“Role-playing isn’t storytelling. If the dungeon master is directing it, it’s not a game.” – Gary Gygax, co-creator of “Dungeons & Dragons”
Yesterday the second episode of “Tales from the Borderlands” was released. I’ve played it and will now proceed to drop some spoilers. If you haven’t played it, please do so. If you just want the lessons, by all means, keep reading!
Lesson 1: What Gygax said!
This game is so good at not dictating what the best course of action is. Since we’re playing “past” events one could imagine that all roads lead to Rome. We know that Rhys and Fiona will make it somehow.
This is where the element of role-playing comes in. I caught myself thinking about how I’d acted with the characters in the previous episode and base my actions on the choices they’ve made so far.
It makes it even more interesting to find out what we want their story to be. What choices lead them there? Who else is still alive? Who is the person behind the mask interrogating them? Even when we know part of the outcome the story still manages to draw us in.
Lesson 2: We will feel the feels!
This episode starts out with something that we actually are more or less forced to do. We need to remove a dead man’s eye (General Pollux) in order to get security clearance. The tool required? A spork.
It gets a little graphic when the camera angle switches to Pollux’s point of view while Fiona extracts his eye. Sure, we still have the choice of turning off the game and going to our happy place. Where’s the fun in that? Screw mental health!
When we finally get clearance a video starts playing explaining what’s happened and it turns out that General Pollux was, well, in suspended animation. So, yeah…
Lesson 3: Seriously Fun Storytelling!
I’ll zoom out of this particular game and look at “Borderlands” as a whole. This will inform why I think that the “Tales”-series, as good as it is, at times stumbles.
In the first game we take on the role as one of 4 vault hunters trying to find a vault on, let’s face it, a shithole of a planet called Pandora. It’s full of creatures and psychos who are out to kill you. It’s all kind of Mad Maxian.
Now, if we’re in a situation that awful we’ve got to let off some steam and find ways to survive. How do we do that? Like Fiona says: “You came to Pandora, now you get to live like we do. Wait for more powerful people to kill each other, and take their stuff.”
Anything else? We act as if it’s not getting to us and try to find some semblance of humor in any given situation. A little sarcasm never hurt anybody on Pandora. It merely got them killed.
There were times during both Episode 1 and Episode 2 where the dialogue turned a little too “on the nose” and serious. As we know perfection is an asymptote but I hope that they manage to improve on this for the upcoming episodes.
They could take a page from Kevin Smith & Bruce Willis, believe it or not!
Some time ago I saw a movie called “Cop Out” directed by Kevin Smith and starring Bruce Willis & Tracy Morgan. The movie is your basic “buddy cop movie” and wasn’t amazing but there was on scene that they managed to get just right.
The relationship is basically that Bruce is your tough guy and Tracy is the, let’s say, “emotional” one. This leads to the obvious comic banter.
In the scene i’m thinking of Tracy is lying in bed at a motel after seeing a video of his wife cheating on him. Bruce comes into the room and the following dialogue occurs:
BW: Have you been crying?
TM: I saw the nanny cam.
BW: I wish you didn’t have to see that. I couldn’t let you look at it, that’s all. I’ve been where you are.
TM: Come here, man. Look like you need a hug.
BW: Whoa, you really read that one wrong.
Here the characters stay “true” and don’t stray to make themselves into anything else. If they had this scene would’ve become mushy in comparison to everything else yet we still get to see that Bruce’s character has another dimension to him. It’s nothing major but it makes all the difference.
That’s where I sometimes feel “Tales” goes wrong. The characters stray off the path and things can get kind of sappy or mushy when it doesn’t serve them or the story. It’s so easy being a critic!
Just to prove the opposite point too, “Tales” did get it spot on was when it became clear that Vaughn had apparently “sold out” Rhys to Vasquez. Vaughn never intended to keep his promise to Vasquez but this still managed to cause some tension between Vaughn and Rhys. In an effort to bond the word “bro” was heavily used in the dialogue. They made a genius move by having Fiona take over their dialogue. Classic Borderlands stupidity at its best.
All in all it was yet another great experience! It’ll be interesting to see how they tie this into “Borderlands 3” since they don’t seem to be too good at continuity. There are some major plot holes to be filled.
The latest example being the video for the “Claptastic Voyage” DLC for “The Pre-Sequel” which shows both Handsome Jack with his mask AND Athena who at the end of “Borderlands 2” claimed she’d already left. So, there’s that…
I don’t think there’s that much more to say so I’ll just leave you with some quotes about storytelling and an animated short by Ben Hibon that actually inspired the graphic style of “Borderlands”. Also, notice how they’ve lifted some of the events of the short into “Borderlands”. As Picasso said: “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”
“We are the storytelling animal.” – Salman Rushdie
“The thing that I took away as an early fan from Bob Dylan was the storytelling aspects. He can tell some wicked stories.” – Ed Sheeran
“I like narrative storytelling as being part of a tradition, a folk tradition.” – Bruce Springsteen
“Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.” – Hannah Arendt
Codehunters – Ben Hibon