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Half Life 2: for Adults Only

Though compared to most it’s a relatively new medium, video games already have quite a few titles in their ranks that are deemed masterpieces or classics. Some of the newer ones are the Last of Us, Breath of the Wild, and Overwatch. If we go back in recent decades, we can include titles in that list like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Super Mario 64, Halo, and the list goes on and on. These are titles that, when you call yourself a gamer, you’re expected to have played, or at least have a decent knowledge of.

Valve’s Orange Box collection has been burning a hole in my backlog for a few years now. A close friend of mine sold me a bunch of old games he had played and didn’t want anymore, and among them was that. For those that don’t know, the Orange Box includes Half Life 2, it’s two expansion packs, Portal, and Team Fortress 2. I played Portal a few years ago, and TF2 is a multiplayer so that I don’t really consider to be part of my “backlog”. Half Life 2 however, got lost amidst a lot of other titles I was trying to add to my portfolio… until I recently popped the game into my console.

 

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I started the game and immediately took a few things in. Even for an old game, the sound and art design both felt surprisingly… clean. Yes, I could certainly tell that some voice actors had been double booked, and a few textures looked a little muddier than they would nowadays, but even my wife was surprised that HL2 had been released almost 15 years ago. From a technical standpoint, the game holds up.

I walked into HL2 having never played the first, but the plotline wasn’t hard to get a handle on. My silent protagonist, Gordon Freeman, helped open a wormhole that let some bad aliens through. They tried to take over earth. They succeeded. Now there’s only a small group of freedom fighters that are willing to stand up to the oppressive “Combine”, and they’re very outmatched. Gordon, however, is something of a legend because of the one-man warfare he waged in the first Half Life, and every time you walk into a room you’re met with phrases like “Are you him? Are you really Gordon Freeman?” If nothing else, I could tell my ego was going to enjoy this game.

The gameplay itself, however, felt like a solid, yet pretty generic first-person shooter. Yes its crisp, yes the enemy AI is great, but the game didn’t offer me anything new… at first. I think I went into HL2 with such rose-tinted glasses, in no small part thanks to hearing about how legendary this game was from everyone and their mom over the years, that I expected to be absolutely blown away by something new and life changing.

Needless to say, I didn’t get that. But with that being said, as I played through the main title and its two expansions immediately after, I very quickly realized this game had earned its praise. And to accurately explain that, I need explain the title of this article in a bit more detail.

The phrase “Adults Only” in video games can often be found amidst gasps and scandalous glances. For those that don’t know, an “A-O” game rating is the equivalent of an NC-17 film. It’s a very rare occurrence, and is reserved only for the games that have the most extreme amounts of violence and sexual content. Half Life 2 is only rated “M”, so what did I discover to make such an accusation? Is it the steamy, over-the-top full nude scene between Gordon and and the lovely Alyx? Or perhaps using the gravity gun to tear the entrails out of an enemy and throw it back at them?

 

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Oh Gordon, talk dir- oh wait, you don’t talk. Uhhh, sign dirty to me? Hum dirty to me? Blink three times for dirty?

 

… of course not, because those things don’t happen. Honestly I’m surprised Half Life 2 isn’t rated “T”, it’s a pretty mild game content-wise. No when I say it’s for “Adults Only” I’m not talking about an ESRB rating… I’m talking about the gameplay itself. And in order to convey what I mean by that, I’m going to reference the two games that bookended my HL2 playthrough: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, and Tomb Raider: Underworld.

Despite the hate the series has received in recent years (mostly thanks to beautiful catastrophe that was Unity), I am a huge fan of the AC series. It’s one of those guilty pleasure games I play when I don’t want to be challenged and I want my hand held. Playing AC is like going through a historic power trip. It’s easy, it’s comfortable, and after getting a few titles in the franchise under your belt, it’s familiar. Though the series has definitely evolved over the years, the core gameplay is undeniably the same. Because of this, I not only was able to breeze through Black Flag’s campaign, but I had completed almost half the side missions before barely clearing a story mission. I am at the point in that series where I don’t even have to think or strategize. I can look at the building layout, see who my target is, and they’ll barely be able to blink before I’m having that infamous “AC Death” conversation with them.

 

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Bob! How are you man! Wife and kids doing good? The weather is gorgeous today. It’s so convenient how your guards are letting us just chat like this.

 

Half Life 2 never, ever made me feel comfortable. And I don’t mean that in the sense that I was jumpy the whole time (although don’t get me started on those freaking head crabs), but I never knew what was coming next. There was never a point in that game where I felt like I could predict exactly what was ahead. I turned every corner cautiously, my shotgun ready for anything. Every upcoming area was heavily scrutinized before walking into it, trying to ensure I didn’t dive headlong into an ambush. Even still, HL2 surprised me on numerous occasions, even after I’d clocked over 10 hours into the main campaign and was well into the expansions. I never felt safe, every checkpoint was met with a huge sigh of relief, and it always felt like an accomplishment when I realized I was going in the right direction. Actually, that’s the other thing the game did a great job of in terms of feeling “fresh”: even though it’s a linear game, Valve designed the areas and maps so well that you never are exactly sure if you’re going the right way. Whereas modern games practically have a gigantic neon sign and and NPCs screaming “I AM PRETTY SURE IF YOU WANT TO FIND THE NEXT AREA, YOU SHOULD GO THROUGH HERE”, HL2, always let you stumble onto the correct path yourself. It wanted you to figure out where to go, not tell you. Realizing you were on the right path came with a huge amount of satisfaction.

The game I played after HL2 was Tomb Raider: Underworld. Underworld is the final game in the “Legends Trilogy”, the second iteration of Lara Croft. Though it can’t hold a candle to the newer Tomb Raider series, or something like the Uncharted games, as someone who grew up with Lara’s brash, confident, double-desert-eagle-wielding era, these older iterations of her hold a special place in my heart. I’d completed both TR: Legends and TR: Anniversary (the first two titles of the trilogy) awhile ago, so I figured it was time to round out the series. Like the first two, the game is comprised of some decent to great puzzles, fun platforming, and less-than-impressive combat. Yet again, like AC but in a different way, the gameplay felt safe. It felt predictable. The world didn’t seem to run in a way that made sense for the real world, but it felt 100% like a game. Ledges are not only conveniently crumbled exactly how I need them to be, but they’re even aged to all be the exact same color so that I can clearly see where I need to jump. Puzzles, though by no means boring, never made me feel like I had to think about them. “I’m missing four gears for this machine. There are four towers. I bet I know where those gears are.”

 

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Take note architects.

 

It felt set up, it felt like Jigsaw from the Saw movies had built every level and was watching me run through the motions the whole time. It wasn’t organic, it all felt very false. The puzzles in Half Life 2, however, never felt that way. In fact, it almost feels insulting to call them “puzzles”. The game is designed so seamlessly that each obstacle feels just like that: an obstacle. A very real problem with a very real world solution.

