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A Cthuluvian perspective on lolcats
October 13, 2010 9:40 AM   Subscribe

The biggest literary influence on my approach to game design, however, was one of the writers I worshipped as a teenager: Alice Sheldon, aka James Tiptree, Jr. Tiptree had one particular recommendation for starting a story: “Start from the end and preferably 5,000 feet underground on a dark day and then don’t tell them.” This is precisely how we begin Half-Life. It was a deliberate antidote to the many game openings that involved pages and pages of backstory presented in scrolling text. - An interview with Marc Laidlaw, writer for the Half Life series.
posted by Artw (65 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Take me through a day in the life of the meetings, the proposals, the playtesting.

Described from an external perspective, it looks quite boring: I drive to downtown Bellevue, Washington, where Valve is situated; I ride an elevator, walk up to my standing desk, and stand there all day long...


Hmm. Given its ubiquity in the Half Life games, I would have thought that he'd stand there all day long waiting for the elevator to arrive...
posted by googly at 9:48 AM on October 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, and he's standing there in the corridor waiting for it next to some crates, maybe a barrel.
posted by Artw at 9:50 AM on October 13, 2010


The Ted Kosmatka story he mentions is downloadable for free here.
posted by grabbingsand at 9:50 AM on October 13, 2010


Huh, I just read his novel The 37th Mandala. Had no idea he was involved with Half Life.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:55 AM on October 13, 2010


Ted Kosmatka is pretty great, his story N-Words in the Seeds of Change anthology is really neat (also if you check around Escape pod and StarShipSofa I think a lot of his stuff is available in podcast form)
posted by Artw at 9:57 AM on October 13, 2010


If it's 5,000 feet underground, why would it matter if it's a dark day?
posted by nomadicink at 9:59 AM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


You'll find out when you finally make it back to the surface, and a bunch of feral metaphors jump out from behind a bush and gut you.
posted by Artw at 10:06 AM on October 13, 2010 [7 favorites]


Having played HL2 all the way through, why is this game considered so enigmatic of the FPS genre? I'm honestly not trying to snark, but in my opinion it is a not bad diversion, but why so much love for it?

Portal on the other hand, I get.
posted by Keith Talent at 10:18 AM on October 13, 2010


They mention his story, "Leng," from the Lovecraft Unbound anthology. Which I just finished reading. It was pretty much the best thing in there, too.
posted by TheFlak at 10:21 AM on October 13, 2010


Given its ubiquity in the Half Life games, I would have thought that he'd stand there all day long waiting for the elevator to arrive...

Yeah, and he's standing there in the corridor waiting for it next to some crates, maybe a barrel.

I've only played a bit of Half Life 2, but I'd say Mass Effect has it beat in terms of random crates. And ME1's elevators were infamous.
posted by kmz at 10:21 AM on October 13, 2010


Having played HL2 all the way through, why is this game considered so enigmatic of the FPS genre? I'm honestly not trying to snark, but in my opinion it is a not bad diversion, but why so much love for it?

Portal on the other hand, I get.


The story, the characters, the environments, and the atmosphere. It's a linear shooter, nothing special gameplay-wise. But the environments you go through, the people you meet, the fact that you can get attached to little digital people... That is why I like Half Life as much as I do.

That you "get" Portal more than you "get" HL2, to me at least, says that you're less about story and characters (though Portal has a wonderful atmosphere), and perhaps more about gameplay mechanics. Just a guess, though, and to be clear, I absolutely loved Portal. Great little game, can't wait for the sequel.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 10:23 AM on October 13, 2010


I'm not sure that Half-Life is a good example of following Tiptree's advice. If it were, the game would start well after the Resonance Cascade had occurred, maybe when the Marines begin their airstrikes.
posted by frankchess at 10:26 AM on October 13, 2010


That you "get" Portal more than you "get" HL2, to me at least, says that you're less about story and characters (though Portal has a wonderful atmosphere), and perhaps more about gameplay mechanic...

