Sequels Can Be Good for Videogame Storytelling

Videogame Storytelling

In another post gaming sequels are king, I argued that the unique relationship between technology and the medium of videogames makes game sequels less gripe worthy than, for instance, movie sequels. In this post I’ll make the argument for game sequels as good for game storytelling. (The argument for sequels as the cash cows that allow developers and publishers the leeway to finance riskier endeavors has already been well made.)

First, though, I should make clear that I think the best video game stories are still likely to come from the rare games that dare to focus on stories that aren’t designed around the potential for sequels. A story whose main goal is to not end is at an inherent disadvantage compared to a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, because a closed story structure is almost always stronger than one that doesn’t know where it’s going.

But the truth of the matter is that the vast majority of games are never going to take that risk. Most games want to leave the door open for sequels because, as my previous post points out, sequels are good for gameplay development (and for making money). In this much wider segment of videogames, sequels can often be good for storytelling.

This is in part because of the gameplay improvements sequels usually bring. For one thing, being able to focus on incremental gameplay improvement rather than building a game from the ground up allows more attention to the narrative—which is also being revised rather than developed from nothing. Take Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, for example. Able to start with existing templates for the rakish protagonist and his supporting case, and to do the same with the adventure/platformer/third-person shooter gameplay, Uncharted 2 does both better than the original game. Gameplay and narrative/character development interact more effectively to create an effective Indy-like adventure vibe. Indiana Jones is a classic in large part because of charisma (mixed, of course, with great action), and Uncharted finally hits that stride in Among Thieves. Storytelling depends on pacing, and the pacing of a game is contingent on how smoothly its gameplay functions, so (Uncharted 2 opening sequence SPOILERS in the next link!) sequels tend to get this right to a greater degree than first games.

Also, because sequel-oriented games tend to be more focused on gameplay than on story, the character development in the first game often tends to be a bit clumsy, a situation that often improves in the sequel(s) once developers have gotten to know the characters better. A great studio like Naughty Dog is capable of getting this right without a trial run in The Last of Us—but a few years before that, Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series took until Uncharted 2 to really get their protagonist’s charisma right.

The Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series provides another good example of a series stumbling onto interesting storytelling in the first game and really nailing it in the second. (Modern Warfare 1 and 2 plot SPOILERS ahead!) In the first Modern Warfare, Infinity Ward realized that their multiple-player-character approach opened up the door to doing surprising things with individual player characters (PCs) that a game with one (or two) main PCs can’t—as players found out when Sgt. Paul Jackson’s tour of duty ended prematurely in the “Aftermath” level. This narrative technique of using multiple PCs to enable bold narrative choices was taken a step further in MW2’s infamous airport level, “No Russian,” a choice enabled, I believe, by Infinity Ward witnessing the dramatic impact on players of “Aftermath” and similar moments in the previous game. Having taken one risk and succeeded, they (and their publisher) felt willing and justified to take the further risk of making the player do shocking things for dramatic effect, not just witness them and be unable to stop them. The narrative risks taken by Infinity Ward (and publisher Activision) in MW1 and MW2 wouldn’t have happened if those games weren’t sequels. Infinity Ward was able to build on their gameplay and narrative work in CoD 1 and 2, freeing them up to think more creatively about the narrative experience of a first-person shooter. And the fact that CoD 4: MW was a sequel actively encouraged them to think creatively, to avoid the sequel-killing situation in which the game comes across as just more of the same without any new experience to recommend it to players. This inducement doesn’t lead all sequels to be as narratively successful as MW 1 and 2, of course, but it does offer a nudge in that direction.

There are many other game sequels whose narratives and narrative/gameplay combined experiences are improvements over their predecessors for the basic reasons described above with the Uncharted and Call of Duty examples: my personal list would include Mass Effect 2, Red Dead Redemption, and the later games in the Elder Scrolls, Persona, and Grand Theft Autoseries, to name a few.

