This Is Pretty Neat: Dead Rising 3

Dead Rising has always felt like a series committed to offering it's own experience. While many open world games adopted streamlined features like fast travel, the ability to save anywhere, and missions crafted to let the player succeed, Dead Rising stayed with the conviction to do many of the opposite things. You were constantly forced to wade through endless droves of the undead, memorize where the nearest toilet was to save, often punished players not prepared for missions, and all while embracing a strict time restraint. As frustrating as these quirks could be, it ended up making Dead Rising an experience that only could be found there. Often open world games are labeled as “GTA clones,” but Dead Rising was truly it's own beast. With Dead Rising 3 some concessions have certainly been made to make it a more accessible game. Saving is no longer limited to toilets, crafting can be done anywhere, the time limit (at least in the normal mode) is far less strict, and most of all, psychopaths are no longer an AI construct devised from the most insidious minds in game development. Seeing these compromises made me wonder if Dead Rising 3 would still be able to offer it's own special style of open world mayhem, and in short, I think it does.

A lot of the time, open world just means going to any location on the map and doing missions in any order you feel fit. When it comes down to actual missions, and specifically combat, the mechanics would fit right at home in a linear game. Dead Rising's combat is based around the ability to navigate your surroundings and use the objects around you to fight. This ends up letting you fight the way you want to fight. You start seeking out certain items and working to specific combo weapons that you feel are most effective. I'm sure there are some weapons that attract more people than others (who doesn't love a street lamp that has a huge area attack that instantly clears the immediate area around you), but I think there's enough variation in the weapons that one person would have a different set of favorite weapons from another.

One of the ways Dead Rising has been streamlined is that combo weapons can be crafted anywhere. I'm of two minds on this. One of the great things about those first games is that once your weapons broke, you were forced to grab whatever was on hand. This often resulted in the player bashing in the heads of zombies with some ineffective but hilarious weapons. Now it seems that the player is always left with options for a combo weapon as a couple of select items are hand placed to allow for some quick crafting. This further is encouraged when a person invests points into weapon types which allow any similar item in a crafting recipe. Instead of needing a bat and nails to craft the spike bat, a person can use a park bench and nails to craft the same item once the appropriate paths have been leveled. This means that you can get the weapons you like using a lot easier, meaning you get to play the game the way you want too.

Oh yeah, combo vehicles are pretty neat.

The biggest revision to the game though has been the change in the difficulty. The previous games have been hard, the primary sources being the time limit and the boss battle psychopaths, and in Dead Rising 3, those have been polished to the point that they're barely on your mind. The time limit is long on both the sheer amount of time you have before the bomb drops and the amount of time you have to complete side missions that it almost gets to the point where it may as well not be there. I never once had a side mission's timer go below half and I finished the game with a full two days remaining. Thankfully the developers recognized the fact that some players would progress quicker than others and did not assign access to side missions to specific times, but rather progress in the story. Otherwise a person could get into the awkward situation where they are killing time waiting for something to do.

As mentioned the psychopaths are much easier to deal with. They're still as zany as before, but it definitely feels less rewarding to best them. Each person you meet is full of charm and hilarity as in the previous game, but it has the weird effect as of setting you up for a hard fight that ends up being easier than most of the unique zombies. Most of the attacks are easily dodged with your roll ability and have lengthy tells. They also have so little health that some of the fights are so short that the cutscene leading up to the clash is longer than the battle itself.

As much as some of these fights feel like a letdown it is understandable as how polarizing both the psychos and the time limit are. Probably one of the most distasteful experiences in video games for me has been restarting the first Dead Rising with my gained PP in order to more effectively manage my time in a second playthrough. Still, I can't help but feel like there is something lost in the risk and reward that those systems previously offered. In the final mission, no matter how early you've escaped, you're given an hour to complete the final mission and that taste made me long for that bit of that pressure again. Admittedly, as much as I am down talking the streamlining of these features, a hardcore mode is offered in a “nightmare mode” which features a far stricter time line and tougher enemies and is specifically designed to quell these sorts of complaints against the game, but it feels odd to me to completely spare a large portion of the player base from those systems.

