The Thing is a third-person survival horror video game developed by Computer Artworks and it could have been something that when talked about now, is remembered fondly. It could have been a really enjoyable game, that did something different and paved the way for similar innovations and evolution's. I was excited about this game, I wanted it so bad and I really thought it would be something special.
The final result we received, was a lackluster third person action shooter that didn't really exude any horror elements and those that it loosely grappled to, it executed in a fairly dull and predictable manner. The main ingredient to this games uniqueness and potential success was the party paranoia and how your playable character could effect it for better or worse. Paying no attention to the escalating fears of your ice pit comrades and not making any conscious efforts to comfort them was suppose to result in them either turning against you and everyone else, as their delusional suspicions of who was infected hit a point of no return or for some reason they themselves turning into a Thing and attempting to kill you. Emphasis was placed on this aspect, be mindful of your party's stay of mind and prolong their sanity and usefulness.
That was what sold the game for me, nothing else. Maybe the barren white wilderness was another plus as I hadn't played any game in that setting, but the psychological aspect was a paramount piece of enticement for me. And it was all a lie.
When a game offers an element of choice and does not deliver, then we judge it on harsher terms. Most games will promise good game play, decent graphics, perhaps an innovation of play and if you're lucky a compelling story. These are basic set principles that we commonly associate with games and if they falter in any sector, they're critiqued thus.
But when a game promotes the gamers decisions as having an effect on the game play and in some cases the world in which it is set and completely lacks any noticeable difference, we're on another level of deceit and disappointment.
The Thing suffered from a time travelling Peter Molyneux effect.
The Peter Molyneux effect (which I've only heard myself coin but it's not hard to guess) is when a game promises you a world wind, story enriched adventure where your choices have consequences. This means that certain actions you have 'chosen' should be reflected in immediate or future scenes. The Thing promoted itself as letting you have that perk power. But your actions have no consequence at all.
To ensure your party longevity you can help put them at ease by say, giving them some ammo or giving them a better weapon than what they have. So your random dude is freaking out, his insanity meter is about to pop or is even just a little bit above average on the 'heading to crazyville' range. Calm him down and gain his trust by giving him a gun. It's simple yes and if it had of been elaborated on a bit more, such as dialogue options or executing certain actions before them that depending on your choice of actions would ease them or escalate their fears, then the game would have been a lot more interesting and certainly more gripping. What we can do is repetitive and unvaried and it makes not one lick of difference.
No matter what you do every event is set in scripted stone. Near the end of the game I had a 2 party members with me. One was mentally sound and had not really given me any trust related grief, the other started freaking out. So I gave him a pretty decent gun and because I had plenty spare I gave a weapon and ammo to the other, consistently calm partner. Both turned on me either by legging it or having the utter cheek to turn in to a Thing. This happened less than a minute after my party transaction, we took a couple of steps in a snow tunnel and they both just hit a point in the game that commanded them to run out their script. So I reloaded and this time didn't give any extra ammunition to either, walked a few feet toward and you guessed it, both turncoats did it again! It was predestined, it was scripted, it was bullshit.
The survival horror genre is one that has a lot of copycat games floating about, after a while even those that do the job well can seem a bit boring in repeat succession, especially to those that are keenly interested in horror games. The Thing could have been something different, it didn't have to be immensely deep, it just had to add a few little tricks and actually let us play what we thought we were playing. If it had of executed the paranoia meter and what exactly contributed to it with some finesse and applied the same thought to how the player would try to handle the situation, the game would have stood out for the right reasons. The foundations were there, the ideas were on the table and yet somehow along the way, it's as if the developers simply stopped or forgot and decided to just shovel out something that was void of all the unique elements that would have made it worth playing from a horror perspective.
The Thing on it's own, in my opinion, isn't that awful a shooter in its own right, but there's a bunch of them out there and while I'm giving it that bit of praise that bit of praise isn't exactly teeming. Maybe you disagree or maybe you don't know it, but the Thing was a game that slipped under the radar pretty much and it could have been a must have for many people, if the simple promises that were made, were actually stuck to and I believe they could have.
Also Peter Molyneux ruins every precious thing he touches!!
Hello you lovely slippery balls of toenails. Scary Granules will be recording the 25th episode and we thought we'd make this a special one and we need you in order to successfully pull that off.
