesn't want Jodie to go out with Ryan, and the player agrees. As the scene develops, you start to realize whether Aiden (i.e. you) has the right to decide who Jodie can date. Because you didn't see the time between "Separation" and "The Dinner", you wrongly assume Ryan is a bad guy. You want him out of there, but also want Jodie to be happy for once. You get a conflicted sense of agency, and have to juggle between the needs and wants of two player characters at the same time. There are multiple ways for your actions as Aiden to cause Ryan to bail. If this happens, you get a heartbreaking scene of Jodie proclaiming that she hates Aiden now, and it's your fault. If you, as Aiden, eventually do let Jodie and Ryan engage their relationship, you right there caused Aiden to change, directly because of the change you went through since the start of the scene.


------------------------------------------------


A lot of responses to this essay, around the internet and forums, have been about the game's writing and story. I stated early on that this is not a statement of quality for the whole game, but an examination of a single element. Since so many people want to offer a "rebuttal" telling me about why they don't like Beyond as if I asked them, I'll do the same. Here a small list of things unrelated to the essay that I appreciate about the game, Quantic Dream, and David Cage.

- New damn IP

- Triple-A adventure game

- Unsexualized female player character

- Hours of playing as a little girl

- Scenes where you simply do things around the house

- Numerous whole scenes that took dev time and money can be completely missed

- The player character can be killed off, in her first game

- Letting the player choke out a child

- It failed, but you never know unless you try: The disorganized chapter structure

- Allowing choices and malleability to be as subtle as possible, in the name of immersion. The risk may not have payed off, as explained before.

- Executives think kissing male characters might be weird for the bro demographic? Too bad, here's THREE romance-able guys, with the chance to get in two of them's pants

- Non-experienced players can play a touch control version of the game via a free app, "hardcore" gamer cred be damned

- No cleavage, booty, "the look", explosions, guns, quotes, or gruff men on the cover

- In the age of inflated budgets, Beyond only cost $27 million despite 2 new engines and famous actors.

- Cage knows he is hated, but doesn't let the trolls get to him and continues to be QD's spokesman

- Cage won't dumb his ideas down to appease third party publishers that would allow him to go multi-platform

I for one would love to see more developers, and like Cage; CEO's, try new things and make creative decisions from the heart rather than the wallet. If you got anything out of this essay, please comment, and uh, support Beyond please? 













77 comments:

  1. very well said! hopefully we get more games in this vein, but with better writing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cage said he is working with a team of writers for Quantic Dream's PS4 game, so there is hope!

      Delete
  2. I never leave comments, but I have to this time. Excellent, excellent write-up. I reviewed the game and mentioned this briefly, but no where near this extent.

    I really hope more people read this piece. Beyond is a much better game than critics claimed. It was just too deep for this generations type of gamer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Too deep" is maybe a bit of a stretch. I'd say it's just a bit rarer a design.

      Delete
  3. Just wanted to say that this article and the other on Heavy Rain vs The Walking Dead was really, really good. Often writing on game design is just obvious and not really interesting, but I think you cover really good stuff in both articles! Good job!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, it means a lot coming from an accomplished developer such as yourself. I follow your blog intensely, and Player's Delight was directly inspired by it, so you can imagine my excitement right now!

      Delete
  4. I had a mixed feeling when I completed the game, because it did feel like I didn't have as many choices as Heavy Rain, but then I thought that it was impossible. That said, I still couldn't put my finger on when and where I could have made game changing decision... so I guess they got that right, the story wrote itself seamlessly.

    Your article really makes me appreciate the depth of the work done by the Quantic Dream team. I was planning on another play through this weekend, and judge by myself of decision making potential of the game, however with your article in mind, I guess I will see it under a new light.

    I thought the second play through would be better, because the core story has been understood, you can focus on the details, and actually notice the differences from your decisions. Much like the first time you watch The Matrix, you don't understand why Trinity runs in the phonebox when there is a truck about to drive through it.

    In any case, excellent article.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Just don't get to carried away with expectations. Heavy Rain is still a more malleable story overall. I'd recommend focusing on exploration as Jodie and Aiden on your next playthrough though, as it certainly made me appreciate the game more, especially during Homeless.

      Delete
  5. That was just awesome I never thought there were so many options for exaple on my first playtrough I ignored the creep on the streat took the money from that machine that Aiden crashes and then went to the guitar guy later I played that chapter again then I went ot the creep and let Aiden kill/beat him after that I went to the guitar guy again I never thought there where more choises B2S was probably one of the 3 best games I ever played but I knew that before reading this artice now I just love it more thanks man for the great work :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. It's an interesting point, but 1) I think you're overstating it tremendously, and 2) I think you failed to prove your point.

    First of all, I believe you've been swept up by the illusion of agency, while in fact everything in the game WAS previously scripted. Every moment, every deviation from the rails. All of that was scripted (just like in other point and click adventure games, which is a genre, which this game so certainly belongs to). The game gives the exploring type an illusion of there being things to do, but if that "white dot" doesn't show up, you will not be able to explore further, and if it does, you will only explore what has been programmed and recorded. There is no picking things up and doing stuff with them on your own terms. If there is no scene to fail, there is no different outcome to be experienced. In other words, you can't decide to do something that the game doesn't facilitate, is the point I'm trying to make.

    Also, consequence of actions (apparent or not so), has been integral to RPG's and other game genres throughout time, and while you try to sell Beyond: Two Souls choice-system, as an implicit one, even to the point that the claim is that the player doesn't know that he or she is making choices, is a bit presumptuous on your part. We've come to expect decision-trees from a Quantic Dreams game, and it's been done before (recall the hostage-situation in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, where if you take your time, the hostages have been killed, although there is no explicit prompt telling you that there's a major consequence of your tardiness). Some (not all) of those instances where choices are made in other games, aren't as salient as options in a dialogue box, and I think you expose your lack of awareness when you're claiming the opposite. The Fallout-series has been good about implementing indirect consequences of action, and other games as well. B:TS' system might seem more sophisticated, but there is far less variety to the path you are able to take than in many RPG's. You still have to make your way through the central points of the main story, and you're not able to bypass one chunk of the story and experience something else that you find interesting instead. You can't commit to alternatives, unless they have been carved out for you by Quantic Dreams (something very differently from far less scripted games like Minecraft, GTA online etc., and other games with sandbox/social aspects, where your choices as a player are at center stage, rather than some sort of main story with a predefined character). As a matter of fact, while the choices may not always seem apparent, all you're left with in B:TS is alternative paths from the general line.

    I think where you're on to something, is that Cage have TRIED to achieve the feats that you credit his game with. However, you can't script life, because once life stops responding to every (EVERY) little thing you do, the illusion falls apart. That's what human agency feels like in B:TS. You're allowed to live and make choices in certain very specific and pre-defined ways (albeit, in more than most reviewers seem to have credited the game with, but still extremely limited manners), but you are in truth so ultra-limited in your choices that this experiment fails from the onset. It does not move the genre further, and it fails to be anything but an interactive movie at its worst (one with a bit of a cheesy and emo-porno'ish tint to it). At its best, it's a pretty looking point-and-click adventure with very solid voice acting. When watching how the game played out for different people, and even when IGN tried to make the same point that you're making in the video of their preview-playthrough, the alternative paths seem so insignificant and ad hoc that they are tantamount to being relatively insulting to the player, as an agent.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 1) I thought I was specific enough so that it doesn't seem like I am claiming that the whole game is like this. I narrowed it down to a single "official" discussion (IGN's spoilercast), because they had particular complaints derived from a particular design. I talked about those particular complaints and backtracked them to find out how they were misinformed. The reason I didn't just use the whole game as a blanket for the Invisible choice system, is because the whole game is not like that.

      2) I'm not sure if I meant to prove any point. Perhaps the "ahead of it's time" in the title is where that assumption comes from. I didn't say the whole game is like that, just the Invisible choice parts. The examples you gave of other games having the same system supports this. It's a minority feature in the grand scheme of things, and is not commonplace. It's still extremely special when it happens.

      ---

      Regarding your first paragraph, it seems to just describe how video games work. Same with your last paragraph. I don't know where in the essay I claimed the player is able to do things the designers didn't intend. I didn't say there are heavily emergent things going on in Beyond left and right. The point was that some of the options given to the player where not obvious, and here are some of the benefits/repercussions of that. It doesn't go much deeper than that.

