January 31, 2012

Review: School Dreams 3 by Goblinboy

If you're looking for the walkthrough, it's here.

NB: This review was written about v1.0 of SD3. Goblinboy has never released a v1.1, or SD4 for that matter. Any files purporting to be such things are at best fakes, and at worst infected with viruses.

A review of SD3 was one of the very first AIF-related things I wrote. Compared to some of my later work it was a model of brevity. To rectify that, and to reflect the fact that some of my opinions of SD3 had changed, I rewrote it in a more 'in depth' style (i.e. more verbiage) for this blog. I’m revising it again for 2012 as a result of the discussions I’ve had with various posters, in particular thundergod.

Plot
School Dreams 3: School Dreams Forever (henceforth referred to as SD3) is the third and probably final game in a series that began with Camping Trip in 2006. All three games feature the same core group of characters and are set within a month of each other. Because they are so inter-connected, it's difficult to discuss the plot of SD3 without providing at least a précis of the events of the previous two games.

Camping Trip appeared in 2006, but was based on an unpublished prose story written by Goblinboy some time prior to that. It follows the unnamed PC as he goes on a camping trip with his girlfriend Becky, accompanied by his best friend Mike and Mike's girlfriend, Melissa. Being AIF, the PC’s motivation for going camping is less wanting to get back to nature and more wanting to make the beast with two backs with the virginal Becky. However, extra spice is added when Mike bets the PC that he can score with Becky before the PC can. As an added inducement he gives the PC permission to hit on his girlfriend, although it’s eventually revealed that Melissa is colluding with Mike to help him win the bet as well as betting Becky that she can get the PC to be unfaithful. The plot therefore forces the PC to make a choice between the pure and virginal Becky or the more 'accessible' Melissa. It's a choice that actually has some consequences within the game, which was a major revelation for AIF at the time. However, the final scene (a foursome involving all the characters) is the same no matter what decisions the player makes, and it establishes a basic status quo that carries over to the next two games.

School Dreams 2: Forfeit Fantasy was released in 2007. A remark made by Becky at the end of Camping Trip implied that her sister Kirsty would feature in any sequel, but Goblinboy instead chose to make Molly, Mike's little sister, the main subject of SD2, although Melissa's sister, Alison, was also introduced. The plot had Mike getting the PC to not only deflower his little sister but also capture the moment on video, supposedly as a 'forfeit' from the bet in the first game. SD2 was very different in tone from Camping Trip, and I would describe most of the characters as overly-sexualised caricatures. Goblinboy realised that the game wasn't turning out how he had hoped, but decided to salvage the work he had done by tacking on an 'it was all a dream' ending and releasing it anyway. Although the PC's dreams are briefly mentioned in the opening of SD3 and there are a few other references scattered throughout the game, SD2 doesn't have a direct bearing on the plot of SD3. However, it does provide a frightening glimpse into the subconscious of the PC, who is otherwise severely under-characterised.

Copyright 2009 Goblinboy

That brings us to School Dreams 3: School Dreams Forever, which was released in 2009 and shares the same basic plot as SD2 but is much closer to Camping Trip in tone. SD3 is said to take place about a month after the events of Camping Trip. As a result of the bet in that game, Mike has asked the PC to deflower his sister Molly. Although this is referred to as a forfeit, SD3 avoids providing a canonical outcome for the bet, so it's not clear if the events of SD3 are supposed to be the PC's prize for winning or the price of losing. The fact that Becky is in love with the PC and hoping to marry him would seem to suggest that he won the bet, but during the truth or dare sequence at the end of the game the PC can choose to say that he lost his virginity (and the bet) to Melissa. The ambiguities created by trying to fudge together the different possible endings of Camping Trip weaken SD3’s plot somewhat. I would have preferred it if Goblinboy had simply picked one ending as canonical or allowed the player to specify the outcome of Camping Trip at the beginning of SD3 and modified the characters' responses accordingly, although the latter would obviously have added to the his workload.

Something else that I think weakens the plot is that despite the game being about the choice between Becky and Molly, the reasons provided for the PC's pursuit of Molly (she's cute and Mike wants him to) aren't very compelling. Goblinboy attempts to buttress this by making Becky more interested in commitment and jealous of any attention the PC pays to other women in order to make the easy going Molly seem a more attractive choice. I don't think it's wholly successful, and it's perhaps telling that Molly was the only one of the three main female characters not to be nominated for a Best NPC Erin.

