Sunday, April 05, 2009

my favorite video game of all time

Today my brother and I talked about the excellent video game Rock Band. This got me thinking about video games in general.

It saddens me that as the industry matured, production costs rose, and risk-taking became more expensive and hence more rare.

It's nice to see breakthrough games like The Sims, DDR, Guitar Hero. I wish there were more games in that vein, and not just reiterations of formulas that worked before. I like seeing a true innovation, and not just an improved graphical effect like hyper-realistic blood splatter pattern on the wall, or having the blood stay around forever even after the avatar leaves the room.

For a time, it seemed as though storylines within games were becoming more advanced. I was very excited about this. There were ARGs with interesting plots, and in-game cut scenes were getting longer with witty dialogue. Alas, that trend never really came to be.

My favorite video game of all time embodes a great story: Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within.

It's a beautiful game with full-motion video. You solve puzzles to help Gabriel Knight hunt down a werewolf. Halfway through, he gets bitten, so you race against the clock to find a cure.

Gabriel has a lady friend. As he weakens from his condition, she takes over portions of the game. There's romantic tension, but they stay platonic friends. It's so nice to see a video game where the male lead and female lead do not hook up!

Along the way, you learn interesting facts about the history of werewolves. The acting is pretty good too.

The way I encountered this game was by accident. During my senior year of college, I was fortunate enough to have a job offer from Blizzard. As enticement, Blizzard gave me a few T-shirts, and a Starcraft beta pre-release CD. "This will make you the most popular person at your school," they said.

How indisputable. People borrowed my Starcraft CD day in and day out. My friend Victor took it for an entire week. After much nagging from me, he finally presented me with a nice gift-wrapped box.

"You wrapped my Starcraft CD?" I said, amused.

I opened it and was puzzled to find a box for The Beast Within. "Ah, he must have recycled an old software box," I said to myself, "For easier gift-wrapping."

Then I reached in the box and pulled out the Gabriel Knight CD. It dawned on me that Victor did this to stall for time.

So I played the game, and it turned out to be wonderful! I was completely hooked. I let Victor keep the Starcraft beta for another week without any further complaint. Instead, I was full of praise for his kindness in giving me the Gabriel Knight game.

I think he was pretty shocked. He later told me that he felt guilty for my grateful reaction to his gag gift. But the game was so good!

Will the world ever have a full-motion video game again with great acting and a compelling story?

I miss you, Gabriel Knight 2.


ArC said...

Have you played Grim Fandango? .. OK, that's from 1999. For more recent games, I would recommend Bioware's RPGish games (such as Knights of the Old Republic, or Mass Effect) or Beyond Good & Evil if you're after games with good stories. And Indigo Prophecy tried some interestingly new (or at least unusual) approaches to storytelling - conversations where the user input was timed, so pauses meant something, multiple points of view, ...

I do disagree with you on a few points. First, the somewhat technical issues. Cutscenes getting longer is generally a bad thing, in that cutscenes inevitably do not involve player interaction. Full motion video is generally a bad idea as well, because it ends up needing walk cycles rather than realistic motion...

More crucially, WRT innovation, well, I like innovation too. But there are only so many new ideas to be had and there's a lot to be said for doing something well rather than coming up with a new thing. Take the Gabriel Knight example you gave. It's a sequel, and even the first GK game wasn't the first graphical adventure game, the first point and click graphical adventure game, the first full motion video graphical adventure game, the first mystery game, etc. It does things well and for many gamers - you included? - that's at least as important as providing a new kind of experience.

Niniane said...

I think having longer beautifully-done cut scenes is good, even if it doesn't involve player interaction. There is no rule that says player interaction == good.

I don't understand the point about walk cycles vs. realistic motion.

I do agree that doing things well is more important than being the first to do something. I consider "doing X very well" to be innovation. :)

Anonymous said...

Have you ever played The Last Express? The animations aren't full motion video (they're rotoscoped, and often have a limited frame rate -- technical constraints of the era), but the story, setting, acting, and sense of immersion are supposed to be unbelievably great. I haven't played it myself, so I can't say if it's all that.

The end point of "longer, beautifully-done cut scenes" is a movie, and even the most avid cut scene haters enjoy watching good movies. I think people object to cut scenes in games mostly because they're done so badly (cheesy acting, lame plot) and because interrupting the flow of gameplay is annoying -- watching a movie is one thing, actively controlling a video game character is another, being forced to alternate between the two can be jolting.

writer said...

Apparently you caught the series just before it jumped the shark:

Wes Bigelow said...

Dude, every time I see another game with a girl with huge boobs I sigh inwardly. And I also don't need to kill anymore Nazis in my life.

I want to see a game with a *meaningful* story. (Gamers are getting older...we will start losing loved ones someday.)

Ico and Shadow of the Colossus were steps in the right direction.

Anonymous said...


sanjuro said...

If you play a game, you want to play, not watch a bad movie, which most in-game cinematics are. 3D cut-scenes may be visually stunning and all but when they come with a story most of them are usually embarrassing to watch, everything just sounds infinitely stupid (like in MGS: The Twin Snake with the awful dialogues/dubbing). I must admit I haven't been playing any recent game, so maybe it has improved, but I doubt because I see it as an inherent problem of video games: they will never be able to provide a convincing cinematographic experience, they're simply not meant for that; cut scenes are just a distraction between what constitutes the core of the game: the action scenes, when you are in control.

Oh, and I think there are plenty of video games where opposite sexes don't end up with (in?) each other, Jill and Chris in Resident Evil, Zeke and Julie in Zombies Ate My Neighbors, they don't have time to be naughty when zombies are trying to eat their brains!

s said...

My favorite is Katamari Damacy, because it is basically a trippy rendition of the grad school experience (King of all Cosmos = PhD advisor).

Wes Bigelow said...

Jordan Mechner has posted video of The Last Express online:

I actually owned this fine game before I made the bad decision to give it to a friend.

marco said...

hi Niniane, can you offer me the game, wanna play

Virtua said...

Hi Niniane!! I'm great you like the game. I think that you would like Day of the Tentacle and Grim Fandango, too.

DF said...

I second the nomination for "Grim Fandango." Beautifully done story. Do it!

Also, if you want "Gabriel Knight II: The Beast Within" go query on ebay. I was surprised, though, that there are only copies for $30 + shipping. Not popular enough to have many copies in the world?