Bloggins update: Yeah… Tears In Rain + Critique Corners?

So… an elephant is in the room.

November is NaNoWriMo in which I destroy my life in a bid to write a 50,000 word novella.

December 25th I release Up, Down, Left, Right – Volume Three.

There is clearly no time to finish Tears In Rain. It’s a project I’ve had for over a year now an it’s just sitting there, wasting away, there is honestly only one thing for it. Delay. I said “2011” but that seriously isn’t going to happen with everything going on. I’ve had a look at my schooling stuff such as exams and preparations and other commitments and it looks like I won’t be able to kick this puppy until some time into 2012. By ‘some time’ I mean a considerable amount of time. Except, thematically, I think the release date will feel right – June 25th – the 30th anniversary of Blade Runner. This means I’ll have to go back and edit it to death but I think I can do it, I’m going to start it tomorrow in fact (all the retconning) and it’ll all be alright.

2012 itself is crammed full of projects, prospects and opportunities for me to get into. Who knows if I’ll survive 2012, then again, I doubt any of us will with it being the “end of the world” and all. On the list of stuff I’m doing next year: Up, Down, Left, Right – Volume Four, another ‘film book’, NaNoWriMo 2012. I shan’t be releasing two volumes of Up, Down, Left, Right in 2012 like I’ve done in 2011, mostly because I won’t have the time, but also because I want Volume Five to be the final volume. It’ll be my teenage legacy and I want it done justice.

I don’t want to plan out 2013 but I doubt I’ll be doing anything massive given I’ll have a Summer of nothing before university. Shit. University.

So, I’m sorry and it hurts to delay anything (honestly) because it makes me sick inside for some odd reason.

2011:

NaNoWriMo 2011 Project – ??? November

Up, Down, Left, Right: Volume Three – 25th December

2012

Tears In Rain: An Exploration of the Historical, Political and Cultural Significance of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) – June 25th

‘Film Book #2’ – August 31st

Critique Corners?

I’ve been too busy with all of the above to get to any critiquing but I will be diving into some Arkham City cornering this weekend coming up. I have no idea what to do for film critique corner, I haven’t seen anything worth commenting on, which is a shame. I’ll try and get something by the end of next week, sorry for all of this, I have been extraordinarily busy.

I think that’s everything I need to say.

Love you all.

x

Nath

No-one likes story-driven games

Mother of god.

I’ve been playing Black Ops for the past few days now and if one thing has become apparent, I haven’t been this disconnected with a narrative since possibly forever. It is told through non-interactive sequences of your own character moving about a room, quicktime events and general cut-scenes (some of which zoom out to third person and butcher immersion completely). Along with all of this, the player characters speaks (with Sam Worthington providing the vocals) and… boy… oh boy. To give an example, the very first lines of the game are “Fuck you!”, while my initial thinking about the situation is more calm and controlled. Over the course of the game this disconnected between the player character, me and the narrative becomes a bigger issue when I’m asked to care about characters that I’ve just been asked to construct an entire history around.

So, obviously Black Ops tells its story through age-old techniques and horrible horrible ways. The story itself is… incredible. As in, if this was an action film, it would be a Michael Bay feature with actual substance. I absolutely loved the plot twist and it’s really the only thing that kept me playing the game aside from the absolute relentless pacing that is of the Call of Duty flavour. Treyarch have outperformed last years Modern Warfare 2 with a bigger and brighter experience; but obviously sacrificing key essentials.

I won’t spoil it specifically, but just to give noise to lightning, let me say the level of how Black Ops goes about butchering the connection with the player when it comes to narrative. The plot twist involves the player character in some way, and his relationship with another character. It is very cleverly crafted, but it falls flat because Mason (whom you play) is absolutely the least relationship worthy character of them all. He doesn’t co-operate, he says thing, he yells out “Frag!” and sounds unconvincing. I do not want to play this guy. Video-games are about some form of empowerment, and the obvious signs of potential to be dis-empowered for effect, but I do not feel better playing Mason. In fact in some ways I feel worse.

You know what really, really gets under my skin? When all of this is hailed as the next big thing, Black Ops will already sell a billion copies, but for giant press networks to actually hail the story as anything note-worthy… and butcher the whole ‘interactive storytelling’ thing is a new low.

“The fuck you talking about Nathan?”

http://kotaku.com/5684775/review-call-of-duty-black-ops-modern-warfare-redefined

Call of Duty: Black Ops is a powerful story. The game’s missions explore a fascinating time in history, take us to places we’ve likely never been and put us in situations unusual and captivating, even for a video game. But what it does best, through both narrative and gameplay, is tell a story. As the game progressed I found myself anticipating the cut-scenes as much as I did the tightly crafted levels. Thinking back, I can easily forget whether the last absorbing moments of the game were played by me or for me. This is what video games should be, a confusion of interaction and story-telling, of graphics and camera movement, of play and parable.

