“The Holy Trinity of Modern Shooters” or “Do AAA Developers Care About Critical Success or Commercial Success?”
The Holy Trinity of Modern Shooters
I haven’t played a shooter in nearly two months. I finished Modern Warfare 3 the day it came out, not because it was oh-so-good (it wasn’t), but because there was a story that has been in the making since 2007, and I wanted to see it to whatever (largely bitter) end. I also played Battlefield 3, which was shockingly similar in premise, up to and including playable Russian operatives, but moderately more enjoyable and equally unlikely. Gears of War 3 is sitting somewhere around my Xbox, ready to be played, but I think at this stage, I am just tired of shooters.
It seems to be that shooters these days rely primarily on the three factors:
An on-rails experience: Everything these days seems to center around playing the role of the developer’s puppet, a well-trained mouse making it’s way down an elaborate maze while an invisible hand guides it and ridiculously over-the-top set-pieces fuel it.
Over the top action sequences: You can survive bullets to the face, you can outrun a nuclear explosion, you can survive at least three separate helicopter crashes, you can jump from the tallest buildings without breaking bones. And while we are at it, why is it that 90% of the time, the chopper that was supposed to rescue you, crashes right before, during, or immediatly after the rescue attempt?
Shock value: This is perhaps the most critical of these elements. Every major shooter suffers from the need to create the biggest shock value, a controversial scene that will create airwaves, and fuel the next the right-wing anti-video-game-pundits tirade of why video games lead to artificial insemination or explosive diarrhea while simultaneously burning holes through our social and moral fabric.
Do AAA Developers Care About Critical Success or Commercial Success?
At this stage, I am just tired of the endless clones that result from the unholy amalgamation of the afore-mentioned three factors. Oddly enough, the best games of 2011, Portal 2, Bastion, Skyrim, did not need to resort to these elements in order to be critically successful. So perhaps all these developers care about at this stage is commercial success. Critical success and audience satisfaction be damned.
I am not trying to say that this is the only motivation. I am sure as a labor of love, most developers feel they are creating something of value that will be remembered for some time to come. The latest trailer for Rainbow Six: Patriots is a stark reminder of this. There is a scene where a civilian is instructed by a terrorist cell to go to Times Square to detonate the vest or his wife will be killed. Team Rainbow intercepts this man, realizes there is no time to diffuse the bomb, makes the split/second decision to chose the life of one over the lives of many, and throws him off of a bridge with seconds to spare. The bomb detonates before the poor bastard hits the water.
The developer jargon accompanying the trailer says the game will confront the player with similar tough choices, which begs the question: do they understand what ‘choice’ means? Choice implies that I have two or more ways of resolving a situation, and each of these paths has it’s own set of advantages and disadvantages. If one choice ends in one man dying, and the other includes him and everyone around you (including you) dying, is it really a choice? My point is that the entire thing is created for pure shock value, and the illusion of choice is stapled to it to give it illusion of meaning.
An article I read recently by a gentleman called David Burroughs on Sabotage Times called into question the need for such shock value, how it has diminishing returns and how it ultimately doesn’t add anything of value.
Is it right to expect the player to abstain from ‘murdering’ the ‘people’ in the airport when the only means of communication awarded the player is engage with the game and shoot, or do nothing?
Can something as intentionally controversial as ‘No Russian’ carry any real weight when the entire narrative is experienced down the barrel of a gun?
This is a very subtle but significant point. The whole point of the No Russian mission was to paint a picture of the atrocities of war, and how it would affect us if the horrors visited upon people in warzones were inflicted upon the ‘civilized’ world in a single act of mindless madness. But how can something like that carry any weight when the narrative involves you committing the atrocity. The whole point of identifying with the victims is to be able to paint on a face for the antagonist, but when you are the perpetrator yourself (or at the very least a silent observer) how do you create the impact? Ostensibly, the whole idea then, is to create controversy, an act filled with such a horrendous premise that developers know it will attract the ire of critics almost universally. And perhaps they welcome it. For no publicity is bad publicity, right? Except this strategy has exponentially diminishing returns.
Ever wonder why a small child getting blown up, while on vacation in Europe, in Modern Warfare 3 didn’t create nearly as much hype?