video games

Silent Protagonists: Behind the Controller or Nose in a Book

E3 2015 has come around again and brought us a plethora of new game announcements to anticipate in the next year. New games, DLCs, sequels, remakes, re-mastered editions, all your gaming needs from Nintendo, Bethesda, Blizzard, Ubisoft and other big names and independent publishers. Of particular interest was Bethesda’s announcement: that they would be making a sequel to the highly successful Dishonored.

I’m so far through the moon about Dishonored 2 that I blasted out the dark side and landed in another galaxy. I know little about the game thus far, but the trailer shows that Empress Emily Kaldwin will be one of our playable characters alongside Corvo Attano, both having been betrayed. Talk of a Dishonored sequel was floating around the internet for a while, a lot of it spurred by a fake leak called “Darkness of Tyvia.” Throughout all of this, speculation, ideas, and suggestions were made in various gaming forums.

One of those suggestions plays relevant to the topic today: the silent protagonist. It’s always been a fairly well-known factor of video games, allowing the player to better feel like the actual protagonist. However, from a story standpoint, a blank slate makes for an uninteresting character. One thing some gaming forums demanded of a new Dishonored game was a protagonist who actually spoke.

Silent protagonists are not the easiest characters to make work. As they are a blank slate for the player, someone looking for a hero to support can find themselves a little underwhelmed. The only thing I projected onto Corvo was my desire to protect the child Emily. Unsurprisingly, I never went for one of the game’s bad endings. Overall though, there wasn’t really much to Corvo but that protective aspect and a desire for revenge.

The DLC content for Dishonored, however, gave us Daud. At the beginning of the game, Daud assassinated the Empress of Dunwall and appears near the end when Corvo is betrayed by his allies and left to die. In the DLC, you actually play as Daud, facing off against a different villain in an effort to protect Emily from a threat Corvo has no knowledge of. This content was far better written, with more interesting characters and locations than the main game.

Daud was a more interesting protagonist because he could talk (and was voiced by Michael Madsen aka Mr. Blond). We got to learn a lot about him. Saw how he reacted to situations beyond fighting. Came to understand how he cared for his subordinates and got to see how he related with others. Most importantly, we got to see the guilt he felt over the Empress’s death.

Granted, this is all the from the Good Ending run. Like I said, I was terrible being evil.

A silent protagonist doesn’t work well in a game like Dishonored because of the first-person format. Link from Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda franchise is one of the best known silent heroes in gaming. Where other characters have dialogue boxes (even if they aren’t fully voiced), Link is never shown speaking. However, because Zelda is a third-person game, the player can see Link react to things around him. They can see his facial expressions and gestures and the way he behaves around others. A silent protagonist must be visible and emotive to be effective in a video game.

But from a written perspective, a silent protagonist is probably best portrayed first person. If said character doesn’t have a communication method like sign language or writing in a nortebook, the reader will need to see inside their head. A silent protagonist could be done in third person, if they are an expressive one like Link, but in first-person the reader will get to better view their thoughts and feelings. We also will want to know why they’re silent. Are they mute? Did they lose the use of their voice in an accident?

However, the best way to create a silent protagonist is to use factors from both methods. Let us have the protagonist’s inner thoughts, but make them expressive so we can see how they physically react to the world around them. Stone-faced protagonists are rarely endearing when they talk. A silent protagonist with no inner thoughts and limited expressions is going to be either boring or a tired cliché.

Classic in video games but rarely seen elsewhere, the silent protagonist takes some skill to pull off. A silent protagonist need not fall into first-person gamer blankness as long as the writer remembers that even without a voice, there’s still emotion and agency behind this character.

Categories: musings, On Writing, video games | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thief (2014): A Sort-of Review

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So, I’m going to start this off by admitting that I’ve never actually played any of the original Thief games. I got into computer gaming when the series sort of fell into obscurity for the younger generation, and the people I hung out with at the time had little interest in video games. I have read about them, and may get to playing them in the future.

So, this semi-review is based solely on the 2014 reboot, and I probably won’t discuss much about it in relation to previous games.

I saw the game advertised at EB Games, and pretty much pre-ordered it that day. I’ve been getting more into stealth games as of late—Dishonored is likely responsible—despite my inability to be patient with most things. Having read that the original Thief games were stealth-based to the point where you could fail a mission if you accidentally killed a guard or got caught, I thought it might be a good opportunity to teach myself a bit about stepping back and observing and acting in the right moment instead of rushing into things.

But let’s talk about the game proper.

So far, I’m really enjoying it. The City looks fantastic. It a wide-open environment with a lots of places to explore and loot. I can visit an area multiple times and always find a spot I missed. The sneaking mechanics are unique, asking the player to slip through shadows, across rooftops, and even change the environment to suit their needs. The sneaking about is great and it does force me to observe guard patterns to avoid a fight.