Portal has an amazing story and characters. Or maybe what you mean is that, however amazing the story and characters in Portal are, the mechanic is even more amazing? I'm not sure I'd agree with that either.
posted by DU at 10:32 AM on October 13, 2010


Having played HL2 all the way through, why is this game considered so enigmatic of the FPS genre? I'm honestly not trying to snark, but in my opinion it is a not bad diversion, but why so much love for it?

Portal on the other hand, I get.


Well, for starters, pretty much everything that made Portal Portal and not just another physics puzzle game has its origins in Half-Life 2, from the aesthetic sensibilities to the way the story is presented to the design process that subtly manipulates the player into doing what the designers want.

On preview, I also agree with what CitrusFreak12 said. HL2 is tremendously atmospheric, even in the irritating sections where you're dragging roofing tiles along the beach.
posted by Copronymus at 10:35 AM on October 13, 2010


There's a lot to love about HL2, some great storytelling, some new variation on the game play coming along any time it looks like things are slowing down, and some great moments like the coast drive and Ravenholm (brrr), but at the end of the day it's Half Life taht will always have my heart. Roll on Black Mesa!
posted by Artw at 10:36 AM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Having played HL2 all the way through, why is this game considered so enigmatic of the FPS genre?

I think you mean "emblematic." If so ...

* Sequel to a much-loved, ground-breaking original.
* Story that catered perfectly to the limitations of the medium.
* Story constructed in a second-person format, which adds to the feeling of immersion and the projection of yourself into the shoes of the main character (e.g. other characters talk directly to you, talk about events as if you already know about them, and never ask you real questions -- because you can't answer).
* Impressive scripted events and reveals.
* Impressive use of physics engine
* Great new game mechanic -- the gravity gun -- that allows you to interact with the environment in ways similar to open-ended, "sand box" games.

Other games did nearly all of the above before. But Valve did all of them well. There were gangster movies before The Godfather, and there was even a Godfather film before The Godfather II. But damn, the sequel was a great movie all by itself.

I could go on and on. I'm a total Valve fanboy.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:36 AM on October 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


There are, of course, various hints in both games that Portal is not all that separate from Half Life.
posted by Artw at 10:40 AM on October 13, 2010


Cool Papa Bell pretty much nailed it. I haven't sat down to play through an entire video game since Portal (and before that, Episode 2) and I probably won't do so again until Episode 3 comes out (cue wistful sigh). Valve is pretty good at making games that make me feel like I owe it to myself to play them.
posted by invitapriore at 10:41 AM on October 13, 2010


Other games did nearly all of the above before. But Valve did all of them well. There were gangster movies before The Godfather, and there was even a Godfather film before The Godfather II. But damn, the sequel was a great movie all by itself.

Half Life III better be better than The Godfather III...
posted by atrazine at 10:46 AM on October 13, 2010


Well, it couldn't possibly be worse.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:56 AM on October 13, 2010


Having played HL2 all the way through, why is this game considered so enigmatic of the FPS genre? I'm honestly not trying to snark, but in my opinion it is a not bad diversion, but why so much love for it?

The thing that makes HL2 one of my all-time favorite games is that it ties really really solid FPS gameplay with a wonderfully creative world and really effective storytelling.

When HL1 came out, most FPS were set in these abstract fantasy worlds. Sure some games, like Duke3D were set in "our world," but they didn't really feel like it. The technology just wasn't up for simulating a real environment. A bit later, Quake 2 came along and really gave the sense of being on this alien planet. But it was really an ALIEN planet, you wouldn't confuse it with real space.

Then HL1 came out and totally changed that. The opening tram ride was so mind-blowing because it gave such an incredible sense of setting. Black Mesa really seemed like a living-breathing and sprawling science facility stuck somewhere in the desert. Even though the game was totally linear, it did an amazing job of making you feel like you were really crawling your way through this huge complex trying to survive an alien invasion.

