Medium Term Goals in Video Game Design

“Modern video game design has a problem with player motivation. In Pong you hit the ball until you couldn’t, in Tetris you stacked the blocks until you couldn’t, and in 2D side scrollers like the original Super Mario Bros, you ran left until you couldn’t. But modern, big budget-3D action games don’t have the luxury of such linearity. Tunnels are boring, so games either discard them or disguise them.

But I worry that modern game designers have failed to replace the built-in motivation found in Pong, Tetris, or Super Mario Bros. Too many games just dump content in front of the player and expect them to care enough to plow through it. This failure to provide adequate player motivation in modern games is ultimately due the absence or failure of medium-term goals…”


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The Phantom’s Pain – Turning Venom Snake into the Boss: A Metal Gear Solid V Narrative Analysis – Introduction


Author’s Note

6/16 EDIT – All done!

This four five six-part article (including the introduction) is currently over 21,000 27,000 words long, thereby making it by far the largest thing I have ever written for Theory of Objective Video Game Aesthetics or (where I write a weekly article). I may add more to this piece later, but I really want to hear more feedback from the Metal Gear community. For one, I wrote and edited this thing all by myself, so I’m sure there are random typos and Metal Gear lore errors that I need help sniffing out. But I also want to get feedback on my overall points and structure (and a pithier title would be nice). Any and all feedback, good and bad, is welcome.



“Now do you remember? Who you are? What you were meant to do? I cheated death, thanks to you. And thanks to you I’ve left my mark. You have too – you’ve written your own history. You’re your own man. I’m Big Boss, and you are too… No… He’s the two of us. Together. Where we are today? We built it. This story – this “legend” – it’s ours. We can change the world – and with it, the future. I am you, and you are me. Carry that with you, wherever you go. Thank you… my friend. From here on out, you’re Big Boss.”

– Big Boss

When I first finished Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, like so many other players, I was disappointed. MGSV was supposed to be the “Missing Link” in the Metal Gear canon. It was that game that would reveal the bridge between the heroic Big Boss of MGS 3, Portable Ops, and Peace Walker, and the grand historical villain of Metal Gear 1 and 2. As expressed by numerous launch trailers and Hideo Kojima tweets, MGSV was going to be a tale of Big Boss’s fall into darkness, driven by an insatiable lust for revenge, a consummate anger lit by his enemies which would scorch his soul until nothing was left but a power hungry mad man who would threaten the world with nuclear war for the sake of his power-hungry ambitions.

Instead we got an incredibly weird twist which did little more than retcon patch a largely ignored plot hole in one of the least-played Metal Gear games. We found out that the final boss of Metal Gear 1 was not Big Boss, but a body double, who through surgery and hypnotherapy was made into almost an exact copy of the legendary soldier.

Again, like most other players, when I first finished the game I thought this was a neat trick, a typically crazy, convoluted, but seductively entertaining twist from one of my favorite story tellers of all time. But of course… it was also a major let down.

Finding out that I had just played as some random ass medic from Militaires Sans Fronteres for the last 80 hours instead of the most important character in the entire Metal Gear canon was certainly a mind-fuck, but also left me feeling deflated. What was the point of it all? Why did I just follow some entirely new character for an entire game who has only a minor, tangential connection to the series’ larger plot instead of seeing Big Boss’s moral/psychological/narrative transformation which is at the heart of the entire series and was supposed to be the entire point of Metal Gear Solid V?


Continue reading “The Phantom’s Pain – Turning Venom Snake into the Boss: A Metal Gear Solid V Narrative Analysis – Introduction”

How Telltale Took on Borderlands (and Why it Matters)

“There’s a scene in Tales from the Borderlands, in which a man who started a business club when he was ten years old, in order to create an excuse to hand out business cards, has a three and half minute long finger gun battle with a horde of accountants over a petty embezzlement dispute in an office break room. And it’s awesome…”

Read the rest of the piece at Gaming Rebellion:


How Telltale Took on Borderlands (and Why it Matters)

The Success of Graphic Adventures and the Necessity of Choice Illusion – Part 2

It is an undeniable fact to me that Heavy Rain, The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, Life is Strange, and Until Dawn are all excellent games that are well worth playing. It is also equally undeniable to me that the second playthrough of each of these games is inevitably disappointing since it reveals just how little of an impact the player’s choice actually has on the narrative. In other words, these games suffer from “choice illusion.”


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