With the concessions Dead Rising 3 makes though, I think it still offers a unique experience that can't be found elsewhere. The heart of the previous games for me has been confronting thousands of shambling enemies with the whatever tools surround you and I believe that none of the changes made in Dead Rising 3 dilute that. I still get a giddy feeling taking a scythe too an enormous crowd and seeing that kill counter jump by the dozens, and to see that enjoyment remain makes me glad to have this a part of Dead Rising franchise.

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Twelve Years Late: Thief II: The Metal Age

Over the past few generations I've come romanticize stealth in games. Growing up as a Nintendo kid, I missed out on Metal Gear and didn't play a proper stealth based game until Ubisoft's Splinter Cell. It's probably this game that brought a sense of adoration for hero's hidden in shadows. It was just so appealing to see a character who took to evasion. Usually such cloak and dagger tactics were necessary because the opposition was so overwhelming that there was no other option, but what was even more engaging for me was evasion, not out of necessity, but out of challenge. It may be easy for me to clear out this room with a giant machine gun, but how much more stylish would it be to get through the room without anyone knowing I was there? This fascination with more rogue style characters transitioned from these stealth focused games into a wide range of other games I play. In rpg's I'll make a charismatic assassin, in Far Cry 3 I limited myself to the bow and the starting pistol, and I adore the idea of “no kill” playthroughs of games (even if I'm not always able to pull it off). Now with this love of stealth based gaming you may find it surprising to find out that, up until a week ago, I had never played any of the Thief titles. So with a bit of lull in current release schedule, I decided to rectify that and picked up Thief II: The Metal Age.

Now, as mentioned in the title, Thief II is an old game, and with that comes a few rough spots that over the last dozen years, have been refined. I could go on for a long time about these obtrusive parts. Things like the jump and climbing mechanics, how areas that graphically appear dark are classified as light by the game's detection system, and how there is no walk speed slow enough to avoid making noise, but rather you are forced to tap forward to inch your now noiseless body along. All of these sorts of issues seem rather null when discussing a game this old and don't cloud the things that make Thief special. So, instead of boring you with “old games were less player friendly than today's games,” I'd like to just talk about what makes Thief such a special stealth title, and how, even today, it's ability to provide the player with an experience that fulfils the fantasy of being a thief is unmatched.

In Thief II, the player controls the character of Garrett, a man labelled as a master thief. Garrett provides a good avatar for a thief experience. He makes flippant remarks as he navigates the world, his appearance is almost never seen (using your scouting is really the only way to see his outfit), and most importantly, he's the last of his kind. Early on in the game Garrett narrates that the city watch has been coming down on crime with greater force over the last while, to the point that he is one of the last remaining thieves. Right away this identifies the player as someone unique, a thief who, in spite of ever imposing odds, has managed to stay free and profitable. Really though, this is about as far as the story goes to aiding the notion that the player is this elusive larcenist. Instead of overtly telling the player they're a great thief, Thief II lets them be a great thief.

To me, one of the defining features of thieves is that they always look out for themselves first and as a result, usually have to rely on their own wits and abilities. Thief II fully embraces this archetype in both it's gameplay and story by isolating Garrett. There is no superior in your ear criticizing your actions, but this also means there is no help for this lone thief. Saying that though, the player is not totally devoid of help. As Lambert ques Sam Fisher into plot details in Splinter Cell, Garrett's narration alerts the player of various gameplay mechanics and story ques. However, because these comments are coming from the character the player is controlling, it creates a far greater sense of self reliance and maintains this reclusive persona that Garrett has going on. Furthering this is the game's emphasis on resource management.