      "In other words, you can't decide to do something that the game doesn't facilitate"

      If I wrote something that comes across as me claiming this, point it out to me and I will fix it.

      ---

      Your second paragraph makes it seem like I claimed Beyond's Invisible choice system is the whole system. The essay just talks about some instances where this system is applied. Most of the game is not like this, and that's why the examples are very specific and based on a certain video and not the whole game. Just like with your Deus Ex example, it's one specific moment in a game full of prompted decisions.

      I also didn't mean to claim Beyond is the only game doing this. I was looking at how and why Beyond was ignored for doing it when other games weren't. Deus Ex's hostage scene was widely known and reviewers even explained it. People knew that if you take too long there are consequences. The bar scene in Beyond never got this reception. Like with the hostages, if you take too long there are consequences. Two consequences in fact; the immediate one which is the assault, and the later one which is the botched romance. Reviewers and players had no clue about this, and they thought their romance scenario was just another pre-determined event that happens no matter what. This is what the essay was talking about. Deus Ex's hostage situation was about people either getting killed or rescued, a staple in video game subject matter. Beyond's equivalent was nothing near that obvious or standard. It was a subtle and complex thing; a buried phobia. This is why I think it's worth congratulating QD's efforts. They are fumbling with Invisible choice, but they are fumbling in an area that is still rare for games.

      "You can't commit to alternatives, unless they have been carved out for you by Quantic Dreams (something very differently from far less scripted games like Minecraft, GTA online etc., and other games with sandbox/social aspects, where your choices as a player are at center stage, rather than some sort of main story with a predefined character)"

      That's a comparison I never made.

      "As a matter of fact, while the choices may not always seem apparent, all you're left with in B:TS is alternative paths from the general line."

      This essay was specifically about the choices not being apparent part, not how wild the branching story paths are in and of themselves.

      Delete
  7. My biggest problem with the game is that it is honestly not all that well written. The only thing you mentioned in the article that I was not aware of was the thing with the bar, and I'll concede that there are probably many things I missed in the choice system. There were good things in the game, but a majority of the story elements are really cliche. Also, I've seen the burning building scene played both ways and while it can be played slightly differently dying in the building is not a good alternate route because the result is a somewhat slapdash explanation where someone rescues you to get the story back on track. A lot of the alternate decisions seem to go that way, which is what gives the game the feeling of having a set narrative.

    No doubt there are people out there that are overly hard on the game. I found there were a lot of good things in it, but when it came down to it, a lot of the writing just fell into common narrative tropes regardless of which route you took. It does come off as pretentious in a lot of situations, treating certain plot points as if they were more poignant then they actually were. It's not easy to look past that when David Cage himself claims that it's a better work of art then all the other games that ever were and are...but then only mentions stuff like Mario...which I doubt has ever claimed to be great art.

    So, choice system or not, the real failing of Beyond, at least for me, is that when all was said and done I felt no connection to the characters and story. What little there was at first had dwindled at the often silly and outlandish writing. Did I just make the wrong choices? Well then that would suggest that David Cage did intend for there to be a right and wrong choice and not making the choice he intended resulted in many players not having a satisfying experience. You make some good points, but the result of the article just seems to be to criticize the gamer for again, not choosing correctly or not being bright enough to be aware of their choices. Maybe a lot of people didn't like the game because the controls were awkward, the story was just okay and doing different things seemed to, more often then not result in less satisfying conclusions.

    In short...if you want a game without button prompts in which you can explore many obvious and obscure routes and that is enjoyable regardless of which paths you take or do not take, go buy The Stanley Parable.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't necessarily disagree with all your points, but the article was not about the writing or whether there are incorrect choices. It isn't intended to be a blanket statement of the game's quality.

      As for what Cage says about art, he thinks all video games are art, but recognizes that only a few are intended by their creators to be artistic. He wants developers to strive for more than fun, and whether his games hit the spot for you or not, he is one of the few who tries exactly that.

      Delete
    2. I'm all for games putting more of an emphasis on story. I do feel like David Cage could benefit from perhaps adding a couple more writers to the script. I think the game mechanics would have bothered me less if the story and dialogue had been slightly better written and as far as I know David Cage wrote the script by himself. This is one of the those situations where the idea has such potential but it's mired by clumsy writing in a lot of places. This is not to say he can't write at all, but that a second or even third writer would have helped.

      I also noticed your response to the commenter below about the decision to break up the timeline. Whether it was a choice by Sony (and it's entirely possible that it was) or Cage himself, it really seems to hurt the game. I'm sure there is a scenario artistically where something like this might work, so long as there's a good explanation for it, but in this case it leaves the player feeling a bit disconnected from the situation.

      Whatever I think about the game, this is a good article, well written and you obviously did your research.

      Delete
    3. I agree. Also, Cage is working with a team of writers for Quantic's PS4 game, so hopefully we'll get the reverse George Lucas effect this time.

      And thanks for the kind words :)

      Delete
  8. Brian,

    As much as I truly and deeply enjoy your essays -- keep them coming! -- you are missing some crucial points in your analysis. The funny thing is that you yourself had the answer in your hands, but it slipped through your fingers and you went for a different explanation.

    People missed the invisible choices system not because they were not ready, but because it was badly implemented. It's as simple as that. And what finger-slipping answer of yours do I have in mind? It's when you wrote: "The whole game is not like the examples I will discuss".

    And that's the key here.

    I love examples as much as you do, so let's get right to it.

    You say: "it turns out that many players had no idea you can cross the street." -- but why don't they? Well, this is what the game teaches you in its opening segment. As "little Jodie", you can either go to the room where the experiments will take place, or try to enter any of the corridors leading to the rest of the science complex. What happens when you do the latter? You are turned around via cut-scene. "Jodie, we're waiting for you", or something similar, and our little Jodie does turn around, and faces the corridor no more. This way the game basically teaches you not to stray off the most obvious path.

    But, sadly, there's more. It's not just about the "locations", it's about the choices themselves too. For example, when I arrived at the "rape bar", I went inside and saw a typical shady southern bar that just screamed trouble. "Fuck that", I thought, turned around and headed for the exit. What did I get? "I just arrived, I might just as well stay here for a while", says Jodie. Not a direct quote, mind, but she said something similar. She went to the bar to meet some friends, was late, friends were nowhere to be seen, two creepy guys were ogling her, the bartender looked hostile -- but all I got for trying to behave like a *rational* human being was the creator saying: "no, no sir, there's no way you can leave until I tell you another bit of the story I had in mind".

    How the hell am I supposed to know when the creator allows for a choice and when he does not? This is not me making choices, this is me second guessing a designer.

    Final example: this is what you say about the hospital scene: "I didn't expect there to be so much crap worth looking at in a single room, so I didn't bother, and that's my fault." No, it's not. The game teaches you that most of the stuff you see around is not important. It's just decoration. The hospital room is an exception in which almost all items are interactive and meaningful. Why would the designer expect the player to know that?

    What is implemented in Beyond is just as bad and arbitrary like Aiden being able to posses some guards, and not others, sometimes even within the same location. Why? Who knows? There's no real reason other than the lack of the design and narrative discipline.

    When your systems are such a misleading mess, you cannot really expect the players to appreciate and execute on its well hidden values.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You hit the nail on the head. Taking time to explore the environment is not a new concept for players, it's something that most players do as soon as they're dropped into a level. Like you said, you tried to explore the facility as kid Jodie but were discouraged from doing so. The game basically says "Go forward, there's nothing to discover", and players take that lesson and go with it.

      Delete
  9. A few extra thoughts that did not fit withing the 4096 characters limit of the previous post :)

    Personally, I don't find invisible choices attractive, if understood literally. They are as alluring as having an invisible bar of gold: that's cool, but what exactly is the point? Organic choices (i.e. making a choice within core mechanics of a game), yes, I love them, but the invisible ones (i.e. no idea I made a choice) are not just impractical, they are also in the way of dramatic story-telling. If I don't wonder what could have been, the game just as well might be as linear as Call of Duty (the ones before the deeply flawed attempt at the choice system in Black Ops 2).

