Blerk's World, 16/06/05

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  • Blerk Moderator 16 Jun 2005 11:17:15 48,225 posts
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    Once Upon A Time...
    With E3 over it appears that we have once again descended into the pit of 'no games news' which we usually end up languishing in during the summer. This is, of course, problematic for my usual weekly rant - not least because there's very little around to capture the imagination.

    Then, yesterday afternoon (when all was looking lost), I helped out with some recommendations for great PS2 games. During this conversation I mentioned the fact that I thought Silent Hill 2 was the 'most adult game ever produced' and was asked why. My answer was simple - the story. It's about as far removed from a computer game story as you can possibly get; it's deep, well rounded, twists and turns when you least expect it, and ends with a handful of shockers that leave you reeling. In short, it's a masterpiece of game writing.

    That got me thinking on the importance of 'stories' in the games of today. Back when I started gaming, stories were basically a four-line introductory text written on the back of the inlay card which explained in as brief a manner as possible why you were flying that square into the badly-drawn cavern of round things while shooting dots. Today they're often as long and as complex as the average movie or a good book, and usually fleshed out with lengthy cut-scenes and pages and pages of text.

    A good story is important to me. In fact, it's essential - these days I find it very, very difficult to put any time and energy into a 'non-story' game. Driving games, shooters, puzzle titles... all these are genres I've put a lot of time into in the past, but which leave me cold for a lack of focus and direction these days. I find it very difficult to work up any enthusiasm about playing them at all, mainly due to the lack of something to aim for. Unlockable tracks, extra levels and new ships don't really do it for me in the same way as a staggering twist in an interesting tale does.

    Sadly, not all game scripts are up to the standard of Silent Hill 2. In much the same way as the movies of today, game stories are often highly derivative, clichéd and tediously dull. This isn't really surprising given that most games use them for CGI eye-candy between levels, but when you're spending so much money rendering that retina-blistering piece of art would it really kill you to spend a bit more money on getting a decent story in there as well?

    What especially irks me is that there's very little attempt to provide proper 'adult' stories in games. Not 'adult' as in "swearing and nudity" (take note, game developers), but as in 'complex storylines, grown-up ideas and themes'. Far too often it's 'generic beefcake shoots his way off Mars to fight evil corporation' or 'generic pointy-haired brat wanders the world fighting beasts in order to defeat evil sorcerer'. It's almost like everyone's working from the same "big book of gaming story clichés" and providing the cheap and cheerful ITV-level claptrap that tries to appease everyone but ends up pleasing nobody, rather than aiming at a specific audience and attempting to entertain them specifically.

    Given that the gaming population is ageing all the time and that there are far more 'over 25' gamers than ever before, I'd be very interested to hear quite why so many games fall back on the teenage view of 'adult'. Gore, swearing, Nu-Metal and breasts are apparently all you need to get an 18 rating on the box, but if you're aiming at over-18s then you don't necessarily need to focus directly on 18-year-olds.

    All is not lost, however. Well... it might be, but there's at least a little hope. A game which has slowly made its way to the top of my interest radar in the last few months is Quantic Dreams' "Fahrenheit" - a supernatural serial-killer-based thriller adventure (okay, I'm having trouble describing it) aimed squarely at the more cerebral audience. My suspicion is that most of you won't have even heard of it, but it's coming to PC, PS2 and Xbox this year. The various interviews with the developers describe how the most important part of this game is the story itself - the gameplay evolves from the story, not the other way around - and the result is one of the most genuinely interesting titles I've seen for a long, long time.

    Chances are it won't be a big seller, even if it turns out to be excellent. I have a little trouble figuring out quite why this is. I know a lot of adults who are gamers, but very few who have any interest whatsoever in anything more mentally taxing than Halo. The "oh, I just like to switch off and relax, those cut-scenes are just boring" argument is fine, but these same people are happy to sit down and watch a whole evening's worth of high-quality US drama on the telly in order to 'relax'. Why doesn't this carry through to games?

    Perhaps if games did make more effort to create thoroughly interesting and thought-provoking stories we wouldn't end up with 95% of the population frantically hitting 'X' every time a CGI movie pops up? I'd recommend everyone plays Silent Hill 2 at least once to see how it should be done. And that includes you, developer types. Please.
  • Retroid Moderator 16 Jun 2005 11:23:57 44,782 posts
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    Lazyness. Both from devvers and the public.

    That's what's to blame, and it's also why films with really good, intelligent plots rarely blockbusters are.

    (Thanks for that, Yoda)

    What the difference is, what makes the Silent Hill games superior for me, is that the story is told with the game itself and that's the reason the game does what it does, rather than the plotline being there as a justification for the gameplay.

    An important distinction that.

