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Permanent Death in Far Cry 2

Posted by Nick Dinicola on July 24, 2009

“…meaning does not come from playing a game… it comes from playing WITH a game. It is the manipulation not only of the actors in the game that is meaningful, but the manipulation of the game itself.”
-Clint Hocking

Ben Abraham over at SLRC started an experiment with Far Cry 2 that has since been picked up and repeated by other bloggers.

The experiment:

Play Far Cry 2 on normal difficulty and stop when you die. You only have one life. Death is permanent.

Ben’s posts, and those by others who have taken up the experiment, read like a normal game of Far Cry 2. The introduction and the tutorial always play out the same, and while everyone’s first mission is different, what happens to them isn’t all that different than what happened to me when I played the game: They get in a shootout and kill a lot of people. That’s essentially every mission in Far Cry 2. So what makes this experiment so interesting? Why am I compelled to read each post, and why are others compelled to take up the challenge of Permanent Death?

Clint Hocking, in his post about the experiment, suggests that people don’t actually care about the individual narratives being related to them, they don’t really care what happens to Ben Abraham or his avatar, they care about what can happen. “The reason I think people are paying attention is because Ben is playing with the game. He is manipulating the game itself…It is not the combination of Far Cry 2 + authored narrative irreversibility that is making the permadeath experiment meaningful to Ben and to others, it is the fact that he is able to manipulate the game to create this experiment that is bringing meaning.”

The result of the experiment is a new experience, one similar to what it would be otherwise, but given a deeper meaning due to the player’s own conscious manipulation of the game. By adding his own rules to the game, Ben ceases to be just a player. He’s now a director of his experience in addition to being an actor in it, and yet he’s still subservient to the whims of the emergent gameplay. His role as player is changed, but he’s still very much a player. He is, as Clint Hocking said, not just playing the game but playing with the game.

Read the rest at PopMatters.

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The Future of Gaming is…Adventure Games?

Posted by Nick Dinicola on July 17, 2009

I started my gaming with the Playstation and Nintendo 64, so I completely missed the “golden age” of adventure games. I have a few memories of laughing at Sam and Max Hit the Road, and I vaguely remember enjoying one of the King’s Quest games, but that’s about it. Until recently. I was happy to find Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis as an unlockable bonus in the newest Indy game, and I bought the updated Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars after hearing such good things about. After playing both, I am now unabashedly in love with the genre. As I look back at my time with both games, I realized that these old games represent the eventual result of certain modern trends in gaming.

A Focus on Memorable Stories and Characters
As games have become more cinematic, more emphasis has been placed on story and characters. Every game wants to tell a good story now, and often the story for a AAA game is hyped up just as much as the graphics or controls. This focus on story and characters is a staple of all the old adventure games. Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis is remembered because it captures the fun peril of the movies, and many titles from LucasArts are loved for their humor and characters.

Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars is no exception. Some of the most memorable moments come from interacting with other characters. From the snooty sounding British woman who’s only too willing to stick it to “The Man,” to the Middle Eastern boy whose wealth of knowledge comes from memorizing Trivial Pursuit cards, to the American tourist who thinks he’s a spy, everyone we can talk to has a distinct personality. These are not nameless townsfolk who only have a couple sentences worth of dialogue; we can carry on a full and unique conversation with each person we come across. As for the story, it starts off as a murder mystery and slowly grows into a global conspiracy. The ever-growing scope means there are always new twists being introduced, and the mystery plot, with its focus on discovering leads and solving puzzles, makes for an addicting game. Which leads into my next point.

Read the rest at PopMatters.

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Going HUDless for Immersion

Posted by Nick Dinicola on July 7, 2009

The traditional heads-up display is more and more being treated as an unwanted intrusion on the gameplay experience. Players need the information displayed, but the HUD can sometimes be distracting. Many developers try to do away with it, hoping that will make their game more immersive, and different games take different routes with different results.

Far Cry 2 and Uncharted: Drakes’s Fortune have traditional HUDs, but try to hide them as much as possible. In both games the HUD only appears in certain situations, and then fades out of sight when it’s not needed. Far Cry 2 shows the typical health and ammo, but the health meter only shows up when the player is hurt or uses a syrette to heal, while the ammo only appears when a gun is running low and must be reloaded soon. Uncharted takes things a step further by removing any health meter, instead the bright colors of the forest fade each time Drake is hurt until the screen is black and white, and then the color returns as his health automatically regenerates. The ammo appears whenever the player shoots.

Fading a HUD into and out of view depending on the situation is a fitting compromise for these two games. A HUD, no matter how small it is, attracts the eye, so by removing it until it’s necessary the player is more likely to notice the details in the environments. Since both games have impressive environments, it’s only natural that the player be encouraged as much as possible to admire it, and not spend the game looking at a mini map, health meter, or ammo counter. But this technique doesn’t solve the problem of immersion. The character can’t see the information in the HUD so there’s a clear disconnect between us and them. We can see things they can’t. Even if the information in the HUD is limited to only things the character would know, presenting it in a floating, immovable menu still creates that disconnect.

Read the rest at PopMatters.

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Choosing The Experience Over The Challenge

Posted by Nick Dinicola on July 3, 2009

EndWar - CampaignWhen starting a new game in Tom Clancy’s EndWar, the player is faced with three options for difficulty: Normal, Expert, and Hardcore. When I saw the choices for the first time I immediately choose Expert because I had been conditioned by numerous games over several years to know that the middle option was always the medium difficulty. Sure it was labeled “Expert” but I knew it was just a label. Before getting into the game proper, the player is encouraged to play through the Prologue, what is essentially a series of tutorials familiarizing the player with the various mission types. I did, and I could not beat the third mission. I lost so fast, so many times that I turned off the game in frustration and didn’t touch it for a month. When I finally went back to it, I started a new game on Normal. I beat the Prologue, I won World War III, and I had a blast doing so. As someone who usually never plays a game on the lowest difficulty setting, it was easy for me to rationalize the switch because the setting was labeled Normal. This was the setting the game was meant to be played on, right? Be that as it may, there’s no denying that I had to switch to lowest difficulty setting in order to get past the third tutorial mission. But I don’t really mind anymore, because I loved conquering Europe and Russia and I’d gladly choose that experience again any day.

Read the rest at PopMatters.

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