Reflecting the World with the Game

2012, September 30th 10:35 AM

There's these two board games: Arkham Horror and Betrayal at House on the Hill. They're both horror games, in a sense. Arkham is Lovecraftian horror, Betrayal is horror-movie style. I've played a lot of both of them, and they both do a great job of atmosphere – but while a good deal of this atmosphere is conveyed through writing, some of it is conveyed through a far more important and far more subtle manner: the very rules that the game runs on.

A theme of Lovecraftian horror is that, fundamentally, the world isn't an evil place. Sure, there are evils in the world – a whole shitload of them, actually – but until someone has actually been influenced by an Elder God, they're probably a good person. Almost all the evils in Arkham Horror are explicitly set apart as something unworldly: an invader from another plane of existence or a minion of that invader.

Betrayal is the exact opposite. Betrayal takes place inside a haunted house, and no doubt about it, the house hates you. The only things in this world that are on your side are your friends, and even one of those is going to betray you. The world of Betrayal is explicitly malicious and is constantly out for your blood.

Each game manages to demonstrate this through game mechanics.

In Arkham, the world's alliance with you is reflected in several ways. The game is cooperative, and almost all conflicts are phrased as "player vs. monster". When a tie happens, the player will generally win that tie. Second, situations where a value needs to be rounded are generally rounded in the player's favor. Finally, random events – the thing you spend a good deal of the game doing – are generally good things, giving you money, clues, items, or other minor bonuses.

Betrayal, despite also being mostly cooperative player-vs-monster, works quite differently. Ties are generally considered losses. Rounding is always against you. And random events, while sometimes good, tend to be harmful, gradually stripping away your stats or giving major penalties – the game is a race against your own inevitable death at the hands of the House.

I've always liked this method of creating atmosphere, but surprisingly few games do it. Most games either have very little connection between the mechanics and the environment, or the two are so deeply intertwined that there's nothing subtle about it. Not, by the way, that either of these things are bad – I'm not suggesting that Bejeweled needs to weave plot threads into its game mechanics somehow, nor that Braid was worse off by presenting a highly unified front to the player – but subtle atmosphere is an important part of a designer's toolkit, and it's something that board game designers have tackled with great success.

Luckily, it's not completely unheard of in the game world, so I can give a few examples.

Demon's Souls is a hardcore dungeon crawler released a few years back. There has since been a spiritual successor, Dark Souls, that I've heard is quite good, but I haven't yet played it so I'll be talking about Demon's Souls.

In Demon's Souls, the world is out to kill you. Violently, rapidly, and efficiently. When it does – and it will, frequently – you lose all your hard-earned money. (Represented, in this game, by souls.) You're sent back to the beginning of the level, and the levels are quite long. Worse, the game doesn't get easier on the second try – no, now you're considered a ghost, and you have half as much life. And if you die more, the enemies get harder. That's right: Losing makes the game harder. This isn't a game where you get to keep making gradual progress despite dying, this is a game where dying makes anti-progress.

You know how many games have "town", or a "trade hub", or some other location that you can go in order to buy and sell stuff and stock up for your next run? Demon's Souls has that. And if you go the wrong way, you can die in town. And come back as a ghost, with half health. And the enemies got harder. And you lost all your souls. From dying in the safest part in the game. Good fuckin' job, man.

All of these mechanics fit the game style perfectly. The world of Demon's Souls is brutal – the backstory is about a war that has, in all practicality, already been lost, and the game reflects that. But importantly, none of the mechanics are unfair. The game never randomly kills you. It kills you because you screwed up, and then it kills you again in the exact same spot because you screwed up in the exact same way in that exact same spot. The lack of randomness is reflected in the game's storyline – the Bad Things didn't form out of nothing, they didn't just show up one day and decide to start fucking up the kingdom. They showed up because the king did something very, very bad, and now you get to suffer for it.

