This is a barely legible meditation using BioShock Infinite as an example of how chasing Hollywood audience and Hollywood dollar (but without having the advantage of Hollywood accounting) is absolutely killing AAA games. At this rate, there won’t be any left mid-next generation. Remember, you read it here first.
So, a few days ago we were treated to trailers of games such as Thief (reboot), that isn’t supposed to come out for another year at least, and Metal Gear Solid V, probably coming out even later than that. But as they say over here, you don’t start feeding the piglet on the Christmas morning (in case this was not common knowledge, that is what people here eat for Christmas, turkeys are considered sacred animals due to us spending 500 years as part of the Ottoman empire… or was it that turkeys were for pussies? I keep confusing myself) so it is understandable that we will be treated to early trailers showing us “in game footage” that actually has very little to do with what the game will be like in the end. This is just business as usual and is not even supposed to deceive “proper” gamers who know a thing or two about thing or two; this is mostly to get the mythical casual gamers on board early and generate buzz around the old web so that the piglet is semi-stuffed by the time preorders start launching, while the actual game designers still debate the systems back in their studio.
Anyway, both these trailers got people talking but mostly about the fact that in both cases it turned out that the usual, trusty, dare I say iconic voice actors for main characters in both of these games were replaced with new blood. And even though gaming is such an innovative medium, trust me when I say that new blood almost always draws bad blood. We hate change. We fear it and loathe it and we keep signalling this message to the market, whether it’s the change of the main character’s hair colour in a long running series or introduction of same sex relationships in a slightly newer series. So, learning that after Michael Ironside has been replaced in the next Splinter Cell game the other two big stealth action franchises lost their iconic voices too was a bit of a downer. Even though it is commonly accepted that we are shallow whores who value pretty graphics above everything else when it comes to games’ character, it turns out that memorable voice acting matters too.
You wouldn’t necessarily know it from the fact that Nolan North voices most of the current gen’s male cast in AAA games, of course, but there is a lot to be said about how much Michael Ironside, David Hayter and Stephen Russell contributed to character, feel, the very soul of their respective games series.
And now they’re gone, all three of them. In Hayter’s case, there was no explanation given, save from Hayter’s twitter report that he was told by someone in Konami that his services are no longer needed. That is not how you ditch a person who’s been a staple of the series through nine games over fifteen years but this could still be just Hideo Kojima being freaky and one never knows, this could end well.
But for Ironside and Russell the reasons for change were pretty bluntly reported: the dudes are too old and too out of shape. There was a time when that wouldn’t matter at all for a game. But modern AAA games are not like old AAA games, with animators drawing characters using their penises after sticking them into cans of paint and voice actors doing their shit in a booth some place across the country reading from a printed e-mail attachment. No, lots of modern games do those things together.
The penises and the attachments. They record motion capture and voice acting at the same time, using sound stages, coloured balls (but NOT penises) and some sophisticated cameras.
Now if the actor has to fall down because his (or her) character was stabbed in the neck, well, he better remember to yell convincingly or get ready to redo the take a dozen times more. This is progress at work.
They Call it “Performance Capture,” (or Sometimes “You’re Too Old And Fat Capture”)
Now, this worked in Uncharted, the first game series widely reported to be using this expensive but very effective way of ensuring convincing animation and voices of its characters in a multitude of situations. And suddenly every AAA game must follow suit. Except BioShock Infinite, apparently, the game with one of the highest metascores in recent history, reportedly had no problem doing voices and mo-cap separately, even *GASP* using different actors for body and voice.
But for Splinter Cell and Thief it means tough luck for anyone who thinks that Ironside’s and Russell’s voice acting defined large parts of the respective protagonists’ characters. Someone somewhere in the Ministry of AAA Videogame Design decided that having your game character jump and grunt convincingly at the same time trumps everything else. I mean, the last Splinter Cell game came out three years ago, surely no one remembers the voice of the main character of all things? As for Thief, the last game was back in 2004. Everyone who played it is dead, simple as. And if they are not dead, goddamnit, they better pay attention to all these graphics we’re putting in the reboot. This shit is next gen. It’s also in first person most of the time but, you know – Hollywood…
Alright, this pisses me off. Not even the fact that I do consider Russell, Ironside and Hayter key ingredients of their respective series, but the simple fact that we’re being led down this path even further. The path of escalating costs of game productions that contribute nothing to games being better as games. The path of Hollywoodisation of games through standardised ways of telling stories and depicting people, situations, ideas and, eh, women. I like my games to be immersive as much as the next guy or gal, but I just don’t know if turning them into increasingly quasi-photorealistic, increasingly non-interactive storytelling devices (that usually tell poor stories to boot) is the way to the holy grail of immersion. And getting those mythical casuals on board is a noble cause, sure, but the price we are paying is just becoming too steep.
Now I know that one of these days Steerpike or some other tapper will post a review of BioShock Infinite and it will be a reading orgasm and I don’t want to spoil anyone’s sexual pleasure here. But BioShock Infinite, for all the great things it does, is guilty as much as the next AAA game. And I am angry at it for being guilty.
Did I enjoy BioShock Infinite? I sure did. I gave myself a three day sabbatical, lying to the people who pay my bills that I have incredibly dramatic health problems, and I bulldozed through it, soaking in every piece of the intriguing personal-yet-slightly-political plot, every square inch of its incredible art and architecture, every word of dialogue designed to seduce and confuse in equal measure. It’s a very nice game, probably one of the richest single player experiences you’ll have this spring. But it’s considerably poorer as a game than either BioShock that came before it, including, of course, System Shock 2. For most of my 22 hour playthrough on hard I was thinking something along the lines of “Man, this is a great game because it has ambition and then it manages to follow it through admirably. But, man, I would be so much happier if this ambition had more to do with improving the game part of the game, not the fucking graphics.”
That’s a simplified view at it but it does boil down to this: BioShock Infinite is at its most impressive when you have nothing else to do but watch. That’s fucking depressing for an interactive piece of art or entertainment or whatever you call it in this post-Ebert world.
Do Not Touch The Exhibits
Ironically, the long lost originator of Irrational’s take on the franchise, System Shock 2, a game a younger team of many of the same people made back in 1999, became available as a digital download on GoG several weeks ago and playing both games side by side is a sobering experience. In 14 years the graphics indeed became better (or there is, to again borrow a RPS meme, more of them) and, yes, the voice acting became better regardless of whether you do the mo-cap and voice recording separately (and, shit, SHODAN didn’t even have a body and those fucking monkeys were scary and guilt-inducing enough without having someone whack REAL monkeys with a bat in front of a camera) and the worlds videogames put us in are increasingly more impressive. But what do we do in those worlds?
