End of Week Notes 5-21-2010: You’re Not Allowed to Play Anymore

Last night Veira and a handful of fellow nerds gathered around the tee-vee while I started up a game of Alan Wake. For most everyone present, it was their first exposure to the beginning of the game. We kicked it off by watching all six of the extremely Twin Peaks-inspired “Bright Falls” webisodes, which set the stage for the very beginning of the game itself. The connections to Twin Peaks were many and blatant, and very appreciated1. Alan Wake (the game itself) opened with a very poignant quote from Stephen King, verbalized by the game’s eponymous protagonist and narrator. That singular quote, which I will not spoil here, captured the essence of things to come so perfectly that I think it might have displaced the opening to William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer as my favorite opening to a work of fiction2.

I’ll save my detailed game opinions for a later in-depth review, but so far I’m liking what I’ve played. I found myself getting a little too loot-happy at times, though, which is definitely a holdover from my history with other games of the Survival Horror genre that provided the foundations for this game’s own unique experience – while it isn’t technically a straight-up game of that genre, it definitely feels like one in many regards. When we continue our group play-through, I intend to focus less on loot-hunting3 and more on making sure our mutual initial experience with the game’s story plays more like the developers intended. This will be fun, yes, but old habits are hard to kick.

On a different note, I end this week with thoughts from today’s morning commute, on the subject of elimination games. Specifically, I refer to games with three or more players wherein the purpose is not to gain victory for yourself, but instead to cause failure upon everyone else in the game, kicking them out of play one by one until you are the last player standing. In recent years I have grown noticeably less tolerant of elimination games, to the point of refusing to play many of them when suggested by friends at various game-gatherings. I’ve come to support the belief that if a game’s primary goals involve removing your right to actually play the game, then there’s a serious flaw in its design.

Perhaps the only elimination game I can still tolerate these days is Twilight Imperium. While elimination of other players is technically possible and sometimes encouraged by random game objectives, a few factors of gameplay innate to the game’s core implementations tend to prevent that from actually happening. Twilight Imperium takes forever and a day to both set up and then play, for one, and there is usually an unspoken understanding among the players at the table, an acceptance that they all made this time commitment and by removing any one of them from play, they would be performing a logistical “dick move.” Plus, in addition to the Space Combat rules required to remove players, the game offers several other equally interesting play mechanics, and when all are combined together into the greater whole of the game’s flow, the effort required to remove another player becomes more of a hassle than it is really worth in the end4.

I’m a major believer in drawing out games for maximum fun potential. When I’m with a group of pals enjoying a wicked fun board game or card game, I want that fun to last as long as possible, and for everyone to enjoy it for the majority of that time. By removing players from the game, you are bringing it closer to an end, and limiting those players from participating and having fun. I’m not cool with that.

Footnotes

1 You can download them all from the Bright Falls website, or direct to your Xbox from Xbox Live. I’m not a fan of Twin Peaks, finding its story long and unnecessarily dragged-out, and its characters largely uninteresting. But I love it’s creepy style and vibe, and it worked wonderfully for the Bright Falls miniseries.
2 Neuromancer opened with the famous line: “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” It’s hard to get much cooler than that.
3 ALAN NEEDS HIS COFFEE!
4 In all the years I’ve played this game, I’ve only ever seen another player forcibly removed once, and that jerk deserved it.

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