Saturday, September 26, 2015

Critical Switch: Dissonance

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For now I'm going to end this series on game design and drama with a look at the most hated idea in games criticism.

I have a confession to make to those are mostly unfamiliar with my twitter. I do not hate the term Ludonarrative Dissonance. I know, shocking. Criminal, even. But if having useful terminology is wrong, then I don't wanna be right.

The term has been falling out of favor in game critic circles since . . . well honestly I'm not sure anyone has openly embraced it since maybe 2009, and the term was invented in 2007, so I'm not sure any majority of critics has ever liked it. As well, now that some brilliant writer has decided to tell us that Mad Mad: Fury Road, one of the most expertly crafted action films of the past 25 years suffers from “filmic dissonance” instead of displaying that he knows Fucking Anything about movies or cinematic language, my uphill battle to save the term from the jaws of death just became a climb up a smooth cement wall while cynics shit in my gorgeous hair.

Nevertheless, I am resolute. As I have said more or less since I started writing criticism two years ago, ludonarrative dissonance is a useful term that helps describe something that absolutely, definitely, without question exists.

However it should also be noted that, like any other technique, which is what it definitely is, ludonarrative dissonance is not inherently a problem. Games like Metal Gear Solid, Spec Ops: The Line and even to some degree Final Fantasy VII have been gladly invoking the dissonance between their narrative themes and what their systems encourage. The problem isn't ludonarrative dissonance, it's that the games that have been invoking it are using it poorly.

It's also a problem because, as critics keep trying to move away from the term, LND keeps happening in games in a problematic way. See for example the recently released Only If, which the critic Chris Franklin describes thusly:

The game is very much about a college student in his early-20's getting abducted by an older man for a vague, yet menacing purpose, then critiquing both of them. But it's also about this absurdism experiment. And the two never really reconcile.

To be clear, the story described in the first half of the sentence takes place entirely as radio communication between the two men, whereas the absurdism is entirely a result of the game's interfacial aspects: it's mechanic set and level design. And as Franklin goes on to describe, the game is presenting absurd mechanics in the context of a still very non-absurd universe. There is a clear conflict between what the developer of Only If wanted to be as a set of interactions and as a story. That it is suffering from misapplied Ludonarrative Dissonance could not be any more clear.

Powerful things have been done with ludonarrative dissonance in games, and in general dissonance as a tool in media. For game developers to be able to consciously grab hold of it and use it to it's full potential, we need to be able to study dissonance and practice it, and for that to happen, we must continually acknowledge that it is there.

A good step forward into the study of dissonance then would be to acknowledge the other kinds of dissonance that exist in media. In fact, the biggest problem with “ludonarrative dissonance” as a term is mostly that people have overused the term by applying it to games that do not exhibit ludonarrative dissonance, a good example being the dissonance that legitimately exists between Nathan Drake's presented likability in the Uncharted games and the fact that he murders hundreds if not thousands of people, often while spitting ruthless aggression that dehumanizes them. This is not LND, that is, this is not a contradiction between what interfacing with the game subtextually encourages and what the game's narrative subtextually is about, in fact, though I've no experience with Uncharted 2, I've heard people explain interpretations of the game in casual settings that show a fair amount of thematic consistency.

Others have used this to demonstrate the supposed uselessness of the term, here I will formally retort that it only demonstrates the specificity of Ludonarrative Dissonance as a term, which only shows us that more terms like LND should exist, not less, given the utter lack of terms we as game critics commonly wield to describe narrative topics in games . . . outside of LND.

As a category containing Ludonarrative Dissonance, I would suggest the adoption of simply “dissonance” to describe, well, dissonance in games and media between their various elements, as a general term to be used when LND isn't exactly correct, and then also propose the freeform creation of multiple other terms with what we could call the “[prefix]-dissonance” form as their commonality becomes codifiable. I'd suggest that, like I've been doing with the “ludo” prefix, that the use of the “[prefix]-dissonance” form can be done with more improvisational spirit than has been done in the past. Our terminology is not sacred.

Perhaps a game does not use or missaply ludonarrative dissonance, but it can have, for example, audio-interactive dissonance, a dissonance between what kind of sound a game uses to set an atmosphere and what kind of sounds a game makes in response to player input, and what the player avatar is actually doing in the gamespace, like a dating sim with a Silent Hill soundtrack. Or maybe it has visual-thematic dissonance, a disconnect between the art style employed and the narrative and political implications thereof, and the weight or lack thereof within the game's considered concepts, such as exists and is strategically employed in games like Final Fantasy IX.

