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“Our Obsession with the Living Dead” or “Where are all the Zombie Children?”

March 22, 2011 8 comments

Us gamers in general, seem to be obsessed with zombies; a genre that has seen some remarkable attention in the last few years. From Valve’s Left 4 Dead forever raising the bar on cooperative shooters to the various zombie mods in the Call of Duty franchise, the living dead have invaded our monitors and TVs across the world. Then there are the (mostly awful) Resident Evil movies, the George Romero classics and modern blunders, as well as comedic takes on the genre such as the excellent Shaun of the Dead. Most recently AMC’s series The Walking Dead, based on graphic novels that I have been following and reading for the last eight years, has taken the television audience by the horns and isn’t letting go any time soon, stark deviations from the plot notwithstanding.

The point is that Zombies have somehow clawed their way out of their graves and become staple of modern pop-culture, perhaps much more so than any other niche that has emerged in the last few years. Most recently I came across Dead Island, a title that has been in development for some time, and one that had piqued my curiosity in the past, but then sort of faded from the limelight for several years. Well years later, the studio has come out swinging (or shambling, if you want to be genre-appropriate), with a trailer that was both a fantastic work of chronological art and a horrifying piece of brutal cinema. You can watch said trailer below:

Since then I have viewed the trailer numerous times, including the re-engineered chronologically sound version, and I can’t yet decide if I love it or hate it. The CGI is very well done, there is a palpable sense of dread and hopelessness and desperation in the trailer. Yet the ending (or beginning, depending on your chronological perspective), was disturbing, so much so in fact, that I had trouble sleeping that night. The one thing I kept thinking about was if we, in our quest to constantly create shock value and incredible visuals, take the subject matter a little too far. Yes I know that little girl was a digital creation of a skilled CG-artist, and yes I know that even if she was real, the whole scene was simulated, but I just can’t come to terms with a trailer that shows an 8-year old girl, zomebified, no less, falling several stories to her death. It was crude, it was morbid, and it gave me a sinking feeling in my stomach.

Understand that I am still looking forward to the title. A disturbing trailer aside, the setting, the mechanics and the story all sound quite intriguing. The issue, for me, isn’t at the genre, it is the unforgiving portrayal that comes with it. Lobbing off body parts and disintegrating opponents in a victorious shower of gore never had this odd tinge of trepidation that one of my victims in the game may, in fact, be a little girl with pigtails who is trying to gnaw on my flesh. This aberrant thought made me realize something quite odd in the recent batch of zombie shooters I have indulged in.

None of them (to my knowledge) have children in them.

Consider the No Mercy campaign from the original Left 4 Dead. The campaign has five chapters, the first set in apartments leading to a subway station. The second in the subway leading to a warehouse. The third on the streets in an industrial backyard and through sewers to the hospital entrance. The fourth through the hospital itself. And the last chapter serving as the penultimate fight in a bid to escape the infested city on a chopper. Regardless of your skill or experience, you will get absolutely thrashed by the seemingly endless hordes of zombies that seem to pour in from all directions, especially when provided the ever-inconvenient aphrodisiac of a Boomer’s bile. Yet, in all your travels through these densely populated areas, you never, ever, see a child. Not one. It is as if this world was filled with just adults of varying ages, but never below the upper adolescent years. And this begs the question: where have all the zombie children gone in video games? And why is Dead Island one of the only zombie survival games to show children first hunted, then turned, and then brutally killed when all hope is lost for their salvation? My own issues with the trailer for this latest game aside, why is it that most of these games are quite alright with you acting as a survivor (read de facto mass murderer) leveraging all manner of weaponry from shotguns for evaporating a zombies’ melons (the ones above their heads, you perv.) to katana swords for decapitations and amputations to Molotov cocktails for human barbecues, but they never present a child in peril, or, Lord have mercy, as a flesh-crazed member of the walking dead?

Recently, I also read an interesting article on Psychology Today that attempted to identify why even a shambling zombie (as opposed to the obviously terrifying zombie already feasting on someone innards) can cause a sense of fear and trepidation, despite being significantly below your intellect and superior reflexes. The reason from this comes from the simple concept of pattern recognition and the the amalgamation of the known with the unknown.