HL2 duplicated this but on a much larger scale. You're thrown into the real world, but it's different in both an incredibly slight but at the same time huge way. City 17 is like any eastern-European town, except that it has alien checkpoints and massive bio-mechanical creatures striding through. When you leave the city, you come across dilapidated houses that once sat on the beach, but now the oceans are being drained away. You explore dead prisons and eventually make your way into the alien structures themselves.

And in all this are the amazing characters. Now we take for granted the expressiveness and believability of the virtual actors, but at the time it was breath-taking. The difference between the flapping jaws of previous games and the fully-simulated faces of HL2 is simply huge. It allowed Valve to make you really feel for the characters as people, rather than simply story delivery devices.

Plus, all of this come without screwing up the gameplay. It never feels like you are sitting through a movie (I'm looking at you, Japanese developers), rather, you are an active participant in the events. The controls are solid, and the game never screws you over with cheating A.I. or inescapable attacks. The pacing between segments of exploration and combat are right on.

So yeah, I really do thing HL2 is an amazing example of single-player FPS done right.
posted by arcolz at 10:57 AM on October 13, 2010 [5 favorites]


And after reading everyone else replys, yeah, the gravity gun was amazing. No game before HL2 really used simulated physics as such as central and effective part of gameplay.
posted by arcolz at 10:59 AM on October 13, 2010


The participation thing is huge. Really after the Half Lives no games should have returned to stopping the action for cutscenes at all, ever.
posted by Artw at 11:04 AM on October 13, 2010


Meh. It's all been downhill since Marathon.

These kids today...
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:10 AM on October 13, 2010 [12 favorites]


Really after the Half Lives no games should have returned to stopping the action for cutscenes at all, ever.

I think the way the Half-Life games handle exposition is brilliant, but I don't think that all games need to adopt that style. Some games do a great job with cutscenes, like the Uncharted series. I might accept the argument that first-person shooters would do well to emulate Half-Life, but even then, I think there's room to try other things. Innovation requires experimentation.
posted by frankchess at 11:16 AM on October 13, 2010


If you ask me, the key thing about the Half-Life games that makes them emblematic of the FPS genre is that they contain all this storytelling and variety of action, but at the same time they never stop being an FPS. There are no dialog menus in a Half-Life. There's no inventory mode or special puzzle interfaces. There aren't even any cutscenes. When NPCs want to talk plot at you, you're still fully in control of the player character, and when the author wants to show you what's happening at a distant location, they find a way to do it within the framework of the things the PC can see and hear. The result is a very pure FPS experience, and a demonstration of what the form makes possible.
posted by baf at 11:23 AM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


hmm, maybe, but there's certainly no longer any excuse to stop the game to have someone tell me something, or to show me something that I could just look at myself.
posted by Artw at 11:23 AM on October 13, 2010


(that was to frankchess)
posted by Artw at 11:24 AM on October 13, 2010


The Half-Life "no cutscenes" style really raises interesting points about the nature of game identity and immersion.

There is a third-person character -- Gordon Freeman -- but his characterization is so thin, it's meaningless. At the same time, other characters look right at the camera and address "you" as Gordon. I think this really puts you, the player, into the game. It's as if things are happening to you, personally. The bad guys aren't shooting at Gordon, some fictional character -- they're shooting at you, Joe Gamer. The fourth wall is removed, or at least thinned.

This also allows you to ascribe your own characterization to Gordon. When "I" play Gordon, he's a bit of a scaredy-cat that likes to use his head and snipe from a distance. When some other person plays, he may ascribe different qualities to Gordon -- or rather, his characterization of what being Gordon means. To him, Gordon (and himself) may be a brave hero that charges into a volley of bullets.

And this all pretty much happens on an unconscious level. It's amazing, really.

On the other hand, you have a third-person game like Uncharted, mentioned above. You play as Nathan Drake. It's a third-person game, so you see Drake on screen. You, the player, are playing AS Drake. You are controlling HIM, a different person than YOU. So, when you go to a cutscene, you stop controlling Drake, and are are now watching Drake. But YOU are never Drake. Eventually, you'll regain control. But there was a moment where you lost agency over the experience.

