The Simple Complexity of Sonic

So, I attended the Eurogamer Expo again this year, and there may be a post about it in a few days. But today I want to focus on something tangentially related. At the Expo I played a level from Sonic: Generations. This is supposed to be a mesh of old and new levels from various Sonic games. Although whizzing around in a 3D environment was fun, I want to talk about when I got home and installed the classic, original Sonic the Hedgehog on my PC, thanks to SEGA’s excellent Mega Drive Classics pack on Steam (I also purchased the Sonic games separately — 1 2 3), on sale over the weekend.

Other than using an Xbox controller, it was exactly like returning to the heady days of 1991, when, aged seven, I embarked on the great Sonic adventure. One of the things I was most looking forward to was the music, which did not disappoint. Maybe one of these days I’ll post a video of my brother and I playing the Green Hill Zone theme, adapted to bass guitar and piano. Not today, though.* For now, enjoy the classic version itself in the embedded widget here:

For a change, I want to talk about the game design of Sonic. Continue reading

Zombie Jigsaw: piecing together Left 4 Dead 2

This is the sequel to the sleuthing for the truth article about Brink. First, I should say that it’s a little unfair to compare Brink to Left 4 Dead 2. Brink is essentially a competitive game, whereas Left 4 Dead 2 is co-operative – even in Versus mode. Co-op games offer more time and space for in-game storytelling than competitive ones, because competitive shooters like Team Fortress 2, Counterstrike, or Brink tend to lead to manic, twitch gaming. The best you can hope for with such limited time and attention is some well-placed one-liners. In a co-op game, the experience is more managed, with lows, highs, and potential story moments – similar to single-player.

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David Mitchell’s contribution to games writing for kids

When I was writing last week about Derek and/or Eric, the imaginary 10-year-old from Idaho, and our need to think about that potential market of 10-year-olds when working on the story and script for Driver: San Francisco, it reminded me of various discussions I’ve had at three different games developers (Free Radical Design, Ubisoft and Zindagi) about the issues which arise when you’re writing content for a young audience.

Rather than bore you with stories about those specific conversations, I’m going to let David Mitchell have his own eloquent way with the subject:

He’s got a point, right?

The second part of sleuthing for story in multiplayer games will be along on Friday.

Sleuthing for the truth: does story matter in a multiplayer game?

I’m a pretty story-aware gamer, for obvious reasons. I have a pathological need to complete every dialogue tree, a determination to hear every variation on a bark, and I even take a perverse delight in spamming all the voice commands in TF2 and Left 4 Dead to any teammate who will listen – “Who’s gonna help me capture this bloody POINT?” – imagine hearing that again and again in the loud Scottish Demoman voice (and please don’t hate me).

You might note that both TF2 and Left 4 Dead (1 & 2) are multiplayer games. You would be correct. TF2 doesn’t have much story, beyond the Class videos, the emerging Announcer / Saxton Hale comics canon, and the fact that each level is effectively a mini-scenario where two groups are fighting for control – a scenario communicated through the level design and art itself. OK, when you write it all down, that does sound like quite a lot of story.

But what I’m thinking of is the more traditional, plot-based story where things happen to characters, who evolve, resulting in new things happening – all within the game. And for this, I want to look at Brink and Left 4 Dead 2.
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Failure’s memorable – make it interesting, too

This is my first post on this blog, and it’s turned into a bit of an essay. But this idea’s been knocking about in my head for a while – so, rest assured, I probably won’t have quite this much to say all the time…

The most memorable moment in the long-running saga of me “finishing” Mass Effect 2 was when I knew I wouldn’t have a fully loyal team before The Big Showdown.

Part of the reason that this was memorable was the undeniably solid build-up to this episode. Tali, a crew-member, needed to go protect her reputation and that of her father on her homeworld. Okay, so that’s her story motivation. Big whoop, right?

But then the game invested me in the outcome, by teaching me that how I dealt with my crew’s personal problems would determine their loyalty to me – a measurable outcome affecting the gameplay, my game abilities and potentially the ending of the game (I don’t know about that yet – I did say me “finishing” the game was a long-running saga).
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