Tag Archives: videogames

A Breath of Fresh Air

Nerissa here.

Since I started working with Wyvern, I have had the chance to write about everything from games with Open-Interpretation storylines, major franchises, reboots, the gaming community, what happens when your choices completely change a game, and storytelling in general. However, I have been avoiding talking about the series that brings me the most joy since I started writing blog posts for Wyvern. All of the posts I write are to make a point, whether it be about the beauty of games or the direction they’re heading in for the future. I didn’t want to diverge just for the sake of fangirling. But today is the day: the day I can address it. So, here is the truth.

Ever since I was 8 years old, The Legend of Zelda series has meant more to me than any other gaming franchise in the world. It is, hands down, my favorite series of all time.

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I know, I know – Legend of Zelda? Really? To some people, this seems like an obvious choice, and to others this comment is kind of questionable. Why LoZ? There are several other series out there that I absolutely love and have a soft spot for. There are some games that are overall better than some Zelda titles. Even so, the LoZ series will ALWAYS be at the top of my list. Just to give you some context, the first game I ever beat was The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons for the Gameboy Color (back when they were still called gameboys. Wow, I feel old). Growing up, there were several games I was not allowed to play, but my parents always gave the LoZ series a thumbs up because they were all rated E for Everyone and by the time Twilight Princess (Rated T for Teen) came out, I was a teenager. I was obsessed with fantasy and loved rich worlds, so learning about each game’s new world rules and seeing characters carry over made the series my favorite companion on a long trip and my best comfort when I needed something familiar to go back to.

Granted, the series has its faults, as any other does: First off, as far as originality, this is one franchise where you can call the designers out for cutting and pasting puzzles and characters, because Nintendo does that literally ALL THE TIME. If you’ve played a few LoZ games before, you can start to recognize the patterns, especially where many dungeon-specific items repeatedly show up in almost every game in the series (Looking at you, grappling hook). The grunts and shouts from Link are incredibly mockable and some of the games in the series flat-out stink.

And don’t even get me started on the TV show.

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“Well excuuuuuuse me, Princess.”

But then, look at the flip-side. The first game in the Legend of Zelda series, aptly titled The Legend of Zelda, was released on February 21, 1986. In the 31 years since its initial debut, the series has been bringing non-stop innovations to the way that video games function. Many tropes that carry through to other games are taken directly from the Legend of Zelda. For example…

Z-Targeting – The gameplay mechanic used in games like Kingdom Hearts, Psychonauts, and Metroid: Prime was originally introduced with the release of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Nintendo’s developers were trying to not only create an expansive (by that time’s standards, anyway) 3D world, but one that players could easily move throughout. This was invented as a result of trying to figure out how to more easily fight and locate enemies within these 3D spaces.

Camera Control – While camera control in 3D games was introduced with Mario 64, it still had quite a ways to go when it comes to seamless control. And then, once again, everything changed when Ocarina of Time attacked – I mean, eh, was released. OoT brought in a much easier camera system to pick up on and 3D games have been adopting the camera control system using analog sticks ever since.

Context Controls – Press A to speak, B to use equipped weapon, Start for Menu, Select to Save/Quit, R to jump right, L to jump left. Analog stick/control pad to move. By now, these seem to be a given when it comes to designing a game, but this innovation didn’t exist in a way that allowed you to interact with specific world objects and characters in a more detailed way until, you guessed it, Ocarina of Time. Ever since appearing in there, it has taken over RPGs and platformers.

Save Points – With the release of the original Legend of Zelda games, players were shifted from a world of stagnant levels to replay over and over from the start to being allowed to play in sprawling worlds with multiple levels and checkpoints throughout.

The list goes on. The Legend of Zelda series made headway and, because of its expansive world-building, now classic story, and large maps full of ways to explore its corners, it has become one of the most notorious game series of all time.

Now, at a certain point, even when you choose to innovate, eventually new ideas become classics, then tropes, then annoyingly unoriginal ideas and last, if they get REALLY unlucky, memes.

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So, needless to say, after a while, the fairy companion, dungeon items, Master Sword, and the fights deflecting orbs of light weren’t going to cut it anymore. The series needed a revamp. And for a while, as Nintendo tried to figure out what direction to go in, they had a few stumbles. As much as some of their classic titles are legendary, a few of the new releases, especially for the handheld systems have been…well…

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Spirit Tracks: Where Fashion Rules all of the Drablands.

