All About The_Jackle
Sony gets a lot of flak. Theirs is a system that has backed itself into a corner. It is a brand that has made a name for itself as a hardcore game maker. But many PS3 features and Sony products are attracting abuse from hardcore gamers. I say this because of their continued attempts to make their platform do everything. This is a machine that comes with blu-ray and wi-fi built in. It has a detachable hard drive that you can replace with any that you see fit. When compared to the competition the hardware is actually quite a bargain. No, not everybody wants these particular features.
There are those who believe that the 360 has HD and online gaming nailed without these particular features. They believe that features such as Home are total waste of hard drive space, a glorified shopping mall to be nickel and dimed everywhere you go. How could Sony have thought that gamers would possibly want to interact with this digital wilderness? The answer is they didn't.
The thought of gamers was far from the mind of the developers of Home. Yes there are a lot of Game Spaces, but they are for advertising purposes. Advertising Street Fighter 4 to the hardcore gamer is like preaching to the choir. Playstation 3 may have a wealth of in depth, well polished hardcore experiences but Home was created for the Casuals. And despite what certain Hardcore faithful users may say, there are millions of them and they love it. Home is a success. You may hate it, you may think it is an empty space, a graphical wasteland, a graveyard for stale DLC and all of your friends may agree with you (and incidentally so do I, I recently deleted it from my hard drive to make room for Symphony of the Night), but you don't matter (and neither do I). Not to Home developers.
Home was created as a pure commercial enterprise, an advertising endeavour that combines the graphical capabilities of the PS3 with the social networking of Facebook or Myspace. Not to be a Geekish paradise for the chosen hardcore few. No I don't see the appeal of endlessly getting in line to perform a rendition of the locomotion, nor do I think it's the most efficient or convenient way to meet other people. But people do enjoy it. People actually enjoy buying clothes that make their avatars look like themselves (well how they would like to look at least), people enjoy talking to each other, having a physical representation of your friend while talking to him/her over the chat is appealing to these people.
It's also successful. Home has made over a Million from micro transactions in its first year alone. So the same has to be said for the lack of UMD support in the "PSP Go!" If you have a massive amount of UMD's already, then this system is not for you. It does nothing that you're PSP can't. It's smaller. Big Whoop. PSP still has the memory, still can download Mini's. Go! was created as a multi media device that puts its focus squarely on software. An iPhone for smaller music collections and bigger games. If you look at the memory capacity it doesn't even look like Sony expects its users to want to download the more polished games. Again it is for casuals. People who are in the new generation of gamers who want to dive in, play, dive out.
Why do the hardcore gamers have a problem with this? The industry is bigger than you now. Companies have nothing to gain by aiming all of their efforts solely to please you. If you have a PSP already, why would you even want it? Please people. When something comes out that is no interest to, don't treat it like its something to be derided as something terrible. This industry is now catering to everyone (and has been for a while). You're not going to like everything. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Someone might.
Gamespot AU recently posted an excellently unbiased, even handed look on the importance of narrative in the video game medium. This was the latest in a long list of editorials, blogs, vlogs and rants that had attempted to tackle the subject. This article addressed the challenges developers face to create an enthralling and immersing experience whilst creating a functional gaming interface. The thing that worries me, however (indeed the thing that worries me most about the entire gaming industry more so than any other issue), is the attitude displayed by some of our more forward thinking and famous developers. It seems to me that there is, across a multitude of respected gaming journalists, designers and script writers, a feeling that for this medium to progress forward, to be taken seriously as an entertainment medium; then it must start emulating the film industry. This is never directly said, of course; but it is implied. I keep hearing of the need for a "Citizen Kane" in the games industry, something that will tackle adult themes and explore them thoroughly, hopefully with profound results. I keep hearing that games are immature, degenerate and that their plots should involve more than just the context as to why one group of people is shooting at this other group of people.
Now I'm not one for saying that game design should have certain rules; I do not believe that games should be anything other than what the designer intended, but I do believe that there are certain things the game industry would have to do to survive. The first thing is to keep putting the gameplay first.
This is essential. As a medium we should make the narrative a slave to the gameplay. We should be changing the narrative (for the worse if necessary) to accommodate the needs of the player when it comes to structure, experience, activity and control. The moment we start making games around a narrative structure and not the method we use to navigate the game itself is the moment that we lose the unique quality that games have.
