Zero Punctuation: Firewatch & Layers of Fear

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UNHchabo:

Yahtzee:
This video brought to you by the spider marketing board

Nice to see the Australian Tourism industry sponsoring gaming content these days.

They need positive reviews since their "Hug A Spider" campaign didn't produce encouraging results.

I think a "horror" game where the protagonist starts off terrified but gradually becomes more and more accustomed to his/her bizarre environment to the point of being bored and/or annoyed by any malevolent force's attempt to frighten them could actually be very entertaining. It would be pretty easy to execute without deviating much from the usual horror game formula. You could probably even just mod an existing horror game, adding some additional voice acting, and pull it off.

I have always found the concept of the extraordinary and bizarre becoming mundane extremely entertaining for some reason. Probably one of the major reasons I really liked Yahtzee's Mogworld book.

Blood Brain Barrier:
Things that walking is more interesting than:

-Shooting a bunch of people/monsters/animals for hours on end.
-Running around like a headless chicken collecting XP to level up
-Fetch quests
-"Stealth" rubbish
-Tedious and repetitive swordplay against a (insert scary foe)
-Watching cutscenes of meaningless dialogue
-QTEs
-Collecting 50 bear skins to make a bearskin armour

There you go. I think I've covered most of modern gaming there.

I like the way you think.

so apparantly in Firewatch you can just not talk to the boss lady and she basically has a breakdown. interesting they put the effort into that.

Rawbeard:
so apparantly in Firewatch you can just not talk to the boss lady and she basically has a breakdown. interesting they put the effort into that.

She has a breakdown regardless. Maybe she gets one faster if you ignore her, I don't know, I didn't feel inclined to play it a second time, but she breaks down even when you do converse with her.

slo:

Guns guns guns. Guns. I told you it's always cod. It always is. Might be stemming from the fact that most of the folks who adore walking sims have little to no experience with games and poor understanding of the medium. It's never Myst or something.
No they're not games, they have no gameplay. You cannot succeed or fail or lead the story or an encounter to a more desired outcome.

Or, you know, it could be possible that humans are complex beings that are able to like different types of things? That it might be that you can like mainstream games like Dark Souls, Bioshock Infinite, and Dead Rising, while also liking walking simulators like The Stanley Parable, Firewatch, and Gone Home? There's nothing wrong with not liking those games, but insinuating that you're somehow an inferior person for liking them is needlessly insulting. A lot of people enjoy the interactive narrative while cutting out all the arbitrary challenges that only exist in a video game. Also, you can throw around as many arbitrary definitions for what constitutes a "real video game" you want, but it won't change the fact that they are. Same as, as much as you don't like it, Duchamp was an an artist. You might argue that art needs a certain amount of minimum effort, or it can only be marble sculptures and oil paintings. Won't change the fact that "Fountain" is worth 3.6 million dollars.

Blinkled:

slo:

Guns guns guns. Guns. I told you it's always cod. It always is. Might be stemming from the fact that most of the folks who adore walking sims have little to no experience with games and poor understanding of the medium. It's never Myst or something.
No they're not games, they have no gameplay. You cannot succeed or fail or lead the story or an encounter to a more desired outcome.

Or, you know, it could be possible that humans are complex beings that are able to like different types of things? That it might be that you can like mainstream games like Dark Souls, Bioshock Infinite, and Dead Rising, while also liking walking simulators like The Stanley Parable, Firewatch, and Gone Home? There's nothing wrong with not liking those games, but insinuating that you're somehow an inferior person for liking them is needlessly insulting. A lot of people enjoy the interactive narrative while cutting out all the arbitrary challenges that only exist in a video game. Also, you can throw around as many arbitrary definitions for what constitutes a "real video game" you want, but it won't change the fact that they are. Same as, as much as you don't like it, Duchamp was an an artist. You might argue that art needs a certain amount of minimum effort, or it can only be marble sculptures and oil paintings. Won't change the fact that "Fountain" is worth 3.6 million dollars.

I'm pretty sure I haven't said most of the things you're responding to.

canadamus_prime:
I wonder if your supervisor guy is the Forest Watcher guy from The Red Green Show.

Now THAT might actually make the game interesting. :)

OT: Sorry, I got nothing. Neither of these games seems that interesting. Kinda cool to hear about them, though - and Yahtzee's treatment of his houseguests. ;)

wallstaples:
I'm really, really tired of all the hate these kind of games get. They're niche. Most people won't like them. If you don't like them, fine, but don't burst down the clubhouse door and demand that they accommodate you. I don't like MOBAs, but I'm not going to go to the comments for everything MOBA-related and say they're stupid. I understand that different people have different tastes, and that DOTA and LoL are very well-made for their target audience. No one is forcing you to play walking simulators. If you know you don't like them, just don't.

It's his job, I don't like cutting up firewall but I do it because I dislike not eating/paying rent more.

IamLEAM1983:

slo:

IamLEAM1983:

But of course, there's a subset of the gaming population that snobs anything that's not overproduced, packed with recognizable gameplay features or geared towards the competitive sector.

Cod. You meant cod. It's ALWAYS cod. If someone does not like a walking sim, it is always immediately assumed that's because he can only play cod. There's no way someone can be disappointed by anything else about a walking sim. Only that it isn't cod.