Borderlands, in many ways, is the exact opposite. Sure, the Borderlands game mechanics are also out to kill you, no arguments, but they'll give you every possible opportunity to survive while doing so. Running away is effective. Many characters have survival skills. "Dying" results in a period of time when you're lying on the ground wounded, but can still shoot things, and if you kill an enemy, you'll be instantly revived. And even if all that fails, you'll find yourself resurrected nearby with no loss besides a little bit of money. Not much money. Just a little. Plus you get some free ammo, just in case you ran out. And all the bad guys you killed? Still dead. Having trouble with a boss? Just keep throwing yourself at it, it'll go down eventually. Killing enemies is often rewarded by random guns appearing out of thin air, ammunition and health absolutely litters the game stashed away in chests, boxes, and even mounds of dirt, and the general philosophy if you're about to run out of something is to simply not worry – more will be along shortly.

On first inspection, the world of Borderlands seems like a grim brutal struggle for survival, but if you look a bit deeper it's a cartoony jokey "struggle". Sure, you slaughter nameless mooks by the thousand, but anyone with an actual name is guaranteed to survive until their plotline is resolved. Betrayal is rare and generally strongly telegraphed, wealth and riches seem to simply fall out of the sky for people to collect, and even the craziest nutcases find a successful niche to survive in.

(In the Borderlands world, even the average character is more than a little nuts. The craziest ones are truly out there.)

The interesting part about Borderlands is that the plot, originally, was quite different. Borderlands was developed as a gritty scifi roleplaying shooter, full of all the science fiction paraphernalia that we've grown to love from games like Mass Effect. But many of final non-gritty game mechanics were already in place. You'd shoot a horrible monster in the face, a gun would pop out. You'd walk around the world and find chests of ammo just sitting there. The game world and the game mechanics were in conflict – the mechanics kept saying "hey, look how ridiculous this all is, look how many guns you have, it's so many guns", and the plot kept insisting that this was a serious game with a serious plotline meant to be taken very seriously.

Compare the original trailer:

With the release trailer:

And then compare that with the Borderlands 2 trailer, which continues the path taken by the art revamp:

To wrap this all up:

Game developers have a tendency to consider the game mechanics and the setting to be two different things. In reality, they aren't – they're two parts of the same game, and at the very least they need to coexist peacefully. Ideally, they should riff off each other: both the game mechanics and the theme should be based around the same atmosphere. People will accept a brutally hardcore game if the setting feels appropriate, and people will accept a massively exaggerated game if the setting feels appropriate, but with an inappropriate combination, the game will feel jarring and out-of-place.

A few weeks ago I ran into a Flash game called Lab of the Dead. I ended up getting far deeper into it than I'd expected, and the damn game wouldn't leave my brain. That's a good sign I should be talking about it.

Lab of the Dead is one of those games that doesn't match any particular genre. You could call it a limited sandbox game, or a puzzle game, or a grind game, or a plot game – it's unclear. The game mechanics are simple. First, you pick a zombie to experiment on, which has almost no influence on the game besides what your test subject looks like. Then you subject the zombie to various items, including anything from shooting it with machine guns, throwing eggs at its face, letting it eat a dead cat, or putting a pair of headphones on it and playing rock music. Depending on the emotional state of the zombie (measured on three scales – "aggression", "hunger", and "humanity"), these various items will result in one of three basic reactions, with a fourth Advanced Reaction that can also depend on what previous reactions the zombie has experienced.

In order to progress the plot, you must experiment on the zombie a certain number of times and discover a certain number of reactions. Progressing the plot unlocks more items that you can use for future experiments. Importantly, there's no way to lose – one could eventually beat the game by clicking randomly.