…Bizarre, to say the least. Games like Spirit Tracks and Triforce Heroes, while relatively interesting gameplay wise, had MAJOR flaws, especially with the overwhelmingly ridiculous writing. In other LoZ games, most insane moments were left to a character or two to take charge of, such as Tingle. However, these games just took the Tingle recipe and drenched every single corner of the map with it, which made them hard to stomach.

And then, the incredible happened – the latest Legend of Zelda game, Breath of the Wild, was released.

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It’s…so…beautiful. Cannot…contain…

For the first time in years, the Legend of Zelda formula had been altered, and not in a minor way. This game completely changed the way that the story was told, the ability to explore, the way you live, AND the way you fight. Some people are even calling it one of the greatest games of all time. (I have one minor complaint about BoTW, but aside for that one I wholeheartedly agree). So, what made this game so incredible, for loyal fans and new gaming thrill-seekers alike?

  1. Open-World Exploration

Not only did Breath of the Wild allow for freedom of choice in the exploration by setting it in an open world, but it encouraged its players to play the game and explore the map in any way they wanted. The dungeons had no specific order and, in fact, if you don’t want to go through any of the main story, from the very beginning of the game, the entrance to Calamity Ganon’s chambers are unlocked. Granted, they are heavily guarded by Guardians and other obstacles, but if you wanted to, it would be possible to boost your health and items by completing shrines and exploring the lands, then take out Calamity Ganon without completing ANY of the main story. This sort of freedom of decision-making when it comes to the order of events and play-style is unprecedented with any of its predecessors. Also, the map?

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6 times the size of Skyrim’s, just to put it into perspective.

  1. Weapons don’t last forever

Breath of the Wild refuses to hold the players hand throughout the process. From the start, you will realize that weapons, depending on their size, shape, age, and materials, have different strength levels and can be easy or difficult to wield. Then, after fighting your first few Bokoblins with a wooden spear, another thing becomes painfully evident as the weapon disappears into the air in a flurry of glowing shards: Weapons in this world break. So don’t get attached to the Giant Boomerang if you get it because you will have it for twenty minutes and then your pretty little heart will sink.

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This thing was incredible, you guys.

Each weapon is assigned a strength and durability level, forcing the player to constantly adapt to new fighting strategies based on the weapons currently at your disposal. Some give you use of ranged attacks, while others require getting into very close-quarters in order to even land a hit. This made every single encounter a challenge, as you not only had to assess how many enemies you were dealing with each time, but how to use the environment and weapons you had to your advantage.

  1. The Master Sword WASN’T easily earned.

In almost all prior Legend of Zelda games, obtaining the Master Sword (or Picori Blade/Four Sword) is integrated into the main quest. As long as you’re continuing the main story, you will eventually gain access to this legendary weapon. However, in BoTW, the Master Sword is NOT easily earned – In fact, if you don’t know where it is or don’t work for it, you may not get it at all.

WARNING: FROM HERE ON IN, MAJOR GAMEPLAY/CONTENT SPOILERS AHEAD.

In this chapter of Hyrule’s history, the Master Sword is hidden. If you are a fan of the series, true to form, it IS actually somewhere relatively familiar.

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Like its predecessor, A Link to the Past, the Master Sword is being guarded in the Lost Woods. However, even after you explore enough of the map to actually find Faron Woods, then you have to get through the initial “navigate the Lost Woods” puzzle so you don’t wander into the fog by mistake.

And that’s not the hard part.

The hard part is that in this game, in order to wield the sword of legend, you ACTUALLY have to prove that you are strong enough to handle it or the sword will sap your strength until you die. That’s right, ladies and gents. In order to pull the master sword from the ground where it lies, you have to have a total of 13 Heart Containers. But the sword yielded major benefits once gained. The Master Sword is the ONLY weapon in the game that will never break – with continual use, it will “lose charge”, but then you just have to use other weapons for about 10 minutes. Just enough time for it to recharge and then to switch back. Not only that, but the sword also deals extra damage to the Guardians – for those of you who haven’t played the game yet, these enemies basically made traversing the landscape’s more difficult areas impossible in the beginning of the game.