Read that last one, highlighted in red.

Mother.

Of.

God.

Kotaku basically just set apart interaction and story-telling as two separate elements of a… video-game. To them there is no such thing as interactive storytelling, as it is to all of their readers now. Don’t go on about Kotaku not representing a portion of the press, that red quote up there pretty much summaries every single review I have read of Black Ops.

This clearly send a message to developers that gameplay detached from narrative is entirely fine, and you can put your narrative in everything else and it’ll all be alright.

http://uk.ps3.ign.com/articles/113/1133112p2.html

The only thing I’ll say about the storyline is that it’s the best of the series.

No-one likes story-driven games, or story-driven interactive experiences. In fact, from the reviews Black Ops has been getting, it pretty much confirms all my worse fears. That we’ve come to expect player characters to have voices (which is fine, if they’re speaking on the players behalf) that sound and act worse than the player would. That we’ve come to expect a narrative which expects the player to care about people they’ve never met. That we’ve come to expect a medium with such potential in the field of interactive storytelling, in which we barely lift a finger to make a choice.

Thank you, Treyarch.

Thank you.

(Game critique corner on Black Ops player character at the weekend)

The Big Problem

The biggie.

I’ve spent the last one year and a bit trying so desperately hard to convince as many people as possible that games have so much potential. But alike the human mind, we are barely scratching the surface of the power. The volume of magnitude we have is something even I don’t fully comprehend. Thanks to folks such as Anthony Burch, Daniel Floyd, James Portnow and even the ye olde Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw, we are getting somewhere. All the fine folks at Platform Nation want the same thing from their videogames, an entertaining experience. We can all agree on that, can’t we? We’re an entertainment industry, we make entertainment. We’ve come from a little humble medium and flourished into something powerful. By powerful I mean we have the power to influence the next few generations of mankinds. We will make their memories, we will make them smile, we will make them cry and shiver and do all that good stuff that mediums have shaped us into.

It isn’t all double rainbows.

We are standing on the precipice, a fine moment between when we realize who we are and what we’re capable of. We might fall off our feet and wake up minutes later to find that we have amounted to nothing. Absolutely nothing. We haven’t changed lives, we have not proven to extend the facet of the human experience. We have not delved into the human mind with all the powers of video-games. What will that be like? I made a statement a while ago that while I want video-games to offer more entertainment that any other medium, I want to see the choices. I want to make difficult decisions between who lives and dies. Who I sacrifice to save an entire planet of orphans, or whether I choose between a puppy or a thousand people in comas. I want to learn lessons on life, through myself, and only video-games can allow that.

As some of you may know, two important things are happening in the next few weeks. First off, I’m leaving today. This is my final essay and final day working here at Platform Nation, I’ll put a brief statement at the end and bid farewell, but bigger than me and bigger than Platform Nation is November 2nd. You all know what’s happening right? You can learn about it here in video form, but to sum it up for those without time, it’s the moment in which we decide our fate as a medium. As a people, we can choose whether to rally ourselves up and shed our gamerkind-skin. We are a tribe of people, like no other, but it’s time we started merging with society. For games to become experiences with wider integrity and breadth, for them to develop compelling experiences; they must become mainstream. This means embracing casual gaming, this means never looking down upon a Farmville player and this also means we must fully embrace what we are capable of. As Warren Spector said in his PAX 2010 Keynote, for us to actually survive, we need to realize that these things we see as barriers are simply our strengths.

I grew up in a difficult background, full of bullying and lies and seeing the worst that the working class of England go through. I have been places and experienced the highs and lows of humanity, I wish I could take you there, but you’ve already been. Through video-games you’ve been to places with little understanding, seen the worst of the worst. You’ve seen things that maybe even I haven’t seen, or experienced. We have gone so far and we have done so much. Embracing our popularity is what is keeping us from becoming the forefront of entertainment. I’m telling all of you, right now, you are not a ‘gamer’. You are not special. Your speciality and individualism are there for you to keep, but every single person on this planet is a ‘gamer’. Every single person on this planet is a person. Capable of experiencing what you and I hold so very dear to our souls. Games are art, end of story, it’s time to show the world what we’re made of and scare them shirtless. Yes, shirtless. Take our shirts off, show them our big fat underbellies of storytelling and all that good gooey stuff.

That’s all the celebrating done, but I’ve barely scratched the surface of what I’ve wanted to talk about, we’re near 1000 words and I haven’t really said anything. Basically, I’m doing what I do best and I’m rambling. But that’s it, that’s the conclusion of my learning here at Platform Nation…

But what about this big giant itch.

What about the big thing that’s bearing down on us.