BioShock Infinite mesmerised me in the first two hours because almost all I did was walk around and take screenshots. The architecture, the gardens, the clothes, the stands at the fair, the floating buildings rocking gently up and down, the do-wop band singing Beach Boys, the sepia coloured street, the kids playing around a hydrant. The airboats, my god, the airboats. Irrational made a place that is delightfully amazing to watch and listen to.
But it is really all you are supposed to do there. In this utopia of a videogame, a game that becomes art through smashing several other arts together, you, the player, are sadly the odd man out.
Or, to put it bluntly, in the first two hours or so, the game has very little need of the player. It needs you to watch, listen and marvel but it does not need you to act. It does not need you to push the story forwards. It does not even give you many opportunities to interact.
To me, this is a huge problem. A problem signifying the mentality in the current AAA design that is pretty sure to continue in the next generation of games. Make shit beautiful. Use every trick in the book to make horizons seem farther, to make surfaces look more natural, to make light reflect in increasingly lush ways. But to make sure the bastard behind the controller sees it, by all means restrict their movement.
And walking through BioShock Infinite’s beautiful world I felt straitjacketed. The world, yes, they am beautiful. But it does not react to me. It does not even acknowledge my presence outside of the game’s rigid script. You can watch and listen to BioShock Infinite’s incredible flying city but you cannot get its attention. You cannot start conversations with people in the street. You cannot open random doors. You cannot commandeer vehicles, ride mechanical horses, smack the naughty kids across the eyes, you cannot even kill anyone until the game crosses a certain narrative threshold.
Hear Me Out
Now I know that comparing this game to GTA is unfair – one is a satirical urban simulator, the other is a pretty arena shooter, but the comparison still invites itself to the party. Both games are about an armed man coming into the city and bringing the motherfucking ruckus. It’s as simple as that at the core: we are being sold on a dream: here is a living, breathing city, here’s your gun, bring da ruckus, see what happens. Both games sell us the same dream of power and responsibility. But only one of them has procedural systems that empower the player – even whilst killing her (or even him), and the other is
a corridor an arena shooter that makes sure to put you in your place first and then tells you: “Now. Kill.”
And, hey, didn’t the whole first BioShock game revolve about how games put you in places and make you kill, unaware that you were conditioned to do this unquestioningly?
But ideology aside – after all, it is common knowledge that the topic of doing what the game expects of you even when explicitly told that you are but a puppet and that you’ll still do what is expected, free will be damned, was explored better and six years prior in Metal Gear Solid 2 – the real question is: what makes you more immersed in the game? The beauty of the surroundings that are not so much dead as they treat YOU as if you were dead? Or the comparatively uglier world that reacts to your presence, that you can have a dialogue with, that you can exercise your free will in? Because to me, this is what separates games from non-interactive content. To me, this is what GTA does right: you come to the city, you get guns, you kill – at your own pace, at your own responsibility. BioShock Infinite takes most of the responsibility from you as it pats you on the arse and gently pushes you to the next set piece.
Now contrast this with System Shock 2. The tutorial mission notwithstanding, it didn’t really mess around with you. Once the game started for real – that is about five minutes in – you were put in the middle of a devastated space ship and suddenly everything there was trying to kill you. Yes, those poor monkeys too. System Shock 2 had incredible atmosphere. Scratch that, it HAS incredible atmosphere, I am playing the sucker right now and it’s still a game with a terrifying sense of place and a sense of dread the place brings with it. You are alone. In space. On a ship filled with walking dead and fucking psionic monkeys. Everything wants you dead – dead people, cyber maids, space maggots – and your only ally is a psychotic AI with delusions of grandeur out on a mission to erase your whole race from existence. Shit gets pretty real pretty quickly in System Shock 2 and never goes unreal. You feel that you are there. You fear for your life. You feel vulnerable, exposed as you sneak through the corridors, looking for loot that may help you live five minutes longer. When you kill, it’s a horrible, traumatising experience, as walking nightmares cry at you to run while you whack them to (proper?) death with a wrench.
But crucially, System Shock 2 lets you play. There is a general objective you work towards in any moment in the game, but how you achieve it is entirely your decision. Unlike BioShock Infinite, System Shock 2 does not decide when you will be fighting (save for a handful of scripted moments that are its versions of boss fights). You pick your fights. You are free to run away, sneak around, to plan and execute so you can actually outsmart not just outgun your enemies. You are encouraged to think strategically and develop your skills and perks until you are the dominant species in the current part of the ship. Remember, the ‘Shock games are at their core about controlled evolution. And when you win through evolving in a smart way, the victories feel empowering. Meanwhile, in BioShock Infinite you are pushed from one scripted arena shootout to another and if you survive, looting the bodies of the dead feels strangely chore-like.
Because, really, it is. For a game that puts so much emphasis on collecting stuff (not just from corpses, but from vending machines, desks, garbage bins… until you are the richest hobo in Columbia) it’s depressing how it makes every conceivable effort to disallow you to actually manage all that stuff. Large part of System Shock 2’s appeal was in difficult decisions and general management related to your inventory. The simplest of its dilemmas was whether you took more ammo for one weapon or more weapons with less ammo. You were required to make difficult choices and abandon enormous potential branches for further evolution of your character. The shit felt tense.
In BioShock Infinite, meanwhile, you get two weapon slots, an ammo pouch that you have no control over and no inventory whatsoever. It makes you collect copious amounts of stuff because ‘Shock games were always about procuring necessary resources on site, but it completely ignores that half the fun in scavenging is in arranging your loot later, deciding how to use it, feeling like you are actually making choices important for your future, not merely clicking on corpses and selecting “Take All,” never even bothering to see what All is you’re Taking.
So, the exploration and collecting are not really up there with the best, but the game does this consciously because its emphasis is on the narrative, right? Right. And while I’d really love to say I admire BioShock Infinite’s narrative, the truth is it just reminded me that AAA games still get it wrong. Every time.
Facegrab (not to be confused with “face hugger”)
Again, this is pretty easy for me: give me power and responsibility. Make it feel like I am indeed important in the narrative. Not necessarily by fulfilling my power fantasies, mind you. Telltale’s The Walking Dead games were a master class in giving the player a bare minimum of agency but EXACTLY where it mattered the most.
Now, BioShock Infinite is really a game about someone else, not the player character, so ironically it actually emphasises the fact that you’re here along for the ride, certainly not in the driver’s seat.
And again, it feels stiffening. Especially because the game attempts to conceal the fact that you’re not in charge by not having any classic cutscenes.
Ah, the cutscene, that old, reliable crutch videogame narratives in the last decade were always happy to use. And we kept saying “Oh, mister/ ms. videogame designer, don’t take me out of the action, please, I want to play, not watch a badly directed CGI movie, I want to be in the game, not watch the game.” And somehow, in the world of AAA design, the world of increasing budgets (those fucking soundstages and athletic actors won’t pay for themselves) and decreasing willingness to risk or you know, be creative, this was interpreted as “Shut up the little fucks by leaving everything in the first person but make sure they have no choice but to see everything.”
