Probably like yourself, I’ve got a bit of work leave and an overwhelming desire to waste some time. That means getting to play some of the computer games I buy in sales all year and never get around to trying.
Actually, as the author of small game that didn’t set the world on fire, it’s really some valuable research time into what I could do better next time the opportunity comes. I’m really not interested in “shoot monsters, shoot nazis, try jump up on a edge 100 times, flap my bird through endless columns” – basically I am clueless about what a ‘game’ means to 99 percent of people. But I’m actually just as clueless about what I want to achieve to better the existing tropes.
Been playing a game called ETHER 1. The premiss is a good one: you get ‘inserted’ into the failing memories of a dementia patient, with the job of cleaning them of damage. She’s grown up in a small English seaside town, and much of the game is spent wandering around its deserted buildings, looking for fragments of recall which are represented by red bows for some reason. Just find these and you’re led like a tourist through a very pretty game world – that by itself is an advance on the tedious wandering of Dear Esther.
But the cacophony of clues and unfinished business drives you to start poking around in drawers and breaking into rooms to find out what’s really going on. For a start the therapist that’s working with you on the case is obviously up to no bloody good, and then there’s the way the patient herself screams bloody murder if you start snipping out the bad things. It’s quickly apparent that shit is going down and the story inside the lady’s brain is connected with the whole apparatus of the mind insertion technology itself. In fact I already have a pretty clear idea of what’s coming and just want to get at it.
OK, so cool story. But the problem is now the mechanism of adventure gaming, which after all these years remains:
- find a bit of paper with some stuff on it or get told something by a NPC
- go find a thing and carry it elsewhere
- put that thing with another thing to open a door
- turn a bunch of stopcocks
Seriously, there’s a endless array of combination locks in this old duck’s mind, that require bits of paper with combinations written on them and … UGH. Also the mechanism of carrying stuff around is disconnected from actually solving a story and gaining insight. It’s simply just slowing the story telling.
That’s doubly disappointing because you would expect the memories to be pretty screwed up and that would make a far better reason for the parcelling of information. Here and there you come across a section where the image is fuzzy and surreal – but it’s not The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which is what it really needs to be. Even Dear Esther has a few moments where you’re confronted by the surreal, and they are by far the most interesting bits.
In HH there’s a few sections where the surreal gets out of hand – for example the level where you move through the stacked ‘mind forms’ of aircraft. The ‘princess’ is being forced to create endless airplanes for some urgent purpose on the surface of the game world – that’s not explained. If I was actually telling a story, what would work better? Hopefully not combination locks. Actually, playing ETHER 1 is telling me something – if the story is wild, then the wild has to be conveyed in the difficulty of the world. If I am going to make my story more evident in H3H as planned, then the story must be evidenced in the game mechanics. It being a variation of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, that must be in the barriers that the player faces – no more doors.
That’s going to take a long time