The best example of this in my opinion was a point where I had to power a machine to operate a mechanical door. I knew I had to open the door to progress, but it was very obvious the thing wasn’t getting the juice it needed. So I let gamer Jonathan take over. Was there a way to jump over the door/gate and just move forward? No, no there wasn’t. Was there some magic switch to power everything? No, not that either. I went through all my usual tricks, and nothing worked. Then I had a thought. What if I didn’t think like a gamer? What if I just thought like, me?

I went back to square one, and analyzed the door. The control panel had a wire connected to it. I slowly looked up, and realized that unlike EVERY GAME EVER MADE EVER, the wire actually climbed up, went across a pole, and led to a specific little building a bit away. I figured why not, may as well check it out. Every game previously has taught me that if I was supposed to follow that wire, it would be bright pink and my companion character would have gotten her degree in Advanced Wire Studies. But, maybe the little building would have some extra ammo. So, I followed the wire, walked in, and found a health pack. Then I looked left.

No way.

What looked like a complicated breaker system was staring back at me, and it’s hard to describe the excitement I felt. HL didn’t want me to think like a gamer, it wanted me to think like me. Valve put so much work into this world that they wanted you to play this game like a human being, not a human being that has played 100 video games before. I immediately studied the breaker system. Three outlets, each clearly meant to house a battery. The wire I had followed attached to the outlet on the far right. There was one battery already in the far left outlet.

“What a fun puzzle this was” I thought to myself. I removed the battery from its original outlet, and put it in the one attached to the wire. I confidently walked back to what I expected to be a fully open door. The door was still down. A little surprised, I went back to the breaker system. This time I noticed that the outlets were all connected, and thought maybe I had to find two more batteries to fill the two remaining outlets. Sure enough, after searching through the building, I found a second battery under some debris. Feeling confident, I realized that I just had to find one more battery and I could power the door. I searched the building. Nothing. I searched around the perimeter of the building. Still nothing. I looked in other buildings. I looked near the door itself. No dice.

 

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I will say though, non-gamer Jonathan was very hesitant about the decorator’s tastes.

 

I went back to the breaker system one more time and really analyzed it. Then I (manually, believe me, manually), tried switching off the gamer in me and looked at it as just Jonathan. I looked at the design of the batteries. These definitely weren’t the type you could buy at CVS. They were bigger, square ones, like the kind you would find in a…

A lightbulb kicked on. I ran outside the building and looked around. Sure enough, I saw a pair of headlights sticking out from under some debris a bit away. I ran over, thinking to myself there was no way this was going to work, tore off the debris, and ripped the hood of the car off the body. What awaited me underneath, still attached to the engine, was a car battery. A removeable car battery. I grabbed it, ran back to the breaker, and sure enough. The lights came on, I heard an engine whirring, and I ran outside to be greeted by the mechanics of the door opening, allowing me to move forward.

This, to me, is why HL2 is for adults, because it wants you to think like an adult. It wants you to look at a situation and analyze what you would do, and try it. It doesn’t hold your hand, it doesn’t depend on your previous knowledge of other games to get you through. It doesn’t have massive signs or fireworks going off in the direction you’re supposed to go. Half Life 2 wants you to, like real life, be faced with a problem and not know immediately how to solve it. It wants you to use critical thinking, to fail and try again, and to feel a deep sense of satisfaction when you finally do overcome it. It doesn’t hold your hand, it doesn’t baby you.

Though it came out in the early 2000’s, Half Life 2 left an impression on me most modern games haven’t even come close to. It’s designed to feel like it isn’t designed. And whereas games like Assassin’s Creed and Tomb Raider give you satisfaction when you beat a level, or when you accomplish some great task, HL just made me feel pleased with myself for opening a door. And let me tell you, when you get to be an adult… you’re thankful for every open door you come across.

-Jonathan Wine, Creative Director of Wyvern Interactive

 

The images in this post are not the property of or made in association with Wyvern. We do not claim ownership over any of these characters or photographs. 

THE TRAINER BLACKED OUT: A Writer’s Thoughts on Pokemon Go

THE TRAINER BLACKED OUT: A Writer’s Thoughts on Pokemon Go

This is a follow-up to a blog article I wrote February 10, 2016 called Gotta Catch ‘Em All: A Writer’s Thoughts on Pokemon Go. For the original post, click here.

On June 6, 2016, after several months (for some people, years) of anticipation, Pokemon Go was released on mobile devices with the promise for trainers to be given a world to explore and become a Pokemon trainer as many of us dreamed of being when we were growing up. For fans across the globe, the moment the game was announced, people began losing their minds. Even non-gamers who weren’t as interested in the Pokemon phenomenon were enamored by the time the Superbowl trailer hit. The world collectively geeked out over the wonder of transforming the world into a game map using augmented reality.

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To watch the Superbowl ad that stole our hearts, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2F46tGehnfo

Niantic had already created a game of similar structure to this previously, called Ingress. While the game had received quite a bit of attention from the internet community, there was no way the fanbase could compete with the one brought in by their partnership with Nintendo. Because of this, as those of us playing the game the first few weeks experienced, there were several server lags and for a few days, all of the servers completely crashed due to the unexpected volume of usage. Once they figured that out, things slowly improved, although even to this day the game still has problems. The biggest starting promises for features of the game that would be available at launch were to 1. Allow players to catch pokemon and fill out their pokedex, 2. let players battle their friends, 3. include duels with Legendaries, and 4. give players the ability to trade with friends and family.

Out of these four key promises made by the game creators, and after 11 months on the android/iphone market, only ONE of these features is currently included in the game.

I’m sorry, what?

Yep. For those of you who never picked it up or who left the Go community because of the frustration this caused, three of the four biggest elements of the pokemon games (PVP battles, trading, and hunting down Legendary pocket monsters) have still not been added to the game, and because gamers can sniff out a glitch and betrayal of their favorite IPs from a mile away, the entire gaming community took notice. During the first month when the game experienced the most glitches, server problems, account errors, loss of saved information, and the like, the Ingress support team refused to release any statements addressing the community for almost a month. Even then, the first posts from the team included a single line apologizing for server errors (but not giving any further information) and announcing the release to additional countries, the first of which being Germany. In these early posts for the first month and a half of the game’s life, none of them addressed fixes to the game’s problems, and more often than not, people’s emails to the company about the problems they were facing went ignored. At its peak in mid-July of 2016, it is estimated that over 45,000,000 people were logged into the servers and playing the game. Now, a little less than a year later, after all the frustration the company has caused, the game’s daily user number has dropped to a measly 5,000,000. That means that the daily community usage dropped 89% between July of last year to now.