In the world of Tap-Repeatedly this is colloquially known as facegrab. You are playing a first person game, feeling all immersed ‘n’ shit, revelling in all the choices you have – go left or right, shoot that dude or that dude over there, use one of the TWO firearms you are carrying – when suddenly you cross a narrative trigger and whoops, the game grabs you by the very face you use to play with and pulls your vision cone towards the next-thing-you-must-see.
Look, I’m sorry, but this is bullshit. This is not me playing the game, this is me watching the game again, but this time not even having the luxury of putting the controller down for a while and stretching my back, as it could drop me back in any moment, without warning (especially if it’s one of those evil games that end these scenes with a quick time event). This is me being depowered, forced to stop playing so I can see more of the story, only somehow this feels worse than a proper cutscene as the game nudges me and winks all the time saying “See, we are not taking you out of the character, you watch through their eyes ALL THE TIME. Motherfucker, EXACTLY like Half-Life!”
Only it isn’t. Half-Life almost never took control from you. The seminal fifteen years old corridor shooter, the most heavily scripted game out there, trusted you to be interested enough in the game events that you’d actually look in the right direction when the time came. And if you didn’t, it wasn’t too bothered; you’ll get it on the next playthrough. The game knew that it is more important to let you play than to speak its story down at you while holding your face in its hands.
And BioShock Infinite, alas, does it all the time. It’s degrading, humiliating even. Unlike Half-Life, that took control from you because your character in-game was helpless at the very same moment, you are repeatedly made helpless yourself as your character politely listens to people talk to him/you and watches the stuff shown to him/you, unable to move because the game has no other idea of how to convey important information.
Now, sure, I am being harsh here, mostly because BioShock Infinite does many things right. But the obvious trend towards lessening player’s freedom, after you’ve already lessened player’s impact on the world, makes me sad.
But all that aside… that plot. That narrative. No. Just no. This is not how I want my games. Yes, it is a smart, intriguing plot, but goddamnit, if you’ve read any X-Men in the last three decades or seen Fringe you’ve seen so many elements of it that it inevitably comes across as yet another gimmicky sub-Shyamalan story.
Or at least it did for me. Remember, the original BioShock had a mid-game plot twist that put all your actions in game in the new context? System Shock 2 at least made you aware you were working towards your own eradication. But BioShock Infinite does its I’m-your-father-Luke twist and it changes nothing about the game or the way you have been playing it. It’s a purely intellectual thing, shown to the player in the last 30 minutes, asking barely any input or agency from her (or his!) part. It’s an interesting metaphysical dilemma and a multiverse theory and all that but it’s barely part of the game. It changes nothing about how you played it up to that point and will change nothing about how you play in the next playthrough.
Am I demanding too much here? Because, another game from the last century – the original Deus Ex – while not having a HUGE plot twist in the middle, also came with a narrative that made you gradually aware that all that you thought was true is not and that the values you have taken for granted are fake. So when you switched sides it immediately made you extremely self-aware about the way you have been playing up to that point. I know that my second playthrough of Deus Ex was non-lethal due to the new context the knowledge I’d gained created.
BioShock Infinite, obviously, is not based on a system flexible enough to allow for non-lethal playthroughs and therefore its plot and any unexpected information in it make no difference in gameplay terms. Not in this playthrough, not in the next one. You will be playing exactly the same game, only this time around without the questions you had the first time that made it look bigger than it was.
Fewer People than I’d Like Are Going to Get That Reference
Because games, especially AAA games, must look more like Hollywood movies. Because this is the audience publishers think they must capture. Yahtzee and Richard Cobbett both had intelligent and funny things to say about the topic recently and if we’re to listen to them, the future of AAA gaming is bleak.
And really, all I want is for games to become better games. It’s not that I am against graphics or streamlining. I mean, the other day I felt like playing original Rainbow Six, so I went to GoG, installed it and the first thing I said when it booted was “WTF dude, my eyes!!!!!!!! Where are the graphics?” But then it turned out it’s not about the graphics. It’s about the absolutely silly number of keys you must memorise because the game does not let you redefine keys mid-mission. It’s about how the “tutorial” section of the game dumps you into maps and doesn’t even tell you what you should do, let alone tutor you on how to do it. It’s about the pre-mission tactical briefings being simultaneously too wordy and severely uninformative, about tactical maps being impenetrable and illogical. All of this severely affects the enjoyment of the game as you must negotiate a number of badly designed, unintuitive systems to actually start enjoying one of the smartest, most tactical first person shooters out there.
Streamlining is welcome, more graphics are welcome too. Just don’t take the games out of my games, dude. Empower me by liberating me. Give me choice and consequence, power and responsibility. Then you can smash my face in. I promise I will be back for more.
Commence with the flaming – email@example.com!
Are there any spoilers for Infinite here? I *really* want to read but not playing Infinite in the near-term.
There are no spoilers except that I vaguelly allude to the story structure. But not contents. And even that is marked by Steerpike so you can skip it if so inclined.
But it really depends on how exposed you were to the pre-release stuff. I take it for granted that everyone knows at least the setting of the game and the era etc. If you don’t want even that spoiled, don’t read.
Sounds good. Reading ahoy…!
On the other hand… I may have lied.
There’s so much to discuss here. I’ve got to try and choose my words (which I’m not good at doing).
First off, I can’t argue with a word Meho puts down. Bioshock Infinite is a remarkable game, and a triumph, but it does do a lot of things wrong. How much that irritates you is dependent entirely on what kind of gamer you are – if you’re less bothered by, say, bin-looting than others, then that aspect of Infinite isn’t likely to grate.
One very irrelevant point that nonetheless has been on my mind is that Bioshock Infinite is not a “Shock” game. Regardless of setting, thematically these games have always shared core elements: they are about violation of the body, either with technology or through genetic manipulation; power at the cost of dehumanization. Infinite, despite its “Vigors,” has nothing to do with that. It’s about the relationship between two people, and how decisions impact their worlds. That’s a small thing, but it resonates with me; this game is called “Bioshock Infinite” because calling it “Infinite” would’ve automatically reduced its unit sales by a million.
Is it a bad game, or a disappointment? No, not in my book. Based on Meho’s remarks, he too would call it a worthwhile investment. But it does have its problems.
