Narrative and Space in LaLaLand

Posted: February 19, 2013 by smaloney2013 in Uncategorized

L.A. Noire’s narrative is its strongest aspect.  I couldn’t resist, so I read the entire storyline of the game online before completing it myself.  As a film major who is constantly analyzing stories, I was very impressed by its climactic and resolute elements.  That being said, I think I enjoy reading it more than playing it.

Other students who are playing this game have made this point already, but it deserves repeating.  The embedded elements of L.A. Noire far outweigh its emergent narrative elements.  The emergent elements allow for interaction up to a point.  Sometimes, the narrative makes the clues painstakingly obvious through narrative descriptors when the game feels like you’ve gone adrift.  Even if the interview goes horrible, there is still fruit to bear that will help in solving the case.  Not to mention the fact that it forces you to redo the mission if you fail horribly.  

Cutscenes are the game’s strength.  Rarely, if ever, do they reflect the actions of the player leading up to that point in the narrative.  The result is a faux-sandbox game where free-will is limited.  Sometimes, completed goals do not reward the player, but the narrative, making for an experience that is slightly more difficult than watching a movie.

(I can’t figure out screenshots. Next week, I promise.)

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Space and Narrative in BioShock

Posted: February 18, 2013 by milesluttrull in Uncategorized

This third post will explore the relationship between narrative and space in BioShock.

Space in BioShock is largely organized around various narrow hallways which separate larger, maze-like rooms.  The player rarely has unrestricted movement, almost always being limited by a close wall, closed door, or oblong pile of decor. This can cause combat engagements to feel forced, almost as though the limit on the players spacial agency instills a feeling of victimization more often than  the aggressor. But, stepping away from combat, how does the space of BioShock set the terms of and organize the narrative experience?

First we must address the complex narrative style of BioShock. At base, the narrative of BioShock is embedded — the elements of narrative are inherent and unaffected by gameplay. BioShock is not a sandbox style game. The allowed deviation from a predetermined gameplay experience is largely minimal and seemingly has no effect until fairly late in the game, at which point a variety of scenarios may occur depending on the previous choice of whether to harvest or free Little Sisters. Although I’m not even sure much narrative deviation will occur then, because I’m still creeping my way through those narrow hallways.

An argument can be made, however, than BioShock features at least elements of emergent narrative. Emergent narrative generally refers to the player having options of how, when and what narrative emerges from the game. It is clear enough that the player does not effect what narrative emerges, but there is a semblance of agency in when and how that narrative emerges.

The narrative is mostly organized around interactive cut scenes that are triggered when the player enters a certain area. As the player continues to move through space, the narrative develops.  In this way, the narrative is woven into the space of the gameplay, creating an experience the seems to afford more player agency than is actually being allotted.  That is to say, BioShock’s narrative is predominately embedded, but its more dynamic introduction through connectivity to game space creates a pseudo-autonomous, and hence emergent narrative experience. 

 

((Pictures to come – more technical difficulty)) 

Posted: February 18, 2013 by mbchesler in Uncategorized

Looking back at the same question I posed last post, about why do a lot of gamers dislike L.A. Noire, I attempt to explore and analyze experience of play and narrative play within aspects of the game design.

Unlike many video games, where embedded narrative and emergent narrative aspects of a video game are balanced, L.A. Noire attempts to use a well-informed and detailed embedded narrative constructs or structures more than emergent ones. However, as I have observed, the emergent ones are more heavily weighted, with a focus on embodying the role of the protagonist. The creators of L.A. Noire might have taken a the opposite position of Salen and Zimmerman and Schell and Shochet’s analysis of Pirates of the Caribbean, “play experience should always trump so-called ‘realism'”. The repetition of core mechanics, much like in Alleyway, that also constructs the ‘situational’ elements of the narrative in L.A. Noire, parallels with the repetition of the narrative descriptors found in the ‘form’. This is evident with many of the criticisms found in class, and the formal elements of the descriptors, which essentially communicates the environment of L.A. Noire, L.A. in the late 1940s, the role of the player as protagonist, Phelps-the-detective.

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These pictures is the typical digital space that the emergent narrative takes the place of embedded narrative.

 

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This shows how even the narrative descriptors extend to the main menu, and even further intertwines the first-person style, allowing the hands of character to indicate where the cursor is.

