Posts Tagged ‘computer games’

Iteration and progression in games: Iterative Games

Lately, I have been playing a number of little games on my computer: Reus, FTL and Now Boarding, among a few others. In all three, you play a series of relatively short games. But each game will impact the next game in some way. That made me think of how important iteration is in many games. Thus, I’ll be doing a small series on iteration, progression and entropy in games, both computer games, board games and roleplaying games.

Iteration means repetition. From Wikipedia:

Iteration is the act of repeating a process with the aim of approaching a desired goal, target or result. Each repetition of the process is also called an “iteration”, and the results of one iteration are used as the starting point for the next iteration.

Many, many games use iteration – the basic turn-taking that is present in a vast majority of board games, and in the combat system of many, many roleplaying games, is one example of this. Take a game like Race for the Galaxy: You choose a role, reveal all roles, then go through the phases selected from lowest to highest. Rinse, repeat.

Today, though, I want to look at what I would call “iterative games” – games where a central part of the game is playing it several times, often in a row. Usually there’s a mechanical effect of one game on the next, but sometimes the effect is very subtle. The spill-over might just be each player’s feeling for the social dynamics of the group – like which player is more likely to bluff, or to fall for a bluff. I’d like to give a few examples below.

Poker

One of the best examples I can think of is poker. The game as written is roughly this: the players are dealt some cards, they bet, then change or add some cards, then bet some more. Players may fold if they don’t want to follow the betting. If there’s more than one player left at the end of the round, the players compare their cards and see who has the best hand. That’s it – the winner takes the pot.

But you can’t really play just one game of poker. The real game of poker is what emerges after you’ve played a few hands: chips are redistributed and players start getting a feeling for each other. The real game ends when only one player remains at the table.

In other words, a play-session of poker consists of playing a string of games; with one game determine the starting layout for the next game. If one player has more money than the others, he can afford to be bolder, while someone who has lost most of their chips might be forced to take desperate measures, going all in on a mediocre hand to try to get back into the game. Which might of course lead to the next game having one less player.

Reus

In the computer game, Reus, you play a planet-deity, expressing your will through four elemental giants. Each game is called an “age”, and the idea is that you and your giants go through periods of activity interspersed by periods of sleep. While you sleep everything reverts to a flat and barren state.

Each age starts with an empty planet. The giants can add terrain and resources to the land, attracting people to settle and build on the planet. Each age lasts a set amount of time before the giants (and you) fall back asleep. At the end of each age, you earn achievements which unlock things for future ages: more advanced resources, more advanced projects that the humans can build, and longer ages, allowing you to achieve more in each age.

As such, each game starts with a blank slate. But you will be able to do more things than you could in previous games, and you will be faced with more difficult achievements to fulfil. Each iteration of the game is both a game in itself, but also a part of a larger arc of playing the game.

Spirit of the Century

Roleplaying games are not usually thought of as iterative in the sense that I just described – you play a campaign that keeps progressing, or you play a one-off thing. But there are actually a few of them out there. One example is Spirit of the Century. The game is designed to accommodate a string of linked but independent stories. At the beginning of a campaign, you get everybody together to make characters. Before each session the GM will find out who will be part of that session, and design a scenario to fit those heroes, taking cues from the aspects on their sheets.

At the end of each session, you don’t hand out experience points, but players may change their aspects to reflect things that happened during the game. There are some progression rules in the game, allowing players to add one more aspect every two games, and also a new stunt once in a while.

Spirit of the Century could be used to play the “big plotline” campaigns that traditional roleplaying games often excel in. But the strength of the game is in the episodic games, where you get a group together and play a game based on those characters. In TV-terms, this is more like the Simpsons or Star Trek than it’s like Lost or 24. It’s important to note, though, that that doesn’t mean it has a static starting point: each episode will change the backstory of the character, giving him new facets, reflected in new aspects.

Magic the Gathering (or Pokemon, or Netrunner, or…)

When Magic: the Gathering came out, it created a whole new genre of games unto itself: the Collectible Card Game, or CCG. What defines this genre is not something that is written in the actual rules of the game. That is because, just like in poker, the real game of a CCG is not what is written in the rules – it is what happens as you play the game over and over. Thus, CCG is a whole genre of iterative games. Lately the genre has evolved into the Living Card Game (LCG), and most of what I say about the CCG goes for the LCG as well.