An extended example: A body staggers by. Your brains realizes this is not normal, and then tries to rationalize: perhaps he is drunk. But then he has blood on his face. Your brain realizes this too is strange. But if he is really drunk, he likely stumbled and fell, or got in a bar fight. But wait, there is a kid shambling in the distance. This is where your brain will realize something is really off because unless drunk kids are a socially acceptable phenomenon in your part of the world, there would be no immediate logical reason for it. Now you see three bodies shambling. Your brain goes off of auto-pilot and you take manual control, because you can no longer rely on your pattern recognition to help define the irregularities in the world. Now your brain is mixing known with the unknown. You see a person with a huge chunk of flesh missing from their neck. Your brain argues that the person should be in a lot of pain. But the evidence suggests that he is just walking along, completely oblivious to the potentially mortal wound. This is another unknown. But wait, now he attacks a lady and bites her arm. There is blood. The lady starts screaming. Your brain realizes that this is normal under the abnormal circumstances. When you are bitten, there should be pain, and as such you will cry out. But this just adds to the confusion as you are increasingly mixing more and more unknowns with strange knowns. Then, to quote the article:

“And fear sprouts from the depths of your brain, your primitive cortex freaking the hell out and your frontal cortex madly searching the hippocampus for anything even remotely familiar.

“And this is where you experience horror.”

This got me thinking, that perhaps the reason I had such a strong negative reaction to the video for Dead Island was because my brain was used to seeing normal images of zombies eating humans, or humans decimating zombies, and my frontal cortex has gotten used to these images and concepts as knowns, which is why they seem normal under most circumstances. But the moment an unknown is introduced, i.e. an innocent girl who is first hunted, then she turns into the mindless undead, and then is flung by her own father to fall several stories to her (second) death, my primitive cortex freaked out, and resulted in the strong reaction I had to the video.

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“Religious Post of the Day” or “Scattered Thoughts on Islamic Ratings for Video Games”

December 1, 2010 1 comment

Don’t panic, this isn’t really a religious post! The Iran National Foundation of Computer Games (INFCG), which stirred some controversy last year by introducing “Islamic Games”, is at it again. This time, they have introduced a parallel system to the ESRB, originally titles ESRA, or Entertainment Software Rating Association, and much like the ESRB, the ERSA is completely voluntary. A studio does not have to subject itself to ESRA ratings, but can participate willingly by sending in their titles. A small part of me thinks that this is a brilliant ploy by someone in the INFCG to get free video games for life!

At first sight all this seems a little strange. I mean why introduce a new ratings system when near-universal systems are already in place. But then you have to realize that there are nearly 1.7 billion Muslims in the world, approximately a quarter of the total population of the world. While institutions like the ESRB and PEGI are universally recognized, it must be said that the term “universal” applies, in principle, to the western hemisphere, specifically the US., Canada, and Europe at large. Muslims represent a significant portion of these countries and territories, but the bulk of the Muslim world resides in the Eastern Hemisphere.

Like most religions, Islam has its own sensibilities and cultural norms, grotesque and distorted interpretations of which have been vigorously abused by extremist factions, and rigorously touted by the media. It is important not just to recognize these differing ideologies, but to try an incorporate them into the mainstream.

“The approach of Islam is based on human being innateness ‘Al Fitra,’ and the most important innate trends are truth, virtue, benevolence, excellence tendency, innovation and creativity. That’s why we made sure that ESRA team are proficient in these areas: Religion, psychopathology, educational psychology, social psychology, sociology of the family, family sociology, emotional psychology, family therapy and educational technology.”

– Dr. Behrouz Minaei, managing director at the Iran National Foundation of Computer Games

Seems innocent enough, but I am not convinced either way. On one hand, I feel that it is important for these ratings to take the sensibilities of other faiths and groups into their frame of reference, and to bring out a better global dialogue about the responsibilities of parenthood as it applies to the electronic medium. On the other hand, this could be the beginning of an avalanche of newer systems of ratings and guidelines around the world.

The Buddhist Zen Ratings Bureau.

The Council for Underage Gaming Practices.

The Electronic Games Communist Propaganda Watch.

Yes I know that last one sounds far-fetched. But really, how much longer before the gaming industry realizes it needs one central authority for ratings its games, which may be further broken down by region or religion?

