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Computer Games and Stories 2

June 30, 2008

Some computer games use the medium to tell a story with flair, I’ve covered some of those. Other games take a different tack. They allow you to write your own story, while playing the game. Some of these games give you unlimited parameters, other limit you to telling your own version of a particular story.

The games with greater parameters are often referred to as sandbox games. Civilization is among the better known of these. Civilization allows you to re-write the history of the world, telling the tale of how the Egyptians rose to conquer the French/Indian alliance and dominate the world. Or whatever you are able to achieve.

Alpha Centauri continues the story of Civilization, with groups of colonists attempting to make a permanent home on an alien world. This game has its own storey too, and in a further twist factions are divided along philosophical, rather than national lines. Factions that value harmony, or the collective, or science, or religion, al clash as they pursue their own vision of what it means to establish a thriving new colony.

Medieval 2 concentrates the story into Europe and the Mediterranean, allowing you to control various nations throughout a four-century period. The English might win the Hundred Years’ War and go on to conquer Spain, or else Poland might rise to become a pre-eminent crusading power, or the Turks might conquer Europe, or the Mongols. This game offer many hours of intense diplomacy, including the diplomacy of the sword.

Into the second type of game fall most of those referred to as CRPGs, or computer role playing games. Some of these are better than others, and they are often judged, fairly or not, on how much freedom is given to the player. A good central story is one thing, but when it’s just you and your computer, people like to explore every odd passage and remote village, and tend to dislike it if it turns out those are just painted backdrops with no substance.

More recently games such as Age of Conan have allowed each player to write their own book of ‘feats’ showing the various things they have achieved. These games write the story for you as you play. Automation, I like that.

Myself I’m more into the sandbox style game, Alpha Centauri and Medieval 2 both hold a permanent place on my hard drive. The others tend to be more transient. Once their story has been told, I don’t need to hear it again. It takes longer to play a CRPG than it does to read a book, so the story needs to be at least as good as the average book.

I might give that books of feats thing a look, though.

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