November 13, 2013

The Stanley Parable: A Game About Games

stanley parable

It is nearly impossible to explain what The Stanley Parable is about. It is a game about the nature of games, how a player interacts with the world, and what happens if the antagonist is the game itself.

At it’s core, The Stanley Parable is a first person exploration game. All of the interaction comes through choice. Choosing a door to walk through, choosing which button to press, or even choosing to do nothing at all. You play as Stanley, an office worker who may be asleep, crazy, bored, and everything in between.

To reveal anything about the gameplay experience is to ruin that experience for you. It is very much a narrative driven game, with the majority of the entertainment value coming from the narrator, given life by the incomparable Kevan Brighting, and his interactions with the player. If you are sensitive and can’t take constructive and not as constructive criticism, you may want to stay away. The narrator will hurt your feelings and make you feel worthless but, to be fair, you do the same to him multiple times.

In technical terms the game is fine, with serviceable graphics that never get in the way of the experience. The game is still based in Source, so the physics that come along with that engine work well (even with a dearth of interactive objects). The music is fantastic and hugely varied. It only shows up every so often but when it does the score will command your attention. The controls will be familiar to anyone who has played a first person game, save for the lack of one usual input variation that leads to a hilarious achievement.

I had issues starting up the game upon first install, but upon reinstallation the issues ceased. Besides that there were no bugs that I personally have noticed in my ten hours or so with the game.

Mind Control

What really stuck out to me was how The Stanley Parable reflects on the absurdity of game mechanics and storytelling. We do it all for a weird sense of self gratification, the accomplishment of the objective. Be it an actual scripted objective like every mission based game, or the “I’m going to steal a helicopter and try to jump out onto a bus” self generating objectives in an open world game, it’s all there to give the player a sense of accomplishment. The Stanley Parable deconstructs this to the point where one second the objective could be to press a button so that some booming voice will say “Eight!” over and over and the next the objective is to figure out what the game wants you to do. In the end, the game doesn’t want you to do anything. It’s a game. And The Stanley Parable knows that.

You can complete The Stanley Parable in about 15 minutes. Your first play through will probably take about half an hour. But there is so much to explore within the crazy world that Galactic Cafe thrusts you into that it could easily eat up much more. Not for twitch gamers or people who want to get to the top of the leaderboards, but if you value narrative then I implore you to check this one out. At least get the demo off of Steam. If anything, you’ll get a chuckle out of just how ridiculous it all is.

In its purest essence, The Stanley Parable is a commentary on routine, achievement, the government, video games, and life itself. I love getting lost in it’s world and losing myself within it. Everyone needs to play this.

July 28, 2012

iOS Review: E.R.S Game Studios

Murder. Mystery. Intrigue.

If these are all things that you like to see packaged into an iOS game then you need to take a look at what ERS Game Studios has to offer. In addition to developing games for the iOS platform there are also PC, Mac and Online games to choose from spanning across a range of different genres including: IHOG, Puzzle/Adventure and Sim/Strategy. Formed in 2006, ERS Game Studios has developed a worldwide following attributed largely in my opinion to the polished gameplay and stunning graphics that some term ‘illustrative realism’. There are numerous reviews of the various ERS games out there and the quality of the final product and the graphics are always a big talking point.

I’ve been playing the iPhone and iPad versions of ERS Studios games for a while now and I’m glad I’ve now got the opportunity to talk a little bit about what attracts me to them and why I think they are so amazing. I started off playing ‘The Mystery of Joyville: Puppet Show’ which I found while browsing the App Store, as soon as I’d completed the game I actually looked up the game developers, found out what else they had released and got downloading. So far I’ve completed five of the eight iOS games that have been released, I’ve listed the titles of the eight games below (screenshots alonside this review are taken from Music of Death and Curse of the Raven) and you can find out more from the ERS Game Studios website. Where available it’s definitely worth springing for the collectors editions to get the bonus content at the end.

  • Maestro: Music of Death
  • Haunted Legends: The Queen of Spades
  • Haunted Halls: Green Hills Sanitarium
  • Dark Tales: Edgar Allan Poe’s The Black Cat
  • Redemption Cemetery: Curse of the Raven
  • Dark Tales: Edgar Allan Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue
  • PuppetShow: Mystery of Joyville
  • Hidden Wonders of the Depths 2: Around the World

As with all IHOG games there seems to be a combination of factors which make them appealing rather than tedious, a really nice aspect to these games is that many tend to run in series, for example, the latest games I’ve played ‘Maestro: Music of Death’ and ‘Redemption Cemetery: Curse of the Raven’ both have sequels coming soon and it seems like a natural progression for the games rather than something that is forced to get a new game out quickly. Another aspect of the games that appeals to me is the tie in with Edgar Allen Poe’s stories, Poe being best known for writing tales of the macabre. It’s amazing how well the games in the series work alongside Poe’s dark themes which often dealt with death, reanimation of the dead and mourning .

