January 20, 2008

Commentary: Indigo Prophecy

Indigo Prophecy is a strange beast. On one hand, it's story-centric, so I instantly like it. On the other hand, its approach to storytelling in games just feels so... wrong.

Let's get the praise out of the way first. The game kept me playing through the end, the voice acting and motion capture are top-notch, and with the exception of a third-act meltdown as the plot rapidly got ridiculous, the story was excellent.

But as stated in Chris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling, when dealing with interactivity, what matters is what you do. And in Indigo Prophecy's case, what you most often do is play repetitive reaction-based button-matching minigames in order to determine your character's success in action sequences. These action sequences are wicked cool, too. But they're cool to watch, not to play. Since Indigo Prophecy secretly wants to be a film (the opening menu lists "New Movie" instead of "New Game"), that's hardly surprising.

You also get to choose what topics you want to bring up in conversation. A lot of the time, this presents somewhat interesting choices, but you stop caring about them once you figure out that the vast majority have little to no effect on the game. The range of conversation choices is also extremely limited most of the time. Also, the game somtimes decides to artificially limit the number of topics you can bring up. As a police investigator, this gets frustrating when you need to ask someone about four different things but get cut off after two. Why can't you just finish talking?

There are other minigames that are introduced, too, including the obligatory and tedious sneaking mission and a more tense and welcome minigame in which you try to prevent your character from having a panic attack. Several times you're given a strict time limit to complete some simple task, like find an item or hide somewhere, before something catastrophic happens (the building blows up, the police arrive to arrest you).

It seems that the goal of the developer was to elicit in the player whatever feelings the the character was experiencing. The time limits induce increasing anxiety, the threat of a panic attack forces the player to stay calm and control the character's breathing, and the action sequences demand quick reflexes.

To some degree, this works, but it still feels wrong. You're being taken along for the ride, rather than actually controlling the characters. It's participatory, but not interactive. Like in a movie, all the major decisions are made for you by professional storytellers; in effect, the story is being held hostage behind a barrier of minigames. The result is that the action sequences are sweet and the story is good, but I feel no special connection to the characters that might have been garnered through interactivity.

1 comment:

Sir Cucumber said...

What, you didn't feel a connection with the one black guy in the game, who couldn't do anything right but sleep with his girlfriend and find a book in a library? Whose greatest contribution to the cause was running away to Florida right when the shit hit the fan?