genre

so today let’s examine genre in the last of us, this will be a reoccurring segment I can’t believe I never played the last of us but it is amazing.

So in terms of story, the last of us is a standard father daughter protection story. in this case, the daughter is not biological but none the less she is functionally a surrogate for the daughter, and it is your job to protect her at all cost.

now this leads to an interesting conundrum in gameply, essentially how best can you protect her with 2 obvious options you can try to just simply not engage and sneak past everything, or option 2 leave a trail of death this is more fun but leads to a primary question how best can we protect that with is important to us.

Either we protect our child, money, hell even nation with either primary aggression or defense in depth, so let’s talk about world war II. in the second world war, a primary strategy emerged from both sides when on the attack and on the retreat that of defense in depth and blitzkrieg. now some would argue blitzkrieg was a german only strategy and defense in depth was used only by the Russians this is categorically false. we need to examine the tactics themselves

Blitzkrieg is best defined as lightning advance, this is the opposite of how world war 1 was conducted and it lead to great effect in the early days of the war causing the rapid collapse of france, but it also saw use in the later stages of the war especially by the Russians after the breakthrough at the battle of the Kursk salient, essentially this rapid advance has huge advantages and almost no drawbacks, and the problems that do exist aren’t really addressable in a game about walking timidly thought the apocalpse, first if a breakthrough occurs immediately the enemy has no time to withdraw any equipment or support staff this can lead to seizing massive amounts of war materials with little effort and secondarily if a push fails you can fall back onto previously captured lines with enemy equipment to help defend. the primary drawback is as you advance away from your industrial base supply lines become stressed and eventually you have to stop for refuel and resupply.

now the primary mode of defense in the second and first world war is a system of trenches and gun emplacements layered at least twice, hence defence in depth and the lines of battle become thick rather than long, now you may say this was only a Russian tactic but I would remind you of the Siegfried line, the Maginot line, and the Atlantic wall all fortifications so well built they still stand today. all three of these fortifications caused huge problems for allied forces, the Atlantic wall made operation overlord near impossible, the Maginot line was broken primarily by french resistance after the rise of Vichy France and nearly a quarter million men died in the battle of the bulge a conflict centered around the Siegfried line, the advantages to defence in depth are a strong supply line that is well defended from advancement and some would argue that large defensive works are the only thing that can stop a lightning advance.

so  how does this relate to the game, well in my playthrough i was Germany starting by rapidly advancing against enemies that I can rapidly subdue, and towards the end depending on defensive works, in this case hiding behind barrels and walls, so in terms of gameplay I would say the last of us is a world war II simulator.

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Introductions

Introductions in video games are often used incorrectly, this especially applies to games built from the ground up on emergent gameplay and narratives that exist solely in the player head. Now when talking about introductions that are terrible and introductions that are “good:” I’d like to define the term because in a game the introduction and its purpose are rarely defined, and when we do define a section or the purpose of an introduction we do sin in a manner that is dubious at best, but let me put down that in introductions serves the singular purpose of introducing the world, and at least the main character. Not mechanics, it should be singularly focused as to do its one job in a manner that is satisfactory, that is where most games go wrong instead of trying to introduce the game world and the people within they try to introduce mechanics and other gameplay features.

Now some would argue that that an introduction in a game is about establishing player agency within the world, but the last thing I need or even want is player agency in a world I don’t understand. Its like putting a child in the cockpit of a jumbo jet it’s a bad idea I don’t know what the buttons do and how they relate to systems is don’t fully understand. Id argue the best way for a game to introduce the world is to take the god forsaken buttons away, it’s hard to do any harm when I don’t have the means to do harm. The last thing I want to do is harm or even save people I don’t know or care about, not so much in the real world but it’s hard to become attached to a data string, so to recap a introduction should do two things and NOTHING more, introduce the world and the people residing within it.  This will lead to one of two responses, either we will care or we won’t. But the last thing I want is to be walking around in a world that at best I am indifferent to the plight of the people within.

