Monday, 16 September 2013

Arriving at Goldenrod City!

to get the Shiny Starters? Shiny Zorua? Shiny legendary dogs? Shiny Mew? or any other
shiny pokemon in the game? Adopt them today using
SnD coins! Click here for more info.

the PTD: Pokemon Center - a place to trade pokemon,
get your Daily Code, adopt Pokemon, view your items
and change your avatar!

Welcome to the Sam and Dan Games Developer Blog!

Sam and Dan Games: Fundraiser! Phase 3

Help us keep making games and earn awesome prizes like Shiny Rayquaza, Cosmoid Starters for PTD 2 and Shiny Heatran!  

Our Goal: $50,000

Raised so far: $9,651.37

Percentage so far: 19.302%

Total Funders so far: 13,667

Last updated: 9/16/13 (4:08 PM EST)

Arriving at Goldenrod City

Now that the soft cap is 100 and over 500 moves are in the game I'm ready to keep going with the story. Our hero might think that the past is pretty calm but he will soon find out that is not the case. Goldenrod is a big city so it will be done in two different updates. I look forward to bringing my ideas for the story to life.

PTD Fan Saga Episode 6 is now out!

Joel has been making great PTD fan videos on youtube showcasing his interpretation of the PTD1 story. He recently released episode 6 of his series and I encourage you to check it out if you haven't already. Check it out here.

Mystery Gift

We have over 370 pokemon in the game already! So this week we will add even more! Like every week, you vote and I listen. Both a Mystery Gift and Giveaway will be added. Looks like Grass is winning so far, looks like you guys are hoping for more starters :)

Weekly Progress

My Status: Not Working. Not Streaming.

PTD2 v1.53.1

  • Mystery Gift (0%)

    • Graphics (50%)

    • Stats (0%)

    • Evolutions (0%)

    • New Attacks (0%)

    • Add to Breeding Center (0%)

    • Add to Trading Center (0%)

PTD2 v1.53 Released!

  • Goldenrod City (100%)

    • Map Background (100%)

    • Map Objects (100%)

    • Map Triggers (100%)

    • Add NPCs and Dialog for them (100%)

    • New NPC Graphics (100%)

    • Gym Fight (100%)

      • Battle Background (100%)

      • Battle Layout (100%)

      • Battle Waves (100%)

      • Miltank Boss (100%)

        • Graphics (100%)

        • Stats (100%)

        • New Attacks (100%)

          • Miltank's Rollout (100%)

          • Miltank's Defense Curl (100%)

  • Bug Fix 1(100%) - Human characters that are in battles will no longer have health bars, level or gender stats displayed on them.

  • Bug Fix 2 (100%) - Fixed a bug that could potentially crash the game after the Lugia or Faulkner fights.

  • Bug Fix 3 (100%) - Fixed a bug with the attack Stored Power.

  • Added some dialog to Lugia while in the Lugia fight (100%) - Similar to Mewthree talking on his fight.

As always let me know what you think!

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Mission: SC 100

to get the Shiny Starters? Shiny Zorua? Shiny legendary dogs? Shiny Mew? or any other
shiny pokemon in the game? Adopt them today using
SnD coins! Click here for more info.

the PTD: Pokemon Center - a place to trade pokemon,
get your Daily Code, adopt Pokemon, view your items
and change your avatar!

Welcome to the Sam and Dan Games Developer Blog!

Sam and Dan Games: Fundraiser! Phase 3

Help us keep making games and earn awesome prizes like Shiny Rayquaza and Shiny Heatran!  

Our Goal: $50,000

Mission: Soft Cap 100

This update the mission is very simple. Finish over 50 new moves to increase the soft cap to 100. This will mean that all your pokemon will learn all their moves once this is done. It also means every time I add a new pokemon I will have to add all their move set (if it is not in the game yet). The main reason I'm doing this is that this week I'm a little bit behind with doing the update so adding new moves is something I can manage in the shorter amount of time since it is not as complex as building new story and new pokemon, etc, etc. It will still take me a long time to make all the 50 moves so wish me the best!

Mystery Gift

Like every week we will have a mystery gift and a giveaway. Note: Mystery Gifts will no longer be shiny but you will still be able to get a shadow on Thursdays. Also all Giveaways will stay shiny (shadow on thursdays) For the time being getting pokemon that you wouldn't normally get for a while is a good reward. This week we have Water type as the winner. I added most of the water type pokemon with some few exceptions. Vote for which you want to win!

Weekly Progress

PTD2 v1.52.1 Released!

  • Mystery Gift (100%)

    • Graphics (100%)

    • Stats (100%)

    • Evolutions (100%)

    • Add to Breeding Center (100%)

    • Add to Trading Center (100%)

PTD2 v1.52 Released! (It says 1.51 but it's the correct one)

  • Bug Fix - Wild Pineco will no longer have the move selfdestruct (100%)

  • Bug Fix - Cofagrigus will now have it's own stats instead of the same as Yamask (100%)

  • Rayquaza can now learn V-Create at level 100 (100%) - Based on a Japanese Giveaway

  • Soft Cap to 100 (100%) - WOOOOHOOOOOOO!!!!!!

    • 41 Crabhammer (100%)

    • 41 Final Gambit (100%)

    • 41 Dive (100%)

    • 41 Sky Uppercut (100%)

    • 41 Grudge (100%) - Increases your attacker's cooldown by 4.2 sec

    • 42 Overheat (100%)

    • 42 Role Play (100%)

    • 43 Coil (100%)

    • 43 Stored Power (100%)

    • 43 After You (100%) - Decreases your whole party's total attack cooldown by 0.6 sec

    • 44 Sludge Wave (100%)

    • 45 Extrasensory (100%)

    • 45 Wild Charge (100%)

    • 45 Punishment (100%)

    • 45 Fissure (100%)

    • 46 Quiver Dance (100%)

    • 46 Focus Punch (100%) - 1.2 sec cooldown will only work when the user has taken no damage.

    • 46 Outrage (100%)

    • 47 Wring Out (100%)

    • 47 Muddy Water (100%)

    • 47 Weather Ball (100%)

    • 47 Leaf Storm (100%)

    • 47 Hyper Beam (100%)

    • 48 Meteor Mash (100%)

    • 48 Wonder Room (100%)

    • 48 Magic Room (100%)

    • 49 Gunk Shot (100%)

    • 49 Psycho Shift (100%)

    • 49 Trump Card (100%)

    • 49 Sky Drop (100%)

    • 50 Fly (100%)

    • 51 Energy Ball (100%)

    • 51 Aura Sphere (100%)

    • 51 Heat Wave (100%)

    • 52 Shell Smash (100%)

    • 53 Hurricane (100%)

    • 53 Entrainment (100%)

    • 53 Circle Throw (100%)

    • 53 Mega Kick (100%)

    • 54 Giga Impact (100%)

    • 57 Night Daze (100%)

    • 58 Eruption (100%)

    • 59 Zap Cannon (100%)

    • 70 Doom Desire (100%)

    • 71 Morning Sun (100%)

    • 96 Magma Storm (100%)

    • 98 V-Create (100%)

    • 99 Fusion Bolt (100%)

    • 100 Fusion Flare (100%)

    • 100 Psystrike (100%)

Lots of new attacks this week, which attack are you looking forward to the most? As always let me know what you think in the comments section, twitter, or email. Thanks!

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Status Changes, Route 34, Headbutt and more!

to get the Shiny Starters? Shiny Zorua? Shiny legendary dogs? Shiny Mew? or any other
shiny pokemon in the game? Adopt them today using
SnD coins! Click here for more info.

the PTD: Pokemon Center - a place to trade pokemon,
get your Daily Code, adopt Pokemon, view your items
and change your avatar!

Welcome to the Sam and Dan Games Developer Blog!