The ending (no spoilers here) didn’t amaze me. I was surprised by one aspect of it – the same aspect everyone else was – because I hadn’t predicted it, but compared to “Would you kindly,” the revelation of Infinite just wasn’t that mind-blowing. This too is not a significant flaw, but it does sort of describe one of the two things I do consider significant flaws:
First, Bioshock Infinite has too many ideas. It is simply too many concepts to be rolled into a single game. Too much is introduced and left insufficiently explored. Quantum physics and flying cities and American Exceptionalism and Vigors and religious dogma and parallel universes and Songbird and indentured servitude and personal redemption and propaganda states and racism and industrial robber-barony and the Pinkertons and the Boxer Rebellion and Elizabeth and mind control and human enhancement and slave uprisings and the Lutece siblings and patent law and immaculate conception and Rapunzel-by-proxy and Federalism and decisional causality and time travel and on and on and on. It’s all fucking brilliant, but it’s TOO MUCH. There’s enough for five games here; cramming it all into one reduced the impact and the ability to thoroughly explore anything.
The second major flaw is that it’s only a fair-to-middlin’ shooter, which is a bit of a problem since that’s the foundation of the game. This is ironic because early on I told Dix is was a very well-done shooter, that it had the ineffable qualities that make shooters work… but like so much else, I was speaking from the First Two Hours of the game, and the First Two Hours are a very different experience than the rest of Bioshock Infinite.
I repeat: is it a bad game? Absolutely not. I wouldn’t even call it a disappointment. I’d merely say that it has its issues, tucked in among all its triumphs. What I like about Meho’s remarks is that he simply reminded us that those issues are there, and that they exist in a larger context than just this one game.
The decision to cut Stephen Russell from Thief is heartbreaking. Like you, Meho, I consider him integral to the Garrett persona. The lesson, sadly, is one we all know: nobody will ever buy (or not buy) a game based on a casting choice. I might see a movie because I love an actor, but a game? It’s not the same medium. But man, Thief – no matter how good it turns out to be, and I have high hopes – it just won’t be the same without Russell behind the hood.
A fantastic read Meho and I couldn’t agree with you more. You’ve articulated many of my own thoughts here far better than I think I could.
I really really enjoyed Bioshock Infinite, but as you may have read from my recent Bioshock 2 article, I lamented the various things that were lost in translation from System Shock 2 to Bioshock (many of which are echoed above), and with Infinite I feel as though it lost more from Bioshock 2. Bioshock laid the foundations for a terrific sandbox shooter after streamlining out a great deal of the RPG elements from System Shock 2 (elements that made it far more interesting mechanically), and it was Bioshock 2 that I feel built up from those shooter foundations improving various other things along the way, even introducing some meaningful choices that actually affected the game, and steering clear of Shyamlan plot twisting and contorting. Now, I was expecting Infinite to develop the shooter side of the game (if nothing else!) even further but Irrational somehow streamlined and canned it even more (I’m not going into why here because I’ve outlined why in too many emails now!) Yes, they told a tremendous story and, yes, they delivered a solid shooter with an often exhilarating bunch of action sequences and set-pieces, but all at the expense of meaningful and richer player interaction. And for all this talk of immersion, there’s nothing more immersion-breaking than cloned NPCs not responding to you wielding a gun in their face while stealing their $1 hotdogs and popcorn in plain sight. Or finding ammo in chocolate boxes. Or money in bins.
One of the most representative moments of the game for me was really early on (like, probably 10 minutes into the game) when you first arrive in Columbia. A big objective sign slams on to your screen with a loud clang telling you to ‘Find a way into the city’ as if you were somehow going to fail to walk through a couple of rooms and down a flight of stairs. It just felt preposterous. I remember in Thief when it told me to find a way into the manor, I damn well had to find a way into the manor. At no point in Infinite did I ever worry about what I was supposed to be doing, why I was supposed to be doing it, or how, because I knew that the game would do all the thinking for me (even without all the visual aids turned on). The only thing I ever had to think about was how I was going to blast my way through the next signposted arena shootout or railed set-piece. There were a few choices in there which I spent a good while thinking about but blah blah, mumble mumble…
“And, hey, didn’t the whole first BioShock game revolve about how games put you in places and make you kill, unaware that you were conditioned to do this unquestioningly?”
Absolutely. This was the clever thing about Bioshock that justified the shooting. It reframed your actions. With Infinite I got the sense that it was looking for reasons to put you into a fight just to make it a shooter/action game.
There’s a lot of what you’ve written here Meho that I could rant about for ages because I’m with you, particularly with regards to the greater and greater emphasis on pushing pixels and polygons rather than pushing genres, systems, mechanics and ideas into uncharted territory. It’s truly saddening to think that AAA games have so much monetary drive behind them but more often than not developers (or perhaps publishers) haven’t got a fucking clue where to direct it. Gaming has come on leaps and bounds visually in the last 10-20 years but mechanically they’ve been in a streamlining rut.
Blimey, this is a big response. I don’t want to come off as a whiny bastard here but it’s high time people sat up and really considered what’s happening to games on a mechanical level in the AAA sphere. There really doesn’t seem to be enough scrutiny these days. Even Bioshock Infinite’s Steam page listed all sorts of scores from… what did they say? Something like ‘the world’s most respected reviewers’ or some bollocks like that, while listing IGN.
That reminds me, I must get back into watching Zero Punctuation, it’s been too long.
Some really good points here. Starting with the fact that, exactly, this is not really a ‘Shock game – thematically it certainly abandons the evolution streak and mechanically too, I’d say, it carried over only more superficial elements of the gameplay.
It does make up for a lot of it with the setting, the characters and with some of the themes that it explores that I thought were really interesting. Not being American I have a necesarilly different view on the Wounded Knee, the Boxer rebellion, the whole exceptionalism thing but I think having all these things in the game actually worked to its benefit. I did criticise the plot and storytelling in relation to how it pans out in the gameplay, but I can not but admire that it touches on so many subjects and that in many cases it has the right approach: get the player interested but do not preach. I have seen criticism that accussed it for abandoning the political topics it started out with and for trying to artificially present both political extremes as, say, equally “bad” but these two things combined actually work for me. You get a hands-off approach to ideologies and you see their consequences (or potential consequences anyway) through GAMEPLAY. You actually get to see the utopia fall apart through a civil war and worker’s uprising and seeing people executed in the street in all those acts of revolutionary justice after the mid game point actually rang true for me. I did grow up in a communist country after all and even though it wasn’t JUST like that even back in 1945, I believe this is a very decent condensation of how it FELT, done as just one of the things a game like Infinite does.
On the other hand, yes, there are simply too many themes and while the game is saved by focusing on personal aaspects of the plot, it could have been more focused and more effective. When I finished it I said to myself something like: This could have been gaming’s MEMENTO. It had all the ingredients. But it ALSO tried to be gaming’s CITIZEN KANE and gaming’s BIRTH OF THE NATION and about a dozen other movies.
And crucially, yes, as a shooter, it makes some unfortunate missteps – mostly, in my opinion, to do with the enemy AI. I have made more detailed comments on the shooting in the forum thread so won’t repeat myself here, but, compared to Far Cry 3 or, I dunno, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., BioShock Infinite’s combat is too wild and out of control for my taste.
