Let’s hear it for the glowing “follow me” path!
Let me tell you something about myself: I play a lot of videogames. It’s true! And you know what is an integral part of any given videogame? Level design. World design. From Mario to Zelda to Doom, it doesn’t matter if your hero has the best ups or bazookas around, it’s all going to come crashing down if you can’t design a world for squat. And I have played through the best worlds! Super Metroid is an amazing bit of planetary architecture, and Super Mario Bros consistently features some of the finest individual stage design in the business. Final Fantasy worlds are deliberate, thoughtful affairs, and have been since the 8-bit era. While I’ve certainly trudged through some stinkers, it would likely not be an exaggeration to claim that I have spent over 20,000 hours exploring complicated, deliberately created fantasy worlds.
So, after all that, you’d think I’d have even the most rudimentary sense of direction. And you’d be wrong.
I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten lost on my way to the refrigerator. I’ve certainly gotten lost following basic MapQuest directions. And, while my friends and I have vowed to never speak of it again, I may or may not have been responsible for being lost for approximately six hours on the labyrinthine highways of Pennsylvania trying to arrive at a location a whole hour from home. I’m not a complete lost cause! I do have a surprisingly good sense of actual direction, like I could easily tell you which way is East right now (it’s that-a-way), but actually navigating a manmade road in a direction that facilitates “going east” is likely impossible. I need careful, slow GPS directions to find my way to any site I haven’t already visited 500 times, and, if my phone didn’t have an onboard directions app, I’d probably be posting this article from a remote cave in Nebraska. Life would be so much easier if I could just live in any found cave…
This, unfortunately, has translated into decimating my videogame map memory. Yes, I’ve memorized some games like one might never forget the contours of a lover (“You’re comparing Super Metroid to some manner of paramour again, aren’t you?” “You never forget your first.”), but my recent replay of Yoshi’s Island reminded me that I have the map sense of a naked mole rat (I am assuming creatures that are effectively blind are bad at maps, but please correct me if I’m wrong). I 100%’ed Yoshi’s Island back in the day, and, when I was done doing that, I did it all over again for at least three save files. Considering all the hidden secrets and damned contemptible red coins in that title, that would mean, just to accomplish such a task once, I would have, at one time in my life, have had to explore every last inch of Yoshi’s entire island. And I did it repeatedly! And, just a few (more than a few) years later, I can barely recognize the second world. Touch Fuzzy, Get Biz-ay is permanently seared into my noggin, but most any other stage is a mystery. And it’s not that my thumbs don’t know how to make Yoshi pull off acrobatic feats the likes of which shyguys have never seen; no, it’s entirely my own ailing memory for locations that hampers Baby Mario’s progress.
Reality or digital, I would have a hard time backtracking my way through a paper bag.
Fortunately, this works just fine for today’s game, Fable 2. For many people, the big draw of Fable 2 was its morality system and “interlocking world” or whatever Peter Molyneux claimed was the alchemical secret to the franchise that week. Basically, the Fable 2 world places a very significant emphasis on consequences for actions, so if you spit on a street urchin during the intro, suddenly your entire hometown is a crap sack for the rest of history. Alternatively, you could buy some bread with your last shiny penny, and suddenly the future is all rainbows and pony rides. As a bullet point on a game case, this is pretty interesting, however, in actual practice, it seems alternately goofy and disturbing. Look, I ate an adorable chick alive once, and now the entire world has been plunged into darkness under the heel of a malevolent cult? Dude, I’m sorry, I just wanted to see if it was animated (it’s not, but there is an interesting crunching noise). And don’t get me started on the problems with the Fable diet choices…
But for all the goofiness of the Fable 2 universe, I can’t fault the game at all, as it grants us the blessed golden trail. Set any quest as your goal in Fable 2, and a delightful little glowing path will materialize in front of your avatar. Follow this rainbow to a pot of gold! Or wander away, get completely lost in the middle of some godforsaken forest, and look down to find that trail is still there and ready to lead you home. The golden path makes it impossible to get lost, and, even better, always points you towards your objective. You can save, stop playing because you have a goddamned life, come back a month later after you’ve successfully rehabilitated your cat after he got into a dynamite fight with that one brown mouse, and there’s the path all over again. You can play half the game, quit for a decade, and restart with absolutely no need to remember what you were doing at all. Just follow the path, and you’ll be back on track in no time.