If you could find it in your heart, even if it's deep deep down, we want to know what your top 2 favourite moments in gaming )in-game or not) are. Just pick 2 and pop them in the comments here and explain what about those moments made them so special to you. We will then read them all out on the podcast, along with our own two.
By now most people who play games regularly or keep a fairly decent check on games related news will be aware of the existence of some titles such as, Dear Esther, Gone Home and Stanley Parable. Now I used title instead of games, because well, you can guess the reason and where I'm going with this article.
Now just as a little note, before I go on, I'd like to stress that this is purely my opinion and I do not think that those that disagree with me are 'wrong' per say or are silly for believing otherwise. This is purely how I feel about the question "what makes a game, a game" or in this instance "what makes a game, not a game". I have pondered over this, changing my mind a few times until I came to a self conclusion that hasn't budged since. So hopefully no one is offended (there shouldn't be any reason to take offense, as this is about video games, not something vital to our lives (like the existence of red pandas because omgsofrickincute). Here we go!
I'm going to stick primarily to Dear Esther, Stanleys Parable and Gone Home because they are quite well known and the former is the centre of the question of whether a title is a game or not. Just to dive straight into the fray, I'm going to confess that I do not consider Dear Esther to be a game, not really. I didn't think this prior to playing the game and did not come to this self conclusion based on the opinions of others. I have been thinking about this quite a lot and I am at peace with denying Dear Esther to be what I would consider a video game.
On a forum I frequent a lot (where's that?) there is a thread for people to keep tabs on their current completed games of the past year. I at one point added Dear Esther to that list as you can see here:
Now I am taking it off:
To explain why, I bring into the fold Stanley Parable and Gone Home (and Bastion at some point), the first 3 all similar games, where the strongest traits are first person, narrated, story unravelling walkathons, to show some counterpoints, that are quite subtle but in the context of "gaming" can prove to be quite definitive.
Dear Esther does not have any game mechanics other than 'move forward' and it serves the purpose of story unlocking (which is a term to be used try loosely). I could just leave things there, but I won't. Because you don't have enough rotten e-fruit to throw my way in the event that I did.
Stanley Does the Do
Stanley's Parable tells the story as you play and even then it's not exactly a story so much a humorous lunatic musings accompanying the actions you take by you own choice. When you read a book the story is there before you, all you must do is press on and follow the worded path. It is a linear experience where choice comes from your interpretations in imagination. But books are not games. Audio-books are not games. If you fuse the elements of a diary formatted story with the narration of an audio book, simply adding a visual world does not make that a game unless you add elements that are. Interaction is key.
Old Atari games would use the exact same function for say many of the sport themed games, utilising a derivative of pong with a plastic sheet you splayed on your tv screen. But as bare as that was (even for the time) an element of game play still existed, controlled by the player.
If moving around is all it takes for Esther to be a game then well our lives are one big HD video game, minus the shiny Collector Edition add ons. No I'm only joking with that analogy but it's not far off it.
Even if we leave aside the debate of "is this a game" - which will never have a clear cut winning side, praising Dear Esther for being an example of game storytelling and design for the future is, personally, a dreadful piece of advice and would make the activity pretty damn boring to be honest. If you want to look at how narration could be tweaked somewhat, in an entertaining manner then look at Stanley's Parable, heck even Saints Row. There are different examples out there, more coming especially with indie game development and Steams Green spotlighting.
Go on Home!
Gone Home got a lot of mixed reviews, but in the early honeymoon period much of that was praise, a little bit like Bastion from my own eyeballing of related comments.
The game had a simple premise - go back to your home and explore clues about the people closest to you and yourself, whilst figuring out the general plot arc. It can be said that it has many similarities to Dear Esther, but it does have something Dear Esther does not and once again it boils down to that little, yet important aspect of gaming (at least pivotal to me) and that is interaction.
You can open furniture, pick up notes, turn them around, play cassettes. It's little, but Esther could of had little implements as well. You're not waiting on cue for the story do reveal and progress via scripting alone, the game is asking you to be part of that minuscule trek.
I'm not sure how many people I remember actually talking about how they felt in the aftermath of Dear Esther, even from the story point of view. Just because I didn't hear or read anything doesn't mean there wasn't a plethora of positive conversations, but I'm not entirely sure how riveted anyone was. I know a few people on Twitter who adore it and I know some that claim it to be a template by which games should rethink their design and story telling process and I find that to be incredibly bad advice, when the game fails in both areas. If you want to produce games that bore your audience, then go ahead.
