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8:16 PM on 09.20.2010

Kojima Syndrome Redux

Sometimes killing two birds with one stone is not a good idea. Last week, was one of those times. In my previous post concerning Condemned: Criminal Origins I attempted to describe why despite all of it’s strengths the game failed to grab me. I used a phrase I made up, “Kojima Syndrome” to explain why I felt the game, specifically the narrative, did not work for me, and in re-reading my post I feel that I didn’t really get across what I was trying to say. I’d like to clarify and explore a little more in depth what I meant by “Kojima Syndrome”.

“Kojima Syndrome” occurs when those who write stories for video games create characters, situations, or plotlines that rely on the bombastic and outrageous to create interest in the player. Hideo Kojima, director/head honcho of the Metal Gear series, created an intricate and sometimes overwrought yet interesting narrative about war economies, patriotism, and all manner of political commentary. It’s in my opinion really pretty riveting stuff. Kojima also made sure to include giant robots, ninjas and pocket nukes. It’s all bombast and what I like to call “aww-shit” moments to make gamers perk up and pay attention, and in the case of Metal Gear Solid it sort of works. It’s obvious that Kojima cares enough about his universe to make things mostly cohesive, and give some form of explanation to why a traitorous covert soldier would have access to a miniature nuclear warhead in the 1960s.

Despite all of the care that goes into making these stylish indulgent flourishes fit within the game’s context, Kojima is still appealing to all of our low brow tendencies. In a trait shared mostly with Hollywood movies, videogame writing seems to use these “aww-shit” devices as a crutch, a way of saying, “our literate and well considered treatise on modern war isn’t enough and we may lose some of our public unless we include something gnarly that will show up on screen and make those who would normally skip a cut-scene finally pay attention.

I don’t hold anything against Hideo Kojima, and in fact have enjoyed the narrative and occasionally the gameplay in most of the Metal Gear Solid series, I just use him as an example of the way many video game writers seem to be approaching their craft. Many games for a long time have been nailing nuance and subtlety over bombast and spectacle for the hell of it for quite a while, see Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, even Super Metroid. However, I still feel talked down to when a lot of game narratives make something happen just to look cool without setting the proper tone, or foreshadowing the event. It feels immature and superfluous. I thought that Condemned: Criminal Origins was a great example of this, as I loved the atmosphere and art direction, but felt that the narrative hurt the overall experience.

It also should be said, that I as much as the next guy love completely over the top action and buckets of blood. I just want it delivered to me in the proper context. I always thought Suda 51 of Grasshopper Manufacture fame was great at this, he understands the importance of developing interesting characters and stories that fit in the irreverent world’s he creates. Suda understands tone and the importance of a cohesive whole. He makes me believe that Travis Touchdown is the kind of guy who would fight a school girl with a wannabe lightsaber. Hideo Kojima, for his part, also does a good job at this. It’s just unfortunate that so many other writers latch on to the boom of the dynamite without remembering that it takes a fuse and a bunch of gunpowder to get there. Those writers suffer from “Kojima Syndrome”

If you’ve made it with me this far, thank you for indulging me as fumbled around with an explanation for something I did last week, I’m working on this blogging thing and hopefully with some time I’ll get there. I’m currently playing through the Resident Evil Series and hope to have something to say regarding narrative and characterization as well as the new direction the series has taken over the last five years. I’m also trying to resist the urge to play more Halo: Reach so that I can get through them a bit quicker.

Just in case you want to help me procrastinate, my gamertag is dkinnaley.   read

1:34 PM on 09.12.2010

Kojima Syndrome (Condemned: Criminal Origins)

Warning: The Following Post contains spoilers concerning Condemned: Criminal Origins.

Shortly after I picked up my 360, I was browsing the bargain bin at my local gamestop and I found a copy of Condemned: Criminal Origins for less than $10. I had played Condemned 2: Bloodshot a few years back on the PS3 and thought that the atmosphere and overall dark oppresive vibe of the game was just light years beyond anything I had played to that point. Unfortunately besides the interesting combat mechanics, that was all the game had going for it. The plot, storytelling, and characters all seemed paper thin and ultimately uninteresting. I was hoping that it was just a case of the sophomore slump, and I was genuinely excited to check out the original Condemned.

