Ken Levine, the creative force at Irrational Games (Bioshock, Bioshock Infinite), has taken to writing up a review on Monolith Productions' Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. It's not your traditional review and in many ways it deals with the medium at large and Levine's own work as much as it does the game at hand. And what Levine is doing next is perhaps what interest us the most. We knew he was working on something to do with a player-driven narrative and his plans appear to be lofty in this regard...
"So two years ago, I started thinking about how to build a system to let story be as variable as gameplay and still be awesome in the way story can be awesome. Could you have characters, conflicts, and dialogue that could end not in 100 states, not in 1,000, but in X to the Y states? Goodbye linear, hello geometric! And that's the new big thing that my colleagues and I have been working on at our yet-unnamed new studio. In March, I gave a talk at the Game Developers Conference about some of our ideas. We called it "Narrative Legos." The goal is to make a flexible narrative that is broadly replayable and strongly adaptive to player choice.
But even as we've made huge inroads into our design, even as we work on our prototype, there are days when I wonder: Will it be fun? Is there a there there? Even if there is, will the audience give a shit?"
Naturally Levine would be intrigued by the Nemesis system that powers the produceral nature of the game in between main story bits.
"By breaking down the elements of character into small chunks and re-combining them based on randomness and, more important, responses to the player's choices, Shadow of Mordor tells a story that could never exist in another medium. If the audience could somehow change a plot point in Death of a Salesman, the narrative would break. If they could change something in BioShock Infinite, the story would break. But you can change the narrative in Shadow of Mordor-kill an important character, fail an important mission - and the story heals itself, because the system can create new characters on the fly. It does so without a "game over" screen or a request for the player to try again. Players can choose their own paths, not by selecting from a list of three or four predetermined options, but by making decisions in an endlessly combinatorial gameplay system. It's chess meets Hamlet."
While this doesn't perhaps shed any real light on what Levine and his remaining Irrational staff are doing next, it still shows some sort of direction...
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