There’s probably an argument to be made that the effect of sequel-ready game series as opposed to games that focus on telling a good story now, in this game, is a net negative—though since sequels are never going away, I’m not sure how useful that line of thinking is. But I think sequels offer meaningful opportunities for good games in a way they don’t in other media such as movies. What do you think? Do you think that sequels are terrible for gaming, great, or offer a mixed potential? What downsides of sequels counteract the benefits I’ve mentioned in this post and the previous one? What are some great sequels I’ve overlooked here?

Written By: Brandon Perton


Lets discover how to Find those Retro Gaming Gems!

Do you miss the days where you spent hours playing Pac-Man or Super Mario Kart? Want to finally get the last piece of the Legend of Zelda’s Triforce? Here’s a look at where to find some of the old school video games that you remember fondly.

The Attic

Unless your mom wanted to make a few extra bucks at her garage sale, chances are that no one ever bothered to get rid of your old games. Go digging around the house and see what you can find.

If you find your old Super Nintendo but can’t quite get it working, a simple Internet investigation may help you solve the problem. There are plenty of YouTube tutorials that will help get your old gaming systems up and running, and you can also purchase cleaning kits online.  Even if the system isn’t salvageable, odds are that your games still work and you just need a new system to play them on.

Second Hand Stores:

Thrift stores, flea markets, pawn shops and garage sales. If you have a specific list of games to purchase, this is probably akin to looking for a needle in a haystack. However, if you’re just looking for some affordable games or an old Sega Genesis, then you could find some hidden treasure.

Online Venue

eBay. If you can contain your excitement long enough for the product to be shipped to you, online auction site eBay will offer the best variety and very competitive prices on games and hardware. Sometimes you can get a really good deal when a seller is offering a system and multiple games for purchase.  Amazon is anther resource to use, but actually seeing a photo may not be as easy as finding the game though.

Local Video Game Store:

There are stores that specialize in retro video games, and some video game chains stock old games. These stores may also buy and sell games, so chances of a trade in for what you are looking can be an option.  The prices can be a little steeper at these stores, but they have several advantages over thrift shops. Not only will you often find an excellent variety of games and systems, you usually have the ability to trade in your old games for store credit. Plus, many of these stores have return policies in case the game you buy doesn’t work. That’s not usually an option at a thrift store or garage sale.

Virtual Console:

If you have a Wii, Wii U or Nintendo 3DS, then you have access to Nintendo’s Virtual Console, which allows you to download old games cheaply. Virtual Console doesn’t have every Nintendo game ever made, but it features a solid selection.

The Virtual Consoles games vary depending on which system you have, with the Wii version offering the most games. The Wii Virtual Consoles has tons of games from the NES, Super Nintendo and N64 systems. It also has a few Sega Master System games, an excellent selection of Sega Genesis games, and games from more obscure systems like TurboGrafx, Neo Geo and even a few old Commodore 64 games. The 3DS Virtual Console has games from the original Nintendo Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance and Sega Game Gear.

The same can be said about the playstation network.  Sony is rapidly improving the PSN (playstation network), with many classic retro games being brought back to life.  A few games are even getting re-mastered or maybe having some additional content added to the experience.

The Conclusion:

Now that you’ve got some games, enjoy your quality time with the Mario Brothers and Sonic the Hedgehog. Just be careful: The same games you found addictive the first time you played them may still have that allure. All-night Zelda fests may make it difficult to get up for work the next day.

The Walking Dead Season Two Episode 2: A House Divided Review for PC

ImageThere’s something about little girls fighting their way through a zombie apocalypse that is incredibly captivating. The Last Of Us proved that you don’t need a macho gunslinger mowing down hordes of enemies to make a compelling protagonist. And now, The Walking Dead Season Two Episode 2: A House Divided returns to continue the story of Clementine – the pocket-sized dynamo from Season 1 of the games. And let’s be clear about it, she still owns. Clementine is as much at home while she’s blasting away the undead as she is while frolicking through her surroundings. She’s certainly handled herself better in the universe of The Walking Dead than many of the adults who’ve crossed her path.