I would also suggest the existence of “tonal dissonance,” one of these kinds of dissonances which exists in all media and is especially prevalent in commercial videogames, that is yet without codified terminology.

While I'm loathe to give an utterly specific definition, I think a workable one would be just that: a contradiction between how media presents something and what is quote-unquote “true” about it. Or, if you prefer, a disconnect between the positive or negative light something is shone in, and the positive and negative qualities of what it actually has. Wrestling fans should be especially familiar with how this kind of thing works. John Cena does an AA on Seth Rollins at Night of Champions, not during a match, outside of the ring, right before Rollins has to wrestle again, indulging his own ego. In the feud, he is presented as the good guy.

This is, to me, exactly what is happening in Uncharted 2. The contradiction is specifically in how the game presents Nathan Drake as a person, showing him as a jokey archaeologist in cutscenes and as a coldhearted murdered during shooting segments. It feels particularly dissonant as well because at no point does the game make a genuine effort to reconcile the two people that Nathan Drake is presented as.

Improperly applied tonal dissonance was also a huge issue in Bioshock: Infinite, a game that was alternatively a quiet, very silly ramble on how maybe everyone is racist and then a game about how fun it is to murder people, with nary a connecting line drawn between the two. The superfluous nature of combat in Infinite meant that the combat also is unobligated to link itself to the game's narrative tone, such that we get yet another strong example of the harsh divide between ludus and narrative that Hocking first codified when discussing the original Bioshock, a game that, ironically enough, has almost zero tonal dissonance at all. However, I would argue that, as a game whose narrative is ostensibly about asserting Booker DeWitt's place as a white patriarch, that combat wherein he asserts his masculinity and dominance, particularly over people of color is not at all dissonant with that core thematic concept. There is tonal disconnect all over the game, but there is not any ludonarrative dissonance specifically.

Tonal dissonance is of course, not new, nor is it distinct to videogames. It's also a technique that is easy to misuse moreso than it is a “problem” of any sort. It's one of the fundamental techniques of black comedy, and a common tool used by David Lynch, particularly in mashing the awkward and uncomfortable against the heartbreaking and tragic. A lot of videogames have used tonal dissonance in a carefully applied sense to point out the messed up values inherent in how games present violence, a notable exampled being Suda51's No More Heroes where dead enemies spurt blood and coins in seemingly equal measure. Kojima's Metal Gear Solid titles have consistently used sudden interruptions of surreal humor partially as a method of asserting the artificiality of their gamespaces.

In the pleas to end “ludonarrative dissonance” as a term used in games criticism, it seems as though what's being implied is that it does not exist. I, of course, go about as far in the opposite direction as conceivably possible, and assert that, in videogames, as across media, there exists a vast, wide variety of dissonances. As with Ludonarrative Dissonance then, the course of action is to know when a game or a piece of media is exploiting that dissonance in a purposeful way, or whether the contradictions cause the artifice to collapse.

From Olympia, WA: Play Is Labor. I'm Austin C. Howe.

Friday, September 25, 2015

WWE Week-End Review

In case you haven't noticed, I got really into wrestling at the beginning of the year, and frankly, I spend way too much time watching the stuff now not to make some work out of it.

RAW 9-21-15

1) They're actually trying to make Big Show look good before his match with Lesnar. If those two have a great match, fine, but I doubt it will be great beyond Brock Lesnar somehow being able to do one of his two moves on Big Show 25 times, who will score absolutely nothing by losing to him. Meanwhile, to build him, they had him beat Cesaro (FUCK. YOU. WWE.) which put Cesaro's loss streak at "zero of the past three" and "hasn't won on PPV in actual years." I can't say it was a huge mistake since they refuse to make Cesaro look good despite spontaneous crowd love for him and his incredible talent, but it really was just fuel on the fire.

2) This Kane thing has me skeptical since we now know they're actually calling it a split personality thing. Could end up being very offensive. Wait, wait a minute, we're just getting word that . . . yup, on SmackDown Jerry "The King of Not Knowing When The Fuck Shut Up" Lawler (he was never a good commentator and you know it, he just got to sit next to JR and scream all the time) just claimed he doesn't think Kane as split-personality and he's just doing it to get under people's skin.

If it results in Kane going full-demon and getting away from the Authority so he can either tag or feud with Taker before Taker's retirement at Wrestlemania XXXII then this will be fine in the long run.