    It's also why I enjoy the Project Zero games so much. You're told the story as you go, discover secrets and what happened to the girls the first time around. Gruesomely fun! \o/

    Edited by Retroid at 11:25:54 16-06-2005
  • Blerk Moderator 16 Jun 2005 11:27:04 48,225 posts
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    I can almost imagine half the audience sitting through Lord of the Rings thinking "press X, press X, shut up Gandalf, get back to the fighty bits!". :-)
  • Tricky 16 Jun 2005 11:39:51 4,404 posts
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    /is annoyed because he can't remember how Silent Hill 2 ends :-s
  • Murbal 16 Jun 2005 11:40:28 22,223 posts
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    I can't remember where I read it, but I remember that someone felt that a sign of maturity in a gamer was being able to enjoy a gaming experience which some may pigeonhole as a 'child's game'.... Like Klonoa 2, the very game which got me starting the thread yesterday.

    I would feel embarrassed to even consider a game that relies on extreme violence, bad language, breasts and nu-metal to sell it..... Yet these 'mature' games are probably doing the opposite of their intentions and only attracting the younger gamer enticed by the certificate and bad press! I'm a 30(something) gamer, been at it since the ZX81 and I just don't get it!

    I agree with your opinion Blerk, SH2 is one of the few games that I've played from start to finish, no interruptions and been totally immersed in. It's mature for the right reasons - story and NOT content.
  • QuickBen 16 Jun 2005 11:42:11 113 posts
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    I agree with just about all of that. To my mind there's way too much style over content. To me if a cutscene doesn't move on the story or develop a character (and there are far too many that don't) then they should be cut.

    Of course there's the other other extreme where you have developers who are obviously frustrated film makers who live out their frustrations making almost non-interactive games. I'd mention MGS2, but I'm scared of getting flamed so I'll stick with Dragons Lair as an example.
  • Buggs 16 Jun 2005 11:47:22 159 posts
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    Blerk wrote:
    A good story is important to me. In fact, it's essential - these days I find it very, very difficult to put any time and energy into a 'non-story' game. Driving games, shooters, puzzle titles... all these are genres I've put a lot of time into in the past, but which leave me cold for a lack of focus and direction these days. I find it very difficult to work up any enthusiasm about playing them at all, mainly due to the lack of something to aim for. Unlockable tracks, extra levels and new ships don't really do it for me in the same way as a staggering twist in an interesting tale does.
    I am exactly the same. I find it very hard to play these games for a decent length of time, I tend to get bored with them after a couple of weeks, so I have stopped buying them.

    This is exactly why Final Fantasy VII is (and probably will always be) my favourite game of all time.

    An in depth, involving story with characters you can identify with and actually care about.
  • Tiger_Walts 16 Jun 2005 11:49:26 16,593 posts
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    Fahrenheit has a new name, which escapes me right at this moment.

    IT Monkey and StickyPiston Minecraft Hosting Support

  • octo 16 Jun 2005 11:51:31 979 posts
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    I happen to think it's a combination of medium, audience, industry trends and money. I'd like to make some unsubstantiated statements now so bare with me! I don't believe console videogamers are big readers. That's just a conclusion I come to watching people in videogame stores. I also don't believe that videogames can inspire emotional depth. Certainly they can provoke basic reactions (like fear or an approximation of fear). This is generally because industry trends have harmoginised their products for the lowest common denominator who also happen to be the non-readers out there.

    Ultimately "stories" are usually written around the technology being used to create a game. If it were the other way around you might be able to break the cycle but even then I doubt it.
  • Blerk Moderator 16 Jun 2005 11:54:53 48,225 posts
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    Fahrenheit has a new name, which escapes me right at this moment.

    Indigo Prophecy, but only in the US. It's still Fahrenheit over here.
  • Blerk Moderator 16 Jun 2005 11:56:08 48,225 posts
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    I also don't believe that videogames can inspire emotional depth.

    I don't agree with that - they can. They don't do it very often, but a few games do. The afore-mentioned Silent Hill 2 does this a lot.
  • W0PR 16 Jun 2005 12:01:38 243 posts
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    I fucking hate having to follow a story. Just tell me what to do and I'll try and do it.

    Though of course I did well up a bit at the end of Ico. But that could have just been the shock of me finishing something.

    Edited by W0PR at 12:01:45 16-06-2005
  • Lutz 16 Jun 2005 12:03:36 48,854 posts
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    I also don't believe that videogames can inspire emotional depth.

    Oh boy can they. Not many, true. But when they do, they do it with a kick to the nads.
  • octo 16 Jun 2005 12:03:41 979 posts
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    Blerk wrote:
    I also don't believe that videogames can inspire emotional depth.

    I don't agree with that - they can. They don't do it very often, but a few games do. The afore-mentioned Silent Hill 2 does this a lot.

    I suppose the idea of emotional depth is subjective.
  • WoodenSpoon 16 Jun 2005 12:05:10 12,285 posts
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    Fahrenheit looks interesting, I'll keep my eye on it now!
  • Blerk Moderator 16 Jun 2005 12:08:46 48,225 posts
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    Fahrenheit looks interesting, I'll keep my eye on it now!

