Vertigames

The Power of Game Design

Dec
25

Comfortable Cliches

Posted by Patrick

Hope ChestI’ve been holed up for nearly a week in the wake of Seattle Snowpocalypse 2008.  Unexpectedly, with all the other things I could be doing, my best friend was one that sat on my shelf for nearly two months…  Fable II.  Over the past few days I’ve put a whole lot of hours into my mostly-good-with-occasional-bouts-of-greed-or-deviance character.  My wife Sandi’s done the same with hers.  Strangely we haven’t tried coop because we’re usually off doing small things that would drive the other crazy…  Her with her ownership of pubs and fruit stands, and me taking on every single bounty hunter mission and finding every last gargoyle.

In all Fable II is a fun fantasy romp.  Being one who enjoyed the first Fable more than most, I wasn’t particularly surprised.  “Big concepts” like property ownership and marriage aside, there’s something comfortable to me about slipping into the newest fantasy RPG.

That even includes some very “cliched” concepts.  You grow to expect them, even get mad when they don’t materialize…  In action movies it’s the cars that explode after any collision, the bullets that knock people ten feet backwards, or the trusted mentor who’s been behind the plot the whole time.  Fantasy games’ve got plenty of ‘em, and I don’t mind one bit:

  1. Secret WaterfallStealing from people’s houses.  RPG’s have had a long tradition of ordinary citizens of keeping awesome loot stored in their bedrooms, frequently even in prominent chests.  While Oblivion made a point of scolding you for stealing just about anything, I feel cheated if I know my in-game neighbor has some incredible bauble sitting on his bedstand.  While I usually don’t choose “thief” as an occupation, I can get obsessed with the idea of taking it without getting caught…  Luckily Fable II only considers taking items from dressers or bookshelves to be actual theft.  Anybody that puts their belongings in a huge, gilded chest apparently deserves to forfeit them to the next hero that comes by.  As it should be!
  2. Dead-end jackpots. If I’m winding my way through a dungeon and find a side passage, I just have to go down it to see what’s there.  And once I reach the end, I look around to find my prize.  I’ve been playing/making games long enough to know that real-estate is at a premium.  Someone made this nook for a reason…  now where’s my loot?  Games that don’t reward my obsessive exploring properly can leave me feeling betrayed.  God, I’d probably get a brain hemorrhage if I ever tried to play Pathologic.   (“You will not find a loaf of bread at the back of the cave. You’ll find a stone wall at the back of the cave, because it’s a fucking cave.”)
  3. Ghost Pirate!Treasure hidden behind waterfalls.  If years of gaming (and the occasional movie) have taught me anything, it’s that when there’s a waterfall, there’s gotta be a secret cave behind it.  For a while there it was the rule rather than the exception.  Even though I’ve done it a thousand times, I still feel a bit clever when I step behind the rushing water to find a nook that houses a chest full of glittering gold.  When I brave the falls and find only a rock cliff wall, it’s a fair disappointment.  There’s a bit of comfort in the fantasy that all waterfalls in the world might conceal a secret or two…

Special Bonus Cliche:  Pirate Ghosts!  Zelda, Mario, Oblivion, Final Fantasy, City of Heroes, Alone in the Dark…  Man, games just love those ghost pirates…  It may just be the fact that they are humanoid-yet-supernatural enemies (which can make them easy to create the assets for) that can attack the player en-masse, but they seem to show up in side-quests in a ton of games, even though they’re rarely the main focus.  And who can blame them?  Wrecked ships to wander around, distinctive garb and speech, and promises of a hidden treasure to be unearthed…  Irresistible, I tell you, for gamers and designers alike!

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