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Showing posts with the label Storytelling

Pew-Pew Zoom: SHMUPS, WTH?

A few weeks ago, I delved into the narrative elements of early space-based aracade games , but I still want to keep exploring the frontiers of what space games have to offer. "Pew-Pew Zoom" will be closer looks at different aspects of space games, and I felt nowhere would be a better starting point than the humble (yet often very, very strange) SHMUP. So dust off your controllers, stack up those quarters, and GET READY! To start, we should probably define the rather odd, but fun to say, acronym "SHMUP." While it's a shortening of the age-old term "Shoot 'em Up" (which, prior to the advent of electronic gaming, primarily referred to films and TV shows, particularly Westerns and war stories), the term is generally referred to a specific kind of shooting game: one where the player guides a vehicle, such as a spaceship, fighter plane, blimp, or hummingbird , at a set speed across scrolling levels in two dimensions, avoiding enemies and their weaponry,

You Cannot Fast Travel When Plot is Nearby

You’ve probably been there. Trying to get from one part of the map to another. A sound effect cuts through the overworld music , an animation comes up, and the music switches to something a little more adrenaline-pumping. The first time it happens in a game, maybe the first few dozen times, you’re probably pretty excited. What monsters will you face? Will there be materials to upgrade your weapons? Just a little much-needed currency and experience? A surprise treasure box ? Then you get to that fourth dozen time…fifth…sixth? Somewhere in there it becomes a boring monotonous grind just to get anywhere, or maybe to find the last component you need to upgrade your ranged weapon. At best, the ritual becomes a minor annoyance while you pass through as quickly as possible. Would it be better if you could just fast travel ? Zipping between two points without subjecting your character(s) (and yourself) to yet another pointless battle? This can work well in video games, but do you use it at you

Fun With Murder: The Narrative Ethics of Assassination Games

It's funny. As someone who views "detective" as an integral part of their personality , I sure have a lot of crime games. Well, crime media in general, especially movies, but games have certain... implications. You're the one committing the crimes , not watching other characters do them or following a protagonist as they piece together criminal events through evidence and investigation. You're right there, doing all the bad stuff yourself. Recently, in the ongoing quest to tackle my massive game backlog, I've been playing the first Tenchu game, released in 1998. I bought it because the creators would later go on to make my beloved Way of the Samurai series, but if one looked at my shelves, they could easily assume I chose it thematically, as Tenchu 's neighbors include numerous Hitman , Assassin's Creed , and Dishonored games - a subgenre we'll call "assassination games." I've seen it remarked that there's an irony that, while

Odd Taxi's Genre Subversions

No matter what (or who) we're engaging with, first impressions carry a lot of weight. But even before we've made them, we already have a set of expectations and preconceptions. These can be based on deliberate signifiers (this taxi is available because it's parked and the light is on), cultural preconceptions (I can talk to the driver, but they won't engage with anything I say in-depth), and underlying, unquestioned fundamentals of reality (the driver will appear human). This takes place in media as well, and largely defines the way we engage with genre works . When our actual experiences don't line up with expectations, we experience a sense of confusion as our brains struggle to catch up and make sense of what it's been presented, confusion that may (or may not) be proportional to the nature of the dissonance. If someone was familiar with anime conventions and the types of stories typically featured in anime, but not, say, the convoluted, darkly comedic crime

Fifth Dimension

There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call The Twilight Zone. A Side :  If you’re familiar with the words above, you’ve probably seen at least one episode of the stalwart classic The Twilight Zone . (Or maybe you remember them from our previous Twilight Zone post where we reviewed a few episodes and the series itself? In which case, we hope you went and watched a few episodes afterwards.) The 2019 series revival may have been cancelled this year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t welcome these newer entries into our strange home. While some of the new Zones may have been rehashes of old material, a number of new episodes can join the ranks of that "middle ground between sc

