Redeeming Video Games -- The Talos Principle and much more

Recommended Posts

I’ve played waaaay more of Civilization V than I should have. That game(and all other Civ games) is populated with some awesome quotes. One of my favourites is: “We live only to discover beauty. All else is a form of waiting.”

May I present:  The Talos Principle.

Ever heard of this game? It’s basically a first-person puzzler, similar to Portal. Check out Talos Principle’s release trailer. Or a five-minute introductory video to it by a professional game designer. Even if you are not a gamer or into games, I implore you then to check out a ‘lets play’ or playthrough video of it. The word ‘beautiful’ gets thrown around a lot, but trust me: this game is beautiful. Many times while playing, I stop whatever I’m doing to simply look and listen. One of the game’s voice diaries, in which a character haltingly relates the tragic penultimate days of her life, always makes me sob.

99% of the time I write, it’s while listening to video game music -- this includes, of course, The Talos Principle soundtrack.

Talos Principle is also engaging. And intellectual. And respects the player. It even – contra John Carmack’s comment about story in games – has an interesting backstory.

IIRC, I discovered this game on sale via Steam, where it was listed as a Portal clone, therefore I decided to buy it. Thus, I was fairly ignorant of Talos Principle when I started playing it.

It absolutely blew me away. Within days, it became one of my favourite games of all time, and I’ve been playing games for thirty-five years. Before you judge me on that, know that I’m a fussy, somewhat unusual gamer. I basically never play multiplayer(in my (limited)experience, other players are too competitive and/or arseholes) and I rarely/never play any modern popular and/or violent games; eg, Call of Duty, GTA, Fortnite. Always loved Doom games though.


Okay, gotta stop gushing about TP and move on. Point of this post is: video games aren’t always the disgustingly violent, microtransaction-riddled skinner boxes you may be thinking of. And computer game design can also be a fascinating topic to interest, or even inspire.

Dislike lifeboat scenarios?  Consider watching a ten-minute video about a game that puts your answers of one to the test by prompting you to actually experience a lifeboat scenario by playing through it(warning: total spoilers for Prey(2017). I don’t quite agree with all the presenter’s ideas, but it’s definitely an intriguing and thought-provoking video.

Or consider this ten-minute video about how game design mechanics alone(ie, without any exposition or prose) can be used to depict (emotional)bonds between characters.

To present those two example video links for you, I spent an idly pleasant time of one morning browsing through and watching videos from only two game design youtube channels: Extra Credits and Game Makers Toolkit. These channels alone are replete with information that I’m certain will fascinate even non-gamers. You might want to browse those for more nuggets.


Finally, what video game thread is complete without everyone’s favourite apparently objectivist game…Bioshock?

Don’t worry, I wouldn’t reel up this slug from the depths unless in the context of hopefully new(for you) and interesting information regarding it. You might want to check out perhaps the most fundamental element of it that I rarely see brought up: it’s failure at the ludonarrative level -- in other words, how saving the little sisters(and thus supposedly sacrificing power for yourself) yet empowers your player character in the long run as well, if not better, then if you kill the little sisters.


Also, here’s an interesting ten-minute video that takes a deep dive into the level design of Bioshock's apparently favourited level, Fort Frolic(the one presided over by Sander Cohen, the psychotic artist). Possible highlight of the video explains why players would “…time their wrench strikes to go with each crescendo [of Tchaikovsky's Waltz of the Flowers from the Nutcracker], recognising that they were being asked to dance.”


I could definitely discuss any of this further, or go in different tangents…if you want. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites


LOL, man are you giving me a lot of homework. :) 

For me to go into your post, I have to bone up on a lot of stuff. And time for tangents is the one thing I lack right now.


But here is something at least.

I have studied gamification and the reason it works on the brain so well and so on, but I haven't played video games in a long, long time. Back in the day, I played a lot of Doom, Duke Nukem and things like that. And not a smidgen of guilt. Not even when Duke ripped the big villain's head off in the last level and took a dump in the open neck. :) 


But your post did take me back a bit. Especially when you mentioned Extra Credits, a fantastic YouTube Channel. I went crazy looking for a video on power they did (and could not find it). I did come up with the following video I discussed by email with a friend back in 2015.


I just rewatched it and, after all I have studied in persuasion, neuroscience, modern psychology, and so on, I was flabbergasted at the list of elements on how to make games compelling at the end (when they were bashing overuse of Skinner). My God. If you want a checklist of what to include in a fiction story to make it take off, that's one hell of a list. :)  Here it is:

Mystery (puzzles)
Mastery (make the protagonist masterful in something)
Mental Challenge (make the reader stretch his or her brain)
Narrative (obvious, but small narratives can be added to descriptions and so on)
Novelty (new things and new people, surprises and reveals)
Flow (story trance, tracking characters and events in the story)

Granted, this is not complete since good stories also rely on anticipation and other things, but just adding or enhancing those on that list will make any dull story sparkle.


My own mystery eventually got solved. The reason I could not find the video on power was because Extra Credits did not make it. (duh...) :) 

Instead, I found the video by CGP Grey (based on The Dictator's Handbook), which is also fantastic. Just for the hell of it, I am including it here.


That's all I can do for now. More later, if not here, then elsewhere. Or here...



Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks for that EC Credits Skinner box vid link, Michael. That’s the one I was trying to look for to link to in my original post. Also EC Credits related, they recently split Youtube content channels for reasons I can’t remember/don’t understand, so everyone else may immediately find more interesting EC Credits-based content from them here, at their ExtraHistory channel.


And CGP Grey’s vids, whilst not video game related, are all interesting and watchable too.


Video game documentaries

These tend to be longer videos. I remember enjoying watching The Story of Tetris, and many other videos from Gaming Historian.


Those of who who may have heard about certain games and wondered what the fuss was about, while not necessarily wanting to invest time in playing them, might be interested in one of Noah Caldwell Gervais’ typically lengthy videos. For a more succinct introduction to his content, perhaps consider this point of his examination of the entire Half Life series to date, where he discusses Half Life Alyx, Valve software’s VR-based entry to the series, for about twenty minutes. He makes some interesting points about VR gaming in general and how certain he is that Half Life three, which is widely considered vapourware, will eventually be released.


Those of you who know of or who have enjoyed any of Square’s Final Fantasy series may not know or remember that they released a game waaaay back on the Playstation one called Vagrant Story, which apparently managed to garner one of the first ever ‘perfect’ scores (40/40 or something, IIRC) from a well-regarded Japanese games review magazine, as told in this video. Why haven’t you heard as much about VS as a typical Final Fantasy game?


You may wish to skip Vagrant Story’s development history and start here, where the game itself is discussed, beginning with it’s snappy film-inspired opening, unheard of at the time for any (typically slow)Japanese role-playing game. The video then goes on to discuss story telling techniques used in the game(TLDW: unreliable narrator, as well as conflicting narratives and/or lies). If any of you actually played and enjoyed Vagrant Story as I did(it’s apparently a bit of a ‘cult classic’, as it’s gameplay wasn’t quite as ‘perfect’ as it could have been), this entire video will be quite interesting.

Special mention: Vagrant Story’s soundtrack, which is just as beautiful as any Final Fantasy soundtrack.

Edited by Geoff OBrien
touch up a couple of details
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now