Despite that, the fact that SD3 is about a choice rather than simply the PC having a lot of sex is a positive thing to my mind. It's certainly one area where SD3 holds an advantage over the more recent Meteor, and is perhaps one of the reasons why it generates more discussion. You could also read the choice between Becky and Molly as being symbolic of something deeper, such as the PC's decision to embrace adulthood or remain a child. There are factors that militate against that reading, the question of how Alison fits in chief among them, but it's certainly a significant choice. No matter what the PC decides he has to sacrifice something, which makes SD3 almost unique in AIF.

Ultimately, any weaknesses in SD3's plot are more than compensated for by the fact that the plot doesn't restrict the player. Unlike Camping Trip, the PC is free to completely ignore Mike's desires and pursue a monogamous relationship with Becky. Or perhaps he's more interested in the enigmatic Alison? Or maybe he'd prefer another tumble with Melissa or one of the other minor female characters. SD3 is the closest that AIF has come to a 'sandbox' game in that it allows the PC to do many things that aren't connected to the main 'plot'. It's this nonlinearity combined with the breadth of content that is SD3's main strength, rather than the plot itself.
7.5/10

Characters
The characters of SD3 can be broadly divided into two categories. On one side are the characters whose main motivation is sex and who are completely self-centred in fulfilling their desires. This includes Melissa, Mike, Gary, Mrs Stevens, Charlotte, Yuki and the Head. On the other side are the more realistic characters, whose motivations are not primarily sexual and who are recognisably human rather than caricatures. This latter group includes Becky, Molly, Alison and Mrs Johnson. Camping Trip featured a similar contrast between its two main female characters, but in SD3 that's extended over a much larger section of the game world. In my opinion, it's an uncomfortable juxtaposition that does not help believability, especially since the player is given concrete examples of its negative effects (e.g. Alison).

Of the three NPCs who appeared in Camping Trip, only Becky plays a major role in SD3. Over the course of the three games Becky has been portrayed very inconsistently. In Camping Trip she was the innocent virgin who nonetheless becomes a convert to group sex mere hours after losing her virginity or, even more egregiously, literally hurls herself at Mike if she catches the PC with another woman. In SD2 she became (as already mentioned) an overly sexualised caricature of herself, among other things deciding that starring in a hardcore magazine pictorial would be a pleasant surprise for the PC.

In SD3 it seems as though her original instincts from Camping Trip are reasserting themselves, as evidenced by her dissatisfaction with both the ménage a quatre she finds herself in and the PC's wandering eye. It's an altogether human reaction although, as previously mentioned, I think it also serves the ulterior purpose of making her less attractive to the PC and Molly a viable alternative. The most obvious example of this is their differing reactions to the waitress at the pub. Becky is visibly annoyed if the PC pays any attention to her, while Molly actually helps the PC get a better view of her ass. This behaviour reflects Becky's infatuation with the PC, although I find the strength of her feelings for the PC to be frankly inexplicable given how they're both characterised. Although Camping Trip stated that she's at least a year younger than the PC, she seems like the more mature of the two. She's certainly the more studious, assiduously doing her homework when she gets home each day while the PC can barely concentrate in class. It's a mystery what the two of them find to talk about, as Goblinboy doesn't tell us.

Despite being the same age as Becky, Molly manages to seem like the youngest of the female characters. Physically she's the least mature, lagging behind even Becky in her development. Emotionally and mentally she lacks Becky's intelligence and maturity, Melissa's sexually-derived confidence, or Alison's old-beyond-her-years jadedness. That supports the idea that by choosing Molly, the PC is symbolically choosing to reject adulthood (represented by Becky) and remain immature (represented by the more child-like Molly). He's definitely rejecting the monogamy that Becky wants, as Molly seems much more willing to accommodate the PC's desires in that direction. You could draw some parallels between Molly and Becky in Camping Trip, since both go from being virgins to taking on (up to) three guys at once in the course of a single evening. However, Molly’s youthful appearance belies a much greater eagerness for sexual experience. Although Molly can form an emotional connection to the PC, it seems as though the physical side of their relationship is more important to both of them (tellingly, the epilogues where the PC ends up with Molly focus exclusively on the sex). That contrasts with Becky, for whom sex is an outgrowth of her relationship with the PC rather than the other way around (the same is true, to a lesser extent, of Alison).

Gary is a new character introduced in SD3 to act as the player's rival, in much the same way as Mike did in Camping Trip. In some ways Gary is a dark reflection of Mike. They're both self-centred and obsessed with sex. But while Mike is honest about that, Gary hides his true nature behind a pious facade of being a 'nice boy'. Gary is also much more selfish in satisfying his desires, as demonstrated by his blackmail of Alison and the brutal but consensual encounter with Molly he can have at the party. That makes the PC's observation that he and Gary might have been friends if they weren't rivals for Molly rather suggestive, unless we assume that he's also taken in by Gary's facade (which isn't inconceivable given how clueless the PC seems at times).