There are pros and cons to both. Half-Life wants you to buy into the idea, and there are many "blink and you'll miss it" moments that might leave someone cold or lost. You could, in theory, completely miss much of the story. Uncharted is more of a "lean back" experience that's probably more open and welcoming to everyone.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:43 AM on October 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm actually just playing HL2 for the first time currently. I didn't play HL until last year so I'm really behind in my gaming. It really is an amazingly immerse game; I find that I can't play it for more than an hour or so at a time because I just get too anxious.
posted by octothorpe at 11:48 AM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


I never did finish HL2, despite trying a few times. It just didn't get into my head the way the first did. The first game created such an incredible sense of place, of crawling through this enormous, disintegrating facility, and the second did nothing of the kind. In fact, the only other game I've ever played that came anywhere close to doing so was Dead Space.
posted by adamdschneider at 12:00 PM on October 13, 2010


I am impatiently waiting for Episode 3, Valve.
posted by orville sash at 12:03 PM on October 13, 2010


Some games do a great job with cutscenes, like the Uncharted series.

I haven't played Uncharted, so maybe they're doing something unusual I don't know about -- but I'm firmly in the "cutscenes are an abomination" camp. The instant the game takes control of the character away from me in a first-person-perspective game, any illusion that I'm immersed in the world from a first-person perspective just falls apart; it's an in-your-face reminder that you're not in that world.

And the weird part is that it's so often completely unnecessary -- even if you need to have a character vomit a bunch of exposition at me, is there any reason to grab control of the camera, lock my avatar in position and force me to stand perfectly still and listen to your ten paragraphs of deathless "as you know, Bob?" prose?

Notice in the HL games that just about every time someone's going to dump a speech on you, you're in a large-ish room that you can explore, which will often have a few interesting doodads to play with -- you can go get a soda, top off your health meter, or play with the doctor's toy teleporter. You can fidget when you're bored, just like in real life. It keeps you in the world. (The next logical step would be to have the other characters notice that you're fidgeting, and cut their monologue short as a result.)

Cutscenes are a crutch; they're a sign that the game doesn't trust itself to be interesting enough as a game, so resorts to pretending to be a movie for a while. They were maybe necessary when game engines weren't capable of producing realtime imagery that was expressive enough to get the narrative across, so the cutscene would be a prerendered quicktime movie or whatever, but these days they're an outdated concept.
posted by ook at 12:04 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Half Life II is still, for me, the best FPS ever. And that is because I like a good adventure. I like variety. I like stories and scenarios that are engrossing and immersive. Portal was fun but it took far too long to get to the "story", such as it was, and it was short. Portal had a lot of humour, it was smart but... it just seemed unbalanced, to me. Don't get me wrong, I liked it a lot (once I figured out that something other than puzzle rooms was going to happen eventually) but it's like a footnote compared to the sprawling, addictive fever dream that was HLII. Jesus, I had real dreams about that world for weeks while I was playing through it. Actual full-on adventure dreams. I even had a bloody nightmare about Ravenholm, and if that isn't the sign of a powerful game I don't know what is.

If I don't see some more HL product soon I'm going to kidnap Gabe Newell and starve the bugger until something gets done.
posted by Decani at 12:16 PM on October 13, 2010


Loved HL2, loved Portal. Portal 2 looks truly frightening. If you haven't seen it, take a gander at these little previews... I need a tube of propulsion gel for real life, yeah.
posted by Ella Fynoe at 12:25 PM on October 13, 2010


And the weird part is that it's so often completely unnecessary -- even if you need to have a character vomit a bunch of exposition at me, is there any reason to grab control of the camera, lock my avatar in position and force me to stand perfectly still and listen to your ten paragraphs of deathless "as you know, Bob?" prose?

