Two From the List

mimic-threatenI’ve been playing with a few things on the enormous to-be-played list from a few days ago, though of course there are so many things on there that it will take quite some time to get through.

Braid: I have now finished. It’s of course a masterpiece in the game-play area, and doesn’t need me to say so. I usually have a really hard time getting through platformers, since I don’t have the right combination of patience and skill. As advertised, Braid minimizes the amount of frustration involved in playing a platformer while offering a diverse range of genuinely interesting puzzles; and while there were still a handful of these that were too finicky and that I would have been happy to skip, nonetheless it was the best time I’ve ever had with the format.

As far as storytelling goes, it’s a bit more confused: there is some really intriguing material in the final level, in which the meaning of events is revised and reinterpreted in a way that naturally connects to the gameplay itself; and even before that point, many elements of the game are framed so that the play is metaphorically significant.

But what I get out of all that is not really a story (good luck finding two people who even agree on what happens in Braid) so much as a series of meditations on some of the common problems in relationships and self-definition. Some of it’s thought-provoking, some a little on the obvious side. Admittedly I usually find this kind of content under ask.metafilter’s human relations tag rather than in a game, and I’m generally encouraged when a game branches out to incorporate new material. So hooray for that.

Nettestadt Troll was recommended to me as an example of good Ren’Py work, and I’m afraid I didn’t get nearly as far with that. The premise is uncomfortable to start with: girl gets abducted and raped but discovers she kind of likes it and/or falls in love with her captor. This is a fantasy to be found in many forms of literature from Menander to a certain genre of 1970s romance novel, but it’s something that would need to be handled with a fair amount of psychological sensitivity in order to be a story I want to read. Otherwise, what you have is basically porn for a specific audience.

I wasn’t crazy about the art or the prose quality, either, and the pacing left me kind of bored during the first few chapters; as for the world-building, it’s extremely vague and careless, featuring both alchemists and telegrams, feudal hierarchies and shops with “receptionists”.

I did stick with it for a while, though, in case this was a case of poor writing craft combined with a strong storytelling sensibility. Unfortunately, once there started to be choices to make, they were often on the level of random and incidental choice: e.g., what dish do I make for my supper while waiting for the troll to come home and rape me again? It’s a bit less inane than Dream Day Wedding, but the choose-your-own whatever aspects display the same lack of significant agency that I complained about there.

5 thoughts on “Two From the List”

  1. I agree with you about Braid (and coincidentally just finished writing a review for it). I was quite taken with the varied mechanics, clever puzzles, and particularly the revelation you refer to in the final level. In fact, that set piece impressed me so much that I could not help but feel that all of the ambiguous text external to gameplay undermined its accomplishment. This perspective consumed my view.

    So I stepped away for about a month and reread all of the text before trying to write about the game, and while my own opinion hasn’t actually changed I must admit that the prose adds to the game. As my review concludes, due to the impressionistic confluence of aesthetics, symbolic mechanics, text, and structure (especially World 1), I think that Braid is really the most poem-like videogame that we have yet to see.

  2. The interesting thing about Braid is that I think if it had stuck to a purely literal story about the rescue of a princess, even if told somewhat obscurely in the early chapters, the ending would’ve been mind-blowing. Instead, the narrative had become so diffuse and detached that the ending, for me, was very clever and very cool *with respect to that particular level,* but had very little significance to me as part of an overall narrative. In essence, by striving for depth, the story became, for me at least, quite shallow. Too bad.

  3. My sympathies for playing NT, the author… doesn’t like women. From what I understand, the central mystery of the game (regarding a character’s identity) can have a number of solutions depending on choices, which makes it worth discussing in terms of branching plotline and how these different outcomes interact. You might consider asking for a plot diagram rather than playing through it.

    Ori, Ochi, Onoe is more straightforward in a sense (reality is consistent) and well-written.

  4. Ren’Py games seem to run a gamut from shocking to risqué to innocuous. “The Nettestadt Troll” seems to be more on the shocking end of things, which is why I’ve avoided it. Anyway, the creator of Ren’Py and various other people have been trying to form a list of “featured Ren’Py games” – the games one would recommend to someone unfamiliar with Ren’Py. The discussion, which has been yielding some consistent favorites, is occurring mainly at this forum thread:

    1. It’s not so much that I was put to the maidenly blush — actually the sex scenes (as far as I got) are written in a weirdly coy manner. It’s more that, even so, it had the feel of something written to facilitate fantasy rather than to tell a story.

      Anyway, thanks for the links; I’ll have a look.

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