Her Story and Beginner’s Guide: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

As you already know, the medium of video games are unique from movies and novels by how they are able to share stories and experiences.  What is so special about video game story-telling is that players can have a visual representation of what game creators are tying to express.  The game creators of both Her Story and Beginner’s Guide strongly relied on visual cues to support the central focus in their story.

In Her Story, players are put in front of a police computer/database and search through police interview clips revolving around the murder case of a man.  The game designers used these video clips as their only tool of visual representation to share their story.  What made this visual design good is that a real life actress was put in place as the victim in the police interviews.  The use of an actual human being as opposed to a virtual 3D model and animation brings a greater sense of reality to players. Although there have been some very close human representations, such as the latest Final Fantasy CG models, no virtual 3D model has been able to perfectly replace the human representation.  Although the acting was convincing, the same can not be said of the overall clips.  The actress is the one and only character who ever speaks.  The voices of police interviewers are never heard and we can only assume what the question was based on the actress’s response. What is particularly dissatisfying about this is that it breaks full immersion. For example, there is no way of telling if the actress is avoiding a question.  Identifying any lies becomes near impossible and for you to assume.  As you watch more and more videos, trying to unravel the truth in the story, you notice the visual representation of a girl from the reflection of the police database. This is intended to be a representation of you, the player.  However, the ugly in this is that there is a disconnect between the realism of the videos and the animation of a 3D, computer generated, model.  When I noticed my character’s reflection, I felt removed from the story because I lost my previous immersion and connection with the actress in the video.

Moving on to Beginner’s Guide, story-telling was widely different that Her Story. Although some may see this as a more passive and less interactive experience that Her Story, I have to politely, yet aggressively, argue against that statement.  What makes Beginner’s Guide special is the ideas and questions Davey Wreden implants in the game.  Although one may argue that Beginner’s Guide is simply walking through levels and listening to Davey Wreden’s personal story about his friendship with a game designer by the name of Coda, these levels and the story work in perfect symmetry as they work off of each other to make you feel a variety of emotions.  Each portion of the experience is worth while and fulfilling. However, the bad in this overall design is the inability to explore more of the levels.  Although very simple in nature, each level is designed to pull you in, you are just left wanting more by the end of the story. Without giving away the story and ending to Beginner’s Guide, the ugly in this game lies in the relationship between Davey and Coda. You begin to feel bad for people and even more so, wish all of these games and levels would be completed.

Quite frankly, out of the two, Beginner’s Guide was more likable,  entertaining, and overall, more valuable.  By the end, I felt I had several things I could pull away from this story.  The same can not be said with Her Story.  After seeing my character’s reflection in the screen for several times, my patience for this disruptive design ended and I had to stop playing.  I had to watch a YouTube spoiler video just so that I knew how the story would play out, however, by the end, the final punch lines were hardly fulfilling and just very, very, weird.

A Quick Look into Bull Running and Manuel’s Tavern

Bars. Taverns. Night-Clubs.  What do all these have in common? They all use lights, objects, and their venue location to create a specific atmosphere for guests to experience.  In the specific case of Manuel’s Tavern, a quiet sandwich and beer joint on the corner of North and North Highland Avenues in Atlanta, Georgia built in 1956, walls are covered to the ceiling in framed images, logos, TV’s, and more. Have you ever wondered what the owners were thinking when putting these objects for everyone to see. What purpose do these objects serve to Manuel’s Tavern.  In the following article, we will take a closer look at a specific image about Bull Running in Spain, and the connections and relationship to Manuel’s Tavern

Manuel’s Tavern – Assignment Page

Running From Bulls and Into Office – Main Article

Dear Esther Reflection (Some-Spoilers)

When you open Dear Esther, the main menu is very simple and direct. There is no clutter of game options to cover the picture of a coast, with sharp high rocks and very shallow water that lies in the background.  In the distance covered by the moving clouds, there is a tall structure and blinking red light.  Although very subtle, the animation sound when navigating the main menu option is similar to that of a radio signal receiving a morse code message. Assumingly, the blinking red light in the distance must be a coming from a radio tower.