As for the Thief reboot, Eidos Montreal gets a lot of credit from me because of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. That game, while far from perfect actually did a lot of things right so I am of course hoping Thief gets it right. But I have to say, their latest interviews and descriptions of the game’s systems have left me slightly confused… Still… it’s early to comment so, let’s wait a few months. But, yes, losing Stephen Russell – that IS unforgivable. And, I mean, come ON, it’s a first person game. Yes, there are instances of third person but still…
Gregg, yes! I mean, I more or less knew you’d think along the same lines, from reading your BS2 retrospective. And as I just said to Steerpike in an email, it’s not that I think BioShock Infinite is a bad game or anything, it’s a rare thing for me to put in 22 hours of gameplay in three days for a single game, but exactly because it IS a pretty good game in many aspects, that makes it a perfect example to point the finger at many of its elements and criticise the overall AAA galaxy for its obvious loss of creative energy and a lot of fear that comes with high budgets.
And really, I am wondering what will be happening over the next two years with next generation kicking in and the budgets going even higher. Sure, both Xbox and PS4 will be going the x86 way so the multiplatform development will be cheaper but then again, the games will be spending even more money on actors, mocap, face capture, not to mention that I fully expect big publishers to start hiring really big actors to do the motion and voice capture. I mean, if your game already costs 100 million to make, why not get Ryan Gosling or I dunno, Hugh Jackman to “star” in it? David Cage may actually have a point there with getting Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe for BEYOND and actually banging his drum very loud about the fact that Hollywood’s AAA talent is doing his game.
So the development will become more expensive, not due to game systems becoming more sophisticated and I am scared of a bubble effect. Yes, you may be getting more audience in the short term for these new, interactivity-challenged blockbusters with movielike direction and big names used for models, but unless you offer some substance too, they will leave pretty soon…
And just think of the developmental cycles too. They’ll be immense, and, coupled with the bigger budgets, they’ll be even riskier. It’s got to burst at some point because the mechanics simply won’t be able to scale with the production values. There’s a reason why Dwarf Fortress is one of the most complex games ever made and is in ASCII.
The other thing to consider too is that the sorts of experiences that draw new audiences in won’t necessarily be representative of the sorts of experiences that have kept folks like us playing, so you may end up with a situation where the medium is further misunderstood because there’s a greater body of people who think they are seeing all there is to see; that Wii Sports, CoD, Halo, WoW, Mario, Tomb Raider and Angry Birds is what gaming is all about. It’s difficult to say you’re into gaming without having to shake off those sorts of titles. I’ve nothing against them, but it’s like saying you’re into films and whoever you’re telling thinking you watch nothing but blockbusters by default. Or books and bestsellers. Or music and chart pop. Gaming hasn’t reached that point yet where onlookers know there’s more to it than meets the eye. Ask them if they’ve heard of Portal, or even Half-Life 2. The medium is definitely spreading its wings and my hope, at the very least, is that newcomers take an interest in some of the more ‘obscure’ and daring titles out there if the AAA scene starts losing its sparkle for them.
I think rather than go into detail about my particular misgivings about Infinite here, I’ll dump my thoughts into the forum thread instead!
Great article, Meho.
I loved my time with BioShock Infinite in spite of the fact I didn’t love every last one of its individual components or mechanics. I think it’s that sort of game. It exceeds the sum of its parts through its atmosphere, its setting and its storytelling, but if you strip all that away the “game” part becomes far more open to critique. I’m generally more tolerant of some of the more obvious and routine “AAA” trappings than other Tap readers and commenters, but there were certainly things Infinite did that I didn’t like so much; even compared to BioShock and not just Infinite’s many contemporaries in the FPS space.
I also agree with you that it’s particularly interesting to play System Shock 2 now we’re surrounded by these games. I played System Shock 2 after buying it from GOG – for the first time no less – and was definitely impressed and in some ways even taken aback by some of the freedoms and sheer respect it affords you as the player. It actually took me a while to settle into the game because I’m just not used to that sort of “hands off” approach anymore. It’s a phenomenal game, but a very different one to Infinite. After playing all three, Infinite feels quite a lot further removed from System Shock 2 than BioShock was. Aside from some of the obvious carry overs – various UI elements, Voxophones etc – Infinite feels much more like its own thing, for better or worse, and both thematically and gameplay wise. I never even considered that Infinite existed in the same space as BioShock during my play through, for example.
But that said, I honestly can’t say that the loss of certain mechanics from System Shock 2 negatively impacted my experience with BioShock Infinite. Don’t get me wrong, I’d absolutely love to play an alternative BioShock Infinite that features the tension, freedom and inventory management headaches of System Shock 2 (oh god, that damn inventory.. I’ve only just stopped having nightmares about it now!). Just like I’d love to play a version of BioShock Infinite where there’s absolutely no shooting at all, where the FPS becomes an FPAdventure focused on exploration and discovery. But I also really liked the version of Infinite we did get, in spite of some imperfections.
Gregg, I’d argue that BioShock Infinite is already an extension beyond the core group of games that “casual” gamers experience. It might not feel like a huge deviation in its gameplay, but as someone who still generally plays quite a lot of the larger AAA games (though this number seems to be shrinking year after year), Infinite certainly feels a huge leap more involving and creatively interesting than.. well, just about every other major release on the market. As far as pushing the envelope on what new gamers see and experience in the games industry, what they think it’s capable of showing them, I think Infinite is still a pretty important release. This is certainly a game that does much more with its narrative, its creative design, its art direction and its themes than any of the other games you mentioned, and is just about high profile and accessible enough to keep their attention long term. Rather than being one of the mass market “pop chart” type releases, I’d say Infinite is a better example of a game hopefully pushing people down more interesting paths. Maybe onto the likes of Portal 2, and from there The Walking Dead and Journey, right the way through to some of the more lesser known releases.
Something that consistently baffles me is why developers and (more likely) publishers occasionally insist on paying for Hollywood talent in their games. This works out so rarely in a cost-to-quality ratio that it seems they’d have learned their lesson.
I can think of exactly ONE instance when a bankable star made a role, made it to such a degree that it wouldn’t have worked if played by someone else – JK Simmons as Cave Johnson in Portal 2. I can think of exactly ONE instance where Hollywood talent delivered such a good performance that I’d argue he was worth the money despite the fact that many professional voice actors would have done fine – Alec Baldwin as Lieutenant Parker in World in Conflict.
I can think of countless instances where top Hollywood talent phoned in awful performances, and countless more where the cost to employ that talent resulted in good performances, but nothing memorable. Why? WHY?
Even if we all hated Infinite, I think we’d all agree that Courtnee Draper and Troy Baker, both seasoned game talent, were outstanding in their roles as Elizabeth and Booker. They made scale, maybe a few bucks more. $200 an hour, say.