    What would you say about the shooter in which you could not kill the sidekick (crosshair goes white when you aim at him and the Fire button does not work), but it had that scripted in-game event late in the game in which you had an "unannounced" fifteen second window during which the rules were suspended and you could actually kill him? Let's say that not killing him would result in a bad ending to your game, because you had not stopped him from killing an innocent man. Later on you discover on GameFAQ the existence of the window. Would you gladly accept the discovery, or roll your eyes and curse the designer? And how would things change if the window scene was actually "announced", e.g. by switching to slow-motion and a third man screaming "Stop him or he'll kill me"?

    And this example is not even that made up. This is one of the reasons why the invisible choices system did not work very well in both Metro games that are famous for it, with the first installment years before Beyond.

    Okay, to be precise: there is one case in which an invisible choice can work wonders, and it is when the surprising yet logical consequences of a seemingly neutral activity are revealed later. For example, imagine a game in which you go to a shop to pick up a present for your kid, and out of all choices you go for a toy robot. When you come home, you find the child dead: head trauma caused by a bloodied toy robot laying nearby.

    Finally, if you want to study the art of invisible and organic choice further, I highly recommend playing The Witcher 2 -- if you have not done so already, of course :) The game's first act is not great, but the second act shines over most games. If you are not into RPGs, I recommend grabbing a trainer (for invincibility and similar cheats) and playing it on PC with such a trainer activated. This way one can focus on the narrative, and ignore the tiresome combat etc. mechanics.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. First off, allow me to thank you for taking the time to provide honest feedback. This is only my third essay, and this blog is my first foray into games writing, so to see people willing to write their own mini-essays in response is a privilege :)

      In regards to your first post, it's interesting that you mentioned The Experiment. I actually cut out some of the essay that went into detail about that, because I wanted to flesh it out for a different topic. I should probably put it back in the essay though. I didn't go into why the game is at fault with each example because the "The whole game is not like the examples I will discuss" message was suppose to imply that those instances were the minority, and hence, not telegraphed to the player. I didn't go deeper like your comment does due to length concerns, but I will probably edit that stuff back in now.

      Here is the TL;DR of what I cut out:

      "I actually think the game was originally designed to be played chronologically, and there was never any real intention to mix things around.

      The earliest part of the timeline is the chapter called "My Imaginary Friend". You play as Jodie during downtime as she just lives out a typical day in her house. You can walk around and interact with things and people as Jodie or Aiden in a calm environment. You can go upstairs and get the mirror scare, or play with dolls and see Aiden get jealous, draw, find a secret box that shows why Jodie was adopted, see that her dad ignores her, mess with her dad as Aiden, etc. All the controls of the game are shown in the house in some way.

      Sound familiar? This is the exact same setup as Heavy Rain's opening. A downtime level where the player is free to explore and learn the controls through various interactions, while getting used to the shoes and life of their character.

      Instead of this, what we play first in the real game is "The Experiment". Players are thrown into the game with the same ability to explore and interact with things, but with a catch; the story is already rolling. Cole is right there telling you to stop dicking around. You are keeping someone waiting when you try to learn the game at your own pace. That caused a lot of players to simply not take control of their agency, and go directly to the door. It also doesn't help, that outside the door are literal hallways with redirect walls.

      Could this have contributed to the misinformed style of play that has been examined in this essay? In "The Experiment", players are trained to follow orders, and are explicitly told by in-game characters that they are wasting time by interacting with their environment. If we played "My Imaginary Friend" first, we would get used to having the world to ourselves, and feeling in control of what we see and do.

      I think Sony came up with the idea to mix up the chapters, not Cage.

      There are 7 chapters where you play as wee-Jodie. If the game was in order, the first 2 hours or so would be spent playing as a little girl. I would not be surprised if Sony told Quantic Dream that it was never going to happen on their watch (or rather their wallet). It probably went something like this: "If you change the order, you can like, put the train escape and the CIA shooty bits early, so the precious gamers won't get bored or too weirded out by playing as a kid." "

      Delete
    2. In regards to your second post; I think an invisible/organic/realistic/whatever choice system can be great. It would be best applied to an entire game, though, where the player immediately knows what they're getting into, and understands how the system works. This is the opposite of Beyond and other games. Metro, Deus Ex, Spec Ops, Beyond, etc have this system in bits and pieces, and I think that's why it has problems. If you haven't already, I recommend playing Spec Ops: The Line, I'd say it uses invisible choices better than any game, because it's used specifically to say something about the player.

      The Witcher 2 is one of those games I would love to try out, but probably won't get to. I am aware of the huge two-way story branch that happens somewhere near the middle, and that intrigues me a lot. Unfortunately, I don't have a gaming PC or a 360, nor am I that into RPGs or really long games. This trainer business you described is something I wish more story-based games had.

      Delete
    3. The „Sony did it” theory is interesting, and I’ve been long enough in this business to believe that things might have actually happened this way. However:

      a) I truly doubt it. There is no consistency to the events if put chronologically that would suggest the game was meddled with. Also, for better or worse, David Cage is known to maintain control over his games to a high degree (exception being Fahrenheit, where Atari forced QD to release a half-baked and heavily cut game). Finally, a post-release tweet from Sony’s boss (“I gave my honest feedback to David on Beyond”) suggests the control was indeed in Cage’s hands.

      b) It does not matter that much at the end. Yes, reorganizing chapters would definitely help things, but there are so many design mistakes and inconstancies in the game, that it’d be just delaying the inevitable.

      As for making a game that is consistently about invisible choices, well, that is a philosophical question. If I played a game like that and understood its main feature, I would know I was making choices all the way, and thus these would not be invisible choices anymore :)

      I did play Spec Ops and did not like it. Technical and quality problems aside, the game in its most controversial and widely talk about moment – White Phosphorus level – is actually NOT giving my any choice, visible or not. Using the weapon is not an option, and is done in a very crude way: I was killing enemies easily left and right, but the game told me I had to use phosphorus or “we will all die”. After that, it was very hard to care – although I do appreciate a few of the latter solutions.

      Delete
    4. Your points are sound, but I do think the game plays better in order. I used the chapter select screen to play through it that way, and everything just felt better. Action slowly rises for hours and peaks with Hunted, then dips with Homeless, and slowly rises again till Black Sun like a traditional curve.

      Invisible choices, at least to me, are desired because it hides a lot of mechanical stuff from the game. It's kind of the same deal as turning off the hud in a game that I don't need it for. It keeps my attention on the game and not the "game", or something like that. It's just something I'd like to try out.

      ---

      The choices in Spec Ops are after that scene (the hanging bodies, the truck, the mob, etc).

      The white phosphorus moment in Spec Ops is just the turning point. That's where the game "pulls the rug from under you." At that point, the game is blunt about one of it's messages; military shooters pride themselves on realism but shy away from the consequences those realistic missions harbor. You aren't really trained for choices yet in the game, but many players tried to not use the mortar. That's part of the point. Why now are you looking for alternatives? You gladly shot everything that moved for the last 2 hours, but now it's different? Why didn't you look for alternatives in CoD or Battlefield missions? How many times did you use a flamethrower to burn people alive in games already? Players were sickened by the aftermath because they never had to be confronted with the genre's buried truths before. It was all fun and games until now.

      In that scene, Walker represents the typical shooter protagonist suddenly becoming self-aware. His reaction to his actions mirror ours. We started out just following objectives like usual, until one objective was simply too much. We then, seek out alternatives. That's why the following choice moments are brilliant imo. The mortar scene makes you want to avoid bad consequences from then on, and the game gives you alternatives (but they are "invisible"). The hanging bodies, the guy under the truck, and the angry mob are all like the mortar scene. The only difference is that you can make your own decision now.

      You are allowed to do that because Walker (the genre's protagonist) is willfully breaking away from his genre's conventions. The genre itself however, represented by Conrad, rears it's head and reminds you that it doesn't matter. Walker is a self-serving soldier (he is the genre's protagonist), so no matter what, he will always be a monster. That's just how he is designed. Conrad reminds you that all of your efforts to find a better solution to those choice moments merely caused a different form of pain and suffering. Walker and the player wanted to play the hero, and this is what it looks like when that hero opens his eyes to what they are really doing.

      Delete
    5. "This trainer business you described is something I wish more story-based games had."

      Just a note that a 'trainer' is traditionally a name for cheating program on PC that lets you modify a game in-memory to do things like give you infinite life (not unlike GameShark type devices of consoles).

      It is not some special feature of the Witcher 2. The benefit of playing games on PC of course is that you can very easily modify them to whatever sort of play style you prefer.