I know you're joking, but a lot of the "Eeeeuugh, Ess Jay Dubya Gaemz, blaaah!" nonsense I see on Steam tend to come out of close relatives of the Common CoD Player, mostly the DotA Fans and CS:GO players. That said, now that time's passed since the game's release, most of the negative reviews are more coherent. The excellent story delivery is noted, the art design is praised - but folks seem to rather uniformly have trouble digesting the idea of a story where *nothing* happens, despite outwards appearances to the contrary.

We're at a point where shows about nothing warrant postgrad theses (see Seinfeld) whereas games about nothing (which Firewatch seems to be) are decried for not giving the player some of the old agency-preserving devices like a tangible threat or an outwardly perceptible reason to care. I'd chalk that to the medium and to its consumers both still being fairly young, so there's still a lot of folks who think that Walking Simulators aren't games because there's no guns, no XP system, no movement or traversal mechanics or no competitive pull.

Keep in mind, film has been around for over a century. Literature's had thousands of years and visual art's had a few hundred thousand more, if you go by the Lascaux cave paintings. Video games, on the other hand?

Thirty years if you go by the post-crash recovery and the release of the NES, sixty to seventy if you go by the research leading to Pong's development. That's nothing, a drop of water in the ocean. We'll be able to tolerate really daring and artistic approaches to the medium some day, but there's a lot of research and general education of the masses to take care of until then.

Try debating Gone Home's worth to someone who's still stuck at "Super Mario Bros."-levels of game design exposure. You'll be at it a long damn time.

I had a lot of problems with the message of Gone Home(which in both my opinion and Total Biscuit's isn't really a game), it basically says that it's OK to abandon all your plans and run away with someone at 18 even though you have idea if the relationship will actually last, and also that's it totally OK to steal from your family in order to fun your running away(since the family aren't portrayed as awful people, it's really hard sympathize with the person for stealing from them). So I can't help but scratch my head when people call it one of the best games of all time, I think it actually sends a lot of unfortunate implications about gay relationships, and had the game featured a heterosexual couple I think people would've been harsher on it's message overall.

Blinkled:

slo:

Guns guns guns. Guns. I told you it's always cod. It always is. Might be stemming from the fact that most of the folks who adore walking sims have little to no experience with games and poor understanding of the medium. It's never Myst or something.
No they're not games, they have no gameplay. You cannot succeed or fail or lead the story or an encounter to a more desired outcome.

Or, you know, it could be possible that humans are complex beings that are able to like different types of things? That it might be that you can like mainstream games like Dark Souls, Bioshock Infinite, and Dead Rising, while also liking walking simulators like The Stanley Parable, Firewatch, and Gone Home? There's nothing wrong with not liking those games, but insinuating that you're somehow an inferior person for liking them is needlessly insulting. A lot of people enjoy the interactive narrative while cutting out all the arbitrary challenges that only exist in a video game. Also, you can throw around as many arbitrary definitions for what constitutes a "real video game" you want, but it won't change the fact that they are. Same as, as much as you don't like it, Duchamp was an an artist. You might argue that art needs a certain amount of minimum effort, or it can only be marble sculptures and oil paintings. Won't change the fact that "Fountain" is worth 3.6 million dollars.

Yes i'm so sick of people claiming i'm "narrow-minded" because I find games like Submerged, Wander, Dear Esther, Gone Home, and Everybody's Gone to the Rapture as exciting as watching grass grow. They're just not for me, it's that simple, if someone likes them great, but don't expect everyone else to blindly agree with you.

Michael Prymula:
I can't help but scratch my head when people call it one of the best games of all time, I think it actually sends a lot of unfortunate implications about gay relationships, and had the game featured a heterosexual couple I think people would've been harsher on it's message overall.

Oh, I get that. Gone Home's overall theme deserves a more critical approach, and it gets sappy with its delivery. I tend to chalk that up to the subject matter being of importance to the writers and devs, so there's some distance that's missing.

That said, their attempt at it still matters. As far as storytelling exercises are concerned, Gone Home still deserves a mention. As to whether or not I agree with TB's definition of a game, I don't think that matters. It's an interactive product that had a specific goal in mind, that set out to accomplish it and that did the best it could.

On a personal level, though, I did feel a bit slighted when the game's early spooky tones were dropped. We've been so trained to expect supernatural shenanigans as gamers that a product abandoning this specific hook halfway through feels less avant-garde than it feels like they dropped the ball. If you're going to pack a sordid past and a Ouija board in the middle of your tales of early-nineties LGBT self-affirmation, I'm still going to expect those cues to go somewhere.

I'm just mature enough to admit that a game that fails to live up to my expectations might still have some worth to it as a product or an artistic experiment.

Michael Prymula:
Yes i'm so sick of people claiming i'm "narrow-minded" because I find games like Submerged, Wander, Dear Esther, Gone Home, and Everybody's Gone to the Rapture as exciting as watching grass grow. They're just not for me, it's that simple, if someone likes them great, but don't expect everyone else to blindly agree with you.

To each their own, honestly. I reviewed The Witness on my blog and was pretty freaking harsh on it. On the other hand, folks at IGN and Elder Geek are singing its praises. I don't have to love every other game that comes out - I'm free to like what suits me and ignore what doesn't.

The one thing I won't do is take my prejudices to a Steam Community Hub and trash-talk people try to enjoy what suits them. This might be a free country, I don't have the right to be a dick to people who are enjoying what I can't enjoy.

IamLEAM1983:

Michael Prymula:
I can't help but scratch my head when people call it one of the best games of all time, I think it actually sends a lot of unfortunate implications about gay relationships, and had the game featured a heterosexual couple I think people would've been harsher on it's message overall.

