Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Review: Silent Hill 2

This is a horror classic that I only recently got the chance to play.  I went into it with high expectations; the only other horror game I've seen consistently put on the same level as Silent Hill 2 is Fatal Frame, which to this day is the most terrifying experience of my life.  Seriously, the night my cousin and I played it through, we drank tons of Mountain Dew Game Fuel, and now whenever I so much as smell the stuff I have flashbacks.  *shiver*

But anyway, you can see how that would set up some powerful expectations.  The result? Mixed, but overall highly positive.

Don't get me wrong; I loved Silent Hill 2.  It's one of the more psychologically interesting interactive narratives I've seen in a long while, the type of experience you could discuss with a friend for hours just about different interpretations (I certainly did).  I am in no way saying it was disappointing, it simply delivered an incredible experience in a way I wasn't quite anticipating.

The Silent Hill series in general is more about a general concept than a cohesive narrative; a person with some intense inner demons is drawn to this town, where they are attacked by monsters and put through trials that will either break them or, if they get through it, get them past their problems.  So in this one, James Sunderland goes to Silent Hill after getting a letter from his wife, Mary, telling him to meet her there. Considering his wife has been dead for three years, he goes to see what is going on.  Upon getting there, he gets attacked by a strange, bloody monster, meets a few other people who seem just as confused as he is, and finds a woman named Maria who looks exactly like his wife.  And that's all before encountering the strange, pyramid-headed being who just doesn't seem to die.

The gameplay and general design is certainly dated in some ways; this was early in the days of the Playstation 2, after all.  The camera can be a pain, but that's somewhat to be expected of games from this era.  The combat is woefully simple and slow, and while that's partially intentional (to instill a sense of powerlessness and fear), even just mapping the downward strike to another button would have done a world of good toward less frustration with the controls.  The fearful effect of the sluggish combat is achieved, but it definitely could have been done with better design so it feels more powerless than frustrating.

Get used to this; these hallways make up most of the game.
The level design also didn't evolve much from the first one.  The most open you'll almost ever get in this game is running through the streets between buildings; most of the game takes place in narrow hallways and small rooms, and while such claustrophobic spaces can be nerve-wracking, it gets a bit old after a while. There is still dense fog as well, but as has been noted by many critics, this is both to make up for hardware limitations and to obscure vision for the sake of a more effectively fearful atmosphere, and it certainly doesn't hurt.  All in all, the basic gameplay is functional if very much imperfect, and many of its weaknesses can be shrugged off under the excuse that the PS2's hardware was still relatively new at the time.

There are also many puzzles, which can tend to be a bit unintuitive.  At first it was difficult because the game expects you to search everywhere before finding a solution, scattering clues and necessary items all over a given area for you to find.  This can be kind of annoying, especially given the difficulty one may have in spotting these items amongst the largely samey environments (I even managed to miss an important, though thankfully not vital, weapon along the way), but once you get used to searching everywhere, it's not much of an issue.  What remains a source of irritation are the often downright strange puzzle solutions.

For instance, in an early building there is a bundle of trash stuck in a garbage chute.  You know it's important because the game pointed it out (I have no idea why James would take notice of this), but you need to get it out somehow.  Among other things in this building, you find a pack of canned fruit.  It seems useless, but the game expects you to logically deduce that you can drop this heavy item down the chute, therefore pushing the stuck garbage bag down as well.  It does make logical sense, and perhaps that reasoning would work in a game that gives you many different ways to go about things, but in a game that only ever gives you items if there's a practical use for them, this kind of puzzle can be rather frustrating.

In this one, the player must combine a random string of
hair and a bent needle to pull the object out.  
That said, all of these elements are perfectly functional, just highly imperfect.  They will get annoying at times, but rarely infuriating, and they always work well enough to carry the game forward.  But really, none of these things are the draw for Silent Hill 2.  There are two things that make this a worthwhile experience: atmosphere and story.