      Delete
    6. Yes, trainers and cheating in general are great tools for those of us who play games for the stories!

      a) For those games with buggy or otherwise problematic gameplay mechanics, or whose gameplay challenge is more than you enjoy, but you still want to see the story
      b) For replays, where you may have enjoyed the gameplay challenge the first time, but in the second playthrough you just want to do the story again and see what other pathways exist

      You just have to be wary of malware when looking for cheat programs.

      Delete
  10. I have to say that I don't really agree that these choices were invisible. I think a lot of people 'missed' them because the narrative begins to rapidly fall apart if you don't follow them. I saw what the choices were myself... but I also saw how badly the game fell apart when I didn't go for the expected choices.

    Take the entire Ryan subplot for example. The game pushes it on you as hard as it absolutely can. However, since Ryan is a bit of a creeper, I chose to have Jodie shut him down. Cue Ryan asking every other cutscene if we can put the romance back on, sweeping Jodie into a dramatic kiss near the end, and every ending requring Jodie to justify to Ryan why she didn't pick him. The fact that you can not get injured in the fire makes earlier cutscenes where characters discuss Jodie's massive scar from being smacked on the back of the head make no sense. During the ending, if you manage to avoid the vast majority of deaths, Jodie's 'tempting' afterlife is limited to a single old Indian woman who Jodie knew for all off three days.

    I recognized that I could make other choices (including walking right out of the bar.) The problem is that these choices don't flow with the narrative at all and exist only to make the story worse. Every time I deviated from the 'expected' plot, the game jumped down my throat about it or ended up contradicting itself.As a player there was no serious reason to make those choices because the game was so immensely and obviously scripted. The nonlinear storytelling didn't help that either. It only underlined just how scripted the narrative was and made it less interesting to go off the rails.

    As a player I saw the choices. Believe me, Ryan made sure I saw those choices. It is just in the end they had only two real outcomes: A meaningless cosmetic difference (slightly more dead bodies, Ryan gets an eyepatch!) or actively breaking the plot. From the perspective of a player neither are appealing choices.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am with you all the way here, and I would actually add one more note: deviating from the most obvious (by second guessing the designer) choice also often resulted in just a content cut, e.g. leave the bar before the rape attempt? Chapter over, moving on.

      Actually, I have seen all the choices myself as well, e.g. I did check all the items in the hospital, etc. I think Brian is way too optimistic about the amount of invisible choices in the game, there's really not that many.

      However, to Brian's and the article's defense, I don't think this blog post is entirely in praise of Beyond -- it's more about the praise of the potential of the invisible choice system. What it is exactly (I very much prefer organic choice :) is a different story, but I do appreciate bringing attention to this way of narrative design and spreading the word.

      Delete
    2. "choice also often resulted in just a content cut, e.g. leave the bar before the rape attempt? Chapter over, moving on."

      This is part of the point of that example. If you left the bar, Jodie is now capable of sleeping with Ryan. Assuming you don't turn him down, Jodie will get some action she never got before, rather than an emotional breakdown. See what I mean? It's not just content loss. There is a change, but it's so hard to tell.


      "I think Brian is way too optimistic about the amount of invisible choices in the game, there's really not that many."

      That's why I put the disclaimer that says the examples given are not the majority in the game. I wanted to respond to the IGN spoilercast specifically, because there were a few, but tangible, things to discuss from it.


      "bringing attention to this way of narrative design and spreading the word"

      That is the goal. The reason I spent so many words on this game is because, unlike with say, The Stanley Parable, Beyond's version of the system is nowhere to be found in current discussions.

      Delete
  11. This really got me thinking about the way games, as a system, carry really heavy and ingrained affordances. It's really interesting to see how different titles deal with these patterns, and how breaking them can have such a dramatic impact, both positive or negative.

    We can often see things that break our expectations as doing so positively or negatively and it's weird to see the expectations themselves actually clouding our opinions. I think it'd be interesting to look at this kind of thing between games of similar genre, or releasing on specific platforms.

    Affordance bias (if that's an appropriate term here) is neat. Thanks for writing this.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I don't think failing to communicate the central tenet of your game's design to your audience means that it's their fault for 'not playing right'.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The essay says why the game is at fault.

      Delete
    2. Hmmm yes and no, I think. It certainly makes the case that it conveys itself poorly to the player, but the way it's phrased often frames it as though it's the player's fault for not getting it, often seemingly taking a mocking tone towards games that DO go to pains to convey themselves to the player.

      Among the first questions a designer who wants to make a game different from the mainstream should ask of themselves is how to convey to the player the ways which the game they're about to play differs from others. Just as a designer is remiss if he fails to explain an unusual control scheme, the designer is remiss if he fails to explain an unusual narrative structure. It might be tricky to do elegantly, since you can't just build tutorials for narratives the way you can for controls, but it is NECESSARY. If a game fails to do that, it is, in many ways, a failure more damning than being merely linear.

      This essay cites these failures, but (to my reading) seems to play them down as merely the audience being "not ready". Well, that may be, but an audience actually BEING ready would only be so if these tropes became cliche, if the design has very little new to offer that they have not seen before: It is the job of the designer to prepare his audience for the experience, and cast the new and unusual facets of the game in such a light that they can be understood by the audience.

      Perhaps it's just a matter of tone or of semantics. Regardless, that's why your essay rubbed me a bit the wrong way, despite it being very thorough and eloquent otherwise.

      Delete
  13. Hm, very interesting article! I've been bombarded with negative reviews, so this is a very unique view point. Looks like this game is sort of "environmental", and not just simple environmental like Half-Life or Amnesia too. Your article actually got me interested in the game, and if I have chance, I would certainly play it now, instead of simply over looking it as I would have done before. Too bad it's a PS3 exclusive.
    I see that replaying the game seems to be quite important in enjoying the game though, as not doing so seems to have disappointed so many reviewers. I guess that's a problem, because I would never replay a game like that, for the same reason I would never replay The Walking Dead. I tried once. But it just didn't feel right, and I didn't enjoy Episode 1 as much as I did the first time through. It felt all fake. So I guess that'll be problematic.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm with you on the replays. You don't need to replay Beyond, but that is a way to realize you made some choices that would otherwise seem pre-determined. The game doesn't have text messages like TWD does, so most players had no idea some of their story was based on their previous actions. What you can do instead is talk to someone else who played the game. You can also just not worry about. After I finished TWD, I knew there was one ending, and that every big event happens regardless of my decisions, but it didn't stop me from enjoying it.

      Delete
  14. Replies
    1. Don't have a Dreamcast. I tried watching a playthrough though, but it restarts so much I stopped early on.

      Delete
    2. I suggest you to use emulator and play it yourself. You would be surprised how much of "hidden" choices there.

      Delete
  15. I can't not respect David Cage now.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I don't agree that the non-linear story structure was a top-down corporate imposition. One of my favorite moments in the entire game is when you play as young Jodie being attacked in her room by one of the "monsters." As Aiden, the player nonchalantly does what they did for the entire last chapter in the lab - tear the monster to shreds. When Jodie's foster parents come in to comfort her and she says it's okay because Aiden is not afraid of the monsters anymore, it felt...awesome.
    As an aside, we actually did see (some of) what happened between "Separation" and "The Dinner" - it was the CIA training montage we played almost at the beginning of the game. It's interesting, because I didn't even remember the training montage and the looks of approval that both Jodie and Ryan had towards each other in it until several days after finishing the game. As a result I was sort of empathizing sideways with Aiden at that point - I though Ryan was a jerk but Aiden was fueled more by jealousy. The end result is that I acted out Aiden's wishes even if they were for different reasons.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I actually felt like that event where Aiden defends young Jodie from the monsters was undermined by the non-chronological order. As it was, fighting off the monsters seemed nonchalant as you said, and it wasn't until Jodie says that Aiden is not afraid "anymore" that I realized, "Oh right...chronologically, this is probably the first time Aiden actually fought off the entities! That's huge, that means we won't be seeing young Jodie all scratched up anymore!" But I had to actually reason it out. Had we been playing in chronological order, we would have been seeing directly through Aiden's eyes, "Oh wait...I can actually fight these things off??" We would have come to the realization at the same time Aiden did, and I feel Jodie's statement of "Aiden is not afraid of them anymore" would have had much more impact as a result.

      Delete
  17. A wonderful article, but I think what this exposes is a failure of the game design, as you mentioned the player is trained in the first scene not to explore.

