GameSpot GamePlay Special Edition Spoilercast: Spec Ops: The Line

Spec Ops: The Line lead writer Walt Williams exposes his creative process to Kevin VanOrd, Tom Mc Shea, and Giant Bomb's Jeff Gerstmann.

GameSpot GamePlay Special Edition Spoilercast: Spec Ops: The Line

Spec Ops has inspired more conversations in the GameSpot offices than most games in recent memory. We invited lead writer Walt Williams to tell us about turning shooter tropes on their heads, why more military games don't have a message, and whether Spec Ops is supposed to be fun.

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GameSpot GamePlay Episode 2: Desensitized

GameSpot GamePlay Episode 1: Martha Stewart Shivving

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54 comments
nyran125
nyran125

if i cant take the gameplay seriously, i wont take the story seriously. Its really that simple. I took the original Ghost recon terrorist storylines more seriously, just because the gameplay was intense and had tons of hardcore tactical options, that made the STORY more interesting to follow. Whereas Spec ops, if you realyl think about it, you are just turkey shootng, I  take Left 4 dead 2 on low health and quite a way to get to the safehouse on EXPERT difficulty MORE seriously.  because its a REAL live or die situation. Spec Ops wasnt interesting enough. I mean at least in Brother in arms it MADE you give a sht, because the gameplay was really tactical AND the storyline was from a real source.

 

I need more than what Spec Ops gave me to care.

Hirasugi
Hirasugi

this game was absolutely fantastic.  Combat was shoddy, but story...peerless

mekentosh
mekentosh

Amazing game! I didn't feel ANYTHING when mowing down the airport civilians in COD, but I literally got goosebumps 3 or 4 times in this game.

jcwillia888
jcwillia888

I would really like to see more of these types of discussions (spoiler casts) because I had absolutely ZERO interest in this game even after listening to Jeff talking about it for hours on the Bombcast but after hearing this, I absolutely want to experience this narrative.

 

Great job, all.

Arees42
Arees42

Listening to this podcast just made me angry about the whole thing really. I'm tempted to say it's pretentiousness, but it might just be naiveté or ignorance. There's just way too many conceits when playing a game that breaks immersion from the get-go which makes it impossible to tell this kind of personal story. I played through the entire game without any qualms as I was constantly reminded I was playing a game.

 

I mean we've heard the argument about how videogames supposedly are worse than movies and books because of the supposed immersion that makes people struggle with seperating reality and fiction a thousand times, yet I've always found this medium to be the one that's very admantly reminding you that you're doing something real and tactile with it's fail states and gameplay mechanics. I just can't imagine how anyone is able to immerse themselves so much in the game that they feel uncomfortable unless they're purposefully trying to be "clever" about it or just plainly ignorant.

 

The game has a good story, for a video game. But there's nothing beyond that. The medium just isn't able to convey that kind coherent story experience, as every 2 minutes of story-telling is seperated by 10 minutes of gameplay.

vaejas
vaejas

The executions toward the end of the game are truly heinous. I made a point to do it steadily through the game to see it evolve, and by the final levels, particularly after getting the full-auto shotgun, it was almost too much to handle. On top of which, North's performance as a full-on homicidal lunatic who now WANTS to feed each of these men a bullet.

 

A good example of not being desensitized by video games, I think. I have chainsawed me some locust in my day, but watching these NPCs with actual human soldier faces summarily lose their faces as I chose to let Walker become the monster still made me queasy.

andrewwittmaier
andrewwittmaier

Tom always seems very combative, but I like the positions he puts the interviewee in because he always seems to coax very interesting responses out of them.  Overall, this was a great episode.  I just finished the game and I'd like to say I enjoyed it, but that's not the right word.  It was an enlightening experience.  

Dixavd
Dixavd

The odd thing I came out of this was the similarities between Spec Ops and Final Fantasy (from possible sequels following thematic similarities to the mechanic they talked about of characters saying specific lines when you do something but have it change as the game goes on which Final Fantasy X actually does with some abilities the player does at the start giving specific lines while at the end with the vastly different place the characters are in leads to some similar abilities and actions producing vastly different lines of dialogue mid-battle. And that's not to mention the common Trope on Final Fantasy games where they begin quite generically and without much attention to the story the games can usually be thought of in their entirety as being generic JRPG's but if you pay attention there is usually at least one moment that flips the preceding story on its head and completely changes the place and significance of the actions of the main characters and the player).