For me that's the second most unforgivable thing you can do with a cutscene. The most unforgivable being the game taking control of your character to do something you should be able to do yourself. Sure, it's cool that you just finished off the boss badguy with a cool move, Mr. Game Designer, but wasn't that supposed to be my job?
posted by Artw at 12:26 PM on October 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


One of the things I love about HL2 is that it's invisibly linear. At no point during the game did I ever feel 1) stuck in a dead end, trying to figure out where I'm supposed to go, or 2) like I'm going in some arbitrary direction just because I'm supposed to. It always feels like I'm going where I want to go, despite the fact that that's the only place I can go.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:27 PM on October 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Man, I need to type faster, or just say less. Conversation keeps passing me by...

Reading CPB's description is making me realize that that sense of immersion is really what I enjoy in first-person games. Everything that annoys me about other games -- cutscenes, dialog trees, DIAS moments, badly choreographed environments, fussy inventory management and too-sparse sandbox worlds and level grinding and (let's face it) often substandard writing -- it's all the stuff that breaks the sense of being in the world.

Valve seems to be the only company designing games with that sense of immersion as the primary goal. Every time I buy a Bioware game for example I end up disappointed -- the dialog trees are a nifty idea that I'm starting to suspect just simply doesn't work: it just feels wrong to have everyone stop what they're doing and stand there while I pick through a bunch of dialog options that rarely branch to anywhere substantially different regardless of what I pick. (Take the first bit of Mass Effect 2, which I really, really wanted to love, because it came so close sometimes.) Starts with an endless noninteractive short film, followed by a really outstanding, totally immersive action sequence: the moment where you run through a burning door and suddenly find yourself outside the ship, and the color and audio palettes turn upside-down and your headlong sprint turns into a slow, cautious walk through drifting wreckage -- it's simply a brilliant piece of work. Which lasts about fifteen seconds. Then everyone stands there and waits around while you decide whether to be rude or pleasant to the pilot, the effect of which choice lasts for one line of dialogue. Then you sit through another endless noninteractive short film. The whole game feels like that. Bleh.)
posted by ook at 12:27 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sure, it's cool that you just finished off the boss badguy with a cool move, Mr. Game Designer, but wasn't that supposed to be my job?

Oh god yes, this.
posted by ook at 12:31 PM on October 13, 2010


I don't have anything else to say but somehow ook reminded me of how cool the dream sequences were in Max Payne 2.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:42 PM on October 13, 2010


Yeah, the dream sequences in Max Payne 2 were pretty cool, now that you mention it. Thinking back on them, they provided yet another model of identity, agency and immersion. You played the dream sequences, but the goals were deliberately unclear, the view was distorted, etc, with the idea being that you, the player, are immersed in Max's dreamworld.

You didn't stop playing to experience this bit of story-telling. "Keep playing ... we'll just tell the story around you."

Kind of reminded me of the moment in the somewhat underrated Johnny Depp movie, "Nick of Time." There's a moment where the action takes a giant left turn and gets cartoonish, and then you're snapped out of it to realize, "Oh, that's what he was imagining he could do to the bad guys, what a typical 'hero' character would do. But he's not a hero, and now both the character and I, the guy in the audience, realize that that's not possible."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:53 PM on October 13, 2010


Jesus, I had real dreams about that world for weeks while I was playing through it. Actual full-on adventure dreams.

I drove across the Appalachians while I was in the midst of playing through HL2 the first time, and I kept getting a feeling like something wasn't right every time I went through a tunnel. Eventually I realized I was waiting for real life to hang while it loaded the next area.
posted by Copronymus at 1:11 PM on October 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


That you "get" Portal more than you "get" HL2, to me at least, says that you're less about story and characters (though Portal has a wonderful atmosphere), and perhaps more about gameplay mechanics.

Portal is far, far better written than Half-life.
posted by empath at 1:19 PM on October 13, 2010


Hmm.

I'd say it's more obviously written, if that makes sense.
posted by Artw at 1:26 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Freeman's Mind
posted by homunculus at 1:27 PM on October 13, 2010


One of the things I love about HL2 is that it's invisibly linear. At no point during the game did I ever feel 1) stuck in a dead end, trying to figure out where I'm supposed to go, or 2) like I'm going in some arbitrary direction just because I'm supposed to. It always feels like I'm going where I want to go, despite the fact that that's the only place I can go.