In the basic game of Magic, two people sit down with each their deck of cards. They keep playing until someone loses all their life or runs out of cards.

The real game of Magic is on a larger scope, however. While you can get a readymade deck and just sit down to play, really playing Magic means collecting cards and assembling your own deck. You buy cards in random booster packs, and then select ones from your collection that complement each other to make a well-balanced deck. When you have a finished deck, you take it out to play with it, then take it home to tune it based on what worked and what didn’t.

This also means that success in Magic doesn’t necessarily mean winning more than you lose. The designers of magic have described three personas of magic players: Timmy, Spike and Johnny (read the very interesting article defining the personas here). Two out of the three care more about how they win than how often: Timmy wants to get out his huge cards and smash his opponent, while Johnny wants his carefully constructed engine of cards to kick in and do what they were designed to do. Only Spike wants to have a deck that can beat them every time.

Magic shares this meta-game with other CCG’s and LCG’s, like Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh and Android Netrunner. For the people who seriously play these games, sitting down to play is as much a way to test your deck as designing a deck is preparation for play. In this way, these games are iterative: you play, then reset, adjust, and play again.

Other iterative games

A few other iterative games, off my cuff here:

  • Las Vegas: In this game, you play three rounds. Each round is basically the same, and the winner is the one who earned the most money at the end. Only difference is the knowledge of how much money everybody else has.
  • Meyer and Cheat: small bluffing games with dice often played while drinking in Denmark.  It is customary to play more than one round of either
  • Rummy, Whist, Bridge, Hearts, Oh Hell!: In these games, you play a number of games, totalling the number of points you get in each round. The winner is the one who earns the most (or least, in the case of Hearts) points at the end, or the first to a certain number of points.
  • Classic D&D: In classic D&D (which I’ve never really played, so I have some reservations) you make a party, go down the dungeon, come up, divide loot and level up. Rinse, repeat. Plot-arcs optional.
  • Hinterlandet: Morten Greis’ remake of classic dungeoncrawl is even more so. You bring your character, then go out to a dungeon, hopefully returns to town with loot and experience, say bye bye, and take your character home. Next time, you may play with someone else, and your character is better for having been out before.
  • Kingdom of Loathing: In KoL (as it’s known among friends) you play through 13 levels of questing and levelling up. When you are done, you can “ascend”, which basically means starting over with a new character class at level 1. You get to keep your stuff (though you can’t access all of it), just as you can make skills carry over from ascension to ascension. Each time you ascend, you can modify your next run-through of the game, restricting what you can do or gaining special items to help you in this incarnation.

The march of progress!

That’s it for purely iterative games. Tomorrow, I’ll post something about games that do the opposite: progression and entropy in games. The third post in this series will deal with ways of mixing iteration and progression/entropy in games.

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It’s a brand new year!

So, last year, I had aimed at writing 52 blog posts – here and two other places. Well, that didn’t happen. It almost did – if I had finished my (unofficial) advent calendar, I would have been there. Then life (and Chrstmas) happened. Ah, well.

But what my mad dash towards the end told me, was that I really want to do more with this blogging stuff. The blog’s been more or less in limbo for a while, as I didn’t play a lot of roleplaying games – or games of any kind, really – and I didn’t have a lot of energy or drive to write stuff. Well, that’s changed. I’m playing more games, and I am feeling more of an urge to blog. Plus, I have some projects that I want to write about (but more about that a bit later).

In any case, I want to make some adjustments to the way the blog works. These changes may not be noticeable to anyone outside of me, but I’d still like to state them clearly.

I write about all manner of games (and sometimes other things)

When I started this blog, I was mostly focussing on writing about roleplaying games. Since then I’ve had much more time for board games than for roleplaying games, not to mention computer games. Roleplaying games still fascinate me more, and I will probably still spend more time talking about them than about board games, particularly in relation to how much I play them. But as I play many more board games, and as I play more indie computer games, I’m starting to notice things in those two genres that is interesting – and often ways in which the three types of games are similar, or ways in which they diverge.

I also want to write about films, books, and maybe even podcasts. When I started the blog, I said it was about storytelling, and that is still my focus – when  I play board games or computer games, I mostly prefer ones with an interesting and engaging story (a topic I might very well return to). Generally, if I can see the connection, I’ll write about it.