The most crucial part of the above, however, is that "emotional state" thing I mentioned. Every interaction with your zombie will affect two or three of those scales. Perhaps a squeaky toy will increase their Humanity and reduce their Aggression, perhaps feeding them a dead rat will reduce their Humanity as well as their Hunger. Since the game is gated based on the number of unique reactions you've seen, and since you need to change the scales in order to unlock more reactions, you'll be spending a reasonable amount of your game time trying to do things like increasing your zombie's humanity, or decreasing their aggression, or starving them so they'll attempt to eat a book.

All the reactions have custom animations with appropriately themed behavior. The mid-aggression Live Cat response might result in the zombie attempting to bite the cat. The high-aggression response may have the zombie straight-up disembowel the cat, while the low-aggression zombie may actually pet the cat a few times before the cat runs away. All of this comes coupled with appropriate music and sound effects – I mean, sure, it's still a zombie, but an aggressive zombie's growls tend to be a lot more furious than a passive zombie.

The end result is that you're sitting there spending 15-30 minutes at a time to train a zombie how to pet a cat. No, no, stop eating that mouse, look, let me show you a squeaky duck! See? How about listening to some music, are you feeling better now? Oh, you're getting hungry? Here's some meat I found down in the kitchen.

For a zombie game, it's a surprisingly personal game. I said "you pick a zombie to experiment on, which has almost no influence on the game besides what your test subject looks like," but let's be honest, that's actually a pretty major choice. Your options include half-rotted horrors, schoolgirls, average Joes, you name it. The "choice" segment really immerses you in the zombie's welfare, because out of a whole ton of zombies, you explicitly chose that one. The game's design aims quite directly at establishing an emotional connection between you and your test subject.

Which makes some of the game quite horrifying.

Because, remember, this is – in the end – a test subject. A zombie test subject. And for all that you may want to test the various toys and games you have available, there are also other, less fun items available. Knives. A machete. A shotgun. Grenades. And these items, as well, have to be tested extensively.

You know what happens when you shoot a zombie in the head with a shotgun?

It dies.

And when that's a zombie you've been carefully tending for half an hour, when you've taught that zombie how to play with a Barbie doll and a big stuffed bear, and when you are the one who has to scientifically determine what happens when you systematically fire a pistol into each of its limbs, its torso, and then its head . . .

. . . well, it's kind of a painful game.

Doubly so because of how little the game seems to care about your zombie's death. The main character sighs dramatically about needing another test subject and then it drops you right back at the "choose a zombie" screen. Pick a new test subject and the tests continue. The game considers the zombies completely inhuman, but I found that resulted in me being more aware of their humanity.

I'm definitely not the only one who felt this way. The top comment on Kongregate as of this writing, with a score of over 3000, is asking for the ability to switch zombies without killing your current specimen. I've seen the same suggestion in many other places. And yet, I think providing that would lose a large part of the game's beauty. The game, in its current state, *forces* you to destroy something that you've spent time on, and something that you've acquired history with, for the sake of a nebulous ill-defined long-term goal. The very fact that people are asking so loudly for the ability to switch zombies is, perhaps, a good indication that that ability should not be provided.

One of the things games do badly, and should be working on doing better, is emotional connection. It's a very rare game that leaves you personally invested in the welfare of the characters. I'll admit I hadn't expected to encounter that in a Flash game about experimenting on zombies, but I did, and I'd strongly recommend checking the game out and seeing what makes it emotionally tick.

Defeating the Theme Park

2012, April 29th 1:06 PM

Game plotlines have gotten complicated.

We've come a long way from "the Princess has been kidnapped, go rescue the Princess". The Super Nintendo acquired a pile of RPGs with complicated plotlines, the gaming industry had a brief but ill-fated flirtation with live-action directing, and we've attempted all sorts of curious branching plotlines and fully explorable worlds.