 

I wasn't expecting that.

swyg
swyg

I don't think shooters having messages are nearly enough to help them regarding story telling ability.  There are messages in games everywhere, but most of the time they're never made out to be more important than what they appear to be.  It's not like making a spectacle out of things we've heard before or experienced in any other medium will make it better because it's in a game.  That and unless the experience of the game itself is good, "important" messages can come off as filler.  It takes an entire game's experience usually for messages to be anywhere close to successful.  But even then, it's not the messages that are remembered; it's the story and experience of the game.  The only recent exception I can think of is Deus Ex: HR; but then again, it's not just an FPS. 

viru_ssj
viru_ssj

Sorry , posted in wrong podcast. meant for gameplay ep 2.

viru_ssj
viru_ssj

was lava lamp reference at the beginning  to the hiroko 8-4 play podcast joke ?

but my money's on that i'm wathcing too many podcasts :)

 

rollerloller
rollerloller

I truly appreciate that Spec Ops The Line set out to have the gamers experience something more profound than the run-of-the-programming FPS's saturating the market but the lack of authenticity in such a war game at some point made me feel like all those exotic set pieces and environment to set up the storyline were all a big fluff to masquerade its self-important, lofty messages about how "real-life" war sucks. For example, (spoilers) the US somehow abandons an entire decorated battalion and declares it renegade, which leads to the little dictatorship in Dubai and all hell breaks loose. This simply wouldn't happen, and same goes for a small group of three mere operatives not even big enough to form a basic squad going in and wiping the crap out of everything that moves just so the game can tell you how much of a vicious and immoral bastard you are through out the whole thing. Spec Ops still makes the mistake of trying to satisfy shooter needs by having the action shooter cliches of one single guy or squad being in an impossible situation and still kicking all the baddies' asses all because of incompetence from the higher-ups. And the result for me at least, is you don't feel too much like a vulnerable soldier in a battlefield of grey choices and difficult dilemmas like Apocalypse Now, but only something of that nature superimposed upon an average third person shooter

Ladiesman17
Ladiesman17

yeah, bring more Cross-Podcast

 

GiantBomb + GameSpot = GiantSpot

 

TEOL222
TEOL222

tell'em like it is nate!!!!!

nate1222
nate1222

Probably the biggest reason for most war games lacking a message is the general American mentality. "We're always the good guys, so whoever we fight MUST BE EVIL. We must prove our moral and physical superiority!" If you challenge it in the slightest you risk commercial failure. Let's face it: the bulk of war game enthusiasts are judeo-christian, hetero, white males.

 

The fact that the CIA has had guys like Saddam, Noreaga and OBL on their payrolls spits right in the face of that idea. The fact that most of these puppet governments the US likes to prop up tend to subjegate their peasantry into sweatshops for American based big businesses is another fact that most flag wavers refuse to face. Then there's the fact that China, a country which CAN defend itself, regularly punks the Pentagon's shit. If you were to put those realities into a war game it'd be more "realistic"...but also a massive commercial failure. The primary demographic simply will not tolerate that level of candor.

 

Then, there's the realities of military life. As I've stated in previous posts: it's boring and miserable. Even when you're not in a combat zone, it's miserable. If you factored THAT into a war game, you'd have $60 drink coasters everywhere.

wgerardi
wgerardi

Really appreciated hearing this. I was a little worried the Walt Williams wouldn't be able to back up making a game like Spec Ops, but it's obvious he's insanely intelligent. Spec Ops is the best military shooter of all time.

plasticreality
plasticreality

Very insightful conversation. To answer the question about why more games do not take this direction, I think the main reason is that it conflicts with our collective identity (in the U.S.) as a force of good vs evil. This is true in films as well. Certainly films like Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now exist, but most films reinforce this collective mindset about U.S. interventionism and war more generally. In other words, its much easier to go with the flow than challenge people and some of their most deeply held beliefs. In the commercial sphere, that could mean failure. Even worse, there could be charges that you're "Anti-American" or a terrorist sympathizer. And when critical views are not encouraged and even criticized, society as a whole begins to degrade.

 

I also feel the review score for this game was a bit unfair. Certainly the gameplay was not innovative, but the narrative alone made it a better game than your average Call of Duty game. Games that challenge us and takes creative/ideological risks deserve to be rewarded.

 

Another important point that was brought up during the conversation, which incidentally Tom had brought up at E3, was that games don't necessarily have to be fun. If we are to take the medium seriously as an art form, there must be room for a range of experiences, including ones that make us feel uncomfortable. If someone wanted to, they could make a game that rivals and film experience due to the nature of interactivity. I'm still waiting for a game based on Full Metal Jacket.