I often write reviews

I like writing reviews. And I like finding out what I think is good or bad about something. My biggest challenge is often convincing myself that there is merit to my opinion as to what is interesting or noteworthy in something. I’ll try to be bolder, and rely on you, my readers, to call me out when I’m wrong.

I write often – whenever something is on my mind – but I endeavour to be brief

I have a tendency to be long-winded. Once I get going, I just keep on rolling. But that also means that writing a post becomes more of a task, and that makes me refrain from doing so. I want to write more often, but the average length of the post may well decrease. You don’t have time for idle chatter anyway.

I think one problem for me is that I feel like I have to be intelligent on this blog. I will try to allow myself to be searching and questioning when I write something – you guys can help me find an answer.

But about what?

And that is it. My blogging endeavour for this coming year is to write more regularly, and more interestingly. There will still be play-reports from whatever I’ve been playing, but hopefully, they will be interspersed by more posts about other things.

Like I said before, I have some projects that should help me come up with more content for the blog, just as I have some ideas for things I want to explore.

But before I do that, I would like to hear from you guys. What should I be writing? Which posts have interested you? What are the strong points of this blog so far? What do you want to see more of? Concrete ideas for posts are welcome, as is all manner of constructive feedback.

The Remarkable Bastion

I have often backed the so-called Humble Bundle. The good thing about it is that you gain access to a number of interesting games, without having to look up an pay for each individual game. Some of the games I won’t ever get around to playing, but that’s ok – particularly because sometimes, I stumble across a little pearl like Bastion by Supergiant Games.

The Calamity

The game starts as our protagonist, known simply as The Kid, wakes up to find his world in ruins. Left are fractions of the old world floating in the open space, the rest destroyed by something called simply “the Calamity”.

Soon The Kid encounters another survivor who has made his home in The Bastion, a safe haven that will protect them in the wasteland around them, as long as they will provide it with cores and shards to power it. Most of the game, then, The Kid travels from place to place in search of these crystals of power, unlocking  or improving six buildings as he does so.

Challenging and varied.

The basic gameplay seems pretty straightforward. Your mission takes you through a number of levels, fighting a host of different monsters. You start out with only a single weapon, a great big hammer, but as time goes by, you gather 11 different weapons. At any given time, you can carry two different weapons and one special skill, changing only between levels and at very occasional armories scattered around the landscape.

And you’ll want to change. Every weapon is used in its own distinct way, from the hammer that requires you to stand still to hit an area to the dueling pistols that you should fire very rapidly. Each weapon has five levels of upgrades that you can apply to it, and each can be explored using the proving grounds that pose challenges to test your mastery of each weapon.

Finally, you can test out different outfits by going to one of four dream places, each sending waves of enemies at you while the narrator tells you something of the background of one of the principal characters. Winning here is also one of the best ways to gain more fragments – the currency of the game, fragments of the old world.

Winning in these dream gauntlets is no easy matter, and is one of several things that mostly take the grind out of what could have been a rather grindy game. You can’t return to a level that you have already defeated, meaning you won’t have an incentive to go back to complete each level as you will in some games. Instead, you will be able to buy anything you missed – for fragments, of course – from the “lost and found,” one of the buildings of the bastion. The dream levels are quite different from each other, and each outfit handles each dream world quite differently. This gives you an incentive to return to each several times, besides just the fragments earned.

All in all, the gameplay of Bastion is very solid handiwork. It doesn’t strike me as groundbreaking, but it is interesting to experiment with, and it’s challenging without being frustratingly difficult. The gameplay is not, however, what makes Bastion such a remarkable gameplay experience.

 

What makes it remarkable, instead, is the way it tells the story of the game. The story is told by a gruff narrator, who is also present as one of only four characters in the game. These characters are nothing special, really – just the four people who survived the Calamity. Now, they are trying to find a way to get along in the post-calamity world.

This creates a story that works on so many layers: We experience each character’s emotional turmoil at the same time as we unravel the horrible tale of two peoples who couldn’t find a way to get along. Focusing on a relatively small number of characters means the game can dwell on each of them in turn, revealing why they act as they do.

Most of the story is told as voiceovers to the action levels. In this way, the player listens to it out of the corner of his ear while he is busy keeping the Kid alive. The narration is extremely well written, evocative without being emotional, indirect and intriguing without being confusing or coy.