Somewhere in here, the gaming press and public came up with an interesting term. "Theme park". A "theme park" game is one that calmly shunts you along from awesome event to awesome event, like a Disneyland attraction on rails. You get to see a lot of amazing stuff but, in the end, you had little to no choice in your actions. The most popular accusations, and the most damning of them, tend to be leveled at World of Warcraft. The curious part is that World of Warcraft plotlines never involved choice. People claim to have felt more immersed in the game years ago, and despite the complicated and deep plotlines that now fill the World of Warcraft universe, and the identical amount of influence players have on the world (namely, none), the game just doesn't grab people like it did.

Now, part of this is probably just people tired of WoW. The game has been out for a very long time and people are bored. But I think there's a different reason – one that can be analyzed carefully, and, with effort, avoided. In order to demonstrate that reason, we're going to have to take a journey back in time, tens of thousands of years ago.

Or, if you'd prefer, six years ago, to the release of Ice Age 2.

Spoiler-laden plot synopsis: The main characters of Ice Age are happy in their new home paradise. Then disaster strikes! The gigantic ice wall that's holding the ocean back is beginning to melt, and the entire population must migrate to the other end of the valley, where a boat awaits to rescue them. Will they make it in time?

Well of course they'll bloody well make it in time. It's a kid's movie. Right off the bat you know that it will have a happy ending, and that means everyone's gonna survive. The problem is that they've already tipped their hand. Nine minutes into the movie and you know the whole plotline. Sure, it's a kid's movie, and that means it will be happy, but that doesn't mean they need to tell you how everything will work out. Compare Ice Age 2 to Hook. We all knew Hook is going to have a happy ending also, but we didn't know how. We didn't have the entire plotline of the movie spelled out in the very beginning. This is important.

Second, the Ice Age 2 universe feels painfully contrived. Hundreds of creatures are all crammed together in the very end of an ice-filled valley, which is next to a gigantic wall of ice, and right beyond that wall is the entire ocean. What the hell? How did they even get there? Ice Age 1 ended with them walking into a sun setting over a gorgeous vista, Ice Age 2 starts with this:

Did they enter the valley on the other end, then troop all the way down here? What do they eat? Everything around is ice and bare dirt! The universe feels incredibly artificial – there's The Place That Everything Happens In, and then there's an impassable barrier ensuring that you're not allowed to think about stuff outside that place, and then there's an infinite ocean.

As the movie goes on, there are a lot of events. Many things happen. But in almost every case, these things are small self-contained events. Character gets in trouble –> character gets out of trouble. Hooray! Trouble is over! Let's move on to the next trouble! There are only a few plotlines that last any appreciable time, and as mentioned, none of those are really suspenseful. To make matters worse, Ice Age 2's closest attempt at a bad guy – a pair of prehistoric water carnivores – have no personality, no motivation, and no reason for the viewer to be interested in them. We know they're gonna lose. They're bad guys. You can largely discount any scene where they show up because you know in the end they'll be completely irrelevant. (In the end, they're completely irrelevant. Surprise!)

It felt like the world was created for the sake of the plotlines they wanted to make. Like they had a checklist of things they wanted to include, and by God they were going to make sure to include all those things, so they went down the list and when every event was checked off they called it a movie and released it.

Move forward three years and we've got Ice Age 3, which takes a dramatically different approach. Two minutes in we've got a plot point: the main character's wife is pregnant! Three minutes more and we've got another: one of the side characters is getting easily exhausted while hunting, and wants to leave the group! Another two minutes and we've got yet another: the main character is neglecting his friendships for the sake of his pregnant wife! Another five minutes and we've got a fourth plotline: someone's found some eggs! And then they hatch dinosaurs! And the dinosaurs don't play well with the smaller and fuzzier babies of the area! And, seriously, what the hell is the plot of this movie?

The answer is that there isn't a single plot. Everything listed up there is important and interwoven. Instead of having a single backbone plot, with subplots interspersed like a monotonous drumbeat, Ice Age 3 interweaves every plotline together – the short ones, the long ones, everything. The "main" plot isn't even started until 25 minutes into the movie.