I was just as aware of HL2's linearity as I am in most games (that aren't open-world games). You're in a courtyard that exits onto an alley; the alley leads to a blocked-off street with one store you can enter; there's a broken wall in the back leading to another building. This is just something I accept as a videogame convention; HL2 did it better than most, but I was always conscious that I was being pushed in a specific direction.

Notice in the HL games that just about every time someone's going to dump a speech on you, you're in a large-ish room that you can explore, which will often have a few interesting doodads to play with -- you can go get a soda, top off your health meter, or play with the doctor's toy teleporter. You can fidget when you're bored, just like in real life. It keeps you in the world.

On the other hand, you can do things that really ought to change the speaker's behavior, and when the speaker doesn't notice, that can break the sense of immersion. Just the fact that Gordon Freeman never says a word even when directly addressed can break the sense of immersion.

This may be the essential difference between first-person and third-person shooters. With a third-person shooter, it's possible to give the protagonist dialogue and a personality, and cutscenes can work well with that. With first-person shooters, the no-dialogue, no-cutscene approach may be the best way to go. But not all shooters have to be first-person. I'm glad that we have third-person shooters like Uncharted, as well as first-person shooters like Half-Life.
posted by frankchess at 1:31 PM on October 13, 2010


I wish I wasn't so easily scared by freakish creatures and jump scares in video games. I'm not sure if I'm ever going to get back to finishing Bioshock after losing a save, and I'm about at my limit in HL2 with the roof hanging thingies and jumping whatevers. And I wanted to try Dead Space but just... no.

Portal though, was awesome.
posted by kmz at 1:37 PM on October 13, 2010


Jesus, I had real dreams about that world for weeks while I was playing through it. Actual full-on adventure dreams.

I finished my first playthrough of HL2 at about 4 in the afternoon this one day, and then that evening I went to this thing that was being held in a sort of derelict part of town, right on the Gowanus Canal, with a bunch of half-vacant warehouses everywhere, and I was walking down the street and a helicopter flew overhead, and I shrieked, cringed, and ducked into a doorway.

And I wasn't alone at the time, and when your only explanation is "do you have any idea how long it'd take to destroy that dropship?" you're in for a really interesting time.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 1:44 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd say it's more obviously written, if that makes sense.

I think only in retrospect. It didn't feel that way while playing it.
posted by empath at 1:56 PM on October 13, 2010


I wish I wasn't so easily scared by freakish creatures and jump scares in video games...I wanted to try Dead Space but just... no.

Ha ha ha. STAY AWAY FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:44 PM on October 13, 2010


Portal 2 looks truly frightening. If you haven't seen it, take a gander at these little previews...

I.....I.....damn. Gotta go change the ol' jeans now.
posted by googly at 4:11 PM on October 13, 2010


I'd say it's more obviously written, if that makes sense.

I think only in retrospect. It didn't feel that way while playing it.


Portal pretty has that awesome GLaDOS narration through out, become more and more apparent in it's unreliability and then more and more apparent. So you get some great righting there right up front.

The Half Lifes, on the other hand, do some incredible world building with only the odd peice of dialogue here and there. It's more of a collage approach, and it doesn't come at you quite so obvious with some stand out piece of "great writing" like the GLaDOS monologues, but Laidlaw and the rest of the team tell a great story and fill you in on a deep backstory without you necessarily aware that their doing it at the time.

( And of course both of them have bits of incidental stuff throughout the maps that the writers no doubt had a hand in, THE CAKE IS A LIE and all that. )
posted by Artw at 4:27 PM on October 13, 2010


The Half Lifes, on the other hand, do some incredible world building with only the odd peice of dialogue here and there.
Classic writing distinction: showing vs. telling.
posted by Celsius1414 at 5:44 PM on October 13, 2010


I can't believe Valve announced another game that is NOT EPISODE 3 yesterday.