At the start of each level the player is given the chance to buy a variety of tools and ammo to bring into the next level. Very little of what the level contains is disclosed to the player (this level is set on the rooftops, so maybe I should buy more rope arrows), and so one is forced to make purchases on what they think they might need. Save for a few random arrows and flash bombs scattered throughout each level, this is the only equipment provided. This lack of knowledge and finite resources creates great dilemma’s throughout each level as one has to decide whether it's better to use up the provided water arrow's in a particular bright hallway, allowing one to easily slip by, or save them on the off chance that the later rooms contain enemies which can only be subdued by the scarce ammo. This lack of aid pushes the idea that Garrett is alone and also manages to create a sense of accomplishment. I can see how such design is risky. I know there was one level where I mismanaged my ammo and it made the last section of the level particularly frustrating, but when correctly managed it leaves a person with the impression that they have the same knowledge as Garrett when it comes to the decision of going all in or holding back. But what happens when things do go awry? Traditionally, the master thief always has a trick up his sleeve to get out of a tight spot, and it is really hear that Thief II shines. Thanks to the game's level design and the tools at the players disposable, Thief II allows for eureka moments where the player get to use their own ingenuity.

Thief II provides a wide variety of tools in the form of Garrett's various equipment. There are water arrows to put out the various torches within each level. There are moss arrows that dampen the sound of Garrett's walking. Garrett can also climb ledges that are within his reach. Along with a variety of other standard thieving equipment that is featured in countless other similar games. What separates Thief II from many other stealth based games is that the game never tells you exactly when it's best to use such tools. It provides you with a basic outline of how they work, but then charges the player with the task of finding out their full potential. In many games with such a wide gamut of abilities, it often seems that specific sections are built around specific abilities. “Now is the time to use the teleport ability, now is the time to use the slow time ability,” and so on. Thief never has these sort of imposed strategies, but rather opts to leave the player in charge of how to best overcome the obstacles faced. Now, there are other games that give a wide range of tools like Thief II, but where Thief really capitalizes is in it's level design.

The level design in Thief II is what pushes the game from a great stealth game to a game that frequently makes “top 100” lists. Levels in Thief strike the perfect balance between hand crafted design and free form. A level in thief is specifically crafted so that a lot of the tools can actually be utilized. Many ceilings will be grapple points for your rope arrows, torches line the halls, but are positioned so that extinguishing them would provide excellent cover from patrolling guards, and patrols take just long enough for you to pick the lock on a door and slip inside without being noticed. However, none of these paths feel forced onto one play style or another. Sometimes in Deus Ex, a level can be structured so that it can feel like “here's a vent for stealth based characters, here's a room with rocket ammo for explosive minded individuals, here's a security room for hackers, and here's a super long tunnel filled with water for swimmers (yeah right, who levels swimming).” In Thief, it's far more organic. Often times I would get through an area with one method, die, and then upon reloading my save, go through the same area in a way I hadn't realized before. This can be partly chalked up to the fact that there is no rpg levelling system in Thief. As much as I love levelling in games, it can be a deterrent in terms of player experimentation. If I'm heavily invested in lock picking, I simply don't have the necessary skills to try out other option when trying to infiltrate a compound. By linking player abilities with equipment, Thief ensures that your options are always open. And for me, this is where Thief delivers it's greatest feature, by providing the player with a set of tools and arena that, though designed, is left open for the player to experiment with, the player relies on their own wits and abilities to overcome opposition, not the designers. Having this level of agency allows for moments of sheer player authored ingenuity. As Portal makes you feel like a genius for figuring out a tough puzzle, Thief makes you feel like the quick thinking rapscallion that the game has you playing by actually having you devise how best to avoid detection.

The game is of course not without it's share of problems in these key mechanics. Gold does not carry over from level to level, which sort of flies in the face of the resource management presented through the items in the game and I found that in the back third of the game, level design did begin to falter as paths became a bit more restricted and alternate routes a bit more obvious. That said, I love a lot of the stealth games I've played over the years, but I can't think one that puts the onus of evasion on the player like Thief II: The Metal Age does.