Sam and Dan Games: Fundraiser! Phase 3

Help us keep making games and earn awesome prizes like Shiny Rayquaza and Shiny Heatran!  

Our Goal: $50,000

Status Changes

Something that has been bugging me for a while is that you can get paralyzed, poisoned, burned, put to sleep all at the same time in PTD. In the game you can only have one of these on you at a time. So my wish is to make it work like that on PTD 2. What do you think? Will it make things harder? Easier? Do you like the change?

Trap Mechanics

Another mechanic change that I want to make is to actually make the trap mechanic have an effect on pokemon while in battles. The new effect will be that pokemon will not be able to leave the level when you have trapped them (using mean look, or arena trap etc). They can still get the candy and take it away but they won't leave the stage. Pokemon with abilities like Run Away can still leave the stage.

Headbutt Mechanic

This week I'm going to introduce the headbutt mechanic into the game! This has been a much requested feature so I'm happy to finally be able to add it in. How I'm thinking about it is that you have to have the pokemon that knows headbutt follow you in the map and then simply you go close to a tree and you press the action button. Pretty similar to fishing. That will trigger a battle. Some new pokemon that you will be able to get with this process will be: Pineco, Aipom and Heracross!

Route 34

I'm also adding Route 34 to the game to continue pushing the story mode forward. This road includes the Day Care center. I'm still thinking about how I might handle this place since I already have the breeding center page. Have any ideas that wouldn't totally break the game? Let me know. Also Snubbull will be one of the pokemon in this route, so look forward to that.

Cosmoid Rewards

It's been a loooong time coming but this week I will definately add the Cosmoids Rewards to the game. If you don't know what this is I will explain it now. For our fundraiser if you donated 10 or more dollars you will get Shiny Heatran and your choice of Cosmoids Starter for your PTD2 account. For a while now we haven't added the Cosmoid Reward and now you will. Cosmoids is a new game that we are making that is a lot like pokemon but with our own unique creatures on it. For more information on the fundraiser click the link towards the top of this post.

Mystery Gift 

Like every week we have the mystery gift and giveaways.

Soft Level Cap to 40

Last but not least, I will be increasing the soft level cap to 40. This will add 19 new moves into the game and get us one step closer to the elusive level 100 soft cap.

As you can see we have a lot lined up for this week. Wish me luck!

Weekly Progress

PTD2 Released!

  • Cosmoid Rewards (100%)

    • Graphics (100%)

    • Stats (100%)

    • Evolutions (100%)

    • Add to Trading Center (100%)

    • Add to Rewards Page (100%)

  • Route 34 (100%)

    • Map Music (100%)

    • Map Graphics (100%)

    • Map Triggers (100%)

    • Wild Pokemon Behavior (100%)

      • Ditto (100%)

      • Abra (100%)

      • Drowzee (100%)

      • Snubbull (100%)

    • Wild Pokemon Battles (100%)

      • Waves (100%)

    • Trainer Battles (100%)

      • Waves (100%)

  • Change Route 32's Music to be the correct music (100%)

  • Headbutt Mechanic (100%)

  • Headbutt battles (100%)

    • Waves (100%)

    • Map Percentages (100%)

  • Mystery Gift (100%)

    • Graphics (100%)

    • Stats (100%)

    • New Attacks (100%)

    • New Abilities (100%)

    • Evolutions (100%)

    • Add to Breeding Center (100%)

    • Add to Trading Center (100%)

  • Soft Level Cap to 40 (100%)

    • Lava Plume (100%)

    • Discharge (100%)

    • Last Resort (100%)

    • Retaliate (100%)

    • Dragon Rush (100%)

    • Brave Bird (100%)

    • Metal Burst (100%)

    • Waterfall (100%)

    • Bounce (100%)

    • Attack Order (100%)

    • Head Smash (100%)

    • Synchronoise (100%)

    • Superpower (100%)

    • Icicle Crash (100%)

    • Wood Hammer (100%)

    • Iron Tail (100%)

    • Skill Swap (100%)

    • Rock Climb (100%)

    • Power Whip (100%)

  • Status Changes (100%)

  • Trap Mechanics (100%)

  • New Pokemon (100%) - Snubbull, Grandbull, Pineco, Forretress, Aipom, Ambipom, Heracross

    • Graphics (100%)

    • Stats (100%)

    • New Attacks (100%)

      • Explosion (100%)

    • Evolutions (100%)

    • Add to Trading Center (100%)

    • Add to Breeding Center (100%)

  • Bug Fix - Confusion not working (100%)

  • Bug Fix - Exeggcute not properly evolving with leaf stone (100%)

  • Bug Fix - Stealth Rock not working properly (100%)

  • Bug Fix - Arm Thrust will now be learned at the correct level for pignite and emboar (100%)

That's what we have for you this week, as always let me know what you think and what you want!

Play Unplugged Gencon interview with Daisy at Wargames Factory

A nice shout out and preview of the Mortis and 15mm/1:100 scale Crusader.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

PTD1 Transfer Complete! New Evolutions!

to get the Shiny Starters? Shiny Zorua? Shiny legendary dogs? Shiny Mew? or any other
shiny pokemon in the game? Adopt them today using
SnD coins! Click here for more info.

the PTD: Pokemon Center - a place to trade pokemon,
get your Daily Code, adopt Pokemon, view your items
and change your avatar!

Welcome to the Sam and Dan Games Developer Blog!

Sam and Dan Games: Fundraiser! Phase 3

Help us keep making games and earn awesome prizes like Shiny Rayquaza and Shiny Heatran!  

Our Goal: $50,000

Welcome once again to another week at Sam and Dan Games. Let's get it started!

PTD1 Transfer Complete!

The goal this week is simple. Add over 30 pokemon from ptd1 and completely finish all the transfer pokemon. Completing this task will also add over 15 new moves to the game.

New Evolutions!

Because of these transfers this will add new pokemon into the game. Tangrowth, Tyrogue, and Hitmontop.

Mystery Gift

Like every week we will have a Mystery Gift and a Giveaway, so look forward to that.

Cosmoids Update

Still not ready to show anything of the new Cosmoids but I've been thinking a lot about it. Excited to show you guys soon.

Weekly Progress

PTD2 Released!

  • Mystery Gift (100%)

    • Graphics (100%)

    • Stats (100%)

    • Evolutions (100%)

    • New Attacks (100%)

      • Dragon Pulse (100%)

    • Add to Breeding Center (100%)

    • Add to Trading Center (100%)

  • PTD1 to PTD2 Transfers (100%)

  • New Pokemon (100%) - Voltorb, Electrode, Exeggcute, Exeggutor, Cubone, Marowak, Hitmonlee, Hitmonchan, Koffing, Weezing, Rhyhorn,  Rhydon, Tangela, Kangaskhan, Horsea, Seadra, Pinsir, Tauros, Lapras, Porygon, Omanyte, Omastar, Kabuto, Kabutops, Aerodactyl, Snorlax, Dratini, Dragonair, Dragonite, Tangrowth, Tyrogue, Hitmontop, Missing No, Mr. Mime.

    • Graphics (100%)

    • Stats (100%)

    • Evolutions (100%)

    • New Abilities (100%)

      • Download (100%)

      • Filter (100%)

      • Scrappy (100%)

      • Aftermath (100%)

    • New Attacks (100%)

      • Conversion (100%)

      • Conversion 2 (100%)

      • Recycle (100%)

      • Snore (100%)

      • Sleep Talk (100%)

      • Dragon Tail (100%)

      • Power Swap (100%)

      • Guard Swap (100%)

      • Mimic (100%)

      • Substitute (100%)

      • Clear Smog (100%)

      • Rolling Kick (100%)

      • Triple Kick (100%)

      • Bone Club (100%)

      • Bonemerang (100%)

      • Barrage (100%)

      • Egg Bomb (100%)

    • Add to Breeding Center (100%)

    • Add to Trading Center (100%)

  • Bug Fix - Destiny Bond bug (100%)

  • Typo - Fixed a typo with Bugsy's Mom (100%)

  • Bug Fix - Roar will now only work once per pokemon (100%)

I'm pretty excited to finally be able to have all the PTD1 pokemon inside of PTD2, as always let me know what you think!

