As if writing interesting and captivating stuff isn’t hard enough, someone had to go and invent video games. The once intimate bond between a writer and their editor has been forcefully disrupted by the need to cooperate with graphics, gameplay, and audio. No longer is the writer free to do as they wish, but they’re faced with all kinds of challenges. How do we deal with player agency? In what way can we present a difficult topic? How do I translate my text to video games? How will I distract students in class from their lessons? Why am I covered in drool and empty wine bottles? Questions, so many questions, that are all answered below (okay, maybe not that last question).
Welcome to Field Reports #35. Enjoy your stay, read some awesome articles, discuss them. And call your friends, will you? They haven’t heard from you ever since the new expansion for Civilization 6 was released and they worry about you.
— By Smoochy
Ruining Your Grade – Gaming in the Classroom
One of my favourite stories to tell is that one time during my year of studying Law where I played a game on my laptop during a class of Constitutional Law. It was Friday morning, everyone was tired, and both the professor and the subject matter were extremely boring. Fighting off both boredom and sleep, I decided to occupy my brain with a simple game so my mind wouldn’t wander while trying to pay attention. It was a simple flash game, in which I had to press a single button to swing my chimpansee from vine to vine to the top of a giant tree. The higher I climbed, the easier it became to pay attention to the professor. At one point, I was completely focused on the lecture and I missed a vine. My poor chimpansee plummeted down the tree, missing every single vine, and falling unto the ground below. Suddenly, 9 voices behind me said in unison “Awww, damn!”. Turning around, I saw that the nearest people sitting behind me were so bored that they preferred looking at my chimpansee rather than paying attention to the class. I don’t know what their grade during the exam was, but I passed that class because I managed to pay attention: the subject matter of that moment formed a major question in the exam. And they say video games ruin your grades!
A friend would immediately counter that story by saying “Yeah, but you always played Worms: Armageddon on your telephone during Administrative Law instead of paying attention and you failed that class!” But everyone knows that Administrative Law is without a doubt the most boring class anyone could follow, so her point is moot. MOOT I SAY.
Not surprisingly, I’m not the only gamer who has felt the draw of video games during class. And with the rise of mobile entertainment (smart phones, tablets, laptops) comes an increase in opportunities for students to give in to the allure of anything other than paying attention. But whereas I played a relatively simple game, students nowadays sneak in rounds of Fifa or watch a stream of League of Legends. Teachers are encountering increasingly bold attempts by students to bring their favourite games into the classrooms.
Kotaku talked to some teachers and asked them about their experiences.
History of RPGs: A Tome of Knowledge
Felipe Pepe is probably one of the biggest fans of role-playing games you can find. I see you raising your finger, but let me stop you right there before you start talking about the thousands of hours you’ve spent in Diablo, The Witcher, and Zork because this guy organised a huge group of journalists, developers, and enthusiasts in order to write the book on the history of RPGs. In this free(!) 528 pages long tome of awesome video game history, you can find information about more than 400 RPGs. And not just the well-known AAA games! There’s also stuff on mods, fan-projects, and indie games. In short: anything you ever wanted to know about RPGs can be found in this book.
Read the free PDF right here!
Telling Stories in Video Games – Challenges and Difficulties
This time, we’ve got three different articles talking about writing (serious) stories for video games so we bundled them all together here. Always wanted to know how to deal with difficult topics, how to engage your player, or how to turn your words into an experience? If you answered yes to all three, wow, just…wow. I mean, that’s exactly what these three articles are about. I eh… I’m glad I could help you find some answers!
The Unreliable Gamemaster: Player Motivation in Story-Driven Games
It’s one thing to write a good story, but writing a story that conjoins the needs and wants of the player with that of the player’s character is a whole different beast. Non-interactive storytelling can easily guide what the character wants (save the prince) and needs (overcome her fear of incoming bullets), but video games have the wants and needs of the player, too! Take Dark Souls: the player wants to defeat Gwyn, the Lord of Cinder and in order to do that they have the need to level up, learn the game, and become better at it. But what if that player doesn’t want to defeat Gwyn, but rather invade the world of other players? Dark Souls allows that, but games that are driven by their stories would grind to a halt. The question is, how does the writer make sure the player shares (more or less) the same want and need as the character?
Chris Solarski wrote a book (and a column) about it.
Doing the Story Justice – Serious Story-telling in Video Games
Writing stories for video games is already difficult enough, as evidenced by the article mentioned above, but tackling serious topics makes it even more complicated. Because how do you discuss and incorporate topics like mental disorders, morality, and/or tragedy? It’s easy to force these upon the player (Press F to pay respect!), ruining its impact and doing a disservice to those who suffer from it in real-life in the process.
This article on Gamasutra attempts to discuss how serious topics have been and should be handled.
A craftsman is only as good as his tools
You can’t tell a story if you don’t have the proper tools to turn that text into an integral part of the video game. Kotaku talked to the writer behind Reigns: Her Majesty on their podcast, focusing on how she managed to turn her story into a Tinder-esque game.
You can listen to the podcast, or read an excerpt, here.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to create a story-driven video game in which a hilarious historian with red hair struggles to hide his addiction to video games from his coworkers and friends. Purely fictional, of course!
Hall of Fame – ‘Abused’ Gaming Cartridges in the Spotlight
One of the many disadvantages of physical media over digital media, is their vulnerability to the elements (or careless children). Many a CD, floppydisk, or cartridge has suffered irreparable damage, dooming its content.
The Twitter account @AbusedGames has started to collect pictures of damaged (Nintendo) cartridges, to show the world that ‘damaged’ is still pretty.
Just look at all these poor (/great?) abused games.