In regards to atmosphere, the game simply does a good job of setting up a general aura of dread and fear.  The fog outside keeps you constantly guessing as to what's ahead of you.  The cramped spaces promise little ability to maneuver or escape.  You have a radio that emits static when an enemy is nearby (but not necessarily visible), and this never fails to make a stressful situation far more tense.  And each appearance of Pyramid Head reminds you that you're not on the offensive in the slightest; you're being hunted, and surviving is all you can really hope to do.

Ultimately, the game fails to scare on the same level as some other horror games due to its relative lack of singular events and terrifying set pieces. One of the most unsettling moments in the first Silent Hill for me was when a room had an empty bird cage, and yet one could hear frantic fluttering, as though a bird were trapped inside and desperately trying to escape.  Most great horror games have things like this; not necessarily jump scares, but singular events or set pieces that increase the tension within a particular location or situation.  However, this is far from a condemnation for the game's value as a horror piece, it's just that most of it is more psychologically disturbing than outwardly scary.

The story is the main aspect of Silent Hill 2 that makes the whole experience worthwhile.  The summary given at the beginning of this review is certainly not a full representation of what this story has to offer (as is common for video games with good stories), but I will try to say what is so special about it without giving any real spoilers away.

It's no secret that Silent Hill 2 has multiple endings.  What's a slightly lesser-known fact (though still hardly a secret) is that these endings are not based on specific, blatant actions or choices as they are in most games. Rather, this game has a way of judging you on a deeper level based on actions you may not even realize you're making.  For instance, the bad ending bases itself partially on whether you run around at low health instead of healing immediately; caring so little for your survival can lead to a bad ending. Similarly, the role Maria plays in the story will depend on how well you protect her in gameplay, whether you accidentally hit her, and whether you regularly visit her while she's resting in a particular room.  There are no gameplay prompts, no indication that any of these things matter or can even be done; how the story turns out is entirely up to your play style and the nature of your connection to the characters and events.

This gets far more interesting when you begin to fully understand the nature of James' interaction with the other characters in the story.  Though an "all in his head" theory for the story is very debatable, it is very clear that the other people in the town of Silent Hill represent a specific part of James' psychology in light of the backstory revealed near the end of the game. Things such as self-hatred, the ability to love, violence toward others, and denial are all represented in the story, and the way James interacts with these characters is part of what determines the ending.

The cool thing about this is that Silent Hill 2 has no canonical ending.  Even in future entries in the series, which attempt to bind the series together into a more cohesive story, James' fate is left ambiguous.  In a way, Silent Hill 2 is less of a narrative and more of a story-driven psychological exploration; a parable with a moral that changes depending on how you play the game.  Your experience with Silent Hill 2 could make it a cautionary tale for a number of reasons or a story of triumph over inner demons, all depending not on forced moral choices or a blatant good/evil paradigm, but on many different little details about how you played and what you valued in-game.

This is why Silent Hill 2 is such a great experience.  The game is functional on all basic levels, far from perfect on most of them, but so enthralling from a narrative perspective that it absolutely deserves to be played.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

"Growing Out" of Video Games

This topic isn't specifically about video games as a narrative art form, but it is certainly related to it.  This is a topic that has come up rather often, both in my life and in the lives of many other gamers I know, and it's one that really has to be dealt with as a cultural misconception.

We live in a culture that regards video games as toys.  In a way, this is actually correct; it would be difficult to refute that the nature of a video game falls, to a large degree, under the definition of a toy.

Breaking away from the specific consideration of video games for a moment, if one goes to a toy store, there will be a whole section devoted to board games, card games, and other tabletop games of similar nature.  There will probably be another area that, while not as comprehensive as an actual sporting goods store, will have basic supplies for sports, such as balls, bats, racquets, and the like. While some games are certainly valued as more than that (no sports fan, for instance, would regard the Superbowl or the World Cup as a bunch of guys playing with a toy ball), games, as a general principle, are regarded in our culture as toys.  In any case, the two are hardly mutually exclusive.