The end result is that you never quite know what's going to happen. Oh, sure, it's going to end happily ever after, it's a kid's movie, we know that. But it's unclear what "happily" means in every case, and it's certainly not as obvious what the exact events are going to be. With that many plotlines running in parallel there are ample opportunities for them to bang into each other and interfere with each other, such as when the mommy mammoth needs for the hunter to defend her against attacking dinosaurs, despite his feelings of inadequacy. Dual plotline resolution, go!

And finally, Ice Age 3 spends a lot more time attempting to insert personality into the various side characters. With mixed success, I'll admit – the "main villain" is still little more than an angry killing machine. But this time it's a killing machine with a name, and backstory, and significant history with one of the main characters. I start caring about him because his behavior will actually have long-term consequences with the other characters in the movie.

Now, take a look at MMO questlines.

Today, each zone has a single largely-linear questline. You're shunted along a backbone plot from one event to the next. Sure, each event is related to the plot, but none of them go outside the plot in an unexpected manner. Each quest is predictable – hell, with few exceptions, each quest gives you the entire quest description before you've even accepted the quest. And there's no way to escape the relentless march of the plot. There's nothing outside the plot, there are no surprising interactions. You start the zone, and several hours later, you finish the zone.

But several years ago, things worked a bit differently. Sure, each quest was, if anything, even simpler. But zones tended to not have single unified plotlines. Often, they had a pile of smaller plotlines. And you weren't shoved along a single plotline – if you went and explored, you could find a different plot. You could pursue these in any order you wanted. There's the opportunity – you're walking around the world doing one quest, and bam, you walk straight into another quest! It didn't feel like you were on rails nearly as much, it felt like you were walking around in a significantly more alive world, where each player would end up experiencing the world in a slightly different order and with a slightly different flavor.

Another problem is the characters. I think this is a situation where, with the best of intentions, MMO design has gone in exactly the wrong direction. Modern MMO quest design is all about participating in epic plots. But that's the problem in a nutshell. It's not your plot, it's someone else's plot. It's Thrall's plot, or Asha's plot. With the old style of MMO quests you had limited choice, but you still had the option to say "haha, screw that, that's not worth the effort". And a lot of the best-known MMO plots were single people asking you for assistance with their person problems. With the modern style, it's the big leaders of your faction or alliance, requiring that you help them with whatever disaster has popped up lately, and if you don't, you can't continue the plotline. It doesn't feel personal.

As an example of how subtle but important this can be: Imagine you're talking to the Emperor's engineer. He tells you that he needs a left-handed sprongwhacker in order to build a machine to drive back the Infernals. You go and retrieve a left-handed sprongwhacker and give it to him. He says, "hey, thanks! Here, have some platemail." Received: [Platemail of the Emperor].

Now imagine a different quest. You're talking to a mechanic in a village. He says, "oh man, I'd totally make you a set of platemail, but I'll need a left-handed sprongwhacker. I used my last one yesterday!" You go and retrieve a left-handed sprongwhacker and give it to him. He says, "fantastic! Here's that platemail you wanted." Received: [Sprongwhacker-Imbued Platemail].

Which of these feels more personal? Well, the second one does by a long shot! You did something, not because a guy told you that you should, but because you wanted to. And your reward is a permanent badge of honor. You found that sprongwhacker, and this is the platemail that proves it! Whereas in the first place, you just got some random platemail. In fact, pretty much every piece of armor you find in a modern MMO is random. Every once in a while, a quest will offer a reward, but it's rarely thematically appropriate and never mentioned in the quest text. There is exactly one difference between a quest that offers equipment as a reward and a quest that doesn't: the quest that offers equipment says "you can choose one of these pieces of equipment as a reward".

I think this is a problem. I want to feel like I earned that equipment, and I want to feel like the person giving me the equipment has noticed that I am worthy of a new shiny piece of armor. As it is, there isn't even acknowledgement that you've gotten equipment. It feels like a perfectly mechanical side effect of pushing the "complete quest" button.

