Living a Lie : The Secret World

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The Secret World
2012 MMORPG Developed by Funcom

 

The Secret World (TSW) is in many ways an unremarkable MMORPG. If one has played almost any MMORPG in the last fifteen years, much of its design will be familiar. The game is essentially an amusement park, split into a series of themed areas which are chock full of creatures to kill and quests to pick up. What makes The Secret World stand out is its setting and its story. Its setting oozes character, is packed with a library full of lore, and its fiction is bound together with its gameplay by an impressive (for an MMORPG) internal logic.

One’s character is an ordinary person living an ordinary modern life. What makes them special is that one night they are picked, seemingly at random, to be the host for a powerful and otherworldy entity called “The Buzzing”. The Buzzing manifests itself as a swarm of glowing bees, one of whom crawls into the player character’s mouth while they are sleeping. So far so creepy. The Buzzing turns your ordinary joe’s world upside down, making them effectively immortal and giving them superpowers. Post beeception one is thrown into a world where every urban myth, every ancient secret and every conspiracy is true.

If some of this is sounding familiar that is because TSW’s setting resembles White Wolf’s famous “World of Darkness” setting in many ways. Indeed, the friends who got me into the game sold me on the idea partially as a digital imagining of the World of Darkness setting. When I first started playing however, I bounced off the game almost completely. In this piece, I should like to tell you a little bit about why that was. Doing that involves a discussion of a most interesting topic, roleplaying in videogames.

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Living a Lie : The Secret World

Tripping The Dark Fantastic.

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Escape Velocity and Escape Velocity Nova
Space-faring game 1996/2002 both developed by Ambrosia Software

 

In the mornings, early before school, I used to creep downstairs and turn on my parent’s old Apple Mac. It was an ugly old thing of a 1996 vintage, a time when a nicotine shade of cream screamed of the heights of computer technology . After it had run through its five minute boot up sequence I would click through to my object—Escape Velocity. There has never been a game that has taken me away to another place so completely as Escape Velocity. It presented a world of possibility, an almost endless expanse of black space in which to project my imagination. I had no elite, I was born too late for that, and Free-Space passed me by, but Escape Velocity was there to fill the void.

I wonder sometimes if there is some special effect that space-faring games, especially those with an open structure, have on a young mind. It seems to me that that space of infinite freedom and possibility is perfectly calibrated to take an overactive imagination and have it fill those voids to the brim with adventure. In this piece I should like to tell you a little about Escape Velocity, to explore why it was so important to me and to explain why it can no longer hold my interest.

Continue reading “Tripping The Dark Fantastic.”

Tripping The Dark Fantastic.

Send Her Victorious : Long Live the Queen

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Long Live the Queen
2012 Visual Novel, Developed by Hanako Games

 

It’s 2016 and it is all right for men to play games like this, I get that, I really do. Gender need not determine what one’s interests; we should all play what we want and like what we like. I know this, but despite that knowledge, it took me a long time to come around to actually playing Long Live the Queen (henceforth LLtQ). In the end I’m glad I did because what I found, behind the facade of a magical-girl-adventure, was a thoughtfully designed and subversive storytelling engine.

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Send Her Victorious : Long Live the Queen

Micro Chibinomics : Recettear

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Recettear : An Item Shop’s Tale
2010 Economic sim (?), developed by Easygamestation, published by Carpe Fulgur

 

Video games are self-contained world, ordered by a set of rules of human design. Thus, unlike the world in general, videogames can be fair. Indeed they can be simulacra of the worlds in which we would like to live. Recettear’s world is constructed in this way. It takes one of the most crooked and broken aspects of human affairs, the world of commerce, and turns it into a tale about hard work paying off. It creates a space in which hard work is rewarded, and where if only we are nice to people, good things will come our way. In this piece I would like to talk about the way in which this world is created by the laser like focus on long-term planning encouraged by the game’s mechanics.

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Micro Chibinomics : Recettear

In the Silent Kingdom.

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Kingdom
2015 Kingdom building game, developed by Thomas van den Berg and Marco Bancale

 

Kingdom is a small, focused, effort aimed at providing a very particular experience. The interesting thing about the way that Kingdom conveys this experience is that it does so almost entirely without words, letting the player work out how the world works for themselves.

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In the Silent Kingdom.

Learning to Necrodance

 

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Crypt of the Necrodancer
2015 RPG/Rythum Action Game, developed by Brace Yourself Games

 

Guitar Hero 3 was my favorite game for a long time. Probably the best thing about it, other than the swish plastic guitar it came with, was the fact that I did not need background music on to play it.
The second or third thing I tend to do when I open up a game for the first time is turn the music off and supply my own. I am aware that this is often a terrible thing to do, that I am missing out on the orchestral brilliance of many game soundtracks.

Music is too important, however, to leave to orchestral soundtracks. Music is the way by which we express the mood of life, and only rarely do I wish to express that mood in terms of hollywoodesque sweeping orchestral scores. Most often I want to play games to a handpicked few tracks, which evoke the right feelings. If I want to feel like nothing can stop me Dessa’s punchy and forceful “Fighting Fish” does nicely; like I want to curl up into a ball and have the whole world disappear, nothing better than The National’s soulful and moaning “Anyone’s Ghost” and if I just want to melt into whatever I’m playing basically anything by Pure Reason Revolution will do nicely.

Crypt of the Necrodancer does not do background music, instead it ties the whole experience of the gameplay right back to the fantastic electronic beats that lie at its heart. Crypt of the Necrodancer (henceforth “Crypt”) is the product of a happy marriage between a turn-based rougelike dungeon crawler and a rhythm game. The game wears its dungeon-crawler RPG aesthetic like an ironic tee-shit, attractively designed, but outwardly misleading. There are dungeons and treasure, monsters to fight and shrines to pray at but the barest essence the game is the beat. The monsters, traps and the player (if they are doing it right) moves in time with the beat, each one counting what might be thought a turn in a more traditional RPG experience. Different levels have different soundtracks which vary the beat every time one descends further into the “zone”. Further, after every three levels there is a boss, who has their own theme, usually doing something slightly different and irregular with the beat. The music throughout is completely excellent (although only for those with a taste for the electronic), aping a variety of different musical styles, while still remaining grounded in a distinctive signature chip tuney sound. However, I am no music critic, and we are not here to talk about music. The reason that I would like to talk about Crypt today is the way it demands the player interact with it. You see, the experience of playing Crypt is most similar to the experience of dancing in a nightclub, and the way this is achieved is very clever. Continue reading “Learning to Necrodance”

Learning to Necrodance