Extra Credits: Negative Possibility Space

This week, we conclude our month-long discussion of Choice in video games.

Episode video is on YouTube

Show Notes:

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  • Narrative-wise, this is probably the single biggest source of facepalm-worthy moments in video gaming history. Someone already brought up Mass Effect 3 on the YouTube comments, but I want to reach for something else - Remember Me. This is a game which, by the strength of its setting, narrative and characters, promised us an interesting and engaging world filled with unusual technology and a society changed in mind-bending new ways. It gave us a protagonist whose entire plight seemed to revolve around the ethical quandary between freedom and security, between righteousness and collateral damage. It outright promised us the ability to rewrite people's memories and alter their personalities drastically.

    In the end, Remember Me turned out to be a sub-par brawler and not a lot else. The world is never really fleshed out, only a single technology shoved in everywhere (seriously, free public insta-heal stations and you barely acknowledge them?!?) and protagonist Nillin is sent on the least interesting character arc I think I've ever seen. All of the ethics and morality brought up in the first few chapters is just hand-waved away when she gets her memories back, and then you end the game punching a giant head. Yay. It wouldn't be until the Flashback remake yesterday that I've felt so let down between what a game looked like it was promising and what it actually delivered.

    The same can be said in terms of gameplay, as well. My standard example on the subject is Marvel vs. Capcom for the old arcade machines, specifically using Zangief to fight Onslaught. See, a large number of Zangief's moves - most of his offence - consists of a variety of grapples. It's what you're relying on for most of the game getting to Onslaught... Only to realise that he can't be grappled. Boo! There's nothing as frustrating as the game giving you a power and teaching you to rely on it, but then arbitrarily deciding you can't use it for THIS boss because it would be too easy otherwise. Either don't give me the power in the first place, or figure out a way to balance it so it doesn't trivialise content.

    By contrast, Valve have so far proven to be incredibly good at weaving player expectations, right down to using space, architecture, sound and colour to goad people into standing in the right place and looking in the right direction at the right time. So when Valve need you to, say, run away from a gunship in Half-Life 2 for a cool chase scene, they don't do so by "cheating." It's not a special gunship that's immune to rockets, your rocket launcher doesn't stop working all of a sudden. In fact, if you packed enough rockets, you can get a few decent shots in on the thing. But it's in an awkward place to fight and, crucially, you need I think five rockets to bring it down, and you can only carry three. And there are no spares for quite a ways up the level. So yes, they're effectively preventing you from killing the gunship and forcing you to run and dodge, but they do so in a way which doesn't jar with expectations. In fact, it's precisely consistent with expectations because the rocket launcher is established as a very limited resource pretty soon after you get it.

    You can't account for every weird thing the player might do, obviously, but you account for a lot of "asshole physics" in terms of gameplay. And while you can't account AT ALL for the kind of story the player wants to tell in your game, you very much can account for the possibilities your own story alludes to. If you're not going to explore an angle, don't bring it up.

  • i made cartoon about these episode i hope you like it


  • I've seen games that have a sequence where they lead you somewhere, only to have nothing there. I recall a lot of The Legend of Zelda games that had this, as well as the Capcom SNES Aladdin game at one point.

    This basically feels like something that's in a lot of games since, well, a lot of games aren't that well thought-out... which isn't to say that they're bad, they just have a lot of things that no one really thought about or looked at and said "we'd better put something here". After all, it's easy to overlook something that someone else catches onto.

    Actually, remember what I said about how some smartass would look past this and think this is exploitation of emotions? Maybe this is why people don't like Extra Credits, because they ruin the magic of playing video games or enjoying certain mediums. I find it all fascinating, though I have to admit, my eyes are now open to these kinds of tactics such as the illusion of choice and negative possibility space.

    BTW, I like how enthusiastic and how sometimes Dan's voice cracks a bit in this episode, it sounds better then his typical semi-monotone.

    I'm also going to check out that podcast Dan, Lee-Lee, and MovieBob were on!

  • When I was a kid, I felt like a champ when I figured this out on my own:


  • So I'm working on a game that's basically a high scorer / rhythm game, but the theme lends itself to some moral decision making. I happened upon an idea last night where one could get offered a higher score in return for morally questionable behavior. And thought - why don't I just leave it at that?

    If you play the game morally, you will never achieve that score, no matter how well you play. It's a bonus that one has to choose to get tehre, and it fits the theme. The only additional reward you get is by knowing you didn't choose that route. Further, while it didn't strt out as a story driven game, giving thehigher score a dark, unsatisfactory ending might make that work out - but you'd only get there if you can complete higher level stuff.

    Anywway, just one thing that came up when talking about the game's design to a friend.

    Reminds me most of Gunpoint and the dialog trees in between. You get the same puzzles regardless, but the dialog trees in Gunpoint make the game feel like there's a whole lot more agency there than there is.

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