    However if your theory on publisher meddling is true, they were right to do it. Sony would have been absolutely correct that this story would have lost players if it was in chronological order.

    Even the safest and most generic games like Call Of Duty: Modern Warbattles 8 spends a solid amount of time both the control scheme and style of the game and this becomes doubly important in something more idiosyncratic.
    BTS turns you around when you go in the wrong direction, this scolds the player and they learn not to try and go anywhere but the right way, it restricts when Aiden can be used despite their being a button assigned to him, this teaches the player to only use him when prompted, many answers by NPC's in conversations feel tailored to suit all possible inputs because the dialogue is wooden and it seems clear that overall the game didn't feel organic and lifelike to most players, it felt like the lash of the writer was on them to stay the course of the story.

    The Walking Dead is a very different type of game to Quantic Dream's work, but core principles are there to be learned. The Walking Dead is not a game where the reward to the player comes from exploration, TWD is about puzzle solving and making hard choices, we enjoy moving the story forward and making the hard choices. TWD's interface and prompts emphasise this early and reinforce often, especially the brilliant stats screen at the end that validates or challenges the player's choices.

    B:TS is about subtler choices to shape the narrative rather than moral decisions, exploring little details and having small changes add up, I think this model isn't ahead of it's time, I think it's beyond the talent of Quantic Dream as game designers and writers to make this work for players, they spend too much on fancy facial animation, actors and story and neglect game mechanics.

    If we had to be unsubtle B:TS could just have a little line in the dot prompts tutorial saying "exploration is key" and another in the action tutorial saying "There are no game overs, but your success or failure will change the outcome". I realise this is a little blunt, but in order to enjoy a game in this style as a game rather than a movie it must be clear to players that there is meaningful and rewarding response to their effort and ingenuity and it is clear given how many have missed the subtle choices that add up to unsubtle changes that the game design is a failure in this regard.

    Learning how much choice there was in certain scenes frustrates me immensely with the inconsistency. Why can I leave the bar before horrible stuff happens but not the party? Because we had content that we had to show you player! Or not. Why can I cross the street in Homeless but not at the start of Party? Because the invisible walls are inconsistent. If the outcome of the bar scene affects the Dinner then make that clear! Aiden dropping a hint only told me that Aiden still remembers and is affected but gave me no clue that Jodie has developed serious intimacy issues (a simple single second cut to her memory as she pushed him away would have been enough).

    Ugh I'm sorry this is such a rambling comment but it infuriates me that such a good idea in narrative design is so badly let down by the narrative itself and the game design.

    ReplyDelete
  18. This was super insightful, thank you Brian!

    While I havn't played the game yet, it's actually thought provoking when considering how much we're conditioned to look at cues for paths, exploring, and interaction. From that one "Homeless" screenshot, I would already assumed that there would be an invisible wall to prevent the player from accessing the street just based on how the snow-mounds are stacked. What more, the talk about the Bar scene is something that is very close to real life but sadly not fully understood by most people. (ie. How previous trauma can affect people in the future, but more-so how traumatic a d-baggery scene like that can be and cause intimacy issues in the future.)

    I do applaud the designers and programers on adding this feature to the game, and making it much more fleshed out then most people will realize. I just wished it would of been implemented better from the sounds of it. The war for hearts and minds over Beyond was lost when (as mentioned) the game acknowledges the player in the first scene, but then takes away their control and gets them into the state of "See button -> push button". If there was some way to better show the player that actions would have consequences. For an example, let's say you get to pick a toy as a child, and then the next scene would be a few years ahead, showing how that toy might of been important and worn down. only to reappear as an adult in your house. (assuming it was something solid enough to survive all those years.) Another possibility would be to show some sort of recap/sysops at the end that would have blank pages on the scenes and events that either happened but not explored or could not be experienced due to choices near the start. I appreciate what QD wanted to do with the organic system, but we're just not ready for it yet and need some way to understand ahead of time about it. That or at least provide a hint that it exist at the end of the the session for the players.

    Anyway, Great write up and can't wait to read more from you! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the kind words!

      Interestingly enough, your toy example is actually applied in Beyond. In "Separation", when Jodie is packing her things before leaving for the CIA, you walk around her room and gather things to put into her pack. If you find Bunnygruff (the pink stuffed bunny), you can put it into her bag. Then, if Jodie lives in the end, Bunnygruff will be on her bed in one of the ending cutscenes:

      http://i.imgur.com/Ug0pA49.jpg

      Delete
    2. Drat... Maybe they can up the annte and go the same route that The Stanley Parable went?

      In one of the "ending" paths, you're stopped in your tracks and told to inspect an office fern since "this will be important later in the story". It's been two weeks since I've inspected that fern, took screenshots, printed it out and made notes about every pixel, and created a power point on my plans after the fern's useful is fully introduced to the story. I'm still waiting for the revel though. :(

      ...nah, but that's amazing to point out! I really do love it when games make callbacks to previous decisions, and B:TS seems to be nothing but callbacks; but it just seems like showing this tidbit to player much much earlier in the story would of saved some reviewers much needed headaches as to wondering if their choices had any real impact to the scenes that are being viewed.

      In any case though, a tip of the hat to you good sir! I must give B:TS a try now knowing what I know now about it's style. Had I gone into it before just believing it was a static story with poor QTE, I would of been a sad panda and miss out on it's real prize to collect!

      Cheers!

      Delete
  19. I am working on my PhD, studying Human Centered Design, and I found this essay fascinating. You've laid out, possibly without realizing it, a wonderful critique of the game as an ambitious product that failed on a usability level. The most telling quote is this: "I didn't expect there to be so much crap worth looking at in a single room, so I didn't bother, and that's my fault."

    In Donald Norman's extremely influential book on usability, "The Design of Everyday Things," the author dedicates an entire sub-chapter to the problem with users blaming themselves when they can't figure out an interface. Problems with product design go un-corrected because users don't report them. They don't report them because they believe that the problem lies with themselves and not with the product design.

    Suppose you were playing an FPS combat game. You run into the first battle and pull the trigger on your controller -- but nothing happens. You fiddle around with other buttons trying to figure out how to shoot your gun, but you die before you can figure it out. After repeating the process five or six times, you finally realize that in order to shoot, you have to hold the left trigger and the "X" button to disable your weapon's safety, THEN you can shoot with the right trigger.

    Would you say "Oh, I see! I never pushed those buttons in combination before -- that's my fault." Or would you say "What the flying f***?! Why did they make the controls so weird? They could have at least told me how to use them before throwing me into battle!"

    This is the adventure game equivalent. It's NOT your fault that you didn't try everything in the room. It's a bad design. If the designer wanted you to look at everything, they should have made it easy and obvious to do so.

    I doubt that Cage and associates did real user testing (different from QA and bug testing) on this game. If they had, they probably would have been banging their heads against the wall as they watched tester after tester completely miss the cool stuff they put in. "Why aren't they reading the newspaper? They aren't going to understand the nuance of what's happening!"

    So no, it wasn't your fault that you missed the details. There are only two possibilities: the designers didn't care if you saw them or not, in which case it's questionable storytelling, or they really wanted you to see them, in which case they failed at their job.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very interesting. Thanks for the insight!

      Delete
    2. They actually did a fair amount of user testing: http://youtu.be/SHv51Ykyl48?t=2m38s
      Probably more important things to do and not enough time to fix every single issue. I noticed that between alpha and final they definitely improved a lot to make the experience more enjoyable. The lack of basic menu options indicates that the game was probably rushed a fair bit as well. Too bad.

      Delete
    3. I would say it is slightly different from the FPS example, because there's no pre-existing association that pushing "X" is like disabling the safety. In this case though, I think the goal was to aim for (virtual) realism. You wake up in a hospital bed, how long have you been there? you check the newspaper to find out. You see flowers on the table, who are they from? you take a look to see if there is a card or something.

      Of course this gets back to the central point of Brian's essay: that gamers have been trained to a different mindset. We automatically classify many objects as "background", meaning they are not (virtually) real, unless the game explicitly tells us they are interact-able.

      Delete
    4. You hit it right on the head. The bar example fits your explanation as well. The situation is of-putting? Well, there's the door.

