(I Also Write Children's Books!)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

An Unexpectedly Good Story, FNAF2 Edition

This will be my analysis of the story of Five Nights At Freddy's 2.  SPOILER SPOILER SERIOUSLY IF YOU DON'T WANT SPOILERS RUN AWAY NOW.

I admit, I'm fond of finding stories where I wasn't expecting them.  I certainly was not expecting to find a heartbreakingly well told tragedy in the indie horror game Five Nights At Freddy's 2, but since I did, I'd like to talk about it!

The big secret revealed on the last night of the game is that this is a prequel.  FNAF2 happens during the murders of five children that lead up to the much-talked-around 'Bite of '87'.  Given the 1987 date on the check, and the phone comment that a birthday party on day seven will be the last event before the store shuts down, that day is almost certainly the day of the dreaded Bite.  During the week, the phone messages reveal ever more explicit hints that children are disappearing.  FNAF1 told us the bodies were never found.

The strongly hinted extra twist is that Jeremy Fitzgerald, the guard you play, is the murderer.  Towards the end of the week the phone messages say that store employees are under suspicion, and on day five the day guard is fired, possibly arrested - but judging from phone guy's panic on day six's message, another child disappeared.  That, and the fact that Jeremy is there on night six even though he's not supposed to be, are two of the biggest hints that it's Jeremy and not the day guard.

Also, and this is an important consideration in judging any literary mystery, 'you play the murderer' is exactly the kind of twist creator Scott Cawton has shown he likes.


See, that's all fine as far as it goes, but it's a simple story told with vague hints and minimal input.  No, what makes this beautiful from a writing perspective is how the animatronics tie in.

When you die, sometimes you get a mini game.  You can look up Five Nights At Freddy's 2 mini games on YouTube and see tons of videos of them.  They're not really games.  They're as ridiculously simple to play as walking into another room.  What they do is provide the animatronics' viewpoint of the murders.  THAT is super cool and brilliant.

In each game, you play an animatronic character.  The graphics are so crude it's hard to tell who you're playing sometimes.  They do their schtick.  Chica(?) gives cake to yelling children.  Freddy wanders the restaurant.  Marionette gives gifts to children.  Foxy runs out of Pirate's Cove to a crowd of children.

Each game is warped by the murders.  The restaurant Freddy wanders is filled with bloodstains and slumped over bodies.  While Chica serves cake, another child is standing outside crying.  A car pulls up and a purple man gets out.  The child cries more and more, and then turns into a skeleton.  Marionette's first round is 'Give Gifts', and he puts present boxes next to slumped over children.  The second round is 'Give Life', and he puts puppet heads on them.  During Chica's round, an 80s speech synthesizer slowly recites the letters 'S-A-V-E-H-I-M' and in Marionette's, 'H-E-L-P-T-H-E-M.'

The most interesting game to me is Foxy's.  It's the simplest of all.  'Get Ready' is at the top of the screen as he stands between curtains in the first room.  Then 'Go!  Go!  Go!' flashes, and you follow an arrow into the next room.  There are five children standing in it, and when you get close 'Hurray!' flashes and fireworks go off.  You do this twice, identically.  On the third run, the purple man is standing next to the curtains.  When you get out into the other room, it's five skeletons.  There is no Hurray.

In all games, when you get to the dead children, the mini game slows to a crawl and then stops.  When it does, you get the game's 'attacked by this robot' jump scare animation.

The message is simple and evocative.  The robots are simple and stupid, but they love their jobs and they love children.  They witness the murders, and they're tormented by what's happening to the children they love.  The phone messages actually mention that even as the animatronics get erratic and potentially dangerous towards the end of the week, children seem to be perfectly safe.