When you first start one of the ERS games, literally when you touch the icon you know that effort has gone into making it, there is a sense of becoming involved in the story by adding a cinematic-style opening which combined with the music really make the game interesting from the start. You know what your objective is and now you need to work through the content to achieve it. The story is a true mystery and your role is to act in a detective capacity to figure it out, the puzzles are not hard but they will get your brain working and the hidden object scenes are just fantastic, they are miniture works of art which are a pleasure to behold. ERS Game Studios also have the graphics-music combination nailed, and I find myself humming along as I try to find the objects hidden within the scene. In each game the gameplay is slightly different and you need to constantly adapt to the situation as it unfolds. It’s not brain science, you won’t achieve mensa status by solving the puzzles, but they are fun and progress the storyline in a way that keeps you entertained and eager to find out what happens next.

In general these games get excellent reviews, the only recurring critism seems to be that they are lacking in originality and perhaps do not lend as much of a challenge as some would like to see, as eluded to above. Both are valid points, but I think that it would be very difficult to create a truly original story in this particular genre, of course that’s not a reason not to try, but I’d also be concerned that by changing the format too much it would remove something fundamental to the success of games like these, taking away the reason that so many people love them, it’s that mystery, working through the process and progressing through the story that makes these games appealing. I also think that making the puzzles within the game or the gameplay more challenging is more a question of appealing to the right demographic, ERS Games Studios pride themselves on being casual game developers, these are games you are supposed to be able to pick up and run through without it being so difficult that you end up frustrated by the whole thing and fling your iPhone/iPad across the room, essentially they are feel-good games that allow you to get the little grey cells working and have that sense of achievement at the end. They are great games for what they are designed to be.

To wrap up, here are some of the game features that might be of interest:

  • You can play a certain amount of the content for free before purchasing the game
  • There is an in-game tutorial to get you started
  • Some games have a strategy guide (in case you get stuck)
  • The collectors editions have special bonus content
  • The game saves as you go, just start and stop when you like

These type of games are not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but there is definitely more than meets the eye and it’s definitely worth a look.

May 10, 2010

Adventure Games: A Dying Breed?

Yesterday I had the joy to sit down and play The Longest Journey by funcom games.  While the game is dated and old by almost every standard I find myself unable to step away form the game.  I started the game early in the morning and before I knew it the sun was setting.  Why would a game that’s over 10 years old with dated graphics hold our attention so much?  Adventure, story and amazing voice acting all help contribute to the amazing world which is “The Longest Journey”.  This got me to thinking however, when was the last time the gaming world saw a good adventure game?  Are adventure games a thing of the past?

The last time the world saw an adventure game of any importance was Myst 5: End Of Ages.  Since then there hasn’t been a single well made adventure game released to date and that was almost 5 years ago.   While there have been other adventure games made, they are generally underfunded, poorly produced with little effort put into the puzzles, visuals and characters behind them.  Why have their been  no adventure games over the past 5 years?

It  could be said that peoples interests have changed quite a bit from the mid 90’s to the new millennium where most of the great adventure games were made.  With games such as Bad Company II and MW2 people want to get into quick action, kill kill kill, rinse and repeat.   People, today, as a vast majority probably would not have the patience to sit down, and play an adventure game.  Adventure games, unlike their FPS, RTS, and RPG counter parts are quite slow and require thinking, puzzle solving and in some cases like Myst require note taking.  Yes this means and Pen and Paper.  If you have played Riven, and played through, you would remember quite clearly having to learn part of the D’ni alphabet. 

One big thing that has changed over the last 10 years  is the change from PC to console gaming.  During the mid 90’s to even as close as 5 years ago the majority of gaming was predominantly on the PC.  Due to the requirements of adventure game that are mostly point and click.  It’s extremely hard to develop one that hasn’t been dumbed down for a console.  Developing a title, as such, would be extremely hard and near impossible.  Similar attempts have been made with titles such as Syberia but were fairly unsuccessful.  That all taken into account would it make sense to develop a title for a platform that has been harmed with poor sales, piracy and changing consumer interests?

Adventure games bring something to the table like no other game does… curiosity.  Whats behind that door?  What happens when I flip this lever?  What happens if I light this lamp?  All these things help drive the player to progress the game and move deeper into the story.  Another thing that adventure games have generally brought to the table is amazing graphics.  It could be argued, that pre rendered images are a thing of the past they are nothing to be scoffed at.  Pre Rendered games can be just as beautiful if not more so then true 3d games.  However, with the recent advancement in graphics technologies and Direct X 11 an adventure game in full 3d might be possible.  The last game to try using a full 3d environment was Myst 5: End Of Ages.  While the game did look pretty at the time it felt as if the game was lacking.  While it was nice to be able to “freely” explore the world in full 3d it lacked a lot of the detail and living beauty that the previous titles such as Myst III: Exile and Myst IV: Revelation did. 

While an adventure title will most likely never have the same impact that Myst did.  We believe that a good one could definitely be successful on the PC platform baring some fiasco involving DRM.  What would it take to make it successful?  First and foremost it has to have a good story.  One of the things that Myst games have done so well over the years is have a compelling story to drive the game.  Secondly the game has to have believable characters.  This is one thing that the good adventure games have typically had down.  Whether they you live actors or just compelling voice acting.  Finally but just as important is well engineered puzzles.  This is something that a lot of games fail at.  In some cases they want you to look for some so obscure that you would only find it on accident or it is so blatantly easy that it wasn’t worth the time to solve the puzzle.  With the recent “revival” of PC gaming we may see some new titles in the adventure genre.  Microbes Syberia III is expected to be released this year.  If this title is a success we could see a small revival in the adventure genre.

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