3) John Cena and Seth Rollins could wrestle the main event of every pay-per-view for the rest of time and I will watch. What could've been a total throwaway show of ego by Rollins by trying to get the US title off of Cena turned into 4 matches of pure and absolute gold.

4) Rollins sure has lost quite a bit in the past few days hasn't he? I wonder how much they're going to weaken him as champion considering they just had him beat Sting clean. His title run has been a lot of fun, and now doesn't seem like the time to bring it to an end, especially since the only other name in the picture right now is Kane.

I love Kane. Anyone in their right mind loves at least some of what Kane has done. Kane is not your next WHC.

4) I'm sad that they killed Rollins' chances for being double-champion again so quickly, but to me that says they're either looking to continue the US open challenge (good thing) or they're looking to use it to push someone else in a Cena feud.

NXT 9-23-15

1) Apollo Crews didn't wrestle, but they did book a match for NXT: Respect between him and Tyler Breeze. If you're asking, yes, Apollo Crews not wrestling docks you points.

2) Kana was signed and they're calling her Asuka, that plus the coming debut of Nia Jax means good things for the women's division in Florida, which was looking bleak with Bayley being the only

3) Every chant during any Eva Marie match can be boiled down to "I watch Botchamania and I know everything, and I will never forgive you for how much you used to suck." She's had good matches the past two weeks, and her botch at the finish of last week has a lot more to do with WWE's obnoxious trope of trying to get wrestlers to kick out at 2.999999 seconds rather than just letting them kick out at 2, or even 1. As a side note, Marie, like many other women wrestlers, may be partially selling herself based on her beauty, but can we give her credit in a world filled with Bellas that Eva Marie is trying to look like a sexy adult rather than overgrown cheerleader? There's always been a bad habit of infantilizing the women wrestlers and that doesn't really apply to Marie.

4) I still have no idea what the point of the Dusty Rhodes classic is. I know he meant a lot to everyone down in Florida, but I'm not sure if he has any significant connection to tag wrestling, and now that NXT Tag champions Vaudevillains are out, it's very confusing what they're trying to achieve.

Smackdown! 9-24-15

1) Tag match with Rusev/Owens vs. Ryback/Ziggler was really good. Highlight spot: Ziggler manges to suplex Owens and Rusev and then overselling the shit out of the back pain it caused while making his way to tag Ryback. Crowd popped big time for it. Not exactly a scholar on Dolph Ziggler history but it's kind of astounding this guy isn't one of the company's top faces. Actually, lemme do a bit of research . . . this guy apparently won the WHC twice (before the unification) . . . and one of them was because the title was stripped from Edge by Vickie Guererro because he used the Spear. Say what you will about WWE in 2015, it sure isn't WWE in 2013.

The match exists seemingly to remind you that that awful Rusev vs. Ziggler feud is still happening, despite the fact that Lana is injured. But hey, if they didn't take Ziggler's injury as an indication to kill this thing dead, nothing will stop it until Lana and Rusev are back together . . . who were only broken up seemingly just so this feud could happen. Storytelling, everyone.

2) The main event (Rollins vs. Ambrose) was solid, though (spoilers) it represents Rollins' third loss in 4 days, so with that plus NoC I wonder how much weaker they're going to let him get, the main event title picture is a mess right now given that there's no way Kane actually goes over without going full demon, which would mean Kane would break from The Authority, which would mean going face and aaaaaaaaaggggghhhh modern face/heel logic.

3) The New Day fought Neville and the Lucha Dragons. New Day. Neville. Lucha Dragons. It was good. Neville and Lucha Dragons work well together since Neville is just a British high-flyer anyway, but if they wanna commit to this combo (they also fought the dark match at Night of Champions vs. Stardust and The Ascension, who I also wanna see a lot more of) then holy hell one of those motherfuckers is gonna need to get on the mic at some point, I don't think I've seen Neville on the mic once since he jumped to the main roster from NXT, and that's a shame because they all have incredible potential.

On a separate note: why are the Lucha Dragons basically jobbers now? (I have the same question for The Ascension. I do not have the same question for Los Matadores.) These guys tore it the fuck up in NXT. It doesn't help that they have no characters other than "we're the only cruiserweights left on the roster", especially since the only other story they have is "well we had to do something with SinCara." My friend Ian suggested that maybe they're eventually going to fire SinCara because the name is so tainted at this point and push Kalisto on his own, which is a fine idea, but something makes me doubt that's where they're going with it.