Episode 1: 2006
Episode 2: 2007
Episode 3: probably 2011 at least at this point

What? Even HL2->Episode 1 was only 2 years. Argh.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:47 PM on October 13, 2010


@ChurchHatesTucker. Indeed. A few years back when Halo (finally) came out for the Mac, I wrote a post about the game's pedigree -- you can scroll down for the bittersweet comparison pictures.

Marathon was arguably the best written game up to that point, even with the limitations of actually having to read the various AI's messages and descriptions. What an amazing game environment, too. Sneaking through a dimly lit spaceship with blind corners all over the place, dreading every turn as you pray for a health boost or at least a save point to be on the wall of the next room...then you hear the distinctive alien honking screeches out of the darkness. You start spinning, desperately looking for the threat...

Tangentially, you can download and play all three Marathon chapters for free.
posted by Celsius1414 at 5:54 PM on October 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yeah, Halo is weirdly lacking in character for something from the people who made Marathon, which was just bursting with it.
posted by Artw at 6:00 PM on October 13, 2010


“Start from the end and preferably 5,000 feet underground on a dark day and then don’t tell them.” This is precisely how we begin Half-Life.

Well, no, to all three, actually.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:31 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Marathon was arguably the best written game up to that point, even with the limitations of actually having to read the various AI's messages and descriptions. What an amazing game environment, too. Sneaking through a dimly lit spaceship with blind corners all over the place, dreading every turn as you pray for a health boost or at least a save point to be on the wall of the next room...then you hear the distinctive alien honking screeches out of the darkness. You start spinning, desperately looking for the threat...

This, exactly. For me Marathon is still the high-water mark. The word "Marathon" itself is enough to make the opening theme from Durandal play in my head.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:13 AM on October 14, 2010


Also, in retrospect the characters and plot in Marathon wouldn't be out of place in a Culture novel, giving it a narrative flavor that probably had a lot to do with my fascination (long before I started reading Banks.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:22 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


With a third-person shooter, it's possible to give the protagonist dialogue and a personality, and cutscenes can work well with that. With first-person shooters, the no-dialogue, no-cutscene approach may be the best way to go.

I'm curious, do others draw the same distinction between first-person and third-person games as frankchess is describing? Because to me it feels like a totally cosmetic difference -- whether I'm looking over the avatar's shoulder or directly out of their eyes, I still have the same expectations as far as how much control I should have or what the gameplay should feel like. (I'm trying to think back to various games and in some cases literally can't even remember which perspective it was, that's how much it fades into the background for me.)

I'm not trying to tell you you shouldn't like what you like, frankchess, I'm perfectly willing to accept that I'm the weird one here. Just curious whether there's a consensus on this.
posted by ook at 8:11 AM on October 14, 2010


This also allows you to ascribe your own characterization to Gordon. When "I" play Gordon, he's a bit of a scaredy-cat that likes to use his head and snipe from a distance. When some other person plays, he may ascribe different qualities to Gordon -- or rather, his characterization of what being Gordon means. To him, Gordon (and himself) may be a brave hero that charges into a volley of bullets.

When I play Gordon he's a hyper-kinetic force of nature. Who likes to jump on all the NPC's—and their fancy toys—during all the talky-bits.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:22 AM on October 14, 2010


I'm not trying to tell you you shouldn't like what you like, frankchess, I'm perfectly willing to accept that I'm the weird one here. Just curious whether there's a consensus on this.

The biggest difference I've noticed between the two is usually the level of precision that the game expects out of you. 3rd person shooter controls always feel much floatier and less concrete to me.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:24 AM on October 14, 2010


NPC's

*NPCs

Gah I'm done flooding a dead thread now. Sorry all.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:25 AM on October 14, 2010


When I play Gordon, he's fucking terrified of headcrabs and whines like a baby when the antlions come around.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:25 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think the cut scenes are one of the things that make the Halo games so unengaging for me. I love the HL series, and going into a game with cut scenes generally turns me off. Bioshock was borderline for would you kindly give up control.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:19 PM on October 14, 2010


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