  1. What you wear and what you eat matters.

Aside from drinking potions and Lon-Lon Milk, most other LoZ titles don’t include consumables. However, these have become rather commonplace in games like Bioshock, Dark Cloud, and Fallout: New Vegas, where alcohol could give you the pick-me-up that was needed while also blurring the screen for a few seconds. So Legend of Zelda followed suit, and then some: Not only did food give you health and stamina, but you had to cook all the foods yourself in order to get the real boosts you need and, on top of that, certain ingredients and recipes give you boosts to your speed, climbing ability, cold/heat resistance, and more.

You don’t have to eat your weight in game to get boosts, though. If you’re in an area that is consistently cold that you will need to be in for a while, there are different pieces of clothing that can be found, earned, or purchased that give you resistance to these weather factors. So if you don’t have peppers for cold resistance, no problem – just put on the Snowquill Tunic and you’re good to go!

  1. The story is presented out of Chronological order

As mentioned previously, BoTW allows players to explore the world in their own way, at their own speed. This mechanic carried over to the story, where, by gathering memories and awakening the Divine Beasts (which, in this game, serve as the “dungeons”), you begin to understand what happened with Link, Zelda, the Champions piloting the Divine Beasts, and why they failed against Calamity Ganon during their original quarrel. I remember that the first memory I ever found was one of Zelda trying to get into a Shrine, realizing she was unable to do so, and when she saw me, brushed me off and shouted at me to stop following her.

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But…Whuddidido?

Oh. Okay. THAT’S an introduction.

While you have no choice in what you say or in the direction of the plot, like the choice-directed stories in the Dragon Age, Fable, and Mass Effect games, the presentation of these memories in different orders for every player makes each experience and how the pieces come together unique. Once you gather all the memories, you CAN go through them in the actual order that they happened, but during the actual events of the game, I found it fascinating to see how the picture came together for me personally. It left me wondering how other people felt during their playthroughs. It may not be the choice-based story that I personally would love to see in the future, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

  1. For the first time in a LoZ title, actual Voice Acting

You know how I said I had one problem with the latest Legend of Zelda title? Yeah…This would be it.

In keeping up with the times, Nintendo decided that the logical next step for the Legendary saga of Link was to add voice acting; mind you, Link is still the silent protagonist (with mild grunting interspersed) that we have come to know and love, but all the other main characters are voice acted during cut-scenes. This doesn’t happen during every scene, mind you, but often enough that it is a large element contributing to how the game is experienced.

As an actor myself, I found the voice acting in the game to be…well, pretty underwhelming. On one hand, some characters were handled rather tactfully, such as the Champions Daruk and Urbosa who get extra stamps of approval in my book. However, most of the other performances are just average and Zelda’s is probably the worst in the game. And considering this is the first game where the story is really hers, not Link’s, you’d think that would be the voice they put the most thought and work into. Yet sure enough, as you play, she perpetually sounds like she will burst into tears at any moment. Even when she is happy. Or angry. Or joking. ALWAYS sounds like she is whining. Nintendo, you are a company worth millions, yet you couldn’t put a little more effort into the casting process?

Now, this isn’t to say that the CHARACTER Zelda is whiny, because she is most certainly not. In fact, the past few titles have made more of an effort to give Zelda depth, starting with Windwaker, moving forward with  Skyward Sword, and now leading into this. By the time we hit Breath of the Wild, Zelda has become a legitimately strong character. In this installment in particular, she is fascinated by the sciences, the technology of their ancestors, and works relentlessly to unlock the powers she is supposed to have due to her bloodline. It shows how jealous she is of Link for his talents and the fact that she hasn’t been able to live up to the expectations of her kingdom. And in the midst of war, even when she hasn’t unlocked her powers, SHE STILL CHARGES HEADLONG INTO BATTLE LIKE THE TRUE CHAMPION SHE IS. This bit got me going, guys. Out of all the archs we’ve seen in these games, for Zelda, this one takes the cake. The story was so great that the voice acting was something I was able to overlook if, for no other reason, to see that plotline through to the end.

The Legend of Zelda series has been seeking a new path to push forward in for years, and since its inception, has been at the forefront of the gaming industry. With this new release, both the saga itself and other fantasy games like it have a new standard to try to live up to. Exploring the world of Breath of the Wild was exciting, beautiful, and with its originality all-around, served as a breath of fresh air.