4) Booking a tag titles match for the MSG show makes me think the Dudleys will have to go over (Joey Styles is even going to be there. PLEASE PUT HIM ON COMMENTARY. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.) That makes me sad, but ultimately it is totally fine as long as The New Day stay in the picture, especially now that it looks like they're trying to put the Prime-Time Players back in it as well. If WWE knows what they're doing, this will eventually result in the match of the year at TLC. Just imagine Titus O'Neil flying off of a ladder and sending Big E through a table. Thinking about that makes me emotional man.

Overall Notes

1) The main event title picture needs someone who isn't Kane, but I doubt this feud is going to last very long. The real question is, who will go up against Rollins? Storyline-wise, no one has really challenged him, but if I had to pick someone I want to see with the belt, it's Ambrose. Safe pick, I realize, but that guys is electric. The only way that won't work is if Daniel Bryan shows back up and smarks DEMAND he become champion.

2) In theory it's really lame that they're playing up Charlotte's relationship with her father instead of letting her be her own person (the Diva's Revolution: we'll get this angle over as long as we remind them that some of these women have familial relations to men!), but also, Ric Flair is someone who could drop dead tomorrow, so it makes sense they're letting him have his moment. If you listen to his podcast at all (which you should, it is frequently hilarious)

3) NXT: Respect is probably going to be crazy good.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Critical Switch: Feedback Loops

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Last we heard from each other, I was talking about how videogames can use the difficulty curve, or as I prefer to call it, the resistance curve, to indicate narrative pace as well as express an idea of how gamers are meant to engage with that game, and how manipulation of the pacing curve can allow a game's nature to change gradually.

This week, I'm going to be talking about how a game can use a well constructed feedback loop to create narrative pace within its set of interactions, particularly in the context of combat scenarios, as well as noting how certain types of feedback loops can imply certain narrative concepts when applying creative interpretation.

Last week I played semanticist by renaming the difficulty curve the “resistance curve”, here I think there's not as clear a good alternative for what we call the “feedback loop” so I think I'll stick to defining it for those not familiar. In essence, a positive feedback loop in game design is when a certain decision in interactive systems is encouraged by rewarding the player for making certain decisions often in such a way as they are put in a position to make that same decision again. That was . . . particularly wordy, so I'll also note that Ernest Adams in an article for Gamasutra from 2000-diggity-2 says that: “positive feedback can be defined as occurring whenever one useful achievement makes subsequent achievements easier.”

Levels and Experience Points in Role-Playing Games are among the most notable examples. By participating in combat, rather than fleeing, character avatars are slowly strengthened in said combat scenarios through gradual increases in certain attributes, which thus makes them more capable combatants, creating a loop wherein participation in combat is encouraged and rewarded. As the genre of role-playing games progressed, especially in the Japanese games, leveling systems took on increasing significance as well as metaphorical indications of a character's growth as a person on an emotional level by matching it to their prowess in combat. Vivi starts FFIX as an unsure little mage who only knows the basic fire spell, but after wrestling with the inevitability of death and coming out on top resolute in his intention to live with purpose, he ends the game capable of summoning a meteor onto the battlefield and crushing all who oppose him.

Metal Gear Rising has extremely solid core combat mechanics such that the basics of parrying and choosing between light and heavy attacks would create a compelling game on their own, but the game gets a lot more life out of those mechanics by adding Blade Mode, and subsequently, Ripper Mode. Blade mode slowly consumes a percentage of a meter below Raiden's health bar, and is the primary method for executing enemies in MGR, as low level guards will usually die to a single slice in blade mode, allowing Raiden to clear out the small fry in fights quite easily and then focus on more dangerous foes, who require a little more work before hand and then are also killed by a single slice in blade mode. What makes this a feedback loop is that when executing enemies Raiden takes their spines and crushes them in his hands to restore the entirety of both his health and blade mode bars. This is already an especially smart design decision as it increases the accessibility of the game to those unfamiliar with character action games, but what it also does is serve to vary the pace of individual combat encounters. MGR can be a very chaotic game, whose freeform combat mechanics allow for very loose decision making and input choices, but the addition of blade mode slows the game world down and reduces the game to a matter of few and extremely precise inputs. On top of that, in the middle of the game, and subsequently in New Game Plus, Raiden has access to Ripper Mode. While in Ripper Mode, the Blade Mode meter drains continuously, and damage is increased dramatically, so dramatically that one risks outright destroying enemies while forgetting to grab their spines. This is important because in high level play, Ripper Mode becomes incredibly important for destroying stronger enemies, but when executed poorly, leaves Raiden at the end of a fight with no blade mode meter going into the next one, thus leaving him effectively toothless until he can build it back up again. So MGR creates falling and rising tension in combat by giving Raiden access to different modes of attack, each of which feed into each other and rely on similar resources. While this is a smooth system design, it also feeds into MGR's continuous narrative tension between “Raiden”, the idealist who fights as a mean to and end, and “Jack the Ripper”, a ruthlessly violent person who fights simply for it's own sake. Thus, each combat scenario in MGR, especially on high difficulty and in high level play, creates contrasting tensions between these various states of identity for Raiden, and also feed into each other.