There's nothing wrong with that, of course.  Play is a very important aspect of the human experience, for personal and psychological reasons as well as social ones, and that is generally reflected in our culture.  But the personal value of toys is generally considered important only in that it provides a break from the stresses of life, something that, while important, has little or no value outside of that function.  Even despite the supposed value of hobbies, if an adult's hobby is playing with or collecting some kind of toy, this is often something of a social mark of shame.  In short, our culture sees little or no value in toys outside of social value and occasional (but certainly not regular) escapism.  Because of this, it is expected that one is to gradually cease playing with toys as they grow older, replacing their former liesure with work and other productive activities.

This is not so with art.  Even when a given medium is viewed solely as entertainment, there is usually more value ascribed to them.  Reading is encouraged from childhood, and no one scoffs at an adult cracking open a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.  The same can be said of movies, though in a bit of a different way; people rarely recognize the same level of artistic value in film as in literature, but it is certainly understood, and watching movies is still a socially acceptable pastime for an adult.  And music, of course, is acceptable for any age to enjoy without accusations of immaturity or irresponsibility.

Source: Wikipedia
Well, depending on the music.

Obviously, this site is dedicated to the idea that video games are an incredible artistic medium, so I'm not going to use this space to make the argument that video games' toy-like nature is irrelevant to their artistic status; that fact is assumed.  I'll save it for a later Counterpoint article, but for now we're simply operating under the assumption that this combination of a toy and an artwork does have value as an artwork.

The question then arises, is it possible for one to "grow out" of video games?  Is the entire medium something that one should lose interest in as they grow up and the responsibilities of adulthood force out such frivolous activities?

There is an extent to which I can see this happening, in certain situations at least.  The fact is that video games are more time-consuming than most other narrative media, and since the medium is hardly renown for its artistic value (however unfortunate that may be), a lot of the game-playing that goes on is strictly recreational.  So it's understandable that someone who is only playing for fun would slowly have video games fade from their life as they choose to focus on different things with both their careers and free time, until the only time they really have to play games is with friends or family.

However, this does not amount to video games being something that an adult must cast off in favor of more meaningful activities, because video games, like every other artistic medium, are not without meaning. Not by a long shot.

Essentially what we have is a cultural double standard based on misinformation as to the nature of video games as a medium; society at large still views video games as toys, and does not acknowledge the artistic value inherent in the medium and strongly present in many of its artworks.  As a result, it's expected that, like other toys, they should simply stop getting so much attention as people grow older.  But this is not how it works, nor how it should work, because that is not what video games are.

In the end, we are talking about an artistic medium here.  Excessive playing should, of course, be looked down upon.  That's just common sense, as it is with any other object, medium, or pastime.  But the very playing of video games, or even a focus on them, is something that should be perfectly acceptable in an adult, because these are not simply toys, but artworks, with the same value, potential, and beauty that term implies.

Just something to keep in mind, and perhaps to encourage fellow gamers; I doubt I'm the only one who's gotten this line before.  Valuing video games does not make us immature children, it simply makes us members of society who enjoy a particular form of artistic media.  And in a few decades, young children will gawk at the fact that we were alive for its inception, and the classic works of the medium will be studied in college courses.

Well, a gamer can dream; but it's far from impossible.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


I apologize to anyone who may be reading for the long period of time in which I have not published an article.  I've had a lot of ideas swimming around in my head, but not the time to really incarnate them into full articles.  I've gotten a few going, though, so this Saturday will mark a new wave that can manage a weekly schedule for at least a while.

The upcoming article is about the expectation to grow out of video games as we grow older.  As you might expect, I don't take too kindly to that notion; come back on Saturday to see why.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Counterpoint: Arguments that Just Need to Stop

Welcome back to Counterpoint, where I deconstruct and analyze an argument against video games as an art form in order to better understand both the argument and why we stand so firmly on the artistic side of this debate.

In past Counterpoint articles, I've focused on one argument that has some good discussion value behind it.  However, I've also seen a lot of reasons that really don't require an entire article's discussion, because it simply takes a moment's thought to refute it entirely.  So let's take a look at some of these, shall we?

