Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Uncharted 3: Did it actually have a good plot?

This another of my plot reviews for Uncharted 3, like the one for Deus Ex here

So, did Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception actually have a good plot?

There has been a lot of talk in the last weeks about Uncharted 3. Did it live up to the promise of Among Thieves? I have to agree with a great many comments and say, no it really didn’t. And the reason? Lack of a coherent and satisfying plot. Uncharted 3 has little to no explanation, exposition, and has plot holes the size of Phurba daggers.

Back in March this year, IGN's Greg Miller posited an incredible theory for the plot of the future game, based merely on a teaser trailer and a couple of hints. His theory was that Katherine Marlowe wasn't a descendant of Christopher Marlowe, but his mother, a 450-year-old villainess, out to find the secret of the fountain of youth once again. His idea had her already having used the fountain once, and now needing to go back. It also had her killing T E Lawrence and bringing him into the story and even an idea about getting supernatural devils in there as the side-effects of the eternal life.

No one can argue that Greg's ideas were uncannily close to the truth. But when the actual plot of Drake's Deception rolled around, it was vaguely unsatisfying. What did Naughty Dog actually give us? Well, no explanation at all. Katherine Marlowe was merely a greedy old woman, with a tentative descendant link to Christopher Marlowe at best, no stronger than Drake's own dodgy claims. She wasn't looking for the fountain of youth, simply an intangible 'power'. The fountain of youth was ditched in this third game completely. T E Lawrence is only used as a very basic following exercise early in the game, no conspiracy theories or alternate histories given, and not even used as much as they then use old Francis Drake himself.

But that is not even plot. That is just the actual basics of a story and its background.
I got to the end of Uncharted 3 with more questions than I had answers.

Who is Katherine Marlowe? The story actually never says she is related to Christopher Marlowe. She seems to know Sully and to have bought his services back when Drake was a boy in Columbia. Great. But there is no exposition there, no actual explanation of who she actually is. All we ever get is that she is the leader of the same secret society as John Dee during the Elizabethan times. It's just not enough. Why use the name Marlowe, which has such great possible meaning, if you then don’t capitalise on it?

Who is Charlie Cutter? Again, a character just barely drawn. Cutter is obviously friends with Drake and Sully, from way back, but where, is never elaborated on. He also seems to have a bad reputation, as Elena doesn’t like him. But again, the script fails to give just the tiniest bits of essential information. How do they know each other!?

Another character without explanation is Talbot, Marlowe's lead henchman. He can use the hallucinogenic water as some type of magician and seems to have some affinity for Tarot cards. But do we ever actually learn anything about him? How he can control others, for instance, where he is from etc? Sorry to repeat myself here but no.

Now for structure. There are three levels of brilliant high seas action in the middle of the story when Drake is captured by Rameses. This section is completely unnecessary to the plot. Who is Rameses? Was he really just hired help? Is that it Naughty Dog?
This entire section is based on the barest of plot devices; Drake is told (with no proof) that Sully is on the ship. Drake accepts this. We accept this. We believe what we are told. But after three levels, Sully isn’t there. He's a stuffed doll.
At best this is a ruse to lure Drake away from the convoy without killing him. This doesn’t work as every guy in the game is trying to kill Drake at all times.
The ship sinks and Drake survives only to wash up by chance back in Yemen. We don’t know where that Ship Graveyard was, but conceivably it was close to Yemen. Trouble is it's all too convenient.
If you look at it from a structural point of view, those three levels are completely superfluous to the plot of the game. They aren’t plot. Did we learn anything new during those scenes? They seem to me an excuse to get three levels of awesome ship-sinking action into the game and if you took them out the plot wouldn’t change.

Plot relies on exposition. Without it, we as gamers have nothing to drive us forward. I don’t know who Marlowe even is, why do I want to kill her? Uncharted 3, even more than its predecessors suffers from an immense lack of exposition.
The Uncharted franchise as a whole relies on coincidence to a level that stretches all believability. Coincidences within a story are fine, at the beginning. Good plots will not use them over and over.
For example the coincidence in Uncharted is usually that Drake gets involved with a treasure hunt, and there is little to no exposition at the beginning. The second coincidence and the one that tests believability is how they keep getting Elena involved. Drake and her practically bump into each other in Among Thieves. And in Drake's Deception they happen upon her twice. At least the first time is deliberate, but even then the chance comes from the fact that Elena just 'happens' to be in Yemen. All very coincidental.

My trouble is that game plots in general are getting better. Lots of studios no longer think they can go it alone, and hire good Hollywood writers or at least novel writers and such. This makes me think, great the plots will be even better, but we barely have to look back half a year to Crysis 2 for evidence that its not that easy. I had high expectations for Uncharted 3 after the action thrillfest, and adequately plotted story that was Uncharted 2. Among Thieves was a fantastic double and triple crossing plot with Chloe jumping between groups the whole time. Sure the games have a supernatural element to them that turns some people off, and sure not everything was perfect in Among Thieves either. Chloe had little to no exposition; we just knew that she was from Drake's past, same with Harry. Getting Elena in the story always seems to be forced and based entirely on coincidence. But within the boundaries of that story, that plot, they weren't glaring holes like the ones in Drake's Deception.
Maybe my expectations were driven too high. But it is not a complicated thing to have someone who knows about plot, read over the script, or road test the game before it is finished. Add a little extra information.