On a simple pacing level, Kingdom Hearts II's biggest problem was fixing the relatively static combat of the original game. While not a particularly long game, it also wasn't particularly varied in how to approach combat, leading to lots of mashing the X button for regular attacks, especially since MP could be so hard earned, leading players to save it as a healing resource. Two things were implemented to make this no longer be the case. One, MP would now slowly restore after Sora used the complete bar, and the curative spells now simply cost “the rest” of the MP bar, such that Sora now had access to good offensive and defensive magic, and would so as long as they had any MP to speak of, and then if they didn't get back MP, they'd have some soon anyway. They also implemented Drive Forms, which allowed Sora to briefly transform into a stronger version of himself who could wield two keyblades and magically float around. Drive bar itself is about as hard-earned as MP in the original, but then the designers had the brilliant idea to intertwine the two mechanics: When MP is empty, the Drive Form bar builds gradually, and when Sora enters a Drive form, his MP bar refills instantly. Thus, the stodgy resource conservatism in Kingdom Hearts was transformed into a system that was constantly encouraging gamers to be using every able resource. Thus, there creates a good visual pace to combat that distinguishes between a Sora using colorfully-animated magic spells, high-flying acrobatic melee combat, and . . . foofy anime nonsense that's really fun to look at. The narrative element of that is a little weaker to me than in Rising, but the pacing element is a bit stronger since we get to spend a little more time with each different type of Sora, and the most powerful variant feels earned.

This also creates a nice intertextual element in comparison to the original Kingdom Hearts, where Sora's control of his weapons and magic was much more awkward, whereas in Kingdom Hearts II he's a much more experienced combatant, and we get to see that growth from game to game.

In both the Rising and Kingdom Hearts II example, we can see how the pacing that their feedback loops create is not only a visual distinction between different sets of interactions that rely on (for lack of better terms,) different rulesets, but also alter pacing by adjusting the resistance curve on a moment-to-moment basis.

While I think that these games largely have system designs thought of independently of their narrative content, since they were each made within a mostly ludocentric context, I think they're already powerful tools within their extant contexts that, if and when they are used by designers with different, shall we say “alternative” ways of thinking about games, we'll see games whose design fundamentals and artistic ideas interact in ever more striking and meaningful ways.

I could still use your help making rent for October if you can afford to help.

From Olympia, WA, I'm Austin C. Howe

Critical Switch: The Resistance Curve

The Resistance Curve
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The first thing that any good guitar player will tell a young student of the instrument who wants to learn how to play well is that “technique isn't everything, it just gets you where you want to go.” It's not that you want to play fast, though yes, playing fast is very fun, it's that you want the emotional content that playing quickly will allow you to access from your audience. Moving from slow playing to fast playing is a way to indicate an increased intensity in the emotions of your music, but of course, to increase that tension, you actually need to be able to play fast. Again, technique isn't everything, it just gets you to where you want to go.

In videogames, at least, single-player videogames, I feel like what we call “game design” is more or less what musicians call technique. The problem with the ludocentric approach then is that the games it produces can tend to be a little more Michael Angelo Batio than Yngwie Malmsteen.

As a guitar player, I've zero patience for technique for technique's own sake and, increasingly in videogames, I've little admiration for design for design's sake, and what I also find is that in games where I admire the design craft put into it, I'm struck by what that design does to, for lack of better terminology (and I apologize for perpetuating this awful word) “immerse” the player in a game's context.

I talk a fair bit about how well, or how poorly, certain games are designed, or certain parts of certain games are designed. I'm mostly interested in it because when a game is well designed, it usually means that the game's ludic structures aren't getting in the way of me seeing past those structures and absorbing myself in the moment-to-moment emotions that that game wants to provoke. So today I'm going to formulate the beginnings of an argument for certain ideas we can take from established design thought, and see how they can be applied in a way that does not assume, or catalyze ludocentrism.