It would be easy to write off Melissa as being merely a slut, and in fact all of the characters in SD3 do. However, on closer examination her motivations and character are more complex. Far from being a simple sex object, she embraces her carnal side and uses it to exert dominance over those characters who don’t. For example, in Camping Trip she talks derisively about “prim and proper Miss Becky Johnson”. At the party in SD3 Melissa’s triumph over Becky is complete when she explains to Molly how Becky is now “as big a slut as the rest of us” while Becky looks ashamed. In effect, Melissa is the alpha predator of the dystopia universe of the School Dreams series, perfectly adapted to her environment.

In SD2, Alison was very much a junior version of her sister, gleefully letting the Head fuck her in the showers. That scene occurs (off camera) in SD3 as well, but now it's because the Head is blackmailing her and Alison is far from gleeful about it. Alison is forced to occupy the ‘limbo’ between the two categories of characters I outlined earlier. In terms of her outlook, she's one of the more realistic characters, but the other characters assume she's as big a slut as her mother and sister, which leaves her with no allies and allows both the Head and Gary to take advantage of her. Being trapped in this situation through no fault of her own takes an obvious toll on Alison and demonstrates how callously destructive the self-centred characters can be. Alison is isolated and friendless (apart from whoever it is who takes pictures of her and the PC), but that has the effect of making her a much more sympathetic character than either Becky or Molly. In a way, she’s the true innocent of the game rather than the virginal Molly. Her dealings with the PC are tinged with a hope that he will prove to be better than the other men in her life (it’s notable that he is the only man she ever seeks out of her own free will). However, her past experiences lead her to expect that her hopes will be disappointed and prevent her from fully trusting him. If they should pair off at the party, their wistful leavetaking is the most touching scene in the game.

It's hard to say on which side the PC stands in this dichotomy, which reflects the fact that there is no one true way to play SD3. The strongest evidence for his self-centredness is the fact that he has to rely on Mike and Melissa (of all people) to explain Becky's feelings to him. The fact that he's friends with Mike and could have been friends with Gary also supports the self-centred interpretation. The player can choose to make him act even more selfishly, such as by blackmailing Alison or taking advantage of the cinema girl. At the same time, there are indications that he's a better person than, for example, Gary. It would explain Becky's infatuation with the PC and the hints that Alison is romantically attracted to him if he was the least worst man available. Alison says as much when watching Mike take advantage of an unconscious Molly (although of course the PC has the freedom to prove her wrong).

Overall, I think that SD3 suffers because of the unevenness of its characters. It's often hard to believe that characters like Gary or Melissa are even the same species as Becky or Alison. Melissa is never less believable (or more unlikeable) to me than when she says that Alison being raped by the Head is "Great!" That problem is somewhat mitigated by the fact that the unrealistic characters are largely peripheral to the story. Gary plays the largest role, but as the PC's antagonist he's not meant to be a sympathetic character. Conversely, Becky, Alison and (to a lesser extent) Molly are more attractive and likeable, as well as more believable.

However, those problems are balanced out by how interesting and compelling the characters of SD3 manage to be. That’s partly due to the fact that each character has a strong motivation that relates to the plot and conflicts with the motivations of the other characters, creating drama and making them more dynamic and believable characters. For instance, Becky wants to be monogamous with the PC, which conflicts with Mike’s desire to watch the PC deflower Molly (as a precursor to having sex with her himself), Molly’s own desire to lose her virginity, Melissa’s desire to exert her dominance over Becky by turning her into a slut, and so on. Because of that, even someone as superficially stereotypical as Melissa has depth and complexity once you look at her closely. Although I think that Meteor exhibits better and more extensive characterisation in technical terms, it’s no accident that there has been much more discussion about the characters of SD3.
8/10

Writing
As I've written elsewhere, I think Goblinboy's major weakness as an author is the lack of interest he seems to have in any non-sexual description. In particular, the room descriptions in SD3 are predominantly bland and generic, without much in the way of secondary description (objects and decorations). They're not bad per se, but they do leave me with the overall impression that the game takes place against a painted backdrop, rather than a 'real' world, which does not aid believability.

