Ken Levine of Bioshock fame sees Shadow of Mordor as raising the storytelling potential of video games.
The Nemesis system used to flesh out Monolith’s hit Tolkien-inspired action RPG, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor has been an inspirational development in gaming for Bioshock creator Ken Levine.
In a post on Medium, Levine has been going into how he’s been working on a true non-linear narrative structure for games that evolves based on X and Y states, as opposed to dialogue trees and predetermined story paths that at best create “an illusion of choice”.
While Levine claims his as yet to be revealed project has “made huge inroads,” it was his concern that gamers may not care about such as system. It appears however that Shadow of Mordor has been a successful litmus test for new potential narrative structures in games.
As I was playing the game, I wondered, How are they doing this? How are they letting me kill so many bosses in any order? Doesn’t that break the game?,’” reflects Levine in his post. “And then I realized: The orcs aren’t bespoke characters. They comprise dozens of bits of micro-content that can be mixed and matched to build thousands of combinations on the fly. An orc named Horhog the Armorer is actually ‘Name X the Name Y.’
“The attributes that make up Horhog’s character—he’s afraid of fire but angered by the sight of his minions dying—are chosen from a list and assigned by the game dynamically. Even his body his armor, his scars are attached algorithmically as the player meets Horhog on the field of battle. Horhog will even remember that the last time you met, he kicked your scrawny human ass. These orcs, and how you choose to defeat them, are the story of Shadow of Mordor. They project both real menace and an almost slapstick Grand Guignol, the love children of Sauron and Eliza Doolittle”
With this in place, Levine feels that Shadow of Mordor “tells a story that could never exist in another medium,” and believes the Nemesis system throws up new play-driven storytelling potential for video games.
In closing Levine notes, “I’m grateful to Shadow of Mordor, not only as a gamer, but also as a designer and writer. Yes, these are baby steps toward realizing the kinds of stories that games can uniquely provide. But the first steps are often the hardest of all.”
Check out what Adam had to say about Shadow of Mordor here.