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Persona 4: Everything Sunny All the Time Always

I beat Persona 4 Golden a few weeks ago and it proved to be one of the most enjoyable experiences I've had in recent memory, and I've been thinking about what made it so special. Mechanically, balancing classic turn based fighting with managing your time in the day-to-day life of a high school student keeps things from every feeling too stale. When ever I got bored of one, I'd focus on the other. The game is full of charm, with likeable characters, catchy tunes (for at least the first twenty hours), and some genuine hilarity. The game does a lot of things right, but isolating those things from the game doesn't really account for made the game so special to me. However, Persona 4 preaches a message of absolutely foolish optimism, and I loved every second of it.

Many games today feature a grim dark plot, where the main character is an alcoholic, and he's just trying to do the lesser of two evils, and I do love these. And it's not just me, over the last twenty years, the rise of the antihero in all forms of media has really come into it's own. Shows like Dexter, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad all portray protagonists who are fallen in some form or another, and solve their problems through questionable means. Juxtapose this with Persona 4 where the problems of the various characters, though actually similar in nature, are greatly scaled back. Walter White is looking to protect and provide for his family's future, while Chie is looking to protect her friends from bullies. Further, a lot of the problems in Persona are solved through things like friendship and believing in yourself. These ideas are not uncommon, especially for Japanese games, and normally my pessimistic nature forces me to turn my nose up at such things, but something about Persona 4, managed to do the opposite. Instead of being innocuous banter, a lot of the messages in the game resonated with me, and I don't think it's just one piece of it that enables such emotional echos. The game's writing, mechanics, and really marriage of the two is what allows the game to be so effective.

One of the major reasons the solutions of friends and faith in yourself actually work in the game is because of the rational writing. If you're unfamiliar with the structure of Persona 3 & 4, you fight monsters in classic jrpg style, and manage your time with various friends. Each friend has their own set of issues that they are dealing with. It's in each characters little story arc that some of the best writing can be found. This is because a lot of the hardships these characters face are problems that a person may have faced back in high school, or are still facing today. Problems like not wanting to follow our parent's plans for our lives, identity, or trust issues. The main character often acts a counsellor or therapist as the various people in his life hash things out and come to their own realizations that ultimately lead them to overcome the problem. Persona shows it's lofty optimism here, but never in a way that's too magical. It's always a slow progression, and never a deus ex machina, but rather something the characters have always had the power to do, but didn't realize. Further, many of these tribulations are fixed by a change in the perception of the character, one that closely resembles that bright tone of the game. And it's actually encouraging to be a part of, just as being around positive people in real life is actually encouraging.

Along with the games faith in personal relationships to help out lives, Persona always looks to reinforce the idea that conflict and power are a means to an end. When you max out a social link with one of the characters, they usually have a moment of self realization, reflect on what they've learned, and thank the player for the help in getting them here. With the main circle of friends, it's also stated that their own personal liberation and increase of power will first and foremost, allow them to protect you and the others. The abilities gained are never about “look how great I am,” but rather “look how much closer we can be.” It's also in this area where the game really couples this story of relationships with it's combat as these abilities really do grant them the ability to protect the group. Not just in the, they have more HP and damage output, but they gain the ability to take a mortal blow for the main character and gain “spells” that buff the party.

This marriage of story and gameplay doesn't end here, this bond is strongest in the game's social link system. Persona 4 allows the player to create stronger persona's based on the relationships with the other characters. Know Chie well, you can fuse a much higher level persona under Chie's sign. Now, lots of other games do offer bonuses if you spend time with your party. Dragon Age is a perfect example. That game's approval system grants stat bonuses to the various characters, but from just a combat effectiveness stance, they really aren't the necessary. If one were to approach the combat in Persona 4 without any of the social links, the game would be a much more vexing experience. Instead of instantly levelling a persona a half dozen levels, you'd have to grind the various dungeons for a few hours to achieve the same result. With these mechanics alone, Persona 4 manages to say that, turning to friends in life when adversity arises is what allows us to overcome problems without such great injury. This message is pretty basic, and I'm sure for a lot of people find it rather redundant, but I think for a lot of people who play video games, people like myself, it's easy to be the sort of person who tries to solve their own problems, and Persona 4, through gameplay and story, tries to tell us that we can't do it all on our own, but need to seek out the aid of those closest to us.

