Friday, March 30, 2007


I have talked before about both System Shock 2 and about Never Winter Nights 2. I think I’m about nearly done with both games and it struck me as interesting this morning how differently I feel about the two of them. I’m excited to finish SS2 and I haven’t touched NWN2 for ages now. I believe that in both stories I’m at approximately the same place.

In SS2 I’ve moved up through the Von Braun to the umbilical where the UNN Rickenbacker is docked. The story is reaching a climax and important choices are ahead to be made. The game itself is atmospheric and eerie and very interesting to play. My resources are extremely limited and I have to consider how I use them carefully. I have an uneasy alliance with one of the bad guys but expect to be betrayed at any moment. I got to watch a fun little drama unfold in messages as two (of at least three other surviving humans) managed to get off of the Von Braun in an escape pod. Unfortunately, they took the last one with them so the UNN Rickenbacker is my only hope for survival right now.

In NWN2 I’ve built up my keep and have fought some battles while Aldernon the forgetful mage studies the book to tell us how to defeat the ancient evil threatening the land. The story is reaching its climax and I don’t feel that I have any choices to make in the upcoming story. The game is mechanical with very little feeling to it. I expect that I’ll be driven down the proper rails to the “final confrontation” and defeat the big bad (after watching the cut scene, dying, reloading, watching the cut scene, dying, reloading, watching the cut scene, and so on until I finally win the battle that starts right after the cut scene).

So the difference between the two is the level of emotional involvement that they have created in me.

ASIDE: NWN2 is a decent game and I have liked it so far – and to be fair the major advantage to NWN2 is the creation of the tool kit that will allow the user community to create more compelling stories. The single player game in NWN1 wasn’t very interesting either, but there were numerous user created stories that were very fun to play through and gave the game life well beyond what it was released with. Hopefully, the same thing will happen to NWN2.

The question is then how did the one game create an emotional reaction while the other one failed? In SS2 I feel like a part of the story and in NWN2 I feel like I’m watching the story. I think the major reason for this is the complexity of the two different stories.

NWN2 is a straight forward ancient evil has returned to the land and threatened your home – you must rise up from humble beginnings and defeat it. We’ve all seen that story a gazillion times. The twists and turns in NWN2 irritated me – for example the sudden realization of which two characters were related and then being railroaded into allying with the one character even though MY character never would. So far all of the plot twists have been parts of sub quests and the main story line has been quite simple.

SS2 is a complex story that unfolds slowly. The player knows right away that something is wrong on the Von Braun – the glimpse of a crewwoman running down a corridor screaming was the first clue. (Wait – that wasn’t the first clue but it was the first really dramatic scene in the game – and it was done with the in-game engine instead of a cut scene.) Allies shift as your goals change through the story. The players understanding of the goals of the different powers builds up piece by piece until it is all laid out to horrifying view and the player will have to find some way to save it all.

In the end they are both stories of player saves the world. But the development of the story and the complexity of the two make the SS2 game much more immersive and enjoyable. They could both be compelling stories but the CRAFTING of the story in SS2 is what makes it compelling while the NWN2 story leaves nothing to the imagination of anyone participating in it.

Gaming isn’t about pretty pictures and getting the most points and exploding the most bad guys. It’s about story telling. That is why NWN1 had legs – the user community had the tools to tell stories. That is why SS2 stands up so well after all these years since it’s release - it is a well told story. I can’t wait for the next good story to come along to play.

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