Add to that the rather stunning soundtrack, swinging from melancholy through happy to intense. It mixes sounds of hammers on metal and bluegrass guitar with airy synth and dreamy song. All in all, the soundtrack helps give Bastion a very special mood to it that supports the story well.

A Bastion of Storytelling

All in all, Bastion is quite a positive experience. It’s an evocative experience that reveals one way that games can tell a really good story using relatively simple means, applied judiciously. When the game is done, I want to fire up the “New Game Plus,” not only to play with my toys some more, but also to revisit the story in the light of what is revealed throughout the game.

I have often backed the so-called Humble Bundle. The good thing about it is that you gain access to a number of interesting games, without having to look up an pay for each individual game. Some of the games I won’t ever get around to playing, but that’s ok – particularly because sometimes, I stumble across a little pearl like Bastion.

The Calamity

The game starts as our protagonist, known simply as The Kid, wakes up to find his world in ruins. Left are fractions of the old world floating in the open space, the rest destroyed by something called simply “the Calamity”.

Soon The Kid encounters another survivor who has made his home in The Bastion, a safe haven that will protect them in the wasteland around them, as long as they will provide it with cores and shards to power it. Most of the game, then, The Kid travels from place to place in search of these crystals of power, unlocking  or improving six buildings as he does so.

Challenging and varied.

The basic gameplay seems pretty straightforward. Your mission takes you through a number of levels, fighting a host of different monsters. You start out with only a single weapon, a great big hammer, but as time goes by, you gather 11 different weapons. At any given time, you can carry two different weapons and one special skill, changing only between levels and at very occasional armories scattered around the landscape.

And you’ll want to change. Every weapon is used in its own distinct way, from the hammer that requires you to stand still to hit an area to the dueling pistols that you should fire very rapidly. Each weapon has five levels of upgrades that you can apply to it, and each can be explored using the proving grounds that pose challenges to test your mastery of each weapon.

Finally, you can test out different outfits by going to one of four dream places, each sending waves of enemies at you while the narrator tells you something of the background of one of the principal characters. Winning here is also one of the best ways to gain more fragments – the currency of the game, fragments of the old world.

Winning in these dream gauntlets is no easy matter, and is one of several things that mostly take the grind out of what could have been a rather grindy game. You can’t return to a level that you have already defeated, meaning you won’t have an incentive to go back to complete each level as you will in some games. Instead, you will be able to buy anything you missed – for fragments, of course – from the “lost and found,” one of the buildings of the bastion. The dream levels are quite different from each other, and each outfit handles each dream world quite differently. This gives you an incentive to return to each several times, besides just the fragments earned.

All in all, the gameplay of Bastion is very solid handiwork. It doesn’t strike me as groundbreaking, but it is interesting to experiment with, and it’s challenging without being frustratingly difficult. The gameplay is not, however, what makes Bastion such a remarkable gameplay experience.

What makes it remarkable, instead, is the way it tells the story of the game. The story is told by a gruff narrator, who is also present as one of only four characters in the game. These characters are nothing special, really – just the four people who survived the Calamity. Now, they are trying to find a way to get along in the post-calamity world.

This creates a story that works on so many layers: We experience each character’s emotional turmoil at the same time as we unravel the horrible tale of two peoples who couldn’t find a way to get along. Focusing on a relatively small number of characters means the game can dwell on each of them in turn, revealing why they act as they do.

Most of the story is told as voiceovers to the action levels. In this way, the player listens to it out of the corner of his ear while he is busy keeping the Kid alive. The narration is extremely well written, evocative without being emotional, indirect and intriguing without being confusing or coy.

Add to that the rather stunning soundtrack, swinging from melancholy through happy to intense. It mixes sounds of hammers on metal and bluegrass guitar with airy synth and dreamy song. All in all, the soundtrack helps give Bastion a very special mood to it that supports the story well.

A Bastion of Storytelling

All in all, Bastion is quite a positive experience. It’s an evocative experience that reveals one way that games can tell a really good story using relatively simple means, applied judiciously. When the game is done, I want to fire up the “New Game Plus,” not only to play with my toys some more, but also to revisit the story in the light of what is revealed throughout the game.

Rewarded Progress Game

So, today I want to talk about RPGs.

“What’s so unusual about that? You talk about Role-Playing Games all the time on here!”

No, no – I didn’t say Role-Playing Games. I said RPG’s.

