Short Script: Dead Space 2

Some games clearly show the effort and dedication that their development teams have poured into them. Dead Space felt like one such game, and Visceral Games has managed to take that up a notch for its sequel. They are so comfortable with this intellectual property that they can include crawling baby mines and get away with it. It's been said that this game is the Aliens to Dead Space's Alien, and in some ways that comparison is apt. Dead Space 2 is focused a lot more on cinematic action and overt humour, and in both those aspects it's Isaac Clarke who underwent the most significant evolution between games.

Short Script: Dead Space

Dead Space 2 is about to hit store shelves, and initial reviews would indicate that it's a worthy sequel. I plan on picking it up, because I thoroughly enjoyed the original. I'm not the only one who thinks that, since Dead Space has now been turned into a whole franchise, expanding its fictional universe in other media. Dead Space hits all the marks of an aftermath story, which presents an initially confusing situation that is gradually explained through exploration. It also classifies itself as a survival horror game, but fails to make the player actively feel underpowered. There is one exception, but we'll get to that.

Short Script: Condemned: Criminal Origins

As I was reading this article about the ill-advised comparison between Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and movies, I couldn't help but pick up on a line of thought that I had already drawn myself when playing Condemned: Criminal Origins. At the time the game hit me out of left field (I played it sans expectations a couple of years after it was released), so I decided to give it another quick playthrough. Along the way it naturally got the Short Script treatment, but it's also a good case study for the point I'd like to make.

Inception: a game changer

Next we'll dream you up some facial hair, okay darling?
Next we'll dream you up some facial hair, okay darling?

Inception. A great movie by a great many standards. It gleans elements from a wide variety of genres and skillfully combines them into something that carries enough weight to become more than the sum of its parts. Its far-reaching appeal has naturally led to an enormous outpouring of articles and discussion, not in the least geared towards theories about what it all means. A subset of such articles focuses on the relation between Inception and videogames. It should therefore come as no surprise that Christopher Nolan himself has announced an intention to craft a game based on/in the Inception universe, and this post looks at the way in which it lends itself exceptionally well as a blueprint for a (certain type of) adaptation.

Short Script: Call of Duty: Black Ops

Call of Duty: Black Ops has now set the record for the largest entertainment launch in history. Selling 5.6 million copies within 24 hours of being released and pulling in $360 million, it's clear that this is a defining product. It's a shame, because it's a game that wants to be a movie so much that it hurts. More so than the previous games, Black Ops completely hobbles the player's agency and interactivity to the point where his presence is rendered moot (not mute, given that the game now features talking protagonists and not simply a developer painfully breathing into a microphone). It's perfectly pointed out in this video, which shows that the game robs even the player's main mode of communication with the world (i.e. a gun) of all meaning.

Short Script: Mafia 2

So yeah, Mafia 2. As an avid fan of the original game, I was very much looking forward to its sequel. It's received some very mixed reactions, with both story and gameplay alternatively praised and criticised. My overall impressions are accurately reflected in this review, which bottomlines to a striking juxtaposition of Mafia 2's story and the mechanical setting used to tell it in. It's not that the two aren't meaningfully connected, it's that the former doesn't measure up to the strengths of the latter. What the original game lacked in technical prowess, it more than made up for with a compelling story centred firmly around its well-rounded protagonist, Tommy Angelo. Mafia 2 does a 180° and lets down its solid gameplay mechanics and visual presentation with a story that meanders along without any significant cadence or ambition. And as is specifically stated to his face at the end, it's all Vito Scaletta's fault.

Eurogamer Expo 2010

E3's lesser known cousin, E2.
E3's lesser known cousin, E2.
I am currently located in Belgium, which has a relatively small game development community (focused more on games for portable phones and social networking sites). Besides my efforts to expand my experience locally (like this), I've recently been travelling abroad to places that play a larger role in the game industry. One such excursion led me to both attend and volunteer at this year's Eurogamer Expo in London. It was a marvellous experience and a definite recommendation for anyone trying to break into the business, whichever aspect thereof is one's focus.

Script: BioShock 2

It took a while, but the BioShock 2 Short Script is finally up. I thoroughly enjoyed the game, and while its story wasn't quite as engaging as that of its predecessor, its gameplay mechanics felt a lot more solid and worked out (the story does get points for not forcing a big reveal on itself just because BioShock had one). This once again underlines the importance of putting gameplay before story. BioShock 2 has been called "a most unnecessary sequel", but I think 2K Marin did an admirable job. Had it been the original game, the enthusiasm of 2007 would have been no lesser.

Story and gameplay

Who needs character development when there are EXPLOSIONS!
Who needs character development when there are EXPLOSIONS!
There’s a great deal of articles floating around which deal with the gap between story and gameplay and the efforts made to bridge it. Having assimilated quite a few of them, I’d like to see if I can't synthesise a common denominator to build on. The main point of contention which returns pretty much everywhere is the diametrical opposition of what story and gameplay want to do. The authors of this article mention that “a game writer looks for brief moments -- cutscene or otherwise -- when she can take control of the game so that she can create throughlines, pacing, conflicts, character development, plot twists and thematic meaning, while a game designer looks for ways to give control -- not to the writer, but to the player”. Henry Jenkins confirms that opposition in this publication, which opens with a selection of quotes illustrating the different approaches to games: “Ludologists want to see the focus shift onto the mechanics of game play, while the Narratologists are interested in studying games alongside other storytelling media”.

Short Script: Splinter Cell: Conviction

The BioShock 2 Short Script has taken a bit of a backseat, since I simply couldn't resist writing one for Splinter Cell: Conviction while playing it. There was more than enough for me to work with, to say the least. Most of my frustrations with the game stemmed from the nature of the PC version, which is prone to uneven performance and framerate issues. A quick Google search reveals a plethora of users suffering similar problems. At times I found it to be a genuine chore to play through the game, and while I finish all games I purchase on principle alone, I dare say it was the accompanying Short Script that helped to propel me to the end. It's a shame, because the game does get a lot of things right.

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