There's been a lot of console talk around these parts over the past few months, so let's talk about games today. Next gen consoles throw down processing stats and hardware specs like MMA announcers spit out weight classes and career knockouts. The "˜facts' are meant to pump us into making one decision or another, and ultimately the performance limits of these consoles can go entirely unrealized until years after launch. But it takes time to harness that power and often developers don't know what to do with these newfound tools until the waters have been thoroughly tested. How could they?
Behold my surprise at Shadows of Mordor, a game that's made such an incredible declaration I'm not entirely sure whether or not their claim is a testament to modern technology or a straight faced lie. To quote the press announcement released a while back:
"Every enemy that players face is a unique individual, differentiated by their personality, strengths and weaknesses. Through the Nemesis System, enemy relationships and characteristics are shaped by player actions and decisions to create personal archenemies that remember and adapt to the player and are distinct to every gameplay session. Gamers are able to craft their own battles, enemies and rewards within the dynamic world that remembers and adapts to their choices, delivering a unique experience to every player."
How this is possible is somewhat of a mystery since not a single other detail about the gameplay is given beyond the overall plot, which sounds as though it's a fairly standard revenge story set in Middle-earth. But if it is possible, then what we're talking about is the real start to interactive storytelling; a feature often boasted about but never quite achieved. Even the greatest of western RPGs such as Mass Effect or Skyrim offer a remarkable narrative cloaked in the illusion of choice.
Rarely are we given the opportunity to relax and do nothing to instead let the universe be reaped of all life or the dragons return to scourge the land of its citizens, because having such an option would be counter-intuitive to having a plot in the first place. There's only so much control you can give a player before they start to pick at the fabric of what you're trying to get them to experience, but this is why the Nemesis System sounds so interesting. Via something like this we can create our own stories amidst the backdrop of something greater.
In a way we always do. If a player is giving us a particularly hard time during a game of Halo, or when we command the hive swarm of zerg in an online match we are crafting a story even if unintentionally. In single player we fear the appearance of some foes and relish the vanquishing of others, be it a Minecraft creeper or a god of Olympus. These are all elements of a struggle that we try to overcome, the essence of what makes any game session memorable. Otherwise known as storytelling.
Now we have Shadows of Mordor making the claim that they've somehow harnessed that very essence, and I can't help but wonder if this is a clever marketing tool or an actual legitimate translation of what their Nemesis System can accomplish. Perhaps it's because we're on the wake of these new consoles but the promise of such an reactive and calculating feature in a game is a sign of something leaps and bounds ahead of what we have really ever had before.
2014 is just around the corner and the real marked difference in what developers stand out is going to change, because for as incredible a story and as many features a game like GTA V may have it's still trapped within the confines of an almost archaic state of design. Sandbox world, features to play with, progressive story that moves at the players pace. We've been there time and again, and we absolutely love it. Trying to imagine something more is what this industry is built upon, and it's certainly not easy to do.
But if Monolith Productions is up to the challenge, we should be ready to cheer them on every step of the way.