Monthly Archives: November 2013

GTA V Diary #2

Realism Is Not Your Friend

I’ve had trouble conceptualizing the value of realism in a game.  On one hand, a sufficiently realistic game can draw the player in by creating a world that feels coherent and relatable.  It also increases accessibility by using concepts the player is familiar with in everyday life and turning them into game mechanics.  On the other hand, realism in games can also hamper immersion by taking the familiar and making it frustrating.  Far from promoting immersion in the game, this kind of realism encourages the player to remember that the game is an artificial construct.  What is both required and annoying about reality is just annoying in a game world.

GTA V seeks to increase immersion by trying to make the world as realistic as possible.  Movie theaters only show movies at certain times.  The garage door will only open if nothing is in front of it.  When shopping for clothes, the player must move their character to the rack with the clothing item (pants, shirts, shoes) and try on just that item.  These are certainly more realistic than GTA’s competitors, but they are realism without purpose.  Immersion is not increased by including these elements and is actually harmed by it.  Consider the movie times.  Yes, most movie theaters aren’t open after midnight and all have specific times when they start their movies.  In replicating this model, GTA is accurately representing that small part of the movie experience.  However, when I walk up to GTA V’s movie theater, I am very aware of the fact that I am playing a video game.  I know that Rockstar could provide me with that content at any time and could even integrate it into the phone mechanic without a hit to immersion.  That means that when I can’t access that content, I am aware and annoyed by the artificial limits that Rockstar has created. 

Rockstar is mistaking petty realism for realism that promotes immersion.  Petty realism is the inclusion of the tiny constraints that pepper our lives and that we don’t often think about.  Waiting for a cab is a consistent feature of life that serves as a necessary evil.  It is not something I enjoy, nor is it something that draws me into the moment.  While standing on a corner, I have never thought: “Man, waiting for this cab is soooo enthralling.  I’m hooked!”  Instead, the delay in game gives the player time to think about how driving distance and speed are artificially constructs in a game world.  It also separates the player from the gameplay.  The fun things the player would do normally are stuck behind a wait time.  The player has effectively stopped playing so Rockstar can be realistic.  Immersive realism focuses on getting the big things right that are necessary for the player to identify with the situation presented.  Immersion isn’t effected if the cab arrives early, but it is seriously harmed if the cab hovers five feet in the air. That kind of detail is useful for the exact opposite reason that a wait time is not.  An accurately modeled car draws the player into both the game world and fun driving mechanics.  This kind of realism ties immersion with fun rather than frustration.

GTA V reduces the noticeable amounts of petty realism that permeated GTA IV.  However, GTA V still has unnecessary levels of realism that intrude in on my game experience.  The game sacrifices play on the altar of realism when it doesn’t actually increase my immersion or enjoyment of the game.  I know the detailed world is a hallmark of the series, but Rockstar needs to decide which realistic elements actually help the game, and which ones hinder it.

Next Up – Stop isolating gameplay from itself


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GTA V Diary #1

And So It Begins

I have a confession to make: I’ve waited an embarrassingly long time to play any of the Grand Theft Auto series.  Despite over two decades of gaming experience, the first time I played any GTA game was when I started GTA IV three weeks ago.


The character’s personalities fluctuated constantly, the missions were unimaginative, and the whole game had a weird obsession with realism at the cost of enjoyment of the game.  After gritting my teeth through five hours of gameplay, I finally put the controller down when my new best buddy Roman informed me that I could not use the game’s fast travel feature because he had run out of cabs.

Yup.  Computer generated and controlled cabs were apparently in short supply.

As I wrote about my dislike of the game, I felt I was being unfair.  After all, GTA IV came out five years ago and hadn’t games evolved since then?  Reviewers and friends both singled out GTA V as a great experience so I decided it was unfair to judge a five year old game by modern standards.  Instead, I purchased GTA V and will now embark on a reviewing diary of it.  The idea is that I’ll play during the week and sum up my experience on the weekend.  This is the first of those entries.