    Well, that's one convert. :-)

    It's criminal how little attention it's receiving, tbh. It was nominated for 'best original game' at E3 but it may as well not exist for the amount of excitement it's generating.

    :-/
  • Blerk Moderator 16 Jun 2005 12:11:55 48,225 posts
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    I suppose the idea of emotional depth is subjective.

    It probably is, most things are. :-)

    Did you play SH2? To the end? It's important to realise that the best example of 'emotional depth' isn't the fear or the scares, it's the fates of the various characters.

    I can't really say any more for fear of spoiling it for anyone who hasn't played. :-)
  • Murbal 16 Jun 2005 12:14:09 22,223 posts
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    Emotional depth.... It's a tricky one, we all love playing games, it's why we're here - and they do trigger a variety of emotions. Thing is, we also enjoy a good movie and a good book; I don't believe a game has yet been able to inspire the same level of emotional depth.

    When was the last time a game made you cry? Be honest now...

    I find this odd, as the level of interaction you have with a game is greater.


    Edited by Murbal at 12:14:08 16-06-2005
  • Blerk Moderator 16 Jun 2005 12:16:29 48,225 posts
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    When was the last time a game made you cry? Be honest now...

    The end of Ico. I was suprised to find myself welling up. What a wuss!

    It was lovely, though. And sad.
  • Murbal 16 Jun 2005 12:19:19 22,223 posts
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    I wanted to cry. I really did. But I couldn't. What's wrong with me?
  • Blerk Moderator 16 Jun 2005 12:21:49 48,225 posts
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    Dead inside? :-)
  • Mr_Sleep 16 Jun 2005 12:51:46 17,082 posts
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    I think the FPS genre on the PC is a particular problem when it comes to plot and general story telling. Every one I play seems to be an excuse for the impressive tech engine and set pieces. The story really is secondary to everything and frankly I'm a little tired of it.

    Don't get me wrong, I love twitch gaming, it really is a good way to relax and de-stress a little bit but if I wan't to play a game for a long time it has to have some story.

    However saying that, there are also exceptions to that rule such as Rome Total War which doesn't really have a plot to speak of yet his highly addictive since you are in essence acting out the plot of the game as you go and making up history which is the alternative to a plotted course through the game.

    You are a factory of sadness.

  • UncleLou Moderator 16 Jun 2005 13:00:45 35,576 posts
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    I disagree, stories aren't very important to me - and most stories in games many people find good are, imo, just convoluted and overblown. Stories in games are good for me when they don't get in the way of the gameplay - keep it simple, I say. Prince of Persia: SoT, Ico and the two Half-Lifes being good examples. Gothic doesn't have a great story, and even Planescape's story was too convoluted and forced, but I noeteheless love both games, because they got the atmosphere right - and that's what is much more important to me, in the end.

    Edited by UncleLou at 13:00:48 16-06-2005
  • eviltobz  16 Jun 2005 13:06:08 2,609 posts
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    Blerk wrote:
    Dead inside? :-)
    and if blerk is the one accusing you then you know it's bad ;)
  • Decoded 16 Jun 2005 13:07:56 4,426 posts
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    I got a depressing ending in Silent Hill 2. Pissed me right off that did.
  • ZeTimbo 16 Jun 2005 13:18:17 27 posts
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    I totally agree that story is important - but I would hasten to add that a game really needs to involve you in said story. My best example of the "imersion factor" would be the Monkey Island games (or indeed, most point and click adventures) because you really begin to wonder what will happen next.

    Silent Hill 2 and Ico both manage to do this brilliantly by introducing the story carefully, piece by piece. Ico was fantastic, for me, because the story was gradually pieced together: you began to understand it more and more as you played through the game. It was like being torn away from a good book everytime I had to put the controller down...

    I also think that Beyond Good and Evil acheived a similar effect because I found myself with the same feelings when I finished it. It's almost like a kind of "computer game come down".
  • Blerk Moderator 16 Jun 2005 13:34:27 48,225 posts
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    I got a depressing ending in Silent Hill 2. Pissed me right off that did.

    They're all depressing, aren't they? :-)
  • cubbymoore 16 Jun 2005 13:38:01 36,498 posts
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    I thought you said Project Zero 2 was the most mature game ever yesterday Blerk?
  • Blerk Moderator 16 Jun 2005 13:41:44 48,225 posts
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    No, I said it was the scariest. SH2 is still the most adult. And the most disturbing.
  • Destria 16 Jun 2005 13:50:02 2,835 posts
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    Murbal wrote:


    When was the last time a game made you cry? Be honest now...

    Homeworld. Kharak.

    You know what I mean

    Edited by Destria at 13:49:27 16-06-2005
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