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Mark of the Ninja as Narrative Play

Posted: February 18, 2013 by zachbruno in Uncategorized

Mark of the Ninja as Narrative Play

Within Unit 3 of the book Rules of Play, the author sets possibilities for how “play” can manifest itself. For example, it can be social, experiential, pleasurable, meaningful, amongst other possibilities. Although Mark of the Ninja could certainly fit into more than one of these categories, I chose to analyze Mark of the Ninja in its narrative aspects.

According to our book, a narrative must include situation, character, and form characteristics in order to be a fully functioning narrative. In Mark of the Ninja, the situation (the series of events that change over time) is set with cut scenes, aural narration, and by visually indicating the players progress by moving from one room to another. The character (the system of representation in which the narrative is conveyed) of Mark of the Ninja is represented in as many ways as the situation is represented. The characters are all dressed/behave in a way that we perceive to be standard practice of ninjas. The ninjas also talk to each other referencing honor by saving their ninja brethren. The form (the repetition of the character) is of course consistent, as the game characters do not suddenly switch personalities, dress, or behavior.Image

The narrative structures of games can be can be divided into two main categories of Embedded and Emergent. Embedded structures are the narrative queues that are pre-established within the code of the game and manifest themselves in such forms as cut scenes or outcomes that are absolutely necessary for the game to advance. Mark of the Ninja uses both of these structures to compliment each other. The game both allows a certain amount in freedom of choice, but also limits the amount of outcomes from situations, and also occasionally forced the players hand into a situation. As the player finishes a level, a cutscene takes over and establishes the direction the story will be heading in once again. In the level that I just played, the player was given a choice of taking a piece of equipment necessary by force (killing the guard) or by stealing it from him without him noticing. The choice in this situation directly affected the gameplay. I chose to kill the guard, which resulted in his heart rate monitor to set off an alarm and the entire facility was alarmed to the fact that he had been killed. Needless to say, the rest of the level was very difficult.ImageImageImage

Both the goals and the uncertainty in Mark of the Ninja help to keep the narrative both thrilling and progressing at a steady rate. There are two types of goals in the game. First there is the unchanging overall goal of the entire game. The character that represents the player must find and rescue his ninja master, and find the one responsible for killing all the plants that create the sacred tattoo ink. This goal does not change during the gameplay. The other type of goals that appear in this game, are the goals of each level, and even more specifically, the goals that one must complete just to pass through one room. These types of goals appear frequently but also disappear similarly as quickly. For example, in order to pass through some rooms, it is necessary for the player to disable alarms, dodge lasers, and avoid dogs that can smell you.

The uncertainty is also a key component to the upkeep of interest in the plot. Often within the cutscenes between levels, the video will include a new challenge that will be presented to the player in the next level, so that the player’s success in still uncertain to him or her. In the latest level that I played, the last cutscene showed the boss handing his chief security guard a gun and told him to kill me personally. All that I am left to assume is that this new threat will be more challenging. Perhaps his abilities for detection are greater, perhaps he is far more accurate with his weapon than the other guards, or maybe I will not be able to kill him in one hit like all the other guards. I know that I am intrigued to continue to play to prove that I can defeat him.Image

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A Further Look into Player Types

Posted: February 10, 2013 by zachbruno in Uncategorized

Before I talk about my experience in playing through more of Mark of the Ninja, I wanted to explain my relationship to the player types. First of all, most the time I would call myself a dedicated gamer. I don’t mean that in the sense that I am a hardcore gamer necessarily because the binary between hardcore and casual being equal to dedicated and standard players is not exactly fair. The reason I consider myself a dedicated gamer is because I dedicate myself to a mastery of the game, but at no expense of the operational, constitutive, and implicit rules.

