As part of my optimistic attempt to work on my Blaugust To-Do List and clear 0.1% of my Steam games list, I got around playing Gone Home tonight. Finished in 2 hours – 116 minutes, to be exact.
I have to say… I didn’t really like it.
I admit I was a little spoiled by glancing through reviews that basically said: “Nothing really happens.”
Therefore, I did not allow myself to be the least bit scared regarding the 1001 horror movie tropes that Gone Home attempts to inflict on you. Flickering lights, creaky noises, coincidentally well-timed lightning, the works.
I think that part of it was the major let-down, so to speak.
It feels like the game was purposefully trying to pull your strings, show you a horror movie trope, let you imagine for a breath or two something stereotypical and dramatic had befallen… and then way too quickly, it also shows you the “logical” mundane explanation for what’s going on.
It just makes me wonder… why bother then? A good story should have rising action leading to a climax…
Conversely, Gone Home is filled with vignettes that let you briefly think /something/ might be approaching rising action, and then just as quickly, it lets you down and you deflate again back to mundania.
The central plot is okay, very prosaic in the larger scheme of things, the clues all support it… even if they end up rather “coincidentally” arranged so that you wander from room to room in a channeled linear fashion, picking up one key after another that unlocks a room with the next revelation (and the next key.)
I guess that was my main problem with Gone Home.
I just couldn’t stop from thinking meta and design thoughts.
At no point, did I really immerse into the simulation.
I started out blind and amnesiac, not even knowing who “I” was, with regards to this Katie person, whom “I” apparently am, says my luggage tags on the doorstep of this house.
That made it supremely hard to feel fearful, or indeed, even know how “I” was supposed to feel. A little more background at the beginning might have helped, perhaps.
I know I personally felt a lot more spooked in Vampire: Bloodlines’ haunted house – I had made and named my own character and chosen her vampire clan, I “knew” who she was, her background and could roleplay/immerse how she would feel. Furthermore, in the supernatural Vampire setting, -ghosts- may very well be very real creatures that might do horrible things to my health bar…
In Gone Home, the game seems to go out of its way to imply both super-mundanity (real life setting, absolutely nothing paranormal is going to happen, even if some characters believe some occult stuff) and game immortality of your avatar (she’s not going to get hurt, unless stumbling into a specially scripted event, right? And there can be no specially scripted events if the game is so hell bent on being mundane…)
So yeah, no fear. Just methodical turning on the lights, one after the other, and casing every room in a left-to-right systematic fashion, trying not to get lost.
Oh yeah, the other “meta” thought that I couldn’t shake? “This damn house is too fucking big. Awfully convenient of this fellow to die and will this monstrosity of a manor to the family. Where’s my ‘run’ key? Why don’t I have a ‘run’ key? Surely simulating panic ought to be important, if you want the player to pretend like they’re worried at any point? Also, convenience factor and all…”
Oh, here’s one thing I -did- like. Playing with glow-in-the-dark stars that do actually glow after you turn out all the lights you turned on.
Well, glad I got it finished, anyway. One more game off the “maybe should try” list.
Bottom line: I didn’t find it as spectacular as some other people might say.
Verisimilitude-wise, it is very very good. If you like an old house simulator where you can pick up and rotate various modeled items like soda cans, tissue boxes, potato chips and toilet rolls… none of which actually contribute to gameplay or story and merely a little to the atmosphere… Gone Home is good in that regard.
Story-wise, it makes sense. It doesn’t cheat you in that respect either. It’s just a very ordinary and mundane story, that unfortunately appears to be hiding under the cover of being some kind of ghost or horror story.
Problem is, you can go from mundane to supernatural themes, and overall tension and interest rises.
Take it the other way around, and it mostly ends up as a giant yawn.
This post was brought to you by the letters B for Belghast and Blaugust, and the number 19.
