Witcher, Skyrim and Fable – Feeling like a part of the world

I’ve been revisiting Witcher 3 recently, specifically the Blood and Wine dlc. It really is rather good – if you haven’t downloaded it I’d highly recommend you do, and if you haven’t played Witcher 3 go do that right now. No spoilers here though, so maybe you could read on first…

I used the word ‘revisiting’ in the first sentence very specifically. Playing Witcher does feel like visiting somewhere. To use a gaming cliche, it feels like a living, breathing world. But there’s nowhere near the level of interactivity of Fable 2. What’s that? I get to talk about Fable 2 some more? Well ok then…

Fable 2 is, hitherto, my favourite example of feeling like part of a gaming world. I’ve written about it before, repeatedly. Sorry. You’re able to use various emotes, from posing to growling to farting, which the people of Albion respond to in different ways. Some of them find burping disgusting, some find it funny. And depending on how you’ve behaved on your travels they may have a different response altogether. And if you’re fat they might call you Pie Eater. I love it. Witcher doesn’t have this though. On the surface, Witcher seems to have more in common with Skyrim than Albion. 

I find Skyrim to be a frustrating place. At the beginning of the game the responses you receive make a sort of sense. You’re a nobody and by and large people are standoffish towards you. But my character pursued the mage guild quests. He worked his way up the ranks to become the Dean of Winterhold College. The Dean. The head honcho. The wielder of the largest wand. His staff most definitely had a knob on the end. And yet. The way people greeted me, even in the college itself, didn’t change. I was still being hailed with the same stock lines about my honeyed words, being looked down on as a stranger. Skyrim is so immersive in many ways and really jarring in as many others.

The Witcher, like Skyrim has a pool of stock reactions with which the populace greet you. Every now and then there’s something a little more personal, but by and large there’s distrust. Fear. Hatred of the outsider. The lines may be better acted, but it seems similar to Skyrim. Last night I wandered past a village, and the whole populace were dancing around a fire. Some kind of fete was going on. I stumbled down the hill, eager to take part, but I couldn’t. Geralt doesn’t have those verbs. In Albion my hero could have danced around the fire, but Geralt and the Dragonborn have to look on and wonder. 

But then I realised. Geralt feels much more a part of the land than the Dragonborn does. And it’s very much because he is an outsider. He is sneered at by passers by, called the Butcher of Blavikenand much worse. And he always has been. He looks distinctive. Word spreads. He is a mutant and people have their opinions of that sort. Because Geralt feels like as much of an outsider as the player does, the world of Witcher 3 feels real.

Ok, I know I promised no spoilers, but since starting this piece I’ve played a little more and there’s something from the main quest that’s pertinent. So skip the next para to avoid SPOILERS.

There’s a moment when Regis asks Geralt whether, if he could start from the beginning again, he would want to become a Witcher or whether he would rather live a normal life. And the player gets to choose the response. It’s a great question and cuts right to the heart of this topic. Is Geralt satisfied with being the outsider? Is the player? Cursed to hear the same petty insults wherever you go, to never be allowed to join the dance… It’s probably the longest I’ve thought about a response in Witcher? The answer? To me, Geralt would want to be a Witcher again. He still feels like a part of the world, even if he is apart from most of it. And he gets to hang out with some pretty nifty sorceresses, so it’s not all bad.

End of spoilers.

It’s the synergy of player feeling and character feeling which enhances what is already an excellent game, and it’s in part the lack of that which has left me slightly cold (ahaha) about Skyrim (full disclosure: I’ve completed the main quest and more beside, and started a second character – so it’s not entirely without merit!).

Fable 2 and Witcher 3 are my favourite examples of immersive game worlds, but please recommend some more to me – it’s plainly something I respond to!

@BornToPootle

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Games as storytelling tools

I’ve written before about using videogames as storytelling tools – specifically Fable 2 and the awesome stories you can tell away from the main thrust of the game. Well, in addition the shorter narrative-centric games I mentioned in my last post, I’ve also just finished GTA 5 (as with Witcher 3 which I mentioned last week, ‘finished’ is something of a misnomer for games of this size) and it’s got some great tools for storytellers.

My love for Fable comes in part from the interactions you can have – you can get married, go off on a quest and then find that your wife has left you. What you do then is up to you; it’s not important to the ‘proper’ plot, but if you want you can decide how your character would respond. Go to the local tavern, get roaring drunk and pull a barmaid? Give up adventuring for a while to live a life of celibacy and wood-chopping? Have a breakdown and start massacring innocents? Belch everywhere you go? It’s absolutely up to your own creativity.

GTA 5 is slightly different. Sure, when certain things happened to the main characters I updated their outfits and hairstyles to better suit their mental (and financial) states. I made sure they listened to the radio stations they liked rather than my favourites all the time. But although there are myriad things to do in the main GTA 5 game, the way you actually interact with the world doesn’t give that sense of creative freedom…

…until unleashing the director mode and Rockstar Editor. And it’s utterly brilliant.