What about when EA changes ‘Taliban’ to ‘Opposing Force’ in their multiplayer, to please people who have never played or understood video-games.

What about when we don’t have the balls to stand up for who we are.

What about we actually are.

What about the big one issue that’s keeping us all behind.

What about the big problem.

Have you noticed it yet?

I want you to do something kinetic, something that’ll probably change your perception a little. You’ll know where I’m going with this in a while. I want you to take out your video-game collection and lay it all on the floor. If it’s too massive a collection (you rich bastard) then maybe just take out half or what you can find. I want you to make two piles, the first pile built of games with weapons in them and the second pile built of games with no guns in them. Come back when you’re done.

Okay now I want you to add all the games from the second pile, that have violence or stuff you really wouldn’t show your kid, and add it into the first pile.

Unless you’re a family orientated person, poor, you love Viva Pinata, largely a casual gamer or allergic to violence then quite clearly pile A is bigger than pile B. Looking at mine, pile A is three times the size of pile B.

Doesn’t that seem slightly terrifying to you?

A majority of our experiences have stemmed from one gigantic core of repetitive gameplay. The big giant hallmark of videogames, the flag we bear is one painted with bullet casings. We are addicted to guns and violence and yes you may argue there’s nothing wrong with that. Just think about this for a moment, something which Anthony Burch brought up in the Rev Rant I linked above (check it out), what if every film you saw was a romantic comedy. Revolting. What if every comic book you read was strictly about superheroes saving the day. What if… every compelling video-game you’ve ever played had guns in it.

When was the last time you played a video-game where you didn’t shoot anybody? Months?

When was the last time you watched a horror movie? When was the last time you watched a romantic comedy?

We are at war with ourselves, we are having a conflict of identity. What we perceive ourselves to be, what we’ve grown up with, is merely a medium capable of repeating the same mistake and repeating the same gameplay. Shoot to kill. There is nothing wrong with violence in video-games, it’s proven to let people release stress, but is that it? Is that all we are? Compelling experiences, in which we discover something about ourselves, can involve violence. It’s a common exploration of cinema and we shouldn’t feel limited by it, but it’s violence with meaning. It’s not the same jarring shot to the skull multiple times, or even hundreds of times, I feel myself losing grip on the controller at times.

What’s the point of shooting in a game structured around political commentary and exploration of mature thematics (Bioshock). What’s the point of stabbing a guy in the face and then running away, only to come back to a motivation that asks me to care about characters I’ve never met (Red Dead Redemption). What is the point of juxtaposing, over and over again, mature themes against a common mis-step in video-game history.

The gun is meant to be a symbol or a device used to kill a character. It was never invented to kill thousands of AI. Just how many people have you killed. Just think about that. Do you remember any of their names? You are a killer. What does it say about our medium when a game alike Bioshock delves deep into personal identity and rewrites what game storytelling is capable of. What does it say when Bioshock is still, at the end of the day, a first-person shooter. We do not know what do with ourselves, but we are repeating it in line with innovation. These are not mad ramblings, this is the truth. This is the hard-hitting problem that we will have to face up to, we need to diversify and embrace who we are and what we are capable of.

I do not want to be playing shooters in ten years time. I want to be taking my virtual daughter to school, or choosing between saving a thousand comatose patients and one little puppy. I want the tough decisions. To die for my best friend and my save file to be completely wiped. I want to kill myself out of losing everything that I’ve wanted to do, not what the game has decided I should do. With the powers of non-linearity, immersion, player identity and a variety of other virtues that are strictly exclusive to videogames; we can accomplish anything.

November 2nd could mean the difference between life and death. It could be the day when this big problem is finally realized by every publisher and developer in the world. Bringing games forward into a mature interactive medium would be the greatest thing that ever happened. Our shooters would be compelling and largely developed. Our genres would be wider than film, the experiences would touch people in ways that no-one can possibly imagine.

I am not a games journalist, I know that, and I am not a dictator. I don’t want games to start becoming less fun, I just don’t want to ‘play’ with them anymore. I want to see them differently more than a few times. I want this whole article to become irrelevant in ten or so years, I want every single guy who’s chasing ‘the big dream’ to be chasing something unique. I want to be able to read a guy’s blog after he’s worked on a game for years, and for it all to disappear under his nose. I want to see effort go to waste and for something else to come out of it, hope. Without the effort and the drive, there is no inevitable conclusion. Without past mistakes, we cannot write the future.

The big problem of video-games and violence, that common relationship, should stay. It should stand testament and challenge the ideology of future developers. Vote with your dollars people, embrace new genres and wake up. Don’t stand for games that lazily tell stories, don’t stand for the mediocrity, don’t stand for publishers that chicken out of bringing an authentic war experience, do not stand when the true titles come out.

