Love and Death in the Wild West

Developers: Team Senseless Violence

  • Victoria Cummings
  • Leland Grey
  • Clay Knight
  • Mackenzie Snow
  • Evan Whitis

Love and Death in the Wild West is a text-based adventure game based on the last days of the famous outlaw Billy the Kid. In this game, the player takes control of both Billy the Kid and the lawman who eventually ends his reign of terror. The player will fight through multiple scenarios and decide the correct path for each of these characters to achieve their final goals. Love and Death in the Wild West covers many themes including but not limited to: violence, romance, lawlessness, and redemption. All the while remaining accurate to period-correct source material on the exploits of Billy the Kid and those surrounding him. We hope all players will find something to enjoy in this game and be in some way impacted by the story told.

Selected Readings

Dary, David. Cowboy culture: a saga of five centuries. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1989

Gardner, Mark Lee. To hell on a fast horse: the untold story of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett. New York: Harper, 2011

Garrett, Pat F., and Durwood Ball. The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing, 2017.

Rutter, Michael. Upstairs girls: prostitution in the American West. Helena, MT: Farcountr Press, 2010

In Defense of the Big Empty: Using the Great Plains as a Setting

The middle of America was once a highly romanticised and mystical area. As pioneers pushed through the Louisiana Purchase territory and carved states out of vast stretches of land; the legend of the west began. However, as the push to the west came to its conclusion and air travel became more popular these territories that once were on the spear tip of American society became ‘fly-over states.” Texas, Wyoming, New Mexico, and places of the like simply became swathes of land that folks could see out their windows while flying from some important east coast city to an important west coast city. The myth was debunked, the west no longer as wild and tame. Native Americans are no longer feared and wild warriors, they are a people trying to survive years of poverty and systematic neglect. The white Americans that live there are not seen as the honorable lawmen or dastardly bandits of the middle-1800s but as a conservative and simple folk that could not assimilate to urban life. The mythical west was all but forgotten, which is an incredible shame; especially in the video game medium.

For all the storied aspects of the west that have faded with time many still persevere. The western states are still as beautiful as ever. Video games have the unique ability to both show a beautiful place and have the player then interact with that landscape. ‘Walking simulator’ understand this part of the medium as they both present a setting and allow the player to explore it without relying too heavily on scripting or set-pieces. One of my group members mentioned Firewatch in a previous blog-post which is a perfect example of this. It allows the players to just sit and bask in the beauty of the setting, the action isn’t hurried along to the next platform or shooting gallery. Movies are able to do this with long, sweeping helicopter shots which remove the viewer from the action. Video games usually do not have the luxury of removing players from the action since it can create pacing and immersion issues. Therefore, settings tend to be in places where more people, places, and actions are happening at once. Grand Theft Auto is a beloved franchise because of how full the sandbox is. Creating chaos in urban landscapes is easy, not so much in big open plains. Creating sandboxes in the great plains area then has to become highly intentional and more involved. This is an argument I can sympathize with, screenshot hunting is only fun for so long and the game has to have a character outside of that. That is where the nature of the people who call this place their home pick up the slack.

In The Long Dark, a survival game you play as a normal human being whose will to survive is about to be put to the ultimate test. Whereas this game is set in the Yukon it could very easily be Wyoming or the Dakotas if wildlife and hypothermia are the main antagonists. The game captures the character of living out in an area like that; where toughness and fortitude are necessary to live. What games miss by not using a great plains sandbox is the fact that life in that part of the country is not guaranteed. Rural Washington does not have hot dog salesmen on every corner waiting to sell you health packs; In Texas, you don’t just have to contend with the police force when committing a crime, but with many of the town folks as well. We often times believe that the people of the wild west were hearty, but the people living there now are direct descendants and have been raised with many of the same virtues of self-reliance. These communities are close-knit and the people in them are, for better or worse, aware of what their neighbors are going through. It would be interesting for a game to explore town dynamics in one of these areas. Instead, it is much easier to rest on our laurels and make something more tried and true.