      Your second paragraph made me think of one of my "fixes" for the design of unmarked objects. I think if a designer wants players to interact with things that are unmarked, they have to make sure there aren't so many things that really are just background. If a game like Beyond was 3 hours instead of 10, the experience could be more concentrated; less length, more width. More choices, more outcomes, but in this case, the objects that can be interacted with are the majority. The total amount of props goes way down, and therefore more can be interactive. The player can look at a thing or a door or a person and be 99% that they can do something with it, rather than guessing/ hoping.

      Delete
  20. A few takeaways from this discussion so far:

    – Exploration for its own sake is not a meaningful game mechanic.
    – If the game rescues from your own decision then the choice was false.
    – If the alternatives don't reflect something you'd actually do in that circumstance, you're guiding the player.
    – A "hidden choice" like crossing the street that's only selectively available isn't organic, it's obfuscated guidance. Accept the responsibility that a mechanic you introduce, you promise.
    – Introducing a player to the possibilities is also a responsibility. Don't expect everyone to pick everything up, because that's going to break immersion and turn it into a tedious quest.
    – Make the writing equal to the complexity, no exceptions.
    – There will be a day when you won't have to signal to the player about the road not taken. This is not that day. Tomorrow isn't looking good either.
    – Show, don't tell. That also means take your face off of introduction scenes and the interview circuit and let your work speak for itself.

    ReplyDelete
  21. "I missed all that stuff because I never walked toward them, which would of spawned an interaction prompt."

    Would HAVE.

    Nothing takes me out of the moment faster than a well-written post with blatant grammar errors. "Would of" is just lazy. You're a better writer than that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "You don't need to think about the game and it's systems, it's branches, or it's consequences." Ugh. I should have (should of?) kept reading before commenting. http://www.angryflower.com/itsits.gif

      Delete
    2. "Would of" isn't necessarily lazy. It's just incorrect. A fixable mistake on my part.

      You're comment pointed out a important error, and I fixed it so nothing takes you out of the moment anymore, so your welcome for that.

      Delete
    3. I dont quiet get what your trying to say.

      Is their a problem with my personal non-commissioned non-monetized completely ignorable blog?

      Delete
  22. Wow. Seriously. WOW! Are you me!? I pretty much share the exact same thoughts on the game design of QD games. Excellent analysis and examples. Your other piece focusing on Heavy Rain is great as well. After years of looking around it seems like I found the first one that appreciates the amount of care they put into their games the same way I do. Awesome :D

    Since you spend such a long time analysing the game design, let me do my part and do the same for some story related things. Because that's the area I focused on for a while now to debunk the myth that HR has the worst written story ever. It has a couple of faults sure, but most of the so called "plotholes" are just straight up nonsense that can easily be explained with common sense or exposition the game provides (through exploration or otherwise). Same with Beyond. For HR I have written quite the long document answering the most common questions. I don't want to quote everything, so here it is as pdf (SPOILER WARNING): https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/13946521/Heavy%20Rain%20Story_New.pdf

    I hope it is interesting enough and offers some new insight. Please forgive some grammar mistakes, I'm not a native English speaker. The two biggest holes missing are the blackouts and some inconsistencies regarding character thoughts. The first one was obviously later explained by Cage. Unfortunate how it ended up in the game, but it is explainable at least. The last one is still problematic today, but I learned that Cage didn't actually write most of the dialogue or any of the character thoughts. Other developers on LinkedIn are credited for writing them. Also most of them can be interpreted in various ways reducing the problem to only a couple of lines. Too bad these weren't checked and removed before the release, but I doubt it is Cage's fault, since he didn't write that stuff.

    A very neat thing in the document above is the timeline of the game. It's another reason why I like QD as much as I do, because they put so much care into these little details 99% of players will never see. Each chapter and event of Heavy Rain is carefully placed on a timeline, so everything makes sense in context of time and time progression. But instead of telling you outright through dialogue or text or keeping it internal, they place various objects inside the world telling you about it. Calendars, newspapers and computers often have visible dates on them that are always correct, well researched and chapter specific. Each character has an unique birthday, even though the date is not important to the plot at all and you can only see the date on their grave when they die. Yet the birthday makes perfect sense with their age. When a calendar in the game says it is Saturday, 1st July of 2006 you can go and check that specific date and it is indeed a Saturday. Not important in the slightest and no one would notice (well besides me :D), yet they still put the effort in to make it all accurate. This way I was able to reconstruct a 100% sound timeline of the game you can find in the document above. It helps greatly to understand certain parts of the story.

    The same is true for Beyond actually. I'm currently creating a timeline for Beyond as well and I'm almost finished. Again, everything makes sense, is carefully placed and even falls in line with the seasons, temperature and the weather presented in each chapter. It's even more useful here, because it allows you to find out exactly how old each character is in each chapter. It also gives you a far better understanding how she got from point A to point B, how long it took and most importantly how much time passed. Filling in the gaps is much easier this way and The Dinner for example makes far more sense when you know that it happened 5 years after Separation, because a lot can change in a relationship over 5 years.

    Here is the WIP timeline for Beyond (SPOILER ALARM): https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/13946521/Beyond%20Timeline.txt

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. PS: I fully agree with your frustrations regarding the irrational hate of Cage and the games made by Quantic in particular. Also nice to see someone speak sense and point out the obvious to idiots, who still think that Cage secretly wants to make movies. As you said nothing is stopping him and yet he still makes games, because he probably likes them, even though some people find that hard to understand.

      PPS: Regarding the non-linear storytelling. Cage also mentioned that one idea was to see consequences before the causes. I think that worked pretty well with Hunted-The Mission, Broken-Homeless and Welcome to the CIA-Separation. Also Hauntings-Black Sun obviously helps greatly to set up the surprise or twist during Black Sun that wouldn't be possible in a linear story.

      Thanks for reading and have a nice day :)

      Delete
    2. Holy shit, that's some nice work, thanks for showing this! You should post the pdf to reddit or something. I await to see the completed Beyond version.

      Regarding the character thoughts so, specifically Scott's, I have my own explanation. I'm just going to copy and paste a comment of mine from a forum:

      "The people who outright dismiss Heavy Rain's twist seem to be those who don't look at it in a larger context. Especially those who think it makes no sense or is impossible.

      I can't think of another game where you can actually get an entirely new perspective on almost all of a player character's actions when replaying the game. The fact that you are doing everything, but are kept in the dark about one little thing, makes it quite cool and unique. It's like when you rewatch a movie like Inception or Fight Club, and knowing whats up makes the experience all the more engaging a second time.

      Also, you know how Scott never thinks about the specifics regarding his actual agenda in his thoughts? Most people see that as a plot hole and bad writing. Think of it this way: Scott doesn't have any intense or emotional feelings about stealing back evidence and meeting the parents of the kids he killed. He just goes about it like he hasn't a care in the world. How *insane* is that? I think it adds more to his character. He doesn't take joy in what he is doing, but he also doesn't revel in any grief, panic, or worry. His leisure is despicable when you know what he is actually up to, like that guy on the news who held those girls prisoner in his house but he was a normal happy neighbor to everyone else.

      It is a psychological thriller after all, and bringing that inner conflict right into the players hands to deal with is brilliant.

      ---

      Aside from that, I don't know what else to say, but it's nice to know there are other passionate fans out there :)

      Delete
    3. Cool that you liked it :)
      Yeah I'm going to complete the Beyond timeline soon (will post it here).

      Interesting take on Scott. Regarding his thoughts, here is my personal theory (shamelessly copied as well):

      I don't think that Scott Shelby is an outright evil person. Why? Let me try to explain:
      His character is the most detailed and complex thing in the game, which many people may not realized. My personal theory is that he suffers from a multiple personality disorder. Hence why he operates under the name of his death brother, John Sheppard.

      When you reach the warehouse alone with Madison a very interesting conversation can take place between her and Scott. IMO a very important conversation, when it comes to Shelby’s personality. Depending on your dialogue choices the conversation contains parts like this:

      Madison: “You can’t let the kid die Scott; he is not responsible for what happened to you!”
      Scott: “Only his father can save him. For years I hoped a father would sacrifice himself to save his son. Every time they failed, it was if my brother died again.”

      Madison: “Your father was an alcoholic. He was just some poor guy who was so messed up with alcohol that he couldn’t save his son.”
      Scott: “You know nothing about what happened, do you hear me? Nothing! He never cared! We were just something to beat on, a punchbag for his filthy anger. He let my brother die!”