Goblinboy does rouse himself for the sex scenes, but given the paucity of the rest of his writing they almost seem like oases in a desert. That does have the benefit of focusing the player's attention on them, but it also suggests that SD3 sees itself as 'just' porn, with no pretensions towards creating a believable world or story for the player to immerse themselves in. That's disappointing given what an author of Goblinboy's ability could be capable of if the ambition of something like In Darkness was married to the scope of SD3 or Meteor. Overall, I'd classify Goblinboy's prose as competent and workmanlike, but that sounds a little like damning with faint praise, so I'll just describe it as good.

The presence of graphics makes up for some of the weakness in description, particularly for the characters. It's a subjective area, but personally I felt that the character designs in SD3 were even better than Meteor, although there were a few that didn't work (e.g. the cinema ticket girl, who looks like a refugee from IMVU).
6.5/10

Gameplay
The defining feature of SD3 is the extent to which the player is able to determine the outcome. Although the structure of the game is essentially a linear journey through the four days, there are many small detours that the player can choose to take along the way and those detours have consequences. They might open up an option the following day, or close it off. Consequently, if you play the game in a certain way, events will reflect that, as will the ending. True, the range of ‘personas’ that the PC can assume isn’t very broad, going all the way from ‘self-centred guy with occasional episodes of kindness’ to ‘complete bastard’. If you try to stay faithful to Becky, for example, you’ll encounter various characters who assume you’re pursuing Molly and there is no way to tell them otherwise. However, it’s much more freedom of action than any other AIF game provides.

More importantly to most players, SD3 has a large number of sex scenes, and some of them are very hot indeed. Each of the main female characters (Becky, Molly, Alison) has three to six minor scenes that the PC can enjoy before the grand finale. These scenes are mostly quite small, but each is distinct and memorable, and collectively they serve to heighten the player's anticipation of what is to come. The PC’s dates with Becky and Molly could occur in any order, and therefore can’t have significant dramatic consequences. However, they’re buttressed by a number of other small encounters which contribute to the player’s sense of how their chosen relationship is progressing.

I would describe two of the four climactic scenes (Molly, and Becky/Molly) as among the best ever written. Each is almost a mini-storyline in itself, with variations depending on which characters are present, what limits the player has set and the choices the PC makes. For instance, in the Molly scene it's possible for Gary to join in if he's present (and for Mike to do so as well if the appropriate limits are turned off), or she can stay faithful to the PC. These variations increase replayability, and I ended up playing through the game many times simply to set up all the different possibilities.

The other major scenes (Becky and especially Alison) are a little disappointing by comparison. Becky's scene is meant to be the 'romantic' ending to the game. However, part of what makes the scenes involving Molly so memorable is that the entire game has been leading up to them. By contrast, the PC and Becky can have sex as many as four times before their final scene, so the fact that they have sex again in their final scene has much less impact. The only thing that really distinguishes it is the PC's admission of love. But that seems impulsive rather than the product of deep emotion, and he has misgivings almost immediately.

Alison's scene is undoubtedly the weakest of the four. For starters it takes place in the same room as two other sex scenes (Gary/Molly and Mike/Melissa). So each turn the player is deluged with the results of their actions (which quickly become repetitive) as well as his own. It would have been both more readable, and more in keeping with Alison's character if she had insisted on going somewhere else. However, the major weakness is how perfunctory the scene feels. It's nowhere near as in depth as the other scenes, and features fewer pictures as well. The only truly memorable thing about it is the rather wistful way that Alison and the PC take their leave of each other at the end.

Apart from the three main female characters, the PC has five other potential playmates. However, only Yuki and Melissa get interactive scenes. Yuki’s scene gets quite a bit of build up, but Melissa’s is simply meaningless sex (as befits her character). The PC's encounters with the other girls are simply narrated via cut scene once they have been triggered, and there are also a number of opportunities for voyeurism to be found. However, some of the best sex that the PC can have occurs in his own head. There are nearly a hundred scripted daydreams, the majority of which have pictures, plus a much larger number of randomly generated fantasies. I have mixed feelings about the daydreams. On the plus side they allow the game to include content that would have been completely unrealistic if it had actually ‘happened’ to the PC, such as anything involving Mrs Johnson. On the minus side, the fact that the PC can spend so much time staring at girls and fantasising about them makes him seem like a creepy pervert. Additionally, most of the daydreams are completely random, so seeing all of them requires repeating the same command over and over (and undo-ing it if the right daydream doesn't appear). It's a tedious process that makes what should be a fun aside almost an exercise in masochism. Overall, I wouldn’t have minded if some of the effort put into the daydreams had been diverted elsewhere, such as Alison’s final scene.
9/10

Technical
For a game of its size and complexity SD3 suffers from very few bugs. Those that did slip through the net are annoying rather than fatal, such as it being impossible to get the last bonus point or one of the dreams being inaccessible. I'm less forgiving of the large number of spelling mistakes and typos.

