The Way.

Videogames and Me.

There's a number of terminologies applicable to the way I go about video games. De-constructing them in every sense of the word, taking apart the pieces in a myriad of Forms. I play a game with the tightest of self-imposed restrictions in one play-through, while exploring every myriad of the story in another. Metagaming and an unquenchable desire for narrative-based fulfilment more or less run together, to a degree where I can be playing a game for six months attempting to get a "perfect" run-through*. Making sure to check every single piece of code I can, as well as all exploits and notes, to ensure I don't miss a thing.

The game in question is Crestfallen Studios's The Way - a game I would nominate as my personal favourite RPG of all time.

I should begin by noting this with a significant preface - I will be referencing much of the Easter Eggs/Secrets in the game as explained in this guide here, and thus - Spoilers beware.

Characterising the vRPG community - or the RPG community in general is a fascinating and demanding task. Nevertheless, one of the defining aspects of that quintessential bastion of nerdism is the ardent love of the character. Call it fanboyism, even-handed appreciation of subjective qualities ... or acknowledging fact. There's a number of imalleable concepts that a great many "Epic" games in this field establish from the start - the mighty quest of adventurers to stop a world-ending power, of which many variations devise (hello Final Fantasy). There's the equally established - although often more subtle "Refine/Discover/Salve" The self - another category I think brilliantly summarised by examples such as Yume Nikki (play this. cry at the end).

All of these conventions have become understood - to the point where we as a ardent brotherhood of analysis can usually pick apart the great scheme of a plot long before the game finishes. Which naturally leaves us both keeping an even keener eye; we desire jaw-dropping execution of what we know, all the while hoping crossing our fingers that in some fundamental way this storyline will surprise us. It's one thing to be in awe of FLAWLESS EXECUTION ... but to do so in uncharted territory, where others have failed before, that's something. When it comes to RPG plots, the claws are well and truly out, for the backbone of the story better be both enduring and pliable, to meet both the demand for execution and some measure of clever originality. In this context ... The Way starts entirely as a quest about a girl.

Not saving a childhood friend, or an established relationship between two existing characters introduced in the opening five minutes of the story ... the main character Rhue, is chasing the memory of a girl to better understand his past, a girl linked to him through a traumatic moment of violence in their lives. That's it.

At this moment you breathe in deeply. The doubt might have already crept into your psyche upon opening the damn thing - RPGmaker? Talk about setting the difficulty bar from Very Hard to "Very Hard with Hardcore Mode enabled, minus the tag skills, on eleven"*. Those with a fetish for modern graphics might well have shifted from the chair into seven stages of bodily-fluid-based-disgust already, but I implore you to stay (after cleaning up, of course). You will be missing something - as tired as the old cliché about books and covers might be, as well as my use of the cliché in describing it in this fashion. Like every aspect of this game - you have to play it and let it develop naturally. This may be considered by many people as a flaw, I acknowledge this, while disagreeing with it.

*Sue me, I'm playing Fallout New Vegas at the moment.

Purpose, Travellers, The Way ... these are all words you will become familiar with as you start understanding the jargon and setting of this little adventure, set in a standard world of fantasy fare. The Way chooses to seat itself in a Medieval (or thereabouts) world constantly on the move in a circle - no, this is not a poor joke. The "Way" itself refers to the process that all of the people inside the game world are constantly moving forward, relocating belongings, lives ... everything forward. They do this nominally to avoid being swallowed up by a "Fog" which follows behind ... following a path of bridges, roads, trails and wells set ahead of them by mysterious "Forerunners". The motif of forward progress carries a second implication of course ... if the setting is spherical ... it implies cyclical renewal as well, a theme that's rather interesting to reflect upon in the context when you've completed the game.

Of course, in line with the often cryptic details about the setting of The Way, don't expect a clear explanation as to what this all means. I am generally terrible at explanation of plots of course ... so I encourage all those interested to play the first episodes, and see what that's all about.

The plot of course develops - and in a sense this originally very narrow "Plot Focus" assists with things. Rhue's stubbornness in chasing what is more or less a vaporous dream feels so unbelievable and yet appropriate. To use a literary comparison in the Great Gatsby ... we all laughed at his mannerisms and block-headiness, yet the book still resonates with one of the cornerstones of western democracy and upward social mobility. Over time, the plot expands to encompass more characters and many world-spanning and defining organisations, as would naturally be expected. It also goes down that familiar line of becoming increasingly darkier, edgier - and more exciting and unpredictable. The range of environments both social and topographic explored provides a good twenty or thirty hours of play time - and remains focused and exciting without overstaying it's welcome. That of course leaves out all of the ever so enjoyable Easter eggs and Secrets, of which there are truly many.