Would Infinite have been so well served if three or four million bucks had been spent employing Mark Wahlberg and Anne Hathaway? Why do developers continue to do this?
Actors and performances can make or break movies. It’s not the same with games. Sure, bad acting hurts a game, but it’s never a dealbreaker. That money is better spent elsewhere, which of course is a major part of Meho’s point.
Actors on TV shows like Farscape routinely redubbed their own lines in postproduction. James Earl Jones never actually wore Vader’s mask. Now you’re telling me we can’t replace some motion capture actor’s voice with Stephen Russell? Are people that dumb? And I don’t mean the believing public, I mean the guys who are making the game. And Russell absolutely DID make Thief what it was. He was the exception. I’m as big a Thief fan as anyone alive, and I’m not buying this one. I’m serious. I’m not angry or spiteful. I just don’t want to play a Thief game that doesn’t have a character named Garrett voiced by Stephen Russell and written by Terri Brosius. I’m transferring my LGS loyalties to Arkane and Dishonored (which does employ Brosius as a writer).
And the central mistake of Hollywood gaming is the the nature of storytelling in games is in reality much closer to that of a novel than a movie. That pace, the attention to detail, the mess of information rather than controlled and confined cutting from one moment to another; game writers should think more like novelists (or TV show writers). Of course, aside from marketing pressures, it’s REALLY hard for a lot of developers to resist the urge to pretend they’re Steven Spielberg. I’m reminded of Chris Avellone lamenting in an interview that he went for too cinematic a style in KOTOR2 (which in that game could not possibly have worked better, but whatever).
This will perfect for the looming indie game era because their low budgets force them to stick to the novel style.
(And I feel like if Christine Love had been born ten years later, at her current age she’d be as famous as Ken Levine is now, perhaps more)
“Gaming hasn’t reached that point yet where onlookers know there’s more to it than meets the eye. Ask them if they’ve heard of Portal, or even Half-Life 2.”
But part of the irony is in that we’re debating a game that sold maybe two or three million copies so far and comparing it to a game from 1999 that may have sold a couple of hundred thousand copies, while for most of the NEW gamers, from the last ten years when you say “games” it means Angry Birds, a game that more than a billion people have played. It’s a fantastically big divide and the funny part is that the publishers lose sleep over THAT, first and foremost. That’s why EA is banging its vision of all free-to-play, all always-online, all microtransactions future. I am genuinly interested in what happens two to three years from now when the next gen starts in earnest and we see what the realistic budgets for AAA games are. I may be totally wrong with my prediction that the next arms race will be in bringing Holywood AAA talent and presenting this as THE cutting edge of your newest game (Gears of Duty, now starring Sam Worthington!!! Batman Silver Arkham, introducing Christian Bale!!!) but I feel that with the push that’s been going on forever towards near photorealistic graphics on one hand and the increased emphasis on narrative and cinematic qualities, this sounds like a logical next step. This happened in the world of animation more than ten years ago, so.. it doesn’t sound unlikely to me.
Because experimenting with gameplay systems and mechanics is going to become harder, as more money will be rolled with each dice throw, and showing your investor that you have Hale Berry, Le DiCaprio or Will Smith on board might just be your edge. But then again, of course, this will backfire once the bubble bursts, just as the interactive movie games bubble burst back in the nineties.
Then they (and we) will be left with some strange choices to be made.
And just to clarify things again, I certainly enjoyed my time with BioShock Infinite and I plan to play it again when the story details pale a little bit in my memory. I admire it for its thematic intensity even if it lacked focus. I feel this game IS an important milestone in terms of how the medium matures. Of course, my gripes are to do with the fact that I always prefer gameplay/ mechanics/ systems maturing to thematic maturing.
I was also thinking about the bubble of interactive movies and full motion video. That one burst because the games weren’t fun; the production was too challenging; the cost was too high. Will the same thing happen here? Will publishers and investors realize that the cost of Hollywood production values doesn’t translate into equal or greater return? I suspect some will realize that, yes.
Certainly I think performance capture can REALLY help the immersion level of a game. I base this on Uncharted and other games that’ve done it. I’ve seen and felt a difference… though to Arouet’s point, there’s no law written that says the actors whose performances are being captured have to be the same as the ones dubbing the lines. The whole point of “acting” is that you can pretend you’re doing something or being someone you aren’t. Otherwise everyone would do it. They could perfcap a stunt person for Garrett and have Stephen Russell dub the lines. The result wouldn’t be as spot-perfect as the Uncharted performances, but it’d be closer.
Frankly from a voice and acting perspective, a bigger problem is that most developers don’t have their cast recording at the same time. The Final Fantasy XIII cast met for the first time at the wrap party, and while that game wasn’t exactly a literary tour-de-force anyway, it’s always better to have your cast together, playing off each other.
From a design perspective, I wonder if AAA development will BECOME Angry Birds. After all that game has made more money than Infinite can possibly hope to. In the weirdest possible scenario, “Core” gamers may simply stop playing “AAA” games because they don’t appeal any more. In that instance, we Core gamers would seek out the smaller, lower-production-value niche titles that have the gameplay we want, leaving the “big” market to the Angry Birds people.
Don’t get me wrong, I think that Uncharted looked, sounded and felt fabulous with the full metal performance capture and all the bells and whistles. But that series is extremely linear and holds you by the hand all the time, its systems are simple and it’s really mostly about delivering awesome cinematic action/ banter 90% of the time. Even there, by the third game a lot of the segments were really barely interactive and without almost any “problems” to be solved. I mean, I enjoyed it but it’s not like I’ll be replaying it any time soon. It scares me that the games that actually have interesting systems, problems and mechanical ideas will be toning them down, abandoning them or merely neglecting them because the budget will be sucked by Hollywood talent doing the performance capture.
@Mat: You’re right and I don’t mean to sound like I’m pissing on Infinite here! It is indeed a very important release and I sure do hope new players cross over to other titles, but it doesn’t really make a good case for rich interactivity in games in the sense that you shoot stuff, hoover items up and move on. There’s strategy and tactics in the combat but it’s far messier and limited than the game’s predecessors when it questionably need not have been.
As Rob Fearon said in an RPS comment recently, the problem here is you start getting close to “if only we could talk to the monsters” territory because you’re wishing for something that the game is not — it’s a shooter, deal with it. It’s an important release for everything it does around the gameplay which is as solid and functional as it needs to be to carry all the ambition it’s packing, but it’s exactly that ambition that makes me wish it did more than just shooting, or at the very least, did more with its shooting. We’ve spoken to the monsters before, and it was great. I loved the game for its vision and boldness, I also thoroughly enjoyed the combat, despite my misgivings, and funnily enough I didn’t play anything for a couple of days after finishing it because I was still sort of ‘coming down’ from the experience. For a couple of days everything else seemed so… I dunno, modest and dull, which is quite a feat.
