Keeping Gameplay Narrative in Context

A short piece entitled “Narrative as Gameplay” by Jonas Kyratzes made me think today. His key (and rather eloquent) point is this:

“In some games, you click on the enemy soldier and the enemy soldier dies, removing an obstacle to victory. In my games, you click on an object and it gives you a description, removing an obstacle to understanding.”

I like this thought in principle, but I think it’s missing a caveat: the revealed content must be appropriate to the player’s current context.
For example, if I were to to nit-pick The Book of Living Magic, I’d complain that the setting is SO surreal that the wealth of little asides do not really increase the player’s understanding. Many of them are charming little storylets in their own right, but it’s very hard to build a coherent picture of a world where the distinction between animals, people and other bizarre entities are so blurred. It must be acknowledged that this is the whole point of the Land of Dream, but it highlights my point.
In contrast, the superb The Infinite Ocean presents a very tightly focused narrative, each scrap of content referencing the already-established facts or themes. It’s only when you can hook the new information onto some existing part of your world model that it feels rewarding. Without that framework, each new piece of content has no obvious relation to the whole.
That, I think, is why some people don’t grok the Book of Living Magic – the content is more like a bag of marbles than a LEGO set. I happen to love world-building and was happy to comb through the descriptions looking for the links and occasional Lovecraft nods, but I can see how more casual players might find the Mountains of Oddness somewhat impenetrable.

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Ludum Dare 21: Fireflies

Ludum Dare 21 has come and gone, and I managed to squeeze some game dev into a busy weekend. My entry is here.

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It’s extremely short, but I’m very happy with it, because it represents my first fully modelled, rigged and animated character. I’ve learned plenty about Blender and about rigging in general. Best of all, although I didn’t get much gameplay in during the weekend, the concept I had in mind has enough mileage that I can expand it into a full game, which is what I’m working on currently (in-between late nights on LEGO Harry Potter years 5-7). It’s also excellent practice with Blender – although Voidships will use different features, my familiarity with the interface and core tools is improving.

Check out some of the other 599 LudumDare entries while you’re there. It’s a monster event and there’s a lot of little gems to be found…