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Minor spoilers for Life is Strange, episode 2: lengthy digression into communication mechanics in RPGs

Butch:

Started episode 2, took a shower, erased the stuff on the mirror, talked to Kate, told her not to go to the police, stopped.

Kate gives me pause. I have this feeling there is something up with Kate. But I can’t tell. Usually, in something that’s telling a good story, when you have a parade of rather stereotypical characters (and boy do we here: rich bitch, ex soldier security nut, crazy jock, Christian weirdo, nerdy friendzoned nice guy, etc.) something happens that turns all those on their heads, or at least complicates them. And, as this story is pretty compelling so far, part of me is looking at all these stereotypes sideways.

Buuuuuuuut…….

Then I realize this game ALSO has the subtlety of naming the main character Caulfield and I think “Maybe this game just ain’t subtle and there’s nothing more there but stereotypes.”

In terms of mechanics…..

So here we are at a difference! I started episode 2 a day after episode 1 and you didn’t. My impressions of starting right away: I liked it. It was like watching a show on netflix, something I’ve gotten rather used to. Even the fact that there was the Square Enix/Dontnod logo, and title credits and all wasn’t that jarring. I mean, tv shows do that, so why not games? I certainly didn’t feel like “Man, I was SUPPOSED to take two months off, and this is weird.” What was it like to wait?

Feminina:

In many ways it’s really not that subtle. I would say, don’t work too hard looking at all these characters sideways.

I like to think that the game is using these high school archetypes intentionally, maybe trying to use the familiarity of the characters as another of those references that makes us feel as if we’re watching an old TV show, and making that the backdrop for the weirdness of Max’s power–trying to contrast the standard high school tropes with this new element? Like, “here is the iconic high school setting as you’ve always seen it: and here’s this very weird thing that happens against that stock-footage background.”

Maybe they’re also aiming to have you NOT have to think too hard about the various characters because they want you to feel (fairly accurately) that you already know them, and therefore you can focus on just being Max and thinking about her situation. Since the game was released in chunks that players had to wait for, they may have decided to go with fairly stock characters because they figured it would be easier for people to keep track of these characters over the course of several months where you only saw them intermittently, and that not having to try to track a whole bunch of minor character arcs where people we thought were one-dimensional turned out to be two-dimensional would make it easier to follow the main story.

Also, they’re French, so I feel maybe there’s an element of them intentionally recreating a lot of specifically American tropes (are these character types universal, or regional?); I read somewhere they were talking about how hard they worked to create this very specific U.S. Northwest environment, and since that was so conscious, it seems likely they put similar thought into the supporting characters as part of that environment. (Alternatively, maybe they just thought that’s actually how all U.S. high schools are? These characters might not have seemed as stereotypical to them because maybe in France there are slightly different stock character types?)

Or else maybe they put so much thought into the physical environment that they got tired and just tossed in a bunch of stereotypes for human characters. I may be working too hard to make excuses for what is actually lazy character development.

As for what it was like to wait…I think having that wait to look forward to after finishing each episode made me kind of sit and think about an episode for a bit longer and maybe a bit more deeply than I would have if I’d known I was starting the next one the next day. (Although since I we weren’t talking about it at the time, all those deep thoughts are now lost to history.) I mean, there’s more room to wonder what’s going to happen if you can’t find out for six weeks or whatever it was. Also, the end of each episode I think maybe felt more like an END. Even though I knew it wasn’t the end of the story, there’s this feeling of finality when you know that that’s all you’re going to get for a while.

I was frequently curious about what it would be like to play them all back to back, so that’s another difference.

Butch:

Ah, damn. Not subtle. That’s too bad. This game has a good enough hook and a good enough narrative (at least a good over arching narrative) that it deserves better than superficial characters. Oh, well. I’ll never get how some stories get things so right EXCEPT the characters! Usually, games are the other way. Cool people doing….stuff…..

Hmm. Perhaps it is simpler that way. Hell, even playing it in order like this I have gone back to the journal to tell who is who. Brooke? Juiliet? Dana? Which was which? I couldn’t tell people like that apart when I was IN high school, I’m even worse at it now.

But still. A flaw’s a flaw. Just because that flaw had to be there to make something easy on the player, it’s still a flaw.

And yeah, that French thing made me wonder. Not because “Pfft. French” but it seems an interesting choice to do something so out of where you’re from. Wasn’t their first game in Paris? That makes sense. Usually places stick “close to home,” even in fantasy worlds. CDPR talks at great length about how they incorporated Polish and Eastern European myths into the Witcher.

It’s funny because usually it’s Americans who are always so guilty at going for “authentic” and missing. I’m sure it’s not easy to get a plate of General Gau’s chicken in China, but here it’s “Pfft, it’s got soy sauce. Close enough.” Maybe Dontnod was all “Pfft! Hats. Jeans. Posters. Check.”

