Dialogue January 2013: your letters on the FPS midlife crisis, player narratives and new hardware
Within Dispatches this issue, Dialogue sees Edge readers discuss the midlife crisis of the FPS and the tricky thing about player narratives, the lack of excitement that some newly announced hardware is inspiring, and why you’ve stuck with us for 250 issues. Send your views to firstname.lastname@example.org, using ‘Dialogue’ as the subject. Our letter of the month wins a 3DS.
I want to feel excited about the supposed living room revolution that’s bearing down upon us, I really do. But I can’t help feeling slightly disappointed by the potential reality of Android consoles like Ouya and GameStick, and Valve’s Steam Box PC. The idea that the big three could be rocked by a redistribution of power as disruptive as the smart device uprising that caught handheld consoles off guard is a tantalising one, sure, but it’s accompanied by the idea of playing auto runners on my TV, and I just can’t shake the horror of that thought.
Unboxing new hardware has long been, for many – if not all – reading this, an incredibly evocative moment. The smell of the moulded plastic, the weight of device, and most excitingly of all, the chance to boot up the two or three discs you managed to scrape enough pennies together for. But while I can see the undeniable benefits of a super-cheap new guard – and Ouya’s not exactly ugly, either – there’s something a little hollow about the idea of plugging in a new device and playing games you’re already familiar with – and probably have on the more powerful phone in your pocket.
The Steam Box faces the same problem – high-end amazing games, sure, but high-end amazing games that I can already play elsewhere. For years we’ve bemoaned the development resources squandered on making a game compatible with bespoke, closed platforms, and wondered how much better the quality of a multiplatform game could have been if its creators hadn’t had to wrestle with, for example, an Emotion Engine. But I’m now realising that I can live with a lacklustre port for the sake of some truly worthy bespoke efforts – I quite like exclusivity, it turns out.
No pleasing some people, eh? But certainly, all games should be built with the specifics of their platform in mind.
Shooting your mouth off
In E249, Clint Hocking argued that the FPS still has room to grow before it hits a mid-life crisis. In some respects, at least for certain games, this mid-life crisis has already occurred. Two games mentioned by Hocking were Call Of Duty and Dishonored.
Taking a look at Call Of Duty first, the franchise’s latest instalment, COD: Black Ops II, could only be described as the overtly expensive, shiny, shaped-like-a-penis red sports car of FPSes. Activision head Eric Hirshberg promised that the next Call Of Duty would “bring meaningful innovation to the series”. But really all it brought was an even bigger budget and Hollywood scriptwriter David S Goyer. Perhaps if they’d really wanted meaningful innovation they shouldn’t have hired Goyer, the scriptwriter behind the underwhelming Jumper and all-but-forgotten-in-light-of-the-other-two-films Batman Begins. Like any shiny red sports car, you can’t help but admire the engineering and way it looks, but as soon as the idiot behind the wheel starts revving the engine you just roll your eyes. Blops II is by no means a bad game, but it’s pretending to be something it’s not. And soon the thrill of that shiny car will wear and players will realise they gained nothing from this game that they hadn’t previously been given.
On the opposite end, Dishonored takes the role of one of those people who questions their entire life choices up until the present. Just as you can’t live in the moment if you worry too much about the past, so too a player can’t be fully immersed in a game if they’re constantly worried about getting a zero-kill stat. At least in Blops II, you’re fully immersed in your need to kill all who stand before you. It seems like a step too far to ask players to restrain themselves to such an extent, and I’ll be damned if most players didn’t have two separate saves: one to play the game as a methodical pacifist, and one to be a psycho killer. Inhibitive gameplay is bound to elicit an extreme opposite reaction.
With this in mind, it’s clear some games struggle with the idea of forcing meaning into their games. And yet games do not need to force meaning onto players, because players will find their own meaning within a game – if it’s well-structured and scripted subtly (or perhaps not at all). Giving the player the option to kill or not kill is a worthwhile endeavour, but choosing to punish – or even reward – their decision detracts from the meaning a player can get from a game. A balance needs to be struck between an FPS player’s desire to shoot things and the impact that shooting these things does and does not have on them.
Games have a strange need to force story upon players, a lingering connection between games and films that I feel inhibits the true immersive and personal experience of gaming. One aspect I have little time for is the cutscene, a pointless and obvious enforcement of story that should be naturally incorporated into gameplay dialogue.
Games like Day Z are really beginning to unlock the true potential of games to be whatever we make of them. Some of the most meaningful gameplay stories I’ve heard and experienced are from Day Z, from someone slowly bleeding and dragging themselves all the way to a hospital through a zombie-infested town, to cowering in a corner from a horde of zombies that came from nowhere.
We predict a big shakeup in big-budget story-based FPSes. They’re very expensive to make, and most COD players are in it for the multiplayer anyway. Can publishers go on justifying making six-hour games?