Bastion - Story and Play
I had heard fleeting titbits about Bastion, that it was a visually appealing, professionally crafted game of the indie variety. But apart from knowing it was highly recommended and the lead character was a bulky impish looking fella with silver hair, I was in the dark. Upon actually playing the game I have to admit that narratively I was in the dark as well for most of it.
The narrator weaves a story in with his Deadwood invoking voice that in terms of its actually context is not always easy to follow. He assumes we know who such and such is and that we are up to speed in the rapidly progressing tale. In that regard, which may not apply to other gamers, Bastion was a strafe experience interns of immersive story and yet that doesn't mean I did not enjoy the story, execution and general feel that was being created with the wonderful soundtrack.
Bastion is quite a short game to get through, especially if you enabled a 'no-die' feature and so the story might suffer in effect for that. But that doesn't deter from the fact that a story exists and we the player are indeed playing it out whilst subsequently being big brothered by a mild mannered Al Swearegen.
In Dear Esther a story exists and your only real purpose is to hear it, not play it. In that manner is once again cements itself (in my opinion) in the category of 'visual audiobook' before it ever graces the gaming labeling. You could say that the story remains locked away until you begin to play, but are we really accepting simply holding W as a worthy method game play? Personally I do not.
Bastion is a game that offers classic elements of game, meshed with a fairly fresh method of storytelling with a wonderful art unadopted style.
Also I didn't feel like I was getting pneumonia like I did whilst roaming Esther Island (see what I did there...never mind).
So am I saying that had Dear Esther let you pick up a rock and throw it at a bird, turn over a desk, interact with a piece of paper with some etchings on it and let you do rudimentary, barely puzzle breaking functions - that I would consider it a game?
Well yes, yes I am.
Again don't get your knickers in a twist over my thoughts on this but I would welcome all opinions and thoughts be it for, against or neutral. If there's lubricated opinions i.e words draped in lube (that's a thing don't ya know), those too are allowed entry.
I'm not really planning on talking about the recent Dtoid Sucks stuff that's been going around. Some comments by people are shared by me, some are not, but I suppose all are valid, because a community inspired site, should always let the community speak their mind...unless their mind is filled with bigoted gobshitery.
I'm slowing back on my participation from many websites, primarily social ones and also some sites that I wrote for, because I was getting zero out of it and I can't afford to continue doing stuff for free.
I have my own opinions about negative aspects of Dtoid, so this isn't blind lust and people that know me, know I don't lick arse but instead throw angry horny sheep at people that do, in my mind. This is just me writing my opinions on Dtoid members, and ONLY the members, especially those that reside sensually in the forums. If you don't frequent the forums, then you don't know what you're missing.
In my personal opinion and from my personal experience, the following is complete and utter bullshit and stems from a blind sighted hypocritical viewpoint.
I'm blanking out names because the point of this isn't to send harassment. If you're desperate to know sources, you'll find them yourself.
It's the fecking opposite of a bro-club, what are you even...
Dtoid forums is a place where I came totally and honestly, as myself and was able to make friends, some of the most consistent in putting up with me and being generally awesome, sadly are located across the big blue pond.
The members there for the most part, will come together and help people if they need advice, an ear to tongue tickle their woes into or help with promoting something that either benefits the community or an individuals personal endevours.
Dtoid forums and front page...well the CBLOGS!!, consists of a population that are mixed in colour, shape, interest, religious beliefs and sexual orientation. There are cliques, some tighter than others, in an off putting manner, but there is no "one group is kinder than the other", because naturally if you are not in that clique you won't be afforded the same close knitness...nitnurse?
Dtoid has too many kind, funny, open members for the entire place, forums or front page to be condemned based on personal conflicts with a few.
But it's not always lovey dovey and that's...good. Because there is more value in sincerity and being honest about your personal differences. Support can come in many manners, it does not have to be bound to your set of personalised rules, to be valid. People can agree and disagree on elements of a similar topic and that does not lesson either parties integrity.
I'm not sure why I suddenly feel so defensive off this place, when I myself have also chastised it for a lot of bullshit, but at the end of the day I'm not blinded enough to spur bullshit because of personal spurning. I suppose when I see bullshit being said about people I know to be decent it just riles me. I think I'm better at leaping to protect others, than I am myself, but it's not like anyone needs protecting, pffft this isn't a fucking episode of real life prerblums.