 

I also want to say that while the narrative of this game stands on its own, I still feel the Heart of Darkness is a much more penetrating look at Western Civilization.  It's not about the madness of war per se, but how we delude ourselves into thinking that by intervening in the rest of the world we are helping people, but instead we end up brutalizing and exploiting them.  Once Ghandi was asked what he thought of Western Civilization, to which he replied "It sounds like a good idea." 

PeterDuck
PeterDuck

Wish Chris Water was there to defend his review.

cornbredx
cornbredx

This was really great. I really enjoyed what Walt had to say to some of the opinions on the games direction, and narrative choices they made (especially the huge eye opener there... I never even considered that but I knew something crazy was going on due to certain things I noticed playing a second time... man that's nuts).

 

*Maybe Spoiler* One thing I wanted to say, at least my take on the phosphorous scene, and the disconnect some feel. I am an army veteran. In war sometimes you may feel there must be a second option, but in reality there is no other option in a moment and you take the immediate choice in front of you in the hopes of doing something that can lead to being something good. Even if your the one giving that command, it's not really a choice, in so much as it's what you have to do because you're there. I felt that scene, while (justifiably) can be said to be a bit "forced" by some, or should have been more binary, it ultimately succeeded because (again for me) it showed what it's really like for a soldier to have to make a choice like that. It is a choice, maybe not the one you wanted to make, but in that moment it was the choice you HAD to make. That is my take away from it, and I felt (as you guys said) the moment was important, anyway, to drive this story to where they wanted to go. Maybe could have been done better, but I got what they were going for with it and from my own experiences it felt "real" as a choice. If that makes sense.

 

Anyway, I really hope more games take a look at this one and at least consider the ideas it puts forward. I appreciate that most of what they were going for shines through and I felt, for me anyway, the game is a huge success at advancing how we even look at narrative in more genres of video game (which is largely not experimented with- possibly due to constraints of the medium- I really don't know).

 

So ya, this got me thinking about this story again and shed some more light on a few things and was all around a great listen.

 

Thanks.

Fiscaldeal
Fiscaldeal

Cool to hear Jeff back in Gamespot content.

zestmmx
zestmmx

I heard the story was very good in several review before getting the game. I though maybe developers making shooters are putting thought into there games. 20 min into game, And I realized... Well I was gonna say much more, but just one little thing. makers of this game didn`t even bother to check simple facts which is common knowledge for many of us. Since when in a completely Arab city which is located in a country call "United Arab Emirates" every single local and survivor speak plain Farsi (Persian).

Colekern
Colekern

Holy crap? An hour long? Umm.... maybe later?

joju_australia
joju_australia

man it always amazes me how questioning during a gaming interview is so subjective and it really doesn't do the game being reviewed any justice AT ALL. I DIDNT think this game was BORING, and yet your question was reflecting YOUR opinion about the game "...I thought it was boring...". Not fair, the same thing happen to MOh 2010 and that game was put under the wrong light because of you clowns in the media. 

 

tomztomzt
tomztomzt

Awesome podcast! It is really nice to hear developers explain the ideas behind their decisions. Better yet it provides a good counter to game-journalists often over criticized view on games and the heavy nitpicking. Not that I want reviews to change drastically but these kinds of interviews would serve as a great supplement.

 

SPOILER!

 

SPOILER!

 

So he dies in the beginning...everything else after is just his own imagination torturing him?  

 

SPOILER!

 

SPOILER!

Alcor741
Alcor741

I loved this podcast/spoilercast/interview thing - could you do these spoilercasts with the people that made the game more often?

Stoopid_Fool
Stoopid_Fool

 @fieryermine The game can last a good 10 hours if you play on the hard difficulty, and for me it has replay value, finding the intell items, goin thru all the endings and all that.

fieryermine
fieryermine

The Line looked really cool. I was really intrigued by the storyline, but I didn't want to buy a game with only ~5 hours of single player content, so I didn't. I dig all this cool writing and all, but it still has to be attached to a game worth buying. 