See, the term RPG (or rpg) no longer refers to Role-Playing Games. Sure, it used to, and some people would still use the two interchangeably. Many Role-Playing Games have RPG elements, and some RPG’s have role-playing elements. But the two have become very, very different.

I believe this all started with computer “role-playing games.” I know some people who would deny that you can have a role-playing game in the computer; certain muds and  MMORPG’s have made good attempts at doing so. But one thing is certain: a computer is not good at understanding language and human thought. Thus, it cannot easily adapt the game’s story to the player’s response, something a human GM can do intuitively.

What it can do is react to logical, concrete things. Which option did the player choose? Which way did he go? How many enemies did he kill? So this is the kind of things a computer can comprehend, and thus, for which the player can expect a response.

This can be implemented in many ways. Baldur’s Gate, Knights of the Old Republic and the other games in the Bioware family have done this exceedingly well, creating games that make you feel like there’s a reacting world there, creating a feeling of being an active participant in the unfolding story.

But most games don’t have the resources to do so. Instead they look to Role-Playing Games and they see the part of role-playing games that fit right into the computer paradigm: The numbers. Stats. The “character sheet.” Abilities, hit points, mana* and – XP.

* By the way, it seems to me that mana, while very popular in computer games, doesn’t appear in that many pen-and-paper games. Something I would guess has to do with the difficulty of managing too many large numbers.

The irony is that as role-playing has moved away from this kind of stats, they have become ubiquitous in computer games. Role-playing-like games like Diablo and the early MMORPG’s started the trend, but today it has spread to all manner of games. Particularly online, adding some sort of progress bar seems to be an easy way to prolong a game by making you repeat certain content in an attempt to achieve the numbers required to “grind” some more advanced content.

And the introduction of this grind is what definitively sets RPG’s apart from role-playing games. Grind shows the player that his actions have no effect on the world of the game. He is not part of an unfolding story, but is merely in a game of skill and numbers in a pretty packaging.

Another move away from role-playing is the detachment from a character. Many games have more than one character that the player controls, many others have an abstract, impersonal “commander” or similar, or simply ascribe certain stats to the “team.”

In short, these games have developed away from their role-playing heritage. Now, they are focused on capturing the player’s attention with many small rewards leading to new rewards to strive for. As opposed to many other games, these games usually have no discernible end, but keep you hooked to go on and on and on (World of Warcraft and Farmville are both good examples).

And so, these games can no-longer be termed “Role-Playing Games.” Instead, I would “retcon” the acronym, and call this type of game a “Rewarded Progress Games”. In this way, the “grinding” games can keep calling themselves “RPG’s,” and role-players will know that this kind of game has little in common with what we play, sitting ’round the table.

The Telltale Hothead – or the commitment of episodic games

At the moment, I’m following episodic games from two developers: From  Telltale Games (TTG) it’s Sam&Max, Wallace & Gromit and soon Monkey Island (Yay!)(I have also bought SBCG4AP, but I’m not enjoying it). From Hothead, it’s Penny Arcade Adventures, based off a Cthulhu-noir version of the fictional versions of the two creators of the webcomic/blog Penny Arcade.

But while both make great games, it would seem that there is a fundamental principle of episodic games that Telltale has understood, while Hothead hasn’t.

Where the Telltale hearts are

Episodic gaming as a viable format (as opposed to a genre) was, more or less, invented by Telltale. True, there may have been attempts before exiled geniouses from LucasArts released the first game based off the comic Bone. But it wasn’t until Telltale started releasing their episodic games that the format could be taken seriously as a finansially sound way of delivering games to consumers.

To be quite honest, Bone isn’t even a true episodic game – at least not yet. Only two episodes have been released, and even though I haven’t heard TTG declare it officially “dead,” they seem to have moved on to other projects.

Rather, the true birth of the episodic format was Sam&Max – Episode 1 (they tried rebranding it as one game with the title “Save the world,” but I couldn’t even find that name on their own site). The first of the six episodes was released in October 2006, then the rest of the episodes were released with approximately monthly intervals until April 2007.

