Review: Blindscape

I recently played Blindscape, a free mobile ‘game’, though it is far more accurately described on its title page as ‘an interactive audio story’.

The quirk of this game is that the screen is completely blank.

Instead, a blind narrator tells you his story as he tries to escape the confines of his apartment.

You have to tap randomly about on the black screen to find and open doors then navigate around by sound (you’ll need earphones).

It was a really interesting way to use the format without feeling gimmicky as it helped you to get into the mind set of someone who couldn’t see, and forcing you to wear headphones shut out the world allowing you to be fully immersed in the narrative.

My only real complaint was that it was only 10 minutes long and left me wanting to know more about this world.

That said, I think the format might have dragged if it had lasted much longer, and the reason I decided to play it in the first place was because of its brevity.

I’m really interested in seeing how new media can be used to tell stories in a much more interactive way – Blindscape really showed that sometimes the best way to do that is to tear away all the bells and whistles and let the story do the talking.

When will we get a decent choose your own adventure videogame?

I spend a lot of time playing video games.

I also spend a lot of time reading and writing stories.

When I decide what game I want to play, it’s not which one has the best graphics, the most innovative gameplay or offers the biggest test of my skill that grabs my attention.

It’s which one can tell me the best story.

Because of that I’ve been really interested in looking at how games can help us tell stories, as the format uniquely puts the player directly in the driving seat of the character, making all of the decisions.

For years, we’ve been promised games where you can truly chose your own adventure, where you can play in fantastically realised worlds that is changed by your actions.

In my opinion, most games to date have failed at this.

Yes, you can make changes but they are usually superficial, or confined to the final few per cent of the game – do you get the happy ending, or the sad?; are you paragon or renegade?; do you get the werewolf powers or the vampire powers?

Going down one path might unlock a certain set of scenes or dialogue choices compared to another, but you essentially travel the same path and end up in the same place.

I can understand why: making a game is expensive and you don’t want to waste time recording dialogue and creating environments if half your audience is going to miss them.

To get around this script writers create ‘story vines’, where small branches come off the main trunk of the story but they always come back to that main drive to the end.

All of my favourite video games have a strong storytelling element, though none have managed a true ‘choose your own adventure’.

Some writers have tried to give a sense of true choice by going for open world games.

Supposedly, these allow you to tell the story you want to tell, but they still suffer from the same issue in that, yes, you can do the quests in any order, but once you start one you’re pretty much set to run on the rails of the game.

I also find that in most open world games, your actions can’t have too much of an effect on the world at large, because you risk breaking the narrative for quests later on (I found that Skyrim was a particularly bad offender in this regard).

It leaves this particular player feeling a little cheated – if my quests don’t change anything, what am I even doing them for?

The closest I have seen to a game with a true story tree, where your decisions branch off leading you towards a completely different path, are visual novels.

But while these games are rich in narrative, they are usually little more than glorified text adventure games with no voice acting and simple anime style graphics.

However, it does show that it’s possible to create a real choose your own adventure, but now if we could just join that together with decent graphics, we’d be laughing.

People have tried, most notably in the Telltale Games series, but all the ones I’ve tried have only ended up annoying me as no matter what you chose the outcome is usually the same.

(Which really irritates me. There’s more than one occasion where your Big Decision has zero effect on the game.)

One game that looks like it might succeed in marrying up high quality graphics etc and true choice story telling is Detroit: Become Human, which is due out this year, so here’s to hoping.

Then again, maybe I’m asking too much from my games because, as an old friend once told me:

“Playing games for the plot is like watching porn for the plot – there is one, but that’s not really the point, is it?”

This post was inspired by listening to Writing Excuses Season 12, Episode 21: Narrative Bumper Pool.

Boardgame resolutions – 2018

  • Write on this blog more about my games and keep on Instagramming them.
  • Log my games on BoardGameGeek
  • Get a game h-index of at least 10 (play 10 game, 10 times – got two legacy games on the go which should help with this one)
  • Get a player h-index of 10 (I have a large group of people I regularly game with so this should be relatively easy)
  • Play at least one new game every month (already completed this one for Jan!)
  • Play at least six games that take the best part of a day (I usually get a few of these in, but six might require a bit of effort on my part)
  • Keep gaming and keep having fun!

Review: Fragments of Him

fragments-of-him-titleA tragic accident one morning takes a young man’s life. Though he is dead, he is not entirely gone, living on in the people he has left behind.

This is the set up for Fragments of Him, a walking simulator by indy developer Sassybot. It’s a title that is more narrative experience than true game, taking the player through the life of Will, the eponymous Him. As it does so, the game explores the true nature of love and grief, as well as tackling topics such as polyamory and homophobia.

The narrative follows the three people who loved Will most: first Mary, his grandmother who raised him, then Sarah his ex-girlfriend who stepped aside allowing Will to find true love with Harry, whose grief over losing his partner is shown in the final act. Throughout this, we see Will as he prepares for the what will ultimately be his last day, thinking of the past and looking forward to the future.

Certain aspects of this story line were expertly done. Hearing Will’s voice over as he plans a future the player knows he will never have does a fantastic job of reaching right into the chest, grabbing the heartstrings and yanking.  It’s a cheap trick, but an effective one.

I also enjoyed Mary’s story. She does not react well to learning of her son’s male lover, and getting a view inside her head as she tries to justify her reaction was a very interesting take on homophobia I haven’t seen before.

However, Sarah and Harry’s stories were less compelling. The game repeatedly tells you how in love Will is with the pair, but never really shows it. The end result is I never felt connected with either character. There was an interesting story buried in there somewhere, but it was somewhat lost in the telling.

Fragments of Him gameplay

The graphics of Fragments of Him features simplified, largely grey scale graphics, relying on voice over to provide emotion. Credit: Sassybot

The gameplay was also disconnected from the story for the most part, just requiring you to move around and click on different objects. There was no real choices to be made, no grand vistas to explore, just you plodding through the story. This made things drag in some places, particularly when you had to spend a minute searching for one thing you missed to click on.

There were a few places however that this play style was used very effectively. During Harry’s mourning, you have to go through the house clearing out everything, really hammering home the sense of complete loss.

The graphics were very minimalist, clean lines all shaded in a sort of off-white grey scale. Bleaching all colour out of the world really helped to add to the sense of desolation, echoing the sense of mourning once again.

The characters were portrayed as blank mannequins, instead relying on voice overs to convey emotion. Thankfully, the voice acting was spot on and a few other clever tricks helped bring the characters to life, though not enough to compensate for the flaws in scripting.

When I finished playing Fragments of Him, I walked away thinking: about life, love and loss. I think this was the game maker’s plan, so well done. Purpose very much achieved.

Summary: An intriguing, but flawed story about loosing a loved one that doesn’t quite measure up to its promise, but a worthwhile play none the less.