In director mode you can select from hundreds of different characters in the game (including animals after a bit of unlocking), as well as your own customised characters from the online game, and record them doing… whatever. With all manner of gestures and dialogue, as well as the ability to add props into the world, it’s creative paradise. Once you’ve recorded some action, you can then completely edit the hell out of it, changing camera angles, speed, adding music, splicing scenes together to create whatever you want.

My first foray into the editor was a simple ‘I wonder what I can do’ type scene. Playing to the cliché, I attempted to blow some things up and cause a bit of mayhem. Here are the results – ‘attempted’ is the important word.

That was fun to put together, but ultimately I fancied doing something non-violent. I’ve been a longtime GTA fan, but as games look ever more real I find some aspects more problematic than I used to. Strippers are paradoxically less fun to visit when they look like strippers rather than polygons. Weird, right? And while the blackly comic tone mollifies some of my qualms, not everything needs to come down to violence. So that’s where my next video came from.

Here’s the audition day for Los Santos Community Theatre’s production of Waiting For Godot:

I shan’t expect Hollywood (should that be Vinewood?) to call any time soon! That said, the latter clip only took a couple of hours of messing around, and I haven’t really dug deep into the tools available on the editor yet. I’m going to try a few more non-violent videos and see what I can come up with – no idea how it would work yet, but some kind of rom-com is quite appealing…

@BornToPootle

 

Games for Storytellers and Storytelling for Gamers

The happy game for happy people.

The happy game for happy people.

Storytelling as a game is not something new – it’s been around as long as there have been fires to hunch by on long, dark nights. From kids around campfires trying to scare the bejesus out of each other to improvising troupes taking it in turns to spin a yarn word by word, storytelling has led to games and games have led to storytelling.

For Christmas I received a lovely card game from my other half where the whole endeavour lives or dies on the storytelling element, and it got me thinking about my favourite games where creating my own story was either the point or the most fun part. So, in no particular order, here are my top three.

1. Gloom

This was the present I received. It’s a brilliant, gothy card game, very much inspired by Edward Gorey. The premise is that each player has a group of five characters, and by playing special cards on each character the player has to bring as much sorrow down on their heads as possible and kill them off. At the end of the game the player whose characters died in the most anguish wins. The storytelling fun comes from the nature of the cards – the events you play on characters (who vary from mad inventors to twisted circus-folk) are things like ‘trapped on a train’, ‘torn apart by weasels’, ‘chastised by the church’ or ‘plagued by the pox’. It’s up to the player to construct a story for each of their characters that links each event until their inevitable demise. Add to the mix that other players can play cards on your characters to cheer them up and swerve your story in a different direction, and it’s an awful lot of fun.

2. Storytelling dice

I bought a set of these for a friend’s child, but I think they’ll work for any age. It’s a set of nine wooden dice, with different symbols etched on each face of each one. The game is to roll the dice and construct a story based on the elements you roll, and there are magic/fantasy, pirate and space-themed sets to choose from. It would be interesting to use this as the basis for a pantsed NaNoWriMo novel if November comes around and I find I’m at a loose end. You can put the story together in any order you want, or in order die by die – trying to get it to fit a generic plot structure would give you an instant (if, possibly, rather odd) novel outline.

3. Fable 2

A slightly different beastie, this one. I love videogames and Fable 2 is probably my all-time fave. There are many reasons why, but prime among them is the storytelling capability. The humour and scripted quests in the game are compelling enough, though fairly standard, but it’s what you can get up to along the way that really made me fall in love with the game. The amount of different ways you can make your character express themselves, coupled to the reactions to those expressions really set this apart from other games, even the other games in the franchise, and it’s perfectly possible to construct your own narrative around your exploits. So, during the first part of the game you could find true love, get married and have kids, then (spoilerish alert) you get taken away for a while and traumatic things happen. Depending on how much you’d worked on your relationship before being taken away your wife might be waiting, or she may have vanished. So then you can do what you like – pursue your true love or go and get drunk, belch and fart your way through the next few days in a haze of drunkenness, shag half the town and wake up in a same sex relationship, or become a monk-like ascetic, swearing off relationships lest you hurt someone again. I tried the latter and then finally, having given in to temptation and found love with a barmaid, was leading her off to get married when we were attacked by bandits and she was killed. All of this is completely extraneous to the game itself and relies on the player to construct the narrative and put the work in themselves.

Those are my favourite storytelling games – none of them have directly led to any novelling inspiration yet, but should I ever run out of ideas then it’s great to have some ways of getting my storytelling brain kicked back into gear. Have you tried any of these? Or have you got other recommendations? I’d love to try some more!

@BornToPootle