Sex, Pong, and Pioneers: the History of Atari
So what if I stole the title from the article itself, it’s too good not to! Atari was the legendary company during the first wave of video games. They started with Pong and quickly came to dominate both the arcades and the home market (the latter with their personal computers, like the amazing Atari 2600). The gaming market was so young and unexplored, the company and its employees were literal pioneers: discovering how to navigate this strange new world and trying every new opportunity.
Kotaku tracked down a few of the company’s earliest employees and interviewed them to discover what it was like, working for Atari during its heyday. Turns out, pretty freaking wild! Drugs, parties, behaviour that would nowadays definitely be seen as sexual harassment. A story of camaraderie, opportunities, and creativity unfolds, accompanied by old photographs and advertisements. The entire article is long and very interesting, especially if you’re interested in the history of the video game industry.
Head on over to Kotaku and give it a read!
The “Civilization 6 Has a New Expansion, So Everyone Writes About it”-section
Like the previous games in the Civilization series, the latest “Let’s see how we can make a travesty of rela history”-simulator (that is Civ6) has gotten an expansion. Rise and Fall has been reported on in many previous Field Reports, so I won’t say much about it here. However, I do want to report that in my playthrough as the Dutch everyone is vast friends with me! Except for the Kongolese, who just nuked one of my cities. Bastards.
Anyway, here’s some articles on Civ6!< Time Doesn’t Stand Still, Civilization.
The series is known for its expansionistic approach to history, and every playthrough is a literal race to meet one of the goals (cultural, martial, religious, scientific). But when looking at other games in the genre it becomes clear that Civ6 is starting to lack a few things: other games have a greater scale, are more in depth, or offer more freedom. The Civilization series might’ve started out as the foremost 4X game-series, paving the way for others, but now it’s in danger of being left behind. How can (and should) the series adapt to criticism and the ever-changing landscape of video games?
Venturebeat addresses these, and more, questions here.
Because This Might Happen
It’s great and all that you have a new expansion, Civ6, but your older brother, Civ5, is still pulling in just as much players as you are. And look at his graphics, they’re starting to get dated! What’s your excuse, huh? People should be abandoning Civ5 like Hi-Rez Studios abandons its games! And don’t give me that “It took 2 expansions for people to like Civ5” crap either!
Maybe PC Gamer knows the answer!
And Maybe People Will Prefer Something Else Entirely
Although people prefer 5 over 6, most hardcore Civilization players agree that 4 is (by far) the best of the entire series. A lot of fans are looking forward to 10 Crowns for that exact reason. The historical 4X turned-based strategy game is being developed by a team that consists of a lot of former Civilization 4 developers. Although not much is known at the moment, the released artwork looks amazing!
Read more about it here.
Assassin’s Creed Stabbing and Learning Your Way Through History
One quote that I like to use in my presentations about video games and history, comes from a comment to an Ubisoft Blog: “I like how you put a charecter in the history to make it both exciting and making us learn something that really happened many years ago.”(sic) Although the series does its best to research the time period, and is a whole lot more accurate than many other games, it’s not a good representation of history. However, for quite a few gamers, it’s the only or main source of historical information that they’re exposed to. It seems that Ubisoft has recognised their role (and responsibility) as an educator, and has announced that they’re going to include a free “Discovery Tour” mode in Assassin’s Creed: Origins. This collection of 75 tours are aimed to provide players with an interactive (but non-violent) way to learn more about the history they’ve been murdering their way across.
Find more about this awesome history lesson on the Ubisoft page.
In related news, concept art for a viking-themed Assassin’s Creed might’ve been leaked by one of the developer’s artists. Although the artist claims it’s only ‘fanart’, we might’ve gotten our first look at the next game in the series.
I wanna be a viking, Ubisoft!
Stumbling Your Way Through the High Middle Ages
Henry is no famous warrior, mutant monster-killer, dangerous sorcerer, or dapper prince. He’s just… Henry. Illiterate, poor, kinda dumb, bad at fighting, and he can’t even swim. The world he lives in has no dragons, fairies, elves, or magic. But it has historical accuracy. Lots of it. Also lots of bugs, but those can be patched out eventually. What I’m trying to say, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is everything I ever wanted in a Medieval RPG. One knight in armor, or a group of downtrodden bandits, can absolutely destroy Henry in combat. Doors don’t magically open for Henry because he’s the player character, people tell him to sod off because he’s a poor, stupid kid. I even saw a GIF of someone riding a horse close to trees, and getting smacked off his horse because he hit a branch. It’s that detailed!
PC Gamer shares my enthusiasm about Henry’s mediocrity.
And The Verge is just as impressed as I am about the historical accuracy put into this RPG.
So they wrote an in-depth article on it. It’s worth the read!
It’s not all sunshine and lolipops, though.
Kotaku has quite the criticism.
Spreading the Black Death, One Simulation at a Time
“Hey Frank.” “Yeah, Olaf?” “You know, I’ve been thinking about our next project, and I think I’ve a great idea for a video game!” “Oh really? What is it? A FPS where you play a sentient carrot? A RTS in which you lead the last remnants of Space Australia against the evil Kangaroo Empire? Super Mario Sisters?” “Space Australia? I…wha… No, I’m talking about a game that’s sure to be a huge hit. I’m talking, about making a survival sim during THE BLACK DEATH!” “I hate you, Olaf…” “Do you have a better idea?” “Nope…”.
Okay, to be fair, it sounds like a really interesting concept. Dealing with an invisible but dangerous enemy that spreads from peasant to peasant, slowly destroying the entire world? It’s almost like the movie Alien but scarier!
If you’re interested in surviving one of the worst diseases in history, keep an eye out on The Black Death.
Click here if you want to give it a (flu)shot.