ONCE upon a time, there was a man called Mario. He jumped on some turtles and rescued the princess. The end. The lack of storytelling never hurt Mario, whose universe is one of the most celebrated in gaming.
Virginia takes a very different approach. This is a game in which you watch a layered story unfold, simply pushing scenes along with a few button presses. It’s an interactive film, in which you can walk around a room, for example, taking in the surrounding details, before clicking on a pre-determined object to move to the next scene. It’s like watching a film through the eyes of the protagonist, with the ability to stop and smell the roses from time to time.
We’ve seen this kind of game before, of course, but Virginia is one of the classier examples. Set in the 1990s in the US state of the same name, Virginia is the story of an FBI detective investigating the disappearance of a young boy in the town of Kingdom. Simultaneously, the detective is also investigating her partner for internal affairs. The developers claim that Twin Peaks, The X-files and True Detective were all inspirations and you can see why — this is a weird, moody, highly symbolic story that leaves much of its value open to interpretation and gets weirder as it goes along.
With no dialogue, Virginia is basically a silent movie, which the developers use to their advantage. The animation and expression of the characters is brilliantly done, highly effective despite a minimalistic art style. It’s a really beautifully designed world and 505 Studios have a great eye for framing scenes and keeping the moments simple enough to digest. The music is also worth a mention, full of uplifting scores by the Prague Symphony Orchestra.
The question, of course, is how much value a game can add to typical cinematic storytelling while declining the player any real agency. Is being ‘in the moment’, controlling the character’s movement and ability to explore in very limited fashion, enough to make Virginia (and other games like it) a more satisfying experience than simply watching the bizarre story unfold on a TV screen? On this point, the price plays a huge part in determining Virginia’s worth — at €10 or less, Virginia costs roughly the same as a trip to the cinema, for an experience about two hours long. In addition, there’s a free demo available that gives a great impression of what the experience is like.
With that in mind, Virginia is worth the experiment. If you find yourself in the mood for a slow-paced, mind-bending, video-game version of Twin Peaks, then put aside a few hours for Virginia. Just know that you’re buying — an interactive story and not an interactive game. And though it’s a little weird, at least it doesn’t have an Italian plumber using mushrooms to defeat a giant turtle.
Meanwhile, what’s the story with Minecraft these days? Well, aside from doing their own story-based game (Minecraft: Story Mode), the literal blockbuster is releasing a Chinese-themed world on October 4. Called ‘Chinese Mythology’, the new world will allow players to “wander through the streets of an ancient great city, marvel at the dragons that dwell around the high mountains, contemplate their crafting within a mythical monastery and just enjoy the view as you walk through fields and discover how mobs would look in ancient China.”
The pack, which costs €5, also adds 41 new skins and 13 music tracks, along with its own map for the Minecraft Battle mini-game.
Speaking of stories, Oculus VR creator Palmer Luckey may have lost his. Well, he may have lost the plot, at least.
It’s been revealed that the young developer, who reputedly made almost a billion dollars through the sale of Oculus to Facebook, has been helping to fund a pro-Donald Trump political group that created online memes to attack Hillary Clinton.
While Luckey’s political decisions should be respected as his own, the manner in which the news was revealed (he has since apologised and claimed he’s not a Trump supporter) hasn’t gone done well with the traditionally liberal gaming industry. As a result, several VR companies have already stated they won’t be supporting Oculus technology until Luckey steps down. Some story!
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