The main innovation of SD3 is the ability to set limits on what appears in the game. If the player doesn't want to see a particular type of content, they simply set it to no and it either doesn't appear or they see an alternate scene instead. Given how extreme some of the content in SD2 was (for AIF anyway), this is a welcome alternative.

Although SD3 doesn't introduce much in the way of new technical wizardry, it does make good use of some of the things that were introduced in Camping Trip. In particular, the clothing mechanics make a welcome return. It’s surprising how much the ability to move or undo items of clothing (rather than simply removing them) adds to the believability of the scenes that occur in public places, especially when backed up by pictures reflecting the NPC’s state of dress (or undress). Additionally, the PC can now ‘penetrate’ the various girls and then perform other actions while in that position. Speaking of penetration, the ‘finger’ verb has also been added, which produces a different response to mere rubbing. These factors make what would otherwise be quite minor scenes feel both believable and significant.

Daydreaming also assumes a much more prominent role than it did in Camping Trip, although its sole purpose seems to be wedging in even more content and it eventually starts to feel excessive (something that also applies to the computer).
8.5/10

Final Thoughts
When SD3 was first released, I wrote that there was no doubt it would be the standard by which all other AIF is measured for a long time to come. So far I think that’s proved to be the case, even if Meteor is the more technically polished piece of work. However, what SD3 offers is almost compulsive replayability. Despite the minor gripes that I’ve made during this review, I have to admit that I've spent more time playing SD3 than any other piece of AIF. It's a game that sucks you in and doesn't let go, as well as being the only piece of AIF I can think of that supports readings beyond the superficial.

However, SD3 is very specifically a teenage male fantasy. Parental control is virtually absent (where are Mike and Molly's parents during the party?). Mrs Johnson and Mrs Stevens only appear in the game to be subjects for the PC's lustful imagination. The sex is almost purely physical, which reflects the emotional immaturity of most of the protagonists. Only Becky assigns any real emotion to her encounters with the PC, and that's presented as a reason to replace her with Molly.

More subjectively, the world of SD3 is basically a dystopia. The guys are misogynistic jerks and the girls are expected to be sluts. There is no place for empathy or altruism. The PC has the freedom to rape an unconscious girl, but not to stop someone else from raping her. The character of Alison shows that this kind of behaviour has a human cost, but that also prevents SD3 from being put in the same category as the cheerfully amoral Sam Shooter series. The result is that while I found the scenes arousing, I found some of them to be a little disturbing as well. SD3 is definitely a game that’s easier to enjoy if you don't think about it too deeply. However, the fact that you can think deeply about SD3 is something that’s absent from a lot of AIF and I think forms part its enduring appeal.

The other thing that truly makes SD3 a special game is the unparalleled number of options that the player can choose from. Although there is an ostensible goal, the PC is not forced to pursue it and can instead follow several different paths. The game doesn't make any path more compelling than another (i.e. there is no 'true' path), although some are supported by more content than others. The sacrifice inherent in having multiple paths is that none is going to be as well developed as a single-storyline game would be, but that's a small price to pay for the gameplay experience that SD3 offers.
9/10

Overall score = 81%

15 comments:

  1. "It's nowhere near as in depth as the other scenes, and features less pictures as well."

    fewer

    I like this revision a lot. I would, since it captures more of what I think about the game. ;-) But I'm glad that our discussions helped lead to it, because I think -- even when we disagree -- that you more accurately characterized what's available in the game, rather than what you (or I) personally get out of it.

    -- thundergod

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  2. I will never write as extensive a review as this, and am happy to cede the field. But just to briefly (ha!) summarize some of my points in this canonical place...

    I believe that, unlike most AIF, one can "role-play" the PC. You can't escape a certain bit of unwise behavior, but you can be studious and faithful, in which case most of the bad stuff that could happen to Molly and Allison won't actually "happen" (this being a game in which stuff that you don't see or investigate doesn't occur, as is the case with Meteor). All the generally unsympathetic characterizations of the PC are accurate, but there is a way to play the game in which the guy is a dumb but reasonably decent boyfriend (given the limitations of a horny teenager). And then there are all the other ways to play it, including utterly amoral paths (though certain of those lead to bad outcomes, and I'm not just talking about rarely-used sex commands). Everything in-between is also available. That's impressive, to say the least.

