Game designers usually don't say much about each other's work, at least not more than a side comment that they liked it.
Ken Levine, the lead behind Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite, though, has a lot to say about this one of this fall's best-received games, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor.
In an essay on Medium, Levine readily admits that the combat seems to be directly lifted from Batman: Arkham City but given a Tolkien-inspired reskinning. The innovation, he says, is in the open narrative structure – something he has been trying to figure out with his new studio.
…here's the great part. Nobody tells you how to take down [the Orcs]. You wanna take down Lorm Metal-Beard first to undermine his master, Dharg the Black? Go to it, pal. You wanna turn Horhog the Armorer into a double agent so he backstabs his boss Goroth Caragor Tamer? More power to you, sister.
Mordor's nemesis system, he says, helps build memorable narratives for players out of random pieces, giving the orcs names and highlighting those names, unique sets of armor, as well as fears and preferences.
"If they could change something in BioShock Infinite, the story would break. But you can change the narrative in Shadow of Mordor—kill an important character, fail an important mission — and the story heals itself, because the system can create new characters on the fly. It does so without a "game over" screen or a request for the player to try again."
Levine believes that Mordor is the first "open narrative" style game. It has a pre-packaged narrative, but also builds one for you based off your decisions and actions, rather than restricting you to a linear narrative or even one based on branching choices.
Levine says these are baby steps, but important ones all the same, toward making narrative structure more open for players.
If you've played Mordor, do you remember the characters and stories you told through your game? Do you have an arch nemesis you could never get rid of?
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