An interactive story or as it is often better known a walking simulator, Virginia's strength lies in its fantastic movie like soundtrack and it's initially gripping story. I say initially because for two-thirds of the game you won't be able to turn away but the game does drop the ball hard for a disappointing confusing and unsatisfactory final third. Developed by variable state and published by 505 games the game follows FBI Special Agent and a recent graduate of first cases to investigate the disappearance of a teenage boy in Virginia and is paired with a more experienced Maria Halperin. But also instructed by his superiors to keep an eye on her across the game the two agents trust in each other and EF borough itself will be tested until it's unnecessary and abrupt left turn into the supernatural. Through the eyes of Aunt Arbor
Virginia's played via first-person perspective when we say this is more like a movie than a game we mean it actual gameplay is very limited with minor interactions but characters items
or locations. Occasionally they have a bit more free movement but these are often in small confined areas and you'll still be looking for something to interact with to move the story forward if we were rating the game on gameplay alone it wouldn't be getting high scores However like all walking simulators, Virginia is all about story and it does tell a really compelling one trust corruption right and wrong it's very interesting and well-told in an awesome cinematic way. Enhanced by a fantastic score by Linden Holland then just as we reach what seems to be its finale it just goes off the rails in the most spectacular way you can read comments by the players to talk about leaving the story open for the player to decide what happened. And that is fine why the supernatural elements though not needed at all and so very disappointing is the investment up until this point just disappears. It's a shame as the interactive movie style of the game works really well, cinematic cuts and scenes moving along in a way that keeps things fresh and a little frantic. The art style looks good
and that there isn't a single line of dialogue spoken yet it conveys so much information is really impressive, as a game within the Walking Simulator category, Virginia is one of the better ones, it could have been one of the best if it wasn't full of the supernatural turn and a final third if you've never liked the whole interactive story type of game this isn't going to change that however, the effort put in is commendable.
The Night Fisherman
The Night Fisherman is a free short narrative experience where you play as the titular character transporting an illegal immigrant child across the English border. Sadly, you've been stopped by an English patrol officer who is gun-toting and quite happy to shoot and has a bit of a reputation for doing so. The game gives the illusion of choice in its narrative which takes only about ten minutes to complete. But it is an illusion of choice all roads lead to the same destination and maybe that's part of the frustration and that's what it's trying to say but to me it actually disengaged me from the experience because it didn't matter what I did I felt like I lost every single time maybe again that's the point but it doesn't sit well as a gaming or narrative experience. Particularly because the game is clunky in how it gets to where it's going and if you're going to make a game that's based around a narrative experience it needs to be engaging, if it's gonna do choices make those choices matter so that you then engage make a clear decision in your choice and it makes you think about what you'd either do in that situation or more about the "Important discussion points that this game brings up". Sadly this game does none of that and so all of the reviews saying this is an important game or this is an important discussion point for me personally utterly fall down because it didn't feel important to me because of the clunky narrative the fact that you can't put your own choices into the decision the tree that's going on in this game because there is none it's trying to pretend it has and yeah it just ultimately comes down to a frustrating or a brief experience. However after a little bit of playing, I did realise the beauty of the game. It wanted to get a very specific story across and it chose a faulty style to do it i.e. choices that don't matter. But at the end of the day, it was able to tell the story it wanted to start and was easily one game worthy of remember and starting a conversation on. And I guess that was the whole point of the game, to start a discussion about a topic less discussed.
Me Without Us: An Update
Since the inception of the project, I had only one goal in mind. That was to make the player feel something. Over the duration of the planning phase, I thought of targeting different emotions and one such emotion stuck out like a sore thumb for me. It was sadness and loss, as these emotions are regarded as a taboo and not generally shared or brought to light, these emotions are generally suffered alone and in isolation. So, with that in mind I started doing research and firstly drew from my personal feelings on the loss of a close family member and then moved on to research games which have tackled loss and recuperation. During my research I found that tackling loss was vented through a typical outlet – crying, screaming, rage or denial. But the process of recuperation had very unique vents which could shape or break a character. The process of recovery from loss could take the shape of Disbelief like Alan Wake, Revenge like the Last of Us 2, Depression like Heavy Rain or Desperation to find answers like Everybody’s gone to the Rapture. So, the process of recovery was what hooked me as I believe that I can mould the character as well as the player to recover (or not) from a loss that had happened in the past. After having played and watched a few more games which tackles recovery like Fragments of Him, Dear Esther, Gone Home and What Remains of Edith Finch I had a clear idea of the feelings I would be tackling and the medium I would be tackling them with.
My mind was set on making a walking simulator, the likes of which already exist everywhere. For some reason, I didn’t quite like the idea of calling my game a walking simulator, I would much rather call my game a feeling simulator or an experience. So, I moved forward with calling my game an interactive experience. My character was a parent with a partner and a child (who had lost both his partner and child) hence I wanted particular moments with the both of them individually. Moments that are typical, easily recognisable, memorable and relatable. I chose a walk in the park with my characters child. And walking down the marriage isle with my characters partner. There was another feeling that had caught my eye, that feeling being regret. After losing someone, one faces a lot of regret and reflects on how they could’ve done things differently. I wanted a moment like this in the game, where I could focus on the characters regrets with his/her family and how they could’ve done things differently. Pulling heavily from Robert Frosts The Road not taken.
Finally, I focused on recovery or recuperation where the character can leave behind their family’s artefacts at the grave and let the partner and child move on. The artefacts signify the characters will to move on and keep on living. But while researching about the game, I came across this book called playing with feelings in Video Games by Aubrey Anable which had a chapter in the game which focused on failing with games. Just like and dying and learning is a routine in games like Ori and Celeste. I wanted to have such a moment when the player could choose to not move on and join their family. Hence, the introduction of another ending wherein the player chooses to join the dead with their family and move on to the afterlife with the family by their side. I also wanted a certain wow factor to the game and adding paranormal moments which go hand in hand with beautiful visuals became my preferred medium for environmental storytelling. As you would also notice, I have refrained from mentioning gender as much as possible throughout the post. I have decided on giving the player multiple options of Gender and family variations to choose from. As Maddalena had pointed it out to me on one of her classes, Feelings aren’t monopolised by a particular Gender. Hence, to make it as inclusive as possible, I aim to put a few variations in.
Research on the games have given me a basic insight on the gameplay and how I should be going about tackling movement and interactions. As my game is more narrative focused, there are more scripted events rather than combat and climbing mechanics. It revolves around movement, interactions and pre-determined linear scripted moments.