In order to keep some of the members of its fanbase from feeling so betrayed for these elements not being present, Niantic began creating events tied to the time of year that trainers were playing. The first one I noticed was the Halloween event where Ghost and Dark type pokemon were far more common and in less than a week, I had a Gengar AND Marowak with candy to spare. I would be lying if I said I didn’t participate in these events when I could, and it still urks me to this day that I couldn’t find a Christmas hat Pikachu during December.

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Jus lookit that cute widdol guy…

However, in order for any game to succeed, the company can’t just hold a few in-game events and think that will rectify the glaring problems with the core gameplay mechanics. Because it can’t. If there are major issues with the game’s functionality, story, or overall structure, even if additions are added to the game in order to try and patch up the ugly areas, in the end, the game will still not recover from the damage that has already been caused.

As much as I would love to spend this entire time critiquing Pokemon Go, featuring the world’s favorite electric mouse, Niantic is not the only company who is guilty of releasing a game before it’s ready to be seen by the world. While some games have recovered and still kept their audience despite being glitchy, such as Elder Scrolls: Skyrim and Fallout: New Vegas, others were not so lucky.  Now, several other games have such a notorious reputation for their maker’s mistakes that they will never be enjoyed as the games they could have been due to a release that came far too early or an incomplete release that required DLC in order to actually play.

Now what’s so bad about that, Nerissa? What is so bad about a game releasing additional content or patches later down the line?

Personally, I have a HUGE problem with any company that uses patches and DLC as a crutch. While downloadable content can be a great way to expand upon the story that player’s fell in love with during the main campaign, as we were able to experience during Rapture at Sea (Bioshock Infinite DLC) and Left Behind (The Last of Us DLC), too many companies have been using it as an ex machina, pulled out at the last minute to save the company from all blame and ill-will.

Here’s why: Do you remember when release dates and midnight release parties were the crux of our existence, giving us something to look forward to for months at a time? I remember when I was a teenager and the sixth Harry Potter book came out. I was so excited to read it and decided to spend the night before the release at Border’s. The place was completely packed – there were costume contests, trivia games, How-To-Brew-Butterbeer classes, live readings of sections of the previous books filling every corner of the bookstore, which had been transformed for the evening into Diagon Alley. For a nerdy kid like me, I was in heaven and hopping in line and getting my copy of The Half-Blood Prince at 12:27AM dressed as Hermione Granger was a sacred experience. I will always cherish that memory.

For die-hard fans of any series, getting the copy of a book, movie, or game in your hand and getting to rush home to enjoy it for hours on end after years of waiting…It’s indescribable. If there’s a release I am truly looking forward to, my friends are completely okay with the fact that I will more likely than not go missing for a few days as I hole myself up in my room to play the latest release for hours on end. When Last Guardian came out after nine years of waiting, I got the collector’s edition day of and was able to beat the game within three or four days. This one didn’t interfere with the rest of my life much, but I, being the huge Legend of Zelda fan I am, knew that I was going to need some extra time for Breath of the Wild. When it came out, I not only gave my standard hibernation warning to my friends, but I even gave it to the Wyvern team, knowing that I would need a few weeks to be the Princess’ appointed knight before going back to the grind. Jonathan was great about it and left me to play the game I had longed for so.

The die-hard fans are the ones who are going to be waiting anxiously to get all of the custom game merchandise and the game itself and chances are, they’re going to want to get it the day it comes out. Now that video game creators have come to rely more and more on releasing games sooner rather than later then adding patches as they are reported, rather than allowing time for beta testing to do its job, it’s slowly depriving the die-hards of the beauty of that first-time experience. If players really want an untainted, fully debugged experience nowadays, you typically have to wait until the Game of the Year edition of the game is released a few months later. And that’s a horrible thing to do to your fanbase.

Take one of the most recent culprits of this: No Man’s Sky.

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Oh boy. Here we go.

The main selling point of the game was that, in this science fiction world, a procedurally generated science-fiction galaxy was laid out before you to explore, discover new life, mine for materials, and more. Due to the popularity of the Mass Effect series, people expected this to be a game with rich characters and story to occupy this infinitely vast world.

And what players got…wasn’t that.

I have seen gameplay of No Man’s Sky and while it does look beautiful, the game has received an onslaught of criticism for the lack of…well, any point or meaning to travelling through this universe. Players are encouraged to planet-hop and if you get far out enough into the edges of the galaxy, you can even name undiscovered planets and make your mark on the worlds. Which is pretty cool. But other than that, there is very little plot, very little driving the action, and from the way my roommate described it, it is “a great Minecraft-for-adults to play while you’re waiting for something else to do.” On top of that, for many players, save data would be continually corrupted, sometimes the game would give you incorrect in-game prompts, making it hard to tell whether you had docked or were still in space, players would lose items or sometimes their entire inventory would wipe, and players frequently got stuck inside the terrain, making it impossible to move or be removed.

The company heard these complaints, addressed them, and while they made sure that the world as a whole functions more smoothly, from what I understand, no additional story elements or in-game guidance have been added in the 24 patches they have released while the game was already out.

There are too many other games to count that make it onto this “released a broken game in the hopes it would get better” list: Superman 64, Sonic ‘06, Mass Effect: Andromeda, Ultima IX – I could go on. Even Battlefield 4, which had earned critical acclaim for many of its elements, had such broken multiplayer that even with patches, it was never able to recover in its user numbers. But in the end, as much as we’d like to point fingers at one or two titles, a majority of the big-name companies rely on releasing further patches post-release date nowadays so we need to treat this as the larger issue that it really is. We, as gamers and on the whole, are a pretty smart group of people and companies can’t expect us to wait and hope for a game to get better with the next patch or purchasable DLC. And while my love for the Pokemon series and desire to be a trainer will go on, Niantic needs to realize that they only have a certain amount of time to win back the community’s trust before one by one, the trainers black out.

-Nerissa Hart, Writer and Director of Marketing, Wyvern Interactive LLC.

The images in this post are not the property of or made in association with Wyvern. We do not claim ownership over any of these characters or photographs. 

Open Interpretation

If you have read our previous blog posts, you know by now that Jonathan and I talk a LOT about the importance of storytelling and detailed worlds in games. Insert Bioware fangirl writing here. (Ooh, decision-making! So fancy!)

Between the two of us, we have talked about elaborate story and decision based games so much that, if you didn’t know us better, you may have thought we were being paid to advertise for them. I can promise you, that is not the case – we’re just suckers for good character development. However, these aren’t the only kinds of stories that hold a monumental amount of emotional resonance and impressive gameplay. Personally, as much as I adore games with intricate worlds, I actually find loosely plotted games, in many cases, far more poignant, heartbreaking, and beautiful.