Now, let's tie that to the actual behavior of the robots in-game.  Here the creator suckers you beautifully.  You're not supposed to know this is a prequel.  The first game primes you to think of the robots as murderous.  But phone guy is surprised as the robots get aggressive towards the end of the week.  His first message throws in some words that FNAF1 has sensitized you too, like 'endoskeleton', but in fact he doesn't say, deny, or even imply the animatronics are dangerous.  They recognize the faces of 'predators' from a database, and the last security guard complained about the robots wandering into his office.  You're primed to think they've tried to kill him.  Judging from phone guy's surprise as the robots get aggressive... they were just annoying!  Can you imagine New Chica standing next to you all night trying to feed you cake because you're the only human in the restaurant?  A fake head to get them to go away starts sounding really attractive.

In-game, that's consistent with their behavior.  Night one is very quiet.  Marionette will come to you if the music box runs down.  New Bonnie and New Chica  wander around, and sometimes get into your office.  If you're wearing the head, they stare really close at you and then wander away.  Marionette is the smartest robot, and can't be fooled by a mask.

Jeremy is the murderer.  The point of the face recognition software as a plot point is that they recognize him from their predator list, and if they get a close look at him during their normal behavior will attack.

On day two, the first child goes missing.  The phone message refers to ugly rumors.

On night two, everything changes.  The bots go berserk.  Night one is only hard because you have only the vaguest idea how to avoid the robots.  On night two, all robots are potentially active, but in particular, Foxy starts up on night two.  Foxy and Marionette are mentioned as being smarter than the other robots, and impossible to fool with a mask.  Foxy's mini game implies Foxy really, really loves children.  It's a very excited game.  And starting on the second night, Foxy is the most constant and aggressive animatronic in the building.  He's easy to get rid of, but he comes back again and again.  He knows.  They all know, but Foxy gets angry first.

As the week goes on, you hear more hints about the murders, and eventually the phone messages start talking about the animatronics becoming dangerous.  Each night, as more children are killed, the robots go more and more ballistic.  Night six is a war, where every animatronic in the building is going all out to kill you.  A game difficulty mechanic becomes part of the plot.  The animatronics are breaking down with desperation to protect the children and to get vengeance on the killer.

On day seven, Foxy snaps.  He breaks his programming and attacks someone in broad daylight.  The famous Bite of '87.  The victim lives, but is effectively dead.  If you play the optional night seven, it's a different security guard.  Jeremy was the murderer.  Foxy took him out.  He and the other robots are now irrevocably insane.  They still love children, but they've learned to hate anyone wearing a security guard uniform at night.  When FNAF1 happens, they're murderous.

Everything ties into this story, and watching the murders through the animatronics' eyes is painful.  The gradually slowing action conveys helplessness and pain.  The simplified presentation, where children turn into a skeletal corpse and the games are tightly restricted, conveys the struggle of robots to deal with events outside their very limited programming.

I was not expecting writing this good in a game as simplistic as Five Nights At Freddy's 2.  I'm impressed.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Round One, Complete!

Have a status report!

No sooner did I resume work on A Sidekick's Tale than the editing notes came in.  Not for At Least I Didn't Blow Up OUR Moon, no.  Editing notes for Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm A Supervillain.

See, the book is so successful, my publisher wants it to friggin' sparkle.  I just finished the first round (after this, it's just those points I wanted feedback from before deciding).  A reader is unlikely to notice any difference.  It's all line edits, and almost all tiny stuff like removing a dialog tag or the word 'again'.  An occasional sentence that was really awkward had to be rephrased from the beginning.  Itty bitty continuity errors like keeping names and pronouns consistent have been fixed.

There will be two significant changes, where by 'significant' I mean 'I'll probably add a couple of paragraphs'.  A lot of people don't get why Penny's mom, an incredibly intelligent woman, doesn't spot Penny.  Some details are provided in book two, but I thought I'd addressed it in book one.  I did, but it looks like two critical passages, especially the one about Claire's shapeshifting powers, need to be overt.  Most people just don't catch them, and those two points are crucial for understanding the issue.

I also want to fix Claire's hair color.  I can't believe I screwed that up.  Ah, well.  We're none of us perfect.

After this book is finished, I suspect we'll leap straight into book two's edits.