Monday, 19 August 2013

Legendary Transfers, Ilex Forest, Game Rebalance

to get the Shiny Starters? Shiny Zorua? Shiny legendary dogs? Shiny Mew? or any other
shiny pokemon in the game? Adopt them today using
SnD coins! Click here for more info.

the PTD: Pokemon Center - a place to trade pokemon,
get your Daily Code, adopt Pokemon, view your items
and change your avatar!

Welcome to the Sam and Dan Games Developer Blog!

Sam and Dan Games: Fundraiser! Phase 3

Help us keep making games and earn awesome prizes like Shiny Rayquaza and Shiny Heatran!  

Our Goal: $50,000

Weekly Update

Welcome once again to another week at Sam and Dan Games. Let's get it started!

Game Rebalance

It's about that time again to rebalance the game. The problem that happens is that many of you are higher level so I tend to make the latest levels be a lot harder than they should be at that stage of the game. The problem is that as I add even more content new players can get stuck since the difficulty curve might be too high. What I do to rebalance is start a new game and try to play all the levels. The moment where I feel like I need to start grinding to move on then that level needs to be made easier. Either make the enemy be lower level, or have less health. Ideally in the final game you would never need to grind to beat the story mode.

I'm also retroactively adding TMs for the Gym leaders that you might have beaten.

Legendary Transfers

Last blog I asked in the comments what you wanted to see for this update. Some of you wanted to see the Legendary Beast from PTD1 to be transferred over. So this week we will see Raikou, Entei, Suicune and Victini be added to the transfer list!

New Moves

I won't be able to reach Soft Level cap 37 this week but I will add some of the moves from it, plus a few extra fun moves. Are there any specific moves that you want to be added next week? Let me know in the comments below.

Ilex Forest

The next map will be Ilex Forest. There won't be any new pokemon in it but there will be some pokemon in the wild that we hadn't seen before so that means new behaviours for them. You can expect to battle a pesky Farfetch'd and gain access to HM Cut.

Mystery Gift

Like most weeks, there will be a mystery gift this week. It looks like Ice is winning right now. It is interesting because if Ice wins, there aren't many pure or primary ice type pokemon left. There might not be a choice to vote for.

Cosmoid Update

Some interesting things are happening in the Cosmoids world, I hope to have something new to show you guys in the coming weeks, but for now there is nothing new to announce.

Okay so here is the list of progress

Weekly Progress

PTD2 Released!

  • Mystery Gift (100%)

    • Graphics (100%)

    • New Attacks (100%)

      • Sharpen (100%)

      • Haze (100%)

    • Stats (100%)

    • Add to Breeding Center (100%)

    • Add to Trading Center (100%)

  • PTD1 Transfers (100%)

    • New Abilities (100%)

      • Victory Star (100%)

    • New Attacks (100%)

      • Searing Shot (100%)

    • Stats (100%)

    • Add to Breeding Center (100%)

    • Add to Trading Center (100%)

  • Rebalance Game (100%)

    • Reduced the amount needed to level up by 30% (100%)

    • Fixed Zai's Unit Size in battles (100%)

    • Added Bonus Experience to the Zai Berry Fight (100%) - Bonus experience for pokemon level 10 and under.

    • Made the Shadow Pokemon have really high amount of HP in the Zai Berry Fight to prevent players from defeating it before being able to capture it (100%)

    • Added Bonus Experience to the Zapdos Fight (100%) - Bonus experience for pokemon level 15 and under.

    • Fixed a typo with Ash's Dialog on Cherrygrove City (100%)

    • Added Bonus Experience to the Falkner Fight (100%) - Bonus experience for pokemon level 20 and under.

    • Added TM Roost as a reward for beating Falkner (100%) - If you already beat Falkner the TM will automatically be added to your game.

    • Changed Falkner's dialog after beating him for the first time to include him saying that he gave you the badge and the TM (100%)

    • Added a missing Police Man for Violet City when you first enter the town (100%)

    • You can no longer go to Route 32 (south of Violet City) until you beat the Lugia battle (100%)

    • Added Bonus Experience to the Bellsprout Tower Fight (100%) - Bonus experience for pokemon level 20 and under.

    • Boss Bellsprout's wrap attack now has a longer cooldown but he now spins for only half the time before throwing out his wrap (100%)

    • Increased the cooldown on the small bellsprout's razor leaf attack (100%)

    • Added Bonus Experience to the Lugia Fight (100%) - Bonus experience for pokemon levle 20 and under.

    • Slightly increased the damage of Lugia's Gust Attack (100%)

    • Made the first Unown Fight easier (100%) - Lowered the level, hp, and chance to attack for the unown.

    • Made Entei's fight easier (100%) - Lowered the amount of damage the protector unit will take when taking entei's fireball attack. Lowered Entei's level. Lowered the Unown's level and HP. Lowered the amount of Unown that come out at a time and increased the time between unown coming out.

    • Fixed a type with Gary's Dialog before the Mewthree battle (100%)

    • Made Mewthree's battle easier (100%) - Lowered his total hp, lowered his damage to it's target unit.

    • Added TM U-Turn as a reward for beating Bugsy (100%) - If you already beat Bugsy the TM will automatically be added to your game.

    • Changed Bugsy's Dialog to mention giving you the TM (100%)

    • Made Past Route 29 Lass easier (100%) - Made her pokemon more reasonable for the expected level at that stage of the game.

    • Made Past Cherrygroove City Kid easier (100%) - Made his pokemon more reasonable for the expected level at that stage of the game.

    • Made Past Route 30 Trainers easier (100%) - Made their pokemon more reasonable for the expected level at that stage of the game.

    • Made Past Route 31 Trainers easier (100%) - Made their pokemon more reasonable for the expected level at that stage of the game.

    • Made Past Violet City Trainers easier (100%) - Made their pokemon more reasonable for the expected level at that stage of the game.

    • Fixed a typo on Falkner's Dialog on Past Violet City (100%)

    • Made Past Ruins of Alph Trainers easier (100%) - Made their pokemon more reasonable for the expected level at that stage of the game.

    • Made Past Route 32 Trainers easier (100%) - Made their pokemon more reasonable for the expected level at that stage of the game.

    • Made Past Union Cave Trainers easier (100%) - Made their pokemon more reasonable for the expected level at that stage of the game.

    • Made Past Route 33 Trainers easier (100%) - Made their pokemon more reasonable for the expected level at that stage of the game.

    • Made Past Azalea Trainers easier (100%) - Made their pokemon more reasonable for the expected level at that stage of the game.

    • Made the fight against Bugsy easier (100%) - His pokemon are lowered level, have less HP. Scyther starts out slower and now attacks longer before buffing himself again. Ariados now has an initial cooldown on his spider web attack.