Oh, I get that. Gone Home's overall theme deserves a more critical approach, and it gets sappy with its delivery. I tend to chalk that up to the subject matter being of importance to the writers and devs, so there's some distance that's missing.

That said, their attempt at it still matters. As far as storytelling exercises are concerned, Gone Home still deserves a mention. As to whether or not I agree with TB's definition of a game, I don't think that matters. It's an interactive product that had a specific goal in mind, that set out to accomplish it and that did the best it could.

On a personal level, though, I did feel a bit slighted when the game's early spooky tones were dropped. We've been so trained to expect supernatural shenanigans as gamers that a product abandoning this specific hook halfway through feels less avant-garde than it feels like they dropped the ball. If you're going to pack a sordid past and a Ouija board in the middle of your tales of early-nineties LGBT self-affirmation, I'm still going to expect those cues to go somewhere.

I'm just mature enough to admit that a game that fails to live up to my expectations might still have some worth to it as a product or an artistic experiment.

I feel that Gone Home's marketing was very misleading to the point of outright lying about what type of experience it actually was, which didn't help with people who were expecting something along the lines of Amnesia(which I personally don't like either).

Blood Brain Barrier:
Things that walking is more interesting than:

-Shooting a bunch of people/monsters/animals for hours on end.
-Running around like a headless chicken collecting XP to level up
-Fetch quests
-"Stealth" rubbish
-Tedious and repetitive swordplay against a (insert scary foe)
-Watching cutscenes of meaningless dialogue
-QTEs
-Collecting 50 bear skins to make a bearskin armour

There you go. I think I've covered most of modern gaming there.

Yeah that's total bullshit, that's not most modern gaming in the least, and no walking is not more interesting then any of those things.

Michael Prymula:
Yeah that's total bullshit, that's not most modern gaming in the least, and no walking is not more interesting then any of those things.

It's a deliberate exaggeration, I'd say. Walking sims at least have the merit of being something that's relatively new, when compared to the usual sets of mechanics AAA studios flock to. It goes to the point where making a shooter that's going to be distinguishable in the crowd requires some substantial research and investment, or at least lightning in a bottle. See SuperHOT for an example.

Otherwise, what are you getting, and how many devs are offering you similar packages? We had years of Doom-likes, then years of Quake-likes, then cinematic WWII experiences - and in the middle of all that you had rare gems like the first System Shock or Deus Ex. Innovation is hard and it's usually implemented incrementally, so we don't get a whole lot of it if single genres are considered. Now the leading paradigm is Near-Future Gritty Realism, with things like the Borderlands series being the relatively recent quirky outlier.

IamLEAM1983:

Michael Prymula:
Yeah that's total bullshit, that's not most modern gaming in the least, and no walking is not more interesting then any of those things.

It's a deliberate exaggeration, I'd say.

Not at all. The thing that's missing from this discussion is what you're actually doing when "walking". Obviously it's not just walking. Walking is not walking. You're thinking, looking, searching, reminiscing, remembering. Go for a walk outside right now and find out for yourself. You're never just walking. But in a shooter what are you doing? You're always shooting. Everything you do is concerned with that. The looking and thinking is concerned with how to best shoot your opponent.

The upshot of all this is that the experience of a "walking simulator" depends entirely on how the game is done. What it gives you to look at, think about and so on. If it does that part well, it should be a far richer experience than a RPG or shooter.

Blood Brain Barrier:

IamLEAM1983:

Michael Prymula:
Yeah that's total bullshit, that's not most modern gaming in the least, and no walking is not more interesting then any of those things.

It's a deliberate exaggeration, I'd say.

Not at all. The thing that's missing from this discussion is what you're actually doing when "walking". Obviously it's not just walking. Walking is not walking. You're thinking, looking, searching, reminiscing, remembering. Go for a walk outside right now and find out for yourself. You're never just walking. But in a shooter what are you doing? You're always shooting. Everything you do is concerned with that. The looking and thinking is concerned with how to best shoot your opponent.

The upshot of all this is that the experience of a "walking simulator" depends entirely on how the game is done. What it gives you to look at, think about and so on. If it does that part well, it should be a far richer experience than a RPG or shooter.

IamLEAM1983:

Michael Prymula:
Yeah that's total bullshit, that's not most modern gaming in the least, and no walking is not more interesting then any of those things.

It's a deliberate exaggeration, I'd say. Walking sims at least have the merit of being something that's relatively new, when compared to the usual sets of mechanics AAA studios flock to. It goes to the point where making a shooter that's going to be distinguishable in the crowd requires some substantial research and investment, or at least lightning in a bottle. See SuperHOT for an example.

Otherwise, what are you getting, and how many devs are offering you similar packages? We had years of Doom-likes, then years of Quake-likes, then cinematic WWII experiences - and in the middle of all that you had rare gems like the first System Shock or Deus Ex. Innovation is hard and it's usually implemented incrementally, so we don't get a whole lot of it if single genres are considered. Now the leading paradigm is Near-Future Gritty Realism, with things like the Borderlands series being the relatively recent quirky outlier.

I wouldn't say it's new, you're just taking all the walking you do in open-world games and stripping almost everything else out, at least that's how I see stuff like Dear Esther. I very much agree with Total Biscuit on those types of experiences in that I find them dull and not at all involving.