    The endings, aside from the loss of both "objects" or a complete failure to score at the end, all have their positive and negative points. There are good, solid reasons to prefer any of them within the game's narrative, and at various points the narrative supports the belief that all of the "good" endings are worthy. That is nearly unique in AIF, and certainly in a game of this scope.

    But the real key to this game...the appeal and the replayability...is that the characters' motivations and actions are understandable, for the most part. GB didn't write the best characters ever, but he wrote most of them well enough. We can have a discussion about the extent of Molly's agency in her sexual explorations, or the extent to which she understands her brother's motivations, because the foundations for all of this are provided within the game. We can speculate as to characters' fates because there's ample precedent for many divergent arguments. We couldn't do this if the much-maligned characters didn't possess this much verisimilitude. It is a very complex game, motivationally, and the only real limitation to this is that the characterizations aren't always up to the supplied motivations.

    But it's the best AIF there is. That giving full credit to so many other terrific games. And the reason is that, despite all the identified flaws, it represents the lest-enforced narrative of any high-quality game. It has the writing and the graphics, the gameplay and the setting, but what sets it apart is the freedom of it.

    ReplyDelete
  3. "fewer"

    Well played, sir.

    "this being a game in which stuff that you don't see or investigate doesn't occur"

    I know that's the case with Meteor because GB said it was, although I don't think it makes much sense. Is there any specific reason why it would also apply to SD3?

    "the characters' motivations and actions are understandable"

    The big epiphany I had with this revision was finally realising how much the conflicting motivations of the NPCs drives the story. I also think that part of the reason that there's so much discussion about the characters is that GB left space for speculation.

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  4. I know that's the case with Meteor because GB said it was, although I don't think it makes much sense. Is there any specific reason why it would also apply to SD3?

    It's not made explicit, no, but I think it's implicit at times (the nightly dreams, for example).

    That said, I'm really speaking more of the player's experience of the game. If you don't interact with Yuki, you have no idea about her and the Head, so there's no in-game reason to assume this about her character. If you don't spy on Mrs. Holloway, there's no reason to believe she's a loving pet owner. If you don't go to Charlotte's and don't leave the path in the woods, you know nothing about her sex life. If you don't go to the party, there's no next morning scene that indicates what happened; for all you know, Gary got too drunk and Molly's still a virgin, or Becky stole him from her after too much tequila (or make up the scenario you prefer).

    The only way to know something happened is to do it, watch it, or take an action that triggers it. There's plenty in the game -- most of the Alison interactions, for example -- that don't enter into the narrative at all unless you've engaged with her at the right moments.

    There's an in-coda indication of what you've done (the mega-daydream, and also the pregnancy photo), but there's no corresponding in-coda indication of what you didn't do, or of what happened despite your efforts. That, plus the nightly dreams, plus the lack of narrative description of offscreen events, suggest to me that the SD3 universe works the same as Meteor in this regard.

    The difference, of course, is that there's an actual gameplay consequence to this in Meteor. As for whether or not it makes sense, it perhaps doesn't in a real-world way, but it does make some sense from a gameplay perspective; if (say) Anna acted the same no matter what the PC saw, then the ending would be prescribed and the PC's actions wouldn't matter.

    In an ideal universe, GB would have taken his perspective-switching trick from the GoP series and applied it to Meteor, so the player could control both the PC and Anna (or, better, the PC, Anna, and Silvers). The permutations of them working together or against each other would be a lot of fun to play, if not to program.

    ReplyDelete
  5. ...and, as I've just now realized regarding Meteor, allowing the player to be Silvers would have solved one of the nagging problems with the game: that the player has little to no idea what's really going on until the final scene, by which time it's too late to take action in response.

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  6. "The only way to know something happened is to do it, watch it, or take an action that triggers it"

    If that's how you choose to interpret SD3 that's perfectly valid, but I'm afraid your viewpoint is too solipsistic for me.

    While it's true that PC/player can't specifically know what has occurred without personally experiencing it, certain scenarios are much more likely than others. For instance, based on the things that happen prior to the party (including things that the PC can't avoid experiencing, such as the cut scene where he sees Molly and Gary snogging in an empty classroom), the most probable outcome is that Molly loses her virginity to Gary at the party. While other outcomes are possible, that particular outcome is so probable that I'd require evidence to prove that it didn't happen rather than to prove that it did.

    By the same token, there are some events that the PC never experiences but which I think the player is safe in assuming happen off camera. For instance, we never see the PC urinate or defecate, and he never eats unless he's taking Molly or Becky out to dinner. But I don't think that Goblinboy's failure to describe those events means that they didn't happen, it just means that he chose not to describe them.