Since then, TTG have released three-and-a-half seasons of episodic games: Sam&Max season 1 and 2, Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People (SBCG4AP) and Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures (episode three of four will be out Tuesday). Common to all of them are:

  1. All games are released with more or less a monthly interval
  2. There is a lot of recycling of settings and characters, with some changes.
  3. The stories within a season have a common structure. This is most evident (to the point where it was slightly annoying) in S&M:1 – in the other games, there has been more variation in the plot structures. Still, though…
  4. Certain themes and storylines have run through every episode, while still giving each episode its own unique story – in other words, you can play any episode and enjoy it, even if you’ll get more out of playing them in order. In this way, the games are similar to a tv-series: you can watch one episode of “Buffy” or “Sex & The City” and enjoy it, even if the big picture is only revealed when you watch many episodes in order.
  5. You can buy one game at a time, or all of them at once (in advance) and receive a discount.

These are of course very different in cause and effect. Number 2 and 3 are mostly done to ease production – making 3D characters and locations is a costly and time consuming affair, just as writing a complete script is easier if you have a mold to make them by. Many tv-series seem to do this as well. The fourth is the artistic one, the one that makes it feel like a season, instead of just a collection of very similar games. And number 5 is both a way of making sure the cash is rolling in, and a way of making it accessible to people – they don’t need to find their credit card once a month, but receive a link directly to the download.

The one I want to focus on here, is number one. I remember one of the Telltale developers saying, that they belived, an episodic game was only episodic if it had a very rapid rate of release. Once a month seems reasonable; more often seems suicidal, while more rarely will mean that people forget the last game, and lose the anticipatory drive that makes the game “live.” Besides, if you want people to pay in advance, you gotta make sure they can see the goal ahead.

What the Hothead didn’t consider

Just like Telltale, Hothead had a great starting point for their venture into episodic gaming: The Penny Arcade brand, along with Tycho and Gabe’s creative drive, which has proven to be considerable, including fruit-molesting robots, a demon-and-cat versing duo, a series of fictional (as in, not-existing) fantasy novels with a considerable, real, fan-core, and the Carboard Tube Samurai. And with great brands come great responsibilities – if they succeed, they can reap the benefits manyfold, but if they fail, they will go down hard.

And they have been nothing if not abitious. Where TTG made a conservative (but in their case, excellent) choice of making adventure games, based on their own engine, with only a few mini games thrown in, Hothead chose to make an action-adventure with a very innovative combat system, combining semi-turnbased combat with many little minigames, together making combat a delicious middle road between turn-based and button mashing.

They also made a great story with many different characters, and mostly new settings in each game. The story, on the other hand, is very connected, and we are clearly getting one chapter in a continuing saga each time. The story is, mind you, very well worked out, beutifully recreating Tycho and Gabe’s usual blend of “realness” and far out, surreal crazyness (the first game features a urinologist (urinology as in “the lore of urine”) beset by hoboes and a cult of mimes, worshipping a Cthuluesque mime god).

I loved the first two games in the series, but now, it’s annoying me. Why? Because I was told it was episodic, and now I find out, it’s not.

The first game was released in May last year. The second was released five months later, in October. That is a long game for an episodic game – but I accepted it because of the huge amount of new material, and the promise that one game would be released every six months.

That promise has not been delivered on – and it seems unlikely that the third episode will be out anytime soon. A Hothead representative wrote on the PA forum:

Last year we were pretty singularly focused on getting Episode One and Two out. This year sees a whole bunch more on our plate: we’re in full swing on DeathSpank and are working on getting Swarm off the ground as well. And we spent a bunch of time hiring a new boss!

In other words, they are not releasing the next episode, because they are too busy working on other games. Clearly, to Hothead, PA Adventures are a series of four connected games, to be developed and released independently.

The fall of the Arcade of Pennies

And thus, Hothead fell short. They didn’t deliver the episodic game they promised.

Telltale Games knew from the start that an episodic game has not been released until the last episode is out. Hothead, on the other hand, thought that “episodic” mean cutting the game into bite sized chunks, allowing you to cash in earlier, and to learn from the first episodes so that you may improve in the second. But while those things are true, it also means a release streaching out many months and a tight deadline with little room for testing and resting. Once you release the first episode, you gotta deliver – every month on the clock.

This doesn’t mean that I have decided not to get the last two episodes of  Penny Arcade adventures. What it does mean is that my enthusiasm for the game has diminished considerably, and thus, the amount of viral marketing I can deliver. And it means that I will be more sceptical towards other titles from Hothead.

On the other hand, Telltale can release almost anything, and I’ll try it. They have been loyal to me – now I’m loyal to them.

—-

For another take on episodic games, go watch Zero Punctuation’s review of The Orange Box.