However, I must note here a clever - and fitting undermining of this classic development idea in that while Rhue becomes drawn into factions with the power to change or save the world, the paradigm of the game itself remains Narrow. Rhue may tilt factional balance in the largest city on the game-world on it's head, and undermine some of the more powerful martial factions ... but the world fundamentally does not end up ripped in half by the presence of the PC. In a lot of respects, I love this it gives so many of the narratives meaning. While Rhue may have provided a direct and indirect catalyst to some of the events that occur, so much of the situation was in place long before he arrived and will continue to be developing - for all the cruelties and moments of mercy, for better and worse, long after he is gone. The absence of a clear direction in all of the endings leaves us with that; even if the cost may be player frustration for a while.

You can walk away from these endings with a growing smile in your psyche and your mind, even if it's not on your face.

Call it a respectable establishment of continuity. This becomes even more interesting when Rhue's identity - physical, spiritual mental, are all called into question (OMFG PLOT TWIST). The fact that the line of Darker, Edgier, more involved is a snowballing sent rolling from the start - as well as the choices of a number of rather introspective and appropriate endings. These range up and down the spectrum depending on how you played, even your actions at the very start of the game.

This game wasn't created by the efforts of a team behind the driving engine - although the legions of testers and doubtless, editors had their say. To bow to Lun's remarkable honesty on the condition of his own psyche through in-game notes - "Challenges bring despair or innovation.", all linked to emotion and energy; all chained to the realities of Human experience. This shines through in the characters and they all seem to have many more flaws than redeeming qualities at many points through the narrative. In short, it all comes together to create a very compelling story and set of character interactions, all worth you time. Furthermore, Lun's willingness to dispose of them is something comparable to Planescape Torment - something both braver than Black Isle Studios and easier at the same time, given the lack of fame associated with the work of Crestfallen. Put simply, it works very well.

The characterisation could definitely have backfired. The reluctant weapon Slade's Blance between "Good", "Evil" and "contextually righteous", the arrogant and abusive Strata, clever, witty, world-weary warrior Traziun could all have been botched with a lesser writter. Gaius and Kloe run ever so close to the tropes of White Knight/Paladin and Annoying-out-of-her-league-lassie, yet become enjoyable side-sto ... I'm carrying on now. The short version is that Lun C - by hook or by crook, design or accident, successfully makes his characters Human. I feel it's significant enough to acknowledge the risk that was taken here. At many a point they feel like archetypes, stereotypes or tropes ... and yet at no point did I feel this ruined the believability. Rather, it enhanced the experience.

Gameplay-mechanics wise, the game reflects the plot - it's basic RPG fare in many aspects, combined with enough originality and pinpoint execution to be "excellent!" in the sound-bite kind of way. The concept that is new is the Mini-game "The Plunge" (as well as a few other minigames), which simulates a simultaneous Jousting/Sword duel fusion, and while simplistic, manages to be surprisingly addictive. The levelling doesn't have a huge requirement for grinding levels or increasing abilities (and is mostly accomplished with using "notches" in swords to hold items), which allows the prospective player to focus completing the storyline - but also fully capable of nerding it up and power-gaming their characters to be tanks. There are even options to skip the combat if that takes your fancy, providing an option for everybody.

The notion of "Experience" is perhaps the best context by with which to evaluate the graphics and all-so-important music. Given RPGmaker, the graphics are obviously going to be utilitarian, reminding any viewer of their SNES days and giving the game a certain charm. The sound on the other hand, is excellent. Drawing from a number of midi files from many a game - Lunar II Eternal Blue being of note and some custom pieces - such as the exceptional A Time and Place made for the game , The Way's soundtrack does a truly exceptional job of setting the scene. Cave battles, running for one's life in a collapsing city-state, trapped in a dream-like recollection of past friends and memories, or traversing an icy tower to find answers ... there's not a single moment the music doesn't truly succeed, I recall. It's all very involving and in some ways it could be overwhelming for some, but I honestly believe it works out as a massive net positive.

