Our Properties: Gamasutra GameCareerGuide IndieGames GameSetWatch GDC IGF Game Developer Magazine GAO

Recent Comments

  • Justice: What an awesome way to explain this-now I know eevyrthing! read more
  • anonymous: 2011 years of China into the In the new year, Chinese people will continue to hold high the great banner of socialism with Chinese read more
  • anonymous: afterwards, I think this high-speed Beijing-Tibet certainly help this man brought a lot of opportunities. have had prior experience, everyone said, was not anxious, read more
  • CopTop1: Samba de Amigo is by far the best rhythm game ever made. maybe I'll grab some skull candy while playing SDA to celebrate dia de read more
  • anonymous: Map of the race,cheap hats My only concern today is my winches. I have five in the cockpit: two primaries,new era hats sale, two runners read more

About GameSetWatch

GameSetWatch.com is the alt.video game weblog and sister site of Gamasutra.com. It is dedicated to collecting curious links and media for offbeat and oft-ignored games from consoles old and new, as well as from the digital download, iOS, and indie spaces.

Read More

Column: The Spoony Bard

The Spoony Bard: 2001: An Ace Odyssey

March 16, 2011 12:00 AM |

[The Spoony Bard is a biweekly GameSetWatch column by writer James Bishop that probes the depths of the characters, dialogue and writing in video games. This week, it looks back on one often overlooked game of 2001.]

Though the year 2001 will always be associated with — for different reasons — Arthur C. Clarke and the fall of the World Trade Center towers, it will also be associated in my mind as the year that I truly began to experience video games as an artistic medium rather than just as a form of entertainment. Not that it’s somehow stopped being a form of entertainment since, but a select few games that released that year suddenly made me rethink how I felt about gaming as a whole.

The easy answer as to what changed my perspective is Final Fantasy X. Released at the very end of 2001, it was a surprise participant in that year’s Christmas celebrations for me. The beginning sections in Zanarkand, both cinematic and otherwise, are things of beauty. My emotional attachment to Auron, Tidus, and Spira remains strong almost a decade later. Squaresoft obviously did something right.

But then, Final Fantasy X is a role-playing game. The whole point is to draw the player in and tie them to the conflicts of whatever character they inhabit. While it may have been unconventional in terms of subject matter, the storytelling was more or less your standard fare for any kind of narrative. Tidus is the clear protagonist, Sin the antagonist, Wakka the comic relief, and Yuna the love interest.

There’s nothing surprising or even noteworthy in becoming attached to the characters in a role-playing game. Assuming they function like they should, those characters will always encourage emotional attachment in one way or another. This is why that, in the grand scheme of things, Final Fantasy X is not the game that made me mull over narrative in video games a decade ago.

That illustrious honor goes to Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies.

The Spoony Bard: A Wizard Did It

February 25, 2011 12:00 PM |

[The Spoony Bard is a biweekly GameSetWatch column by writer James Bishop that probes the depths of the characters, dialogue and writing in video games. This week, it explores internal consistency and narrative coherence in games like Mass Effect and Dead Space.]

Chekhov’s gun has been stated in numerous ways over the years but the general consensus is that it goes a little something like this: “One must not put a loaded rifle on stage if no one is thinking of firing it.” Though it’s applied most often to foreshadowing, the argument could be made that a gun also shouldn’t appear out of nowhere at the last second in some kind of deus ex machina.

All things within a narrative exist to serve a purpose. Even if that purpose is to be meaningless or to behave only as a distraction, everything requires one from the large to the small. By stressing the importance of foreshadowing, it can be interpreted that Anton Chekhov also happened to champion narrative coherence and, by extension, internal consistency.

Simply put, the story must make sense.

COLUMN: The Spoony Bard: Why Red Dead Works

January 26, 2011 12:00 PM |

[The Spoony Bard is a biweekly GameSetWatch column by writer James Bishop that probes the depths of the characters, dialogue and writing in video games. This week, it explores the reasons behind Red Dead Redemption's impressive showing in 2010.]