I don't think these walking sims should automatically get praise just for being different, just cause something is different does not automatically make it better then something that is familiar, Jim Sterling did a good video on this silly "innovative" mentality some people have: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abLspv3bgRo

Blood Brain Barrier:
The upshot of all this is that the experience of a "walking simulator" depends entirely on how the game is done. What it gives you to look at, think about and so on. If it does that part well, it should be a far richer experience than a RPG or shooter.

Thanks for the clarification. I agree, but unfortunately I don't see how core gamers could learn to accept what you're describing. We're both aware that thinking, searching, reminiscing or remembering aren't passive activities, after all. I wouldn't call an experience like Dear Esther passive, it's just heavily internalized. It does almost everything you're describing, the randomized bits of written letters standing in for thought processes or the protagonist's overall emotional state.

The problem is, some people would always end up looking for something more immediate, more tangible than just walking around waiting for the right memory or train of thought to jog things along. We've had decades to be conditioned to the idea of needing to run, to actively pursue a goal, to get physically involved in the proceedings or to use mechanics that simulate physical involvement - and that's something that's difficult to put aside for some gamers.

One person's introspection is another person's shallow or borderline pedantic crawl, unfortunately. A lot of what defines how a new walking sim is received by the general public is in its tone and overall artistic sense. The more high-brow, the more some people are inexplicably prone to feel like they're being talked down to.

I can sort of get the frustration, I hated The Witness. When a game exudes the impression that a specific artistic bias or personal philosophy is needed to best appraise its worth or impact, some people just default to feeling insulted. That's unfortunate, and there's still a lot of miscommunication to fix between projects with more "Arthouse" sensibilities and the general public.

Hopefully, like I told Slo, it won't involve labeling the genre only to coddle the risk-averse.

IamLEAM1983:

Blood Brain Barrier:
The upshot of all this is that the experience of a "walking simulator" depends entirely on how the game is done. What it gives you to look at, think about and so on. If it does that part well, it should be a far richer experience than a RPG or shooter.

Thanks for the clarification. I agree, but unfortunately I don't see how core gamers could learn to accept what you're describing. We're both aware that thinking, searching, reminiscing or remembering aren't passive activities, after all. I wouldn't call an experience like Dear Esther passive, it's just heavily internalized. It does almost everything you're describing, the randomized bits of written letters standing in for thought processes or the protagonist's overall emotional state.

The problem is, some people would always end up looking for something more immediate, more tangible than just walking around waiting for the right memory or train of thought to jog things along. We've had decades to be conditioned to the idea of needing to run, to actively pursue a goal, to get physically involved in the proceedings or to use mechanics that simulate physical involvement - and that's something that's difficult to put aside for some gamers.

One person's introspection is another person's shallow or borderline pedantic crawl, unfortunately. A lot of what defines how a new walking sim is received by the general public is in its tone and overall artistic sense. The more high-brow, the more some people are inexplicably prone to feel like they're being talked down to.

I can sort of get the frustration, I hated The Witness. When a game exudes the impression that a specific artistic bias or personal philosophy is needed to best appraise its worth or impact, some people just default to feeling insulted. That's unfortunate, and there's still a lot of miscommunication to fix between projects with more "Arthouse" sensibilities and the general public.

Hopefully, like I told Slo, it won't involve labeling the genre only to coddle the risk-averse.

Oh. I loved The Witness and think it is the best game of the past decade. It is also the furthest you can get from a walking simulator. Why do you think an artistic or philosophical disposition is needed to appreciate it? I think everyone should be able to get something out of it.

Otherwise, absolutely agreed on everything else you said. The conditioning of modern gamers is hard to undo, and not even necessary to undo. Some won't appreciate games that lack a very specific "mission", and which ask more from you than to follow narrow goals.

Blood Brain Barrier:
Oh. I loved The Witness and think it is the best game of the past decade. It is also the furthest you can get from a walking simulator. Why do you think an artistic or philosophical disposition is needed to appreciate it? I think everyone should be able to get something out of it.

Otherwise, absolutely agreed on everything else you said. The conditioning of modern gamers is hard to undo, and not even necessary to undo. Some won't appreciate games that lack a very specific "mission", and which ask more from you than to follow narrow goals.

Okay. Here's my experience with The Witness in a nutshell.

The first forty minutes or so were awesome. I loved the clear interface, the initially simple mechanic being slowly developed into more complex uses and patterns - I've compared it to Sudoku in describing it to friends of mine. It's a really basic setup for a puzzler, but the game provides enough variants and introduces enough mechanics to keep the challenge fresh.

The problem is that's all there is. Puzzles. Nothing but. No world-building, no theming other than in the presence of statues or weird architectural cues. If you're lucky or patient you'll come across these little recordings that are supposed to offer some insight into the area's overall theme or exposed mechanic in some allegorical fashion. The thing is, I didn't see these as flashes of brilliance or nudges in the right direction; I saw it as self-satisfaction, the game referencing its own claims to be a serious brain-teaser by quoting some of the Greats or the enlightened. Reaching the ending only furthered that impression (so I'm just going back to the beginning? Really?!) and the Easter Egg that's unlockable shortly afterwards made me feel as though Blow were busy tooting his own horn.

I won't spoil anything in case someone else reads this and hasn't finished the game, but the Easter Egg ending feels incredibly pretentious to me. There's something very... self-congratulatory to the entire experience that just raises my proverbial hackles. It's not deep thought or the game being proud of its own innovative streaks; it's pretension. Or at least, that's how it feels to me.