As an industry competing with well established mediums such as T.V. and Film we will always have to rely on that which they cannot provide. Obviously this is our ability to have the player interact with the events of the story as oppose to just observing them. This is the ultimate expectation of the consumer. If the consumer wanted to spend money on character development, plot twists or dialogue then they would read a book or go to the cinema. If however they wanted a unique, in depth or gratifying gameplay experience it is then, faced with no other alternative that they would turn to games.
Ben Croshaw of Zero Punctuation fame made a video retrospective of Psychonauts condemning the game buying public for their mass disregard of the game. When giving a list of all of the things that happen in the game that grant it a purchase, he lists many events most of which happen in cut scenes. He then goes on to say that the game has dull combat, repetitive platforming and an unaccommodating difficulty curve. Now, seeing as platforming and combat are what you are doing in 99.9% of the game, I fail to see how this game would not have worked better as an Animated Film. Personally I am a huge Tim Schafer fan, but have little interest in a game where the majority of the memorable and engaging moments happen passively.
Rhianna Pratchett in the Gamespot AU article stated that "Amazing gameplay can survive s*** storytelling." I believe that the commercial failure of Psychonauts is proof that amazing storytelling is a poor substitute for average gameplay. (I also believe that to survive bad story telling the gameplay does not need to be that great. Rather it needs to be merely appealing. See the popularity of Dynasty Warriors, Army of 2 or House of the Dead and tell me if I'm wrong.)
Heavy Rain was at one point my most anticipated game of 2009. Then one of the lead designers made a statement that worried me not only about the game but also the state of the rest of the industry. "The idea of a difficulty curve in games is counter-intuitive to the act of experiencing a story in a game". This severely worries me about the state of what could be one of the most interesting games of this generation. If a difficulty curve is counter intuitive to telling a story, isn't telling a story counterproductive to the idea of making a game?
Cage's desire to see the act of telling a story as the primary function of a game in my opinion is flawed. In this he seems unwilling to compromise. The structure of his game is completely context driven with on screen prompts informing the player of opportunities in gameplay. The game will present you with choices, but there will be no indication beforehand of knowing which choice will lead you where, meaning that the only basis we have for decision making is what we've played before (unless you have a psychic link to the developers mode of logic). This would render the game to one big, glorified Quick Time Event with the most basic and un-involving trial and error gameplay. When I make a decision in a game; be it an adventure game or a beat 'um up; I want to know that it was my judgment that defines my success, not my memory of past play-throughs.
Ido not believe that David Cage is very respectful towards his chosen medium. This is why he looks towards other mediums for inspiration, not content in using games for their primary purpose but to use them to facilitate the necessities of other more narrative based structures. He like a lot of people who have been watching, reading and listening to narratives for so long he has reached the conclusion that so many others have made. That if a piece of entertainment has a narrative then the art of the entertainment can only exist through that.
This is where he and so many others are wrong. The art of the video game industry does not lie within characterization, dialogue or even art style. It lies within the gameplay and design. The art of the video game industry lies within such masterpieces as COD4's superbly realized multiplayer, the level design in the Super Mario series or the artificial cities in the GTA series.
Even Heavy Rain's story will not be the main art of the game; rather the new and innovative way that it is told. With the branching pathways and action and consequence progression they have created a game that is less about survival and more about discovery. Players are bound to take to this game as if they were directing it. They will start asking questions like "What if I were to kill off this character?" or "How would the story progress without him/her?" The game is no longer about keeping each character alive it is now about telling the story how you see fit, protagonists or no protagonists.
What the developers/consumers/critics (especially critics) need to know is just because something is technical, digital or mechanical, it does not mean it isn't artistry. I do believe that our industry is immature. But it is not because of our current reluctance to explore emotion. Rather, it is because of our adolescent wanabeeism, our envious need to judge our works by the standards of other mediums. Why do game critics need to be movie critics also?
One day this industry shall succeed in bringing emotional depth to the gaming public, one day it will succeed in matching other mediums in terms of storytelling capability; but we will only achieve this when we as an industry start striving for this, not through dialogue and plot development, but through gameplay and design.
Blogs are stupid
Dammit i just wrote one!!!!!!!!!!
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