Out of the entire catalogue of 2010, it feels as if no game has received as much attention, as many accolades or as few gripes as Red Dead Redemption.

That isn’t to say that there haven’t been other amazing games released this year—I’m looking at you, Mass Effect 2—but only to imply that somehow Red Dead Redemption has managed to avoid the variety of pitfalls that have befallen others. It wasn’t critically or commercially snubbed despite its fair share of flaws.

That fact of the matter is that Red Dead Redemption, despite being a Western, having immersion-breaking bugs and including a second act that most folks didn’t care for, resonates with more of the general public than any of the other offerings this year. It, as a vehicle for an experience, pushes the right buttons in a way that goes beyond mere entertainment.

COLUMN: The Spoony Bard: The Shattering of Constants

December 10, 2010 12:00 PM |

[The Spoony Bard is a biweekly GameSetWatch column by writer James Bishop that probes the depths of the characters, dialogue and writing in video games. This week, it veers slightly from its normal course to look at World of Warcraft, Star Wars Galaxies and the ever-changing nature of MMO games.]

Somewhere between teleporting back to an area that was unfamiliar and wandering around until something looked right, I’d become completely turned around. Nobody I knew was on, and I had a map, so it wasn’t like I was going to get stuck somewhere but the feeling was still disconcerting. Somehow, the city that I once knew seemed buried below something altogether different.

That didn’t stop me from trying, though. I took a lift that I could tell was a new addition to an upper tier in hopes of getting a better handle on things. I figured the zeppelin would be around there somewhere, and it was, but the routes seemed to be changed so I turned back around and descended again with a vague inkling of where the reagent vendor was that I needed to find.

I had come back to find the world not as I had left it. I was lost in Orgrimmar.

COLUMN: The Spoony Bard: Growing Up With Pokémon

November 25, 2010 12:00 PM |

[The Spoony Bard is a biweekly GameSetWatch column by writer James Bishop that probes the depths of the characters, dialogue and writing in video games. This week, it champions Pokémon as the ultimate coming-of-age story in gaming.]

In any coming-of-age novel, or bildungsroman, the story often begins with the hero or protagonist as a child. If not as a child, then it begins on the cusp of adulthood--a young adult transitioning from childhood and encountering all of the problems therein.

They set out just after their metaphorical transformation in order to prove themselves and, in a sense, show that they are worthy of inheriting the world before them. They embark on a journey.

Over the course of their journey or quest, they will face many obstacles, overcome them and win the day. Be it slaying a dragon, defeating the evil wizard or overthrowing the corrupt monarchy that has cast shadows over the land for so long, the hero eventually reaches the pinnacle of their abilities and showcases them for all to see. Often, this is done by achieving some kind of personal growth while also performing a previously unreachable feat.

Becoming the Pokémon master fits this mold nicely. It is, on no uncertain terms, the ultimate bildungsroman of gaming.

COLUMN: The Spoony Bard: When An RPG Isn't An RPG

November 8, 2010 12:00 AM |

[The Spoony Bard is a biweekly GameSetWatch column by writer James Bishop that probes the depths of the characters, dialogue and writing in video games. This week, it comments on an unfortunate narrative trend in role-playing game hybrids like Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story.]

The premise behind the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter ads is simple. The substance in the bucket tastes so much like butter that it is hard to believe—wait for it—that it’s not butter. Though it may not seem like it just yet, I promise I am going somewhere with this.

The ads only work because the compound in question performs, behaves and otherwise is identical to the product it is imitating. In theory, it has all of the benefits with none of the detriments. That’s what they try to sell you, anyway.

In reality, it is often hard to produce identical results from disparate parts. True, one plus four and three plus two both equals five, but combining larger, more complicated and possibly abstract forms adds a seemingly infinite level of complexity to the situation. The more moving parts in any given process, the more likely it is that one of them will malfunction and bring things to a grinding halt.