Now you could say this is a very shallow message, best left for more youth orientated games, and that more adult games should convey deeper messages, but what do more mature games encourage through their mechanics? I realize that there is lots to learn from more traditional games, even just at a technical level where processing visual information is being taught, but I'm more referring to social lessons that those games teach. I can think of very few games that convey such a positive message through the internal structure. Even games like Zelda, it's usually Link's own self reliance that gets the job done. Other than being granted light arrows by Zelda, Link's relationship with most of the characters has more in common with a contractor than with the give and take of friends. All this is to say, that in a world with so many games that encourage isolation and the pursuit of power for one's own needs, I would gladly welcome more games that ask us to consider those around us.

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Run DMC4.exe

DmC has been out a couple weeks now, and I am genuinely excited to play it, but first I wanted to get a taste for the older games. Partly to try and see what some people were complaining about with the reboot and partly to see why so many people hold them up as the pinnacle of action games. I asked around and it seemed that Devil May Cry 4 would be the best point of entry for me and so that's what I'd like to look at here.

Devil May Cry 4 is a game riddled with problems, but brightened by two immaculate strengths. Before I get to those strengths though, I really need to discuss the awful in this game. After playing this game with all the free time I've had these past few days, my tolerance for idiocy has reached it's peak.

The story is often associated with the words terrible or stupid, but I'd argue that non-existent is a better word to describe it. The game establishes a crises at the start, provides an innocuous twist five or so hours in, then an hour later reveals the final boss, and then another few hours later, allows you to confront it. There is no character development to speak of. The player is sent to find “the assassin in red” and after this commission, starts walking in a direction. Transitions to various locations in the story happen, not because of narrative purposes, but simply because that's where the path leads. Nero, the player character, just simply goes with a psychic ability allowing him to know where all the worlds problems are happening. And Nero, the character, is probably my least favorite thing in this game.

Nero is a new character that, I think, was designed for new players. He isn't privy to all of the history of the last three games and gives fresh eyes for fresh players. That is a completely fine reason to create a new character, what makes it troublesome is that Nero feels like a character from a different universe. One where an introduction to melodramatics is taught along side English, where live journals became more popular than facebook, and where heavy metal is the only genre sold in Walmart. Nero is too serious and whiny for the player to find sympathetic, and not humours or bold enough to find charming. As a person new to the series it was unbelievable to me how much the tone changed once the player switches to Dante in the second half. I had heard so much of DMC's “cu-razy” antics, but had failed to see them until the series protagonist started getting screen time. I can't imagine the frustration of adoring the series and being coupled to such an unlikeable character in this latest outing. It's almost like another beloved series.

The game also has a gamete of more minor problems. Animations that aren't tied to combat look stiff, awkward, and even alien at times. When utilizing Nero, the same song is used for nearly every fight outside boss battles (The time has come, and so have I...), and beyond that song I can't remember any of the other tracks. Level design is nothing more than flat plains, often lacking in even destructible objects to help populate the rooms. The art in the game, with a few exceptions, is terribly bland, usually featuring horizontal terrain with a specific season or gothic inspired rooms and hallways. Half way through the game, you get to replay every you just played, including the boss fights found within. I will admit, I have a suspicion that this is a result of the publisher trying to rush the game out. In the back of the game, only one new enemy is introduced. Now with all these complaints finally out, I have to confess something. Devil May Cry 4 is the best action game I've played in years and has actually gotten my heart pumping, something usually reserved for only the most intense multiplayer fights. And it's simply because of the pure combat and Dante's charm, both which are intrinsically linked. Let's start with Dante.

As any DMC fan will tell you, Dante has an arrogant charm about him. He talks smack in nearly every encounter, but saying that doesn't do the character justice. Often it's often not particularly creative (though some really do shine), but sometimes it's terribly translated to the point where it just feels like someone put the Japanese text through babelfish. So what makes it work?

