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Mass Effect 3 Screenshots -- Prepare For Lens Flare

Games are increasingly becoming a popular way to tell stories -- there is no doubt about this. Narrative is becoming a mechanic, with the strength of said narrative retaining the power to make or break a game. A weak story can sap the enjoyment from an action-adventure title; an overly-complex plot will settle a cloak of tedium over an RPG.

A step beyond film due to their immersive and reciprocal nature, looking to games for thoughtful and entertaining experiences means that responsibility rests not only on designers and programmers but writers as well. If last March’s skirmish regarding Mass Effect 3 has proven anything, it’s that video games are beginning to face more demanding challenges as an interactive storytelling medium.

As the way we play games evolves, so does our definition of what makes a game “good.” New frameworks and fancy add-ins can cloud over a game’s soul if they complicate an already cluttered plot. Games created for the purpose of showing off new modes of gameplay should be built into the story they attempt to tell, not the other way around – if the game calls for a story, that is.

Games can and do exist without narrative – but once a plot or character development is introduced, the simple problem-solving foundation is bricked over. A complex story needs time and resources to properly tell itself. Mismanagement of these resources – poor character development or shallow characters, overly-involved backstory, lack of appropriate presentation for important climaxes and details ---results in the game’s total failure to captivate beyond shiny graphics and racking up bonuses.

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Guns of Icarus Online is the spiritual successor of Muse Games’ original turret-defense game Guns of Icarus. Stepping to the shoes of Captain Gabriel of the airship Icarus, players must transport across the world, gunning down pirates that try to knock you out of the sky.

Gabriel and his crew serve as supply carries between settlements in a post-apocalyptic world. Sporting an attractive steampunk aesthetic, Guns of Icarus allows up to four players to man the airship at once. No friends? No problem – Icarus lets you fill your ship with AI should you desire to play solo. As captain you as responsible for the ship’s maintenance, guarding its cargo, and giving orders during battle.

Players can form teams of up to eight airships and engage other teams in matches, scrambling to stay afloat in massive sky battles. When no locked in this PvP “skirmish mode” among factions, attempting to break air blockades or escorting important personnel to secret locations, players must disseminate information and technology to various parts of the world in an attempt to unify mankind. Using airships allows players to travel between pockets of civilization without braving the hostile environment or get caught in combat on the ground.

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Organ Trail

Everyone remembers Oregon Trail for the Apple 2. But what if instead of dysentery and drowned oxen, you had to deal with the constant threat of zombies?

The Men Who Wear Many Hats have brought about just that, marrying current zombie-loving trends with the classic Oregon Trail framework. The result is Organ Trail, a journey across the United States in your rickety old station wagon fraught with aggressive zombie action and the looming possibility of your party becoming infected.

Faithfully made to emulate the look and feel of playing on the Apple 2, Organ Trail is a hilarious and subtly chilling parody of the beloved childhood original. The game was released for free last year on the company’s website. Its popularity led the developers to Kickstarter, where a $3,000 request was met with an enthusiastic $16,000 response.

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The booth at PAX East displaying Alexander Bruce’s mind-boggling psychological exploration puzzler was impossible to simply walk by. Trapped in a maze of white designed to look like an endless M.C. Esher drawing, players must follow the writing on the wall to navigate their way through. There is a catch, though: that writing is offers only vague nuggets of wisdom, not functional directions, and more often than not heralds the approach of a puzzle that proffers no hints for solving. It’s enchanting, incredible.

“It’s obviously very dense to try and learn – so the beginning of the game tries to make players unlearn all those pre-learned conventions you pick up from how other games work,” said Bruce. “There are new kinds of rules in play, and they don’t always follow themselves.”

The start of the game’s framework is a set of geometry puzzles. The first puzzle required me to pick up blocks and strategically place them to prop open trigger-activated doors.

“After thinking laterally for so long with these geometry puzzles, throwing a simple logical puzzle at the player will throw them off,” Bruce added. “It makes it intentionally harder to complete simple puzzles by reprogramming the way you think about them.”

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Against the Wall

You’re stuck. You’re standing on a ledge protruding from a massive wall, a colossal work of stone blocks that extends to the horizon in all directions. In your right hand, a wand that thrums to life as you wave it over the blocks, pulling and pushing them out of the wall, arranging them to form a staircase for your ascent. In the distance you spot – it can’t be – a windmill rising sideways out of the mammoth structure, a pulley system running along its base that is sure to bring you farther up towards your destination. But what is that destination? Is there one at all? Does this wall ever end?

According to sole designer and programmer Michael Consoli, Against the Wall takes place against an infinite slab of stone. As you climb, the game generates itself, creating more puzzles for your brain to click through as you ascend.

Consoli made Against the Wall for the Ludum Dare game making competition, a challenge that asks participants to create a game in 48 hours with a particular theme in mind. The theme for Consoli’s Dare was, “It’s dangerous to go alone, take this!” The result was the wand the player holds in this first-person puzzler, which must be utilized to manipulate the blocks in the wall in order to reach a town an untold number of miles above where you begin.

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