I would have liked a little more of this: A small scene or even conversation about how Drake knew Charlie Cutter. Was he maybe an old acquaintance like Harry was? Elena seemed to know him and disapprove. Perhaps he has a bad reputation, but for what? Screwing over Drake and Sully in the past. Robbing his clients? Being untrustworthy? All I know about him is that Drake knows him and he's scared of tight spaces.
You could do this same idea with Katherine Marlowe, and with Talbot.

The best bit of this plot, and this is what should have been all the way through the back story, was the explanation for what Francis Drake was doing for six months, when he covered up his voyage from the queen, how John Dee and TE Lawrence were involved. But that’s where it stopped. Greg Miller's ideas and links were far better than the eventual story.

The reason we watch Indiana Jones, the reason we like these kinds of Tomb Raider/National Treasure/Da Vinci Code stories, is that they offer a sometimes crazy, sometimes brilliant concoction of events and explanations for ancient relics and traditions we accept but don’t understand. I can’t say all are brilliantly plotted, but most do at least offer something. Uncharted 3 offered little explanation, no introductions to new characters whatsoever, and little back story to its central plot. It didn't link its characters to the actions of their surroundings. Uncharted 3 had the chance to be one of the greats of the genre after Among Thieves, but it dropped the ball, big time.

Don't even get me started on the absolute plot cop-out that is blurred red dream sequences…

Toby's NaNoWriMo: Day 23

I've finished my novel. The Village of the Cosmonauts is done. I didn't hit the 50,000 during November. But I did finish the novel.
The facts then.
I wrote 2300 words today to finish.
I wrote 31,500 words over November.
I wrote 22,000 words in October.
The novel hit 53,500 words in total. I hear that 40,000 is the difference between a novel and a novella, and less than 20,000 is a short story. So its a novel. I have a massive editing job to do now, but i think i will more likely be adding stuff to it, that I would normally have written if I'd been writing less furiously and had time to do all the descriptions I wanted to and such. I think it will actually get longer.

Nanowrimo has been a great learning experience, really trying to get lots of words down etc. But as you can see I wrote 22,000 in october anyway. I am disciplined and I can write quickly. I would have finished by Christmas even without Nano, but it is nice to know a lot more about my word counts and how I write.

I'm really happy with it. I can't wait to read the entire thing back to myself this week. It shouldn't take long, its only 53,500 words, then I can get a real feel for the plot and how it unfolds, if I took enough time over things, or built tension in the right places etc. Scary, because it might be rubbish.
If you want to know the story or have just forgotten, here's a link to my blog when I first introduced it.
I have some amazing cover art that Megan has made, its not quite finished but here it is anyway. Doesn't it look amazing!

So its on to the edit now then.

Toby's NaNoWriMo: Day 17

did another brutal chapter, wrote 3078 words. thats 27,534 since Nov started. Village of the Cosmonauts is really close to being finished. obviously there is a huge editing job ahead of me, but the actual writing and getting down of the bulk of it, I may well finish next week. Everything has gone very very wrong in that little Russian village. I can't wait to read it all back. I didn't feel i needed to much. as it was such a small time frame, only this month and last, I've found that I remembered the story just fine each time I sat down to write. and the last four days, I've gone from almost the middle section right through too the climactic scenes.
I have two proper epilogues to write and the last chapter, that chapter should be done tomorrow.
not much left :S
I don't know what to think. This'll be my third novel completed and under the belt. yet to be seen if its as worth reading as the last was, but hey we'll see. what am going to do with my time once its over. I will have to go back to fulltime work, and probably play more video games for a while, as I A plan Drifters 2, and B edit VOTC like crazy.

Toby's NaNoWriMo: Day 16

Maria, I'm not sure whether to say commiserations, or to congratulate you on being true to yourself. Thats more what I feel, so we'll go with that. I don't think you've failed. I think you found out a lot about yourself, just like you said. You know even more about how you write and you won't waste more time not knowing. :D
One of us has finally done what the majority of us, I think, are thinking. I am not giving up, but as I said in the last post, I think the 50,000 goalpost is out of my reach, partly through time, and partly that there's only so much left of my novel. I had quite a bit to start with. :S
Maybe NaNo is right and you really have to have a brand new project in order to inject the literary abandon you need to to manage that kind of furious writing schedule. No editing! I know the inspirational Amanda Hocking (who sold a million vampire ebooks if anyone's forgotten her) used to say she wrote furiously for around three weeks and finished the novels. Around 60,000 word novels usually and there they were, a little bit of editing and viola! I suspected then that I couldn't do that, and now I know that unless those three weeks were completely devoid of life, work and sleep I still couldn't manage. I do know I can get a lot more words out than I expected, maybe 30,000 in a normal month, which is excellent! I also found out I write even better with Sade on in the background, and not the electronic chillout stuff. Actually they are probably the same.