Traditional story-based games are focused on making sure that players understand all the plot details needed at the moment the designers so choose. Because of this, they are also notorious for holding the player’s hand a little too much with tutorials and puzzles. Loosely told or abstract storytelling in games, on the other hand, is known for refusing to hold the player’s hand, sometimes to an even punishing degree. These games focus far more on the gameplay itself and the art style of the game. By minimizing the amount of cut-scenes and direct information the player is given, they allow players to come up with their own theories of what the game is actually about.

Games like Dark Souls, Limbo, Bioshock, Journey, and the entire Trico trilogy give you very little information directly, instead forcing you to gather whatever information you can from the environment and piece it together in some form of coherent fashion. There are dozens of message boards dedicated specifically to dissecting video games just like these. Some YouTubers, such as Michael Samuels, or VaatiVidya to his fans, have even made a career for themselves by becoming – I kid you not – video game scholars whose sole goal is to dissect every single detail in open interpretation games in order to pull out the much more vivid, albeit theorized story hidden within. This, in a way, can also apply to the Legend of Zelda timeline, which is still up for debate to this day, especially with the release of the (wildly innacurate timeline in the) Hyrule Hystoria. (A personal opinion, but I will defend it to my dying breath…)

The two greatest examples of “open to interpretation” games that I have close and personal relationships with are Limbo and Shadow of the Colossus. Both have vastly different play styles, but the biggest common denominator that gives their stories power is the fact that, with the exception of a few cut scenes interspersed throughout, the games force you to hunt down clues to put together the puzzle that makes up their plot.

And as always, SPOILER WARNING: I will be spoiling the crap out of Limbo and Shadow of the Colossus. If you didn’t want spoilers on these two titles, please stop reading now. Then again, Limbo has been out for 7 years now and Shadow of the Colossus for 12, so I doubt that the moments I mention will be news to most of you.

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Especially stuff about the spider. Everyone had nightmares about the spider.

Let’s start with Limbo. At face value, Limbo is an all black-and-white 2D puzzle platformer that follows a young boy who awakens in the middle of a vast forest with no way to move but forward. The title screen shows a tattered treehouse and throughout the game, you encounter a large spider, small white parasites that stick to your head and temporarily control the direction of your movement, and other children who are lost in the middle of this odd place too. The world of Limbo is a forest leading into a lost-boys like fort leading into a field of gears and tablesaws ten times bigger than you powering an unknown machine. We also get the occasional glimpse of corpses of children who have previously succumbed to this world’s traps and monsters. Some have even killed themselves and their bodies can be seen hanging from trees. There’s also a recurring scene of a little girl in a slightly brighter lit meadow, sometimes ending with her disappearance, you being forced away from her, or the screen just fading to black.

All of this on its own makes for a very confusing first-time playthrough, and the creators of the game aren’t exactly helping the situation. Like many game creators, the things they wanted left a secret stayed that way and, with the exception of stating that the little girl the boy reaches in the end is his sister, that’s all they have confirmed. Literally everything else in the game is left up to the player’s own speculation. The only other clue that people have been given directly by the developers is in the marketing materials for the game.

“Uncertain of his sister’s fate, a boy enters Limbo…”

Now, if you are at all familiar with mythology, Dante’s Inferno, or some sects of modern Christianity, you can probably take a guess as to where the action takes place. If not, let me break a few things down for you that, at this point, are pretty commonly accepted about the game.

Limbo (the place), according to many religions texts, is the circle of hell that souls are led to after death who have neither earned themselves damnation nor gained absolution. Often times, these poor unfortunate souls end up falling into one of two categories: They were people who couldn’t quite be admitted to heaven but were essentially put in Limbo as a holding area until their souls could receive redemption. The other option is that the souls are of those too young to  understand religion and make their own decisions, such as infants and children.

Children. Huh. And the only other people we see in Limbo (the game) are also children. Interesting…

Because of this pretty clear piece of evidence, it is commonly assumed and accepted that the little boy, girl, and all the other children in the game Limbo are dead and are in the circle of hell known as “Limbo of the Infants”. And since all of the characters in the game are dead, many of the theories about the game have to do with trying to piece together how the siblings died in the first place.
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Since the treehouse appears both on the main menu screen and during the very last moment of the game when the brother and sister reunite, many believe that the two of them fell from the treehouse they used to play in. Others believe that, due to the machinations that take over the second half of the game and the amount of times that the brother crashes through glass, the two of them died in a car crash. However, while either of these may in fact be the reason the siblings are there, I don’t believe that how they died is what the game is actually about. When I first played the game, I didn’t realize that my theory was not only commonly accepted by others, but in comparison, is considered one of the darkest theories about Limbo that exists.

In my mind, this story directly parallelled with the Sisyphean tasks present in Greek mythology. Essentially, there was a man named Sisyphus who, according to myths, was trapped in hell and tasked with pushing an extremely large boulder up a steep hill. For eternity. No matter how many times he tried to complete the task, right as he reached the top, his strength would always fade and every time, the boulder would roll back down to the bottom. His mind was broken, his muscles were in agony and weary, but his will just barely hung on – just enough to keep on pushing the boulder back up, only for it to roll back down.

This game, likewise, runs in a loop. As the advertising tagline states, the boy’s main goal is to find his sister. Along the way, time and time again, the boy  dies in extremely graphic and gruesome ways, only to end up back in limbo (the place). There are multiple instances where the boy runs into his sister and just as he is about to reach her, in some way, shape, or form, she is taken away. Even at the end screen, when it finally seems as though the two have been reunited, you (as the boy) never actually make contact with her and the screen turns to black.

Another thing to note is that the game runs an auto-save feature that always puts you back where you last started, should you die. This makes going back and finishing puzzles trial-by-death style much simpler. However, when you beat the game and hit start again, you end up back at the beginning – meaning where you started the entire game. Much like the stories of the Sisyphean tasks, the boy, no matter how much he longs to see his sister, no matter how close he gets to her and what challenges he faces, he will never be able to reach her.

The first time I finished the game and hit replay only to find that, despite all my efforts, the agony the boy had gone through and the hours I had given, nothing had progressed, I burst into tears. I don’t use that expression lightly and I’m not exaggerating. As soon as the final moment faded to black, the game returned me to the same spot where the brother and sister had just been together. Now, though, it was once again unoccupied, just like before when I had opened the menu screen. I had a moment of chest-heaving and honestly quite embarrassing tears. But because of the conclusions I had naturally jumped to as I played, the boy’s tragic ending resonated so much more powerfully for me than most other games had. For me, being a lover of Greek Mythology, being terrified of being trapped like Sisyphus had, and loving kids as much as I do, the game made an impact on me that has stuck with me to this day. No matter how well a story is written, the terrors that will always strike people the deepest are the monsters they create for themselves.