The fundamental problem is that MMOs are trying to design their questlines like they're movies. Movies have it easy: they can tell you who the most important people in the movie are. They can focus on one character and now it's important, or they can give backstory with sad music and now you know the other character's important. But with games, we already know who the most important person in the game is. It's you. It's the player. It always will be the player. And that means that every event, every plot point, has to interact with the player, not a bunch of other characters that the designers are dancing across the screen in the hopes that you'll get entangled with their plot.

If you want me entangled, you need to make me entangled. And that means either giving my avatar a chance to develop some personality of his own, or giving me a chance to influence my own story, even if this is something as simple as giving me a choice between which stories I feel like pursuing.

Unexpected Consequences of Plot

2010, March 22nd 9:00 PM

Last night I found myself unable to stop thinking about Mass Effect 2. Not about to the gameplay, or the plotline. I just couldn't get my mind off the bizarre social effects that the universe implies.

For a bit of backstory, the critical bits of plot go like this. Humans join a galactic civilization with a bunch of alien species. One species is a bunch of blue women who sleep with other races.

Alright. First off, this is obviously only "the critical bits of plot" for the purposes of this particular blog post. I'm not arguing that. Second, the Asari aren't technically women, it's a single-sex race, but, come on:

That's female.

Now, it's reasonably clear in the game that Asari are bisexual. But humans, as far as we know, generally aren't. Humans tend to be heterosexual. I'm pulling this claim out of nowhere but I feel reasonably confident in it. So take the human race as it stands today, and then, out of goddamn nowhere, introduce an entire new race full of reasonably attractive and sexually compatible females.

What the hell does this do to gender balance? People are worried about China's gender balance, which is leaning 55% male. Even assuming the Asari population is no larger than Earth's, this leaves us with a stunning 75% female ratio. And according to the chronology, the Asari were colonizing space before the rise of the Persian Empire! Human growth rate is around 1% right now. Let's assume the Asari have a growth rate a mere tenth of that – 2500 years of growth leaves the Asari with more than twelve times the population of Earth.

(If you assume they actually have a 1% growth rate, then each male human could have literally an entire planet full of Asari women while still occupying less than 10% of the entire Asari population. Though I admit "occupy", despite the somewhat misogynistic double entendre, isn't really the right word when there are twice as many women on your planet as you'll have heartbeats in your life.)

"Oho," I hear you saying, "but why would the Asari mate with humans?" Well as of the time of Mass Effect, an Asari mating inside their species is considered a mark of shame. So basically you have a civilization of a hundred billion females who want nothing more than to breed with aliens. Now, in their defense, they're not picky about gender – but humans are, and I don't see that changing without some truly unbelievable cultural shifts. Not the kind of thing that would happen in a mere five hundred years, I feel.

"But wait! What about other species?" Yeah, sure, the Asari mate with other species too. No arguments there. It happens. There's the species of giant armor-plated killing machines that weigh a literal ton each and are infertile. There's the species of lizard men whose food is poison to most other races. There's the species of . . . well, we don't know what they are exactly under the biological containment suit, besides "humanoid", but we do know that even opening the suit for a few seconds is incredibly dangerous for them. And then there's the species that doesn't consider it "incredibly dangerous" but rather "instantly fatal".

And there's the floating luminescent jellyfish.

If you were an alien, and I showed you pictures of all the Mass Effect 2 races, and asked which were most likely to be sexually compatible, you'd pick the Drell, the Asari, and the Humans. And the Drell are nearly extinct. And they don't travel much.

Bioware, I love you guys. I really do. But did you stop to think for a second about the social consequences of this?

God of War Dissection: Myth and Story

2009, January 22nd 5:58 PM

I'm afraid I've lied to you all.

