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Vol. 2, Issue 9
January 24, 2000

From the Mouth of Madness:

Some Thoughts on Game Design

by Jason "loonyboi" Bergman




ne of the things that surprised me about RadPipe’s great piece this week on game design (check it out in this here issue if you haven’t already – it’s great stuff) is that he made a few references to an article I wrote several years back for PlanetQuake titled “Waiting for Casablanca.” Sadly, the article would appear to be gone forever, so I can’t simply hyperlink to it, but I’ll do my best to summarize it.

The article was the result of my coming to the sudden and painful realization that games, despite their claims to be otherwise, were for the most part, lacking in any real storytelling. Of course, in retrospect, I may have overlooked several key titles, but nonetheless, I wrote this article criticizing the way the industry was going, which appeared to be headed down a road filled with pretty graphics and little, or no storytelling.

Of course, this was written before the release of Grim Fandango, Half-Life, Outcast, or any other one of the many games that have been released since then that not only tell stories, but do so with incredible skill. Grim Fandango is an interesting one, because you’ll notice in my review of the game I mentioned that I was actually contacted by a member of the team at LucasArts who said their game would live up to my expectations.

And oddly enough, it did. Whodathunkit?

The industry has changed quite a bit since then. Technology has finally started to take a backseat to gameplay (“pure” games like Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament aside, of course) and this trend has produced a ton of great titles.

The nice thing about hindsight when talking about games, is that games (even the really good ones) fall into the bargain bin really quickly. That means that games released just a year ago, can usually be found for less than $25 if you hunt around.

So, with that in mind, I’d like to mention a few games that I feel have some great storytelling. Each game mentioned below not only has a great method for conveying its story, but also has great characters, and an intricate, well-thought out plotline.

So, with that in mind, let’s look at some games, shall we?

Fallout (series): Both of the Fallout games are huge, huge RPGs, but they also feature what very few games manage to achieve: a real world. Until the recent release of Ultima IX: Ascension, they probably had the most complete world (and in many ways, the Fallout games surpass even Ultima IX). While most RPGs have dozens of towns to explore, few of them are as well connected as the ones in Fallout. Characters know each other, the towns are intricately designed, every person, no matter how insignificant has something to say. And each location has its own, unique backstory. Not to mention the mythology of the games, which is actually well-written. Fallout was missed out on by a lot of people, and that’s really a shame. If you’re not intimidated by the size of the games, check ‘em out (and for the record, there were some bugs that managed to make it into Fallout 2 when it shipped, but rest assured, they’ve all been squashed).

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Credits: Illustration © 2000 Dan Zalkus. From the Mouth of Madness is © 2000 Jason Bergman. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited, you cartoonish villian, you.