Risking opinions, such as Gabe Newell’s description of ‘dead space’, “long lulls where basically all you where doing was doing stuff that you’d done before”, and rely on classical game’s experience of repetitiveness as a way to construct a different type of design for play, which is focused on ‘mimicry’, defined by Caillois. I posit that expectations about how the ideal play in a video game should be experienced, and how the narrative of a game should unfold, lead to differentiations in opinions about whether or not L.A. Noire creates meaningful play. These expectations are constructed from the conscious image of what that particular game might be like, ideally and realistically, and the unconscious memories about how an ideal game should be, influences opinions of meaningful play in L.A. Noire. I do not believe the purpose of this video game is to beat it, focusing on the situation and conflict in narrative play–more agon–, but to experience the role of the protagonist in the larger environment in a realistic fashion, even if it has a slow pace and can be very repetitive. My friend who was is not an avid videogamer, but plays almost daily, said, “[L.A. Noire] is not really a video game. Its more like an interactive Noire T.V. series.” Understanding different ways of constructing play experience and narrative play, I agree with his statement because it described my conscious experience of the game, and because it spoke two less explicit aspects of my expectations, which are the following:  the preference of media I enjoy is television, and I am not an experienced video gamer, so I do not have a well formed version of ideal play. I believe have enjoyed since the beginning because of this

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

Aside  —  Posted: February 18, 2013 by zachbruno in Uncategorized

Narrative in “Bioshock”

Posted: February 18, 2013 by annieewbank in Uncategorized
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Densely plotted video games are the only kind I can play. Angry Birds bores me, and the only reason I bought Marvel vs. Capcom III was because Phoenix freaking Wright was a playable character. Fighting games and iOS games are meant to be played with your friends or while waiting at the DMV, as part of a larger system of social interaction or as a way of avoiding it. These games do not benefit from a narrative, as they are meant to be played with half-focus.

In Rules of Play, the authors brought up Monkey Island as a narrative-driven game series. I played the first three Monkey Island games obsessively as a child. Solving puzzles, answering riddles and collecting objects would lead you to different climactic scenes, making every single action part of the narrative. I would say Monkey Island honed my taste for visual novels instead of RPGs. Grinding for money, levels or items had (and still has) no appeal for me. I rush through games like books, as fast as I can, for the story.

Bioshock has a story. Though I still don’t know anything about our Protag (other than that he’s a rugged white male wearing what appears to be a cable-knit sweater) the game pits you against Andrew Ryan, the enigmatic founder of Rapture, who one blogger I read describes as ” Ayn Rand in Howard Hughes’ body.” You have an (apparent) ally in the for of Atlas, a resistance fighter, and a mysterious scientist Tenenbaum leaves you clues and encourages you along (in my path, at least.)

The game has a fandom, which is a fairly good indicator of a plot that is compelling and characters that are identifiable. Fanworks arise when people who enjoy a narrative want to flesh out the media of it, with fanfiction, fanart, or even more ambitious projects (x). The game’s undeniable style and fabulous setting are inspiring to many fans, to the extent that Bioshock is now a successful franchise.

This is the final blog post I will be making for Bioshock. Will I keep playing the game now that I’m not required to? Yes, I need to know what happens! The plot has drawn me in. Is Protag the son of Andrew Ryan? I hope not, that would be cliche as heck. Does he have some prior connection to Rapture? That’s also debatable. But I’m going to finish the game and find out.

(I couldn’t figure out recording Bioshock on Steam, sorry! A video will come soon.)

In my first play journal entry, I made the assertion that Plants vs. Zombies is “definitely a game and it’s actually really fun.” I think maybe I gave off a mistaken impression in that post that I was super surprised that the game could be fun or that I usually avoid games like Plants vs. Zombies, which isn’t really true. What I meant in that post was that I’d never really thought at length about this type of game despite playing them. Animation and webcomics are my primary creative interests so half my playing games consists of playing games that prioritize qualities  like art direction, narrative, and worldbuilding. That half of my gaming history I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about because it shares a lot in common with cartoons and comics. The other half of my game-playing time is spent procrastinating/unwinding/blowing off steam in “casual” games like Bejeweled, Tetris Friends, or Sushi-Go-Round or a lot of really basic flash games. (I get especially into tetris friends because you can send lines that you clear to your opponent and basically annihilate them; I can be kind of a jerk in this. Tetris Friends, more like Tetris Mortal Enemies.)  I didn’t spend much time thinking about these games because I guess you typically don’t want to expend too much thought on something you use to take a really quick break from obligations and then move on. Actually I don’t know, I might play these kinds of games more often than larger games currently because I never feel like I have the time to play a lot of stuff anymore. But yeah, I guess “actually really fun” was more like an assertion that these games are fun and worthwhile and I like them, directed towards a hypothetical audience that perhaps buys into the whole casual vs. hardcore gamer/fake geek vs. real geek mentality. Not that I thought anybody like that would actually see these posts but honestly I couldn’t think of a title so I was like uh, “sup y’all, playin’ some PvsZ and having a blast, if you think that’s weak you can come fight me.”