The Space Between Blows: The Audience's Role in Narrative Combat

POW! BIFF! ZOT! Fight scenes have been a part of narrative media for... well, as long as there has been narrative media . The Illiad , for instance, is full of the granular blow-by-blow we expect of fight scenes today, regardless of medium . So this is not a topic for which I can do any kind of justice - I'm sure there are people who have dedicated their entire careers to the study of narrative combat, and there will always be more to talk about, more to discover. Rather, this post will explore some recent thoughts inspired by (what else) a mostly-forgotten twenty-year old video game. Oni is a third-person action game with a focus, despite the arsenal of weapons featured in the official art, on melee combat. Today, it's remembered mostly as the game Bungie made after Marathon and Myth , but before Halo . Culturally, it's a rather bizarre relic: a western attempt at making an "anime game" based on limited reference points that the creators lifted wholesale, partic

Moment of Silence: One Year Later

One year ago, following the murder of George Floyd, Never Say Dice posted "a moment of silence" in memory of Black Americans who have died as the result of police violence, and out of solidarity to those who stand up to a system designed to break the bodies, minds, and souls of people of color. One year later, we thought we should reflect on what has transpired since then, and where we can go from here. There is always another story, ask anyone who works in words, images, and sounds, including those artists of ephemera who concoct fleeting tales around a table, shaped by dice and panic, lost instantly to time and the savageries of recollection. Every story that's told makes space for those that aren't. The "before" stories. The "after" stories. And the stories beneath. If someone has lived their life privileged enough to never hear the stories of those who suffered and died creating the world they take for granted, even acknowledging the existence

Whatcha Whatcha Whatcha Want: Crafting Character Motivation

There’s an old axiom that every story, regardless of medium, is ultimately about someone who wants something, but has obstacles standing in their way. While that’s probably overly reductionist, it’s true that both characters and plots are driven by desires and motivations. But how much do these need to be developed? Does every character need a complex motivation, or were Tears for Fears right when they said that everybody simply wants to rule the world? B : This will be a tough one to tackle, because character motivation comes not only from a creator’s intent, but also from their audience’s interpretations. Whether it’s someone reading words thousands of years after they were written or someone sitting on the other side of a gaming table, every audience member’s own desires and experience will determine how they see a character’s motivations, no matter how those motivations are being presented. Believability often comes down to accessibility. We might not want to become Jedi ourselves

Generic Post

Over the years, I've heard many an author, agent, editor, and publisher claim (facetiously or otherwise) that the concept of “genre” exists solely to make it easier for bookstores to arrange their stock, that it’s ultimately a marketing invention to better move product. It’s funny, though, I don’t think I’ve ever heard this sentiment from the people who enjoy said product, jokingly or otherwise, whether they be readers, players, or audience members. A divide of this scale can’t help but lead to questions. Are both groups talking about the same thing? What exactly is a genre, anyway, and what role does it play in the telling and experiencing of stories? I first began to question "genre" in a college creative writing workshop. Until then, I had taken for granted that the categories of science fiction, fantasy, mystery, horror, and thriller had been structured and organized by nature like the Periodic Table. This certainty wasn’t broken by coursework or  some newfound clari

Tales from the Grove: Storytelling in San Andreas

Recently, Andy and I found out that we had each started new run-throughs of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas , a game that both of us have loved since its original release, but neither had ever completed. We took it as an opportunity to play together (even while apart), keeping track of each other’s progress throughout. Now that we’re both done, we thought we’d discuss some of the game’s storytelling and characterization, and what San Andreas can teach writers and gamers looking to tell stories from the more… complicated side of the law. - B B : It’s appropriate that San Andreas starts with CJ’s return home, since picking the game up again felt a homecoming for both of us. My story (far less exciting and tragic than Carl’s) is that, now that I’m satisfied with my current hardware setup, I’ve been using the PS2 a lot more often, which meant returning to a complete Grand Theft Auto series playthrough I had started some years ago. Thanks to the lockdown freetime, I burned through Grand Thef