The Forums are full of lovely assmunchers, Usedtabe will help you get fit, send you unPC hilarity and Zombieplatypus will help you out if you need illustrations or a PM when you are feeling like shit that will cheer you up. Panzadolphin will for some reason send you images of daytime soap leading female characters posing in disturbingly erotic manners.
Mxy and Mom will participate in a video lending their time and voices to spooky gaming stories to entertain people and then help plug it and they'll also put in a kind word on Twitter or Communtoid for an event you're hosting that's going absolutely nowhere but they see the good.
Nihil and Tarvu will give you the most unexpected smile on your face by supporting something you do wholly for yourself, while also making you wish they'd get internet aids because of the latters love of the most disgusting film character ever. PhilK WON'T send the dickpics you gave him to his family...I dunno why brah, I dunno why. What's wrong with you mate?
All of the above isn't just general, it's personal experience. And I've not named even half the cool people I've met since joining this place. I've had some bullshit to that's not worth my luminous time. But I've seen more displays of awesomeness.
I've never encountered a place where people in droves gave their time and money to help others within their online community, I've never seen another forum where people air their raw feelings and will be shown kindness but also won't be bullshitted to just for the sake of it. There's some behind the scenes nonsense, some mismanagement and well hid-fakery, same as anywhere but the public front, the posts, the comments, the support and interaction outweigh it all.
There's no other community like Dtoid and some people may say "pfft thank God", but that's a childish way of looking at something that you don't truly participate in or have the first clue about.
So if you ever wondered what the mentality was of the Dtoid members as a whole, especially the forums, that's is honestly what you're getting, if you don't act like a self righteous asshole. Be friendly, open and stand your ground. It's simple enough. Find out for yourself.
Can you remember when you were a child and you had a game you played non stop, maybe because you really enjoyed it, maybe because it was the only game you could get your hands on or maybe a little bit from column A and B?
For me one of those games, that took sentiments from both columns was Duke Nukem 3D.
It was quick and easy to play, a true game without the added bullshit that now must accompany games in order for them to be accepted by the new age acolytes of "art and depth".
Yes the game wasn't exactly brimming in feminism friendly themes, but it represented a grind house era that did exist and we can't really change that.
Most people, who are aware of the Duke Nukem games, are aware of the massive anticlimactic build up that went on for far too long with regards to the next gen new game that would blow our minds and bring back fond memories of the older, harmless games. I use the word harmless because what we had waited for and finally received was the opposite of harmless. It was gift wrapped in explosive trailers and polished off with complete disregard to consumers taste in gaming and taste in general decency.
Gearbox gave us a game that was not only awful in game play and story, but was one of the most vile depictions of misogynistic mockery I had ever seen and for some reason it triumphs even House of the Dead Overkill's debauchery of the female form and genitalia (you know that vagina that everyone of us came out of?).
Given some of the other decisions in terms of gaming creations and mouthed words, that Gearbox have executed, I'm finding it hard to really respect them or find them to currently be a positive influence on the gaming industry in terms of the messages they put out. In fact I think Gearbox is part of the problem, a very damaging one. Here's why.
Lets start with ball-basic gaming
Duke Nukem Forever is a broken game in terms of playing, story and even the graphics. Now I'm not one who's big into the fight for specifics in graphical differences but for a game like that by a studio as big as Gearbox, it was poor form all round.
Facial animations and movements are diabolical to view and the game would have actually been less of a deterrant to eyes, if it had of featured no NPC's whatsoever. In fact compare the game to DK 3D, where there are hardly any humans, in fact the only humans we see are some strippers and coccoon'd women.
Weapons are boring, enemies are boring, dialogue is boring and the cross gaming puns aren't even puns. Seeing Master Chief armour and saying "power armour is for pussies" in a very drab uninterested voice, just...does...nothing.
The game isn't enjoyable for anyone, least not for anyone I've come across in person or online. Duke Nukem Forever let down fans of the series who had waited for a long time and the worst part about it is, the game looks like it could have come out on the original Xbox...launch day. Gearbox had the tools and ability to make it at least fun and they failed, they needed to churn something out fast and you shouldn't do that with a game that is a classic and you should not take advantage of fans who will want to play the game because it's a guaranteed profit.
Lets move away from Duke Nukem Forever for a moment, we'll be coming back to it and to the main issue soon, unfortunately.