The trouble I have with blogging these days is that I find just blogging about prosaic day to day things boring, and yet, so much of our MMO life is prosaic day to day things.
I did a daily. I did another daily. I leveled from numeral X to numeral Y. I crafted Z item.
I incremented this achievement, and completed that achievement. I added onto this collection or that wardrobe.
In a sense, I’m not sure what difference it makes, in the greater scheme of things.
Why should you or I care about what I did? What I incremented? What I achieved?
Why, oh, why, is my life so boring and routine, with nothing new to say?
How can I find a story in the everyday boringness of things?
In my blog posts, I want to tell you a story. I like stories.
I like unique stories.
Unique narratives that can only be told by me, in my voice, doing the stuff that only I can do… stuff that hopefully you haven’t done in exactly identical fashion so that you’re still interested…
… and yet, weirdly, conversely, stuff that you should at least be vaguely familiar with so that I’m not over here talking in a foreign language you don’t understand and have zero interest in either.
Perhaps the problem is that -I- am seeing what I do as the same old boring routine.
But that’s not it. Not quite. Because if it really was that awful, I’d change up the routine.
I’m a big proponent of variety to prevent burnout, and I have a whole list of other things I could be doing, in this game or in the 500+ others on my Steam games list, if I got tired of what I’m doing.
And yet, every night, I look at the clock and make sure my butt is in the chair by 8.10pm so that I can kill the Triple Trouble Wurm with the oceanic arm of TTS.
If I have time, I might join in by 6.30pm for Karka Queen, or try my best to squeeze my way into Tequatl by 7.00pm.
It is a safe, comfortable routine.
If I really can’t make it, I forgo it (some days you just gotta be an adult and not play computer games,) but when I can, I’m usually there for Wurm because I -want- to be there. Why?
Perhaps the problem is the way I am telling it.
These last couple of days, since the beta portal invite event for the Silverwastes, Oceanic Wurm has been cancelled.
I catch an NA Wurm kill instead, on the weekends, in the mornings, to sate my bloodlust.
Naturally, I pop the second piece of regurgitated armor that I wanted.
I’ve killed OCE Wurm for months now with no armor drop.
Guess there’s something to be said for change and variety.
The second build is a vast improvement in survivability over the first, the trickle heals from life siphoning seem miniscule but they do have a noticeable effect I can feel in gameplay.
On Day 2, I still play normally, but I branch out a little more and start actively tagging more events. I drift over to the purple fort to tag the Magister Wiggs defend event, while ostensibly guarding Gritblade’s red fort. Purple and yellow bulls are a must-tag. Red bull, when I can.
I’m getting a pattern down with the necro though, saving wells for the set Mordrem spawns around each bull escort, using my condi scepter/dagger on husks, and using power (axe/horn, deathshroud, lichform) for everything else.
Late in the night of Day 2, when there isn’t an ongoing TTS Silverwastes map, I decide to just pop in and use the LFG SW 30-40% breach hopping method to get a few more Silverwastes maps in.
I use the guardian.
(Somehow, I have no trust in a general PUG map. Using my sinister necro feels wrong.
I might get downed accidentally, because I am still warming up to and making mistakes with the necro, and no one might rez me.
It seems like taking on too much for a bunch of strangers to throw condis on husks AND power damage other Mordrem, at the expense of getting downed and having to waypoint if I screw up, because everyone else has run off and left me to it.
On a PUG map, I stay on the ledge at the copper husk during the Breach. Why should I be the only idiot jumping into the pit and getting attacked by a million offshoots?
On a TTS map, following the example of our crazy asura leader, we hurtle into the pit and kite the offshoots around, and the husk melts a lot faster.)
So I play the guardian, on an indistinguishable Silverwastes map filled with hostile toxic mapchat, I run around shamelessly tagging all the events between red and purple forts (all three bulls included) and let someone else worry about whether the forts are overrun. Worse case scenario, we can retake the fort for another event.
