Some minor early spoilers for Gone Home, mostly mechanics discussion
OK, we covered “is it a game,” obligatory with Life is Strange. We’re probably the only game bloggers on the net who haven’t already had that discussion re this game.
So we can move on. Mechanics! Game (or not) mechanics!
So usually when you have a prompt in a game, like, say, Fallout, to manipulate something, the prompt is just telling you you can/should. Like [X] open door, or a triangle appearing in UC when you have to pull a lever, or something being highlighted when you put the cursor over it. Now, this game has a bunch of that, but it also seems to use the prompt as a means of telling you what the PC is thinking. I’ve gotten “Good Ol’ Christmas Duck,” “One of the Postcards I sent!!” and, tellingly, just “?”.
I kind of love this.
Now, if this were a game where WE created the character, or, at least, what the character was thinking (Say, Fallout, DA or even TW, as we had some control over where Geralt was gonna go in his moral calls), it would be intrusive. Don’t tell me what Jessica and Evelyn are thinking! But this, as we are obviously Katie Greenbriar, is great. Who IS Katie Greenbriar? This helps us get to know her.
Which begs the question: What about using a similar mechanic in something where you have a preset character where you DON’T control their thoughts so much, if at all? Uncharted? Tomb Raider? Maybe I wouldn’t mind the rope prompt so much if it wasn’t just L1 and it was, I dunno, “Holy shit!”
I love the ‘information contained in prompt’ mechanic! It’s a great way to get across these tidbits of information information about the world and the character, in a really integrated and subtle way that’s guaranteed to be timely. I mean, they could just have that info in a pop-up on the screen when you wander over in that general area, or something, but that would be distracting, might not be visible any more at the moment you actually interacted with the item it relates to (and therefore would be less likely to be able to have that very specific relationship to a particular item, and thus less personal-feeling), and just generally more disconnected.
I would totally be into seeing this in more games. As you say, it doesn’t necessarily seem like something that would work if we’d created our own character (we’d resent being told what ‘I’ think about this object, and/or they’d have to write a whole bunch of alternate text to try to accommodate various types of character), but when we’re playing characters who just are who they’re written to be, this could be awesome.
Sample knife-throwing prompt: “Knives! Knives for everyone!”
Text for prompts could be awesome. Should be. Get on that, people.
Though, since you bring up stuff just sorta popping up, the one thing I haven’t grasped is what triggered the two audio journal entries that I’ve gotten (which are the intro “I miss you, so I’ll talk into this” thing, and the “first day of school” one). I was sorta near something? Looked at it? It certainly wasn’t when I picked something up.
Yeah, the audio diary entries you pick up, while important to the story, are sort of the least ‘believable’ thing about the mechanics. They just start playing when you get to certain points, and then you can replay them if you want–they’re in your backpack–but there’s never any ‘you found a physical audiotape with a diary entry on it!’ moment or anything. (Probably because…how would that work? Are you conveniently carrying around a Walkman to play them on? Maybe, I suppose, you could have been listening to music on the plane, but do the tapes then just leap in and play themselves, since I never made a choice to start them?…any answer begets more logistical questions.)
So that felt a bit odd, in a “how is this supposed to work again?” sort of way. The rest of the game you’re pretty much walking around picking things up, reading notes, opening doors, etc., and the onscreen prompts are clear stand-ins for understandable real-world actions we’ve probably all done a million times, but the diaries…meh.
I couldn’t really make it make ‘sense’ in terms of fitting it into a narrative of how I was personally responsible for finding out all the stuff I found out, so I just let it go. It’s the suspension of disbelief portion of this particular story.
It is the suspension of disbelief part. I’ll buy the “you have a walkman” bit, though.
Maybe they just figured there was stuff that was important enough that it had to have more than just a finding of a something.
But then, voice seems to matter. It’s interesting that the very first thing in the game is Katie’s voice. You. Which wasn’t necessary, either. I mean, you could have gleaned from the suitcase, the passport, that sort of thing that you’ve been gone a while. But the game chose to not only tell you that, but to tell you that with voice.
I’m early. I’ll keep an eye on it.
Another thing that we’ll talk about…..later…..that I mention now so we remember to talk about it……later……that is, once I have a more tangible answer, is why they chose to make this in a very specific (like, to the date and time) point in a) the past and b) a part of the past that a sizable portion of their audience has memories, if not emotional memories of. I remember 1995 quite well. 1995 was the year I met Mr. O and all of that crew. It was a pretty pivotal year in my life. I’m sure the folks at Fullbright games know a lot of people like me would be playing their game, and picked accordingly. I’m curious as to how that plays out.
I agree, I’m fine with the Walkman idea–I guess my sense of confusion was less mechanical (“how could this possibly be happening?!”) and more procedural (“why is this happening right now when I didn’t do anything intentional to make it happen?”).
Voice is very interesting here. As you say, we start with Katie’s voice, then there are the audio diaries (which could easily just have been written diaries, so there’s a clear decision to include the voice), and the answering machine message.