 

–Nerissa Hart, Director of Marketing and Writer at Wyvern Interactive

 

The contained images are not property of or created in association with Wyvern Interactive, LLC.

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. 

Of Flowers and Flamethrowers

Headshot. Killing spree. Execution. If you were to hear these words on the local news, it would make your stomach turn at how awful and disgusting of a place the world can be. But throw those same three words into the context of a video game, and the tone changes entirely. Now you hear epic music, your guys and gals are cheering you on, and there’s a lot of holding down the Right Trigger button or pressing X to get that last glorious decapitation that will end a boss fight. If the video game police were a thing, let’s be real, we’d all be in jail for life, because the body count we’ve wracked up over the years would be enough to populate whole planets.

To say that video games aren’t inherently violent is a lie. There’s no getting around it, it’s a bald-faced, one hundred percent, Pinocchio-nose-growing lie. It’s a fantasy that 10 and under kids tell their mom so they can get that one game their older sibling plays. It’s as untrue as when Christopher Lambert told people in the old Mortal Kombat movie that “Mortal Kombat is not about death, it’s about life.”

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LOL, okay Raiden.

Now, contrary to how I’m starting this post, I’m not turning this into a “Video Games Cause Violence!” tirade. That statement has been proven wrong time and time again, and only has ANY credence to it when someone already has mental issues and needs serious help. I have shot, slashed, poisoned, crushed, and fatality-ed with the best of them, and I am a perfectly civil, well-balanced human being (in proofreading this for me, my wife got to this part and muttered “sometimes”. Thanks babe).

That statement, however, leads into the topic of my post. Over the years I have played, and still play, SO many violent games. I have killed SO many more bad guys than I could ever hope to count. I, like most gamers, am so desensitized to combat in games that my years of playing have conditioned me to the fact that if I am in a virtual world, and someone/something is moving toward me, I automatically assume it is my solemn duty to go total Rambo on it.

In the past year however, I discovered something about games that I had long, long forgotten. I had just finished Ninja Gaiden 3 (Razor’s Edge, not the terrible vanilla release fans don’t speak of), and was looking through my “to-do list library” for my next game. In case you don’t know the Ninja Gaiden series, let me sum it up for you: you’re a ninja, and you kill stuff a lot.

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The only game I’ve ever played where you can still finish someone off after you decapitate them.

It’s a superb, adrenaline-fueled, controller-smashing carnage fest that never let’s up until the credits roll. The bonkers ultraviolence is so in your face that even by the time I, a seasoned gaming grim reaper, was done… even I knew I needed a break.

As I was looking for something to get the sound of sword clashes and recently dismembered ninjas screaming for vengeance out of my head (oh yes, they come after you Monty Python’s Black Knight style), my eyes landed on something I had bought as a present for my wife: Super Mario Galaxy. Now, to give you some context, I played a lot of Nintendo as a kid and young teen. My parents were understandably leery of violence in games when I was young because the art and its ramifications were still fairly new, so I got used to playing games for a long time that were more “kid-friendly”. Sonic, Mario, Link, Samus, etc., are all old buddies of mine, but as I got older and was allowed to play more, they slowly got pushed further and further back, because now I could try all those shiny M rated titles that I’d heard legends of over the years. Fast-forward a bit and my Nintendo console is collecting dust except when me and my best friends need to settle an argument.

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And we all know there’s only one true way to settle an argument.

But some ancient, little voice of childhood nostalgia won me over that day. I found some new AA batteries to put in my Wii Mote, booted up the console, went through all the expected software updates, and started playing Galaxy.

You guys, it was so much fun.

It was SO much fun. And not just because Galaxy is a fantastic game (it is), or because it was the polar opposite of Ninja Gaiden (it really is), but because it reminded me of something that I had not felt in a video game in a long… long time: pure, unfiltered, unending wonder.

You remember that first time you crested the hill and saw Rapture in Bioshock? Or the very first time you synchronized a viewpoint then performed a Leap of Faith in Assassin’s Creed? Your first parkour run in Mirror’s Edge? That feeling of absolute innocence with the giraffes in the Last of Us? That’s what I was feeling playing Mario, only the whole time. Pure wonder and excitement. What would the next level entail? Would I be soaring through the stars, or swimming through the oceans, or riding an oversized toy train? Here I was, playing a game designed for kids, and physically smiling more than any other game has made me for a long, long time.