One event or another finishes, a fort defence of some kind, or a bull escort, and I realize that I have new mail and a purple beta portal in my inventory.
Well, that’s good. The anxiety is over.
Now I can focus properly on the farming and the making of gold and champion bags while everyone is still excited about the Silverwastes.
In between organized map hours on Day 2 to Day 3, I stop by a LFG chest farm on my necro to use up the many shovels and bandit crests I’ve accumulated.
Almost absent-mindedly, I tag a Veteran Mordrem event to get it out of the way of my unlocking of a bandit chest. I hit the AoE loot button when it dies.
A new mail pops up in my inbox.
No way… Really?
The necro has an accompanying purple portal to the one sitting on my guardian. What a weekend.
On Day 3, I’m back in the TTS Silverwastes map instances on my necro, cheerfully going through multiple rounds of the Vinewrath.
I haven’t stopped. I don’t plan to, until mass interest has died off.
It is fun. It is profitable.
It is routine farming.
I love it anyway.
Why do I look out for and make it a point to attend the same, safe routines?
Maybe it’s because it’s with the same, safe people.
People with a certain level of competence that I can trust.
People whose names I am familiar with.
In-jokes and laughter comprehensible to only those who were there.
The revelation makes me wonder about my reaction to dungeoning.
I hate it. I have massive trust issues with dungeons.
Which is curious because I’ve stopped using LFG for the most part. There, you can never get the same people twice, which doesn’t do much for building trust for people like me, slow to trust.
I wait for a trusted friend to yell at me and pull me into a dungeon, and if I’m free, I go through it and it’s not so bad, but I still don’t like it.
Maybe because I still don’t get regular, scheduled practice to build trust with the same group of people.
Or maybe because I don’t trust myself in the dungeon.
As much as I farm Silverwastes, twice now, I have dropped out of the map without completing the Vinewrath stage.
The modem or my ISP has been acting weird lately, disconnecting for half a minute or so before reconnecting again.
It’s long enough to drop me right out of the right map instance and make it a pain to taxi back.
Sometimes I do, if I’m lucky and the map isn’t full.
Sometimes the map is full, or I just don’t want to bother someone with the chore of taxing me back in.
So I just shrug and stop playing for a couple hours while my internet is on the fritz and go do something else, like eat, read, watch TV.
Voluntarily missing the rewards for that particular hour doesn’t really bother me, whereas I would have been a stressed out emotional wreck for the tens of minutes I wasn’t connected to the game while four other players were waiting for me in a dungeon.
The whole open, drop-in, drop-out nature of the Silverwastes makes it a more convenient design for me.
I can stand by a cliff for a couple of minutes in the Silverwastes and go get myself a drink or have a bathroom break without anyone noticing or caring or being bothered by it.
(If you don’t move for hours, that’s a different story, of course.)
Try that in a dungeon.
Even if you’re surrounded by the most loving and understanding friends ever, with plenty of free time on their hands to wait for you, the fact of the matter is that they still have to wait for you.
I hate that sense of obligation.
I wish I knew why.
Figuring out that part of my brain is a subject for another post though.
I took my own advice in my last post and freewrote for ideas.
The above is an elaboration of some of the threads that were in the mess of freewriting.
The trick is mostly to pick up on a thread topic that was a little intriguing to you and do another round of writing concerning that, hoping that richer stuff pops out.
I think the above post has a ton in there that anyone can spin off. I’ll just pick a topic that occurs to me.
NBI Writing Prompt #1: How can we design our MMOs to foster more trust between strangers?
(Is forcing them together the only way, or are there other more innovative means to do so?
A matchmaking system that tries to prioritize putting the same people playing at a certain hour together?
A voting/reputation system to increase the chances you’ll interact more with the people you friend/like/think more highly of?
Clever megaserver systems that prioritize the same?
Something even newer and more innovative?
Something old that has been done before but not picked up by our modern MMOs?)