I'm going to begin that argument, which I hope to revisit, by displaying examples of “pacing” in design and design terminology.

One of the basic principles I derive from this is “resistance.” The typical games terminology for this is “difficulty,” but I think the critic and developer John Thyer coins it a little more eloquently as “resistance.” How “hard” a game is and how hard it resists the gamer engaging with it are subtle, but different topics, and I'd like to revisit it at a different time, but suffice to say that resistance as a larger topic includes difficulty and that today we'll be focusing on difficulty. For a game to build a coherent fiction, than the amount of resistance we experience needs to be logical for the game's fiction, and the quote-unquote “logical amount of resistance” can often be expressed through design principles such as the “difficulty curve.”

Games that provide little resistance can be problematic because it stops being believable that my player characters are achieving something against great adversity, like a poorly-written action movie where we never believe that our hero is ever in danger. Few games like this exist that I can think of off of the top of my head, perhaps, unsurprisingly, a few movie adaptations from the mid-2000's that were mostly selling themselves on how they dressed up their assets. One could also argue games that have adjustable difficulty with “Very Easy” modes that take out some of the game's more compelling engagements.

I can however think of examples of games that morph into this, usually because they can no longer assume the gamer's interest in the narrative, because said narrative is either already familiar to the gamer, or because it is wrapping up. Thus, they are, and forgive this word, intentionally readjusting how much the game resists the player as a means to other ends. Two examples of this type of game come to mind.

One: Character action games with grading systems meant to encourage replays. Usually these games also have fairly extensive and meaningful character upgrades, such as Devil May Cry 3 where the Dante we begin the game controlling, equipped merely with a sword and handguns, becomes divine in all but nomenclature in New Game Plus modes where he wields a wide variety of melee weapons and projectile weapons with ease, not to mention commands magical forces of nature with his mere whims. The idea is that this makes getting those perfects ranks on fights not just easier, but also more visually entertaining. In fact, late last decade the “Truestyle” competition even found that there was an Olympic level of competition to be created by pitting players against each other to record the best-looking fights, as though they were ice skaters performing a routine. Even without the context of DMC3's story as we skip through cutscenes to beat more baddies, we derive it's own kind of artistic pleasure from watching ourselves create a sort of musical performance by rehearsing and sharpening strategies for perfecting combat encounters. Systems are not just conduits to narrative entertainment, as I often focus on, but also visual and musical engagement in the abstract, though I'm not sure “abstract” is necessarily the best term for that.

Two: Japanese Role-Playing Games. Because JRPGs often lack new game + features, usually, the moment when JRPG characters transform into DMC3 Dante-like deities . . . Danteities? . . . is planned as a part of the game's narrative arc. Players have access to powerful tactics throughout Final Fantasy VIII for example, such that the game is one of it's series easiest when it's sytems are well-understood, however truly broken tactics like the “Holy War” item which renders characters invincible (often used as part of the strategy for the game's superbosses) are not accessible until the game's final hours and most difficult conflicts. This is paced alongside the game's narrative such that the characters have more or less “finished” their narrative arcs: Rinoa has gained control of her sorceress powers, Squall has learned how to open himself to affection, their romance is realized, etc. In other words, the game becomes easier because the characters are now operating with clearer thought and a more explicit sense of purpose.

On the other hand, games with far too much resistance leave me wondering how, if I can't guide my player character to victory in this particular circumstance, how are they even achieving anything in this context? Sure I can try and try again, but usually in games that offer that much resistance, the end result is the feeling that I and my player character ended up lucky, not so much that we were meant to succeed. The example remains obvious to me but I will restate it for historical record: in Dark Souls, at no single moment does it become believable that the nameless motherfucker I control when interfacing with the game is capable of all this world-conquering badassery. On the other hand, intentional examples do exist, the most prominent example I can think of being Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter, where seemingly every boss encounter is meant to leave you surviving by the skin of your teeth, and wherein the final boss is a puzzle whose solution is to give into one of the game's failstates. Dragon Quarter plays off the unlikelihood, showing weary, quiet characters in a state of constant oppression. The very point of the game is questioning how these unlikely heroes can best the world's myriad tyrannies.

Thus, the “Resistance Curve” is a tool we can use to indicate narrative states, not just a means to a varied ludointerfacial or “play” experience.

When you hear from me next, we'll be going over another tool of game design as a means of creating narrative pace: the feedback loop.

From Olympia, WA, I'm Austin C. Howe