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CUE EPIC MUSIC!

The other open interpretation game that I have the immense pleasure to talk to you about is my favorite game of all time, Shadow of the Colossus (referred to as SoTC from here on out). Just taking the game at face value, SoTC, originally released for the PS2 then re-released for the PS3, is an action-adventure game that follows a young man named Wander. Wander travels from far away to The Forbidden Land and asks an entity only known as The Dormin to bring a dead girl he has with him back to life. According to Wander, the woman, Mono, had a “cursed fate”. The Dormin explains that, in order to bring her back, his power must be unlocked by destroying 16 stone statues. These reside in The Dormin’s Temple that currently hold his power sealed. The statues cannot be broken by hand, but they each represent one of the many colossi that live in the Forbidden Land. Defeat the colossus, the statue breaks.

If you weren’t really paying attention to the rest of the game, the opening cut-scene dialogue would probably be where you gleaned most of the plot from and the rest would seem…well, straightforward. Point glowing sword, go in direction of glowing sword, stab monster with glowing sword, repeat.

 

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Seriously, what COULDN’T this thing do?

However, with the way the game is built, a much bigger story comes to light, if you only know where to look. Now, Limbo, unlike this game, is much shorter, has no dialogue, and gives the player a set line they need to follow in order to complete the story. These constraints make theories a little easier to parse out because there are fewer events, keeping everything tied up into a slightly neater package. SoTC, on the other hand, gives the player a huge world to explore, and with each person coming into the game with their own preferences, tendencies, and experiences, there are dozens of theories that people can get behind. Then again, because there are so many questions left unanswered by the game, there is very little that the entire gaming community actually agrees upon.

One thing that is important to note is that SoTC is part of a series created by Team ICO. The first game to come out in the series, Ico, tells the story of the titled young boy born with horns who is trapped inside a castle. He meets a girl there with mysterious powers and together, they attempt to make their escape. The second game to come out was SoTC, and after nine years of waiting, the third game in the series, The Last Guardian, was released. The Last Guardian follows a boy and an oddly cat-like griffon and the two escape a place they are trapped in called The Nest. Gameplay wise, The Last Guardian is basically a mash-up of the best elements of the first two games. Plot wise, it is confirmed that SoTC is a prequel to Ico. But otherwise…

Nothing else is confirmed. Fumito Ueda, the mastermind behind all of the Team ICO games, is notorious for creating these games with minimal dialogue, fictional languages, and “spiritually successing” stories, as he calls them, with the sole intent of never giving the players hints and letting them draw their own conclusions. He wants people to create their own version of what stories his games may tell. While this has driven many a mainstream gamer insane, these elements are exactly what earned them notoriety and cult classic status with a following to go with it. There are tons of websites that have been created specifically to delve into the deepest-hidden corners of SoTC, and some message board threads that have gone for several hundred pages. No, I am not kidding. When intense gamers get their claws on a beauty like this, there’s no way to make them back down.

And it makes sense. The world Ueda’s team created leaves a LOT to be explored and questioned. First off, The Forbidden Land lacks any other monsters aside from the 16 originally mentioned colossi (which seems to break every known rule of typical video games) and the only creatures you meet along the way are the horse you brought with you and some scatterings of birds and salamanders. Yet there are many places where water is very clearly flowing into waterfalls. Food in the form of fruit hanging from trees and those delicious and nutritious salamanders are pretty readily available…So why don’t more creatures live there? What about people?

Then, thinking about the broader scope of the world, The Forbidden Land breaks down into forested areas, expansive deserts, geyser-filled drylands, hidden cities, broken-down coliseums, the temple at the heart of the country (?), and altars scattered across the landscape. Very clearly, many of the structures that are now destroyed or decaying that litter the landscape were manmade. Some of the colossi even appear to be more architecture than colossus as far as make-up. So if the colossi were manmade, were they made specifically to hold The Dormin’s power or did they exist long before? Who used to live here that created all this? Did they leave or did they die? And think about that name – if it appears like so many people used to live here, why was the land forbidden in the first place?

And lastly, that entity you speak to – The Dormin – what is his/her/their deal? The character is voice acted by both a male and female voice actor whose words overlap and reverberate on top of one another. Until the end of the game, The Dormin has no physical form, and when they do assume a form by taking over Wander’s body…

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it is terrifying. (Well, by PS2 standards.)

Like I said, there’s a lot that’s left open to interpretation. Coders and hardcore fans have spent countless hours hunting down every hidden corner of the landscape and finding any secrets that could be tucked away, so after 12 plus years since the game’s release, there isn’t much left to find that hasn’t already been discovered by someone else. But in the end, even if you find every last item and discover every piece of the world, on and off the map, without your own theories to guide you, games like this have no point. The thing that truly gives these games meaning is breathing your own life into them with your logic and imagination at your side.

While I will not claim my theory about this game is the one true theory, and while I’m also sure I’m not the only one who has thought of all this before,  here’s personally what I believe about it…

MY THEORY

The Dormin is a God that is the embodiment of duality; both male and female, light and darkness, life and death. Whenever they speak, their voice is both masculine and feminine simultaneously. The sword leading you to the colossi, powered by The Dormin, directs you using beams of light, yet whenever The Dormin’s power is released from a colossus, dark streaks of shadows consume the main character. In order for The Dormin to grant Mono life, Wander’s life is slowly taken away in the process until he ends up dying. And when The Dormin is destroyed by the priests in their temple, Wander is reborn, albeit cursed.

(Right now, don’t question me on that one. My thoughts on the horns delve into territory in the other games about the horn theory and the timeline and we don’t have enough time for that right now).

Wander and the priests who come to the Forbidden Land share something key in common: The symbols on their clothes are not only almost identical, but they also reflect the weak sigils that appear on each colossus, showing where to insert the ever-reliable glowing sword. Symbols like these are also pretty prominently displayed on pieces of architecture and the altars scattered throughout The Forbidden Land.

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Right to left: Wander/Weak Spot on Colossus/Lord Emon (Priest)

However, when Wander arrives in The Forbidden Land, The Dormin laughs in his face for asking to use their power. When Lord Emon arrives, the priest completely forsakes the place and considers The Dormin an unholy being. Keeping all this in mind, here’s where we go forward with my theory:

Hundreds of years ago, people used to live in the Forbidden Land and revered The Dormin as their supreme God. They built altars of worship across the land for those travelling from one side to the other, but the bridge that was built between their temple and the outside world was meant as a means of keeping others out. The religious peoples of the Forbidden Land regularly asked The Dormin to use their power and, after building cities, beautiful structures, and more, the people decided they wanted to create life. The people who lived in The Forbidden Land created the 16 Colossi and told The Dormin the creatures were being created as offerings to them, to honor their legacy. As such, they wanted to build dual versions of the colossi: Solid, dead structures in his temple and living, full embodiments in the world. Once again, the duality of The Dormin coming into play. The Dormin granted this request, breathing life into the colossi as they had requested.

