The indie game “genre” seems to be the platform in which we find the mysterious walking simulator. I say mysterious because often I find walking simulators walk the fine line between game and interactive story, generally being a various mix of both. The Old City: Leviathan (TOC:L) was the first walking simulator I played which was completely lacking in the game part. This got me thinking of what non-game elements are important in walking simulators. Or if you took out the game part, would it still hold up as an interactive story?
Admittedly, I haven’t played some of the big ones such as Dear Esther, Gone Home or The Stanley Parable, but I feel I still have a wing to fly by here.
Walking simulators take away the agency that games grant. You’re led through a story rather than driving it. So the story better be damn good. It doesn’t have to be a conventional story like a hero going on a quest to save the world… that would be every other game. Mystery seems to lend itself easily to this style of game as seen in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (TVoEC) or Anna.
This is less about whether the narrative or plotting is any good, and more about whether the plotting of the story is suited towards a walking simulator, whether the mode of storytelling is delivered organically. This was one of main issues with TOC:L. The story was delivered through scraps of notes and and rambling monologues. I would have rather read a book consisting of the scraps of paper scattered throughout the game. Generally, games have you move through a series of scenes until you eventually get to the end. Walking simulators provide an extra challenge as no directions is given of where you have to go. TVoEC had a completely natural way of story delivery that used the idea of walking simulator. I’m not sure whether this was intentional, but I missed the first couple of puzzles which meant that I ended up completing all the scenes in such an order that the story was presented in the correct sequence. Unintentionally brilliant.
Yes, this is a bit shallow, but no-one likes to admit that looks are important in games. Not necessarily amazing graphics, but ones that keep you interested and draw the eye. As walking simulators tend to have less interaction with the environment, the environment itself better be worth it. TVoEC was nothing short of beautiful with some of the most photo-realistic graphics I’ve ever seen. TOC:L had some interesting areas which you can tell the designer had a lot of fun designing. Proteus, with all its 7 colours and repetitive landscape was hard to play for more than 15 minutes.