1. Video Games are Entertainment
This is a very true statement.  But what does it have to do with whether or not video games are art?  I've explored the interaction between art and entertainment before, and it was really just a long-winded thought process to get to the inevitable conclusion; art is used as entertainment.  This is true of all art forms throughout the history of humankind; art - be it literature, painting, film, photography, dance, whatever - is used to entertain, and through entertainment, to inspire thought and reflection.  We could argue semantics by saying art is "compelling," not necessarily entertaining, and that is certainly true.  But acknowledgement of this fact is assumed, considering this is as true of video games as it is of any other artistic medium.  The fact that video games are used to entertain simply has no bearing on their status as an art form.

2. They're Fun, So Why Care?
I talked a bit about this in my first full article on this blog.  Since then, however, a very intense, nearly-catastrophic example has surfaced; the fact that the Supreme Court of the United States almost put the entire medium under government control, and the only reason they didn't is because they ruled video games as a legitimate form of artistic expression, to be protected under the first amendment (for those outside of the US, that's the part of our constitution that guarantees freedom of speech).  This proved what some of us already knew; the acceptance of video games as an art form in our culture and society is in fact vital to the medium thriving in them.  You don't need to study video games as art; it's perfectly fine if you just play them for fun, or you simply enjoy e-sports.  After all, most moviegoers certainly don't follow up each trip to the theater with a discussion about the film's artistic representation of its themes, but they still recognize film as an artistic medium, and that recognition by the general population and societal authorities is a large part of what allows the medium to be studied and valued as it is.

3. They're Games, Not Art
This is arguing semantics in the worst way imaginable.  Yes, they're called "video games."  Film was, and sometimes still is, referred to as "motion picture," and even the modern term "movie" is simply a rather cutesy derivative of that term.  The word "literature" is often defined as simply meaning "the written word."  And a "painting" is... well, just that.  It has paint.  But in none of these cases do we consider these terms to be the sole descriptor of the medium they represent.  Yes, films have moving pictures, but they also have stories, music, dialogue, and other elements blended together to make a complex artistic medium.  Literature is far more than the simple existence of words written on paper, as those words form beautiful poetry and thought-provoking stories.  And painting, of course, is not about the simple presence of paint, but about the pictures it forms and the emotions and thoughts said pictures inspire.  In the same way, just because this medium is referred to as "games" does not mean it is and can only involve the playing of a game; those game systems are combined with countless other artistic elements to create something that is far more than just a game.  There are arguments that the game-like nature of the medium excludes it from being art (one of which I covered in a past Counterpoint), but those are far more complex than this, as they must be; the simple fact that "game" is in the medium's title means absolutely nothing regarding whether or not it is art.

4. Playing Games is Not Art
Though many have argued for skillful play as an art form (especially in sports), that's an entirely separate debate that we won't go into here.  Rather, let's address the fact that the player is not the artist in this discussion of video games as art.  The involvement of the player is a big aspect of interactive art theory, for sure, but when someone says video games are an art form, he/she is not claiming to be an artist by shooting dudes in Gears of War or puling off that daring play in Madden, they are claiming that video games are made by way of a creative process, the final product of which is a work of art to be experienced through play.  Video games are not art because they are played, any more than film is art because movies are watched, or books because they are read.  The design, the creativity and skill behind the process is generally the main consideration when discussing artistic status, not the method by which people experience the completed artwork.  Besides, if we're saying video games aren't art because playing them isn't art, we would also need to say painting isn't art because looking at a canvas isn't art, or Shakespeare isn't art because watching a play isn't art.  And I think we can all agree that's just not how things work.

So there are a few smaller commentaries on some annoying little issues that pop up here and there.  Hopefully they can help you further understand the relationship between video games and traditional artistic sensibilities, or perhaps give you something to say to someone next time you talk about this with someone.  See you next week!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Adaptation Study: Henry V

Last week, I promised to return to the topic of adapting linear works to interactive media by discussing the possibilities regarding Shakespeare's play, Henry V.  That's a bit of a daunting task, but we'll see how it turns out.