Categories: Editorial

“Further Proof that GS is Overrated” or “The Most Fun I’ve Had In a 5-Man Recently”

July 1, 2010 6 comments

Initially I didn’t want to make this post. Then I saw the following in trade chat, and I was compelled:

“5.8GS LFG for lightening quick 5-man, min 5.6GS, PST!”

Regardless of my other activities in WoW, I manage to run at least one random dungeon a day for those precious, precious Frost Badges. Except for the last week-and-a-half. The last 10 days or so I have been running Ahune because he takes all of two minutes and gives me the same two badges with much less work.

I digress.

Prior to the Midsummer Fire Festival, the Gods of Random Chance dealt me my cards, and I was teleported to the Halls of Stone with the group pictured on the right. The average GS was 3521 (rounded up and not counting my personal PvE GS of about 5,200). That is fairly low, especially for an event like the Tribunal of Ancients. Even the tank was a complete greenhorn, admitting early on that he had the fundamentals of tanking down, but this was one of his first instances as a druid tank.

Most would cringe by this point. Surely a group so under-geared with an arguably novice tank is destined for wipes and all manner of lolfails. What followed instead, was one of the most challenging and fun instance runs I have had in a long time. It took us a good hour and a half to clear the place out, and at no point did feel that I could have done something better with my time.

It also reinforced the need for careful planning and meticulous pulls (in bold are all the things we have utterly forgotten to do in 5-mans):

  • We waited for patrols, pulling lone packs one at a time
  • We CC’ed the Dark Rune Theurgist to ensure party survivability while we slowly whittled away at the suddenly and inexplicably robust health bars of trash mobs
  • We used single-targeting damage, and refrained from AoE
  • We use LoS mechanisms to pull mobs around bends to be tanked in relative safety of previously cleared areas
  • We used traps to slow down Unrelenting Constructs so we had enough time to kill his friend before he got to us and wrecked havoc
  • Hell, I even had to, wait for it, drink once or twice to recover from a particularly long and arduous fight

There was an unsaid level of camaraderie and teamwork that worked to our advantage, and instead of being disheartened at the abysmally under-geared group, we took the challenge head-on and went about cleaning house. In addition, everyone was lighthearted, didn’t take the whole thing too seriously, and there was playful banter that kept things alive.

To give you an idea of what kind of group I was running with, when we killed the Maiden of Grief, my DBM announced:

“Maiden of Grief down after 2 minutes and 19 seconds. Your last kill took 54 seconds, and your fastest kill took 39 seconds.”

By the time we ended, we had had zero wipes, two deaths in all, and one of the most enjoyable Wrath 5-mans I had ever had the pleasure of running. And we did it all with a GS-deficient group that only had good players, teamwork and positive spirit going for it. So if you are a GS-aficionado, the next time you decide to announce a 5.6GS requirement for a “lightening quick” 5-man, I hope you are reminded of this post and you die a little inside. You jackass.

“What MMOs Can Learn From Red Dead Redemption” or “Emotionally Penalized”

June 30, 2010 9 comments

Preface

I have been playing red Dead Redemption lately. The statistics tell me I have finished “18.6%” of the game. Note that this number isn’t necessarily a reflection of the main storyline. It is a figure designed for completionists like me, that will obsessively fuss over the smaller tasks and side-games to ensure they get that precious, oh so precious, 100% completion statistic!

Thought: Why do we never see random world encounters in MMOs?

Spinks has a post up today that spoke about activities your character engages in between organized group activity sessions. One of the bullet points listed was as follows:

“The origin of our grinds is not just to keep people playing but to answer the question, so what does your character do when they aren’t killing dragons?

  • Maybe they just like wandering the world (not really much to do in most MMOs here.)
  • …”

This got me thinking: why is it that in MMOs, you go to specific locations to accomplish specific objectives only? Whether its a world boss, or a quest, or a daily, or a dungeon, you take the shortest path to the location, completely ignoring anything and everything else between point A and point B. What is the fun in a persistent online world if everything can be found on WoWHead or (the now-defunct) Thottbot, before you even attempt to do it, where everything is explicitly and exactly laid out? Why is it that no MMO (that I know of) has randomly generated world events for players to participate in? For if that were the case, maybe more players would actively engage in world exploration and wandering, beyond questing for the first time.

