Twelve million, five hundred fifty thousand, eight hundred twenty-one blocks away, if you want to get technical about it. The name comes from the distance a player must travel in Minecraft to reach ‘The Farlands.’ This is a place where the mathematical rules that control the rendering of the land break down, resulting in spontaneous, foreign, alien features. On top of that, movement becomes aligned to a grid, meaning that the algorithms that smooth out player movement also collapse. Everything feels laggy, although it isn’t. At roughly thirty-two million blocks from the starting point, the variables storing the player’s position overflow. If the game didn’t freeze and crash long before then, the player would likely cease to exist. Such is the ominous nature of the Farlands.

I adopted this name for two reasons. Firstly, the Farlands represent a point at which a game is no longer a game. Defining characteristics are erased, strange and spontaneous problems arise, and things fall apart. In the case of the Farlands, this is caused by events outside of the player’s perception, i.e. the programming and fine-tuning of aesthetics. I adopt this name because, in this blog, I will not simply be reviewing games. I will be picking them apart, defining what about each game makes it a game, and what parts of it fail to meet its own criteria (When it is no longer a game, so to speak.). I will pull apart the inner workings of, not only the aesthetics of the game, but also the psychological effects it has on the player (These would be the ‘events outside of the player’s perception.’). In my reviews, I seek to find the ‘Farlands’ of every game, as well as the reasons behind them.

This is not a video game review blog. This is an insight into the psychological connection and philosophical implication between gaming and the human mind.

For those who are curious, the second reason I chose this name is because Minecraft is pretty fantastic. And I like obscure references to things.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Dishonored: Corvo Attano vs. Gordon Freeman

This was a great, little game, with a good number of parallels to Half-Life. You have The Outsider/G-Man, The main characters end up as vigilantes, the levels are even designed by the same person. But this article here brings up the point of Corvo/Freeman, claiming that he (the designer) has created a better 'silent protagonist' than Half-Life.

I knew right away that you couldn't compare the two, but I wasn't sure why. He states that the other characters talk at/about/around Gordon Freeman, but Corvo's actions speak for themselves and develop his character as the player decides. Basically, Freeman doesn't talk in any way, shape, or form, leading to awkward, one-sided conversations, while Corvo's talking all the time- Just not with words. But that makes Corvo not as much of a 'silent protagonist' as Freeman. He is a character that develops on his own, has his own relationships. Freeman is a vessel for the player, and nothing more.

Thinking back, I never felt any kind of emotional attachment to any of the characters in Half-Life (Aside from a twist of events at the end of HL2:EP2). The game felt very classic, very fun, just "run around and shoot the bad guys." And that's all it really is. It's brilliant, and it's reshaped the FPS genre, but as far as character development goes, there is virtually none, aside from however the player starts feeling about certain characters. There's too much emotional freedom in the game. Personally, I never ended up attached to anyone, or ever felt guilty about shooting people in the head. The game simply isn't built for that reason.

This leaves Gordon Freeman as a very literal vessel. He himself has no character, no role, very little purpose, without a player to control him. He is a shell for the experience of the storyline, yet for an emotional experience within a game, this won't do much.

Corvo, on the other hand, has a very clear character, defined at the very start of the game. He's the lord protector of the empress, clearly, yet as soon as her daughter, Lady Emily, comes running into his arms, so enthusiastically happy that her Corvo is home, a character forms and relationships are solidly established. The Empress herself is displayed as very close to Corvo, and a glimmer of affection is visible. But of course, as the Empress, out in a public area, won't show that. Already, though, we see far more character in Corvo than Freeman ever expressed.

The reason this works is because Corvo's relationships and affection towards those close to him are established before the game starts. How they talk and how they act around him shows this very well, because it is simply an aftermath of things previous. Half-Life, however, attempts to build relationships from the ground up, during gameplay. Realistically, how strong can you expect a relationship to be if it is built from one-sided conversations? Sure, they can portray it happening. They did. But it doesn't feel as strong. It doesn't feel realistic. And throughout all of it, Gordon Freeman does what people tell him. The relationships he ends up in with other characters are simply results of those characters' actions. Very one-sided. No control. No player influence over them.

Another strong point for Dishonored's Corvo is that there is morality. You can murder everyone in cold blood, or exile them, or choke them out and throw them off a bridge. You can chain the High Overseer to a chair and brand him a heretic, or kill him as he hopelessly stares back at you. You can play the game stealthily, killing no one, or rush through, destroying everything in your path. Depending on what you do, and what kind of person you are, there are decisions you can make that will make you feel guilty. Feel bad about what you have done. It forces you to evaluate your actions, or deal with the consequences, and the way Corvo's loved ones talk to you reflect that.

Freeman's story is much different. He's a pawn that everyone else controls, and you, as the player, simply do what they say. There isn't much reward for exploration, either of the map, or of the characters. That wasn't the purpose of the game. The good guys are good, and the bad guys are bad. Shoot the bad, protect the good. It's very classic, very straightforward. It revolutionized the storytelling of first-person shooters, but games have evolved since then.

Corvo is his own character to begin with, with attributes you can change depending on how you play the game. Freeman is a shell, and nothing more. They both serve their purposes very well, but they are fundamentally different. They cannot be compared for this reason.

Now personally, I prefer Corvo, but that is only because I absolutely love the emotional experience that a good game can offer. Dishonored has a touch of that, which does little more than put a smile on my face, but it does make the experience more rewarding for me. But for a truly fantastic emotional journey, there is nothing better than Bioshock 2.

More on that later, perhaps.