Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Story of the Blanks thoughts

MILD THEMATIC SPOILERS follow if you somehow haven't managed to be spoiled on Story of the Blanks yet.

Some of the most effective horror games coming out now aren't the ones being produced by multi-million dollar studios but much smaller crews. Most would agree, for instance, that the indie darling of 2010, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, is much more of a successful 'horror game' than something big-budget like Dead Space 2 when it comes to affecting the player. However, not even a budget on the level of Amnesia's is necessary for a horror game to succeed when it comes to affecting the player. For an example of this, you need go no further than Story of the Blanks.
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic: Story of the Blanks
Developer: Donitz
Release date: 07/02/11
I really shouldn't say too much about this here. Honestly, even typing up a blog entry about it on this sort of site should rather quickly clue you in as to what sort of title it is, and going into something like Story of the Blanks unprepared is the proper way to do things. Regardless of whether or not you know what you're getting yourself into, though, Story of the Blanks is an excellent, if short experience which is easily worth the minimal time investment it requires of a player.

The reason why Story of the Blanks is so effective is simply because it manages to make creepypasta work with FiM. More often than not, much of the so-called 'creepypasta' that deals with media aimed at children involves the corruption of titles we would have considered at some point to be 'pure' and 'untouchable'... but it is also this level of corruption which can make such things hard to believe.

It's one thing to SEE a so-called 'dark' cartoon of Mickey Mouse that drove individuals to suicide. It's another entirely to accept and believe in such a thing. How effective creepypasta can be ultimately relies upon how much it can convince the audience that it's 'real', or at least convincing enough to affect the captive audience.

The thing about FiM is that while it APPEARS saccharine on the exterior, it is most certainly not completely so. We've seen a number of deadly creatures threaten the lives of the mane six already, and we're really only looking at a small corner of the world of Equestria... who's to say there aren't more where those came from?

To say nothing of the Everfree Forest, and the extent to which the main characters dread even hearing its name. There's quite a bit of unspoken potential for dreadful things to happen in this world, and so it should go without saying that Story of the Blanks manages to, if you'll pardon the expression, fill in some of the blanks for us.

It gives us an example of a dreadful thing that could very well BE lurking within the mysterious Everfree Forest. SotB does this in a manner that effectively makes use of some the series' key concepts, and this is done in such a way that even non-followers of the series should be able to grasp what's going on.

However, it is clear that a fan who has had some investment in the series will be affected the most by this title and the way it deals with mentioned concepts. There isn't much more I can say without ruining anymore of what the title has to offer potential players, so try it out if you haven't already.

1 comment:

sharc said...

(the original post was vague, so fair warning: SPOILERS)

finally got around to playing this a little while ago. thanks for the recommendation! you touched on the effects of using a children's show as the starting point for something scary, but man i have an inordinate love for anything that uses old-school sprite art in suspense and horror.

it's something the art style can really excel at when done properly; there's that inherent association with childish fun and nostalgia that makes anything upsetting more surprising by comparison, but it makes for an especially unsettling conflict of information in any setting that relies on indirectness, suggestion and the buildup of dread. the way classic style sprites are so simplified and stylized also dovetails perfectly with conspicuous absences of information in a narrative. it's part of why something like rainwood works has such traction.

on that note, it's nice to see the creator didn’t take the vulgar approach of grimdark ultragore to make as shocking a contrast to the source material as possible. the darkest things the game actually shows are a skeleton and some corpse-like silhouettes; thoroughly ghastly for the show, naturally, but the odd thing is within the context of horror it's so tame that these characters could almost believably tell it as a ghost story.

that said, there was one part that really dampened the experience for me: the last leg of escaping the first part of town after the change happens. there’s that one extremely fast pony guarding the way out and i swear to god it killed me a dozen times before i finally got past. you don't get much time because it can move in such a burst of speed, and since the screen doesn't start scrolling until you're close to the edge you can't really look ahead to see where it is or plan your escape route. each time you die, you return to the start of that section to walk all the way back, go through three dialogues, dodge a slow-moving enemy and do an even slower box-pushing puzzle before you get another crack at the only difficult and skill-based part in the whole game.

i'm not sure this was intentionally hard, as opposed to an oversight, but it's not handled well either way. difficult games need to present challenges and punish players for their mistakes right from the start; it's crucial in both establishing the tone of the game and in maintaining consistency so tough parts don't come out of nowhere like they do here.

second, and more about horror in general, i feel like the best approach to the genre is to create scary freeform situations the player has to move through or deal with. but when you do depend on heavily scripted events and scenes that unfold the same way every time, there's really nothing that kills any tension faster than repetition. in situations like this actually killing the player seems like the worst thing to do because the threat is so much more potent than actually following through on it. let the player get hurt, knocked down, whatever, but keeping them running scared is the payoff and anything that brings that to a close usually feels anticlimactic or worse.

that's a big part of why i rarely replay silent hill 2, why i'm considering putting down nanashi no game, and why the village mob scene early in re4 is distressing every time i play it.