From the Vault: Death & Consequences

Dayjob demands have put me way behind in several ways. As I struggle to recover & catch up, here’s an entry from last year that I feel is still relevant.

Courtesy Firaxis Games
One of these soldiers is likely to die.

There’s just something about a game, or story, that doesn’t pull its punches.

I get a feeling for that something when I play FTL or the new XCOM. A ship exploding under my intrepid crew or a favorite soldier getting their face melted off by plasma fire carries a bit of an emotional wallop. I’m tempted to keep the autosave feature of XCOM turned off to heighten that feeling and maintain the game’s edge. And that edge comes from choices having consequences, and those consequences sticking.

When games present their players with choice, the experience is improved when those choices mean something later on. One of the strengths of the Mass Effect series was that who you spared and who you left to rot does come back in one way or another, even if it doesn’t play too much into the overall story. While the consequences of those choices only really mattered in a minor sense, it felt like they mattered, at least to me.

In the aforementioned games, the choices really do matter, and a wrong choice means death. It’s not telegraphed or presented in story terms, either; they’re the little incidental gaming choices we make, like having a soldier cover a civilian’s retreat, or picking one class of weapon over another, or choosing the destination for your vessel. It is nearly impossible to predict which choices will lead to total victory and which will lead to bloody doom. That is what makes these games challenging and fun to play.

Similarly, some of the best stories out there have characters who make choices that lead to either their deaths or the deaths of others. It happens to men and women in command all the time, sure, but others are simply doing what they feel is right or trying to protect someone or something they love. George RR Martin, Jim Butcher, and Chuck Wendig have all done this – a character we like makes a decision, does all they can to back that decision up, and it explodes in their face. Someone close to them gets hurt or killed, and their own life may come close to ending before the story’s done. It’s tragic, it’s harrowing, and it’s great storytelling.

Make your character’s choices matter. Make those deaths mean something.

Incoming Extra Life

Courtesy Extra Life

The time is quickly approaching. In less than a month, I will be stockpiling almonds, dried fruit, chocolate, tea, and a great deal of bottled water for a lengthy, arduous, and draining ordeal. It is my intention to stay in this very chair as much as possible, for at least 24 hours, all in the name of children’s health in the city of Philadelphia.

Thankfully, I’ll be playing video games the whole time.

Yes, Extra Life is coming soon! Last year I pulled it off successfully, playing Alpha Protocol and other games (if memory serves, things got weird after hour 16 or so) for 24 hours and raising $250 for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. This year, I will be representing CHOP once again, and since I missed out on an opportunity to play Guild Wars 2 as part of a group, I’ll be doing my own thing for the second year in a row.

But which game to play? I’ve given serious consideration to a couple and narrowed my choices down somewhat. I’m not going to do any multiplayer games as waiting in queues is not playing. I also would like to have some sort of live, social component to the gameplay. At the very least liveblogging via Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr, and possibly streaming with Twitch. But I can iron out those details in the weeks to come. First and foremost, here are my top picks for Extra Life 2012.

Wing Commander (and sequels?)

I have to wonder if this old favorite is as good as I remember it being. Space flight sims are few and far between these days, and Wing Commander still boasts a dynamic, branching storyline, interesting and well-rounded characters, and evolving combat that simulate experiences like those from Battlestar Galactica. I want to see if the game (and, time permitting, at least its first sequel) stand the test of time.

LA Noire

This has been on my “to-play” list for a very long time. I’m torn between it and the Assassin’s Creed games I haven’t played yet (Brotherhood & Revelations) but I think LA Noire wins due to the style of the period and the prospect of thinking my way through interrogation scenes. Not to mention the fun of people yelling at me when I let a suspect go or start smacking a witness around. It would tie in nicely to those detective novellas I’m writing. Sadly, LA Noire has no vampires in it. That I’m aware of, at least.

Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013

I already started up the campaign for this game, but I do have the expansion, the rest of the main story, both revenge campaigns, Challenges, Planechase, and general deck management dickery to do. Of course if I run out of all of that stuff I can break my “no live games” rule and just play Magic Online to fill out the time.

Painkiller HD

If anything is liable to keep me awake for 24 hours straight, it’s blasting legions of the damned with a gun that shoots shurikens and lightning.


If you’re not aware of this little indy gem, you should check out these video looks at the game. It’s a Rogue-like game, hardcore in its approach, with permadeath, random events, surprisingly intense combat, and interesting decision-making. Plus I may let people name the characters on new ships! Then cackle when fan favorites bite the dust. Remember, it’s for the kids.

XCOM Enemy Unknown

I talked about this yesterday and I couldn’t be more excited to play the full game. However, I’d hold off on touching it at all if this is the way I decide to go. Oh, I’ll pre-order it regardless, but I won’t play it until the event begins.

So. Want to help me out?

The poll you’re seeing to your right includes the above games. If you like, you can pick one for me to play on October 20th! I’ll make my decision and lay out a plan of attack next week, in addition to updating my Extra Life profile and giving you all the information you need to donate, tune in, and watch me slowly destroy myself in the name of video games and charity. It should be loads of fun!

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