Non-narrative-driven (NND) video games only continue to improve as technology develops. We are now seeing games that follow that structure in immensely engaging ways and are seeing levels of immersion that were once impossible. It’s an exciting time for gaming due to this progression, but we mustn’t forget where we came from.

Welcome to Pixels to Polygons, the column where we compare the games of yesteryear to more modern entries.

Many games I grew up with back in the 8 and 16 bit eras had stories that were essentially non-existent in the game. If there were stories, it usually involved scrolling text before the main menu, before the end-credits or in an instruction manual. Regardless of the level of story being told, the gameplay and your experiences with the game were of utmost importance. The concern with NND games is that how players experienced the game was usually quite similar, but the emotional connection and level of immersion were more contingent upon the player’s ability and desire to be absorbed into the world. This seems to be why people’s expectations of playing the classics for the first time can be quite skewed in contrast to those who embraced them upon release.

An example of this, are my experiences with Super Metroid that I explained here in part 1 and here in part 2 of the Retroware Memories articles I did. In short, I have always been greatly engaged in the universe that Super Metroid created. I felt like I went on an adventure with Samus and was immersed in the world, experiencing the emotions of dread, fear, isolation, relief and pain. I connected with this world and felt accomplished as I made hordes of enemies surrender to my growing skill set. The last Metroid sacrificing itself for me was very emotional and I knew that I had to exact my revenge. But other players, old and new, look at it as just another adventure game with goofy controls; good, but not the masterpiece people made it out to be. I can definitely appreciate why people would feel this way as well. My own, like others, experiences and thoughts enhance the game, rather than purely analyzing what’s in the game.

The technology at the time just wasn’t capable of being able to consistently control a player’s emotional response to a game. Engagement is based on perceptions and potentially overanalyzing what developers intended. This is where more recent games have a greater advantage of being able to consistently create an immersive NND game.

We’ll look at Last Guardian as the modern counterpart to Super Metroid. The relationship between Trico and the child is incredibly emotional, and barring a very hints and minor story updates, the entirety of the emotional connection is based on physical interactions. The subtle movements and physical variations that indicate pain, sorrow and happiness are remarkable. Whether it be the shimmer in Trico’s eyes exemplifying its happiness, or the slight arching of the back, ruffling of feathers and gestures to indicate fear, the game clearly depicts how you should feel and when to feel that way. The attention to detail is unbelievable and it makes for an exceptional gaming experience. This consistency also allows for players to experience the game on more of a level playing field. While there is something wonderful about connecting with a game in your own way, there is an extra level of engagement when players can connect to an event in similar manners. The developers knew how they wanted things to be presented, and how players should interpret their work, and the technology was able to do so with enough love and care. Last Guardian is truly masterful. This is where I think modern games will continue to progress in being able to create much more enchanting and emotional NND games.

We are far from reaching the limit of what technology is capable of. It will be wonderful to see how the gaming industry continues to develop to the benefit to the player. Developers will have access to a much greater repository of technological advancements, lessening hindrances on their creativity and ability to connect players with their games. NND games are where I especially want to see this technology continue to advance. There have been many games that utilize these resources and they are able to create enchanting art, and I look forward to how things continue. While I appreciate where we came from and the level of connection we had to sometimes invoke to truly experience games, I am much more excited about the directions we will travel as developers become more skilled and limits become a non-issue. It truly is an exciting era for video games.