Which I want to do, because in a straight fight, Garret is about as formidable as a marionette with a wooden stick.

The stealing is the best part of the game. I love lock picking and deciphering safe combinations based on documents I pick up along the way and flipping picture frame switches. I think what really makes the thieving engaging is that stuff doesn’t just disappear when it’s stolen. You actually see Garret reach up and swipe a cup from a table, or lift the lid of a trunk, or pluck a woman’s earrings from her ears before stashing it away.

He’s got really long, nimble fingers. It’s a bit hypnotic.

The NPCs in Thief have always been known for their intelligence. It shows here too. Guards notice when doors are left open or when torches are put out (some even re-light them). It forces you to further observe before making any changes to the environment, or take advantage of a guard when he goes to turn a light back on and has his back to you.

Now, I’ve been playing this game on the least difficult setting, so I don’t know how things change from lower to higher difficulties. One thing that this reboot does is allow for the player to take a slightly more action-based approach. You can slaughter guards with blast arrows or light them on fire or nail them in the face with an arrow. I find this choice…interesting because right at the beginning of the game, Garret makes it clear that he detests killing. So, it doesn’t really make sense for his character if the player can go blowing up guards, does it?

The purpose of this seems to be a way for today’s gaming market to get more enjoyment. However, this isn’t Dishonored, where you can choose to make it a stealth game, or just murder anyone in your path. Corvo Attano can take hits, has many weapons good for head-on fighting, and can use a variety of spells.

Garret has a blackjack for knocking guys out and if you have more than one guy on you, you’re pretty much dead. His fighting prowess is virtually non-existent. Running is always the better option if you’re caught.

However, the game does have the option of a “custom difficulty” setting. This allows the player to select factors—being seen, killing guards, etc—that will cause them to fail a mission. Implementing these factors will force players to take whatever approach they want. I’ll likely be manipulating them for the pure-stealth I’m seeking, after I finish my low difficulty run-through first.

Aside from that, I think my copy has a few technical glitches. Subtitles appearing at the wrong time, or when no one is talking. Sometimes I can’t hear Garret speaking (and he’s not exactly loud to begin with). Also, apparently every guard in the city has either slept with Polly the dockfrock, or has been on her waiting list for two months. Anyone else having issues like this?

Honestly, this being my first Thief game, I don’t have much to compare it to. I think as a game on its own, it’s fun. If you want to know how it is compared to the old games, I’d recommend asking an old taffer—preferably one who isn’t a purist.

Now I just have to see how many side jobs I can do before I’m forced to go to the Moira Asylum. I may have not played the originals, but I’ve seen Let’s Plays of Shalebridge Cradle. If the asylum is the reboot’s tribute to that particular mission, may mercy be granted on my cowardly soul.

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Puzzle Games And Different Release Dates Cause Me Greif

This week, the UK will be seeing the release of Professor Layton and the Azran Legacies, the third game in the prequel trilogy and the last to star Professor Layton himself.

Here in Canada, I will have to wait until some unspecified time in 2014. Needless to say, it’s a little frustrating. I’ve heard a lot of different hearsay as to when in 2014: some say it’s going to be fairly early in the year, around February or March, others say we might be looking at an October-November release. Another estimate is that it won’t be released until after Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney, which is also set to come out in 2014, in order to keep the timeline of the Layton games consistent.

I have yet to play Ace Attorney (it’s on my “To Play Eventually” list), so I can’t say I’m overly excited for the latter.

My sister and I got the first two Layton games as Christmas Gifts several years ago. I got The Diabolical Box and she got The Curious Village. I was unaware that the Layton games had any sort of order, so I technically played the second game first. I enjoyed it quite a bit—more so after I’d played the first game. With those out of the way, I got Unwound Future and it’s been my favourite so far.

Last Spectre, the first game in the prequel trilogy, took an ungodly long time to arrive in North America; so long, in fact, that the UK had already released the movie Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva in English, despite it taking place after Last Spectre.

Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask was next, also marking the jump to 3-D and forcing me to buy myself a 3DS. While it was released in a timelier manner compared to the game before it, I had some issues with it plot-wise.

Expect a review of Miracle Mask on this blog in the future, probably after I replay it.

Despite any flaws the games might have and my tendency to cheat at the puzzles (especially the math ones), I love the games and usually have them beaten within a week of getting them.

This wait is going to be hard. I swear I’ve had about half the game spoiled for me already, but I’m trying to avoid reading too much more on it in the hopes that there was a spoiler I missed or that I might forget what I do know. My sister tried to be supportive when I told her my gaming woes.

“Vivian lives in London,” she said, referring to my friend who is studying abroad. “Why not ask her to get it for you as a Christmas gift?”

“I’m pretty sure I can’t. I don’t think it will work on my 3DS.”

“Why not?”

“Because I know DVDs and console games work differently in the US and UK. If you try to play a UK game on a US console, it won’t work. I’m pretty sure the 3DS is the same.”