First, I do have to give the voice actor credit. He imbues a level of carelessness into every preposterous line that helps sell it, but really what prevents the character from unravelling is his actions within the cutscenes. A lot of people will site his interactions with the world. Though I do agree that the scenes where Dante fights are entertaining and full of bravado it's Dante's self awareness that pushes it past any video game character I can think of. Dante is almost comparable to Deadpool in this regard. He'll almost break the rules of the game's universe just to deliver a level of style that other characters can't touch. He looks at the camera. He pulls out roses and confetti from nowhere. He teleports to various locations, all to create a persona of effortless cool.

Not only does the man have this level of flash, but he backs it up with a heart that seems to care for others. He never explicitly states it, but it's the small actions that really display this. The way he catches a dying man who had just previously been hunting him to kill him, how instead of getting help to take on one of the largest foes faced in the game, he tells that help to protect the citizens fleeing the city. How he recognizes the good in Nero and even when the logical choice is to just kill him, Dante encourages him to keep fighting. It's these two faces combined that make Dante such a likeable character for me. The game could easily destroy this image though with gameplay that feels so far removed from the cutscenes, but DMC is one game that manages to line the two up as close as possible, so let's move to that.

Devil May Cry 4 does a remarkable job of making you feel like the hero in the cutscene. Part of this is the animations are stunning to look at.. Nero can give a couple of slices in the air and then spin three times allowing him to rise higher, or dodge attacks with such speed that only a few black streaks are left behind. The animations all help to make every attack feel like it's full of force. That said, it's not just because the animations for the various attacks are really flashy. Whenever the games are discussed, the matter of difficulty comes up. Though the game is by no means impossible. It is a series committed to a methodical combat. Where you have to learn to read enemy attacks, where you can't just spam one combo an entire fight, and where learning when to go all out and when to hold back are vital skills. The game even gives the player the message “guess your not some casual gamer” when you beat the game. All of these decisions in combat give an impeccable sense of accomplishment when you do overcome your adversaries. This, combined with the stunning animations, and the characters presented in the cutscenes, blends together to form a concoction that allows a person to become Dante or Nero, both of who are characters that take on impossible odds with unbelievable grace. And in the grand scheme of things, that's a fantastic way to create player empowerment. Where a lot of games feel hollow because the gameplay can easily fall into a malaise of handling the same or similar situations over and over, Devil May Cry keeps pushing the player and reminds them of the peek they can achieve. And it amazes me that the game can actually do this in spite of all the problems I mentioned just earlier. Whether you enjoyed the new DmC, or are looking to play a title outside of your zone of comfortable. I highly recommend giving Devil May Cry 4 a chance.

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Is The Walking Dead Game a Game?

Metal Gear Solid has long cutscenes and tactical espionage action, Mass Effect has player driven conversations and cover based shooting, and The Walking Dead has talking and..quick time events? A lot of people have argued that Telltale's Walking Dead game isn't a game at all because it lacks any form of a traditional mechanic. Sure there are a handful of shooting sections, quick time events, and even a couple adventure-style item hunts, but none these mechanics would ever be considered the meat of the game. Instead all of these small mechanics give way for the story and the dialogue, and ultimately, to giving the player five or so strenuous decisions. It's these deciding moments that I would argue are The Walking Dead's primary game mechanic.

Pacing, in any form of game, is incredibly important. If you have a game that's all action, that action will start to become muted as the player sees too much of this. Games like Halo will mix up the frantic combat with driving sections and cutscenes. The Walking Dead is no different in this area. Each major deciding moment in an episode will be book ended by a vary different section, both in tone and mechanically. It may have the player looking for batteries, exploring the area for a way out, or even feature an action sequence like shooting or grabbing a ledge. These tertiary mechanics all serve to provide a cool down for the player, so as not to desensitize them from the centerpiece of the game. So if the shooting, scavenger hunts, and exploration are acting as a relief for the player, what are they pointing to as the focal point of the game? Those heart wrenching decisions. As Portal 2 uses comedic sections so as not to overwhelm the players brain with puzzles, The Walking dead uses a gamete of simple game mechanics to avoid crushing the player emotionally. Telltale Games also manages to never over do these small mechanics, and in fact, uses them to further enhance the main portion of the game.