  • Ilex Forest (100%)

    • Map (100%)

      • Graphics (100%)

      • Triggers (100%)

    • Trainer Battle (100%)

      • Waves (100%)

      • Level Layout (100%)

    • Wild Fishing Battles (100%)

      • Waves (100%)

        • Poliwag (100%)

        • Magikarp(100%)

      • Level Layout (100%)

    • Wild Pokemon Battles (100%)

      • Waves (100%)

        • Caterpie (100%)

        • Metapod (100%)

        • Weedle (100%)

        • Kakuna (100%)

        • Pidgey (100%)

        • Zubat (100%)

        • Hoothoot (100%)

        • Paras (100%)

        • Oddish (100%)

        • Venonat (100%)

        • Psyduck (100%)

      • Level Layout (100%)

    • Farfetch'd Battle (100%)

      • Waves (100%)

      • Level Layout (100%)

    • Wild Pokemon Behaviors (100%)

      • Paras (100%)

      • Oddish (100%)

      • Venonat (100%)

      • Psyduck (100%)

    • New Attack (100%)

      • Cut (100%)

  • New Attacks (100%)

    • Seed Bomb (100%)

    • Drill Peck (100%)

    • Gravity (100%)

    • Giga Drain (100%)

    • Cross Chop (100%)

    • Extremespeed (100%)

    • Hydro Pump (100%)

    • Thunder (100%)

    • Fire Blast (100%)

    • Blizzard (100%)

    • Solar Beam (100%)

  • Your pokemon will now retain any extra experience they gained past the point of leveling up (100%) - They won't however instantly level up twice, you will need to gain more experience to trigger more level ups, but you won't lose experience as your previously did.

  • Bug Fix  - Rapid Spin not clearing out Stealth Rock (100%)

  • Bug Fix - Added Missing Attack - Lovely Kiss (100%)

  • Bug Fix - Shrinking a few pokemon - Furret, Ekans, Arbok, Slowpoke, and Dunsparce (100%)

That's what we have for you this week. As always keep checking back to see how I'm doing and let me know what you think! Sam out.

5 Core Elements Of Interactive Storytelling

Over the past few years I have had a growing feeling that videogame storytelling is not what it could be. And the core issue is not in the writing, themes, characters or anything like that; instead, the main problem is with the overall delivery. There is always something that hinders me from truly feeling like I am playing a story. After pondering this on and off for quite some time I have come up with a list of five elements that I think are crucial to get the best kind of interactive narrative.

The following is my personal view on the subject, and is much more of a manifesto than an attempt at a rigorous scientific theory. That said, I do not think these are just some flimsy rules or the summary of a niche aesthetic. I truly believe that this is the best foundational framework to progress videogame storytelling and a summary of what most people would like out of an interactive narrative.

Also, it's important to note that all of the elements below are needed. Drop one and the narrative experience will suffer.

With that out of the way, here goes:

1) Focus on Storytelling
This is a really simple point: the game must be, from the ground up, designed to tell a story. It must not be a game about puzzles, stacking gems or shooting moving targets. The game can contain all of these features, but they cannot be the core focus of the experience. The reason for the game to exist must be the wish to immerse the player inside a narrative; no other feature must take precedence over this.

The reason for this is pretty self-evident. A game that intends to deliver the best possible storytelling must of course focus on this. Several of the problems outlined below directly stem from this element not being taken seriously enough.

A key aspect to this element is that the story must be somewhat tangible. It must contain characters and settings that can be identified with and there must be some sort of drama. The game's narrative cannot be extremely abstract, too simplistic or lack any interesting, story-related, happenings.

2) Most of the time is spent playing
Videogames are an interactive medium and therefore the bulk of the experience must involve some form of interaction. The core of the game should not be about reading or watching cutscenes, it should be about playing. This does not mean that there needs to be continual interaction; there is still room for downtime and it might even be crucial to not be playing constantly.

The above sounds pretty basic, almost a fundamental part of game design, but it is not that obvious. A common "wisdom" in game design is that choice is king, which Sid Meier's quote "a game is a series of interesting choices" neatly encapsulate. However, I do not think this holds true at all for interactive storytelling. If choices were all that mattered, choose your own adventure books should be the ultimate interaction fiction - they are not. Most celebrated and narrative-focused videogames does not even have any story-related choices at all (The Last of Us is a recent example). Given this, is interaction really that important?

It sure is, but not for making choices. My view is that the main point of interaction in storytelling is to create a sense of presence, the feeling of being inside the game's world. In order to achieve this, there needs to be a steady flow of  active play. If the player remains inactive for longer periods, they will distance themselves from the experience. This is especially true during sections when players feel they ought to be in control. The game must always strive to maintain and strengthen experience of "being there".

3) Interactions must make narrative sense
In order to claim that the player is immersed in a narrative, their actions must be somehow connected to the important happenings. The gameplay must not be of irrelevant, or even marginal, value to the story. There are two major reasons for this.

First, players must feel as though they are an active part of the story and not just an observer. If none of the important story moments include agency from the player, they become passive participants. If the gameplay is all about matching gems then it does not matter if players spends 99% of their time interacting; they are not part of any important happenings and their actions are thus irrelevant. Gameplay must be foundational to the narrative, not just a side activity while waiting for the next cutscene.

Second, players must be able to understand their role from their actions. If the player is supposed to be a detective, then this must be evident from the gameplay. A game that requires cutscenes or similar to explain the player's part has failed to tell its story properly.

4) No repetitive actions
The core engagement from many games come from mastering a system. The longer time players spend with the game, the better they become at it. In order for this process to work, the player's actions must be repeated over and over. But repetition is not something we want in a well formed story. Instead we want activities to only last as long as the pacing requires. The players are not playing to become good at some mechanics, they are playing to be part of an engrossing story. When an activity has played out its role, a game that wants to do proper storytelling must move on.

Another problem with repetition is that it breaks down the player's imagination. Other media rely on the audience's mind to fill out the blanks for a lot of the story's occurrences. Movies and novels are vague enough to support these kinds of personal interpretations. But if the same actions are repeated over and over, the room for imagination becomes a lot slimmer. Players lose much of the ability to fill gaps and instead get a mechanical view of the narrative.

This does not mean that the core mechanics must constantly change, it just means that there must be variation on how they are used. Both Limbo and Braid are great examples of this. The basic gameplay can be learned in a minute, but the games still provide constant variation throughout the experience.

5) No major progression blocks
In order to keep players inside a narrative, their focus must constantly be on the story happenings. This does not rule out challenges, but it needs to be made sure that an obstacle never consumes all focus. It must be remembered that the players are playing in order to experience a story. If they get stuck at some point, focus fade away from the story, and is instead put on simply progressing. In turn, this leads to the unraveling of the game's underlying mechanics and for players to try and optimize systems. Both of these are problems that can seriously degrade the narrative experience.

There are three common culprits for this: complex or obscure puzzles, mastery-demanding sections and maze-like environments. All of these are common in games and make it really easy for players to get stuck. Either by not being sure what to do next, or by not having the skills required to continue. Puzzles, mazes and skill-based challenges are not banned, but it is imperative to make sure that they do not hamper the experience. If some section is pulling players away from the story, it needs to go.

Games that do this
These five elements all sound pretty obvious. When writing the above I often felt I was pointing out things that were already widespread knowledge. But despite this, very few games incorporate all of the above. This is quite astonishing when you think about it. The elements by themselves are quite common, but the combination of all is incredibly rare.

The best case for games of pure storytelling seems to be visual novels. But these all fail at element 2; they simply are not very interactive in nature and the player is mostly just a reader. They often also fails at element 3 as they do not give the player much actions related to the story (most are simply played out in a passive manner).

Action games like Last of Us and Bioshock infinite all fail on elements 4 and 5 (repetition and progression blocks). For larger portions of the game they often do not meet the requirements of element 3 (story related actions) either. It is also frequently the case that much of the story content is delivered in long cutscenes, which means that some do not even manage to fulfill element 2 (that most of the game is played). RPG:s do not fare much better as they often contain very repetitive elements. They often also have way too much downtime because of lengthy cutscenes and dialogue.

Games like Heavy Rain and The Walking Dead comes close to feeling like an interactive narrative, but fall flat at element 2. These games are basically just films with interactions slapped on to them. While interaction plays an integral part in the experience it cannot be said to be a driving force. Also, apart from a few instances the gameplay is all about reacting, it does have have the sort of deliberate planning that other games do. This removes  a lot of the engagement that otherwise come naturally from videogames.