Red Dead Random

Red Dead redemption has a fantastic storyline and stellar voice-acting. But beyond the central narrative, as is the case with most Rockstar Games, you can take on a wide range of missions and side-activities either for monetary gain or social stature (fame or infamy). Some of these activities have to be sought out, such as “kill 5 Coyotes before they harm you”. But there are several missions that pop out of the blue as you are horseback riding your way through the countryside. You are at complete liberty to accept the mission (no prompt or anything, you can just choose to participate in the action), ignore it altogether, or shoot the mission starter in the face if that is what pleases you.

Let us take an example of some missions I have come across in Red Dead Redemption and juxtapose them against counterparts quests in an MMO, specifically WoW.

The Kidnapping – Red Dead Redemption

I am riding on my horse down the dirt-path carved into the terrain by frequent travelers. I am minding my own business, on my way to meet a new contact who goes by the name of Irish. I am contemplating if I should just fast-travel to the location; in retrospect, I am glad I didn’t exercise that option. You’ll see why in just a second. Suddenly, I hear someone in the distance say:

“Please sir, would you help me? They’ve taken my wife!”

I pause, wondering if this was a mission marker that I missed on my map. The rider who has sought my help turns up as a blue circle on my mini-map. As I contemplate my response to this stranger’s query, he simply takes off in one direction, eager to get to his wife. As the blue circle grows distant, I get a message on my screen suggesting I follow the rider. I think a second longer and decide to follow the poor guy, and see what this random encounter has in store for me.

The man rides at top speed down bushy knolls and grass highlands for a little bit, and then he stops short of a posse of hooligans. His wife sits atop a horse, with a noose around her neck. Before I can even so much as gauge the situation, a firefight breaks out. I take out my trusty Winchester Repeater, and over the next few seconds, gun down the three perpetrators.

Then I realize I was too slow. They have already killed the husband, who lays crumpled next to his dead horse. I look over at the wife. The shooting has scared off the horse atop which she sat, and she is hanging from the tree branch. I panic. I run over to her increasingly limp body, but even as I am closing the distance I get a message on-screen that says matter-of-factly: “The victim has died.”

I am utterly devastated. Had I been a few seconds faster, both in the decision to follow the man and in the shootout, I could have saved their lives. I know they are digital beings in an artificial world, but the sense of loss is still palpable.

I came across this encounter a second and then a third time. The second time I ignored it altogether, because it was late and I just wanted to finish one last story mission before calling it a night. The third time I immediately followed the man, this time to a different location, with the kidnappers using a cart as cover, and the wife already hanging. I managed to save the husband, but the wife perished. The husband collapsed at the hanging, limp body of his wife and wailed.

A few things to remember:

  • The mission was completely optional
  • If you chose to take on the quest, you simply followed the husband, there was no mission log to keep track of the mission, and no prompt saying that you were now on this mission. In fact, you could abandon course at any point and just go your way if you so chose.
  • There were multiple outcomes: you could save both husband and wife; you could save just the wife; you could save just the husband
  • In any of the scenarios above, you weren’t penalized for failing (unless you take into account being emotionally penalized); if you failed, that family was dead, you were responsible for it, and there was nothing you could do to change that

The Kidnapping – World of Warcraft

Here is how WoW handles the same quest. There is a quest giver that is always found in the same exact location. In order to take on the kidnapping quest, you have to go to the quest-giver, you won’t come across the quest-giver at random. The quest is formally accepted, and shows up in your quest log. You are now officially tasked with the rescue of the fair damsel. The husband quest-giver does not accompany you, he does not lead the charge to get his beloved wife back. He just stands there, expressionless, leaving the responsibility to you.

In fact, you are not the only person he sends to save his wife, he sends along anyone and everyone who approaches him.

You go to the location where the wife is being held. The location is static and never changes. You could repeat the quest with 10 other characters, the same wife will always be in peril and be found in the same exact location. Why does she always get kidnapped? Why do the kidnappers never learn and change locations?

There may be the possibility of you failing the quest in case the wife dies. If that happens, you can simply abandon the quest, go back to the quest-giver, and he will give you the same quest as if nothing ever happened to her. You can go back to the mission location, and there she is, magically resurrected from the dead!

