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Advent Rising, Storytelling, and Free Speech in Video Games
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posted by: Aaron Stanton
publisher: Majesco
developer: Glyphx
date posted: 12:00 AM Mon Jan 17th, 2005
last revision: 12:00 AM Mon Jan 17th, 2005

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Click to read.Sometimes I forget that I'm excited about something.  I know that sounds funny, but it's true.  I think I bury the excitement for self-protection from long distant release dates the way some people are supposed to forget unpleasant memories from their past as a self-defense mechanism; in my case those memories also tend to be linked to bad Chinese food experiences.  I'll be busy learning about some great game down at E3, picking up all sorts of cool facts and figures, and then I find out that the release date is some gazillion years down the road, and poof? eyes blank out, jaw goes slack, and I come to again fifteen minutes later with no memory of the game, ideally with enough time to flee before the paramedics show up to deal with that guy that just kinda zapped out? in the middle of his last conversation. 

Then, some months later, it starts showing up again in unexpected ways, like signals from my subconscious.  I'll start hearing voices like that one in Field of Dreams that says, If you build it, he will come,?  - only mine says things like, If you remember it, you will buy it.?  It's very inconvenient, especially if at some point you leap up in class or whatnot and start shouting at the teacher that he better tell you what the game is right this minute so you can go out and buy it already, damn it!  Eventually, and I mean after it's tortured me for a while and I've been arrested a few times for unruly behavior, the answer shows up somewhere unexpected.  I'll be writing a shopping list and it will just sort of be there all of a sudden:  2 Salisbury Steak TV dinners, 2 Enchilada TV dinners, 2 Fried Rice TV dinners, 1 bag of frozen burritos, Advent Rising, 1 box of frozen pancakes, 1 vanilla Twinkie.  Just like that.  I won't even realize what's happened until after I've spent twenty minutes wandering the store looking for some mystery food called Advent Rising.  Even at that point, my mind is protecting me from needless desire. 

Then, one day, it'll all come clear.  I'll wake up from some dream I was having about competing handhelds duking it out in a consumer electronic Celebrity Deathmatch - in which Nintendo was using its Dual Screen move to wipe Sony across the floor - only to find that while I was asleep I was also writing on a piece of paper.  This isn't particularly unusual for me - most nights I'm writing the Great American novel and just don't remember it - but on rare occasions it'll say something like, Aaron; there is a game coming out called Advent Rising with a story penned by your favorite science fiction author Orson Scott Card.  It's coming out in less than 4 months and you are going to be really excited about it.?  After intense scientific analysis with my great analytic mind, I'll realize that this message is trying to tell me, in a rather vague way, that there is a game coming out called Advent Rising with a story written by my favorite science fiction author Orson Scott Card, and that I'm pretty freakin' excited about it. 

Then I sit down and write an article about the game to tell everyone else I know why they should be freakin' excited about it too.  Unfortunately, there hasn't been a great deal of additional information released about Advent Rising since I wrote my last preview after last year's E3, with the exception of a delayed release date until early of this year, currently April 1st.  What fuels my recently recalled enthusiasm has more to do with the approach of its release, in combination with all the other nifty reasons to like it, than any great flood of new information.  In the months since E3, there's been an amazing void of previews from game publishers, so listen up; if I can't offer new info in a preview, but I can write an article about how games life Advent Rising are significant not only as a possible great game, but to lofty ideals of gaming as an art and form of free speech.  If keywords like Orson Scott Card?, or great storyline?, or great action?, or ice cream? make you happy, you're going to want to pay attention to Majesco's upcoming Advent Rising release for the Xbox and PC.  And you can't fool me - keywords like that have a little something for pretty much everyone.  

Some of the most highly anticipated games of the last season offered fantastic blends of action and storyline; games like Halo 2 and Half-life 2 both allowed the player to participate in a world larger than themselves.  Yet both fell short on the story.  Halo 2 ended rather uneventfully, with little sensitivity to the player's need for a conclusion, and Half-life 2 had little regard for the player's ability to figure out what hell was going on.  Both games had other features that nearly completely redeemed them, but neither really lived up to the epic level in storytelling that I had hoped.  As a true nerd at heart that falls into both categories of reader? and game player? (meaning my nerdness is hopelessly ingrained), there are few things that can get me as excited as pointing me to a game that offers both storyline and gameplay blended perfectly.  Advent Rising, with a storyline co-written by Orson Scott Card, is one of the first games I've encountered that looks to offer great gameplay under a magnificently sweeping story arch crafted by a master in the field of writing.  Orson Scott Card's books are characterized not only by action and interesting settings, but also deep-rooted emotional bonds between characters and social events.  The series of books launched by Ender's Game is famous at the beginning for its ability to connect the readers to the characters, and famous in the later, possibly more significant books in the series for being able to address matters of humanity and our reactions in the face the unknown.   What this implies is not simply that Advent Rising might offer a story that keeps you interested, but instead that has characters and events that you consider significant and relevant to you long after the end of the game trilogy.  Master Chief is cool, but doesn't make me nostalgic in the same way that Link or Zelda does, doesn't make me actually miss characters I no longer interact with in the same way a great series like The Wheel of Time does; greatness in a game is achieved through the emotions it stimulates in the player while playing.  Games like Advent Rising and Beyond Good and Evil might well be the best response our industry can make to criticisms like those from the St. Louis court that ruled that games have no ability to, convey ideas?, a ruling later reversed in 2003.  Is that too much to lay on a single game, which still has to balance that story with great presentation and great gameplay?  Probably, but it doesn't keep a high minded industry enthusiast like myself from pointing at the release date and shouting, Here!  Look at this!  Everyone pay attention!? 

A great storyline is the one that keeps us from walking away, be it by setting down the controller, closing the book, or shutting off the TV during a movie.  It's the element that keeps us up at night even though we should be going to bed early for that next morning class, and that keeps us from being able to fall asleep peacefully without wondering what's going to happen next.  This is what it means to have a great storyline, and people who really know what they're doing have promised us a great storyline in Advent Rising.  That's why you should be excited for this April release.  Not just because it looks really cool, has awesome visuals, or kick-ass fatalities, but because any game that emphasizes true storytelling over a simple bullet count as the primary feature of the game needs to be cheered and supported throughout the industry.  If you're involved in the culture, care about free speech in the gaming industry, or like games and want to see them taken seriously by more than the Spike TV demographic, you should make note of Advent Rising and similar projects.  Their names should be amongst your vocabulary whenever you get into a debate about the redeeming social value of videogames.  Even if Advent Rising falls short in terms of how good a game it is, its effort and premise are still note-worthy. 

Now we just sit around to see if Advent Rising can come even close to the standards against which I've set it; ˜cause really, there's always that part of me that just hopes I can blow things up real good.  Real good and real big.  Advent Rising is scheduled to show up in May, 2005.  

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