I mean, Portal 1 and 2 provide context and purpose while being as legible and solidly iterated upon as The Witness. The Myst games have terrific world-building going for them and puzzles that actually further the environments' sense of place. There's tons of reasons to be drawn into the experience in both cases, outside of just puzzles and vague promises that recorded quotations will suffice. I'd even recommend Fireproof Games' The Room series on mobile devices, as far as really solid Adventure Game experiences are concerned.

The Witness is just... there. I've played through it, I've tried to find as many of the recordings as I could and I spent time trying to make sense out of the statues in the courtyard or what looks like a half-finished or half-ruined small town. I've even left the game and tried to find online summaries, hoping someone else could shed some light onto it all. I've got nothing so far. It's opaque and it mistakes its profundity for deep thought.

It's all just surprising, really. Braid had a whimsical tone and a bit of an on-the-nose moral to be dug up at the end, but it wasn't this infuriating.

And I do know this is terribly ironic, considering what we've discussed. I'm all for games that don't wear their theming or world design on their sleeves and I don't mind the occasional bit of opaque storytelling, as long as it's well done. See the Souls series, for instance. Despite that, The Witness was my personal limit. I started by loving it, then getting mildly annoyed not so much by the lack of direction as the lack of purpose - and then I flipped my lid once the randomized puzzles kicked in. I couldn't combine enough of the presented mechanics to make it work, the glitchy puzzles got in the way of my ability to work based on the design language the game teaches you - and none of it amounted to much in the grand scheme of things.

See the irony? Guy thinks games could do more than just toss numbers to alter or health bars to nullify, but he still loses it when iterative puzzle design proves to be too much. Same guy also feels the need to cling to the idea of world-building or general versimilitude while tackling a game that clearly doesn't care for either concepts. That's sad, and I know it is.

So yeah. About conditioning? I'm conditioned. I expected something and I didn't get it. Mea Culpa and whatnot.

IamLEAM1983:

Blood Brain Barrier:
Oh. I loved The Witness and think it is the best game of the past decade. It is also the furthest you can get from a walking simulator. Why do you think an artistic or philosophical disposition is needed to appreciate it? I think everyone should be able to get something out of it.

Otherwise, absolutely agreed on everything else you said. The conditioning of modern gamers is hard to undo, and not even necessary to undo. Some won't appreciate games that lack a very specific "mission", and which ask more from you than to follow narrow goals.

Okay. Here's my experience with The Witness in a nutshell.

The first forty minutes or so were awesome. I loved the clear interface, the initially simple mechanic being slowly developed into more complex uses and patterns - I've compared it to Sudoku in describing it to friends of mine. It's a really basic setup for a puzzler, but the game provides enough variants and introduces enough mechanics to keep the challenge fresh.

The problem is that's all there is. Puzzles. Nothing but. No world-building, no theming other than in the presence of statues or weird architectural cues. If you're lucky or patient you'll come across these little recordings that are supposed to offer some insight into the area's overall theme or exposed mechanic in some allegorical fashion. The thing is, I didn't see these as flashes of brilliance or nudges in the right direction; I saw it as self-satisfaction, the game referencing its own claims to be a serious brain-teaser by quoting some of the Greats or the enlightened. Reaching the ending only furthered that impression (so I'm just going back to the beginning? Really?!) and the Easter Egg that's unlockable shortly afterwards made me feel as though Blow were busy tooting his own horn.

I won't spoil anything in case someone else reads this and hasn't finished the game, but the Easter Egg ending feels incredibly pretentious to me. There's something very... self-congratulatory to the entire experience that just raises my proverbial hackles. It's not deep thought or the game being proud of its own innovative streaks; it's pretension. Or at least, that's how it feels to me.

I mean, Portal 1 and 2 provide context and purpose while being as legible and solidly iterated upon as The Witness. The Myst games have terrific world-building going for them and puzzles that actually further the environments' sense of place. There's tons of reasons to be drawn into the experience in both cases, outside of just puzzles and vague promises that recorded quotations will suffice. I'd even recommend Fireproof Games' The Room series on mobile devices, as far as really solid Adventure Game experiences are concerned.

The Witness is just... there. I've played through it, I've tried to find as many of the recordings as I could and I spent time trying to make sense out of the statues in the courtyard or what looks like a half-finished or half-ruined small town. I've even left the game and tried to find online summaries, hoping someone else could shed some light onto it all. I've got nothing so far. It's opaque and it mistakes its profundity for deep thought.

It's all just surprising, really. Braid had a whimsical tone and a bit of an on-the-nose moral to be dug up at the end, but it wasn't this infuriating.

And I do know this is terribly ironic, considering what we've discussed. I'm all for games that don't wear their theming or world design on their sleeves and I don't mind the occasional bit of opaque storytelling, as long as it's well done. See the Souls series, for instance. Despite that, The Witness was my personal limit. I started by loving it, then getting mildly annoyed not so much by the lack of direction as the lack of purpose - and then I flipped my lid once the randomized puzzles kicked in. I couldn't combine enough of the presented mechanics to make it work, the glitchy puzzles got in the way of my ability to work based on the design language the game teaches you - and none of it amounted to much in the grand scheme of things.

See the irony? Guy thinks games could do more than just toss numbers to alter or health bars to nullify, but he still loses it when iterative puzzle design proves to be too much. Same guy also feels the need to cling to the idea of world-building or general versimilitude while tackling a game that clearly doesn't care for either concepts. That's sad, and I know it is.

So yeah. About conditioning? I'm conditioned. I expected something and I didn't get it. Mea Culpa and whatnot.

