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Olego

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Intricacy [Jun. 5th, 2011|02:45 am]
Olego
[mood |contemplativefascinated]
[music |Tripswitch - Strange Parallels]

This post contains spoilers about: KotOR 1 and 2, Ringworld and Ringworld Engineers, Integral Trees, Dreamfall, Ender’s Game, and Xenocide

After finishing Knights of the Old Republic 2, it became necessary for me to understand and describe why I liked that game so much. It was definitely the story (much more so than the gameplay, or the graphics, or the music), but I was trying to figure out what exactly made its story so much more appealing than a lot of the other games that I have played—even more appealing than KotOR 1. KotOR 1 had a better story—it was deeper, had a great plot twist (“I was Revan?”), had great characters—but KotOR 2 had something that KotOR 1 did not. The more I thought about it, the more parallels I could draw to other works of art that elicited the same excitement; and all these works of art contain an important quality:

They’re intricate. In this context, intricacy requires at least two full-fledged layers: a background layer to support the rules of story's universe, and the protagonist's interaction with the universe according to these rules. The expanse of the background layer, the depth which is put into these surroundings, is what makes stories with an intricate background that much more appealing. Ringworld (and its sequel) are prime examples: the amount of detail with which the Ringworld is described is incredible for a book. First, there's the ring itself, and all its physical properties, including spin, scrith, atmosphere, walls, shadow squares. Then there's evolution, various species of humanoids, rishathra. Then there are various key species--builders, ghouls, vampires--who already have conflicts before Louis's arrival. Then there is a layer describing the "more-prominent" species: Puppeteers, Kzinti, Paks, Humans. And finally, there's the main story. Integral Trees is another example: in order to describe to the journey of the Quinn Tribe, the novel first fully defines the physics of the torus--and only then proceeds with the characters. (The book doesn’t go in that order—but it’s clear that Niven knew the entire setting before he started writing those books.)

My requirement for an intricately woven background layer is that it must be substantial enough to fully support both the problem and the solution presented in the main story—and that they must be fully dependent on the background. There’s a small part of Xenocide that exhibits intricacy that Ender’s Game does not: Outside. Although Card dedicates a relatively small amount of time describing it and aiúa and the male and female trees, the process of Jane storing her self in the male trees, going Outside, and coming back Inside using concepts and patters was written well enough to be self-contained. In contrast, the “plot twist” in Ender’s Game—the fact that Ender was fighting the Buggers, and not Rackham—was pleasantly surprising but not intricate. It didn’t have a strong background layer that supported the resolution. Intricacy isn’t required for a great story—but it’s always welcome by me.

Unfortunately, KotOR 2 fell 1 step short of intricacy. I sought it; I thought I had grasped it, and then the game ended: Kreia did not end up destroying the galaxy, and the Exile was not, in fact, the cause of the destruction of Katarr. S/he should have been: (a) Exile separated from the force to survive Malachor V (b) Exile has a wound that everyone else sees (c) Exile “feeds” on deaths (by levelling up after so many killed creatures), (d) Exile uses the Force without being tied to the Force. Come on, it would’ve been perfect: board the Ravager looking for Nihilus, but only find your own quarters. But unfortunately, the story went downhill from there, leading to a disappointing ending.

Well, there’s always my hope for Dreamfall Chapters. Despite dozens of loose endings, Dreamfall is still by far the most intricate story I can think of. It took me a few days of analysis and reading about the aboriginal mythology to understand how the Balance—Stork and Arkadia, are but two parts of the universe flowing through Dreamtime with the Dreaming and the Undreaming at both ends—how both the Azadi Tower (sitting roughly on top of the Chamber of Dreams) and the Dreamer (powered by the Eingana) are two parts necessary to transfer dreams from Stork into Arkadia—not affecting the Balance enough for the Guardian to detect, but only because the Guardian’s job is rather small in contrast to the whole Dreamtime… Yeah, upon all that there’s a layer with Westhouse allegedly killing the White Kin; there's Winter—which is a chunk of Dreamtime carved out by Faith; and the Static. And on top of that there’s the story, with a twist at the end.

Anyone got any good stories for me to consume? :-)
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