Anyway, having clarified that, I’m glad I finally have spent some more time thinking about Plants vs. Zombies type games! Like I said, I like Plants vs. Zombies a lot and I think it’s a worthwhile game. I think I’ve already covered some reasons why I find it really fun to play, particularly the way it structures game challenges around playing with its own established rules and premises. I think that’s definitely a main component of the second part of Plants vs. Zombies’ double seduction, the part that gets you to keep playing the game. I’m not sure what the first part of the seduction is since I feel like that could be different for everyone. Maybe the first seduction includes stuff like the game being really whimsical and cute as well as accessible for pretty much anyone to play with little difficulty. Like I said about its voluntary play aspect, it also makes for a really good casual time waster/relaxing activity since you can pause and leave whenever you want with little consequence. I thought maybe I’d try to further characterize the enjoyment you get from Plants vs. Zombies by breaking the play experience down into LeBlanc’s eight kinds of experiential pleasure: sensation, fantasy, narrative, challenge, fellowship, discovery, expression, and submission.

You can ignore my talking, it’s not actual commentary. I thought this was going to be a test-run so I just talked to myself a bit to test the mic but my computer’s being uncooperative so I’m just gonna…go with this.

As far as sensation and fantasy, I’d say you don’t really get extremely invested in these aspects of enjoying the game. The fantasy aspect of the game is pretty apparent in the fact that the game is nothing like real life. The fact that your life is probably never really involves defending your home from a bunch of zombies by planting weird (sentient??) plants everywhere is, in my opinion, a big part of the game’s appeal.  You don’t really become incredibly engrossed in this illusion and you’re not immersed in some kind of expansive universe but still, that make-believe aspect is present and it’s fun.  The sense-pleasure is mostly just kind of enjoying things like the familiar little sounds of collecting suns, planting plants in dirt, and zombie limbs popping off. The actual actions your taking just involve moving your mouse around and clicking a lot. The more you play the more you fall easily into a kind of rhythm that helps a lot in playing. As you can see in the video, the game tends to require you to pay attention to a lot of things happening at once. You need to keep an eye on  approaching zombies, collect suns and coins before they disappear, make sure your plants aren’t being devoured, and keep track of your different plants’ regeneration rates in a timely manner.  When you get used to the game, you become better at managing and multitasking so that you can probably even monitor stuff like zombie progress just by listening to the sound cues and meanwhile you can be planning all the stuff you have to do.

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During my playthrough this week, I chose to focus on how immersed I felt in the narrative of the game. Although I realize that this video only represents a small portion of the game, and I know that without a doubt more elements of narrative would be presented to me had I played further, I felt that during this segment of play, I was often distracted by combat and hacking, and at times lost track of the story of the game. Bioshock makes very, very good use of embedded narrative, that is, narrative that is presented to players in the form of cutscenes, or essentially narrative information that the player has no control over. However, I find that Bioshock presents more narrative material in the form of emergent narrative, mainly through use of audio logs. During this section of play, I found myself taking a completionist approach by hacking anything hackable and fighting each big daddy. Although the big daddy and splicer fights did not take away from the immersion, the hacking did. I found it ridiculous that I am able to hack a sentry turret in the middle of a fire fight. During my playthrough of the first parts of Neptune’s Bounty, I was only encountered by embedded narrative when I spoke to Peach and was encountered by the spider slicer. Other than this, the only narrative I received was in the form of audio logs. Although I recognize that the narrative framework of Bioshock is deep and immersive, I attempted to focus on elements of narrative during my hour of play, and was not given much.

Video  —  Posted: February 18, 2013 by jeffleblow in Uncategorized
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