I suppose all I’m ultimately getting at is that I don’t think AAA titles will have the capacity to create richer and more involving game experiences through sophisticated (but less obvious) systems and mechanics because it’ll be too risky when they can simply wow people with (more obvious) absurd production values and solid, if familiar gameplay. One usually comes at the expense of the other and production values seem to guarantee the bacon. This explains why I’m looking forward to some of the recently Kickstarted RPGs from InXile and Obsidian because they’re channeling their efforts into creating rich interactive experiences rather than predominantly visual/sonic ones.
@Steerpike: Do you know who played Garrett in the cutscenes that featured his silhouette with Constantine and Victoria? Was that Stephen Russell? That would be interesting to know because if it wasn’t then it would kind of make the whole ‘performance capture’ thing even more of a weird reason for dropping him.
@Meho: “Because experimenting with gameplay systems and mechanics is going to become harder, as more money will be rolled with each dice throw”
That’s a great way of putting it.
See the Longest Journey games as an example of what happens when the voice director sets aside time for the cast to actually get to know each other before they start recording together.
Well said, Arouet. It can be done, and you get great work when you have professional actors who are committed to the role and given all the tools they need. Draper and Baker recorded together for Infinite, and again, you see the value. Being able to make eye contact is going to give an actor the ability to produce subtlety that might not be possible otherwise. Once again, that’s why acting is a profession requiring skill, and why NOT EVERYONE DOES IT. The only thing that pisses me off more than developers wasting money on Hollywood talent (nothing against Hollywood talent, it’s just not useful in games) is developers putting, like, the janitor in the sound booth because “who cares.”
@Gregg: your comment summed it up so wisely, and better than I could’ve in 10,000 words. Here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to give it a few weeks, then delete your profile and set WordPress to assign all your work and comments to me. Within a year, no one will ever realize that all your thoughts aren’t mine. HA!
But seriously, I don’t know who played Garrett in those short scenes. At first I was thinking “what’s Gregg talking about? There’s no mocap in the old Thiefs.” But you’re right, there IS… there are a few short FMV scenes, lots of shadows, and someone played Garrett. Did they even do mocap back then? Russell’s mostly a theatre actor, he’d know how to move in a silhouette-y shot; it’s certainly possible they used him. Obviously they used someone.
I do remember Randy Smith once telling me that Stephen Russell was really responsible for Thief. He said something like “not to minimize the programmers or artists or even my contribution, but it wouldn’t have worked without him.”
As an aside, the reason longtime fans of anything get angry over new installments that don’t appear to measure up to the originals isn’t because they treat the object of their fandom as their own personal property. There are nutjobs like that, but what most of the ire really stems from is that the new will bury the awareness of the old. It’s why lovers of the original Star Wars trilogy can’t stop talking about how awful the prequels are (besides the fact that they suck) and how the new movies will just keep ruining everything – they’re terrified that the next generation of fans won’t care or even see the first three films. That they don’t like the new stuff isn’t enough. That the originals they love might be buried and forgotten beneath the stuff they dislike – THAT’S what drives them nuts and gets them ranting.
And that’s why I’m so bothered by this new Thief. Of the possibility that someday, when you ask the average gamer for their opinion about “Thief”, they’ll think of a mediocre AAA stealth-action game, and not the Citizen Kane of video gaming.
This is so bloody brilliant it nearly brought me to tears. Having not played Bioshock Infinite, I have nothing to add to the discussion of its merits. But I think the point you made about why the looting is an empty exercise was spot-on. Bioshock did the same thing of course.
Look at a game such as Resident Evil (REMake). That game is so brilliant precisely because it makes the act of looting so meaningful. I forgave the crappy controls because everything else was so good.
And about those voice actors. Splinter Cell stopped being relevant after they took Chaos Theory – the pinnacle of the series in terms of gameplay – and dumped it in the trash. Replacing Ironsides now is like stealing the hubcaps from a car wreck.
I don’t quite know what I think or feel yet about Thief (though I’m with RPS in stating that getting rid of “T4IEF” was just enough to raise the developers above the grade of “moron”). But getting rid of Russell matters. A lot. If they balance that mistake with deeper gameplay, then it may be possible to forgive. If it turns out to be Conviction, no thanks.
@Steerpike: But what about all my English spelling? 😉
I think it was just good ol’ bluescreen filming and then After Effects-ing the video over the Thief artwork. It worked tremendously. I’m pretty sure they used Terri Brosius for Viktoria’s silhouette. I think my problem with what I’ve seen of Thief 4 is that Garrett doesn’t look (or sound) anything like the Garrett I came to know and love. That everyman quality has well and truly gone now and the voice has gone as well so what do we have left? A pale gnarley-looking badassassin in flashy leathers wielding some pimped out bow. He looks like an evil character out of Fable for fucks sake.
@Arouet: That’s a fine point you’ve got there. I’m playing XCOM at the moment and while I was a little sceptical at first, I’ve warmed to it no end. However, besides a few other things, I’m really missing the atmosphere and feel of the original. It’s not eerily quiet any more, with that foreboding ambient drone in the background. It’s all bombast and INTENSITY!! when the action flares up and that just doesn’t sit right with me. It feels like a Hollywood B-movie rather than a bleak comic book. Nevertheless, it’s a damn sight less fiddly than the original and in many ways considerably better off for it. I wouldn’t want XCOM to bury X-COM but it seems as worthy a successor as Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
“But getting rid of Russell matters. A lot. If they balance that mistake with deeper gameplay, then it may be possible to forgive. If it turns out to be Conviction, no thanks.”
I… I actually liked Conviction.
But in fairness, I never had emotional attachment to Splinter Cell the way I have it to Thief or Metal Gear Solid and I seemed to like the wrong games in the series. For instance I preferred Pandora Tomorrow to both the original game and Chaos Theory that I felt was a bit of a fraud with its non-consequential choices and shallow side-objectives. Also, killing people made easy (an early example of neck-stab) was grating against my idea what this series should be about.
But then I actually liked Double Agent. OK, that game sorely missed an ending and shit, but I thought the sandbox-y nature of most of the missions was a cool idea and being hidden in different ways was refreshing.
And, Conviction.. dammit, it actually was a successful experiment in making a cover shooter with working stealth mechanics and appropriate enemy AI. I believe Far Cry 3 would not be what it is were it not for Conviction.
Then again, I am totally uninterested in Blacklist. And I cried watching that MGSV trailer. Must be andropause hitting me hard.