Diary #1

GTA V starts off with a neatly conceived tutorial mission.  The player starts off as part of a group of bank robbers mid-heist with the aspects of the robbery serving as impetus to teach controls and concepts.  It also unfortunately serves as an introduction to GTA V’s love affair with the word “fuck”.  I generally don’t mind cussing in games, but it seems that the characters can’t get a sentence off without jamming fuck, shit, or crap in.  Rather than feel organic and part of the characters, the repeated cussing just feels forced to convince the player that the characters are hardcore.  This shit has a place, and it’s not every fucking sentence.

After the heist concludes, the player takes control of Franklin.  Franklin is a young, black street tough who’s got dreams of making it big.  Joining him in the stereotype parade is Lamar, Franklin’s ambitious and hotheaded childhood friend.  Together, they “repossess” cars for Simeon, a slimy Eastern European car dealer.  I noted that poor characters were one of my issues with GTA IV and that comes roaring back here.  Both major and minor characters seem ripped straight from the stereotype handbook with little attempt to do anything interesting in them.  In the brief time I have played, I’ve also seen: the whiny feminist, the gangbanging street thug, and the vaguely Jewish psychologist who is more interested in running out the clock than helping his patient.  To that we can add the bratty teenagers and the nagging wife.  I’ve seen all these characters before.

I will say that the one character aspect that GTA V does innovate on is suggestibility.  Franklin will do anything anyone tells him.  Need someone to drive a tow truck?  Franklin will do it.  Just met Franklin and now want him to help you stalk celebrities?  No problem!  Need a third for a kidnapping?  Franklin doesn’t even mind that you didn’t give him five minute’s notice.  It’s ridiculous how quickly Franklin signs on for stupid plans with high danger and low reward.  Franklin is willing to do just about anything, and the game portrays him as the smart one.  I’d hate to think what playing Lamar would be like.

Next up – Realism!

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Review – The Stanley Parable – PC

The Screen Is Telling Me to Type This


Let’s get this out of the way, The Stanley Parable isn’t a traditional game in the way most gamers are used to.  There aren’t enemies, there isn’t a score, and the player can’t really lose.  It falls into the category of game that makes you question whether or not it counts as a game.   Ignoring the arguments over defining “game”, the question is: Is the Stanley Parable worth a purchase?  The answer, perhaps more than most, is a resounding: Maybe!

Each iteration of The Stanley Parable begins with Stanley in his office.  Stanley notices that his coworkers are gone and goes to explore the now vacant office building.  Stanley’s every thought and action are spoken aloud by the narrator who acts as the other main character in the story.  The player takes control of Stanley and his very basic interactions.  Stanley can move and interact with objects, but this is the extent of his abilities.  He needs no other abilities as there are no puzzles, enemies, or challenges.  Instead, Stanley has choices.

The sole game mechanic in The Stanley Parable is choice.  As the player moves around the world, the narrator not only describes what the player is doing, but what the player will do.  The first choice of the game is when the player enters a room with two doors.  The narrator says that Stanley goes through the left door, but the player can just as easily guide him through the right.  The choice to follow or not follow what the narrator says opens up new story paths and new choices.  More interestingly, the choices create a dialogue between the player and the narrator.  Once the player starts deviating from the narrator’s choices, the narrator will plead, entice, and threaten the player to get him back on course.  The dialogue raises questions about the nature of choice in video games and more broadly in life.  One particular path ends with the narrator lambasting the office worker and the creature of habit he becomes.  The game has some intelligent things to say about choice, though the message can get a bit muddled.  The Stanley Parable has a lot to say, though it does not always say it as coherently as it could.

The rest of the presentation is functional, yet effective.  Though the aesthetic isn’t particularly innovative, it’s mostly just office corridors, The Stanley Parable includes enough disruptive elements that it remains interesting.  The normal serves to highlight the abnormal in a way that will feel both strange and familiar for those who work in cubevillle.  The sound is serviceable.  The one standout is narrator Kevan Brighting who does a fantastic job bringing his character to life.  His voice work is full of expression and amusement; almost like an all-powerful god of a very tiny world.  Brighting’s expressive narrator and well written lines are half the reason to continue playing.

So is The Stanley Parable a worthy purchase?  That depends more on the player than the average game.  There is nothing particularly “fun” about this game.  Nor is it particularly long.  The game can be beaten in under 10 minutes and contains only about an hour’s worth of content.  That being said, if the idea of a well written choose your own adventure appeals to you, give this game a shot.  I certainly enjoyed it.

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