While some of Clementine’s antics push the envelope of believability, this isn’t really a major problem of any sort. You don’t see little girls cutting through swathes of zombies every day, but then this isn’t exactly the cushy universe that we live in. The world has gone to hell, and extraordinary circumstances create extraordinary heroes (or in this case, heroines). Clementine isn’t all guns and glory, though. She depends a lot on the altruism of complete strangers she encounters on her journey – a stark reminder that for all of her antics, she’s still a little girl. These different dynamics meld together to create a fantastic entry into Telltale Games’ stellar series of games. The game works equally well as a standalone story or as an episodic adventure in the series.

When Robert Kirkman created The Walking Dead graphic novels, he did something unusual – making zombies believable. He achieved this by essentially making it a character study about humans trapped in an insane situation. We, as the readers eventually came to recognize that the humans in the story were essentially the walking dead. Telltale Games’ has used this rich lore from the graphic novels to create a great story of their own. In episode 1, we met a band of survivors as Clementine and tried to fit in and survive. Episode 2 continues the story of these people we met, and their personalities are explored in greater depth than they were earlier. Nick no longer is a stereotypical rebellious teenager. Rebecca isn’t a shrill cynic, and is more relatable even though she remains an unlikable character. Luke, Sarah, Calvin and Arlos all get different layers to their personalities which makes them all feel more like real people than plot devices.

Even the setting the episodes are based in is starting to gain more depth as we begin to understand the gravity of the situation Clementine and the others find themselves in. Distrust and paranoia has always been a central theme for The Walking Dead, and episode 2 ramps up things on this front. Clementine is essentially completely isolated from the rest of the group and is rapidly losing any traction and support she had. She meets one of the characters who appeared earlier in the story only to find that the person she knew is gone. Clementine must survive through this ordeal while constantly questioning her alliances and friendships. This story mechanic adds an extra layer of danger to the situation, since she needs to protect herself from humans as well as the zombie lurkers.

As a matter of fact, dealing with zombies turns out to be infinitely easier than dealing with humans. With a zombie, there’s no need to think about what you need to do – either you kill, or you run. With her human acquaintances, Clementine is constantly walking the razor wire of friendship and enmity. Even the dialogue choices grow suitably grimmer as we progress through the story. Most of the time, you are forced to be blunt and harsh to the people you meet, since there isn’t much time for subtlety. Clementine is finding out that the world is filled with dangerous situations and death is a constant companion. She’s coming to understand that even though a group of people might have banded together through necessity, each and every one of them is on their own.

This cynicism doesn’t feel like it’s forced into the story. Clementine’s attitude is a natural outcome of the bleak world that she inhabits. She knows that bad things will happen, often. And everyone whom this group of people meets undergoes some sort of tragedy or pain. When people are this afraid for their lives, they are extremely secretive. Carver, the man who loomed like a spectre through the discussions from the last episode finally makes an appearance. And he doesn’t disappoint. He is a complex villain who starts out by talking about leading the survivors to safety, but somehow more and more people die on his watch. He threatens the life of our heroine multiple times and is completely prepared to inflict brutal violence to achieve his ends. He is a fitting entry into the cadre of fantastic villains from Robert Kirkman’s graphic novels.

It needs to be said that The Walking Dead Season Two Episode 2: A House Divided is uncompromisingly bleak. Every single person in this story seems to be doomed. Bad things happen to good people. In fact, the story almost dresses up its characters in red shirts as soon as they perform an act of kindness. Telltale, please give us some hope. Surely, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel here?

In summation, Episode 2 gets the story of Season Two up and running. Episode 1 featured a lot of table-setting and plotting, and we finally get some paybacks here. Clementine is still a compelling heroine, and Carver might turn out to be good enough to share a frame with Negan and The Governor. With the series now in full swing, it will be interesting to see how Season Two turns out in future episodes.  For more PC & Video Game Reviews along with current console gaming reviews make sure to check out our main blog at The Old School Game Vault.

