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Making bleak / tragic games?

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Can we make bleak games that are also enjoyable? Ie. games based around the human world, where say, families are being senselessly slaughtered by a serial killer. Think the equivalent of a James Patterson novel. 1. A game where terrorists are blowing things up, and not in a 'action-movie' way, but in the way described by Ernest Adams
Quote:
http://www.designersnotebook.com/Columns/005_Bad_Game_Designer_1/005_bad_game_designer_1.htm Look closely at a picture of a place where a bomb went off. It’s a mess. A real mess. Things are broken into pieces of all sizes, from chunks that are nearly the whole object, to shrapnel and slivers, down to dust. And they’re twisted, shredded, barely recognizable. Things that are blown up by a bomb don’t fall neatly apart into four or five little polygons – they’re blasted to smithereens. I suppose for the sake of our stomachs we’ll have to preserve the TV and film fiction that people who die violently do so quickly and quietly rather than screaming and rolling around; but I don’t see any need to pretend that high explosives are less than apallingly destructive. Bombs ruin things – lives and buildings. They leave the places they’ve been shattered and unattractive. Let’s tell the truth about them.
2. What about games with a bleak endings. To quote Ernest again:
Quote:
http://www.designersnotebook.com/Columns/068_How_Many_Endings_Does_A_Ga/068_how_many_endings_does_a_ga.htm Artistically, my position was wrong: designers should certainly create the videogame equivalent of Kafka novels if they want to. But commercially, I think it's sound. This company had asked me for my opinion about a commercial game, and it's my opinion that the game-buying public is not yet ready to spend $50 on a triple-A shooter in which every possible ending is a downer. Winning and losing is a matter of definition, but a bad ending feels like a loss, and a happy ending feels like a victory. Over the years we have trained our players to assume that they will eventually win a long game sometime, though they may have to try repeatedly to do so. The longer a game lasts, and the more a player has invested in it, the less likely she'll be to tolerate an unhappy ending, as I told my clients. Adventure games or mysteries might get away with it, but if a game about survival doesn't end with the player surviving, she's going to be annoyed.
Any thoughts on implementing bleakness?

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I think the player should have some sense of victory, not neccessarily survival, revenge is a good example. In Max Pain, the players family is murdered, by the end of it he's gotten revenge and is surrounded by police, to be killed or arrested. Essentially the player looses, since he'll either spend years in jail or be excecuted, but the player feels a sense of accomplishment because he got revenge.

I think you could paint a rather bleak ending, such as the world being overrun or civilization being destroyed so long as the player gets that "last word", by blowing himself up with a nuke or going out with some kind of a bang. Sort of like in the first Predator movie, he lost but he nuked 2 square miles, so its ok. ;D

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Quote:
The longer a game lasts, and the more a player has invested in it, the less likely she'll be to tolerate an unhappy ending, as I told my clients.

This is so true. In a movie you can tolerate an unhappy ending since you've only been introduced to the characters, world and situation an hour or so ago. But when you spend 30-40+ hours being immersed in an RPG you expect some positive closure for the protagonist.

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Well, positive results aren't really necessary. That's just kind of the stereotypes for games that really just gets in the way of cool ideas sometimes. The key to making a bleak game that has a maybe negative ending really has to do with one word "immersion."

Can you immerse the player into whatever role or task they are suppose to perform? Can you hook the players and make them become emotionally attached? Can you use the proper camera angles and imagery to push accros the emotional, psychological, and physical horrors? Then at the very end, can you make the player who is now in the role their playing, yell, "NOOOOOOO!!!!!"?

When done right, it may become a tragic experience for many players, and sometimes, just being able to pull that off is a laudable feat. Its one of those things where its the means that matter, and yet, you still want to make everything reasonable. A true tight rope act for game designers.

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I think you can have a bleak ending that doesn't feel futile. There's a quiet dignity to be derived from fading from the world at the right time. We've all seen Glory. Heck, EVERYbody dies at the end of that, and the notes tell you that Fort Wagner was never taken. I didn't feel despair after that. Nor did I feel bad at the end of Rocky. He trains and trains and cleans himself up and works out his personal problems and gets into the best shape of his life and steps into the ring for a chance at glory and fame and freaking loses. I'm okay with that.

I think that such an ending in a game could be good. What I wouldn't like would be an ending where I fight my heart out to beat the most super-tough boss ever, and then my hero dies in a cutscene after I worked so hard to win. I'd like to see a choice. I think it was Fallout Tactics that gave you a choice at the end to put a human brain into the killer machine and bring balance to the world. You can smash the machine, or put a military hero's brain in it. There are a few other options, and one of them is to put your brain in there. You die, but it's perhaps the best ending of all.

Player choice lends credibility to self-sacrifice. I don't want my character making that decision on his own after I've played for forty hours. Unless it's a party-based RPG. Then I don't give a rat's butt what happens to the characters. Except Tellah. Poor bastard. He tried so hard.