Warning: there will be spoilers.  Though I do assume some familiarity with the play (so the context of some scenes will be missing), this discussion requires talking about specific elements of the story and how they could translate into gameplay, so naturally, if you've somehow managed to miss this story and you don't want it ruined, I recommend you watch one of the many film adaptations (Kenneth Branagh's is quite good) or simply read the text online before reading any further.  Otherwise, let's do this.

This particular play would work in many gameplay genres due to its nature as a war story, since combat is basically gaming's default setting.  It would likely take some interpolation, specifically the addition of various historic battles (since this play is based on actual historical events) besides those portrayed in the text, in order to elongate the game.  This would especially be necessary if this were an action game, since the action genre has little more than simple combat in the way of gameplay; an interesting way to present it in this case might be to present the story from the viewpoint of one of the soldiers, witnessing the events of the play from an outside but involved perspective.  In order to avoid such intense and widespread interpolation just to make the minimally accepted playtime, however, Henry V would more effectively be adapted as an RPG.  While it would be interesting to talk about gameplay and combat mechanics, this site is about storytelling, so let's talk about the story and the mechanics behind it.

Much of the personal conflict in Henry V comes from Henry’s struggle between his responsibilities as an authoritative king and his moral standards, especially those regarding his old friends.  In the story, he makes many difficult decisions along these lines, such as when he hangs his old friend Bardolph for insubordination.  These kinds of choices are exactly the kinds that RPGs thrive on; they will not affect the overall outcome of the story (it is perfectly reasonable to assume that, for instance, had Bardolph not been hanged, the overall story would be largely unaffected), but could have an affect on some of the details and allow the player to shape Henry into the kind of king they want to be.  These types of choices are ideal for a RPG.

In fact, this story lends itself quite easily to a traditional Western RPG model.  For one, RPGs in general are not completely centered on combat; they also include some degree of dialogue (often allowing the player to choose how the player character responds in various conversation events) and miscellaneous sidequesting.  This means that even the non-combat scenes of the text could be interactive to an extent.  For instance, the player could choose how strongly to react to the Dauphin’s insulting message; perhaps Henry could lose his temper and respond violently, reply in a composed but resolute manner, or he could shrink at the idea of war (though of course, for the sake of the story, his reaction would dictate his character more than the story's events, since the war kind of needs to happen).

That's assuming a model similar to Mass Effect's dialogue
wheel; there could very well be more options as well.
These scenarios can provide examples of another Western RPG standard: the morality bar.  However, in this particular case, the spectrum of good to evil may be better represented by a spectrum of friendship to kingship, or maturity to immaturity (which, conveniently, is a bit more clear-cut than morality and thus will lend itself better to this spectrum).  Since Henry’s main conflict in the story seems to be the struggle between his kingly duties and his responsibility to his friends and his personal morality, these themes would be very effective to explore in the context of the story.  This would mean that most of the game’s morally grey decisions would make him either choose his friends and personal comforts at the risk of compromising his leadership and respect, or defy his own needs, loyalties, and indeed his own personal morality in order to be a more effective leader.

However, all these choices fall flat if there is not some sort of impact on the story.  The player must feel like they are shaping things, which will not be accomplished if the story remains unchanged despite their actions.  Again, the nature of this particular story makes this relatively easy to implement.

But we will most certainly not be considering Roger Ebert's
"naked and standing on their hands" comment.
Henry’s placement on the spectrum (be it morality, maturity, leadership, etc.) can affect his standing among his soldiers.  This could be reflected in the types of quests he gets from them, the things they say around him, and could possibly affect the outcome of some minor battles and quests along the way.  The larger outcome of his standing among his troops would be the casualty report after the climactic battle of Agincourt.  If his men grudgingly follow him due to his standing, they may not be so motivated to fight well, and more may die.  If Henry’s standing with his soldiers is abysmal, perhaps the battle could be lost altogether.  Only the highest standing with his men as a leader would produce the extremely low body count presented in the original play text.  The player will have to decide whether it is worth the lives of Henry’s soldiers to retain the friendships and loyalties of his youth.  With very little interpolation, this could even be stretched to represent a choice between Henry’s maturation and his preservation of innocence.