Polybren
Polybren

SPOILERS. For the record, I told Tom that because of the helicopter scene, I believed the game was Walker's personal hell that he had to relive for all eternity, which he ever-so-simplistically described here as "a Groundhog Day thing" and "kinda close." 

jungyo
jungyo

@nyran125 Am I the only one that thinks it's sad that you just referred to playing Left 4 Dead as a REAL live-or-die situation? It's more like a keep-moving-your-thumbs-or-wait-for-a-loading-screen situation.

jungyo
jungyo

@Arees42 Clearly you need to play the Walking Dead. Or even To The Moon. I don't cry in movies or when I read books, but by the end of those two games I was practically sobbing.

jungyo
jungyo

@Dixavd Good sir, more than 90% of your post is in one giant parenthesis.

mack10
mack10

 @plasticreality Well put.  But I think if no one challenges these "beliefs" they just further reinforce them and that's worse.  I think Stephen Hawking once said: "The enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, its the illusion of knowledge."  This isn't to say that we're all oblivious to the truth but if we're not challenged to think about other possibilities then we take what we're told as fact and we never step out of that bubble which is a dangerous route to take.

maxwell97
maxwell97

@plasticreality Regarding the West, hat's painting with a pretty broad brush. Though, as an American, I generally am not in favor of intervention in foreign issues, it's not universally exploitative, nor do foreign governments and power groups lack skill in brutalizing their own people. The difference between Ghandi's vision and the actual result of India's independence is a good example.

Fiscaldeal
Fiscaldeal

 @plasticreality I feel like it's more of a risk to develop a relatively unknown shooter with generic gameplay and NOT challenge the status quo with its narrative. Most consumers don't buy shooters for a love of the genre anymore; we make many of these purchases based on name recognition. If the story of Spec Ops: The Line was forgettable, then nobody would be talking about the game. As they say, all publicity is good publicity (and in this case, it's pretty good).

Kevin-V
Kevin-V moderator staff

 @joju_australia Um--that's what we're here to do is express opinions. It is what gaming editorial is. If you are going to gaming editorial sites hoping to not hear opinions expressed, you're doing it wrong.

 

I notice you just expressed an opinion too. Oh no--what shall we do??!! So to clarify your point: it's ok for you to have an opinion, but not us?

 

Got it. 

maxwell97
maxwell97

@fieryermine A fair point, but remember that playing a game costs two things: your money and your time. Personally, I'd rather spend more per hour of playtime if it means a higher proportion of quality over filler, and that's certainly the case with this game (the quality being in the artistic achievement). Of course, I got it for $25, so that helps too. :)

rollerloller
rollerloller

 @Polybren Now that I've pondered a bit more about the whole "being in his own personal purgatory" thing, I believe it to be a valid explanation of the story IF you choose not to "wake up" and go berserk on your rescuers, still thinking you're taking on the traitorous 33rd "The Damned" before responding to their command on the radio as "Welcome to Dubai, gentlemen" which is the exact same thing you tell your squadmates when they first arrived at the ruined metropolis, in the similar calm and collected tone as well.

rollerloller
rollerloller

 @Polybren I thought it was a humorous case of the writers having their game and its characters be self-aware. One of the loading screens even says "This is a video game, why should you care?"

plasticreality
plasticreality

 @mack10

 That's a good quote.  It is indeed a dangerous thing to be ignorant yet believe you are knowledgeable.  Really, that summarizes contemporary America. I run into arrogant/ignorant people on an almost daily basis. 

plasticreality
plasticreality

 @maxwell97  @plasticreality

You would be hard pressed to find a U.S. intervention that did not leave the people worse off than before once you examined it closely. Even during WWII, which is considered the "good" war, the Allies firebombed Dresden and Tokyo, and dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, all of which were civilian targets killing hundreds of thousands of people.  The Allies won, therefore they did not have to face their crimes.

 

As for your other comment, it's not my job as a U.S. citizen to point out the crimes of others (which are certainly numerous). I have no control over what happens in other parts of the world, but I can do something about my own country. Of course, holding up the mirror has never been popular.

plasticreality
plasticreality

 @Fiscaldeal

 Interesting argument, but I don't think the facts support it.  The market is flooded with generic military shooters, so apparently publishers don't find them too risky.

fieryermine
fieryermine

 @maxwell97  @fieryermine Yah, the demo was cool and the story was intriguing, but I'm a little tired of developers giving such short shrift when it comes to single player. There are deals to be had on that game, so I may buy it yet. Most player reviewers call it short but good. The official reviews didn't seem to stress its brevity, which also bugs me. 