Gearbox were given the license to make an Aliens game, Alien Colonial Marines. We were all very excited and we all had high expectations. A good alien game was long overdue and one that was to be canonically added to the franchises story, had to be great. It had to, the franchise and fans, deserved no less. Heck even Gearbox deserved no less.
What we got was a game that looked like it would be the ultimate Aliens interactive adventure. The trailers promised us amazing graphics, tension and best of all, a fitting homage to the xenomorph world.
Gearbox butchered the whole thing, there's no point tip-toeing around it. They flat out lied in their trailers and their developer videos were laced with pop phrases and catch words that were all made up and meant nothing. They should have cradled, perfected and invigorated the Alien gaming franchise, but instead they gave us a boring shooter, that quickly loses any sense of unnerving, hostile tension from the environment we had to trudge through. Don't get me started on that Alien Queen final boss 'battle'.
Maybe one of their worst crimes was even having Hicks in the game at all. The character is irritating and bland and Michael Biehn reminded us of that in his lacklustre voice acting. The guy didn't want to be there and he didn't care, but then again he's always had a chip on his shoulder because Fox went on without him with the Alien series and he never overtook Sigourney Weaver as the lead.
The made up an unfeasible, ridiuclous, plot destroying story to tie in between films and Alien Colonial Marines was a flop.
Twice in a row, Gearbox had been given, for some reason, the keys to a beloved franchise and they disrespected it, lied about it and produced just bad games. Will it happen a third time? Well according to Wikipedia...there's a Duke Nukem sequel in the wings.
Personally I never want to see another Duke Nukem game in my life and I will probably never play a future Gearbox title and here's why, the crux of the grinding of this gamers post.
Who gives a damn about women eh?
I can't forgive them to be honest, I really can't. It's the straw that broke the radioactive bears back.
Duke Nukem Forever features naked women who have been kidnapped by aliens, raped (you can hear them sobbing) and impregnanted, then shows scenes of the tortured vapid women moaning for release from agony before Duke Nukem. That's what happens, for real.
What is this characters response, what did a writer at Gearbox pen?
Then he slaps a pair of giant jelly titties stuck to the wall.
Frankly all I can say to Gearbox is, how fucking dare you. How dare you think that was acceptable or funny. Did your writers laugh and then did you all watch the video and pat each other on the back?
Well done guys.
Did any of you say or even think "Damn that's too much".
That's their worst crime, in my opinion, but it's not the only one. The Borderlands girlfriend mode peeved a lot of people and then we were told that we got the wrong end of the stick. Because you know, game companies never backtrack when the heat gets too much and claim that they meant something else?
Burch doesn't represented the views of Gearbox necessarily, but when you look at how many misogynistic related incidents has occurred in association with one gaming company, that really doesn't matter. Even if they don't personally make the game, the association is still incredibly strong, you're putting your name to a product that is laced with either disturbing scenes that could be trigger warnings for the people that put money in your pocket or products that are just terribly designed and cause mistrust for any future games.
Even in Aliens they seem to completely forget that it's not just a story about xenomorphs and corrupt companies, it was the story of a woman who kept on going and never gave in. The female characters in Aliens, may as well not be there, you instead do that age-ol' routine of lumping up with a boring white dude (no offense to boring white dudes) and forget that the other Queen of Aliens, is mothra-ducking Ellen Ripley.
I said it in that linked Burch post and I'll say it again, himself or Gearbox talking about supporting inclusivity is hilarious, in a depressing way. It's also not backed up by the games and statements that have come from them. Sometimes I actually wonder if Burch and Pitchford were born with the inability to see women or know that they exist. Half the time I think that they must genuinely assume that "women" is the term given to giant walking flesh-lights covered in bruises.
I couldn't find an apt image so here's a really content loaf
There's no point moving forward if we don't deal with the problems that exist now and you can't do that by sweeping it under the carpet. I just actually wish that Gearbox were swept under a carpet, then a large boulder place atop so they couldn't get out. I just wonder if anyone else really sees the harm their portrayal of female characters and mindset towards females in general, can cause.
I didn't think that I would take such a strong stance in terms of using the word boycott, within a hobby I enjoy so immensely, but I've been pondering this for a while and Gearbox have grinded my morals so much, that I will never buy another game from them nor will I have ever have a good word to say about them. I don't care if the next Duke Nukem game, features Duke dressed as a cupcake, in a gay pride, snuggling puppies made out of equality and decent alien beheading mechanics.
Here's an audio version of this piece, for anyone that can stand to hear a hoarsey Irish moaner -