Buy those indie titles and punish them as equally as you would do with developers. Ignore what people say, decide for yourself. Donate to Jason Rohrer, buy Minecraft, get Super Meat Boy when it comes out. Support the little guy and bring to that part of the industry a large voice. I am not putting the indie market above the mainstream, but I am going to say this, they certainly innovate a lot more than the mainstream devs. Due to publisher pressure and all that multi-million bullshit, developers are less likely to succeed in getting a new strain of games through to the market.

One of the biggest surprises of this year is that this ‘Big Problem’ might be erased. The countless shooters may all soon become counted and limited, as we’ve already shown November 2nd what we’re made of. I laugh in the face of anyone who considers Heavy Rain to be an amazing game and game of the year ect. What I cringe at, however, is when people disregard everything that it did. Yes, it failed, it fell flat on its promises and in a way David Cage pulled a Molyneux. What it did, more than anything else, is create life.

A whole new, successful (Heavy Rain at over 1.8 million sold) genre/gameplay innovation has been made. It’s mainstream, supported by a major publisher (Sony) and it will definitely be repeated. It was an experiment, like Mirror’s Edge was, and it made similar mistakes. It made the mistake of having pre-determined relationships with characters, it had a horrible story and it was all structured rather clumsily. Mirror’s Edge should have been an exercise in dis-empowerment, and for a few moments, it’s absolutely what it says on the tin. A parkour escapist first-person game, not a parkour escapist game with first-person shooter elements (which it did).

Speaking of what Mirror’s Edge didn’t succeed in, go try out Amnesia: The Dark Descent. It’s a horrifying exercise in combining dis-empowerment with strong horror elements. Buy it, cheaply too, on Steam afterwards and support a little dev with big ideas.

We’ve made a statement then, voting with our monies, that Heavy Rain is a good example of things to come. We’ve told Sony that we want more, that David Cage’s mumbled construction of great ideas is still a indicator of things to come. I want this to carry on. You, sitting there right now, maybe you thinks ‘games iz art!’ or maybe you don’t. I don’t want to sound paranoid or like a crazy guy who just figured out that Ekans is Snake backwards. I don’t want to dictate and cry out that games are an artistic medium blah blah blah.

I don’t want to ‘play’ games anymore, I want to experience who I am and delve into my own psyche. I want to be having the most entertaining night of multiplayer, and then on the weekend go on to endure a compelling experience that’ll haunt me for years. If all we have to show, as a medium, is our ‘big problem’ then we are seriously in trouble. There is more to ourselves than just shooters, there is more to ourselves than just violence.

If you want to be a game designer when you grow up and want to make the next Call of Duty or Halo. I want you to do something for me, change it. Or at least for a little while just do something completely different that keeps it all so fresh. A punch to the gut, a player/designer relationship device, is handy. Take away their weaponry, slice off our arms and then dump us in a military complex with no HUD or objective. Make us run, and if we die, for it to mean we have to make a choice over who lives and dies. This article was full of a little of ‘I wants’, but I want to make you think of something.

What do you want?

That’s a wrap.

Thanks to every single one of you, I love you all. I want to stay up all night eating sandwiches and telling you about how gorgeous and amazing you all are. ‘We’ are games, we are experiences and we are amazing. I want to cuddle up to every one of you for reading this and perhaps even just considering for a brief moment that games shouldn’t just be ‘played with’.

Go to http://www.videogamevoters.org/ to see how you can help on November 2nd. There’s smashing letters by the likes of Stan Lee and if you, like me, really like video-games then go and check out how you can help and all that jazz.

To everyone at Platform Nation, thank you.

Scott DiMonda, for having the best beard in the world and for being a great all around guy.

Steven Artlip, for offering me the chance to come into this wonderful community.

Andrew Hunt, for being a true lad.

Mark Withers, for being another true lad.

Patrick Talbert, for being a good buddy.

Ben Lehman, for being a little lad.

Rane Pollock, for loving me and loving youuuuuu.

Sarah Brannan, for putting up with all the lads.

Chris Forbis, for being the best damn proofreader of all time.

Adam Jagger, for being kind-of-lad-but-more lass.

To all the new folks, get out while you still can.

To everyone I’ve missed, I love you.

But more importantly, you. You, reading this right now, I love you. It’s corny, cheesy and sarcasm to the max but I mean it in some ways. You’ve helped change my life for the better and given me a experience like no other. I have made friends, connections and this whole place has been the kickstarter to my future career as a writer-guy. Not strictly in games either, this place has introduced me to the absolute brilliance that people can exhibit. For that, I owe you everything.

You can email me at nathan.hardisty@gmail.com, follow me on Twitter (@Nathsies) and even text me… nope.

Thank you.