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As others mentioned previously, the loss, even for dramatic purposes, of your own character, is usually more annoying than anything else.
Tragedy usually works because it's happening to somebody else!
Because you can identify yourself with the person/character, because their humanity, their mistakes and failures, their successes and talents remind you of yourself, and despite the good points, it all ends in failure and despair.
But it's not you, and at the end of the show, you can walk away, hopefully having experienced catharsis.

The problem, then, is that you cannot have tragedy AND immersion/identification with the character. Having both only punishes the player : you give him control over his destiny, make him identify with the character, only to take all that away with a "dramatic moment"... that's bad DMing, period.
On the other hand, you can make the character be, well, a character. Separate from the player himself. Japanese cRPG tend to take that route more often, with the consequence that "proper" dramatic moments seem to be more common in those games (google "gaming saddest moment": there seems to be an innordinate amount of japanese RPGs in there...)
KotOR 2, for some mysterious reason, manages to be dramatic as a good japanese RPG, and yet, its ending manages to suck like a newborn on his mother's tit [sad]
So much f*cking potential, wasted for no good reason. It makes me want to turn to the Dark Side [wink]

But to stay on topic, I am not sure if creating a general feeling of bleakness would be very good for the game, though. Bleakness in a movie or theatre piece works because of the short time span. Bleakness over the course of 40 or so hours... well, I am not sure. I would be worried that the player just adapts himself, in which case you lose the dramatic impact, which is what the bleakness should be there for in the first place.
It's all about timing, I believe.

Max Payne, IMHO, got it right by being an FPS, with the cutscenes being clearly "film noir". The whole game has a dramatic vibe, but only unleashes the real drama once in a while, which is much better than being constantly reminded of the angst inside your character.

A low rumbling of distant thunder with the occasional thunderclap above your head, works much better than being in a thunderstorm for 40 bloody hours...

I mean, don't get me wrong, a game like Wraith : the Oblivion, or Kult (these are pen and paper RPG, btw) is absolutely and utterly bleak. Gee, the whole World of Darkness franchise is all about gloom and doom. So it can probably be done.

It just hasn't cos nobody has got the cojones to release an "artistic" game, nowadays. Here is wishing that somehow, the talent for drama of the japanese developers can be unleashed on something like the World of Darkness and made into a proper RPG.

Yeah, right... [rolleyes]

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Of recent games, I thought HL2 succeeded quite well in painting a bleak atmosphere. But after a short while, it gave you the usual tools to combat the oppressors (ie. guns & explosives) and that diminished the feeling of bleakness greatly.

Somehow the beginning of the initial post made me wonder of games that wouldn't do that, for example, you would only have your wits against the serial killer. And this, cliched as I am in my thinking, instantly made me think of a graphic adventure game :)

If thinking more of an action game, I guess it wouldn't be fun to just have to run away from danger all the time. The payoff should come eventually. But there could be ways to do this in less action-hero-cliche ways, like setting up MacGyver-like traps. It's just my guess, but if you'd feel less like a superman, you'd also identify stronger with the terror / bleakness / tragedy etc.

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Quote:
Original post by AgentC
Of recent games, I thought HL2 succeeded quite well in painting a bleak atmosphere. But after a short while, it gave you the usual tools to combat the oppressors (ie. guns & explosives) and that diminished the feeling of bleakness greatly.


What if even though you have all these guns, shooting the enemies doesn't solve the problem, because there are so many of them that you can never win by force alone?

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I think the pen and paper rpg "Call of Cthulu" manages this great, and I would like to see the same thing in a computer game. You can shoot cultists and other humans, but don't even think about going after the big guys.. If you see something slimy or big then RUN LIKE HELL!!! Here you'll have to find other ways to beat them. You'll have to do research, search for scrolls, artifacts or things like that to find a way to send these demons back to where they come from. So it's a mixture of things you can kill with a gun and things you'll have to run from until you've got the proper means to get rid of them..

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Well in my opinion ... if a player is killed or arrested the game isent over.
You might make a cenimatic where the player is getting killed/arrested, but the
person whom is playing the game will think " Man, if I could move him and shoot/runna away from them I might have a chance "

I think it is bad to hold down a player to a decsion a developer made...

So is a happy ending bad then ( Because the dev decide ? ) ? No because it feels like " I am done, I am truly free ... " no npcs treathing you !

Lets take some example ...

Would golden eye have been so good as it have been if Bond was arrested and held in the cell until he died ? Nah ... instead you get to escape IF you gamabilty is good enough ... ( which in many cases players are :-) ) but it lets the player decided what to do Stay die || Try escape ...

A good ending can only be found by someone that is great enough to force enemies
your way and make it a happy ending for you, by either killing them all or
completing tempels. Or if your not intrested in victory you will not make it.
Its as easy as that, meybe turing off the game should be more disaisfying for the player instead of stealing his goal.

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