So what games do fulfill all of these elements? As the requirements of each element are not super specific, fulfillment depends on how one choose to evaluate. The one that I find comes closest is Thirty Flights of Loving, but it is slightly problematic because the narrative is so strange and fragmentary. Still, it is by far the game that comes closest to incorporating all elements. Another close one is To The Moon, but it relies way too much on dialog and cutscenes to meet the requirements. Gone Home is also pretty close to fulfilling the elements. However, your actions have little relevance to the core narrative and much of the game is spent reading rather than playing.

Whether one choose to see these games are fulfilling the requirements or not, I think they show the path forward. If we want to improve interactive storytelling, these are the sort of places to draw inspiration from. Also, I think it is quite telling that all of these games have gotten both critical and (as far as I know) commercial success. There is clearly a demand and appreciation for these sort of experiences.

Final Thoughts
It should be obvious, but I might as well say it: these elements say nothing of the quality of a game. One that meets none of the requirements can still be excellent, but it cannot claim to have fully playable, interactive storytelling as its main concern. Likewise, a game that fulfills all can still be crap. These elements just outline the foundation of a certain kind of experience. An experience that I think is almost non-existent in videogames today.

I hope that these five simple rules will be helpful for people to evaluate and structure their projects. The sort of videogames that can come out of this thinking is an open question as there is very little done so far. But the games that are close to having all these elements hint at a very wide range of experiences indeed. I have no doubts that this path will be very fruitful to explore.

  • Another important aspects of interaction that I left out is the ability to plan. I mention it a bit when discussing Walking Dead and Heavy Rain, but it is a worth digging into a little bit deeper. What we want from good gameplay interaction is not just that the player presses a lot of buttons. We want these actions to have some meaning for the future state of the game. When making an input players should be simulating in their minds how they see it turning out. Even if it just happens on a very short time span (eg "need to turn now to get a shot at the incoming asteroid") it makes all the difference as now the player has adapted the input in way that never happens in a purely reactionary game.
  • The question of what is deemed repetitive is quite interesting to discuss. For instance, a game like Dear Esther only has the player walking or looking, which does not offer much variety. But since the scenery is constantly changing, few would call the game repetitive. Some games can also offer really complex and varied range of actions, but if the player is tasked to perform these constantly in similar situations, they quickly gets repetitive. I think is fair to say that repetition is mostly an asset problem. Making a non-repetitive game using limited asset counts is probably not possible. This also means that a proper storytelling game is bound to be asset heavy.
  • Here are some other games that I feel are close to fulfilling all elements: The Path, Journey, Everyday the Same Dream, Dinner Date, Imortall and Kentucky Route Zero. Whether they succeed or not is a bit up to interpretation, as all are a bit borderline. Still all of these are well worth one's attention. This also concludes the list of all games I can think of that have, or at least are closing to having,  all five of these elements.

Here is some more information on how repetition and challenge destroy the imaginative parts of games and make them seem more mechanical.
This is a nice overview on how many storytelling games give the player no meaningful choices at all.
The Last of Us is the big storytelling game of 2013. Here is a collection of thoughts on what can be learned from it.
Visual Novels are not to be confused with Interactive Fiction, which is another name for text adventure games.

Thirty Flights of Loving
This game is played from start to finish and has a very interesting usages of scenes and cuts.

To The Moon
This is basically an rpg but with all of the fighting taken out. It is interesting how much emotion that can be gotten from simple pixel graphics.

Gone Home
This game is actually a bit similar to To The Moon in that it takes an established genre and cuts away anything not to do with telling a story. A narrative emerge by simply exploring an environment.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Scale comparison 15mm Crusader and a 28mm Stormtrooper

I had a few people asking for a scale comparison of the upcoming 15mm scale Crusader and a 28mm miniature.

You can see it scales nicely for the 28mm crowd, the head is large enough to fit a pilot into and the overall size looks good.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Ghaaaw, I wish I went to Gencon

Spoke with some of the folks from WGF and they said that they had quite a few backers come say hello... Makes me very sad I could not attend. I would have loved to meet the folks that made this possible.

Here is a shot for Gencon

Next year come hell or high water, I will be there.

Back in action! PTD2 update released!

to get the Shiny Starters? Shiny Zorua? Shiny legendary dogs? Shiny Mew? or any other
shiny pokemon in the game? Adopt them today using
SnD coins! Click here for more info.

the PTD: Pokemon Center - a place to trade pokemon,
get your Daily Code, adopt Pokemon, view your items
and change your avatar!

Welcome to the Sam and Dan Games Developer Blog! Back in action!

Sam and Dan Games: Fundraiser! Phase 3

Help us keep making games and earn awesome prizes like Shiny Rayquaza and Shiny Heatran!  

Our Goal: $50,000

Back in Action!

It's good to be back! First I want to thank you all for all the kind words that you gave Zaira and I. We had a wonderful wedding and honeymoon. It was a much needed break from work. I'm fully refreshed and ready to make some content!

PTD2 Update 1.49 Released!

I just finished a new update it contains a lot of goodies for you guys and gals.

  • Pokemon Size Adjustments - This was a long time coming. Usually I would resize pokemon manually and more or less estimate how big or small they should be. What I did was changed it so the sizes are automatically figured out using programming instead of me doing it manually. From 0 to 10 feet units will scale at a faster pace than from 10 or higher feet. If it all scales the same you end up with giant Steelix. So I used rattata to figure out 1 foot and your character represents 5 feet. Then I took my Steelix size and made that the measure for how the bigger pokemon should scale. The outcome is that sizes should be more consistent now. Some pokemon got smaller and some got bigger but should be accurate to the game.

  • Soft Level Cap Increased to 36 - Added 11 new attacks to reach the 36 soft level cap. Please note that pokemon that can learn these attacks will be able to learn them even if they are learned at a higher level than the soft cap.

    • X-Scissor, Megahorn, Shadow Claw, Flash Cannon, Dizzy Punch, Psycho Cut, Whirlpool, Stone Edge, Venoshock, Blaze Kick, and Sludge Bomb.

  • The promised Giveaway Pokemon - This coming week I will be giving away Shiny Tepig, Gothita and Electrike.

  • PTD1 to PTD2 Transfers - 15 new pokemon to transfer over! Go to the PTD1 Pokemon Center to transfer your pokemon from ptd1 to ptd2. Keep in mind you can't transfer them back to PTD1 once you transfer them over.

    • Ponyta, Rapidash, Magnemite, Magneton, Farfetch'd, Doduo, Dodrio, Seel, Dewgong, Grimer, Muk, Shellder, Cloyster, Drowzee, and Hypno.

That's all I have for today, stay tuned for our next blog on Monday! As always let me know what you think!

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Gencon 25% off sale and a preview of the 28mm scale Leviathan Mortis and 15mm scale Leviathan Crusader

Unfortunately I did not make it to Gencon this year, real life issues of hunting for a new residence intruded on my fun.

If you can make it to Gencon, Wargames factory will be previewing the 15mm Leviathan Crusader and the 28mm Leviathan Mortis, both were painted for WGF by Matt Leahy. I think he did a fabulous job on these! Yes, that is the 15mm Crusader, all the details found on the 28mm model are present.

For those of you like myself who cannot attend Gencon, I just wanted to let you know that Wargames Factory if having a 25% off sale. Just be sure to use the discount code on checkout.


All Wargame Factory and DreamForge-Games products on sale for 25% off! Sale ends Sunday August 18th at Midnight!

 Use the discount code of conspecial in our webstore shopping cart to receive the discount.

