Weekend Playlist, 12/18/2009
Ryan Kuo: I think Christmas shopping will probably obliterate my weekend, but I'm going to work on Angry Birds and Auditorium on the iPod in the subway. When I'm home, hopefully more Left 4 Dead 2. I've only played three of the five campaigns so far. God Hand only arrived in the mail yesterday, so I definitely want to give that a spin too. The last thing I want to play is Nifflas' new game Saira. I adored Knytt Stories and am pretty damn excited for a spiritual sequel starring an intergalactic photographer (!!!).
Chris Buecheler: I managed to finish Half-Life 2 (for like the sixth time in my life) between last week's Playlist and this one. Taking a bit of a break before going through the Episodes again. I've kind of lost interest in Left 4 Dead after the cheap loss I described last week. Haven't touched it since and probably won't again ... good thing it only cost me $7.50! Valve puts out a lot of great stuff, but for me it's really all about their story-based games.
I'm on kind of a new-game hiatus because from Thanksgiving to Christmas because I'm forbidden from buying anything for myself lest I accidentally invalidate an intended gift. This weekend, in addition to packing for spending the holidays in Fontainebleau, I think I'm going to get back to NBA 2K10 and give it some more love.
Gus Mastrapa: Left 4 Dead IS a story-based game!
I'm playing the new Ace Attorney game -- the one with Miles Edgeworth. As usual the writing is dynamite. I brought my new PSP-3000 with me and attempted to play PixelJunk Shooter via Remote Play -- which didn't work at all. So I'm probably going to start playing Final Fantasy Tactics instead.
Harold Goldberg: Seriously? Fontainebleau? You lucky dog, CB.
I'm still using NHL 10 to clear my head (Why oh why can't my Rangers beat the Capitols?).
I've got an early retail copy of Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers. I want to see if an on-rails game (which is what it looked like from the demo I got a few weeks ago) by Square Enix does something new with the genre.
Chris Buecheler: When by far the most compelling thing about a game's story is the graffiti on the walls of the various safehouses, you're not playing a story-based game.
For the record, I think L4D is pretty brilliant. It's just not made for me.
Russ Fischer: The question of L4D2 being story-based or not fits right in with what
I'm playing this weekend and why -- catching up with some of the last
big releases, like Assassin's Creed II, as the raw material for a
feature on the state of storytelling and narrative in high-profile
I'd say that L4D2 is very much story-based, and is interesting in that
it takes the exact same elements that made Portal's narrative work so
well (incidental dialogue and visual cues, including graffiti) and
applies it in a more ambitious manner.
Chris Buecheler: I haven't played L4D2 and I know from Gus' review that it does expand upon the storytelling, but I still feel like there's a distinct difference between the L4D games and something like BioShock.
I suppose it's possible that if I played through the same L4D mission 200 times I might hear enough random dialogue to piece together a complete storyline for all four characters, but ... I'm not going to do that. Whereas in BioShock, if I play through each level of the game just once, I get pretty much the whole story. Thus, the story in L4D feels much more like something nice to give to repeat players, but not as fundamental a part of the game.
Again, this isn't to denigrate the way L4D does things. It's a different game with different objectives. I'm just trying to show what I mean between "story-based game" and "game with a story."
Russ Fischer: Chris, you've said that L4D2 isn't for you, and I get that -- totally fine.
That kept in mind, playing if through 200 times to piece together the
story is exactly the idea. The narrative is basic, but it is there,
and it drives the action. It has to be low-key so that it doesn't put
too much overhead on the gameplay, which is intended to be brief and
Rather than asking "is L4D2 a story-based game," better questions
should investigate what constitutes narrative in games. Story-based
games are evolving to get their tales across in ways that aren't bound
to prior narrative conventions. (Cinematic, serial prose, etc.) L4D2
is very much emblematic of this.
Ryan Kuo: Left 4 Dead is kind of like a comic strip. Same characters each time, different situations and lines and punch lines. I used to think it was kind of gimmicky, but after a few months the game really does start to feel like an ongoing story that you fill in with your actions. I haven't seen anything like that before.
Yeah, there's a static "story" like a plot you could map out in a book, but this is more like an anecdote that you overhear. I think the writings on the walls are a red herring. The real story operates in a much more experiential first-person way, where there is literally no difference between the story about the characters and the story about the people playing the game.
Gus Mastrapa: I guess my question is, how much story does a game need to be effective/interesting/good? I'm sure it's a matter of taste, but I find story by audio recording (or in the case of BioShock -- the lying fake accent-having guy in your ear) kind of cheap and much prefer dramatic stuff to happen in the game world. Half-Life 2 manages this well.
For me, I don't need to know how the virus in Left 4 Dead happened, or have the political philosophy of the guy who started it explained in a five-minute speech. I enjoy seeing well drawn characters go through interesting circumstances and observe how they respond, react, thrive or fail. The thing that's so rad about Valve is that it's exploring a half-dozen different ways to tell that story.
Chris Buecheler: Much as I loved BioShock, I thought it was something of a step backward in terms of telling its story. Almost all interaction with human beings was done through tape recorders, earpieces, or even through glass of some sort. HL2 certainly isn't flawless, but it's probably the best no-cut-scene story game I know of.
I wonder if I would like L4D better if I were playing it with human beings, and if I might thus be more prone to repeating the episodes, and in turn learning more of the story. I haven't tried out multiplayer because a) I'm afraid to jump into a random pickup game full of dudes I don't know who will all assuredly be better than me; and b) I'm playing on the PC, which means no voice comm for me, which seems like it'd make the game five times as difficult to enjoy.
Anyway, you guys are piquing my interest in at least playing through the rest of the missions. I only finished three of them, I think.
Ryan Kuo: Listening to the Survivors talk to each other in real-life silence is depressing is hell IMO. That's the old-school tape-recorder way of hearing game voices. Talking over them, talking about them, repeating their lines, basically turning them into your performers as well as your avatars, that's way more fun.
Chris Buecheler: See, the whole time I've been playing I've been wanting way more conversation between the Survivors than there is. The few things they say other than "Thanks" or "Smoker!" are real treats. I wish there was way more chatter. Stuff like Zoey standing in the elevator going "I can't get over how fast those things are! It's like ... not fair, right?" ... give me 30 moments like that per level instead of one.
I do, however, talk back at whatever game I'm playing near-constantly.
I'm desperately trying to wind down '09, and take a few days off, but it is very, very difficult to take days off when you enjoy your job so much. So careful what you wish for, kids.
I'm also still rolling up my sleeves and digging into more Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks. Each time I consider quitting the game, I just re-read Mastrapa's terrific review. For some reason this line never fails to make me double over with laughter: "Later I pick up a load of fish, hoping to sell it at a profit in another town."
As Evan Narcisse would say, "That's Hil. Are. Eee. Us."
What's on your own playlist this weekend? Inquiring Game Trusters want to know. Leave a comment below.