And, also interestingly, there’s the lack of voice at other times: we DON’T hear Katie muttering to herself or reading things out loud or vocalizing in any way as she walks around looking at things. We’re used to game characters talking to themselves/us a lot, or just making action noises when climbing/punching/running, but Katie wanders around in thoughtful silence, as a lot of people probably would do when exploring a house by themselves. The quiet adds to a slightly ominous tone, but I think also adds to the sort of low-tech, period feeling of the piece. Not that people couldn’t talk out loud in 1995, but the fact that there’s all this quiet makes it feel less ‘professionally done,’ more like found footage or something, and I think that subtly adds to the feeling of realism and of being ‘dated.’
Although if it were to be realistic for me personally, she would be narrating her entire experience nonstop, because I talk to myself all the time…but this just goes to show that I’m a lot less normal than Katie.
Tapes playing without you doing it is an oddity. Making something say “Play tape” would’ve been more in tune with everything else.
Herding perhaps? I mean, sure, it is rather open. You can ignore doors, miss things, but then there’s certainly things the game wants you to do and doesn’t want to LET you do (there’s still a locked door in that foyer, so there’s game saying “not yet.”) Maybe the tapes are the game saying “Dude….don’t miss this. Not gonna let you miss this. Not gonna let you choose not to play this tape.”
And yeah, that answering machine message was pretty creepy. There is some degree of creep here that I didn’t expect. I mean, ok, maybe it’s not a creepy message on it’s face, it’s just emotional. But still…. the constant rain, the constant flood warnings playing over and over on the radio, the flickering lights, the tape about the first day of school calling it the “psycho house,” the realization that daddy was at least a little bonkers with the JFK stuff….added up, a crying, desperate message is creepy.
I mean, it’s not a horror game…..yet…..but there’s a lot of disquieting things. Didn’t expect that.
I should note that in fact I didn’t talk in 1995.
It is interesting that they didn’t voice the character in game. She COULD have said, out loud, “Hey! One of my postcards!” But they DID give the interface “human” touches. Indeed, as you know, I go into the options. You can turn off “Footfalls” and “Head bob.” Seriously. So they did take the time to put touches in, just not spoken ones.
There is that. You are less normal than Katie. But we knew that.
Yeah, Katie’s silence is interesting. It also kind of reinforces for her/you the role of observer rather than participant in the action. Like, stuff happened, but it was before and you weren’t involved. Your part is to figure it out, not to influence it. Her not talking about things emphasizes this distance, which comes up also in the fact that even though we get some of her thoughts (“hey, one of my postcards”), we don’t really get her opinions. She doesn’t think “one of my postcards–at least they cared enough me to hang onto it, even if not enough to tell me what the heck’s going on” or anything.
She’s investigating, but not judging or coming to any specific conclusions–or if she is judging or concluding, it’s purely the player doing it rather than the character as portrayed.
The game really leaves you alone to make what you will of things in that way, and not having Katie talk to you I think is part of that. If she spoke, even if only to read the observations from the prompts aloud, there would be inflection, some emotion, some indication that she’s happy or sad or worried…as it is, that’s all up to us to feel or not feel.
Indeed. I could, at this point, go BACK to the “is it a game” bit because we aren’t influencing anything, DOING anything, much like a book, but I won’t.
But yes, the game does let you come to your own emotions. I mean, take my reaction to the dad being a JFK nut. That was new to me, so I had this “Um…..oh……not……normal…..” reaction (I am assuming this wasn’t something he came up with with Katie away). Had he been like this all the time, and Katie SAID “Oh, dad, up to your old tricks again” in a jokey way, that changes the whole player interaction with the scene.
It’s true–having some inflection or interpretation from the character to explain the situation, whether “oh, dad, still chugging whiskey and worrying about JFK,” or “WTF dad, what’s the matter with you?!” would strongly affect our experience. Instead, we’re just left to decide for ourselves whether this is troubling or not. Me, I thought “Dad doesn’t seem to be doing so hot,” but someone else might well have figured “whatever, a few empty bottles, that’s nothing.”
I was thinking, too, that another thing her silence emphasizes is a certain sense of alienation from the family: no one is here, no one is explaining anything, you’ve come ‘home’ to a house you’ve never been in before: what’s Katie’s place in all this? She’s been gone, doing her own thing, and she comes back to…what, exactly? There’s that sense of being a stranger where you should be familiar, which I think also ties into the slightly eerie tone.
I agree, there’s a bit of a creep factor going on, which is also interesting, and which we can discuss more as you go along. I thought it worked quite well: again, there’s the sense of being a stranger in your supposed home, so maybe the creepiness is just a natural effect of the situation…or is it more? Is there something WEIRD-weird going on, or just human-weird?
Interesting that, as you mention, you can turn off footsteps and head bobs…so you could choose to experience it with even MORE distance, gliding noiselessly through the house like a ghost. Maybe the WEIRD-weird element is you!–if you choose to play that way.