It’s a glorious thing.
Sure, there have been naysayers over the years. Yes, the path absolutely discourages straying from the trail and exploring, and, should an area not contain a quest, it’s likely you’ll never encounter the location at all. Sure, the very concept of a “go here now” guide seems antithetical to a game that touts the importance of choice. And, the path absolutely drops the onus on the level (world?) designers that previously had to carefully design an environment that subtlety pushed the player forward toward new goals. In fact, this seems to be the number one problem with the path, as you can see its impact almost immediately. No more do there have to be trees that point forward or trodden paths that indicate your future goals; no, now it’s all a glowing path through a generic forest, and, turn off the path, and what hope do you have of finding your goal? Fable 2 was designed with the glowing path in mind, so it seems very little effort was put into making an actually “thoughtful”, forward progress-based map experience.
And all I can say is: welcome to my world.
Earth, our dearly beloved planet, is not designed well. There are oceans right next to big piles of sand, and Mother Nature didn’t even think to stick a guardrail or two on her most dangling precipices. Humanity tried to tame this crazy wilderness, but as anyone that has ever driven a car in New York City will tell you, failed utterly and completely. In my own hometown, a place that doesn’t have to account for that many people or unusual geography, we have at least two streets that somehow loop in on themselves, and have thus trapped confused visiting relatives for decades. I don’t know if I’ll ever see my uncle again! And, sure, this is me, someone who once wound up in international waters in an attempt to walk to the local post office, saying this, but you have to admit that the average aerial city map looks less like the careful design of Miyamoto and more like someone haphazardly threw up a set of tinker toys (you never forget your junior prom).
So you know what? I can handle a game or two with crappy level design. The world has crappy level design, and I’m tired of pretending that Dr. Wily could build a fortress better than most urban planners. Give me my poorly designed Fable universe, and give me a glowing trail to follow through it.
And if you still think my glowy path is a bad thing? Then get lost.
FGC #379 Fable 2
- System: Xbox 360 exclusive. It’s weird how rarely that happens.
- Number of players: Two! You can have a friend pop into your world for extra mayhem. Have fun, lil’ buddy!
- They’re all good boys: The other big selling point for Fable 2 was… a dog. Look, it was 2008, and a little furry AI buddy was the pinnacle of technology. And we were young and stupid. It was at least two of those things. Regardless, the dog was good fun and predictable in its plot function, but maaaaaybe a little useless in every other conceivable way. I’m pretty sure Sonic 2 Tails would have been a more welcome addition.
- Branching Paths: And speaking of plot, this is a great example of a story with a resolution like I was trying to describe during the FF12 article: you can be good or bad, but, one way or another, you wind up saving the world all the same. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing it for altruism or revenge, the ending is still the same. Granted, other companies would eventually refine and master this kind of storytelling, but it’s always clever when a choose-your-own-adventure ends on the same page.
- Favorite Combat: It was here that I learned to stop worrying and just love shooting things with gigantic magical guns. I rather expected I’d be more of a magic user, but when I leveled everything up, I found that I had transformed my avatar into some manner of na’vi. That is incredibly lame, so, for all future playthroughs, I just focused on the gun stuff, as “tall” was all I could tolerate. Yes, I choose my killing methods based on how they impact my appearance. How do you do it?
- Did you know? There were some production problems with the Fable 2 Limited Edition. It was initially supposed to include a figurine and some trading cards… but they never materialized. As an apology, Fable 2 LEs were shipped with a voucher to download some Fable OST MP3s. That’s nice… except a number of LEs were accidentally shipped without the vouchers, too. Oops.
- Would I play again: Path or no path, I really did enjoy Fable 2. It’s not my “game of the year” for 2008 or something, but it was certainly a lot more fun than… huh… literally every other Xbox 360 exclusive I can think of. Assuming we ever see a Fable 2 HD, maybe as part of some ridiculous collection, I’ll likely jump on it immediately.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pokémon Moon for the Nintendo 3DS! We shall catch pokémon from here to the stars and back! Please look forward to it!