If you succeed, you either escort the wife to the husband, or she runs away, apparently to reunite with her husband. You never see her again. Even when you go back to the quest-giver, she is nowhere to be seen or found. And the husband continues to stand there, never moving, almost as if he is expecting the next kidnapping to happen any second, yet he does nothing to stop it.

The Juxtaposition

Let us construct a table.

Red Dead Redemption World of Warcraft
Mission is optional Mission is optional
There is no mission in your mission log There is a quest in your quest log
The mission-starter is randomly generated The quest-giver is always found in a static location and the location never changes
The objective’s location is randomly generated The objective’s location is static and the location never changes
Tactical situation varies (cart being used as cover; more vs . less kidnappers) Tactical situation remains the same
Failure has consequences; the family dies permanently; there are emotional consequences though Failure has zero consequence, you simply hit the reset button
You can partially succeed or partially fail You can only succeed or fail
Whether you fail or succeed, it is highly unlikely you will come across the same couple again in the same situation If you succeed, you will find the same quest-giver in the same place, offering the same quest, with the same damsel in distress in the same location

The question then becomes: why can’t more MMO developers introduce more open-world gaming to their titles? Why must everything be static, pre-determined, fated to occur in the same exact manner for all eternity (or at least till Deathwing comes along and fucks things up for everyone!)

There is an inherent fallacy in MMOs. As a powerful champion in the world, you are supposed to be able to create a meaningful and lasting impact, saving the world time and again from endless threats and predicaments. Yet your actions seem to have zero impact on the physical world.

  • That village you saved by killing the 10 wolves nearby is still under threat from said wolves.
  • That Deathlord you vanquished still taunts denizens from the depths of his dungeon.
  • Even the wife you rescued is never reunited with her husband because she is suddenly and inexplicably kidnapped again by the same group of miscreants you just dispatched.

It is ironic that MMOs are designed to give the player a feeling of power and control over the world, yet the world utterly fails to show any signs of a positive (or negative for that matter) impact by the player. Every threat remains. Every wolf still howls at the gates. Every damsel is in perpetual distress.

I long for the day when they craft an MMO experience that mimics the random world encounters of Red Dead Redemption. Till then, I suppose John Marston will continue to handle the discrepancy.

Article of the Day: “The Evolution of Gaming” or “Demands Evolution Complexity”

June 21, 2010 1 comment

The article of the day was this incredibly insightful look into the mind of John Riccitiello, CEO of one of the biggest powerhouse gaming companies of the contemporary gaming age: Electronic Arts. Add to that equation some very powerful writing by the great Stephen Tolito, and you got a fascinating read. The article is difficult to sum up because in typical Tolito style, it touches upon so many different points. But there are a two things that stand out, and I will try to summarize those here.

The most important point in the article is that fact that most gaming CEO’s actually don’t play video games at all. That is the practical equivalent of the President of World Bank utterly disinterested in global economies and the international monetary status quo, or if Micheal Dell was actually a cyberphobe. It makes little to no sense that someone who is responsible for a gaming behemoth have such little interest in playing said games himself, like when Activision’s Bobby Kotick told a gathering of developers that he doesn’t play video games. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, that is like if Steve Jobs kept promoting the iPhone, but used a BlackBerry instead. It’s retarded to realize that some of the biggest minds in the industry are merely driving the companies towards financial success, and they have no actual idea of what makes a game memorable, or, at the very least, fun.

Another point was somewhat along the lines of what Gordon said a couple of days ago about returning to some of his favorite MMOs, only to find them bland, almost prehistoric by today’s standards, and in some cases plain irritating:

“It’s not just Everquest that I’ve had this experience with either. Anarchy Online and Dark Age of Camelot were the same. I adored them when they first came out but when I briefly tried each of them again a couple of years ago, I just couldn’t get past how terrible they looked, how frustrating their UIs were and annoying the grind was.”

– Gordon, The Point Of No Returning To MMOs

Riccitiello resonates these view in his own way:

“When I played games a decade ago or 15 years ago, I was a lot more forgiving,” he told me during our interview this month. “Part of it was, if you could sort of simulate [something] in software, almost anything, it was the first time you saw it. If you could just pull off the technology and engineering, you didn’t necessarily need the same artful insight, and you certainly didn’t need the polish. A lot of it, if you remember games going back to like GoldenEye on the N64, is that we remember them as a lot better than they are.