Thus is the sad, sad case of the multitude of RPG hybrids in video games.

COLUMN: The Spoony Bard: These Are Our Stories

October 16, 2010 12:00 PM |

[The Spoony Bard is a biweekly GameSetWatch column by writer James Bishop that probes the depths of the characters, dialogue and writing in video games. This week, it explores embedded and player narrative in relation to games from Final Fantasy X to Minecraft.]

A major theme throughout Final Fantasy X is the constant attention to exactly who is the center of the story. We learn of Yuna’s father’s story, as well as Jecht’s, by hearing it being told from other points of view. After all, that one single story accounts for the journey of the fathers of two major characters and the friends of a third. By exploring the effects of that story, however, we are seeing the story of another character: Yuna.

But Yuna’s story is one that we are forced to watch happen just off center due to actually playing as yet another character: Tidus. Tidus is controlled by the player, moved by the player, but ultimately is his own character and, as he states time and time again, this is his story.

If that’s not confusing enough, there’s probably enough subject matter here that Final Fantasy X alone could justify a number of paragraphs and fill some nested parentheses exploring the nature of these relationships. For the purposes of this column, however, the important take-away from this is the fact that there exists a series of multiple stories within stories.

In a sense, Tidus experiences what some consider the relationship that a player has with any given game. He acknowledges that there is a story unfolding in front of him and yet insists on imposing his own story, his own narrative, as a distinct layer on top of it.

In other words, he dabbles in player narrative.

COLUMN: The Spoony Bard: The Salvation of Narrative DLC

September 21, 2010 12:00 PM |

[The Spoony Bard is a new biweekly GameSetWatch column by writer James Bishop that probes the depths of the characters, dialogue and writing in video games. This week, it explores the problems of narrative downloadable content and what makes Minerva's Den succeed.]

Narrative downloadable content is something of a sticky wicket. It can be difficult to present an entire story in the format without leaving intentionally unresolved threads in the retail version of a given game. When presented that way, it’s not truly exploring a new story but merely resolving the beginnings of one from elsewhere which just feels like cheating.

To do it proper, the developer has to go into the project looking to craft an experience that exists within the realm of the game, adds to it in a non-game-breaking manner and manages to tell a compelling story while still remaining short enough—and within budget—to be considered DLC.

Many have come close to this elusive mark. The Behind Her Blue Flame DLC for Valkyria Chronicles is one example, though the dialogue is often horrendous. Regardless of whether that is acceptable and intended for the game, it can ruin any immersive feelings rather quickly. The Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC for Mass Effect 2 also comes close but stems from a thread left blowing in the wind in the retail game.

Which is why the newest add-on for BioShock 2, Minerva’s Den, comes as a breath of fresh air.

COLUMN: The Spoony Bard: On FemShep's Popularity

September 2, 2010 12:00 AM |

[The Spoony Bard is a new biweekly GameSetWatch column by writer James Bishop that probes the depths of the characters, dialogue and writing in video games. This week's column deliberates on the popularity of the female protagonist in Mass Effect.]

Mass Effect is a game I powered through on the 360 because I was on a bender, having just acquired my first Xbox ever. When it came time to put the controller away, I had finished the first game and its sequel in less than a week. Truthfully, I only played the original because the sequel was coming out. I figured that understanding the story so far is important in this kind of game.

What I did not expect was my sudden attachment to the female incarnation of Commander Shepard—fondly referred to as FemShep around the web—during the first game and my continued connection in the second. It’s not that I’m opposed to BroShep/ManShep but something about the female version drew me in and made my gameplay that much more meaningful.

I’m not alone in my adoration, either. There have been numerous polls, hundreds of votes cast and countless discussions about FemShep and her alluring nature. It isn’t a stretch to say that BioWare has managed to, seemingly unintentionally, create a female protagonist that has attracted the attentions of hundreds if not thousands of people.