(Please note that our 3x and 7x deals do not apply during this sale)

 Leviathan Mortis

15mm Scale Leviathan Crusader

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Getting Married! Going on Honeymoon!

to get the Shiny Starters? Shiny Zorua? Shiny legendary dogs? Shiny Mew? or any other
shiny pokemon in the game? Adopt them today using
SnD coins! Click here for more info.

the PTD: Pokemon Center - a place to trade pokemon,
get your Daily Code, adopt Pokemon, view your items
and change your avatar!

Welcome to the Sam and Dan Games Developer Blog! Moving forward one step at a time.

Sam and Dan Games: Fundraiser! Phase 3

Help us keep making games and earn awesome prizes like Shiny Rayquaza and Shiny Heatran!  

Our Goal: $50,000

Getting Married! Going on Honeymoon!

As the title suggest this Saturday 7/27 I will be getting married around 5PM Eastern Time. It has been a long year of planning, blood, sweat and tears but it is finally here! I'm incredibly happy about this step in my life and I wouldn't do it with anybody else but Zaira, my fiance.

For our honeymoon we will be traveling for 2 weeks so I won't be around to make update for you guys :(. Like I mentioned on Twitter I will be doing the 3 Mystery Gifts in advance and the sponsor will release them on 8/2 and 8/9 on his blog. Once you find the code put it in and the gifts will be available to play on v1.48 of PTD2.

I didn't have enough time to do both the Mystery Gifts and the Giveaways so I will have to do the giveaway when I return.


Honestly without you guys this wedding would have not happened, so I wanted to say Thank you for playing our games and for always supporting us.

Soon I will be back and with the wedding behind me I will be able to refocus on the game and work harder than I ever had.

I will miss you guys!

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Movie Appraisal: Pacific Rim (2013)

Hey everybody! So, last weekend I went to see Pacific Rim with my normal theatre viewing crew. We had planned this out for a good long while and were all looking forward to it quite a bit. We went to a midnight showing since any other time wouldn't have worked out for us, and we excitedly waited for the movie to get rolling. Also read this review at your own risk!

We had no previews in our showing, and the movie didn't quite fit the screen which was fairly disappointing. Other than those things, the movie viewing experience was amazing. It is the best of its genre, hands down. I mean, there is no other way to even compare it to other movies. The actions scenes are wonderful, the human elements are actually meaningful and fun, and the CGI is both necessary and incredibly well done.

Come on, look at how awesome this thing looks!

I loved the designs of both the Kaiju (the big goddamn monsters) and the Jaeger (the big goddamn mechs). They worked incredibly well and felt amazingly large. The sense of scale was monumental, something I haven't felt in a theatre since the first time I saw The Fellowship of the Ring and watched the huge statues in that movie go by the fellowship while they were floating by in tiny boats. This movie makes the Kaiju and the Jaegers feel realistically huge. It was so cool.

And yeah, this movie has a lot to do with being cool. It is an experience. The music, the sound, the visuals, and the human stories- they are all experiences within the movie. No, the plot is not new. It's actually pretty cliched and can be easily predicted, but that doesn't mean it hasn't perfected its story. The Kaiju are the perfect antagonists, both alien and immensely terrifying. They have both a strength and a power that a normal person cannot even hope to overcome.

I'm a big damn mech, and I'm going to punch monsters from the depths of Hell.
Pleased to meet you.

It's a story about struggle and survival in an apocalyptic situation. It's also about teamwork (since the Jaegers require two people to make them run) and about just a great time in general. It's a movie that made me smile ear-to-ear more than once. It's also a movie that made me feel a cold sting of mortality at times as well. There are some very dark moments to go with the fun of them movie. And the moments that feel immense also can feel soul-crushingly sad as well.

When the Russian and Chinese Jaeger pilots die, it is a terrible thing. I felt their deaths in a way I rarely feel the deaths of characters within a movie. And these a re characters with no speaking lines either! With a very limited amount of screen time. Guillermo del Toro is that much of a master of his craft. He can make you feel something for characters who are background at best.

The fights are superb, hitting all the right strides and all the right moments. There are enough things that both the Jaeger and the Kaiju do to shake the fights up as well. I mean, suddenly the Jaegers have swords. Suddenly the Kaiju has an EMP. Suddenly there is a rocket elbow. Suddenly the freaking Kaiju has WINGS. All these elements work to make it just a wonderfully entertaining film, full of amazing moments, cool characters, and neat set-pieces.

The background stuff is really interesting as well. I mean both the background of this universe and the scenery itself. Both tell more of the story than the dialogue and characters ever could. It just feels so awe-inspiring. Ever person who is or was a little kid at one point playing with toys and ramming them against one another to fight will understand why this movie is one of the best movies out there period.

Yes, there are negatives. The lack of female characters (although I know I'll be called out on that by someone, just give it time) and some of the sillier things of the movie were a little annoying, but for the most part it is an incredibly fun ride. Easily one of the best movies I've seen in theatres in a long time. I suggest everybody watch this big damn movie. The script, music, and everything else are so awesome that the movie deserves your money and time, it really does.

How can you not love a man who looks like this?

Also, Ron Perlman and his character of Hannibal Chau are crazy awesome. I love that character so much. Also, the two science guys are great as well, and don't even take away from the big story of mechs and monsters punching one another. Is it a dumb movie at times? Sure, I guess. But just because it's a movie about things punching other things doesn't mean it can't be brilliant as well.

Serious recommendation. If you haven't seen it, go and see it!

Also, Hannibal Chau's shoes, because the detail is awesome!

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Bridging the gap

Prototype created at Salford Uni to encourage library usage, particularly students from a different location which used to have it's own library but won't from next term. They need to be encouraged to come over the bridge to the main library!

'Know How' prize trail

Prototype created at Salford Uni to encourage library usage, particularly new students, using orienteering as an inspiration.

More blanks and materials...

While I'm sat here waiting for videos to upload(!) I've just had a small delivery and bits and pieces for making prototype games.

For the first time I've ordered some materials from a German company called Spielmaterial .

They have a decent range of game components, plus some games, the prices are fair and they came quickly! Think I'll be going back to them when I need to top up my box of

What am I?

A game for illustrating a range of resources and their attributes prototyped at Salford Uni.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Thoughts on The Last of Us

I have now finished playing The Last of Us and feel it has quite a few things worth discussing. Overall it is a great game and there is a lot that can be learnt from it. Especially noteworthy are the nerve wrecking encounters. When at its best they top even the ones in Resident Evil 4 (2005), which I think features some of the best action gameplay ever. It also manages to use just about every trick in the book to tell its story. It is a very solid package and masterfully crafted. At the same time, while wrapped in an emotional plot, it is really just a game about combat and part of, what I think is, a worrying trend in video game storytelling.

Before The Last of Us can be properly analyzed, we need to go back to the early days of the game industry. At the beginning of videogame history, games were just about doing a few simple actions over and over. These games did not have a recognizable story as such, but simply provided a rough context for the action.

In Asteroids (1979) the visuals consisted of simplistic line drawings, but in the mind of the players they controlled a spaceship blasting incoming chunks of rock. While this thin veneer of story was not really important for the game as such, it greatly enhanced the experience. This was clearly shown in early advertisements where the screenshots are small and concept art showing off this fantasy takes up most of the space.

For the remainder of this article I will refer to this extra high-level concept as the story layer. This essentially refers to any part that does not directly support the core gameplay but is there only there to add an extra sense of purpose and narrative. Important to note is that the gameplay can still incorporate parts of the game's story; all of the narrative experience does not reside in the story layer.

While these high level concepts were (and often still are) very simplistic, it is pretty clear that they are essential. There are very few games that do not share this quality and just go 100% abstract. Even a weird game like pacman has some form of story layer to it.

