One aspect of Bioshock that I feel the developers excelled at is environmental storytelling, as discussed by Henry Jenkins in his “Game Design As Narrative Architecture”. Although Bioshock certainly contains strong narrative elements present in the dialogue and progression of gameplay/gamic goals, there is very little initial information that the player has about what is… Continue reading Narrative Architecture in Bioshock
One aspect of Bioshock that I feel the developers excelled at is environmental storytelling, as discussed by Henry Jenkins in his “Game Design As Narrative Architecture”. Although Bioshock certainly contains strong narrative elements present in the dialogue and progression of gameplay/gamic goals, there is very little initial information that the player has about what is going on in Rapture beyond the clues they have in the virtual environment. Despite this, the player is able to use the clues around them to infer what kind of situation they are in and the progression of the game creates a smooth narrative flow with the nature of Rapture and the player’s surroundings becoming uncovered as they move through the game. The ways in which water and destroyed environments are used is very effective at this, with the sense that nature is taking its course and reclaiming Rapture from humans. There is also a sense throughout the game that Rapture was a project that never should have been conducted, that it goes against nature and is fundamentally wrong. The environment is dark and overrun with criminals, science experiments gone wrong, and insane people. There are lots of instances of broken furniture and machinery littered around the environment, creating a strong sense that the player is traversing through some sort of haunted house 1950s-inspired version of Atlantis. Through the initial elevator sequence alone, the player is able to get a fairly good grasp of the nature of Rapture and what kind of environment the game will be set in. The music and sound design strongly add to this environment, with shrieks and odd scraping sounds permeating the environment from unknown but seemingly nearby locations. The water covering almost everything in Rapture adds a unique element to the lighting, with reflections being cast from small pools of water or shine added to objects from their wetness. This creates even more dramatic lighting than the broken and patchy initial lighting causes, and when supplemented with the gaudy neon signs in some of the levels the lighting becomes a very strong element of the game environment.
As I alluded to previously, Fallout 4 tells a sad story at the start, and a large part of this story comes in the environment. The more I play, the more I discover how terrible of a spot the protagonist is in. He went from living in a nice, bright house pre nuclear fallout, then … Continue reading “Environmental Storytelling in the Nuclear Waste of Boston”
As I alluded to previously, Fallout 4 tells a sad story at the start, and a large part of this story comes in the environment. The more I play, the more I discover how terrible of a spot the protagonist is in. He went from living in a nice, bright house pre nuclear fallout, then we given false hope by a similarly tidy vault, only to find himself alone in a vast nuclear ravaged wasteland. In game, he is surrounded by nothing but destroyed buildings, abandoned cities, and pools of nuclear waste.
What this scenery does for the game is it causes the player to not only see the fallout, but play through it. Empty buildings become hiding spots for enemies, and cities get overrun by bandits who shoot on sight. The game’s use of environmental storytelling helps create an immersive experience in its realistic representation of what a potential suburban life post nuclear fallout might look like. In Henry Jenkins’ article “Game Design as Narrative Architecture”, he quotes Disney designer Bob Carson on the use of this method of storytelling: “The story element is infused into the physical space. . . . It is the physical space that does much of the work of conveying the story the designers are trying to tell”(123). Jenkins uses the example of Disney theme parks to convey his point, noting how the atmosphere and layout of the attraction play onto the visitor’s prior knowledge of the parks to create a new experience. Going to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride is one thing, but going in with the foresight of the plots of the movies as well as hearing and seeing familiar sights and sounds amplifies the experience.
In this regard, Fallout 4 is not much different. It plays off of prior thoughts of what a fallout might look like, giving it sounds of a nuclear wasteland, and the architecture that would be expected in such a time. This is a very effective method as in open world games such as Fallout 4, it is near impossible to have a linear narrative. Thus, the use of environmental storytelling allows game designers to use the mise-en-scene to enhance and extend the narrative.
Jenkins, Henry. First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game. Ed. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2004. Web.
Glados, the machine fans of Portal know and… do not really love, has been with the player since the beginning of the game. And yet she is an enigma. And of course she became more complicated after our class brought up the idea that she might be the environment and not a character. True she feels … Continue reading “The Glados Dilemma”
Glados, the machine fans of Portal know and… do not really love, has been with the player since the beginning of the game. And yet she is an enigma. And of course she became more complicated after our class brought up the idea that she might be the environment and not a character. True she feels like a character, but she is hardwired into the mise en scène of the game. As I played Portal, my mind began its quest to solving the Glados dilemma, generating ideas that will hopefully quell debates on the subject.
Most people think of Glados as a character considering how she has all the dialogue Chell clearly lacks. As an aspiring writer, I noticed that she has qualities writing instructors discuss in outlining characters. Although her origin story is unknown, it still exists and affects her behavior in Portal. Glados has an objective to kill Chell, and possibly a super objective that guides her actions in the plot of Portal. Also, she something that resembles a body at the end of the game. As a character, she has an origin, an objective that motivates her actions, and a body of sorts. All in all, the argument for Glados being a character seems fairly air-tight.
Or does it? Glados is a super computer linked into every part of the Aperture Science testing facility. In a way, she is the Aperture Science testing facility. And as Henry Jenkins discussed in his article “Game Design as Narrative Architecture,” game designers focus heavily the construction of the game’s levels. The commentary from the game designers of Portal within the Bonus Levels do not discuss character design, they discuss game mechanics and level design. Glados, controlling the environment of the game, providing a majority of the plot in the game, sounds more like mise en scène of Portal, and less like a non-player character.
So is Glados a character or the name of Portal‘s mise en scène? The way I see it, if the people who created Portal poured energy into both Glados as a character and as the set, I do not see why she cannot be both. I would also say that Glados is something no novel or movie could properly portray. Video games are the perfect medium for the enigmatic Glados, and similar entities in games will secure a place for video games in narratology.
When playing through Portal again, having already beaten it, a new thing that caught my attention was how easy it is to play and replay the game. I normally am one who doesn’t find much entertainment in replaying games, but playing Portal a second time through I feel as engaged as the first time through. And having read the Henry Jenkins article … Continue reading “Portal’s Replay Value”
When playing through Portal again, having already beaten it, a new thing that caught my attention was how easy it is to play and replay the game. I normally am one who doesn’t find much entertainment in replaying games, but playing Portal a second time through I feel as engaged as the first time through. And having read the Henry Jenkins article “Game Design As Narrative Architecture”, I think this replay value comes from the detail that is put into the game that adds to its immersive nature. The more I play, the more I feel I know about Aperture Labs, or about GLaDOS. Because the game is embedded with a strong presence of the environmental storytelling that Jenkins alludes to, it not only creates a better play through the first time, but also adds value and entertainment to the game past completion. In addition, the game designers did a very good job of using the environmental storytelling aspect of Portal to slowly tell the story of the game. It was easy to follow, but also very rewarding as each completed level not only meant a new terrain but also more plot information.
Another very unique thing regarding Portal is the addition of Developer Commentary into the game. You have to have beaten the game before accessing the game mode, but it is very interesting to hear comments from the developers as you go through the levels. For instance, on one level, a player found a short cut that bypassed the majority of the level. However, instead of fixing the “bug”, the developers rewarded the players for their ingenuity in discovering the short cut and left it in the game. And while this doesn’t necessarily impact the environmental storytelling or the embedded narrative in the game, it does provide some insight about what was going through the developers’ minds while creating Portal.