Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Graded Blog #5, Question #1

I like the idea of an "engineering" narrative, because the word "engineering" is, in fact, used several different ways. A quick look at www.dictionary.com lists engineering as "a practical application of the knowledge of pure sciences..." but also as "skillful or artful contrivance; maneuvering." I think, looking at Zork and A Connecticut Yankee, I see both of those definitions in use. Zork is an interactive computer game where you have to apply basic knowledge with simple pure science values (combustion, pounds per square inch i.e. "kill troll with sword," etc) while also being cunning enough to contrive the best way to navigate the obstacles for the treasure. In Yankee, Hank himself is an engineer and is involved with all sorts of technical ways of solving problems. However, he also engineers, or contrives, not just the technology but the society that is to interact with the technology.

I have two different works of interactive fiction that I feel fall under "engineering narrative." The first, and fairly obvious choice, is that of the Ace Combat series video game. Ace Combat 3, 4, 5 all have storylines told from the point of view of a central character, but not "you." For example, in Ace Combat 4, the cutscenes before each battle detailing what is happening as the results of your actions is given from the point of view of an on-base reporter. In that, we have our narrative. As far as the engineering concept goes, this game includes both of the definitions I mentioned earlier. The first is that, well, this is a video game about flying technical pieces of equipment like jets, bombers, and airplanes. You have to have some idea that you cannot stop accelerating or else you will stall, know what speed and lift and air currents are and how they affect flying, etc. The other aspect is that you are given many instances where you have to take a plan of action. You must engineer, using the tools that you have on each stage, the best way to possibly win and gain the most points/medals and better story-endings. Do I go into a stage that is expected to have heavy dogfighting with an assault craft like the A-10 Warthog, or sacrifice defensive plating and air-to-land damage for something more maneuverable that has specialized air-to-air weapons such as the Su-47? This game forces you to take into consideration the technical and strategic impacts of your choices while also telling an intricate story from a central character. Ace Combat has "engineering narrative" all over it.

The other video game I thought fit the description of an "engineering narrative" is the old-school Final Fantasy Tactics for the PS1. FFT takes a different tact than the Ace series. This is a turn based RPG that follows the main character (default name Ramza) through a storyline filled with love, death, politics, and battle. In fact, when you aren't involved in a battle (or sometimes during a battle) pieces of the story unfold and almost exclusively from Ramza's point of view. FFT gives you the opportunity to choose a designated number of characters from your party to move about the board and fight/cast spells depending upon those characters stat points like strength, speed, etc. Each battle requires that you engineer victory without your main character (and sometimes others) dying. As with most Final Fantasy games, Tactics has an interesting take of the combination of technology versus magic. You have to know how certain guns operate versus something like a crossbow or a longbow. The game requires that you apply practical knowledge of the sciences that are common to Final Fantasy games (i.e. Water vs. Fire, Aero vs Flying, etc) while taking into consideration how your opponents will react several moves ahead of time. FFT requires the player to think about how they are applying their tactics, and therefore, though it is vastly different from a flight sim like Ace Combat, Final Fantasy Tactics is also an "engineering narrative."

1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

There is an interesting duality running through this post -- you aren't Two-Face, are you? Or perhaps one of Edgar Allen Poe's dualist characters?

Regardless, I'm struck by the fact that you use two definitions, 2 "texts" from class, and then 2 example video games (and here, of course, is where most of your effort falls).

I'm genuinely interested in what you have to say about both the Ace Combat games and FFT (here's my dorkish confession: I don't game much, but I lean towards tactical RPGs when I do). Your analysis of the engineering aspects of both is good, but brief - since you're covering two.

I liked what's here, but by dealing with fewer definitions and fewer games, you could have had a blog post which was more like the beginnings of a (potential) midterm project, and less like a hodgepodge of worthy ideas.