Experience.

A respectable Myriad of people out there do not believe in Video Games as an Art form, or as a legitimate form of Media at all. Naturally, I dispute this and would cite The Way as a primary example. Plot, characters, interaction, dialogue, music sound gameplay ... these are drawn together with their own composite flaws to create what I feel is one of the greatest of the RPG and Video Game experiences. Just as other critically acclaimed games create and attract the gamer into their Experience - The Fallout Series, Deus Ex and Starcraft all being great examples, The Way also strikes it home.
Because fundamentally graphics, gameplay, storylines ... these are means to an end, nothing more. Quake and Doom drew people in their experiences in a completely different way - frenetic action, yet are also timeless classics with good reason. Certainly, I would also posit the polemic that this is why certain generations struggle to understand the appeal of the Art/Media before them - context is important of creating an experience because context defines the audience we create for.

So with that in mind, who is the Way's Audience and why is it such a strongly defined and involving experience that I rate as one of my favourite games of all time? At the risk of becoming too indulgent, I think I'll cite some of the notes of the Author himself.

Note: Why leave this woman here? No one ever sees her and yet she's still here.
Why hesitate to delete her? I don't know. My plans always grow greater and greater
and I thought I'd need her. But now new things occupy my mind.
Note: So I'll just let her stand idle, unseen, and unkown to the average person.
But maybe she'll occupy someone else's mind someday.
Luke



Probably the best means of summarising this game comes to light above. The Way is a unique undertaking to play and doesn't get nearly enough of the respect it deserves, an acknowledgement given by Lun all along. It has bits and pieces that probably don't need to be there and could be removed to present a more cohesive experience. The Characterisation could be less ambitious and risky, the aural Involvement assault less obvious ... or the cryptically intricate setting and plot altered to give the player more "fulfilment" in a straightforward conventional sense. But that would for me, utterly ruin the experience.

All of these considerations are subjective, of course; many will dispute them. So instead of continuing on I'd like to refer to the person who can best express the strength of feeling and energy placed in this game - The Author/Creator/whatever himself, Lun Calasari.

Note: It's a late night, but I'm almost finished. Watched some movies tonight with the neighbor
girls. Man, I've got to add enemies to the Forest area after this. I think I'll easily finish
before the end of February. Might do some special stuff for Lexus quest.
Note: Episode 3 got released just a little while back, been getting about 2 or 3 letters a day.
Trying to help everyone who is asking me questions as best I can.
Note: I'm still feeling lots of pressure to do something that "matters". Games are considered to
be silly and childish by a lot of people around me. Or maybe it's just me.
Note: They don't see it the way I do. That's all right.



Call this game a labour of expression. The consistency of the note-taking, the lack of certainty in what he has accomplished ... Lun doesn't pretend to give answers. What he underwent to write this game was agonising and neither fully describable, even by him. A thousand things could have gone horribly wrong with this game; judging by his notes, a thousand did. But the end product is something I can't bring myself to justify any real changes to. Fundamentally, I believe the best value of a piece of art in respect to what it "represents", how "true" it is to representing and portraying the Author/Creator's wishes and "being" ... is by the happiness it brings them. I don't really know if The Way brought Lun happiness in the end, measured on a scale of positives and negatives - just the same way as I can't know if say, The Black Parade did so for the band My Chemical Romance. Only he knows that. However, I do hope it was worth it for him in the end.

It would be a terrible shame if it was his The Pale King By that I'm not so much implying physical (ie, suicide or self-harm or whatever) as a vessel born through a person's great effort and considerable agony that was never truly alleviated. All of this is perfectly epitomised as you walk away from the game at Episode Six - as the stunning "A Time and Place" plays, recognised by Lun himself


If a person doesn't feel anything listening to A Time and a Place at the end of Episode 6
as the credits roll, then maybe I have failed them.



The Way works phenomenally as it is ... and even Even if Lun could have written on and on, an infinite number of words, would it ever have been enough to answer all questions? It leaves you with that doubt on top of the experience - why is this game here and why did the author subject himself to so much misery to complete it? The ending; and indeed, the entire journey doesn't give enough answers for finality. I find it beauteously appropriate that it never will and hope one day, the answer you will be happiest with will occupy your mind.

But I know what my answer is.

(http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheWay)
(http://www.crestfallen.us/)


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