Anyways, lastly the count. We are just over halfway. I suppose we should be on 26,700 today. I wrote 3678 today and that brings me to 24,458. Wow! Hold on, I've caught up loads. Ha, maybe I could do it with the no work, no life scenario. Anyways I still won't get to 50. My novel is going to over in about another 10,000 words. Then I'll add that to my words from October, and we'll see the full word count. Novel done in a week or so, me'thinks.

Toby's NaNoWriMo: Day 14

Well folks, I have been off for a few days. I spent friday in London, and went on the London Eye saw the sights at night with all the christmas lights on. Very nice. Had my anniversary night out with my fiance and it was all good.
On subject that meant that I could not write for all of Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I wrote an article on Sunday, but was also seeing family, so no novel writing got done. Not good. So I sat down this morning at 11.30 with the first of four days off, determined to catch up with the word count and maybe make headway on finishing my story. As you know I already had a large amount of words written for the story before NaNo started so I' getting towards the end of the storyline. Today I wrote 4100 in one day. Thats what three days of built up inspiration can do. That means that my overall count since NaNo started is 18,000 I should be on 23,500 or whatever it is. But anymore 4000 days and I might catch up.
Also currently happy with what I'm writing, but that maybe because I've had a break and was able to tackle it with a fresh head.

I also sent Drifters, my previous novel, to yet another publisher who will not respond for at least six months. But I'm still working on it. I don't want it to feel neglected (my lovely novel). A friend at work has almost finished and though they liked it all along they sent me a special message on facebook saying that a particular scene towards the end had brought a real tear to her eye! Thats what I like to hear!

Toby's NaNoWriMo: Day 10

I'm finding this is getting to be a real struggle. I am still confident of writing a ton of words this month. What with work commitments and going away on two different weekends this month, I think my word count is never going to hit the magic 50,000. maybe 30. not 50. I won't be blogging for two days at all, as I'm in London for my fiance and I's anniversary.
But that's more days of not writing. I can't seem to write at all when I get home from work, I'm too tired. I have to do it on a day off, or at the weekends. And I only have one of those left.
Sorry this is a bit of a downer, but I think despite the good start I'm not going to have a chance of hitting the count. I know how I write, and cramming and trying to get words down when I'm tired or uninspired is just not happening, and is also turning me off to the normally fun process of writing. I'm losing the fun, just like you were saying Zara.
I am a disciplined writer, motivated etc. I have written two novels already. I know I'll finish this one, but I just don't think i'm going to get that many words out in so short a space of time. If I didn't work, had no friends and no life and no commitments, I still think the inspiration problem, and fatigue would mean that 50,000 was pushing it.
Anyways, when I'm stuck I usually do some planning. Or completely leave it alone, let it mold for a bit in my head. I wrote no words today, as I was at work, (still at 14,000) but I did do some really good planning work even down to dialogue in the next three or four chapters. Stuff that will really help. Its not word count, but its the process I need to take.
The trouble with now is we are beginning to see how we write, and how possible the 50 is. Some may still manage, and I'm not stopping trying, but I think my inability to just churn out stuff I don't like coupled with realistic projections based on whats happened so far, means this is not looking good.

Anyways have a productive two days without me and I'll try and be back on sunday. (and maybe with a more positive outlook)

Toby's NaNoWriMo: Day 8

I missed yesterday, and by that I mean I missed blogging and I missed writing anything at all. Sorry. Not good for the aim of NaNo. So had to spend today playing catch up again. And then I have work tomorrow as well. Its like real life doesn't want me to write. I wrote 1976 words today. Thats 13,800 since the start of the month.

I find the actual planning of a novel and the plotting of it is not the biggest problem, once I actually get down to it. The process of thinking up an idea that I can run with to the tune of 50,000 words or lots more is the hard bit. Creating characters that fit and make sense. Creating a world with no holes. When I was in University I found plotting was a real effort. And I did it badly. I created plenty of good ideas (I still think they are good ideas) but I had no idea how to make that into a functioning narrative with the highs and lows you'd expect and the audience participation you want. I was also really bad at dialogue, although I thought I was fantastic.
Now, I find ideas for novels do come easily enough, and once I have the idea I can populate it with characters. Good plots are hard. Nothing ever seems to come to me all in one go. I'm always having to do extensive planning to even work out characters, who I actually NEED in the story, and then you work out this great plot and get really carried away and then it gets stuck. You can't get from the beginning to the point at the end you know has to happen. Things like that. Writer's block. I just let it ferment in my mind and come back to it. I keep a lot of scraps of paper around the house, where I jot down bits of plot from films and games I like or just from life, or an event that would work for me. Oh right, yes they could get kidnapped, that would solve my issue. Things like that.
And lastly I find I have to write chronologically. I tried to write out of order on this very book last week and I was almost immediately lost as to what had or hadn't already been revealed. Your backstory comes out in your narration, and then you start repeating yourself like crazy. I stopped.
I might go back and write again in a bit, its only 5.30 and I have today off work anyway.