Of course, just like Wander’s request to bring Mono back to life, when the people asked to have these structures brought to life, they didn’t realize what horrible repercussions would come with it. In order to animate the statues, an equal amount of life would have to be sacrificed and thus, hundreds of people were killed. When the colossi finally did come to life after this costly ritual, they all acted independently of their creators, each acting according to their own will. Even if their bodies were created by man, their spirits gave them free will, and thus, they did not bow to the humans who made them. The more peaceful colossi faded away, while others tore apart the cities and structures that the people had worked so hard to create.

The Dormin’s followers were outraged and saw that The Dormin showed no remorse for their actions. These were beings created by both God and Man, bringing both life and death, both stone and flesh, upholding the same duality of their own power. The Dormin didn’t understand how the people were shocked by this and, as an act of rebellion, the priests used their power to seal away The Dormin, hiding the God’s power in the very creatures they had been coerced to create. Then, when the deed was done and The Dormin was sealed away, the former followers all fled, created a new life and religion for themselves outside, and forbade anyone from setting foot in The Dormin’s realm again.

I do think that, despite being horrified by the practices of The Dormin, some sacrificial rituals continued. They were probably used out of sheer superstition to protect themselves from their old god, should they somehow return. Wander, since he is wearing the same religious symbol as the priests, was a priest or minister in training of a sort. Mono was to be sacrificed, and Wander was supposed to be the one to do it, even though he felt she didn’t deserve to die. I don’t think trying to bring her back to life was an act of love, but I do think he felt regret for killing an innocent girl. After killing her, his shame consumed him until he couldn’t stand it and wanted to find a way to undo his actions. Once he found out that a sacred relic, a forsaken god and a map to The Forbidden Land supposedly held the key to reviving the girl he had unjustly slain, he stole the supplies he needed and ran.

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So when Wander appears at the temple, asking The Dormin to bring back this girl’s life using the power his very people sealed away, wearing the symbol found on the beings this ancient God helped to create, of course they were going to laugh at the irony. With the next generation, everything has come full circle. And even after being set free at the end of the game, with all of the statues that contained their power destroyed, The Dormin could only physically manifest when using Wander’s body. Both free and a prisoner. Both man and God. Both living and dying.

Now let’s say you don’t agree with me. If you think my theories are completely unfounded or you have other evidence you find more convincing, that’s completely okay. In fact, part of what makes open interpretation games so unique and wonderful is that they are built specifically to make people overthink them. The creators of games like these WANT the players to find meaning in the easter eggs they build in – that’s why they wrote it in the first place. Sometimes writers like the theories just as much as what they actually wrote. Players coming up with insane timelines, origin stories spanning generations, new strings of mythology, and finding ways to make Quantum Mechanics or regeneration work in these worlds creates a writer/consumer interactivity that can’t really be found anywhere else. It’s a truly unique phenomenon.

I hope that, alongside Wyvern, I get the chance to both entertain and cause endless agony to players with plots with as much left for investigation as these two amazing titles. Part of it is because I love the way these stories are told. The other part is because, after playing our games time and time again, I can’t wait to see what stories the players come up with on their own.

-Nerissa Hart, Writing Team Member and Marketing Admin Assistant for Wyvern Interactive
NOTE: The images used in this blog post are not the property or creations of Wyvern Interactive, LLC. These depict characters from other games and companies who own them in their own right. We do not claim any rights over these characters, companies, or their affiliates.

The Morrigan Complex

You know how, throughout history, there are those characters that everyone seems to feel the same way about? As an example, on one hand, take a look at Disney’s Mulan: An incredibly strong, determined, brave warrior, and an overall great representation of exactly what amazing things women can do. On the other hand…What about Dolores Umbridge? Let’s be honest, all of us were cheering when the abusive wretch got dragged off into the forest by centaurs.

Whether it be in films, books, TV-shows, or another single-story medium, most characters (with some exceptions) bring out the same reactions in people because those characters were written in one script to make the viewer feel a certain way about them during the course of their story. Those characters only have one set sequence of events to show who they are. (I’m not saying these characters are flat, as many of the greatest characters of all time are extremely fleshed out and have huge backstories that span an entire series.) The problem, though, is that the viewer only sees what happens to them. If that character dies, there is nothing the viewer can do to prevent their death. If a character is romanced, we have no power over how that happened or who it happened with. Basically, we have no say in the matter.

Video games, however, do something pretty amazing. In a video game, especially in the more modern ones that are driven by the choices the player makes, we don’t just watch these characters. For the time we’re playing, we’re living in the same world as them, and many times our own opinion is brought into the discussion on whether their choices are morally right or wrong, and if they’re a character worth keeping at your side or if they’re not worthy of your trust at all. Your decisions completely change the world around you, and those choices not only impact who you are in the world, but who the characters around you become, what they do, what happens to them, and more. So, in short, if you and I play the same game in different ways, your best friend could be my worst enemy.

After realizing just how earth shattering these differences can be, I nicknamed this character-evolving phenomenon “The Morrigan Complex”.

Morrigan and Alistair

Why that title, you ask? My best friend and I began discussing this topic more and more recently, and we both found out after describing our gameplay experiences of the Dragon Age series that the main characters in her game vs. my game were COMPLETELY different people. The characters who I trusted with my life were the ones that she described as being so weak that they dragged her down. On the flipside, the characters who she developed strong friendships with were the ones I thought were going to betray me in the end and I was just waiting for them to prove me right. Both of us were stunned to hear how things were on the other side and I couldn’t help but sit back in wonder, realizing that literally no other medium could ever do this to people.

The two characters who really drive this point home for us are Morrigan and Alistair in Dragon Age: Origins. If you have never played the game, Morrigan is a mage who lives by her own rules with an extremely famous and widely feared mother known as the “Witch of the Wilds”. Alistair is a warrior who is part of a huge alliance known as the “Grey Wardens” that you join at the beginning of the game. Those are pretty much the only similarities our characters had. After that, things just went insane.

SPOILER WARNING: Major spoilers for the Dragon Age series follow this. If you do not want spoilers, skip down to the “SPOILER SAFE ZONE”.

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My play through of Dragon Age: Origins had me more emotionally invested in it than I think I have ever been with a game in my life. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of playing into the obvious “romance options” that most decision-based games give you. In fact, I actively try to avoid them. Most of the time, the dialogue feels forced and there’s something about a character breaking from the story to suddenly be like, “You’re the protagonist and I LOVE YOU BECAUSE THAT IS HOW I WAS WRITTEN,” that takes me out of it. I’m just not interested.