Game Score 8.5/10

Written By: Brandon Perton

An everlasting Gaming Experience with The Old School Game Vault

Whether you visit our site just to sell video games. Maybe you have come looking for a retro game review.  Since 2007 the video games business has been our niche.  We are always constantly asking for customer feedback to improve our website and the customer’s experience with our site.  Our site is very simple in appearance, but packed fully of information if you want it.  You  can find up-to-date gaming news, classic reviews and just about any interesting topic your heart desires.

It’s Not about Selling Video Games any longer:

We believe in creating an overall useful experience on our website.  Sure you may come to our site one day to sell a copy of an unused ps4 game.  Our goal is to stay up-to-date with our blog and provide useful resources to fellow gamers.  If you’re into current genre of gaming we have topics covering that.  If retro gaming is your cup of tea, we have plenty of interesting topics about our love of the retro side of things.

Video Game News:

The video game business consumes billions of dollars yearly; with millions of people actively playing video games on any given day.  There are always, new video games being created, old video games getting patches or online dlc.  Companies are always rolling new products, and we keep you current on all these events with our weekly news segment.  Every week The Old School Game Vault does a live on air video game news segment.  So stay current and up-to-date with gaming news hosted on youtube and thru our google plus account.

Gaming Tutorials:

Fixing or repairing electronics can be very easy for some and very strenuous for others.  Over the years we have had to fix our share of broken video games consoles and games.  At the same time, not everything can be fixed, but this is how you learn.  A new section of our blog focuses on how-to-video’s and demonstrates how to repair certain electronics.

Video Game Reviews:

Are you considering buying a new video game, generally you will do some research about the game to ensure it fits the style of game play you like most.  Reading opinions from industry experts is a great way to learn more about a particular game before you invest $60 into it.  Doing video game reviews on our blog is natural way to share our opinions’ about games in an educated and detailed manor.  From newly released games to retro games, side of things.  You can find reviews for current genre of games, to the Nintendo NES, Sega Dreamcast, Game Boy Advance games and more.

The Pros & Cons of Emulating Video Games!

An emulator is a program designed to emulate another platform such as a games console on another computer. Emulators are often used by enthusiasts of older video games which were designed for now-obsolete games consoles and operating systems. Emulators are also used in the form of virtual machines to run an older operating system on a newer one in order to overcome compatibility issues and run older programs which are no longer supported by the host operating system. Due to its status as the dominant operating system on desktop and laptop computers, Windows has many emulators available for it.

Emulators are the only practical way of playing video games designed for older computers, such as those made by Atari, Amiga or Acorn. Since these manufacturers ceased production of computers back in the 90s, the only way to play games and run software designed for them is to use an emulator for the host operating system (e.g. Windows 7) unless you have the original computer itself. Emulators are also available for almost all of the games consoles of old as well as some of the newer ones. For Windows, and various other operating systems, there are emulators for the Super Nintendo, Sony PlayStation, Gameboy and much more.

Since modern computers are vastly more powerful and feature-rich than computers and games consoles made in the 80s and 90s, they are more than capable of running such old software and video games. The Amiga 500+, for example, was one of the most popular computers back in the early- to mid-nineties. It had a 7 MHz processor and 2 MB of memory. Today’s computers are many, many times faster. In spite of this, you’ll still need a far more powerful computer for emulation than the computer or console you are emulating. This is because all of the processing is done using the emulator software to run games, programs and operating systems which were never designed to run on the host operating system.

Emulators can be even better than the real thing. For example, if you’re running a Super Nintendo emulator on a computer, you can enjoy better sound, smoother graphics, lower loading times and better connectivity features.

Emulators are often a subject of copyright-related controversy. Due to copyright laws, emulating older video games and software can be problematic, since most people obtain the software illegally. While there’s a great deal of software and games available legally and for free (this is often known as “abandonware”), many products are still copyright-protected and running them with an emulator is illegal unless you own the original software, be it in the form of a games console cartridge or the original CD or floppy disk.

Written By: Brandon Perton