    Likewise, just because the PC observes an event in one playthrough but not in another there doesn't seem to me to be any basis for assuming that the event never happened in the second playthrough, especially as most of the events don't exist in isolation. It's easier to avoid knowledge of Alison's specific problems (ie being blackmailed by the Head and Gary), but believing that her general problems don't exist merely because the PC has no direct experience of them is akin to saying that she has no existence as a character independent of the PC. Given the extent to which the motivations of the NPCs drive the story in SD3, I don't think that's possible.

    That being said, there clearly isn't an absolute reality in SD3. If the PC decides to go to the woods with Molly they'll see Charlotte and Mike, but if he asked Becky instead they see Melissa. But overall when the PC chooses to observe an event, his observations are the same over different playthroughs. We're not facing a Schrodinger's Cat scenario, where it's impossible to confirm the status of the cat without opening the box so therefore the cat is neither alive nor dead. If the PC does choose to 'open the box' the outcome is always the same, which to me is a good reason for believing that that is the case even when the PC isn't looking.

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  7. "In an ideal universe, GB would have taken his perspective-switching trick from the GoP series and applied it to Meteor"

    I think the GoP series changes PCs rather than actually changing perspectives. For the most part the different PCs are in completely different locations. Even when they are in the same location, there's no indication that they experience events differently to each other (although in GoP3 that might just be because the PCs are virtually identical).

    I'd certainly be interested in playing a game where the multiple protagonists had genuinely different perspectives, but it would definitely be a pain to program, even if you didn't go the full Rashomon.

    I also agree that making Silvers the protagonist of Meteor would have been much more interesting, but then the 'standard AIF PC' (of which James is an example) bores me rigid.

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  8. I agree that it's not patently obvious as it is in Meteor, and that there's no way to prove it, but I think we're going to have to disagree on this. For example, if the PC doesn't interact with Alison at all, how does she stand vis-à-vis Gary and the Head at the end of the game? There's not only no way to know, there's no way to know she even has them. How do her problems, if they exist independently of the gameplay, affect the story in any way? They don't...until the PC discovers them. Alison does not blackmail the PC without the series of events that lead to that blackmail. Molly and/or Becky don't hate the PC, or Gary doesn't absent himself from the party, due to the background actions of Alison. She's no more a character than any of the named daydream objects unless the PC chooses to make her one.

    This wouldn't be evidence for my claim except that it runs counter to how almost all other AIF works. In most games, there's a linear progression and you follow it. One event unlocks another. Or even if they're not linear, there's a list of things that must be done to get to the solution. The PC doesn't get to ignore Jane Doe's plumbing problem, even if learning about it in the first place is yet another puzzle.

    It's interesting to compare games of this nature to, say, PAC. In that game, the plot progresses no matter which girl(s) the PC pursues, so even though there's stuff that doesn't happen in terms of the PC/girl relationships, the game itself proceeds to its nexus despite the PC's choices.

    The major author of games that are an exception to this rule is, of course, GB. (The other is Lucilla Frost.) While I agree with you that it's likely that Gary deflowers Molly at her birthday party whether you go or not, much of the ancillary material that you find distasteful is a blank slate if you don't attend. Does Gary talk her into a threesome with her brother? Do they take advantage of her unconscious body? You can guess, but you don't know (and in the absence of a playthrough in which you see those events, you'd have basis for even asking the question). I could bring up a bunch more examples of this nature, but it's basically repeating the same notion.

    To me, in terms of the game, there's only one perspective that matters: that of the PC. We've already covered how one of the things that makes SD3 so strong is that, as a story, the NPCs' perspectives matter, because they affect the PC's choices. But that's the story, not the game. In the game, different things happen or don't happen based on the PC's choices, including choices to observe or not. For example: no movie, no movie girl. No woods, no conversation with either Becky or Molly about open relationships. Alison, Yuki, Mrs. Holloway, and Charlotte we've covered. Does Melissa's brother exist? Her mother? Yes, they're programmed into the game, but they're no more "real" than an ending other than the one the PC chooses; there's no Molly/Becky/PC threesome if the PC's alone with Becky, even though that event is -- like Mrs. Stevens -- programmed into the game.

    There are indeed events and characters that have independent agency. Gary's one; he acts unless you thwart him in one of several available ways. Molly's another. Becky's a third. All three initiate actions in spite of the PC's choices. I'm not sure there's a fourth, though.