The game opens with dialogue staring at a gulf of water and high cliffs.  However, this is already an in-game scene and the player can move around.  Unlike Gone Home, the playing field is open and in a dynamic environment.  There is wind carries the clouds, the leaves are swaying, and the ocean is continuously hitting the rocks. The sounds of the environment are very lively whilst wearing headphones.  The oceans waves are gentler as I approach the sandy beach, the wind coolly whistles as I pass cave.  The sun rays that shine through the holes in the sky illuminate this environment and invite me to stand-still and admire the beautiful environment.  However, it remains unclear as to where I am geographically on planet Earth, assuming this story takes place on planet Earth.

Similar to my initial reactions when playing Gone Home, I want to find other characters within the game for the comfort of knowing I am not alone.  Seeing the red blinking light of a radio tower in the distance, I decide I will head there first.  I try to stick to the paths that lead to the high ground.  Some of these paths show signs of civilization with wooden floor planks and safety lines to prevent falling over the cliff, while other trails are more natural and dangerously close to the edges.

The slow walking pace is quite frustrating and agonizing.  Yet, this design tool unarguably has let me connect and share only but a small fraction of the suffering and fatigue my main character is going through.  This land in which I am shows clear signs of past human use.  There are wooden fences, rusted boats washed up on shore, wooden caverns, and most surprisingly, a painting of a chemical molecule on a rock.


Dialogue, which continues to appear with new music samples  which evoke feelings of lost and despair, leaves the player to assume they are making progress and headed in the right direction.  This may be the only element in this game that keeps us sane as we traverse the rocky cliffs into the endless horizon.  The dialogue is often short, yet comprehensive and specifically detailed enough to tell a critical complication or experience in the story line.  Although many others in the past have complained that the text in which appears of the bottom of the screen breaks the user’s immersion, I have found it to be rather the opposite.  Reading the text allowed me to focus more on what was being told and connect with what was being said.  On the other hand, if at the time, I was more captivated by the astounding environment, there was by far enough screen space to look past this dialogue text.


Just as in Gone HomeDear Esther is an experience that moves players through imagery, sensory detail, and outstanding, single-person, vocal narrative.  In the earlier half of the journey, it is unclear as to who Esther is and who exactly is narrating.  However, as you close the distance between you and the radio tower, the story begins to make it very clear of past, present, and even future.  In one specific example, the narrative discussed about a man falling inside a cave and having broken his femur bone.  To little surprise, you soon find yourself at a dead end inside a cave, with the only option to either go back from where you come from, or make progress by jumping down a bottomless pit. 2016-02-07_00011By the end of the game, your situation has become clear and very easy to read between the lines.  What you predict to happen in the future, the narrative tells you what will happen.  Unlike in Gone Home, where you predict the ending and then are told the complete truth at the very last instance of the game, Dear Esther gradually increases your pulse and slowly confirms what you already predict to be true.  However unsuccessful of a technique you may image this to be, Dear Esther executes this quite beautifully.  By the end, all the pieces of the puzzle come together and urge me to reflect on this experience.  The ending is satisfying and I will for sure play this again in the future with a computer that can fully utilize the stunning visuals Dear Esther has to offer.


Gone Home Reflection (Spoilers)


In the first-person, interactive, video game, Gone Home, you play as 21 year old Kaitlin Greenbriar who has just returned from a year long trip to Europe.

Kaitlin GrennbriarHowever, the home you return to is new and foreign – a mansion in Arbor Hill, Oregon given by your father.  In the middle of a severe thunderstorm and no one home to greet you, there is only a note from your little sister, Sam, taped on the door. Door Note Claiming that she can’t be home to see you because it is simply “impossible”, and that you will see each other again “some day”, the note sends a clear message that something must have gone terribly wrong.

Opening the door, the room is pitch black.  Luckily though, the light switch is on your immediate left.  At first, you explore this strange new mansion and interact with this new environment – lights, lamps, doors, tissue boxes, coasters, cassette tapes, pieces of paper, magazines… Just about anything and everything placed in the house, you are able to pick up and analyze.  
Nintendo 64 Cartidge

Yet, after amusing yourself for some time, you slowly come to realize there’s something not quite right about this house.  You continue to explore the house as the thunderstorm in the background gradually increases in severity.  Several pieces of Sam’s personal notes (yes, you were snooping) are both dramatic and serious about finding her place in this world.  Some sound quite suicidal. The mess in your parents room seems like they left in a hurry to catch a late plane.  And when you feel the most uneasy, you run into a bathroom with a bathtub filled with water and red stains.  2016-01-28_00012

What is your initial reaction?