Now, this might seem like the end of this blog post, but it’s not. Because what I really want to talk about is a double-edged sword. We just got done with edge one: no matter how much you love being a badass and mowing down swarms of enemies, that does not mean you should forego the games that you used to play as a kid. To be honest, they are probably better designed, and more fun, than 90% of the stuff in your current play log.

The other edge, however, is a message to myself, as a designer, and to all the other game designers who read this: as tempting as it is, combat and violence do not have to be factors in all the games we make. In fact… it can make a game so much more meaningful when they’re excluded entirely. And if there is one glowing example of that statement, it’s this:
Flower

Within the past decade, I have beaten over 100 games. That’s not including mobile, multiplayer, or web-based games. Some of those games have individually taken over 75 hours to beat, and many have included multi-hour-long DLC that expands upon the story and game experience further. And yet the game pictured above, Flower, by Thatgamecompany, has touched me more than any of those 100+ could ever hope to. If Super Mario Galaxy rekindled that spark of wonder in me… Flower did the equivalent of lighting a bonfire for it.

The game takes, MAYBE, 2+ hours to complete. Now I know what you’re thinking: “Well, this is Jonathan, so the story must be incredible.” Here’s the story summary: there really isn’t one.

I know. I KNOW. If you’ve read any of my previous stuff you’re probably worried I’ve been kidnapped and am writing that last statement as a call for help. But I’m completely serious: the most memorable game I’ve played… pretty much ever, didn’t have a single drop of actual narrative to it. And yet, the lessons you’re supposed to take from the game are so crystal clear it’s unbelievable: nature is beautiful, and wonder doesn’t need context.

Okay Jonathan, you’re saying, maybe there’s no concrete narrative, but maybe there’s an implied narrative like what Nerissa so eloquently discussed in our last post? Perhaps the character you play as is rife with symbolism and a sense of humanism that we can all relate to at an emotional level.

Nope, you play as the wind. Not the Spirit of the Wind, not the mystical demi-god of wind AuGUSTus (see what I did there?). You play, as the plain old, go-outside-and-your-hat-gets-blown-off wind.

What’s the point of the game? You go through various natural settings, picking up flower petals in your breeze. Each flower petal enhances the music a little bit, and by the end of the level a soothing orchestral score is accompanying you as hundreds of tiny little flower petals trail behind you, twisting and turning over fields and forests.

There’s no fighting, there’s no bosses. There’s you, nature, and an orchestra. It’s so intimate, and so peaceful, that you’ll all but forget you’re playing a video game… because you just shouldn’t get this much tranquility from a video game… should you?

And that is the beauty of Flower. Because it goes against every video game normative out there. It replaces high definition buildings with grass blowing in a field. It replaces the demon-slaying awesomeness of the heavy metal guitars in Doom with a piano and some subtle instruments. And it doesn’t need a rich narrative to convey its lesson that no matter how complex your combo system is, sometimes the greatest amounts of joy can be given by the simplest things.

Flower is only available on the PS3 or PS4. If you haven’t played it, I can’t suggest enough that you do. If you don’t have those consoles, one of your friends will. Spot them $10 and ask them to download it for you. You will not regret it.

As designers, and as players, it’s easy to fall into the trap of repetition. That’s actually the topic that Nerissa will be covering in her next post. It’s so easy for us to get used to that familiar sense of: play tutorial, go forth, shoot everything. We do it without thinking. And you know what, those kind of games are totally fine. I’m just as excited for the next Shadow of Mordor or Far Cry game as you are. I’m a gamer, bullets and mayhem are my bread-and-butter.

But… don’t let yourself believe that is the only thing that games have to offer. It’s not. You’ve heard me say before that games can put you into a world, and I almost always mean that in the context of a story, but if a game like Flower can teach us anything, it’s that sometimes… just the world is enough. We say that games let us experience things we could never experience in real life, like slaying a dragon or saving the world. But they can also let you see wonders. They can let you explore new places. They can let you fly.

… and I don’t care who you are. You could be a seasoned Call of Duty pro or a League champion, we’ve all wanted to fly. And games can give us that. Whether we’re in a fighter jet… or simply a flower petal, caught in a gust of wind.

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

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.

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.