Oct 24, 2011

3D Dot Game Heroes (2010)

Now here's a curious thing: a game that purports to be a throwback to 2D fantasy adventures like Legend of Zelda and early Final Fantasy, but in 3D. With the power of voxels, Silicon Studios renders every character and landscape in their 3D Dot Game Heroes as pixelated as a vintage 80s title from your favorite system, but expanded outwards into three dimensions. In fact, it even plays very close to the pre-Ocarnia "Zelda" titles, featuring many similar items and a basic progression via temples/dungeons, but with a few modern twists. 

Hearing that description, you'd be forgiven for thinking that "Heroes" is a hipster love song: a title meant to seduce those in love with nostalgia, crafted by people who don't know what it is that they're imitating. It is not. Nor is it a rip-off of "Zelda," as some charge, but more as Borges would claim a "translation" of its formula that twists said formula into an identity of its own. Breaking expectations, the 2D-but-3D aesthetic is not tacky. No, sometimes it is a breathtaking one that actually stuns, as in this opening transformation from 2D to 3D.

Oct 17, 2011

Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory's Morality

Featured on Critical Distance and Gamasutra. 

In an age of transparent features - witness Silent Hill: Shattered Memories' boiler plate "This game plays you!" psych warning - Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory is miraculous. You see, Chaos Theory has a morality system, but it's not obvious about it in the way that Mass Effect or inFamous are.

Movement that puts you in character! [All photos copyright Sony and Ubisoft Montreal.]

But first, let me talk about how the player moves. In this area, from animation to control, the game does the amazing feat of placing you in the black wet soles of a government spook like never before. Sam Fisher actually moves with the confident predatory feel of Batman in 2009's Arkham Asylum; no longer do his weapons seem plastic, or his aim barely competent to artificially increase player difficulty.

Dark Souls (2011)

From the official site, www.preparetodie.com. Does that URL tell you anything about the game?

It will take us months and maybe years to fully digest Dark Souls. The game's probably even more complex from a narrative and artistic standpoint than Demon's Souls (no small feat). That's all I have to say about it for now, as it's going to take a lot of thinking to parse it.

Oct 16, 2011

The Nature of Structure

Here's the first Google result for structure. It kinda works: structure just might be the DNA of stories.

Eight months, and I think I finally "got it." Discovered a story strand I wished to follow, scribbled out some pages, and revved up the engine. Really, most of the time I spent writing a page here and there, trying to figure out the characters, the voice, the structure of the novel--what about you? Anyone else need that "experimenting" time?

But during that time, I figured out something else.

Structure, we can't forget about structure: I never paid it much mind, but even the simplest structure tweaks will alter a novel. Chapters, sections, parts; to use section breaks or just end a chapter; short paragraph then long paragraph, or three short paragraphs...every part of a work speaks, even the pages you choose to leave empty. Beyond a space: a new beginning, or an isolated emotion, or a sign to the reader to flip a few more pages in your tome, or those weird blank pages at the dead end of a book that you can use to scribble your grocery list (or a love letter.)

For me, a simple, short structure that adds up to complexity works best. I feel like readers can zoom ahead more if they're being forced out of the comfort of long chapters or scenes, which I don't necessarily have anything against but do not enjoy writing, although I just might be a little ADD. Or watch too many movies.

Not that I have bad company: two of my recent favorites, Moby-Dick and Les Miserables, both use extremely short chapters and scenes. In Moby-Dick's case, it's almost as if the book is set up into different tones and means of information: every new emotion needs a new chapter, and if Melville is going to give us mechanical information about whaling or the importance of a whale, it always is split off into its own chapter labeled something obvious like "What a Whale Means to the Tribes of Africa"--it's as if he expected some people probably wouldn't want to read those, so he was helpful enough to give them their own little place.

Many people talk about how speedily they zip through Les Miserables, usually to their own bemusement, and I think the structure is part of the reason why. As a gamer, I can almost associate finishing a chapter or scene with the same thrill of unlocking an achievement or finding a secret: reading is goal-progression in so basic a format that one almost doesn't notice it. So, in Victor Hugo's big epic the reader is greeted not with single scenes of fifty pages, but with parts split into books that each have chapters which then have scene breaks within them. Not only does that structure grant the reader accomplishment, but it quicken the pace and lends diversity.

So how do you structure? What do you find suits your needs for reading?