Sense of finality after an episode? Really? Cuz I would think the opposite would be true. Because you didn’t just sit wondering. You played other stuff. I would have done the same. Generally, when I do that, thoughts about what I played evaporate and I think on what I am actually playing (this is why the blog’s time delay is so wonderful). If I played something else for a month, then came back to this, I’d be even more confused about who was who, who did what, etc. Because it’s different from, say, playing Mass Effect 2 then waiting three years and playing Mass Effect 3. When you’ve spent 40 hours in a game world, getting to know everyone, you can keep those impressions. Three hours? I mean, I like Chloe, sure, but do I know her as well as I knew Mordin? Not yet. Not even close.

Feminina:

Ah, but there you go…you couldn’t tell people like this apart in high school. Now you’re Max, who is in high school. Max can’t tell them apart either, and indeed, why would she be any better at it than you were as a kid?

Maybe it reflects Max’s rather superficial view of these other people. I mean, she seems like a good kid and she’s our hero and I like her, but she’s a kid, and maybe it’s part of her character as a kid that she pigeonholes people and reduces them to stock characters in her life. (Though, hell, grown-ups pigeonhole people all the time too–it just makes life easier.)

I also didn’t mean to say that every single character you meet stays one-dimensional for the entire game. That’s actually not true at all. There are several people you get to know more about and who become considerably more complicated–just, don’t expect it from every person you meet. That’s what I meant by don’t work too hard looking sideways at everybody, because if you keep waiting for some specific character to develop hidden depths, you might be disappointed.

But I think maybe all my friendly excuses made it sound as if the game is worse in that area than it actually is (after all, why make excuses if there’s nothing to excuse!), where in fact there are cases where I thought they did quite a good job adding layers to an initially one-dimensional character.

It’s a good game! There are some good characters! Don’t get all pre-disappointed now!

Butch:

This is so. I realistically cannot tell these people apart. One of those realism/gameism lines that games do tread. Here I go again, with this “I forgot it’s a game cuz I ain’t killing shit” things.

Yeah, Chloe is already rather interesting. And I can’t really hold it against the game. I mean, we’ve talked lots on the interchangability of bad guys. If there can be hundreds of “gun dudes” as opposed to “dynamite dudes” in games, then we can forgive not developing every single character.

Sh, I’m not pre-disappointed. I am enjoying it. I’m also rather glad I played another 90s mellow game that was set in Oregon (seriously….what’s with that?) right before. It makes for interesting comparisons.

Feminina:

Well, if we define “game” as “thing that is fun,” then yeah, if we’re not murdering hundreds of dudes, there’s no fun and thus no game. I demand slaughter!

It’s just how it is.

This IS interesting to compare to Gone Home, with the low-key, Oregon setting. I didn’t play them back to back, of course, so I didn’t make those comparisons myself at the time.

This one is 2013, though, isn’t it? They have cell phones and everything, which most of us didn’t in 1995. (We had, like, actual landline telephones in our dorm rooms, remember? Weird. I bet there’s not a landline phone to be found in the dorms these days. Well, maybe one for emergencies, in the lobby or something. If I ever go back to our alma mater, this is the first thing I’m checking.)

Butch:

You’ll never go back.

You reminded me, been meaning to mention, the text message as plot device is pretty ingenious. I’m loving that.

Feminina:

Maybe for my 20-year reunion! …naw.

Easier to just call the admissions office or something. Pretend to be an anxious prospective parent wanting to know if Jr. will be able to call home in the event of a lightning storm that knocks out the cell towers.

I love the text messaging too! Nice use of the technology to drive the plot and fill us in on some of her relationships with people without having to walk us through different conversations.

Games need more fancy dress balls, heists, group hugs, and texting.

And male nudity.

I will pre-order 30 copies of a game with the synopsis “naked men text as they get dressed for a ball and carry out a heist: close with a group hug.”

Butch:

It certainly beats the age old mechanic of “Talk to everyone, everywhere, all the time to see if they have anything new to say.”

***Glares at Mass Effect****

***And Dragon Age***

Feminina:

Seriously! We could do with some cell phones in ME. Garrus could text us “hey, need to talk to you about the ship’s armor” or whatever.

Dragon Age, I don’t know, maybe they could just leave you notes or something. Ooh, like sometimes in Skyrim (I’m going to praise Skyrim!) a messenger would run up and hand you a message related to some quest and then run off. And then you knew you needed to go talk to so-and-so!

Butch:

All for that. At least in DAO they were all together, there. But running around the normandy? Or skyhold? Only to find no one had anything to say except the last thing they said?

Text, dudes. Text.

Feminina:

It was a lot of running around talking to people. And granted, that made us actually LOOK at your cool ship/castle, which they probably spent thousands of hours carefully coding for us, and it does perhaps more realistically replicate the reality of a developing relationship (you have to seek them out sometimes to spend time with them, they aren’t always going to be the ones reaching out to you–unless they need you to do something like go find some moldy flag pieces).

So I can kind of argue for it in a way. But it did get a little old after a while.

Butch:

It got really old! And shit, we’re the CAPTAIN! The INQUISITOR! They want us to do something and/or fuck us they should come running to US! It’s just unseemly to have to go to the tavern or the engine room to say “Uh, hey? Need anything? Wanna make out?”

Feminina:

Rank should have more privileges, damn it.

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