In my time playing Call of Duty, I came across every single type of player. In Call of Duty, the standard players are generally hunted by the dedicated players. The standard player tends to have less knowledge of the map, less knowledge of important game mechanics (eg. How spawn points will change based on where you and your teammates are), and places less importance on his overall strategy to win. The dedicated gamer will learn everything he can about the game in order to facilitate his winning process. In Call of Duty, some of these things include “drop-shooting” (the character will drop to a prone position in order to give the enemy less of a target to fire at),”quick-scoping” (when using a sniper rifle, using the scope only briefly in order to fire accurately and kill in one shot, and the importance of keeping your eye on the radar. The unsportsmanlike player first needs a good enough understanding of the game to know the implicit rules in order to break them. The unsportsmanlike players in COD also try very hard to win, but use cheap tactics that are frowned upon by the community. Some of these tactics include camping (sitting in a room and waiting for enemies to walk by, and never moving from that spot), utilizing glitches in the game in which a player can get to spots on the map that hide him from view, but he is still able to shoot from, and a very specific example from MW2 called “one-man-army noobtoobing” in which players could give themselves infinite grenade launcher ammo and would fire it randomly across the map. The cheat in COD usually come from map hacking (the player can see where people are on the map), aimbots (the computer does all the aiming for you), modded controllers (the controller will fire more quickly than usual), and/or lag switches (in which one players game doesn’t lag, but everyone else’s does).

I think that the concept of player types, specifically related to game design is very interesting because I believe that some games will actually dictate the player type that would enjoy playing the game. For example, there is a game called “I Wanna Be The Boshy”. This game makes it literally impossible to win without dying; it is a side scrolling game that requires such precise control and also previous knowledge that only a player that was determined to beat the game would enjoy playing it.

Mark of the Ninja, I believe, is more accepting of other player types. I continue to play try to figure out as much as I can about the game as I play through it, and try to make cool multiperson executions in the same room without being spotted, but there are certainly other options to be taken. The player is given choices on how to approach different areas, and for example could choose between sneaking through a ventilation system underneath the guards or to fight through a room of guards in it. Personally, I gain more out of a game if I am able to test the amount of control I have gained over the game, and thus I believe that I would qualify as a dedicated gamer. I think that my play through of Mark of the Ninja, which I am trying to upload to youtube but it is taking forever, demonstrates my player type.

     In the book Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals, design is defined as “the process by which a designer creates a context to be encountered by a participant, from which meaning emerges.” (54) During my play journal, I will be focusing on the context created through visual stimuli during the beginning of the game.

     In Mark of the Ninja, players are first introduced to the game with a brief cinematic. This cinematic creates the setting for the game to take place, and also gives clues about how the game will be played. The opening scene shows a ninja perched atop a building during the night. The sky is cloudy, and not even moon light shines. The ninja is shown to jump around the screen acrobatically and ends up on the ceiling looking down at a well lit room with armed men guarding a box.

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     The cinematic introduces the players to some of the main mechanics of the game. It shows how the ninja is able to maneuver around the battlefield and manipulate the attentions of the guards off of him while he takes them out one by one. It also demonstrates the importance in staying out of the light.

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     After that cinematic, the player is released into the world of Mark of the Ninja. The player is then introduced to his first control abilities, and as he walks into the next room, he sees a visual indication of sound (another key mechanic to the game).

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     The first interaction with guards also helps define the players relationship with them, and how they should be treated. In some games, you might be instructed to immediately try to kill the guard, but in this game, you are told to hide from the guard who has a vision field protruding from his face indicating at what range the player is visible to the guard. Also if you successfully hide from the guard, the player is given +200 points for remaining undetected.

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Later on in the level, a few more contextual clues are given to the player. When instructed to sprint for the first time, the player sends off blue circles away from his body that had indicated sound before. While you are sprinting, some birds that were sitting near you squawk as they fly away producing more sound circles. When I played through the first time, I sprinted too close to some guards that all shined their lights on me and began to fire at me. A lesson that reaffirmed the need for stealthy game play.

 

Although there are multiple facets in the way that this game sets up context, I believe this game could be entirely understood without any sound. The extent to which this game engulfs the user into a purely visual experience seems to be more than most other digital games. The summation of the visual clues allow the player to interpret them and construct a meaning of the game.