This slowly gave rise to storytelling in action games. Rudimentary plots were added, for instance a summary of the background story at the start, and this eventually expanded to cutscenes in between the levels. The extra story content was not connected to the gameplay as such but simply provided context and rewards. But while it did not directly influence the gameplay in any meaningful way, cutscenes and an explicit plot could still improve the feel of the game.

The biggest evolution in storytelling came from Another World (1991) where the story layer and gameplay fit almost flawlessly into one another. No longer were the narrative elements superficial, but instead carefully ingrained with the gameplay. Actions that were made in gameplay smoothly transitioned into a cutscene and vice versa. The interactive scenarios were also carefully designed in order to make sense in the games story. Despite this tight coupling, it is important to point out that the focus of all gameplay segments was still about challenge and "fun". The game contained a number of mechanics and each section tested the player's skill in one or more of these. While the non-interactive plot elements improved the experience, they were still not crucial. Were the story layer to be taken way, the gameplay sections would still work fine in their own right .

Another World was a ahead of its time and it took a lot of years before the rest of the industry got up to speed. But when it did, the idea to close the gap between the gameplay and the story layer really caught on. Earlier, the story layer had mostly been seen as an extra, but ultimately superfluous, feature. But it rose in prominence, and was seen as increasingly crucial. Along the way, a host of new ways to add a story layer emerged. The audio logs from System Shock (1994), in-game cutscene from Half Life (1998) and the omnipresent narrator from Portal (2007) are probably the most important ones. All of these provided tools to merge the two conflicting elements. Along the way, the complexity and maturity of the story layers increased as well.

Even though modern action games now come with a wide variety of stories, the basic format is still the same as in the early days. The player is given a narrow set of mechanics that needs to be skillfully used in order overcome the challenges provided. On top of this is an extra narrative wrapping, the story layer, that helps shape the experience into something more meaningful. This is a recipe that most recent high profile games use, including Dead Space (2008), Uncharted (2007), Tomb Raider (2013), Halo 4 (2012), Portal 2 (2011), Bioshock (2007), and many more.

Here is where The Last of Us comes in; it is the latest step in this evolution. It is probably also the game that, so far, managed marry the gameplay and the story layer most elegantly. This makes it into an emotional journey, but it is crucial to remember its pedigree. It is still an action game with an additional story layer.

Just like a number of recent games with narrative ambitions, e.g. Spec Ops (2012) and Hotline Miami (2012), it takes the gameplay as a starting point for the story. This is different from a game like Uncharted where the high concept came first. In Uncharted's case it was to replicate an Indiana Jones-like adventure movie. Because of this, the gameplay's need for constant bloodshed has a hard time fitting the happenings in the story layer. This caused a very noticeable discrepancy in the game's narrative, the so called "ludonarrative dissonance". The game's protagonist would slaughter hundreds of people and afterwards crack a joke and worry about his relationships. But in a game like Last Of Us, the violent gameplay is taken as a given and the whole world shaped accordingly. The game is set in a story where butchering hundreds of people makes sense, giving the holistic experience a strong feeling of consistency.

There are still a few problems between of the story layer and the gameplay, but on the whole the played narrative is quite coherent. It has been rightly celebrated for doing this, but few voices have been raised by the troubling development it is part of. If we agree that The Last of Us represent a high note of videogame storytelling, an example to follow, then our boundaries for telling stories are very narrow indeed.

The game has a lot in common with the recent Spec Ops: The Line. Both feature a dog-eat-dog world, takes place in the destroyed remains of a city, and have you play as violent and deranged characters with no qualms about butchering countless people. Both of these games have also been praised for their mature and intelligent storytelling. And sure, they both feature deep and nicely portrayed characters, but what it all really boils down to are neat ways to justify a lot of violence. If this represent the future of videogame storytelling, then we are doomed to play as broken, murderous protagonists living in worlds populated by antagonists.

When faced with the problem of reconciling a character like Uncharted's Nathan Drake with the massive violence, the proposed solution is simply to make the character better fit with the killing. I find this close to giving up on the problem altogether. In a way games like Uncharted are, despite their gameplay and story layer discrepancy, much more interesting as they try to be about something other than raw survival. Embracing that videogames is all about violence feels very cynical and uninspiring to me.

It is also crucial to keep in mind that the core gameplay has not changed much over the years. These games are still about doing a few actions over and over. When these actions do connect to the story, like they do in both Spec Ops and The Last of Us, it is not so much because they are proper narrative devices, but that the story has been shaped to fit with them. The repetitive action is still king, the need to have a massive body count is still a must. This is not bad as such, I thought Last of Us was a great action game. But, I have problems with it being seen as good interactive storytelling, it is really just good usage of the story layer. This might seem like play of words, but there is an important aspect to have in mind: Like games of the past, The Last of Us would have worked very well with its story layer removed.

When taking a closer look at The Last of Us, its action heritage is quite evident. It is very clear that at the core lies a straightforward game about looting, sneaking and killing enemies. Here are a couple of examples:
  • The goal of the player is always to go forward to a place highlighted early on. Once there, a cutscene takes over and reminds you of your next goal. It is basically a modern incarnation of the the ancient "walk left to right"-mechanic.
  • Every non-combat challenge of the game is a combination of a few simple elements: ladders, planks, pushable dumpsters, floating pallets and generators, all used in predictable and streamlined ways. This is typical of what you see in old actions games; there are a few well tested puzzle devices that gets reused throughout the game.
  • During gameplay, NPCs turn into combat objects and are streamlined to support the action above everything else. This is evident in how they do not affect your ability to sneak, can stand a lot more damage than the protagonist, have infinite ammo supplies, etc.
  • The game features plenty of looting and crafting which is just a revamp of what we have seen in Dead Space, Resident Evil 4, and many more. It is there to give the player something to do when going through the world and is used as a way to provide more variety to the combat. 
  • Environments where combat encounters occur are almost always crafted in such a way that it is possibly to know that a fight will ensue long before it actually happens. Strategically scattered bottles, carefully placed cover spots and early depots of ammo are among the things that hint that the game is now all about making sure the core mechanics of an encounter work.
There is more that can be pointed out here, but I think this is enough. The takeaway is that this is the core of the game; all of these elements are what sum up the game's underpinnings and what provides the central experience. I think it is an incredibly important point. Before we speak of the game as some highpoint in storytelling we must realize where it comes from - it is an old fashioned action game. And if we do not realize this, we will be stuck in a dead end, because there is not much in terms of storytelling that can be done with this. The Last of Us probably represent as far as you can go with stories that are based on this foundation.

This is when things get interesting. We can now see that the emotional narrative is not part of core gameplay, but comes from a totally different direction. Here The Last of Us has a lot that can be learned from and be inspired by.

First of all, the game uses just about every trick in the book to get the story across outside of the cutscenes. And not only that, pretty much every one of these elements has an excellent implementation:
  • Notes. The game feature scattered diaries, audio logs, manifests, letters and more, almost all of which have believable content and placement. They also have great length so they feel very fluent to pick up and read through. 
  • Overheard conversation. This can either come from hostiles in combat situations or from the characters in one of the few non-violent section with other people. They are effectively used both to convey the state of the world and to give more information about the characters.
  • In-game cutscenes. In a few areas, events takes place as you walk past them. For instance, at one location the military can be seen rounding up infected people. And if you go in for a closer look, the armed personnel act accordingly and push you away. This makes the scene feel alive instead of becoming some kind of carnival ride (as was the case Bioshock: Infinite (2013),  for instance). What I also think makes them work is that the game use these events sparingly and make sure they happen in appropriate places. For instance, in the above military scene it makes perfect sense why the player cannot get close to the civilians.
  • Artifacts. Various artifacts can be picked up that tell something about the world. These are things like maps, dog tags, photos, etc. All help to build up setting and are lot easier to fit in than notes (which easily feel contrived).
  • Protagonist and partner banter. As you walk through the environment there are conversations back and forth between the protagonist and his partner (for most of the game a teenage girl). This is also one of the few places where some of the responsibility is placed on the player. Once a conversation starts, the protagonist can be made to go off in whichever way; it is up to the player to act in a way that makes sense. Because of this a lot more and varied content can be put in these dialogs.
  • Graffiti and billboards. Here and there, texts are placed on the walls that help explain what has happened to a place or to just give some more texture to the environment. Survivors scratch words of warning, a settlement have lists rules and so forth.
  • Environments. The environments themselves is a great source of the storytelling. Abandoned homes, fortified warehouses, etc, all help to build up the world the game takes place in and tell the story of what has occurred.
None of these are new or revolutionary tricks, but they are put together really well and are never overused. It is so easy to just use one trick for everything, but Last of Us show restraint and use its devices where appropriate. Much of the time these devices work in tandem and that is when they really shine. A common example is walking around in a derelict building while the characters comment on the surroundings and notes found; this really increase the sense of presence and feeling of being inside a narrative. 