Hair Dye! ( yay :/ )

By this point, your emotions have been toyed with, you have been taken on a roller coaster of ups and downs, and now you just want to find someone to say “hello” to.  You continue your search for clues, open a couple of “secret” passageways which have already been occupied by your father’s work, find the secret combination to your sister’s private locker and find a huge lead to discovering the whereabouts of your sister.  You helplessly follow her map directions to hopefully find the key to the attic – the last known place Sam could possibly be in the house.  Not only do you find the key to the attic, but also an ineluctable warning.  Signs of exorcism, possession, and Satan!

Satan lololol

Unlike the bathroom – blood/hair dye – scenario, this sign irrevocably leads us to believe Sam is in big trouble.  By this point, anything could have happened to Sam.  Filled with mixed emotions of excitement, caution, frustration, and hopefulness, you rush down the hallways and head straight to the attic.  2016-01-28_00005

Success! The key worked and the attic has finally opened. The wooden ladder opens like a staircase of heaven, or more so to the devil’s cabin. You proceed with caution, expecting to see blood on the walls or maybe even dead bodies.  Something horrific and terrifying that will leave you sobbing for your virtual sister Sam.  You walk up the stairs to find a photographic darkroom your sister has been using for examining her photographs.  The level of anticipation has slightly decreased but still remains high as you walk deeper into the attic.  At last, you come to a dead end with Sam’s personal diary lying on a table. 2016-01-28_00004

The screen slowly fades to black, the game credits come on, and you hear Sam begin to explain the reason’s for her absence.  She has gone away to reunite with her lover. This has all just been a huge misunderstanding and a lesson to not jump to conclusions so easily.  However, there is no debate we would have gone through less trouble if Sam had only just written a less dramatic and less worrisome note.


What begins as a mysterious and engaging  roller coaster of emotions, finishes with an ending that leaves players with mixed emotions of both disappointment and relief.  For the veteran gamer who is experienced in outlandish scenarios, Hollywood cinematics, and the supernatural, Gone Home fails to meet these expectations. On the other hand, those who are new to the characteristics of today’s average video game, will find Gone Home relatable, engaging, and most important of all – realistic.  Behind the main storyline of discovering the whereabouts of your sister Sam, you inadvertently learn about the troubled past and present situation that haunts your family.  However, this is not forced upon you,  and you can very easily play through the game without knowing any of it.  As far as replay value goes, Gone Home ranks fairly low. Confined to explore only within the walls of the (small) mansion, one would only play again to understand the sub-plots, admire the several pieces of artwork, or pick up and observe all the meaningless objects left around the house.  Nonetheless, Gone Home is targeted towards an audience of both new and indie-gamers, immersing its audience through environmental storytelling.

Space Cadet On An Adventure

Nick Reyes Spaceman Edit

The above image takes a closer look at the astronaut in Claudio Mazzoli’s mural, Spaceship Earth.  Being somewhat of an enthusiast when it comes to anything related to outer space, this image was hard to pass as my avatar.  After tweaking some of the color qualities in the image, I was able to magnify what is most important to me in this image. Every time someone has asked me what I want to be in the future, I always envision an astronaut in a shining white suit.  This image has appropriately taken my vision one step further, adding the qualities of a red helmet and a red accent color on the suit.  As can be seen underneath the control panel of the satellite on the left side of the image, I was able to subtly imprint my name on the control panel.  One could imply that I were to be fixing a satellite I created and belonged to me.  Yes – that would be quite an amazing dream to live.

Original Source of Images:

  • “Atomic” photo belongs to wackystuff on flickr
  • No adaptations were made
  • https://www.flickr.com/photos/wackystuff/2739656924/
  • Astronaut photo belongs to Sam Howzit
  • Adaptations were made to the image
  • https://flic.kr/p/7AB7T3
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