Looking at The Walking Dead with traditional game design lenses, it would be easy to argue that there isn't enough player interaction. That there isn't enough to keep the player invested in between those moments and that they need to be filled with either more adventure style mechanics (item hunting, getting a very specific set of dialogue choices) or worse, just throwing in a plethora of small quick time events and awkward inputs. Either of those options would hurt the game. The player is completely invested in the character interactions, and though they need a break as stated above, they don't want a series of actions that get in the way of their enjoyment. Instead, nearly all of the side moments within the walking dead serve to advance the main mechanic. Shooting sections are fueled by a desire to protect the characters you care about and searching for items is motivated because you want to help your fellow survivors. There's never a moment in the Walking Dead that feels like padding. So, if the primary mechanic of The Walking Dead is giving the player a difficult choice, what is a typical decision made of?

Boiled down, the Walking Dead is a dilemma between two options. This alone can't be cited as a game mechanic. Plenty of games give players choices when it comes to dialogue options, and many do it better in terms of the number of options given. The reason I consider the Walking Dead to be separate from other games, is because of two factors: the difficult choice and the timer. Telltale Game's has stated that the goal with every choice was to create a 50/50 split among players of the game. I suspect the major reason the Walking Dead's status as a game is doubted is because there is no traditional win state and no game over when it comes to these choices. In an fps, if I'm still standing at the end of a fight, I've won and if not I've failed and try it again. With the Walking Dead, having a 50/50 split means that you always advance in the story. I would argue the Walking Dead takes a very nontraditional approach to this, and provides a post-modern relative win state/game over.

Players will most often choose the path in a game that provides the best ending. Unless it requires an overly tedious requirement, the majority of players will choose ending A where everyone survives, as opposed to ending C, where the main character is the only survivor. Having that 50/50 split implies that half the players thought that a certain option was the “correct” one, while the other half thought it was the other choice that was right. This creates a personal, though relative, win state. “I think it's better for this person to live, and not having them survive, would feel like I've failed.” The challenge then comes from figuring out what is valued personally and overcoming internal doubts.

Furthering this, a timer is added. Sure, a person could just let time out, and have it select whatever option they had highlighted, but if the player feels like one option is more preferable to the other, the timer provides a sense of urgency. In a game where the choice is between helping a child and kicking them, a timer is completely neutered. The player knows what the good choice is, and doesn't have an internal battle.

The last thing I want talk about is variables that can be applied to this mechanic. Pretty much any game mechanic can have variables to separate it from the last execution of it. Maybe there's more enemies, maybe they have stronger shields, or maybe you have more ammo. There is really only one major way I can think of that The Walking Dead plays with it's dilemma mechanic, and that is the inclusion of Clementine. I unfortunately didn't think this up on my own, and probably wouldn't have realized it unless I had read an interview with Gary Whitta.“People seem so allergic to doing anything bad and they worry that Clementine might witness it, and it’s pushed them much further towards wanting to play a good guy, they’re very, very protective of Clementine.” Once again, it's a very nontraditional variable, but would it be anything else? It certainly can alter the choices a player will make. What was once the the best option because it most benefits the player, suddenly becomes the worse of two choices, because of it's effect on Clementine.

With all of this said, The Walking Dead doesn't get all of this right. Their are times where the choices presented seem incredibly one sided. Episode four comes to mind as I felt I just walked through that section of the story. I never had to weigh the options in the various choices, which left the entire episode primarily free of tension. It played like a platformer where I couldn't fall. Where the main area where I'd feel like I'd fail, was no longer there. Also, a lot the drama is stripped once the player starts looking behind the curtain, and begins to see that overall, the choices made by the player lead to the same place. This is the same problem that many games with player choice face. And certainly not every choice is smoke and mirrors (the incredible variety of your final party) there are times where the lack of player agency is rather apparent. Even with these missteps though, The Walking Dead is a truly brilliant title, and I hope, opens a space for games that don't have to be all action, but give way to character interaction in both story and design.

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