Stephen Tolito, The Unexpected Gamer Who Runs EA

Both viewpoints essentially cover the same debate. Video games have evolved in every facet, from gameplay, to technology, art direction, sound design, graphics and so on. The change has been so markedly drastic in the last decade, that if we were to go back to our favorite games from just ten years ago, we would be sorely disappointed because our sense of what makes a game memorable and fun and exciting has metamorphosed over the course of time.

I have one recent example. With the imminent release of StarCraft II, I decided to load up my StarCraft I Battlechest and replay the campaigns for the original game and its expansion, so I am fully in tune with the events leading up to the second game. What I found instead was a dated game with bland graphics, poor level design and cookie-cutter units with predictable gameplay. Bear in mind that the game was truly revolutionary when it first game out, so much so in fact that it is played competitively to this day. But I was turned off. After about an hour into the Terran campaign, I was typing in cheat codes to skip missions themselves just so I could relive the story without trudging through the trouble of actually playing the game.

The bottom line is that what was the norm yesterday is no longer true today. What once excited us about a game visually is no longer acceptable. If we see clipping errors or graphical glitches in a game like Crysis, which, until 15 years ago, was an unimaginable technological feat, we immediately feel turned off by the ‘lazy’ developers. We take things for granted. We nitpick. We comment on the most anal aspects of gaming, that until a few years ago, didn’t even exist. Are we being too harsh? Maybe, but that is the price of evolution.

We are at a stage in video gaming history where titles are visually richer, the stories are intricate and complicated, the gameplay is revolutionary and complex, and the bar is being perpetually raised higher. It is a time of great innovation and inevitable letdowns. And as the evolution shapes and morphs our experience and expectations, so must our criticisms evolve to better guide the ebb and flow of contemporary video game development.

Article of the Week: “Game-to-Movie Conversions” or “Chesty Jake Ain’t No Persian Prince”

June 8, 2010 Leave a comment

CNN.com had an editorial up today penned by Scott Steinberg, head of video game consulting firm TechSavvy Global, as well as the founder of GameExec magazine and Game Industry TV. He also recently penned a book, Get Rich Playing Games, and runs a not-so-modest-sounding blog called “The Video Game Expert“. [Sidenote: I can’t find a website for TechSavvy Global, GameExec magazine or Game Industry TV. Am I missing something here?]

The article is a candid look at the tumultuous and frangible relationship between the gaming industry and Hollywood, and why is it that no one can seem to bring a successful video gaming franchise to the silver screen without it seeming more like a retarded afterthought than an respectable adaptation. The article also explores some concepts without much proof to the support the arguments, such as juxtaposing ‘dense, layered, movies’ against ‘one-dimensional video games’, essentially painting a fairly categorical black & white picture of the two obviously different and unique genres.

It’s worth a read, just to get some additional perspective into what a self-proclaimed video game expert (the video game expert no less) believes the biggest problem with video game to movie adaptations. Take a few minutes to read it here if you’d like. If you are pressed for time, I have provided a short list of bullet points below for your convenience:

  • Movies based on video games stink.
  • Things often come down to money, as studios will green-light best-selling games for silver screen adaptation, instead of making the decision based on a franchise with the most cinematic potential
  • A compelling universe and a fascinating cast of characters are what most video game adaptations lack
  • Most game-makers give development preference to multiplayer modes or better graphics, than spinning a compelling yarn
  • Very few studios have writers working full-time
  • Plot serves as a device in video games to drive players from one action sequence to the next, and not necessarily to tell a compelling narrative
  • Most game-makers can’t capture the subtle nuances of films like ‘Juno’ or ‘Lost in Translation’
  • God of War III is a compelling narrative and a literate piece of work
  • Movies are complex, dense, layered; video games are one-dimensional
  • Movies are passive; video games are interactive
  • The gaming industry is slowly finding its roots by investing in storytelling again

There are several points in here that one can readily agree with, such as the fact that movies are a passive activity, whereas video games demand interaction to be qualified as such. Or the fact that most game studios lack full-time writers, which makes little to no sense, considering literally every game is driven at its core, but some form of narrative. I also belong to the same camp which believed that Hollywood foolishly green-lights any franchise which has done moderately well for a silver screen version, without paying any heed to actual cinematic potential. Resident Evil is a great video gaming franchise, but translated to the silver screen it becomes two-dimensional, hollow, almost devoid of any personality or substance, overly-saturated with jaw-dropping stunts and rampant CGI. And somewhere along the process, you lose sense of what made Resident Evil so popular in the first place: survival horror. Couple that with the Matrix-style of the upcoming fourth adaptation, and you will start to see what a terrible idea this series of adaptations was.