Things started out great just like in the sequel. The environments had the same oppressive, filthy, urban decay vibe going on. The focus on melee combat in a first person perspective added a real sense of immediacy and fear to the proceedings, and the characters and plot seem at least initially interesting. In Condemned the player takes control of FBI agent Ethan Thomas as he follows the trail of a serial killer known as "The Matchmaker". Early on in the game the plot takes an interesting twist as Thomas is framed for the shooting of two police officers that were on the investigation forcing him to go rouge and attempt to clear his name.

It's a pretty solid set up that gets out of hand pretty quick in a serious case of Kojima syndrome. It wouldn't be enough to just let the game's story stay simple and let the tense atmosphere and engaging gameplay mechanics take care of the rest. The developers at Monolith decided it would be better to follow in the footsteps of the histrionic Hideo Kojima and throw everything and the kitchen sink into the narrative. It turns out that "The Matchmaker" isn't really who Ethan Thomas has to worry about.

The real antagonist, or is he, is Serial Killer X. A man with an unhealthy obsession for Agent Thomas who kills all of the serial killers that Ethan has investigated, yet been unable to apprehend. It also seems that SKX, has some sort of "mystical" connection with Ethan and the cryptic Malcolm Van Horn finds Ethan shortly after going rogue to tell him this without ever really telling him until the end of the game. There is also a cult, a city wide crime spree, and a bunch of dead birds that don't really get explained until the second game, and are hinted at during Condemned's end game when it's revealed that SKX isn't such a bad guy, he's just being controlled by a supreme evil being.

I wouldn't have such a problem with this if it just didn't all feel so unnecessary. Ever since Metal Gear Solid hit on the original Playstation, I've felt that most video game writers felt that in order to make a game interesting they needed to constantly add another plot element to keep the player's attention, and the more outrageous the new development the better. If Condemned would have been a movie instead of a game, I think it would have focused on a tight narrative and let the amazing atmosphere carry it through. The game doesn't have a problem feeling convincingly scary and kept my rapt attention the entire time I was playing, until it decided to dump another plot element on me. I wanted a tightly wound psychological thriller and instead I got an overblown b-grade occult storyline.

I'm not just picking on their decision to include occult elements into their games. I certainly enjoy many of the Silent Hill games and Ti West's The House of The Devil. It's just that Condemned didn't have the strong characterization of Silent Hill 1-3 or the nuance of West's film. It's hard to express, but the game felt very gamey, and I felt it lessened to emotional impact and sense of connection I had to the game. I still think that both games are worth a play just to experience the excellent art direction, presentation, and atmosphere, but the rest of the package just kind of falls flat and in the end just ended up kind of disappointing.   read

10:06 PM on 09.10.2010

Introductions, where it began, blah blah blah

Hey everyone, my name is Dan, and in April of this year I finally got around to buying an XBOX 360. I did this after realizing that an import copy of Red Seeds Profile aka Deadly Premonition was going to cost me close to $90 after shipping for my PS3. Having read all the positive press the game recieved on Destructoid, I decided that it was something an old school horror gamer like myself just had to play. After doing a brief cost benefit analysis and ultimately giving in to my desires as a console whore I made the trip to Gamestop and got an odd look when I told the "Game Advisor" that I wasn't interested in Halo 3 ODST or Forza 3 all I wanted to play that day was Deadly Premonition, a game I don't think the employee had even heard of.

I hardly ever replay games, but as soon as I finished Deadly Premontion, I immediately started a second play through, after my third play through I came to the conclusion that not only was it one of my favorite video games of all time, but it got a lot of things right in terms of storytelling, mood, and what I would consider a distinct and cohesive artistic vision, something I feel a lot of modern games lack or simply don't concern themselves with.

Playing Deadly Premonition reminded me of how much I enjoy the survival horror/adventure genre and really horror games in general. It's got my revisiting a lot of my favorites, and playing some new things along the way. I'm enjoying it all so much that I've decided to write about it as I go. I know I'm not the first person to do this, see Chris' Survival Horror Quest, but this is my journey not his, and even if no one is reading, I'll be documenting because for the first time in a long time I feel inspired by video games, and I find a lot to love about the horror genre in general, especially when it comes to storytelling, atmosphere, and immersion.   read

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