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June 10th, 2007, 12:59
Tired as it is, the Amnesiac Chosen One mechanic is kinda logical. Single-player games *are* about you -- an entire world lovingly crafted for your personal enjoyment. At the start of the game, you know nothing, or next to nothing, about the world, and a big part of the game is discovering that world and (usually) affecting it in some momentuous way.

In other words, like it or not, and couch it however you like, you *are* the Amnesiac Chosen One.

What are the alternatives?

(1) Lengthy exposition. Like, make the buggers read a novel before diving into the game. Or watch a film.

(2) Base the game on a really, really well-known IP (LotR, Star Wars, Alien) and give your player a role they already know and understand. That way you won't be amnesiac, you'd be a scoundrel/princess/star pilot/Dúnedain/space marine/Jedi and already know what your place in the world is.

(3) A motivation that's vital to your character but really pretty damn incidental to the world. This would require [gasp!] actual *writing!* Psychology! Characterization! And, of course, it would almost certainly put some pretty strict constraints on your starting character.

There aren't many games that pull this off well. PS:T is an obvious example, although it didn't avoid the amnesiac cliché, and VtM:B does it sorta OK although there is a rather a lot of exposition somewhat clunkily delivered.

However, IMO the game that does this best is Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. You play as a full-blown character with a history, personality, and what have you, and your motivation is simple, straightforward, logical, and "human-scale:" escape from, um, Butcher Bay. The exposition was delivered as a really cool, well-directed cutscene and tutorial that was only sliiiightly cheesy for being a dream sequence, and the game just got better from there on out.
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