One has to have in mind that the world of Last of Us fits perfectly for the above devices, but there is no inherent problem with using them in just about any sort of story. Also noteworthy is that, apart from the overheard conversations, the narrative devices have very little connection to the core gameplay; they are all part of the story layer. It is incredible how many elements that make up this layer now. What began as a simple intro text or just a painted image is now a large collection of systems. While the story layer was once a fragile structure, merely having a supportive role, it is now so complex that is can pretty much stand on its own. In fact, that is just what it does a few times in The Last of Us. And it is now that we enter the really intriguing territory. We have now come to a point in the evolution of videogames where a once upon nonessential element has gotten enough substance to branch off and become something in its own right.

The best example of this is The Last of Us' opening. Here the player takes on the role as a young girl who finds herself home alone while it becomes increasingly apparent that something terrible is happening in the outside world. Just about all interactions here has something to do with the story and minor details like the girl's animations help set the scene. It features just about all the narrative devices mentioned above and uses them to tell the player a story through play. 

The opening is also a good showcase for how and when to use cutscenes. I normally see the goal with interactive storytelling is to let the player play from start to finish. However, in order to play certain parts properly you need to be in the right mood and have certain background information. The opening cutscene helps establish just that, and makes the gameplay so much more effective. While I still feel that cutscenes should be used sparingly, I am thinking more and more that it is wrong to dismiss them entirely. Many interactive scenes are not just possible to jump right in to, but require some kind of setup. Many times this setup is just not possible to play through, and needs to be carefully directed. In these cases a cutscene is required and lets the player play through a scenario that would not be possible otherwise. I think the main rule is just to make sure that the interactive part is where the engaging actions occur. The cutscene should not be the main attraction, it's role is merely to be there as support. It is also worth mentioning that the opening cutscene works so well because it happens at the start of the game; the player has not become used to being in charge yet and is much more willing to be passive.

The next great story layer sequence is the deer hunting scene. Here you are hunting a deer in order to get food. The first arrows are not enough to bring it down, so you need to find it again and take additional shots. As you are doing this, you will eventually figure out that the best way to find it again is to follow its tracks. Having hit it once the deer will also leave a trail of blood, making tracking easier. While following the wounded animal you will eventually find yourself right outside a previously unseen building, the deer lying dead nearby. By letting you track the deer, the game has managed to lead you into finding a new location all on your own. This transition is really awesome and great way to progress the story simply by playing.

One could argue that this scene use the combat system and therefore part of the core gameplay, but I argue that is not really correct. It does use some combat mechanics, but the scene itself contain none of the dynamics of an enemy encounter. Therefore I think it is okay to say that this is scene is almost purely part of the story layer.

The final sequence I want to discuss is the giraffe scene. Like the previous scene, it is quite simplistic but extremely effective. It starts with the protagonist's companion, the teenage girl Ellie, getting excited over something she has seen and then running off. This starts sets up a mystery, and gets the player curious over what it is she has spotted. She continues to run ahead of you, seeing the mystery object more times and getting increasingly excited. You run after her, but are never able to get a peek of what it is she is seeing. Finally you come to an opening and see that what she spotted is a herd of giraffes. It all ends with a serene scene as the couple watch the herd walk among a city block overtaken by trees. The build-up and final comes together very nicely.

Worth mentioning is that part of the power comes from all the hazards you have had to face earlier, but I do not see that as evidence that the core gameplay played an important part. These hazards could just as well have been made using other techniques.

The scenes I have described takes up a tiny part of the The Last of Us. Most of the game is about combat, looting and solving repetitive puzzles, elements that you are expected to find in a classical action game. But these sequences and a few others shows that there is much more to this medium than repeating a core gameplay mechanic. The truly poignant and yet fully playable moments of this game is a testament to this.

So when talking about how well The Last of Us does storytelling, it is not productive to discuss how consistently it manages to merge its gameplay and story layer. I hope to have shown that this is a dead end. What is important are the other things, the elements that used to be fluff but has now become a force to be reckoned with on its own. There is a lot to learn from The Last of Us, but it is important that we look in the right places. It might be an classical action game at heart, but also contain elements that show the way forward.

In case you are in need of more info on the game, wikipedia is a good place to start.
To get some more insight into the workings of Spec Ops: The Line, I recommend this Errant Signal Episode. It is an excellent overview of how the game uses its violence to send a message.
In case you enjoyed this critique of The Last of Us, you will probably also like my thoughts on Bioshock Infinite. There are a lot of similar topics discussed.

  • My history of videogames is a very quick and dirty overview. For instance some early games like Project Firestarter have some of the story integration seen in Another World, but I skipped those in order to make it a bit more clear. Also, many of these early games never really caught on and did not have nearly as much influence as the games I mention. I would have liked to do a more in depth article on the history of violence and storytelling in games, but not sure I will have the time in the near future, so this will have to do for now.
  • Once the story layer got more prominent the discussion about "story" versus gameplay started to grow. Many people thought that the extra story segment was really distracting and that games should only focus on the core gameplay instead. I cannot recall this discussion ever being about the incoherence between the two, but simply that the extra story elements were not very engaging. It took a lot longer for the idea to pop up that there was a sort of friction between the story layer and the gameplay.
    It was not until the story layer had grown quite a bit until the idea of "ludonarrative dissonance" was brought up. First coined by the Far Cry 2 (2008)  lead designer Cliff Hocking, the core issue that it address is that the storytelling layer and gameplay disagree with one another. This of course has always been the case, but in a game design equivalent of the uncanny valley, it did not become apparent until the gap was small enough. So while the problem is true, the whole idea is kind of a truism. The gameplay and story layer has always been separate elements, and are conflicting in their very nature. I am not really a big fan of the term, as I think it is a bit backwards way of thinking. If the goal is to do interactive storytelling, all is already lost once you start dividing gameplay and narrative into different categories.
  • As I played The Last of Us, it also hit me that sometimes cutscenes work best when you there is no need for interaction. First of all, it makes the project so much easier to manage. Scenes with extensive dialog often require quite a lot of preparation and if they are to be highly interactive, then there is a constant need for tweaking. If the interaction is very simple (like button mashing), or not present at all, then you can evaluate these bits of the game at a much earlier stage and save a lot of headache.
    It may also be good for the narrative if the player does not have anything to do during certain sections. In most cases a real life dialog is not a very active experience as many utterances come almost automatically. So not having much for the player to do might actually feel more natural. Also, if the player is forced to perform actions then it might detract their attention from what is being said. So instead of trying to make the dialogs highly interactive, it might be better to just make sure they are short and keep them free from gameplay.
    This is actually an approach that we are taking with our new Super Secret Project. We scrapped many of the more wild initial approaches because they were too hard to do and often made dialogs less engaging.