Fair enough. I'll just say that my own experience was totally different and your ending thought of "I'm going back to the start" never even popped into my head. I think the game is quite simply a meditation on oneself ("The Witness"). That's basically it - it's the broadest and most vast subject of any possible game. And it could mean a vast range of things for a vast range of people. That's why it could not have had a narrower story or direction, because channeling your thoughts into colliding with the developer's would have meant channeling them away from the intended subject. If anything I find that the opposite of pretentious. But with that there's also the freedom to dislike it, and you're welcome to do so.

A bit more on the ending:

tzimize:
The best bit of this was the scary going-to-be-president lurking behind one of the walls. Excellent stuff.

I believe in the business they're called 'trump scares'.

Blood Brain Barrier:
There's also the freedom to dislike it, and you're welcome to do so.

Basically this. I'm fine with people playing games I personally don't like, which just makes me look at some user reviews or even the new Ghostbusters trailer's YouTube comments page and just shake my head. "The Witness" isn't "SJW bullshit" because it failed to make a lasting positive impression with me - it's just a game that doesn't work with me. If it does with you, all the more power to you.

Seriously - don't look at the comments for the flick's trailer. Save yourself the embarrassment. There's more of these grown-ass men saying women ruin everything because Reasons.

*insert vague sigh of mental exhaustion and acute frustration here*

That said, thanks for telling me your interpretation of the story. I guess the last few puzzles didn't leave me much mental legwork to notice what you did, and it does give a tiny bit of meat to the game's bones - but no, the birth canal analogy never struck my mind, nor did the elevator ride strike me as being angelic or symbolic in nature. I can see how you could interpret those elements the way you did and it does frame some of the quotes in a clearer context - but it still doesn't help the sense of disconnection between the island and its puzzles.

I guess I have a certain threshold of tolerance for allegorical content and the game just went past it. Being more of a reader, I like my game worlds to contain stories and have a sense of place. With that missing, I suppose a lot of my motivation to catch these cues went out the door.

My only complaint with Firewatch is that I didn't realize it was building up to nothing until after I had passed the two-hour gameplay window for Steam refunds. The game is called Firewatch, I expect to be dealing with responding to actual forest fires at some point. As it stands, Firewatch actually has quite literally nothing to do with watching for fires. The two chances you have to actually spot fires, Delilah does it for you. The Narrative builds up to nothing. The game even tries to make a pathetic attempt to drive physical tension in the last scene of the game, but by then the player knows the game is full of shit, because the developer can't stand to have their precious narrative changed in any way from their perfect view of it.

Taking your sweet time and getting every conversation in the game and using your entire photo reel, there's three hours of gameplay. Not nearly worth the 18 dollar price tag.

Spartan448:
My only complaint with Firewatch is that I didn't realize it was building up to nothing until after I had passed the two-hour gameplay window for Steam refunds. The game is called Firewatch, I expect to be dealing with responding to actual forest fires at some point. As it stands, Firewatch actually has quite literally nothing to do with watching for fires. The two chances you have to actually spot fires, Delilah does it for you. The Narrative builds up to nothing. The game even tries to make a pathetic attempt to drive physical tension in the last scene of the game, but by then the player knows the game is full of shit, because the developer can't stand to have their precious narrative changed in any way from their perfect view of it.

Taking your sweet time and getting every conversation in the game and using your entire photo reel, there's three hours of gameplay. Not nearly worth the 18 dollar price tag.

Eh. We're at a point in Game Design history where games about nothing are positively groundbreaking - but they're not exactly for everyone. I'm also holding off on playing it or watching a Let's Play because "Denied Expectations and Banal Outcomes: The Game" doesn't really sound like fun, even if you tell me the whole banter thing with Delilah is the best piece of voice-over performance in years.

Blood Brain Barrier:

IamLEAM1983:

Blood Brain Barrier:
The upshot of all this is that the experience of a "walking simulator" depends entirely on how the game is done. What it gives you to look at, think about and so on. If it does that part well, it should be a far richer experience than a RPG or shooter.

Thanks for the clarification. I agree, but unfortunately I don't see how core gamers could learn to accept what you're describing. We're both aware that thinking, searching, reminiscing or remembering aren't passive activities, after all. I wouldn't call an experience like Dear Esther passive, it's just heavily internalized. It does almost everything you're describing, the randomized bits of written letters standing in for thought processes or the protagonist's overall emotional state.

The problem is, some people would always end up looking for something more immediate, more tangible than just walking around waiting for the right memory or train of thought to jog things along. We've had decades to be conditioned to the idea of needing to run, to actively pursue a goal, to get physically involved in the proceedings or to use mechanics that simulate physical involvement - and that's something that's difficult to put aside for some gamers.

One person's introspection is another person's shallow or borderline pedantic crawl, unfortunately. A lot of what defines how a new walking sim is received by the general public is in its tone and overall artistic sense. The more high-brow, the more some people are inexplicably prone to feel like they're being talked down to.

I can sort of get the frustration, I hated The Witness. When a game exudes the impression that a specific artistic bias or personal philosophy is needed to best appraise its worth or impact, some people just default to feeling insulted. That's unfortunate, and there's still a lot of miscommunication to fix between projects with more "Arthouse" sensibilities and the general public.

Hopefully, like I told Slo, it won't involve labeling the genre only to coddle the risk-averse.

Oh. I loved The Witness and think it is the best game of the past decade. It is also the furthest you can get from a walking simulator. Why do you think an artistic or philosophical disposition is needed to appreciate it? I think everyone should be able to get something out of it.