Origins, however, was different. At first, I was not a huge fan of Alistair. He seemed cocky and mean, and if he existed in the world today, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see his sword and armor replaced by football gear and a brew. He definitely seemed like the fantasy version of a sports jock to me. However, at one point maybe thirty minutes to an hour into the game, I remember him making a joke that made me stop, look at him, and burst into laughter because it was exactly like my sense of humor. I took a breath, thought about it, and realized that hey, this guy wasn’t that bad after all. After a bit of joking back and forth, we basically became best bros, with the two of us warriors fighting in the front side by side. As the game went on, I got closer to him and eventually, it passed the point of us being friends. I did what I could to help him find his family and joked when he needed a second to lighten up and come back from a dark place. I had never experienced something this personal in a game before, but dammit, I was in love with this character. In the end of the game, without giving me any choice in the matter, he even sacrificed himself to save me.

Which made the storyline with Morrigan a little…tense. From the beginning, I never got the feeling that I could trust Morrigan. She would constantly insult Alistair and she would try to take things for herself with no regard for the rest of the party. She would refuse to give me information on old magics that she clearly knew about, kept secrets from the party that could have helped us, and she constantly questioned my decisions and insulted what I was fighting for. Eventually, when she finally opened up to me and expressed her fear of her mother and interest in recovering her book of magic, I decided to help, hoping it would allow me to see the true Morrigan and repair some of the damage in our relationship. However, the moment I retrieved the book for her, she would barely speak to me about what it really meant. She was constantly reading it, and the more she hinted at its secrets, the more it sounded like she wanted to use the same evil magic her mother was infamous for. Then, when she, towards the end of the game, came to me wanting to perform an ancient ritual from her mother’s texts, I turned her down and told her to get out of my sight. I was not going to make a deal with the devil and she had given me NO reasons to trust her. My “Alistair” was the warrior who loved me and saved my life and my “Morrigan” was the witch who tried to take everything away.

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Allison played things a little differently. She made decisions that she thought would benefit the whole world, looking at problems from all sides without letting her emotions get in the way. Her priority was ending the blight, and she would stop at nothing to achieve that goal, even if it meant making some morally gray decisions. Her first opinion of Alistair was not much different from my own, seeing him as this cocky jock-like character. After the first major battle she tried to rally Alistair to push past his personal emotions in order to fight the blight. Alistair did not take too kindly to her methods and as a result, Alistair was weak in her game and she thought of him as extremely whiney, so she never took him into battle with her. When Allison took charge of the politics in choosing the future ruler(s) of Ferelden, she arranged for the current Queen, Anora, to marry Alistair (which he hesitantly agreed to) because she believed this would be the best course of action for the country.  However, Anora had requested that Allison show leniency towards Loghain (Anora’s Father), who betrayed several people during the blight.  Allison decided that killing him would be destroying a wealth of military knowledge that could aid in the final battle against the archdemon, so she decided to make him a grey warden.  Alistair strongly opposed this idea and stormed off and became a drunkard.

Since Allison didn’t have this innate bond with Alistair it made her interactions with Morrigan vastly different. Allison immediately saw the potential in Morrigan to be a powerful ally that could help end the blight, because she brought a unique understanding of the blight and magic to the party. Since Allison’s only motivation was to end the blight, she quickly decided that she needed to earn Morrigan’s trust/friendship.  Allison quickly gained Morrigan’s trust largely because the decisions she made in game were to help end the blight even if that meant choosing a morally gray option.  During personal conversations with Morrigan she was always brutally honest with Morrigan and always called her out when she said something that was inappropriate/wrong.  Morrigan eventually trusted her and after receiving the grimoire willingly discussed the contents with Allison. Prior to the final battle when Morrigan confided in her there was a ritual that could save her life, Allison agreed.  Allison also agreed that the safest course of action to protect Morrigan from her mother was for her to disappear. Allison’s “Alistair” was the drunkard who wasn’t worth her time and her “Morrigan” was her best friend who used her powers to save her.

SPOILER SAFE ZONE

Allison and I are best friends with very similar personalities, yet when it came to this series, our decisions were so varied that our characters became completely different people. Hearing about her play through was like seeing into a parallel universe. So, why is “The Morrigan Complex” so important that I felt the need to write about it?

Because this is the power that games have. Video games, at their core, are an art form that is used to allow the player to directly impact what happens in a world based on how they interact with it. You didn’t dodge Bowser fast enough? Say hello to the Mario Brothers “Game Over” screen. You decided to harvest a few little sisters instead of saving them all in Bioshock? Congratulations, you have just become Satan incarnate. Your decisions, whether they are rooted in your emotional investment, skill, moral choices, or carefully planned strategy, are what influence what you see, and that makes games all the more beautiful. Your play through of a game and mine will never be exactly the same, and that is an achievement that should be celebrated. Games are designed specifically to put that power in your hands, so you can have a say in how your story will end. Those differences between our characters doesn’t make them any worse. In fact, even though I never got along with Morrigan, I still think she is a fantastically written character, especially now that I know how other people see her, too. Your best friend may be my worst enemy, and that’s completely okay. In the end, it’s not about who might be “evil” and who might be “good”. It’s about the fact that we, as players, actually have a say in the matter.

Nerissa Hart, Marketing Admin Assistant for Wyvern Interactive

 

Image 1. Artist Unknown. Link Source: https://ifunny.co/tags/morrigan/1455809336

Image 2. Artist Unknown. Link Source: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/73/ea/06/73ea0660bca3a70017d1a028d547ad29

Image 3. Artist Unknown. Link Source: https://www.google.com/search?q=alistair+and+morrigan&biw=1366&bih=586&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj88eSHguTMAhULWz4KHSxMBs4Q_AUIBigB#tbm=isch&q=alistair+and+morrigan+art+toadstool&imgrc=tJSYnoqqGK2_DM%3A

Why I Do This

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Jonathan Wine, during his time studying at George Mason University.

You know the feeling you get when a song is stuck in your head? You could be driving your car, sitting at work, brushing your teeth, anything… and out of nowhere that beat comes into your mind, and you find yourself singing the chorus, and maybe the one full verse you actually know? Everyone goes through that. Maybe it’s the newest catchy thing on the radio, a Disney song, or something you just heard off a new Pandora recommendation.

Imagine now though that instead of a beat… what your mind constantly calls up is a world. An entire world, brimming with scenery, cultures, and history, and instead of lyrics you get a cast of characters with their own trials, victories, personalities and everything else that goes into defining the word “being.” These don’t pop into your brain from JUST hearing something though; maybe they come from seeing a screenshot of a far-away place. Maybe they come from a sentence, or a tone, or the most powerful instigator of all: an experience. If you’re imagining that…Welcome to what every moment is like inside my head.