Back to the editorial at hand.

Steinberg then starts spewing some conjectural arguments, pudding with no proof in it if you will, that I either completely disagree with it, or it infuriates me on a primal level, or both of the above. The most frustrating of these unfounded arguments was the statement that movies are complex beasts, providing the viewer with unprecedented depth and powerful narrative open to interpretation; whereas video games are largely one-dimensional, devices that focus less on central narrative and more on fringe elements such as multiplayer modes etc. Mr. Steinberg, with all due respect to the “one billion people” who have sought out your consultation services, that makes about as much sense as a squirrel in a cardboard suit playing Beethoven’s Fifth.

In his attempt to cement his argument with no factual basis and ample generic quotes from people in the video gaming industry, Steinberg forgets to consider one important element that may often lead to flopped video-game-to-movie-adaptations: a complex narrative to begin with.

Consider a game like Mass Effect. Aside from the central narrative of Commander Shepard representing the human race in a universe that is largely mistrustful of the species, against the backdrop of a rogue agent acting under the control of a powerful being of aliens spooling up for their newest galactic genocide mission, there are subtleties and side-stories and undiscovered nuances that set the game apart from its competition.

Take the Krogans just as an example. Here is a warrior race that mass-procreates and thrives on conflict. To combat their spread and inevitable conquering of other species (post-Rachni Wars of course), the Turians introduced the genophage, a genetic disorder that only allowed 1 in 1000 Krogan babies to survive. This forced the Krograns to become ever-protective of their species, eliminated their numerical advantage on the field of battle, and produced a new species from the ashes that was tougher, stronger and more resilient than their ancestors. This is but one, severely summarized version of a single side-story in Mass Effect.

Continuing the Mass Effect example, I clocked in close to 60 hours in the first game, and over 45 hours in the second game by the time I was done. That is over 100 hours of combined playtime in the Mass Effect universe. While I am curious to see what kind of an adaptation they come up with, I sincerely doubt it will be able to capture the essence of what makes the Mass Effect universe so special: an intricate, multi-faceted, multi-layered story with numerous inter-connected stories, all spooling into their own respective yarns. The series has already spawned two full-length novels, and a graphic novel.

So when Steinberg claims that movies are the complex genre, and the video game genre is what needs more than a single dimension, I have to vehemently disagree. I can agree with the fact that a lot of video games lack the central narrative that should serve as the backbone and not as a marginalized afterthought. However, this doesn’t change the fact that for games with incredibly powerful narratives, such as Mass Effect, Elder Scrolls, or World of Warcraft, the exact opposite is true. There is no silver screen adaptation that can capture the true essence of these worlds in a 90-minute movie laden with eye-popping special effects and record-shattering stunts.

The rule that applies to books, also applies to complex, narrative-drive video games here. I can’t really think of a book that was faithfully and compelling transformed onto a powerful story in Hollywood, save, maybe, Watchmen. (Don’t say Lord of the Rings, that wasn’t a 90-minute flick, it was a 11-hour-23-minute saga, and only then was Peter Jackson able to capture a fraction of Tolkein’s universe).

The bottom-line is that video games, although still suffering from an acute shortage of dedicated staff writers, is by no means a ‘one-dimensional’ interactive beast incapable of achieving the complexity modern cinema can produce. In a lot of cases, the contrary holds true, and Steinberg should recognize that.

“Owen Wilson as Ken?” or “Which Hollywood Actor Would Can You See Playing Your Favorite Video Game Tough Guy?”

May 3, 2010 5 comments

Since I have started writing for Explicit Gamer, it has opened up a new avenue that wasn’t particularly conducive to this blog. I had an idea the other day, putting together a list of top ten Hollywood actors that I would love to see take on the role of video game tough guys.

The full post is here, knock yourself out, and let me know what you think!

Categories: Bronte, Editorial