Otherwise, absolutely agreed on everything else you said. The conditioning of modern gamers is hard to undo, and not even necessary to undo. Some won't appreciate games that lack a very specific "mission", and which ask more from you than to follow narrow goals.

The Witness sounds like a pretentious piece of crap, I avoid it for the same reason I avoid all those damn Oscar bait films.

IamLEAM1983:

Blood Brain Barrier:
There's also the freedom to dislike it, and you're welcome to do so.

Basically this. I'm fine with people playing games I personally don't like, which just makes me look at some user reviews or even the new Ghostbusters trailer's YouTube comments page and just shake my head. "The Witness" isn't "SJW bullshit" because it failed to make a lasting positive impression with me - it's just a game that doesn't work with me. If it does with you, all the more power to you.

Seriously - don't look at the comments for the flick's trailer. Save yourself the embarrassment. There's more of these grown-ass men saying women ruin everything because Reasons.

*insert vague sigh of mental exhaustion and acute frustration here*

That said, thanks for telling me your interpretation of the story. I guess the last few puzzles didn't leave me much mental legwork to notice what you did, and it does give a tiny bit of meat to the game's bones - but no, the birth canal analogy never struck my mind, nor did the elevator ride strike me as being angelic or symbolic in nature. I can see how you could interpret those elements the way you did and it does frame some of the quotes in a clearer context - but it still doesn't help the sense of disconnection between the island and its puzzles.

I guess I have a certain threshold of tolerance for allegorical content and the game just went past it. Being more of a reader, I like my game worlds to contain stories and have a sense of place. With that missing, I suppose a lot of my motivation to catch these cues went out the door.

Oh yeah don't get me started on those stupid man-children getting all butthurt cause of women. I read the comments on Angry Joe's trailer reaction(which I disagree with personally, I think he was wrong about it) and AJ specifically said his disappointment had NOTHING to do with women, didn't stop sexist pigs from shooting their mouths off though.

Michael Prymula:
AJ specifically said his disappointment had NOTHING to do with women, didn't stop sexist pigs from shooting their mouths off though.

Angry Joe's a pretty easy guy to respect, honestly. As you've said, though, it doesn't change the fact that some guys could do with either a shot of maturity in the arm, a few extra female friends or coworkers or some time out of their self-sustaining ideological echo chamber.

You'd think that some of these idiots have never had the pleasure of working or spending time with someone of the fairer sex.

IamLEAM1983:
Snip

Not to parrot your own earlier post, but I like the way you think, sir.

OT: The idea that Firewatch's reveal (which I'm still unspoiled on, for the record) is actually nothing actually fascinates me. A lot of people have said that it feels unsatisfying, but it also seems like most of those people feel that way because the game didn't travel along the path they were expecting.

Obviously being unexpected doesn't make something good, but I'll admit to being more interested in an ending that fizzles out in a rather plain manner than something so bombastic and overblown that it could've been part of literally any other video game.

(Also, most game endings don't really bother me anyway.)

An interesting thing you can do in Firewatch, I gather, is to NOT respond to ANY of Delilah's chats (i.e. completely ignore her). Apparently she really starts getting antsy, and you get a somewhat different conclusion.

I *kind of* liked both of them.
Firewatch had good if slightly smarmy dialogue (as Yahtzee mentions), the pacing is a little slow but that's fine for gradual reveals. Things get really odd and interesting about halfway through, then it just peters out when everything is explained at the end and I got this sinking realization that nothing I did changed anything in any significant way.

The problem is that the camera, and the fact that you could pick up items, led me to believe it was more of a mystery/true crime game where I'd have to gather evidence to both figure things out and establish my own innocence at the end. Nope. Waste of time.

Layers of Fear has too many dumb jumpscares and really, really needs to get over the "creepy messages on the wall" thing. On the other hand, I kind of liked its use of line-of-sight tricks even if they never let up. It wasn't terribly scary, but it did lead to a few cool dream-sequence moments and hey, I just love that shit.

shrekfan246:
Not to parrot your own earlier post, but I like the way you think, sir.

Shrekfan-senpai noticed me!

Kidding aside, thanks. :)

It's been said before in the thread, but Duchamp's urinal and ready-made art in general needed a while to be recognized as such. For years, people looked at the guy's disconnected piss-receiving device and wondered what the fuss was about. Anticlimactic finales in video games might have to pass through the same period of acclimatization before people look at Firewatch or games with similar aesthetic conceits and admit their endings make sense.

As I've said, I'm not interested in trying it out. Denied expectations don't justify the asking price, neither does offering patronage to a team that's pushing interactive narrative delivery down a new path. Someone else might disagree, however, and say Firewatch has enough artistic pedigree to make the price tag feel strangely low. That's fine. Art being subjective, I'd say gamers tend to put their money where their personal subjectivity happens to stand.

I mean, SuperHOT makes fun of the whole "innovative shooter" notion and really does poke fun at our habit of sticking superlatives on anything we even remotely like, but if our own critics at The Escapist can look at Layers of Fear and call it a masterpiece, then someone else liking a product that's short on traditional mechanics really isn't surprising.

Michael Prymula:
The Witness sounds like a pretentious piece of crap, I avoid it for the same reason I avoid all those damn Oscar bait films.

I've already spoken at length about how I feel about The Witness, but I'll just quickly reiterate that if you want something that has a similar scope but none of the preachy annoyances, I'd recommend any one of the following:

Myst series: world-building is king, so the focus is laser-tight and there's zero pretentiousness on offer.