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  9. So to continue:

    believing that [Alison's] general problems don't exist merely because the PC has no direct experience of them is akin to saying that she has no existence as a character independent of the PC. Given the extent to which the motivations of the NPCs drive the story in SD3, I don't think that's possible

    Do Alison's motivations have any effect on the story? She's viewable (that is, subject to the "examine" command), but her entire storyline happens offscreen unless the PC specifically chooses to engage with it. It doesn't affect anyone, it doesn't affect the plot, and if I remember correctly no one refers to it...unless the PC initiates the chain of events that involve him with Alison. In terms of the game, that's the same thing as it happening or not happening based on the PC's choices, just as Anna's porn career does or doesn't happen based on the PC finding out about it.

    Again, just because something is in the game (that is, programmed) doesn't mean it happened. Mrs. Holloway no more provably interacts with her dog than Mike has sex with Molly. In both cases, in fact, GB has programmed a way for you to prevent those events from happening. (Even though we all know Mike & Molly are going to be having sex sooner or later.) So do they happen, or don't they? We only know for sure what we see, what the NPCs tell us, and what must have happened to bring the plot to a particular point. A large number of events simply don't meet these criteria.

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  10. ...and finally (cheering ;-) ), w/r/t perspective-shifting, it's my recollection that some characters' actions in GoP3 affect what happens to other characters. Am I misremembering? I admit that I'm not particularly motivated to go back and check.

    What I'm proposing for alternate-universe Meteor isn't quite as complex as simultaneous action. I don't, for example, need to play James, Anna, and Silvers in the same scene. But one of the very odd things about Meteor is how Anna's level of infection and suspicion (and all manner of ancillary events) are entirely caused by things that have nothing to do with infection: finding certain things, asking certain questions, quite possibly having sex with Jenny, etc. Why should any of those increase anything but James' suspicion of Anna? Were it Silvers who was discovering those things, the plot would make a lot more sense.

    More broadly, I think a three-character series of choices could be interesting in Meteor in a way they weren't in GoP3, where the entire point was just to find someone/something to shag in order to move the plot along. James would be making choices on who and what to do based on the player's knowledge, so would Anna, and so would Silvers. The ending would be based on those choices, wherein the current game's endings still rely on a lot of offscreen stuff that's not predictable from the information offered to James.

    It's a very different game, in a way, and yet it's not. The plot could be more or less the same, as could the characters. It would just be a matter of control; in the hotel room, it would be Anna or Silvers the player was controlling, James' arrival (or not) would be based on his suspicions about either of the others, and the plot would proceed to its ending from there.

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  11. "it's my recollection that some characters' actions in GoP3 affect what happens to other characters"

    That's my recollection as well (for instance, if Dania makes the treaty with the centaurs they will come to the aid of Morchek and Alicia). However, what I was talking about is that although the player can change which PC they control, the differences between them are entirely plot-related. Each PC has virtually the same perspective. I can't think of any events that two different PCs observe, but which they interpret differently. That could be explained in a couple of ways (such as them all sharing the same narrator), but I think it mainly comes down to the fact that they're all similarly under-characterised.

    Something similar to your hypothetical Meteor happens in the game Fahrenheit (which is one of the games potentially played by the PC in SD3). The player controls two detectives investigating a murder, as well as the man who ostensibly committed the murder. It's an interesting experience, since not only are the protagonists different in personality and outlook, but they also have conflicting motivations. However, it's necessarily limited since the plot can only be so elastic (it progressively narrows over the course of the game, with the ending feeling particularly rushed).

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  12. "we're going to have to disagree on this"

    I agree with that. But what is the ancillary material that I find distasteful?

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  13. The non-consensual sex in the game, mostly. I've long argued that as bad as those instances are, you can avoid them by playing the game a certain way. You don't have to commit rape, but you don't have to condone or even watch it either. I'd grant that there's no way to know this without a robust playthrough, but my argument -- about which we disagree -- is that there's absolutely no evidence it happens if the PC doesn't initiate its conditions.

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  14. The fact that you can be a complete bastard doesn't actually bother me. It's part of what makes SD3 something approaching a sandbox game, and I think that the fact that those options are possible makes it a better game (and, as you say, it's quite easy to avoid that path if it doesn't interest you). It does annoy me a little that the PC just sits there like a bump on a log if Mike rapes Molly, but his inaction is a reflection of the gameworld as much as anything.

    The only thing that actually bothers me is that the PC is a bit of an idiot, but then just means he's a typical sixteen year old boy.

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  15. Still; I always hated the fact that you could 'rape molly' but couldn't punch mike. Or Gary. Or Melissa. Or the principal. At the end of the game I always want to punch a lot of people in the face. With the exception of Molly, Becky and Allison.

    Z223

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