      But the most important one:

      Madison: “I know what you are went through Scott. You lost your twin brother…”
      Scott: “John and I were like one person… When he died… it was like a part of me died with him.”
      (Source: http://youtu.be/lDFTHfzQgBQ?t=3m22s)

      I think that is a clear sign of a multiple personality disorder. He filled the emptiness the death of his brother created with a second personality. This is supported by the fact that his actions throughout the game often seemed to contradict each other. Why is he rescuing Susan Bowles and taking care of her baby? Why doesn’t he kill Lauren immediately, but instead is letting her come even closer to him?

      It’s because there are two sides in him. The one part recognizes the innocence of the children, that’s why he puts an orchid on their chest and gives them an origami figure. This part feels remorse for the mothers and wants to help them.
      His other part is the one, who is desperately seeking for a father that is willing to sacrifice himself to save his son, because Shelby’s own father failed, which made him loose faith in
      humanity.

      Because of his good side, he wasn't able to hurt Lauren, but his other part wanted the envelope, as it is evidence against him. So he made the hard decision to let her come with him. Only through her initiative, they even got so close to him. He always was against her plans. He makes that pretty clear in his thoughts and through dialogue. The fingerprints in Manfred's shop he could hardly eliminate, without making Lauren suspicious. So he had to come up with something. If he gets caught, it was the fault of the player, but absolutely not his plan, to be interrogated in the police station.

      The fact, that he hates it to kill innocent people, can also be seen at the nightclub with Jayden. Paco was a threat to him (evidence), so he needed to die. But Jayden was not at that point, so Shelby ultimately spares him. Jayden asks that also in his thoughts: "He could have killed me, why didn't he?"

      Shelby’s thoughts fall in the same category. His two sides are constantly fighting with each other. That explains his weird thoughts throughout the game. (1/2)

      Delete
    4. (2/2) Here are some more examples which I find interesting:

      -Shelby’s voice completely changes when his "evil" side is controlling him. The first time you are able to notice that is, when you have to make the decision whether to kill Charles Kramer or not. Just listen to his thoughts. The way he says “Let him die” is totally different from his normal voice. You are actually able to see the fight between his two sides. When he thinks about killing him, his voice always sounds way more aggressive. When he thinks about saving him, his voice sounds normal. The interesting thing about this scene is that the player is able to give the impulse, which side should control him, without realizing it

      -Take a close look at Shelby’s face when he threatens Madison with a gun in his apartment. He looks completely mad. But after Madison talked to him about saving Shaun, you can see that he really considers the option to just let her go. But his evil side wins the short fight and his face turns mad again

      -The strongest prove can be found in the warehouse scene, when Ethan is the only one, who makes it. Scott actually asks Ethan to kill him. If the player does pull the trigger, Scott is shocked at first, but then he suddenly starts smiling while he dies, realizing he is finally released from all the pain and can find peace now.
      (Source: http://youtu.be/vTZmEpfY2ZQ?t=8m - around 8:00)

      If you spare him, Ethan thinks: “I’m not his judge. I leave him with his demons…”
      (Source: http://youtu.be/vTZmEpfY2ZQ?t=15m24s - around 15:24)

      Therefore the good side you learned about Scott Shelby is not a lie. It’s just one part of his overall personality.

      At the end his death is really nothing to be happy about. A young, innocent boy got abused by his father and turned into the two sided monster he is at the end. It’s not his fault. It’s the fault of his dad and the society who was not able to save him. That it comes to the situation that he is so damaged that he needs to die is shameful.

      The society must bear part of the blame here. I think that’s it what Cage wanted to tell us. A good manifestation for this is Scott’s death epilogue when Lauren is not alive. There plays this particularly piece of music, which was created just for this
      scene:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mR1HPvpkpjw (just music)
      http://youtu.be/NXtUOJ6xndI?t=8m36s (full scene)

      Hearing this, watching the epilogue and seeing the slow pan from John Sheppard’s grave over to Shelby’s grave is pretty powerful IMO.
      They are both victims and finally united again. But while they share the same background, the people only accept John as the victim. They don’t even allow Shelby to “rest in peace”, while John has this inscription on his grave.

      It's a pretty depressing ending I think.

      Delete
  23. interesting article. i like beyond. not too crazy about it, but i like it and all of david cage's games before it because he's not afraid of being different and innovative.
    anyway imo the non-linear story has something to do with the ending. after the black sun incident jodie mentions that her memories are getting all jumbled up, nothing is linear, like a watching a film in a loop, etc.
    since the game itself starts from the end (the jodie monologue at the beginning of the game), maybe we're playing it from the point of view of future jodie who's looking back on her life journey.
    if that makes any sense.
    that's what I got out of the game anyway. i don't think the non-linear part was just an afterthought.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Fantastic write-up! I loved the game for this reason, but after reading your write-up, I can totally understand how the way the "typical gamer's" mind is wired caused it to backfire for many. Which is really sad, because I'd love to see more games in this vein!

    P.S. Looks like your blog is relatively new; I hope you keep it up!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! And yes this blog is new, so stay tuned for more projects.

      Delete
  25. This was fantastic. Excellent points made and interesting read. I have to disagree with you on one point. I absolutely think the chapter structure where it jumps around instead of being chronological was a creative decision. Cage very clearly explains the reasons for this at the end when Jodi has her voiceover in the cabin talking about how her memories are jumbled and she can't remember things clearly or when they took place. Now granted this could have been thrown in last minute to explain it away, but I don't think so. You also discussed how it jumped from Ryan being an asshole to Jodi likes him and I caught on to the same thing you did in that I was put in Aidan's shoes for that sequence and felt as he did about it. I think just those two instances alone make it clear that it was designed to be played this way and was not the result of pressure from publishers or anything.

    I also think this article is a nice little critique of game "critics". A lot of the things you discussed are very much outside the mold of "normal" game design and because of this MANY critics who tried to discuss the game completely missed a lot of the mechanics and story beats and misunderstand what's happening. They expect games to be certain things and act a certain way and since this game was very different from that they say it's "bad design" or "trying too hard". However for somebody like me I have no such expectations and was able to appreciate the game for what it was, and in fact it turned out to be one of my top 5 games I've played this year, flaws and all. It's really disheartening to me to see a game like GTA 5 with it's boring missions and boring mechanics and design get called a masterpiece by basically everybody because it's familiar to them and a game genuinely trying to be interesting called bad.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The chapter structure is actually Cage's decision. At least, according to his interview (in French) in issue #1 of "Games Magazine". He states that he first wrote the story in chronological order, then, after he hired a American writer to adapt it in English, used Post-it to reorder the chapters, in a way "that makes sense". Here's the related section of that interview, for reference: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bx-uBlwVWXVEcFRrSEVkQzZtYURqMkNwSDZVenNCdmo0dDV3/edit?usp=sharing

      Delete
  26. Okay, so I can't stress this enough. People who don't like Cage, like me, are not guilty of NOT GETTING WHAT HE IS DOING. We just think it's stupid. Terminally stupid. We think he has no basic understanding of writing, storytelling or game design. In fact, the people who LIKE Cage seem to be people for whom writing, storytelling, and game design don't matter. They like him for what he "Tries to do", which seems baffling to me. What he "Tries to do" seems to be inventing storytelling from the ground up without paying any attention to people who have already done what he is trying to do, but better. It reminds me of my jr. high art classes, when I couldn't be bothered to listen to any of my art instructors because they didn't "Get" what my "style" was. Then I grew up, studied for years independently, and finally realized that my teachers knew what I was too dumb to realize. Re-inventing the wheel doesn't make me avant garde, it makes me a fool.

    I was way into Cage and his philosophy before Farenheight came out. And then I bought it and played the scene where you murder the man in the bathroom. I was way into the game. And then suddenly I switch perspectives and am a pair of detectives trying to solve the murder I just committed. Er.. what? Why am I actively working against myself as a player? Who am I rooting for? What persona am I supposed to be inhabiting? Who am I, if I have knowledge or what's happening on both sides of this conflict and yet and directly controlling the conflict? It was an absolutely mess. And he seemingly hasn't leaned a thing since then.

