Category Archives: Video Gaming

Stacking Stories To The Stars

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Lately, I’ve been playing Wildermyth, an RPG game about emergent storytelling. Playing a set of characters (and maybe guest stars) one adventures around, while choices, semi-random events, and so on come together. Characters become unique, complex individuals, small moments building to broad strokes – and may even become a “guest star” in later games.

I will probably write more on the game later, but I want to focus on how this game reflects good writing.

In Wildermyth, characters have a set of personality traits and abilities. As you play, these traits and other opportunities come together to give you narrative choices. These tiny moments create a grand epic – though there are “campaigns with plots,” you can also just play randomized games and let your own story emerge.

As I played the game, I realized this reminded me of good writing. Writing is about stacking stories atop stories to make a bigger story:

  • A book is a story.
  • The chapters of a book can (and should be) their own tiny tales.
  • A good scene is also a story, albeit one in context.
  • A single paragraph, done right, is a small story, leading from point A to point B.
  • I could even argue, in the right mood, a sentence is its own story. But I might not be sober.

It’s stories all the way down – and all the way up. I would say good authors realize most of this, and excellent authors understand this completely.

Think of how a truly delicious tale feels. Every part of it makes sense and is engaging, from a bit of backstory to a “just like them” piece of character quippery. Epic motions of the world make as much sense as the tiny pebble-starts-the-avalanche moments.

Less satisfying works lack this element, among others. Scenes exist without reason (and, “hey, cool backstory is a reason.”). Cause and effect have given up on a committed relationship. It’s a Frankenstory, without the spark of life.

The lesson I take from this is to remember the stack of stories that make up any one tale. Pay attention to the parts and the whole because you can’t separate them.

If you want a good example, well, I have a game to recommend . . .

Steven Savage

Why I Play Video Games

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

My Friend Serdar and I were discussing video games and why people enjoyed them recently. It was interesting because I know plenty of gamers, and plenty of people not into them.

So what do they do for me? That was fun – and interesting – to analyze.

First, gaming is something that lets me express myself without some kind of commitment or burden. I’m an organizer, a manager, and a guy that likes to explore things. Gaming lets me do that, from figuring out platforms to managing spaceships. When I game I am me.

Recently, with the stressful Pandemic, I was feeling down, so started playing Slime Rancher, and after that Star Traders: Frontiers. Both were games with planning and management, and playing them helped me, be, well, me. It was refreshing – and it was fun.

Secondly, gaming is a unique art. In games, multiple things that were previously separate arts come together. Visuals, music, rules, more. A game is a way to experience deep experiences, often experiences that would have been separate or less impressive.

This unique art allows for deep experiences such as simulations, but also unique ones. I can walk across impossible landscapes made out of math. I can experience a musical soundtrack while being in a story I control. Gaming is a unique art – and a fusion of arts.

Third, gaming has a social aspect. I’m not just talking multiplayer games (rarely my fave) but the way you can connect over an art. There’s plenty of social tools and sites, I love Early Access games where I give feedback. There’s so many ways to connect, if you’re selective, you can find really fulfilling involvement on a level fine for you, deep to shallow.

I share experiences with video games and friends, I give feedback. I really connect and in some cases, you can give feedback that improves games.

So yeah, that’s why I game. it helps me be me. It’s a unique fusion art form. And I can connect with others when I want to.

What about you?

Steven Savage

Games, Sustainability, And Expectations

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Lately, I got into the game “Portal Knights,” a charming Minecraft-meets-Action RPG video game. It takes a lot of lessons from various games and combines then for a solo or with-friends adventure in a broken world. There are a few polish issues, but for $20 there’s a lot of value.

The game also has optional downloadable content, from a fancy one with new stuff to simple ones with extra hats or buildable items. It all seems quite reasonable, but then I found online complaints about the game having a “money grab.”

Note that for $20 you get a pretty complete game people are supporing, even though it’s been out in Early Access and complete for over two years. It didn’t seem that way to me, but . . .

This made me think about the challenges that game publishing faces – and how much it costs.

  • First, people expect a supported game. But if you make your money on sales, then you need ways to keep paying for it unless you make a lot of money.
  • Second, many people expect games to be around for a long time – that requires some kind of support model.
  • Third, subscription fees of some kind seem to have long ago faded away.
  • Fourth, DLC and extras are reasonably accepted ways to keep the money coming. Heck, it goes back to Team Fortress 2 and hats.

We have expectations of long-term support and endurance of games in the video game community. But how do we reconcile that with the simple financial need to pay developers? Even when we do that, do we have a way to declare a game just simply “done” and move on?

I thought about this and simply realized . . . I don’t have an answer.

We want a way to get good games. We want a way to support them and have them grow. But the methods we have are piecemeal, or limited, controversial, or misused (loot boxes). There has to be something else out there we haven’t invented yet.

I’d like to see a lot more discussion on media production, monetization, and patronage. It’d be great for games, yes, but it might be something we can extend to other media. Right now, we’re probably too confined by current models, past ideas, and recent failures.

Steven Savage