Monday, December 17, 2012

Choices: Moral and Otherwise

I recently finished the Walking Dead game.  The short version of the plot would be that you play Lee Everett, a survivor who has taken an orphan girl named Clementine under his care.  The game is essentially a choose your own adventure novel, presenting you with various choices during conversations that will impact how the other characters treat you later on, as well as being given choices like which of two people to save from death or who to feed when supplies are running low.

Some choices were easy, in one chapter the cast is threatened by other survivors and you're presented with the choice of killing them or showing mercy after you've beaten them.  I chose to let them live, at least until the Walkers in the background closed in and finished the job for me.  An easy choice honestly.

But more than once I had to set the controller down and think about what I would do, what I could justify doing.  One that still stands out in my mind was when the group finds an abandoned vehicle, lights on and engine running so clearly not abandoned for long, full of supplies.  The group debates what to do but shortly, cold and hungry, decide to take everything.  You're given the choice of joining the looting or staying off to the side.  Initially I didn't join in, finishing the chapter without taking anything that didn't belong to me.  But after thinking about what I would do, the choices that I would make, I went back and replayed that scene and changed the choice I had made.

Because that's what this game is really about.  You're not playing a character named Lee Everett.  Lee is a voice for you to act through.  The choices and actions you make are not scripted by the game, they're determined by you, the player.  And it's done so in a more immersive way than any other game I have ever played.

I've played games with moral choice systems, Fallout 3 and the Infamous series.  But those use the moral choice less to impact plot and more to effect the gameplay.  Even with Infamous having alternate endings depending on your moral alignment still feels like the game is the one making the key choices and you're just telling it if you'd like to hear the good or evil story.

I've mentioned more than once how much I love the Mass Effect games, and while it often presented difficult decisions to make, those choices were either too broad and universal to effect me personally, or I could boil it down to see the impact on the characters I did have a connection with.  Either the choice was too big to relate to me, or so personal that I wasn't viewing it at the scale the game presented.

Again, in The Walking Dead you are the one making the choices, and you are the one they're effecting.  Without giving anything away, the game does not, under any circumstances, have a happy ending.  No choice you make will result in rainbows and sunshine.  This is a game about a zombie apocalypse, it's not about winning, it's about surviving.

In the last chapter the game confronts you about the choices you made at various points, and you can either apologize or justify your actions.  Each time I felt the knife twist a little deeper and realized just how guilty some of my choices had made me feel.  Could I really live with myself if I robbed that car and deprived the owner of what they needed?


After that scene Lee and Clementine reach the end of the game.  Lee, having been bitten is dying.  He talks Clementine through what she needs to know to survive.  But again, Lee is only saying what you choose to say.  I told that sweet little girl to stay safe, to learn how to hide, to always keep moving, and to never trust anyone again.

I told her to go on without me.

I did not ask her to shoot me to stop me from turning.  I refused to take that last light of hope from her.

I told her to leave and not to look back.

And then I died.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Monday Musings: Episode One

So I was chatting with a friend today, discussing writing and the idiosyncrasies we both deal with in our writings.  Her characters giving her trouble in her novel and my...chronic inability to actually force myself to sit down and write.

I realized that my problem is not actually the writing, because I don't have any problem making up stories.  I can run with pretty much any topic, the problem I need to get around is that I make these stories for an audience.  When I'm on my own I can never think of anything, but when I have people around I can run with literally any topic.

I can write non-fiction without any problem, I can sit down and write non-fiction whenever I feel like.  So I guess the trick is figuring out how to tell stories to myself?

Although I'm not sure how to do that.  I tell stories to entertain people, but I don't go to myself for entertainment...that's what television is for.  The other part of the issue is that I don't type as fast as I talk, so my hands can't keep up with the story I'm telling.  It's been recommended that I try one of those transcription programs, but that still doesn't resolve the entertainment side of things.

But I'm pretty clearly looking at this the wrong way.  This isn't a problem that needs to be solved.  I just need to write more.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Five things about the Mass Effect DLC

Ok, so Bioware confirmed that they're working on additional content for the ending of Mass Effect 3.  As a nice bonus, this content will be a free download.  Seriously Bioware, I doubt that you read this, but that is a really stand-up thing to do and I know that I (and hopefully other gamers) appreciate it.  That said here are some of my concerns and/or what I, personally, hope to see from the updated ending.

First:  Do not change the ending!

Bioware reps have already made it clear that they are not going to change the ending.  Aside from anything else, they have stated that there will be additional cinematics to 'clarify' the ending.  I don't think clarity of the ending was the problem, it was pretty clear.  Shepard dies, Mass Relays blow up, Normandy crashes.  The end.

But I am very, VERY glad that they are not going to retcon the ending to something else.  For one thing, there is no way any other ending will satisfy 100% of the fans.  No matter what people will be unhappy and they will complain, that's what people on the internet do.  I am glad, however, that the company is continuing to support their development team.  They could have easily undercut their work and the fact that Bioware supports the ending is a clear sign of supporting the team's artistic vision.

Second:  Give us additional missions.

Don't change the ending, and don't give us cinematics to 'clarify' things.  Cinematics are exposition, plain and simple, and in an interactive medium like video games exposition is deadly.  Instead let us play the game with extra missions using our squad members.  Maybe even have things change depending on your actions the way the Quarian/Geth war changed based on Mass Effect 2's choices.

An example could be that, depending on who you romanced, their mission varies.  Tali may be working on rebuilding Rannoch, but if you romanced her maybe she leaves to go help on Earth.  Garrus could go back to being a bounty hunter, or decide to take a more active role in the Turian military/government.

Also Bioware, releasing this photo,