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Narrative, wait what?

Donatello (384) on Jun 11, 2012


I jumped on the bandwagon a bit late, but finally I'm playing this "revolutionary" title. I'm almost half-way through the game and it just makes me wonder, what is the outstanding narrative that so many reviews, fan and modding sites claim this game to have? Don't get me wrong, I like the game, but the whole "awesome story" I hear the game having is something I don't really see.

Oh, I'm playing on the Hard difficulty, and it can get extremely suspenseful (as I refuse to quicksave too often and mostly rely on autosaves, unless there are sections which are VERY trial & error). Having 15 HP, slowly making one's way through the corridors and then BANG, a soldier starts shooting and then I run back really fast, crouch below my previously set wall-explosive and make my way to the next corner, hearing the guy behind me shooting, then KABOOM and the guy is dead, and I'm like "phew". Moments like these are just frickin' excellent. But sometimes I want to murder the person who decided to have so many platforming sequences when the controls aren't exactly the smoothest (and while one could curse platforming sequences in first person games in general, I've seen very good implementations of first person platforming, ie Metroid Prime).

Re: Narrative, wait what?

vedder (20153) on Jun 11, 2012


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I think the revolutionary part stems from the fact unlike other shooters that came before it which either had stories presented only in text blurbs between levels or cut-scenes that took control away from the player. Half-Life opted for a design where the player at any time remained in control of his character and the narrative was picked up by hearing what the soldiers, scientists and security guards are saying.

Re: Narrative, wait what?

אולג 小奥 (169089) on Jun 11, 2012


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This. Although System Shock did the same four years before, Half-Life was much more cinematic. It gave you movie-like atmosphere without relying on cutscenes, and that was cool.

Its actual plot is another story, of course, it's just a thin, generic variation on alien horror .

Re: Narrative, wait what?

vedder (20153) on Jun 11, 2012


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Yeah, System Shock did it with audio logs (or textual logs if you were unfortunate enough to have the floppy disk version), where Half-Life used scripted characters walking around and doing stuff.

Re: Narrative, wait what?

BurningStickMan (17739) on Jun 11, 2012


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vedder Wrote:
Yeah, System Shock did it with audio logs (or textual logs if you were unfortunate enough to have the floppy disk version), where Half-Life used scripted characters walking around and doing stuff.

This. It's not the story, per se, it's the new way of delivering it. This was the first FPS with an extremely robust scripting engine (making things like the famous peaceful intro possible).

Re: Narrative, wait what?

Daniel Saner (2473) on Jun 11, 2012


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On topic: what's being said above. It's that you have a shooter with a living environment, other characters that you can talk to etc. without ever being taken out of the game for a cutscene or text screen. I played it when it came out, and particularly that first section where shit has not yet happened, where you could explore and talk to your colleagues however you wanted, blow up a microwave *while* someone was talking to you, it was pretty awesome.

Hate the platforming sections now, just wait until you reach the final chapters of the game!

Re: Narrative, wait what?

Dr. M. "Schadenfreude" Von Katze (590) on Jun 12, 2012


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You may wanna consider the time it was released. It's easy to look down at it in 2012, but, as everyone and their dog already pointed out, there weren't many examples of this kind of dynamic narrative back then --hell, as far as I know it was the first action game that went so out of its way to set up the world you were playing in, with all that non-combat introductory section.

You also should consider how tricky it actually is to tell a story this way, with the player having full control 99% of the time: if nothing else, you wouldn't believe how hard it can be from a designer's standpoint to have the player look at the right spot when you need them to (this is one point they talk about quite often in Valve's very interesting and amusing Developer Commentary features); so not relying on cutscenes for such a storytelling-heavy game is such a huge, headache-inducing challenge it's almost masochistic. How many games can you count that dare to do that, even today?

And as others have also pointed out, you seem to be throwing "storytelling" and "story" in the same bag, when they are two very different things. In fact, I don't think anyone has ever praised Half-Life's story, let alone called it "awesome".

Re: Narrative, wait what?

Donatello (384) on Jun 12, 2012


Well, thanks for the responses. I'm still sure I've seen many quotes with "fantastic story" flying around, but probably just ad blurbs/or people misunderstanding the story/storytelling part.