The proper term is “Region Locked,” which the 3DS is. Well, she tried. I appreciate that.

Perhaps I’ll replay the rest of the series and hope to see the conclusion early in the New Year.

Categories: musings, stuff i like, This is my life, video games | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Coincidental Things in Gaming Narratives

Has anyone else ever noticed how coincidental some events in video games are?

I’ve recently been playing Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass and I just realized that it’s an awfully big coincidence that the exact weapon I need to defeat the temple boss is usually found inside that boss’s temple (usually guarded by the mini-boss).

I mean, what’s with that story-wise? I’m not saying it makes the Zelda games bad. Not at all. It’s a part of the game we’ve just become used to. In fact, we don’t really notice it most of the time.

My sister, Victoria, and I have recently found ourselves making fun of the latest instalment of the Sly Cooper series. For those of you who haven’t played it, the Sly series started on the PS2 and is about a gentleman thief and his gang on their various adventures to loot and take down criminal overlords. Also, everyone is an animal, with the main character being a raccoon. The PS2 entries lasted three games before another company asked to take up the series and make a fourth instalment.

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is the first PS3 entry for the series (barring re-releases). I found it a fantastically fun games; a lot of love was put into giving this new addition the spirit of the original trilogy. But my sister and I get a crack out of some of the narrative conveniences.

So, the Cooper Gang has this time machine, and in order to use it, they need to put in an item from the time period and location they want to travel. The first item they have to steal from a museum, which makes perfect sense.

From there, it gets a little silly. The item that gets them to the second time period is an old sheriff’s badge, dropped by one of the Big Bad’s goons. It makes it look like the Gang is being led on. We can sort of take that. The third time period is reached via an item thrown in due to desperation and it was an item seen in previous games. Okay.

Well, it sure was a coincidence that random item led them to a period where the bad guys had set up shop.

Then we reach The Grizz—a parody of family friendly rappers (ie he speaks in rhyme with a vaguely hip-hop beat) who happens to be a bear. After you beat him, his crown turns out to be the item you need to get you to the next time period: Medieval England.

Yes, the rapping bear from modern times was wearing a legit Medieval crown. Or, as my sister put it, “The Grizz doesn’t settle for just any old bling.”

And let’s not even get started about how the cop character snatched an ancient Arabian coin while trailing black market art dealers earlier in the game.

I love how ridiculous video games can get.

Categories: musings, This is my life, video games | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

X & Why Do I Try?

Everywhere I turn, there’s excitement for Pokemon X & Y. If it’s not my sister squealing about it in the next room, it’s my friends squealing over Facebook. New Pokemon! Fairy Types! Customizable Avatars! Mega Evolutions!

Pokemon has gotten too complicated for me.

There was a time when I loved Pokemon, back in elementary. It had just come out and exploded into popularity. We watched the show, collected the cards, begged our parents for the toys, and yes, played the games.

I only started playing Pokemon games after I won Pokemon Yellow during a big promotional draw at Toys R Us. The Yellow Prize Pack did not come with a Gameboy, but I was so excited my parents relented and bought me one. My journey to be the best, the very best, like no one ever was, had begun.

I think Pokemon Crystal was the last game I played.

As it stood, while playing Pokemon in elementary was cool, continuing to do so in Jr. High and High School was not. Then you get to University and everyone is still playing Pokemon, so what do I know. But I didn’t get out of it because of my desire to be cool. My reasons for stopping had another name: Victoria.

My youngest sister is five years my junior and she became obsessed with Pokemon in elementary just like I had. She collected cards and played all my old games. She freaked out over every new game as they kept coming out.

And here’s where Nintendo gets clever. Your average video game has three files. Three is a good number of files.

Pokemon has one file. So if two people want to play the game, you need to buy two games. My sister and I both wanted to play the new games, but my parents would only buy one copy and told us we could share.

One does not simply share a Pokemon game.

Needless to say, I lost to the baby of the family. Even today she is very reluctant to allow me to play anything but the older games.

By the time I got a job, I hadn’t played Pokemon in a while. Eventually, I forgot about the games all together. And now, they’ve gotten weird.

Pokemon have Natures now. Like, personalities or something. My sister will spends hours trying to catch a Pokemon with a specific Nature, constantly catching and releasing any Pokemon that don’t meet her standards. Her friend is even worse. Apparently, Natures work with Characteristics to make a Pokemon stronger. So, this girl will spend even more hours catching and releasing Pokemon until Nature and Characteristics match-up the way she wants.

I had considered trying to get back into Pokemon for these new games, but as my sister tried to explain these concepts to me, I think I was better off giving up. I miss the simple days.

Which is sad because I really like the Fairy Pokemon idea.

Well, I still have Professor Layton and the Azran Legacies to look forward to.

Categories: stuff i like, This is my life, video games | Tags: , | 1 Comment

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