I’ve always been a storyteller, though I didn’t always know it. For a while I thought I was going to be a comic book illustrator, but I quickly realized I cared much more about Batman’s motivations, his intricacies, and how he was going to take down the next villain than the style of his suit or the pose he was striking overlooking Gotham on some rooftop. Once I locked into this, I figured out even faster I had to tell stories through games. Not because I’m a big gamer (I really wasn’t until college), but because the game can totally get the “tune” out of my head: I can make every corner of that entire world, I can bring those characters to life in all their glory… I can put you IN the story.

I don’t want to get the tune out because it bothers me either; quite the contrary. It’s A, because I REALLY want to experience them myself. If you can find me someone who doesn’t get excited by seeing their work in front of them, I’ll show you someone who needs to find a new career. And B, most importantly, because I know I can touch people with them. I know I can inspire them. More on that later.

The title of this post though, is “Why I Do This.” And that’s the reason. Because I want to enhance people’s lives through stories. But the title also means something else. “Why do I keep doing something that’s going to take so much back-tracking and be this insanely frustrating and difficult?” (You can see why I went with the former title.) The answer to that one is thanks to two individuals, my “two” best friends. You’ll understand later why that has quotation marks around it.

I graduated with my Associate’s in 2012, and starting that Fall semester I knew I would be living on campus at George Mason University, a Junior in their Computer Game Design program. I was beyond excited, but I was also nervous. I love my parents dearly, and I knew that leaving them would be tough (my dad has a medical condition that makes mobility difficult, and I had been trying to help my family any way I could), and my brain was racing to figure out more and more ways to guilt me, scare me, and convince me going was a bad idea. My parents were excited for me to go…But as the calendar days got crossed off, I got more and more apprehensive. What if I wasn’t good enough? What if they REALLY needed me at home when something went down? What if I had picked the wrong career this whole time and everyone had 400 page scripts in their heads, and I was just being pretentious thinking I had the right to follow up on it?

It took my best friend, dragging me outside by practically my ear, to set me straight.

I love this dude, and he and I have been best friends since we were 7. So by the time we had gotten around to college age, we were at that point where we didn’t only know just what to say, we knew exactly how it had to be said. After a very long, emotional conversation filled with analogies, sarcasm, tears and laughs, he looked me dead in the eye, put his hand on my shoulder, and said with an unwavering confidence: “Jonathan, we’ve been best friends for almost two decades. I know you… J-Man, you were born to do this. Now go do it. Go tell those stories.” I inhaled, nodded, and was unpacking in my dorm before I knew it.

The next two+ years of getting the degree went by like a flash. I met people who are now some of my dearest friends, I got engaged to my high school sweetheart (now wife, might I add), I found an absolutely amazing team, and of course founded Wyvern officially. It was great…and very overwhelming. 

I would be lying if I said some days I hadn’t almost lost track of why I was there. The passion never died, and the stories were always still in my head, but some days those got buried by homework, projects, exams, wedding plans, and realizations that I hadn’t eaten in 10 hours. Life always manages to find a way to fill itself up with stress and anxiety, and mine was no exception. By senior year, I was a wreck, and sometimes the only way to cool my brain off on a school night was to play (not make) a game. But ironically, the thing that rejuvenated everything again, the thing that pushed me back into the most passionate mindset I know how to have… was just that. A video game.

I am not afraid to tear up if something touches me. I’m very comfortable with that part of myself. I will let loose a few floodgates at movies, shows, books, games, great pieces of music…you name it. So in my last semester, when my roommate saw me biting my lip at a particularly “bromantic” scene in a game, he probably just thought I was being me. But it went so, so much deeper than that.

Just to give warning: very mild spoilers ahead for Mass Effect 3.

In the very final act of ME3, you get a respite before the final battle. Like any game, this

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Garrus Vakarian, Mass Effect 3 (Copyright Bioware 2016, Wyvern does not claim any ownership of this character or the games it is affiliated with)

 

point is made to let you make any tweaks on your character, make any final upgrades, save your game, etc. But because Bioware is amazing, it is also one long, beautifully crafted goodbye. Commander Shepherd, your character, has the opportunity to have a last few personal, intimate moments with every member of the Normandy crew that has become such a tight-knit family. It’s a really peaceful, wonderful set of interactions… one of which I was totally unprepared for. One of the most organic aspects of the Mass Effect series is how every person that plays it always has a different favorite character, different favorite moment, etc. But for me, my boy was always Garrus Vakarian. He was funny, he was willing to get in my face… and he always reminded me of… someone. I guess he just had one of “those” personalities. As for a favorite moment, the one I’m about to list hit me harder than any other art medium ever has. It defined EVERYTHING that a game should be for me, and most importantly, helped me remember what made me…me.

Again, without getting too spoiler heavy, the conversation with my Turian buddy started off sarcastic and quippy…until it didn’t. Out of nowhere, Garrus throws out a line akin to “I don’t know if human heaven and Turian heaven are the same place, but if it is, meet me at the bar.”

Thanks Garrus, here come the misty eyes.

But he wasn’t done, oh no. He had one final gut-punch waiting for me. Garrus looked at my character, smiled, and said: “Oh and Shepherd, forgive the insubordination, but this old friend has an order for you… Go out there. And give them hell. You were born to do this.”

I was too stunned to cry. Then I wasn’t. I lost it. I sat in my dorm, and the conversation two years ago came at me like a flood. I had to put down my controller and just sit for a while to take it all in. “You were born to do this.”

That familiarity I had always felt with this video game character. This 3D character model with some programming and voicing acting attached to it… it wasn’t just my best friend in the game. It had been my best friend. I re-analyzed every character I had really felt like I had grown close to in my time in the Mass Effect universe, and started connecting dots. Tali reminded me a ton of my little sister. Wrex reminded me of my roommate. The list goes on and on…

Why do I do this? Why did I choose the career path that has been proven to be one of the most stressful, and one of the hardest to break in to? Why did I choose to go the route of an indie/start-up, when I know that makes everything way down the road even harder and scarier? It’s because of those stories, those worlds, those characters, and those moments in my head. It’s because that blast of emotion I felt when a weird bird alien spoke to me.

I want to reach out and touch people. I want to pump them up. I want to be able to motivate them to pursue their dreams, I want them to get the tunes out of their head…whatever they are. Because stories can do that; they can make you keep going. They can make you ace your senior project. They can make you graduate with every top honor the university has to offer. They can make you force yourself to balance your social life, work life, and dreams all at once. I want to tell stories because I can’t think of a better to touch the lives of a million people, some without them even realizing it.

And perhaps simplest of all…because two people, whom I respect very much, told me I was born to. And that’s good enough for me.

-Jonathan Wine, Founder and Creative Director of Wyvern Interactive, LLC