Also, since I have around quarter to go (I'm in Lambda Core), are the expansions any good (Opposing Force and Blue Shift)? I'm actually excited to try out a few mods later since that's one of the reasons I decided to start this up, ie stuff like Cry of Fear, Afraid of Monsters and They Hunger. Those look seriously creepy!

Re: Narrative, wait what?

Patrick Bregger (110958) on Jun 12, 2012


Both are good. It has been a while since I played them, but as far as I remember OF has no Xen (good) and the Xen sequences of BS are much more tolerable than in the original.

Re: Narrative, wait what?

GTramp (34474) on Jun 13, 2012


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Speaking of Cry of Fear, I'm playing it right now - and shit it's scary! That small team of several people is really talented to make a game THIS scary and THIS long with limited resources and an engine outdated for ages...

Re: Narrative, wait what?

Donatello (384) on Jun 12, 2012


Well, I've made it to the end, almost, and...this is abhorrent! I swear I haven't seen such a, I emphasize, shittily designed section/level in a very good while. It just bogs my mind how awful it is. I'm not sure if I can ever forgive Valve for this. It's just so, so bad.

Re: Narrative, wait what?

DANIEL HAWKS ! (1910) on Jun 13, 2012


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The jumping bit with the spires? If so, yeah, it's a pretty terrible part.

Re: Narrative, wait what?

אולג 小奥 (169089) on Jun 13, 2012


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Honestly, I can't quite understand why people hate that part of Half-Life so much, yet easily accept those action games where you can't save. I mean, how hard can that Xen section get? Just quick-save after every jump and it will be fine.

Re: Narrative, wait what?

DANIEL HAWKS ! (1910) on Jun 13, 2012


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Because it's no fun doing it over and over again even with a quick save.

Re: Narrative, wait what?

Dr. M. "Schadenfreude" Von Katze (590) on Jun 13, 2012


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אולג 小奥 Wrote:
Honestly, I can't quite understand why people hate that part of Half-Life so much, yet easily accept those action games where you can't save.

What people exactly? Me, I'll call out and I'll bitch and I'll bitch about any such design stupidity, nevermind how brilliant the game is otherwise. And being able to weasel around the problem (be it by quicksaving or by outright cheating) isn't going to calm me down.

Bad design choices that should've been thrown away during alpha are bad design choices that should've been thrown away during alpha, and there's no way around that in my book; whether it is the platforming in Xen, the boss fights in Alpha Protocol and Human Revolution, or the appalling number of unacceptable crap in Alan Wake --again, note how those are all games that I love deeply, but despite that, and indeed maybe because of that, I will not forget them when they become so stupid they annoy me into quitting.

Goddammit :P

Re: Narrative, wait what?

Adzuken (702) on Jun 13, 2012


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I never really had a problem with Xen. In fact, this forum is the first place I ever heard anyone complain about it. My old roommate pulled out his hair trying to defeat the end boss, but that's another thing altogether (and also something I never had a problem with).

Re: Narrative, wait what?

Lain Crowley (5410) on Jun 13, 2012


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Because action games that people like playing are fun to replay because you will be better than you were before. Xen isn't any fun, and dying mean you have to keep playing un-fun areas to reach more un-fun areas.

Re: Narrative, wait what?

Daedolon (3114) on Jul 12, 2012


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I whole-heartily agree that Half-Life is overrated in almost every respect. I still like the game, but it never left any kind of a lasting impression on me whatsoever, which is why I find absurd to see praised as much as it is. It's a decent game but nothing phenomenal imho.

You should check out the Errant Signal video about Half-Life on YouTube, this guy also has other amazing game analysis videos about stuff like kinaesthetics.

EDIT: Just spotted this interesting article on the very same matter as well.

(Edited by Daedolon (3114), Jul 12, 2012)

Re: Narrative, wait what?

Donatello (384) on Jul 15, 2012


I don't really have an issue with linearity here, and many of the points raised in both the video and the article mainly focus on scripted events and the fact that it's clearly designed to be a ride from point A to B is a bad thing. It's a design choice, one that is not automatically bad.

However, I just don't feel the game and the ending levels are terribad. I was thinking of trying out the expansions but then I realized that I don't want to return to this ever again. I might give Half-Life 2 a try though as there's more to that one from what I've seen.