Kevin-V
Kevin-V moderator staff

 @rollerloller  @Polybren I also like the one that reminds me that I am still a good person. It was like the game was trying to say, "there there, it will be ok," just in case I was feeling too bad about myself. 

maxwell97
maxwell97

@plasticreality Okay, so just naive. I guess since we've grown up in a cushy world where the US is the big dog, it's easy to forget that we haven't fought a total war since WWII. Targeting civilian areas in a conflict like Vietnam or Iraq is reprehensible; doing it in a total war is an absolutely vital part of strategy. It's the civilian areas that produce the rifles, tanks, planes, ammunition, food, medical supplies, and services that the military depends upon - not to mention its recruits and conscripts. If the Allied policy had been NOT to target civilian areas, the Axis powers would have won, plain and simple. Regarding non-military intervention ("overthrowing democracies" I guess you call it), undoubtedly it raises enormous moral concerns, but again you fail to realize that the US did these things as defensive measures against (principally) the USSR, which had no qualms whatsoever about manipulating or simply conquering smaller nations. And, broadly speaking, it worked - who won the Cold War? And what would it mean for democracy if we had lost it? Once again, I don't fundamentally disagree with your position against intervention; it should be limited to what's absolutely necessary to protect the citizens of the US. But you need to take off the PC glasses and look at the whole picture, because sometimes it IS necessary. Also, don't assume that these things happen because we don't have a "real democracy," whatever that means; for example, 85% of Americans supported the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, according to a Gallup poll at the time. It was an enormously popular decision.

plasticreality
plasticreality

 @maxwell97  @plasticreality

I see, I'm either naive or a moral coward. Let's talk about WWII. First off, the bombing of Dresden and Tokyo had nothing to do with ending the war quicker. They were purely civilian targets, and no rationale was given for their bombing. As for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan was trying to surrender MONTHS before the bombs were dropped. Truman simply wanted to drop the bombs to scare the hell out of Stalin in a display of U.S. power. Even if that weren't the case, intentionally targeting civilians is in fact a war crime, as defined by international law. Even if it wasn't legally, the idea of sacrificing large civilian populations of the "enemy" in order to protect your own troops is a far cry from taking a moral high ground. THAT is an act of cowardice.

 

On to the topic of isolationism. I never suggested isolationism, I simply said that every U.S. military intervention has ended up harming the population of a country more than it ever helped (if it even helped at all). Since WWII, the U.S. has overthrown many democracies (e.g. Iran, Guatemala, Chile, Haiti), installed puppet dictatorships and supported numerous others with arms and political cover. Hell, Saudi Arabia is still considered a stalwart ally, and 19 of the 20 highjackers on 9/11 were from that country. Don't get me started on how they treat women. Or how about Egypt? Obama continued to support the Mubarak dictatorship (which was quite brutal) until the people started revolting. I could go on and on, believe me.

 

I would be happy to see our military used to stop real genocide and promote democracy around the world, but the reality is the exact opposite in most cases. Our government can't be trusted, as we have nothing close to a real democracy to keep it in check. Until we actually control our government, I generally don't support military interventions - our track record leaves this as the only logical choice.

 

Back to the issue of "moral cowardice". It is cowardice to point out the shortcomings of others without taking any responsibility for your own actions. What good is it to criticize a country that we have no control over, while our own government is simultaneously committing human rights violations on a daily basis (which we pay for with our taxes)? It makes no sense. And more to the point, it takes moral courage to tell people things that don't want to hear about themselves rather than join the choir and spout conventional wisdom about the crimes of our “enemies”.  The day we become a moral society that lives up to its own standards is the day we have the right to criticize others.

maxwell97
maxwell97

@plasticreality @maxwell97 I'n afraid I find that viewpoint naive. Yes, the US killed hundreds of thousands in WWII, but you fail to consider the alternative - if it hadn't happened and the war had dragged on for another year or three, the death toll would likely have been much higher. Of course we'll never know for sure, but that's the way it works - in war a nation makes enormous decisions based on speculative analysis of imperfect intelligence. One of the many reasons it's best to avoid war through restraint, or end it by complete and decisive victory. It's fair to question the tactics, but to call them "crimes" is prejudiced. As for other nations, again, I am generally anti-intervention, but you can't simply ignore what the people of other nations do. Isolationism is not a viable option for any nation, so the decision of how to approach foreign affairs requires the analysis of many factors, including the moral character of foreign governments. In this case, it seems you're more than willing to condemn your own country for the evils of the world, whilst giving a pass to those who are, in fact, far more directly responsible. That's naïveté at best, moral cowardice at worst (if your desire is to simply wash your hands of responsibility for anything).