Our group is making a game on the wild west. People want to hear stories about banditos and gunslingers and that is more than fine. However, I think that there is a severe lack of service given to the great plains area of our country. It has all of the makings of a compelling story: conflict, both internal and external, survival, and almost tribal togetherness. It also has a gorgeous setting that has the ability to stop a player in their tracks. It would require going all in though. To capture the essence a developer would have to embrace the things that may seem boring. Only dealing with a couple of characters, a sandbox without filler, a soundtrack that revels in the solitude of the plains. Players may find it boring, but if done correctly could be something that throws a wrench in gaming conventions and returns attention to the ‘fly-over states.’

DOOM: Ripping and Tearing Genre Conventions

In 2016 the first person shooter genre was flagging greatly. The genre was stilted with multiplayer-focused titles that ranged anywhere from arcade to incredibly realistic. Gone were the days of the sitting down and playing a shooter alone just to blow off some steam. The single-player aspect of games also became stilted in lore. Cutscenes that lasted as long as the gameplay were no longer exception but the norm. Developers wanted so desperately to tell a story with a moral that would inspire or move a player they forgot the core aspect of gaming, its supposed to be fun. Regardless of Ian Bogost’s criticism, there is a place for “Big Fucking Guns” in video games and it took the game that made the BFG-9000 a cultural cornerstone remind gamers of that.

At its heart, Doom is a pure gameplay experience. The first level sees the Doom Marine retrieve the famous armor and receive a goal for the next fifteen minutes of gameplay. After receiving the goal a character begins to monologue; in any other game this would have played out for minutes. Not in Doom. The Doom Marine picks up the radio and throws it across the room. In the first two minutes, Doom has established the pace that the player can expect from the game. No cutscenes, minimal tutorial, and no moral dilemmas. Literally, all hell has broken loose and it is up to the player to shred through hordes of demons to complete the game. This was all that was needed to be conveyed and that was all that was conveyed. In world stilted with grey areas, Doom allowed a player the solace of a black and white narrative; you were good and the demons were evil. A player who is truly interested in the game world and backstory can pick up audio logs and fill the codex to fill holes in the story. Meanwhile, a player who just wants to rush from kill room to kill room with the Super Shotgun (like I did) receive a bare minimum story to keep the objectives straight. In a time where the stories of games would hold your hand all the way through, Doom took the story and chucked it into the boot and drove off down the highway. Doom’s minimalist story might have been a bit sparse if it was not complemented by gameplay that took a chainsaw to the timely conventions of the genre.

In 2016 most shooters relied heavily on cover, regenerating health, realistic movement speed, and high damage weapons. Save the high damage weapons, Doom does not follow these conventions at all. Doom is a hardcore, violent, and aggressive game and the gameplay reflects that flawlessly. The Doom Marine carries all of the weapons in the game as they become available, runs at full speed at all times, and double jumps over most obstacles. Health is done with a bar, and just as easily as it can be depleted by the numerous enemies the player will be facing at once it can be refilled just as easily. The ‘Glory Kill’ system was the mechanic that made Doom work. By getting an enemy to low health the Doom Marine could finish them off with a brutal hand-to-hand kill that dropped health like a pinata. The lower the health these ‘Glory Kills’ were performed at the more health would be granted to the player. The infamous ‘chainsaw’ worked the same way. Granting a one hit kill and a treasure trove of ammunition in exchange for relatively scarce gasoline. These mechanics made it so the action was always moving forward. In many games with health bars, the player has to stop and backtrack for health and ammo. Doom is about movement, forwards and sideways, but almost never back. One of the gameplay tips on the loading screens is “Hell devours the indolent” and it could not be truer. Playing Doom like you would play a conventional shooter, especially on the higher difficulties, will see you waiting around to die more times than not.

I would be remissed if I did not give kudos to Mick Gordon’s incredible soundtrack for this game. In a gaming culture where game scores are either orchestral or techno, Doom turns the Djent metal up to eleven and keeps it there. It was a bit of risk on the developers part to use music like this. Metal is a niche genre and most people simply do not enjoy the constant auditory bombardment that it offers. However, Doom uses it right, it compliments the gameplay loop so well and really urges the player on the really tough fights. Plus it is simple euphoric when you finish off an enemy and the blasting guitar riffs fade into a more ambient synth. The game uses its soundtrack to let the player know when they have a break and when its time to rip & tear. Atmosphere is obviously created in other games through this method but Doom sets itself apart by using a genre of music that most developers would touch with a ten-foot pole.