The introduction to the Last of us is an almost perfect introduction phase it establishes the world, characters, and motivations for the rest of the game and it does this by preventing the player from having any agency, this is the most important part of the introduction is the lack of agency. The lack of agency is driven in part by their use of a child rather than the bog standard space marine looking fare that is all so common. It sets up the game by simply having the world happen to you rather than you happening to the world by putting you in the shoes of someone who cannot fight back we can actually feel the terror of a Not-Zombie apocalypse.  This establishes the relatively bleak world the game takes place in and in doing so reminds us of the clear fact of mortality that is a core theme of the game.

Internal and external conflict in a morality play-through of Fallout 4

Morality in video games is an often attempted subject but is almost always done in a ham-fisted and incompetent way, the best way I have seen morality tackled in video games would be for the player to treat the avatar like a person and the non-player characters as persons as well. Doing morality like this introduces a complex system of how many people did I kill how many are innocent and how many could I have avoided, especially in a game with a “Dumb AI” like Fallout.

So let’s tackle the external conflict of Fallout 4. Now on the surface, it’s clear you want your kid back. But at a more in-depth examination we see flaws in this hasty reasoning and surface level examination. For one your “Child” is not a child Shaun has grown up and now runs the institute as “Father” now the question becomes not can I get my kid back but can I accept my child even after he has done demonstrably horrible things in the name of progress. This is not a handled well in game leading to a simple set of speech checks, but when we examine it outside of the game we can spend hours trying to understand the conflict of accepting a child that has done horrible things, kidnappings, murder, espionage, and extortion just to name a few. There is also a huge number of other external conflicts throughout the gafallout-4me that become internal conflicts if you consider the personhood of the NPC. Killing waves of nameless cannon fodder becomes more difficult if you give them all names, and upon further examination of fallout lore even killing super mutants becomes problematic these are just people that were experimented on without their consent, who am I to kill these innocents. Even ghouls have tragic backstories if you take the time to read terminal entries.

What I am really trying to say is the distinction between internal and external conflict becomes more and more blurred if we consider the personhood of everyone we kill. At a certain point the model of go here kill these dudes and move on becomes unsustainable, what a normal play through of fallout looks like to the NPC is a genocidal maniac going around and killing everyone who dresses slightly different than them, and talks in a strange way.

An examination of media surrounding video games.

So first this; the sample size in this examination is limited in scope and the conclusions drawn within are specific and cannot be reliably applied to all games.

So the games I have chosen to examine are Grand Theft Auto V, and Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege. The primary determiner I am going to use is steam playtime and from that we can see a function of sales, although the correlation is not direct we can assume more people are in fact purchasing these games by the influx spikes of new players.

gta-v-game-salesSo first Grand Theft Auto V, (GTAV) was and still to a certain extent is a wild successful game that tens of thousands enjoy regularly. Released on April 14 and on that day 360,761 players got on to enjoy this game that had been out for 2 years but is just now on PC and gen 4 consoles. So the marketing campaign around GTAV was 2 fold one for the original release, and a second campaign although much less intensive around the remaster release. So almost immediately after release, as in less than 90 days, 66% of the initial player base was lost, this is typical of most AAA releases but not of AAA releases that position themselves as a MMO, why did this happen? I would argue it is because of all the bad secondary press received around the game, YouTube videos and initial reviews being updated to reflect how people who have played maybe 100 hours or so feel about the game rather than the initial hype around the games release. The PC release of GTAV made it abundantly clear that this is an online persistent experience, this would be antithetical to the previous model of Grand Theft Auto as a single player game that had online elements but as an augment to the game rather than core content.

R6S Game Sales.PNGThe other game I will look at is Rainbow Six Siege, (R6S) this game had almost no marketing campaign attached to it at launch or any other time and yet sales grew post-release 3 times, this is very much A-typical of a AAA title that was seen as sub-par by the reviewing media, but a rather good game by the people who play it. The secondary press around R6S was overall positive and it showed with several growth spikes in play time and in sales.

The whole reason to go thought that would be to see how the games marketing effected the initial sales and how secondary media affected the continuing sales. So with game budgets getting into the mid nine digits’ games have to adapt and become a perpetual experience that generates constant revenue. One of the most important things to do when ensuring the continued success will be to manage and groom a secondary media presence be that pandering to a core audience or constantly trying new things to make new players interested in the game