    Beyond is cool because after you play the game, you can talk to other people who's game turned out differently? That is utterly baffling to me. I derive NO enjoyment from that. That's like going to a restaurant with friends and everyone ordering the same menu item, only to find that the chef has put different side items in different amounts on everyones plate. HOW FUN! HOW SUPRISING! Now we can all talk about how what we ate was different! Except... it's really not fun at all. It's just baffling, and ultimately leads to feeling frustrated as to how someone else got something to eat you would have liked better. But you can come back and try again! Yeah, but who would want to?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your first paragraph seems to be a comment better suited for an article that talks about Cage's writing skills.

      Your second paragraph seems to be a comment better suited for an article about Fahrenheit.

      Your third paragraph is just a nice opinion. I'm sorry that you can't find enjoyment in one of the fundamental pleasures of interactive stories.

      Delete
    2. Paragraph 2: Personally I really enjoyed playing both sides of the conflict, so to each his own I guess. Check out the movie Heat for a great example of a story told from both sides of the conflict, to the point where you somehow find yourself rooting for both sides to win even though you know that's not possible. Of course, if Fahrenheit is any example, Heat may not be your cup of tea either, but clearly a lot of people like that style in Heat.

      Paragraph 3: I'd tweak your analogy to make it more apt: Let's say it's more like you and your friends all order the same entree, but then the waitress asks you a number of questions after that: "How would you like your eggs cooked?" "Would you like cheese?" "What kind of bread do you want?" "What kind of sauce would you like?" "Do you want potatoes, fries, or fruit on the side?" So now everyone has started from the same core idea, but they've customized their own personal experience based on their own decisions. I've been in exactly this kind of situation before, and personally I do find it interesting to hear what my friends thought of their version of the same entree =)

      Delete
  27. This was fantastic, actually all of your essays are very interesting, even if I don't always agree with your points. I absolutely love the system that the game uses to obscure choices, even if I think the writing (the scattered chapters and some dialogue) and some of the gameplay (Somlia) desperately needs refinement. I never thought about the idea that maybe the scattered chapters were a corporate decision he was forced to live with and I like that theory but it borders on excusing Cage for what may just be his bad writing. I think part of Beyond's failure that you may have touched on and I just didnt see it (though I promise I read the whole thing) is that we've been trained by generations of games that the enviroment is static unless explicitly told otherwise and that the idea of retraining a person to realize that everything from going to the bathroom to doing nothing is possible in a game is going to take another several generations and some major interaction paradigm shifts. Anyway, loved this essay and your others!

    ReplyDelete
  28. Dear Mr. Boudreaux,

    Thank you for the wonderful review. I truly enjoyed your professionalism and sound reasoning in defending QD's Beyond. As a gamer of numerous misunderstood story driven games, in no particular order, such as: Papo & Yo, Flower, Journey, Stanley Parable, Dear Esther, Walking Dead, Bioshock Infinite, The Room, Last of Us, Limbo, Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, The Swapper, and most recently an ios game called Device 6. In my philosophy of gaming I believe that this form of multimedia presentation has the facility to become the most expressive art form, due to interactivity. I agree with your stance on the unmotivated gamer and I can't wait to read the rest of your reviews, and I especially enjoy your responses to almost everyone who has posted. Keep up the great work and thanks again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your welcome, and thanks for the response Ben! I'm glad you enjoyed the essay.

      I have a question if you don't mind. I agree with your list of games you posted, with the exception of two. What it is about Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us that make them misunderstood, like the other games? My next article mentions their critical recepetion, so I would like to know your view on what the perception of those games is like.

      Delete
    2. The perception of what Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us are

      Skip to the second post if you just want my answer

      Background

      With any form of media I believe that there are key influences on how you perceive it. For me I would say the biggest influences that helped me construct a response would be how media reacts, how my friends react, and how I react.

      Media Background

      As it pertains to media I have been following IGN for about 4-5 years now, for me it's something to escape my busy mundane college days, I'm studying music somewhere in the southwest. IGN gave Bioshock a 9.4 and Last of Us a 10, both games are incredible in their own right, but I tend to like Bioshock a little bit more.

      Friends Background

      My friend, probably the only one I can talk about video games at this level, has also grown up with IGN and the two of us geek out about different aspects of the video game world whenever we can, he tends to like Bioshock a little bit more as well but also tends to like Uncharted a little bit more than me too.

      Personal Background

      On a personal level when playing Bioshock and Last of Us I was blown away with the design of the game (pacing, character development, enemy integration, attention to detail, and most of all a logical progression of plot). The thing that lost me with Last of Us is the ending, *SPOILERS* I can't believe that Joel, rather than saving humanity, would save Ellie, It's an optimistic ending in that life will go on, and humanity will rebuild itself, I kind of wanted the slap in the face of, one life can make the difference, which I guess would ruin the whole theme of human companionship in the unlikeliest of places, but I would disagree with theme because the companionship seemed forced to me through randomly placed cheesy dialogue throughout the downtime sections, and it's use of classic film plot lines like "Joel doesn't want to be with me I'm going to run away on a horse" or even "Ellie has to die in order to save the rest of the world" it just seemed to typical to me, sorry if I ruin anyone's interpretation of the game, I'm just telling you how I feel about it. With Bioshock Infinite the plot led up to the final reveal at the end. The game play was also formulaic and the giant battles created a rather unnecessary "not this again" mindset to the combat, but I kept playing because I wanted to experience this super twist ending, and boy was the pay off good.

      Delete
    3. Answering the Question

      The thing that makes Bioshock and Last of us so misunderstood compared to other games is its placement in the realm of AAA titles. Both 2k and Naughty Dog have successful games under their belt and having the backing they need to create games of this stature. I just read an article on IGN by Adam Redsell about the NEMO and how it was supposed to be the "Nintendo killer" but ended up being held back by the technology of the time, VRAM chips, and I think with games now have that ability to mirror the success of film and reach a wider audience with a variety of different tactics. I just fear that in the end video games will just become an exact mirror of film on a commercial level and like the film world we will have an onslaught of remakes with no original content being seen.

      More refined answer plus additional material

      Also the answer that is simple to your question is to mirror your response in your essay, gamer's lack the motivation to explore every part of the games world and end up making false accusations that they carry with them long after they play the game. This statement brings with it a bunch of negative baggage because it reflects me in the light of "gamer's should get/do everything that the game gives you the ability to do". Honestly I can understand the mindset of individual experiences being enough to deem you an educated player of the game, I just think that you can't beat Gone Home in 2 minutes and have an in-depth discussion with someone who has explored every nook and cranny. Also I apologize for lack of structure within my writing it's something i'm trying to work on.

      Delete
  29. SLIGHT SPOILER!

    Another thing you can do that is different, When in the Navajo part of the game you have to draw the symbol in the dirty with a stick and place the 5 talisman at the points.
    Something very different happens if you draw the wrong symbols.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Sorry to reopen the thread, but I’ve been behind in my gaming lately!

    [quote]This is the adventure game equivalent. It's NOT your fault that you didn't try everything in the room. It's a bad design. If the designer wanted you to look at everything, they should have made it easy and obvious to do so.[/quote]

    Not sure I entirely agree with that statement. Just because the game doesn’t inherently say “You need to check out everything”, doesn’t mean that you’re obligated to follow the “default path” the game lays out without deviation. I think, as a generation of gamers, we’re so inclined to be spoon-fed, and to follow the path of least resistance that it’s viewed as a ”detriment” by some that you’re given unparalleled latitude in a game like this. (Yes, there are SOME constraints by default, but in that manner, the “Homeless” scenario really encapsulates the game in a nutshell, at least for me.)

    On my first, (unspoiled) playthrough, I left the dive-bar before things got out of hand; it never occurred to me that you [b]couldn’[/b] leave. Yes, I realized, in the back of my mind, that there was likely more to happen at the bar, but I didn’t directly catch the ramifications of that until I read this insightful essay.

    And the “invisible choices” applies not just to major things, but to minor as well, which is actually a point in the games favor that it occurs so (relatively) seamlessly. Another, smaller example of the dynamic choices occurs in “The Dinner”, when you opt to prepare dinner. When seasoning the chicken, I accidentally used too much curry powder, and Ryan actually reacted to that when he ate late in the scene. It’s small, elegant touches like that that I appreciated, more-so than even the big sweeping choices.

    I agree, however, that the non-linear playstyle absolutely didn’t service this game well; it felt more like a loosely connected group of scenarios that didn’t seem to fit together in one cohesive whole. (I think if I went back and tried to watch/play the game in order, it might have hung together better.)

    ReplyDelete

Hardcore Discussion