In a previous entry I explained in depth why game worlds need to make sense – not just in terms of Game, but in terms of World. I claimed that your world needed to be consistent, to feel like a living, breathing, realistic location, not like it was summoned out of the ether to provide a backdrop for a half-naked Greek dude to violently slaughter things.

This is actually a load of horse hockey.

But it's important to realize when it's a load of horse hockey.

God of War. It's one of the more successful recent franchises. God of War 1 was a Playstation 2 game, in which you played Kratos, a half-naked Greek dude who violently slaughtered things. I'm going to assume I don't need to continue the joke here – you can probably figure out what God of War 2, God of War: Chains of Olympus, God of War: Betrayal, and the upcoming God of War 3 are about.

The important thing to realize about the God of War series, which sets it about as far away from Dead Space as is possible for it to be set, is that God of War is a myth. It's not about some average-Joe engineer, thrust into a terrifying situation against his will. It's about a living legend. Kratos, the Ghost of Sparta. Kratos, the Hand of the Gods. Kratos, the God of War. Kratos is the main character in a world which fundamentally revolves around him – he is Revenge, he is Fate, he is Destruction.

On top of that, Kratos is the main character in a game that is, itself, fundamentally about fate and gods. Scratch that – fundamentally about Fate and Gods. Both of those tend to bend the laws of probability around them. Unlikely things become expected when prophecy is involved. When Kratos makes his way through a half-destroyed forest of columns, swinging from one to another as they topple around him, we don't think "ha ha, how silly, why were they all so precariously balanced in the first place, this game sucks" – we think "this is a test, we will vanquish the test and fulfill our destiny". When you realize that half of the puzzles involve destroying large blocks of stone, thereby proving that the puzzle has never before in the history of the universe been solved, and that some of them actually rely on certain parts of the puzzle being age-worn and easily shatterable, we don't think "ha ha, are we seriously expected to believe that Kratos was the first one here?" – we think "see how everything falls into place! Truly, we are the chosen one, and we cannot be stopped!"

This wouldn't work in Dead Space. Dead Space is not a myth – Dead Space is a story. Isaac isn't a Chosen One. Isaac is an unfortunate man in an unfortunate situation. The world does not care if Isaac lives or dies – Isaac can be shredded by industrial machinery, or devoured by zombies, or simply freeze to a cold lonely death in space, and fundamentally, nobody in that game will care (besides, obviously, Isaac.) Isaac isn't being pushed through by the Forces of Fate, there is no greater being controlling his actions – he's just a guy, trying to survive.

And this, incidentally, is one of the curious things about Star Wars. Star Wars is a myth about a random guy. On one hand, it is a myth – Luke Skywalker is the Chosen One. But on the other hand, Luke Skywalker is just some backwards hick from Tatooine. Most of the time, Star Wars feels like a story about some poor teenage dude who's way, way, way in over his head. Luke gets his hand cut off. Han gets frozen in carbonite. Luke gets beat up. Luke gets dropped into a fighter cockpit and told "we're all counting on you!" and, holy shit, they're all counting on him! Even when Luke is being ridiculously badass and slaughtering dozens of stormtroopers, you kind of get the feeling he's not quite sure what he's doing here.

And then he ends up in the Emperor's quarters, and everything shifts a little . . . and suddenly it's not a story about Luke Skywalker, Desert Farmer, it's a myth about Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight, and oh hey lookit that, there's a reactor vent in just the right spot. What a coincidence! Almost as if it were fated to happen.

I'm not entirely convinced that shift was intentional. I think it was a lucky accident, and that the writers never sat down and said "okay, and here we change from story into myth". I think they just wanted to throw the Emperor into a reactor core. If anything, this is what I want people to get out of this:

Myth is good. Story is good. But you have to understand which form you're writing, and why.

And for bonus credit:

Arguably, I lied to you again. Sorry. Figure out where, and explain why it doesn't matter. (You'll need to know one of the two games I talked about in order to do so.) I'll post more about this later.