The Room series: see Myst, but with a darker, slightly Lovecraftian and definitely horror-inspired tone. No preachiness at all.

The Talos Principle: heavier themes, but the presentation stays clear. The game tackles heavy subject matter like the nature of consciousness and of Humanity in general, but it stays palatable. The religious allegory never feels heavy-handed and instead frames the game's structure extremely well.

Portal series: otherwise known as "The Source Engine has a Physics Engine, let's Fuck Around with It". Zero pretention, terrific world-building that's joined the Valve-verse's canon, occasionally pitch-black and sardonic humor. Parenthood and motherhood are tackled, but only in the bylines.

IamLEAM1983:

Michael Prymula:
AJ specifically said his disappointment had NOTHING to do with women, didn't stop sexist pigs from shooting their mouths off though.

Angry Joe's a pretty easy guy to respect, honestly. As you've said, though, it doesn't change the fact that some guys could do with either a shot of maturity in the arm, a few extra female friends or coworkers or some time out of their self-sustaining ideological echo chamber.

You'd think that some of these idiots have never had the pleasure of working or spending time with someone of the fairer sex.

Indeed, some people still have that outdated attitude that women should only be sex objects.

IamLEAM1983:

shrekfan246:
Not to parrot your own earlier post, but I like the way you think, sir.

Shrekfan-senpai noticed me!

Kidding aside, thanks. :)

It's been said before in the thread, but Duchamp's urinal and ready-made art in general needed a while to be recognized as such. For years, people looked at the guy's disconnected piss-receiving device and wondered what the fuss was about. Anticlimactic finales in video games might have to pass through the same period of acclimatization before people look at Firewatch or games with similar aesthetic conceits and admit their endings make sense.

As I've said, I'm not interested in trying it out. Denied expectations don't justify the asking price, neither does offering patronage to a team that's pushing interactive narrative delivery down a new path. Someone else might disagree, however, and say Firewatch has enough artistic pedigree to make the price tag feel strangely low. That's fine. Art being subjective, I'd say gamers tend to put their money where their personal subjectivity happens to stand.

I mean, SuperHOT makes fun of the whole "innovative shooter" notion and really does poke fun at our habit of sticking superlatives on anything we even remotely like, but if our own critics at The Escapist can look at Layers of Fear and call it a masterpiece, then someone else liking a product that's short on traditional mechanics really isn't surprising.

Michael Prymula:
The Witness sounds like a pretentious piece of crap, I avoid it for the same reason I avoid all those damn Oscar bait films.

I've already spoken at length about how I feel about The Witness, but I'll just quickly reiterate that if you want something that has a similar scope but none of the preachy annoyances, I'd recommend any one of the following:

Myst series: world-building is king, so the focus is laser-tight and there's zero pretentiousness on offer.

The Room series: see Myst, but with a darker, slightly Lovecraftian and definitely horror-inspired tone. No preachiness at all.

The Talos Principle: heavier themes, but the presentation stays clear. The game tackles heavy subject matter like the nature of consciousness and of Humanity in general, but it stays palatable. The religious allegory never feels heavy-handed and instead frames the game's structure extremely well.

Portal series: otherwise known as "The Source Engine has a Physics Engine, let's Fuck Around with It". Zero pretention, terrific world-building that's joined the Valve-verse's canon, occasionally pitch-black and sardonic humor. Parenthood and motherhood are tackled, but only in the bylines.

Tried the Portal games and didn't really care for them, the humor in those games just left me completely stone-faced, the others might be worth looking at though

shrekfan246:

IamLEAM1983:
Snip

Not to parrot your own earlier post, but I like the way you think, sir.

OT: The idea that Firewatch's reveal (which I'm still unspoiled on, for the record) is actually nothing actually fascinates me. A lot of people have said that it feels unsatisfying, but it also seems like most of those people feel that way because the game didn't travel along the path they were expecting.

Obviously being unexpected doesn't make something good, but I'll admit to being more interested in an ending that fizzles out in a rather plain manner than something so bombastic and overblown that it could've been part of literally any other video game.

(Also, most game endings don't really bother me anyway.)

It's not just that it didn't meat people's expectations, it's also that the ending feels very out of place, the attempt to suddenly add "realism" to the game just feels incredibly forced and does not feel believable for the characters to behave that way.

Michael Prymula:
Indeed, some people still have that outdated attitude that women should only be sex objects.

And that's a shame. There's nothing quite as sexy as a woman who gives good brain: a buddy who helps you work on your D&D campaign, that bright penny in your class that's not only pretty but also really awesome to listen to, or just someone from the opposite gender who happens to enjoy spending time with you, no strings attached.

There's a popular notion suggesting that men and women don't perceive the world in the same ways, or just don't flat-out reason in the same ways. You'll typically hear that being used as an excuse to denigrate the other gender (and that goes on both sides, honestly), but it can also be understood to be a compliment. I'm pretty confident in saying I wouldn't be who I am and where I am today if it weren't for several women who were there to prod me along.

Women are awesome, despite all the really facile pandering a lot of popular media seems to imagine women want or need. You don't need to be antagonistic or to bully your way into a traditionally masculine field of work to be worth a damn. Or, at least, you shouldn't have to. Being yourself, all genders considered, should suffice. Being true to who you are opens a lot more doors, in my experience, than saying it's Someone Else's Fault if you can't have nice things.

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