Here, an interesting issue arises.  The insertion of player choice is allowing the story to be changed as the player sees fit, along the lines the developers draw, at least.  Fidelity is being compromised to a large extent, though there would definitely be a story path that could be followed to directly correlate to the story presented in the play text.  Allowing the player to alter the story progression would undoubtedly be a controversial move among Shakespeare scholars.  For that matter, it would require additional dialogue to cover for each option, meaning either some bold writer would need to try and mimic Shakespeare's style or the language would have to be jettisoned entirely.  Indeed, a simpler gameplay genre would make it easier to prioritize fidelity.  An action game, for instance, would allow the story to progress as intended through cutscenes, allowing the player to participate only in the battles, the outcome of which would be fixed.  The only way the player could alter the story would be if Henry died, in which case the game would simply deliver a “game over” screen and start the player back at the most recent checkpoint to give them a chance to do it right this time.

However, that would be overlooking the greatest potential of video games as a medium.  While Henry’s personal struggle can be observed while reading the text, attending a performance, or watching a film adaptation of Henry V, the player of a video game can actually experience this struggle.  Rather than learning from the way in which Henry responds to these pressures, players can learn more about themselves based on the decisions they would personally make in the situations the game puts forth.  As Daniel Floyd said in the Extra Credits episode Enriching Lives, “This is the unique power of games as a medium.  They ask us to live our decisions.  In this medium, we cannot be spectators.  We are forced to confront our own actions, and that forces upon us a level of introspection."

So in the end, it's actually quite possible to make this conversion.  It does take some flexibility; absolute, unshaken fidelity to the source material cannot be the driving force when adapting a linear story to an interactive form, though I'm sure some Shakespeare purists will not be happy about that.  More important than complete fidelity, however, is to take advantage of the storytelling elements and techniques that can only be accomplished through this medium, and in doing so, hopefully offer something to the story and the player that they could not have from non-interactive media.

Hopefully this little brainstorming session has been an interesting read, and perhaps has inspired some further thought into the idea of adaptation into video games.  See you next week!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Random Note on Adaptation

There was one example I didn't note in my previous article that really does deserve note.  Not because it's an exceptional example of one of the difficulties I noted in the article, but because it's actually the perfect example of the principle I stated in the first adaptation article.

For those too lazy to click on the link (not judging; I don't blame you), I said that the main reason films based on video games tend to be so awful is the lack of artistic respect for the source material on the part of the film's makers.  This is not very common, however, in adaptation the other way around; a video game based on a story from another medium is usually made to adhere closely to the source or, in the case of some, made because the creator saw potential in a great story.  But this is not always true.

Dante's Inferno is possibly the best (or should I say worst?) example of this in the medium thus far.  I'm not sure what inspired the developers behind this game to make it, but there is very little connection between the game and the classic book from The Divine Comedy (basically, the idea of circles of Hell).  Essentially, the book's concept of Hell is the only thing the game gained from the book outside of, perhaps, a few sales to poor, unwitting literature buffs.

Literature buffs that likely burned the game rather than
unleashing it upon an unsuspecting Gamestop customer.
Not that I would expect anything better from EA, but you know what, Dante's Inferno could possibly make for a very interesting video game.  But the developers simply took the basic, basic concept of the story and made their own, entirely different action game out of it.  This is not respect for the original work; it's not even a legitimate attempt to adapt it.  And that's not okay.