When Doom was announced the E3 demo looked like more of the same. It moved slowly, the soundtrack was synthy and safe, and its atmosphere was simply weak. People feared that Doom, the powerhouse over-the-top shooter that changed gaming many years before, had fallen into the same trap that many great franchises had fallen into by 2016. What was eventually released was so far from conventional that a ‘low-brow’, loud, gore-fest became a Game of the Year candidate for many in the community. Doom is not a game that can be accessed by everyone, but any fan of the shooter genre should give it a shot just to see how good the genre can be once the fat is cut. Some may decry the ‘childish power fantasy’ of Doom but if not in Doom, the series which created many of these discourses in the first place, then where? It should not be shameful to enjoy the catharsis of Doom and games like it. The world is stilted in uncertainty and unsolvable problems; Doom allows its player to turn off the lights, pump up their headphones, and solve problems two barrels at a time.

War Thunder and the Realism vs. Gameplay Dilemma

Howdy Y’all,

Our group made a solid amount of progress today. We decided upon the Wild West as our setting and Twine as our software. Overall, the project outlook is bright. However, I wanted to use this blog post to speak on something near and dear to my heart, the free-to-play online multiplayer game War Thunder.

In many ways, Russian developer Gaijin’s War Thunder was the game that shifted the flight simulation genre from aviation enthusiasts to more general gamers. Straying away from their niche and highly realistic Il-2 Sturmovik series, Gaijin sought to broaden their player base.  War Thunder employs intuitive, easy to learn, hard to master, controls that take advantage of the mouse and keyboard instead of the fabled and largely dead flight-stick peripheral. This control decision, as well as the monetary decision to make it free-to-play, nets War Thunder eleven thousand monthly players on steam. By comparison, the newest Il-2 simulator nets only one hundred and fifty players a month on steam. Therefore, it can be drawn from numbers that stylistic decisions benefit War Thunder as it offers a more fun gameplay experience for more people than the realistic offerings.

Multiplayer is at the core of all the gameplay decisions in War Thunder. Everyone who has seen Top Gun knows that air combat (stylized as “dogfighting”) is an extremely intense and high-adrenaline experience. Coupled with the World War Two setting, which many believe was a golden age (for lack of a better term) for air combat, War Thunder allows players to take part in the high-octane dogfights above the Pacific and Europe with little entrance requirement. Being able to choose from the five major powers, with France and Italy having been recently added, gives players a true sense of freedom and creates interesting multiplayer matches. However, this freedom has been a pervasive, core issue that a community that I have been apart of for almost four years has dealt with.

War is never meant to be symmetrical and balanced. Every day, contractors are hard at work designing weapons that are not only better than their opponents but capable of countering them at every turn. This was on display in WW2 as much as any other war. This creates an interesting issue for a multiplayer game which stresses accessibility. For example, German aircraft in the early-war were far superior to their Russian opponents. Another example, Japan was not the production behemoth that the U.S. was and therefore had to stretch early-war fighters into the late war. This is all rectified in the name of balance. German early-war fighters will often face Russian fighters that did not see service until years later. In the case of the Japanese American late-war fighters face aircraft that never left the prototype phase. This allows games to be interesting and for players to feel like they have a chance to affect the outcome of a match regardless of the plane they choose. Obviously, this is not historically accurate and there have been many heated forum debates on the place of historical accuracy in this game. Personally, I am in the camp that historical accuracy can suffer a bit for the overall balance of the game, but there are hardliners that think the game show maintain historical integrity even if balance suffers in the process. It has been a debate for War Thunder players for as long as I can remember playing the game. Gaijin has protected game balance by continuously updating the game and fixing issues that the community raises. Accuracy is also a major part of these updates, they often change aircraft and weapon characteristics so that they better resemble their real-life counterparts. This continued support means that the developers are concerned about not only delivering a fun game but also the burden that they bare as a historical medium.

War Thunder is not the only game that suffers from the historical accuracy dilemma. In fact, most multiplayer war games will struggle with this in some way, shape, or form during development and post-release. What separates games that survive and games that fail is how well they are able to balance this dichotomy. War Thunder is a perfect example of a game that has been able to balance accuracy and fun, and it has been rewarded with a loyal playerbase.