Gregg: Absolutely true, the way Garrett looks in concept art and in the trailer is, alas, all wrong. He radiates athletics and eagerness to ACT, the restless power of YOUTH, while I believe OUR Garrett was a middle aged cynic who was all about skulking in darkness and achieving maximum result with minimal input. That, to me is THIEF. But those Eidos Montreal fuckers don’t seem to be able to give us a consolidated message: yes, this is a reboot so we get both a younger Garrett and a more modern, rennaissance-themed city, but somehow all the events of previous games seem to have still happened and story-wise this is a continuation of them. This is, as Spec Ops: The Line taught us, a cognitive dissonance and it makes your brain go all borked.
(And this is, to a certain extent what has been fucking up the relaunched DC universe for the last year and a half.)
But aesthetics aside, what I am worried about is the idea that was communicated after the trailer launch, that the missions consist of three stages – infiltration, the job itself and the spectacular escape. I mean FUCK THAT. Seriously, go play your wannabe AssCreed somewhere else. Thief games are about planning and dominating through outsmarting everyone, they are NOT about spectacular escapes. If you HAVE to make a spectacular escape, you’re not playing it right, fucker!
But then again, it might turn out to be good and I might say “Oh, I was wrong, this is actually cool”. Hmmm…
I would just LOVE if they actually went the hardcore way and differentiated the difficulty levels by giving you more objectives with each new level of difficulty, just like the original. That is such a fantastic idea and sadly, games have not been using it for a decade at least.
And, yes, XCOM was a B-Movie reimagination of X-Com but I actually thought they did everything pretty well. Yes, the game is a little shallower than the original but is much more accessible and the tradeoff is OK with me since the original is still alive and well and largely available wherever you look. I have spent some 54 hours on it and that’s without any multiplayer or DLC…
OK, OK, I actually liked Conviction. It was a well-made game and did some very cool things (such as the mission goals overlaying the scenery). But ultimately it was shallow, and after reflection I realized that I much preferred Chaos Theory. Conviction was a confection as opposed to Chaos Theory’s rare, juicy steak. Pandora Tomorrow is in my 2nd place. I never finished the original (for technical reasons) or Double Agent (which I pretty much hated).
Regarding Conviction and the new Thief, I was trying to communicate that if Thief goes the “press this button to be awesome” route, then I’m not really interested anymore.
Oh, absolutely. I mean, if they do simplify it to such shallow spectacle I’m out. I never purchased Draon Age II even if I liked the first game to an extent. Here’s a little reminder why: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMcVZQI6ybw
That stuff is a real pity because DAII’s story is actually interesting. DA:O was a very cliched save-the-world story with cliched characters, brilliantly executed and lovingly voice-acted. DAII’s story is actually about something even if it’s a flawed mess. And the characters? They drew so much criticism because they rarely resemble the appealing stereotypes of DA:O and so were mistaken for being dull.
Hold, I’m actually going to praise this game. The fact is that there are moments – moments! – when they actually resemble real people, which is the sort of thing that you would never see in DA:O. With a couple of characters (Aveline and Isabella), they even did something extraordinary. The writers introduce you to a character and allow you to draw the obvious impression of them, let you get comfortable with that impression, and then an act later, show you how they behave in a new situation that gives away who they really are and you realize that everything you believed about them was wrong. I don’t mean there’s some grand revelation of someone’s past. I mean that as I got to know them they surprised me, and I felt stupid for jumping to conclusions instead of watching them without prejudice. That never happens in videogames! Even in games with good character development, it’s always about the big reveal. This is the first game I’ve ever played where getting to know someone actually reminded me of a real life experience.
It’s an interesting game because it’s so flawed. One scene that was put in to get an easy joke out of Isabella’s sex life will make you roll your eyes at the screen, but then the next time you see her she’ll be drinking away her sorrows in a tavern as the disappointments of her life begin to pile up, and it’s kinda hard not to start caring about her. She’s never getting her old life back and she’s starting to realize it. It’s a poorly designed and poorly written game, with series of morality-based choices so ridiculous it almost comes off as a parody of grey fantasy…but it’s also fascinating, with moments in between the crap of real poignancy and sadness, and honest-to-god story-spanning emotional arcs that your party members go through that aren’t spoon fed to them by the player. I’m not saying it’s a great game but…you know what? There are plenty of great games that I found less interesting than Dragon Age II.
Now you’ve done it. I’m probably going to actually buy it after this expose. Damn you, man!!!!!!!!!! John Riccitiello committed a sepukku FOR NOTHING!!!
Most of this conversation has pretty well been had, I think, so I’m going to suffice with saying I think DA2 does a lot of things better than DA:O even if gameplay is not one of them. I much preferred the story and the way characters were handled.
Anyway, great reading, Meho!
This is really a strange coincidence. I have Bioshock, but never really got into it. Like, not even past the first hour of play. But we’re all like that with high profile games sometimes.
OTOH, I also have the original Thief, and System Shock 2. Believe it or not, I never got past the first 2 missions in Thief, and only got as far as getting SS2 up and running in XP, which is no mean feat. See here if you’re interested (and a freakin’ masochist), but probably only of marginal value as people have said that SS2 is now available on GOG:
Anyway, all this talk from Meho et. al. about these fabulous retro ‘sneakers’ (of which Deus Ex is probably my favourite. See here for review: metzomagic.com/showArticle.php?index=605) has piqued my interest again. I’m gonna fire up Thief again tonite, and damn well finish it this time!
Botch, the Resident Evil Remake inventory/loot system still gives me nightmares. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Are nightmares ever a good thing? I guess when you’re talking about a Resident Evil game.. um, yeah?
What an incredible game that is. Item management is so central to that, too. Do you take a herb that might just save your life, or that red diamond you picked up just incase you stumble into a Tiger head bust to insert it into? What about leaving an empty slot, or do you risk going back out with a full inventory but unable to acquire new items or essential plot pick ups?
Mat you summed up the REMake inventory quite well. That kind of design is, today, unheard of. And like your nightmares, I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. Either way, one can’t deny that the memory of those agonizing decisions stays with you.
Metzo, FWIW I put down Thief for a long time. I’m not exactly sure why, but I do that sometimes. It’s complicated. I remember having a great deal of ambivalence about the game back then. Some things were just perfect. Others really grated. I guess the latter were enough to put me off. I did finish it eventually though and I’m glad I did. I remember playing a demo of Thief 2 back when it came out and being completely uninterested. That one I do plan to revisit.
[…] Tap Repeatedly: Enraptured by Sadness: BioShock Infinite and the Depressing Reality of AAA Game Desi… […]
So I avoided reading this deeply because I hadn’t played Infinite, but now I finally have and I think you are dead to rights. I wrote a bit of my own but I don’t think I need to retread anything that you’ve covered! Totally agreed with the world being too passive. It’s like a museum world all the way around, where I loot pineapples out of trashcans.
[…] ∞ A stinging critique of modern video game design, in ranty form: Enraptured by Sadness […]
[…] ∞ A stinging critique of modern video game design, in ranty form: Enraptured by Sadness […]