Heureka! I’ve got it!

A subject for this blog – and a name for it,  apart from just boring “Elias’ blog.”

My problem was, that when I was thinking about what I wanted to fill this blog with, I was imagining just about everything: Rolplaying, writing, computer games, film, literature, maybe a bit of journalism, a dash of philosophy, let simmer a few years and you get… nothing. Just a random collection of thoughts. But then I realized that there is a red thread running through almost all the things I do: they have to do with stories and storytelling.

The kind of storytelling that I spend most time on is Roleplaying. The fantastic thing about storytelling is excactly that you create a story together, a story which is more real, more living, than if a single one of you were to have written it. This is my measure of a good roleplaying game: I don’t care about realism, and immersion usually leaves me luke warm – but a game that helps us tell a magnificent story wins my heart every day.

Another kind of storytelling is of course the more standard kinds of storytelling, with a clearcut storyteller and a definite audience. Today, this is ususally films and books, both of which I love and have far less time for than I’d like. But from my mother, I inherited another kind of storytelling: storytelling! The kind where you tell a story to a captive audience, telling a story, written in advance by you or someone else, yet not read aloud, but told, adapted to fit the teller and the listener; gesturing and acting, but never leaving the role of the storyteller. This kind of story flourished in hundreds and thousands of years in a largely ilitterate world. Today, though, it has dwindled, now being mostly the province of professionals.

Journalism, between Truth and Story
Journalism is of course also, in its nature, about storytelling. In fact, it lies in the language of journalism: the greatest treasure of a journalist, his preciousss, is his story. A journalist is like a prospector, panning the rushing streams of leads and information for the telltale gleam of pure, twentyfour karats STORY.

This is kind of ironic, though. A story is, in its nature, not true. It may be based on truth – but it is told, cutting out, colouring, highlighting the climax. Yet one of the the virtues of a journalist is his “truthfulness.” His articles should be True, not adding anything to the Truth, not at all embellishing, but only what is actually there, in his research. A journalist is expected, at the same time, to tell a riveting exciting story that draws in his reader, and tell his story as objectively as not humanly possible. Oh, the paradox (and the Humanity, obviously – journalism certainly has its Hindenburgs from time to time).

Interactive stories
Another kind of storytelling I’m rather fond of, is the kind I can interteract with and control to a certain degree; I am, of course, talking about video games. To me, the game’s story is absolutely crucial. I have a friend who loves games like Hearts of Iron and Crusader Kings. To him, a game should be simulator; he knows nothing better than micromanaging an entire country, practically in realtime, through the World Wars or the Crusades. Iam quite different. I tried Crusader Kings, but quickly grew bored with it. Give me a good adventure game, on the other hand… I replayed Sid Meyer’s Alpha Centauri several times, because they have managed to infuse the game with a brilliant story, told through voice clips, videos and fragments of text.

So… Filemonia?
In short, storytelling is my game. It’s what I know, what I do, what I like. And thus, I’m going to be telling the world that this is a blog about storytelling.

So, why the title, “Filemonia”? Well, gather around, now, and I’ll tell you the story. The first time I told stories (that is, did actual storytelling), I told the Norwegian fairy tale, Tatterhood, as well as a Danish folk tale. Now, Tatterhood is my mother’s signature tale and a story of female empowerment, and the other had a cumbersome title in Danish.

The next time, however, the first time I actually spent a lot of time preparing myself for the storytelling, I told two brilliant tales by Michael Ende. The first was “the Dreameater,” a fabulous little tale of the King of Sleepland, who goes on a quest to find a cure for his princess’s terrible nightmares, and return with a verse that summons the Dreameater, who arrives to eat all the nightmares. A nice tale, which I actually considered for the title of the blog. The other, however…

The other Ende tale was one called Philemon Faltenreich (Philemon rich-on-folds), about an elephant, standing on the bank of the Holy River. However, a group of flies decide to play a football match against Filemon, but he never notices. Now, Filemon was perfect for several reasons. It is a good little story, probably my favorite. The word – Filemonia – is nice, and sounds a bit like both philosophy and harmony. And finally, Filemon is a philosopher, and an  elephant, just like me (please, don’t ask me why I am an elphant – just take my word for it).

And thus, I got this show well and truly under way. Hope you will find it interesting, though provoking, entertaining, worth returning to, worth reading and worth commenting.