Hopefully we will see more real, legitimate attempts to bring classic stories to interactive media as video games are more widely understood as an artistic medium, but for now, let's do what we can do by supporting the ones that deserve it.  Metro 2033, for instance, is a little-known first-person action/survival horror game based on a Russian novel, and though I have yet to read the novel, I have heard highly positive comments regarding its adaptation.  Plus it's just a really good game.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Adaptation: From Non-Interactive to Interactive Part 1

Adaptation to video games from other mediums has always been an... interesting venture.  I really do think, as I said in a previous article, that a lot of the failure of game-to-film adaptations comes from a lack of artistic respect for the source material, but I'm not sure the same can be said of the adaptation from a non-interactive medium to video games.  Let's see if we can figure out what makes this so difficult.

Firstly, let's get this out of the way; yes, most games based on movies are shameless cash grabs.  I'm not sure the same can be said of other source mediums (mainly because video games based on books or stageplays are rare, to say the least), but film certainly tends to get the most adaptations and the vast majority of these are simply a hope to cash in more on the film's license.  A rare few of these have been lucky enough to be handed to good directors (such as Michel Ancel's King Kong), or sometimes simply succeeding based on unoriginal but solid construction (such as the Lord of the Rings movie tie-in games), but usually they are uninspired and poorly-made simply because the developer is not trying to adapt, but simply to cash in.

However, that's not something to get caught up on.  There are genuine difficulties and problems when it comes to adapting a work into interactive media, and they are important to understand and solve.

Really, this mostly comes down to a single, large issue that envelops almost all the problems with interactive adaptation; developers, if you're making a game based on another story, tell the freaking story.  Far too many game adaptations take the easy road by bridging awkwardly-shoehorned-in action sequences with a couple lines of dialogue, then moving to the next, and that simply doesn't cut it.

Pictured: the worst offender I've ever seen.  Even more annoying
considering the source material is famous for its long monologues.
Developers, it's obvious from the fact that you had to add action scenes that you're familiar with games' more constant need for interactivity.  Which means you should also be familiar with the fact that not every scene in a movie is an action scene.  Which also means you should be able to figure out that those scenes with all the talking in the movies are kind of important to the story.  Cut them out, and you have nothing more than a string of loosely-connected action scenes.

Otherwise known as a Michael Bay film.
As I noted from my experience with inFamous, it is a lot more difficult to do character development in a video game than it is to do plot development.  Especially over this last generation of games, we've had Cortana explaining the plot to us as we play, audio diaries describing the ruin of Rapture, and Captain Price yelling at us on the radio about where to go next.  And though some of a character's personality can be communicated through this method, a story suffers from having no time fully dedicated to character development.  But in an action-oriented video game, that's not very easy.

The most obvious solution is to just make cutscenes.  And that's fine; not exactly progressive, but I think I've made it clear that there's nothing wrong with telling your story through cutscenes, especially since that would really be the easiest way to tell a story that wasn't interactive in the first place.

Besides, Hideo Kojima does that more than you ever could,
and his games are revered.
Outside of that though, there really is room for creativity.  Remember when I talked about major and minor narrative interaction?  Minor interaction is effective and relatively easy to insert in a linear story since emotional impact is heightened without changing the events of the source material.  For instance, simply taking that supporting character's death in the third act and making it happen while the player was under a time limit to reach him/her would intensely magnify the sense of responsibility, guilt, and sadness an invested player feels.

Specifically back to the question of character development and non-action scenes, however, we run into the most difficult problem to overcome; player choice.  Perhaps, one might think, dialogue systems like that of Mass Effect could give the player a way to interact with dialogue-heavy scenes and even help give the player a say in the story's events, but dialogue systems like that are boring and pointless if the player doesn't have some amount of control over the events of the story.

Minor changes are no big deal, but the ability to decide the character's morality, or the ability to make story-changing decisions like in Mass Effect, simply could not coexist with a story that is preset on a certain path.

But this does not mean all player interaction with the events of the story is impossible.  However, the best way to learn is through example, and this article is already pretty long, so next week there will be a discussion about working around this issue using the example of Shakespeare's Henry V.  Yeah, I'm going there.  Come back next week to see how it turns out, and in the meantime make sure to like Binary Narrative on Facebook!