Man, how 'bout dat trailer for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain? FREAKIN' AMAZING. It's so memorable: the oh-snap-Snake's-in-a-coma intro, Mother Base all explodey-like, a flaming unicorn-pegasus, and holy crap the music. Kojima did it again! He managed to spark that nostalgic desire in me despite 15 years of telling the same story, albeit sequels and prequels. But Big Boss sounded a little different at the end, didn't he? Maybe it was just me WHATTHEF---
Hideo Kojima's decision to replace Big Boss's veteran voice-actor David Hayter with other talent came as a shocking discovery for a multitude of fans of the Metal Gear series. Many who expected to hear Hayter's signature gravelly voice were confused as to why the Big Boss at the end of the trailer didn't sound like this.
Look, I understand Kojima's desire to accentuate the new MGSV from the other entries in the series, and what better way than to change the numbers to roman numerals and polish everything to a metallic, geary shine. Improve the graphics, mature the storyline, and the focus on darker themes such as being in a coma and the resulting weakness, the fear of being hunted, the disturbing nature of amputation, and the phoenix-like rise of Big Boss to what he will become in the 1987 Metal Gear game. Whatever Kojima plans on doing, I'm sure he and Kojima Productions thought long and hard over the direction they desired to take and how they will take it, and will still make an awesome game, Hayter included or not. But that won't stop me from writing my opinion on why I feel torn that David Hayter isn't included in MGSV's production, and why I share the same opinion as tons of other Metal Gear Solid fans.
Voice-acting is a big thing, both in Japanese videogame culture and in their western counterpart. In Japan, voice actors and actresses attract huge fanbases that stem from their vast catalogs of music CDs and anime and videogame voice acting. Heck, have you seen Megumi Hayashibara's voice-acting and singing synopsis, which includes roles such as Faye Valentine from Cowboy Bebop and Diddy Kong in the Japanese dub of the Donkey Kong Country TV series? Koichi Yamadera, another favorite of mine, has an equally large portfolio. And how about Akio Ohtsuka, the Japanese voice of Solid Snake/Big Boss, with his own tidy list? These people are legends in their own right, with careers spanning for more than a decade. This fervor of idolizing voice actors and actresses supposedly unique to Japan could be why Otsuka maintains his role as Big Boss's Japanese voice, despite Kojima taking an entirely different route when it comes to MGSV's western release and his decision to replace Hayter.
However, even though voice acting over here (here being America. Sorry, my Euro-buddies) is not as prevalent as it is in Japan, it's still damn well enthusiastic. When you bring up Nolan North, Jennifer Hale, and Steve Blum, people recognize them from a myriad of different roles in videogames and animation. More importantly, people get excited over them. Try revealing to a friend the fact that Nolan North not only did Nathan Drake in Uncharted, but also that dropship guy from the first mission in Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon, or Deadpool in Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Hell, he'sineverything. Conventions still list voice actor/actress panels as a major draw. Anime Expo's guest list features a number of prominent videogame voice-actors and even my hometown's Kawaii-Kon had videogame voice-actors featured in their 2013 line-up. So, in essence, there is a similar type of fan appeal when comparing both lists of Japanese and American voice actors.
Speaking of lists, the new Splinter Cell: Blacklist decided to take a similar route, ditching Michael Ironside for Eric Johnson's fresher voice. But Ubisoft Toronto can get away with it more than Kojima Productions can. They have repeatedly gone on the record to state that the most important reason for the change in talent is that the role needed to be filled by someone who could encompass both the voice and physical stress of the Sam Fisher role, since the motion-capture and voice-recording were the same process. Meanwhile, the only stated reason for David Hayter's absence as time of this writing was to make it feel like "a new Metal Gear game", which to a fan of fifteen years probably doesn't sound like much of a reason. David Hayter is a voice actor that has participated in a multitude of projects. According to IMDb.com, he has acted in 39 different roles, both voice-acting and in-person. One wonders that if, given the chance, Hayter would be able to mature Big Boss's voice into the old war-dog that he is in MGSV. It seems we will never know.
In the original Metal Gear Solid back in '98, David Hayter's voice captured the essence of a quirky, young Solid Snake on his first mission of what will be many, establishing the series humor and personality of what it is today. Naked Snake's own adventure in the third Metal Gear Solid mirrored the first MGS's own story-arch, and again Hayter's voice fit perfectly with the paradigm of a rookie soldier going into the unknown, learning the lessons of war and maturing along the way. But now that Big Boss is all big and bossy and grown up, with a story-line that plays on his age and a grizzled face from over a decade of constant combat, maybe it's time to mature the voice along with the character. Snake can't stay young forever, and although I would love to hear more of young Snake's gravel-sexy man-voice, I guess, sometimes, you just gotta let them grow up.
The current band-wagon approach to any review of a game is to jump on the gameplay issues and the game graphics separately, giving each different scores. Whenever I read reviews, I can't help but disagree entirely with their judging process. Not only do graphics contribute an enormity of your experience, but it is also the most important aspect of any videogame in this day and age of gaming.
Now wait, give me a chance to explain myself before you grab your pitchforks other witch-hunting essentials.
Weíre human beings. And being human beings (SWIDT), we are heavily vision- based creatures. We see the material and the vision on the monitor first, and experience the gameplay afterwards. And by following the path of logic, we can deduce that graphics are the first-impression of whatever material us as players and critics base the majority of our experience with that game on.
Let me hit you with some case studies. First, in order to establish a control, letís talk about modern triple-A titles. Most high-budget titles have a very similar visual style. Most high-profile games also happen to be first-person shooters, where the illusion of depth and detail must be consistent and believable enough to allow us to keep spatial awareness while our attention is in the game world. The advent of high-quality, highly-realistic graphics are directly influenced by the dawn of the first-person viewpoint in videogames, as refining the textures and giving everything more realism is the primary evolution of this viewpoint. Racing games as well as any type of vehicle simulation where your view is from the cockpit are also in this category, and we can definitely relate to this by looking at the evolution of the Gran Turismo, Forza, Ace Combat, Medal of Honor, Call of Duty, et al, where the biggest differences in the game sequels come from graphics overhauls rather than the way the gameplay progresses.
Next, weíll go with Minecraft, due to itís overly-simplistic graphical approach yet itís ability to be qualified as current generation.
Minecraft uses Java to simulate blocks of material with 16x16 templates for sides, although you can get unofficial mods and texture packs that increase this amount. Although comparable to our previous discussion about first-person viewpoints (Minecraft being also an FPS), it's Minecraft's simplistic presentation that gives it its atmosphere and its identity, even more so than itís addicting gameplay or ingenious crafting/construction system. The overall feel wouldnít be nearly the same if those blocks had high-definition graphics, but the small palette the developers at Mojang use seems to add more to the artistic style rather than hinder it. The term is called complementing, something that finishes the vision of what the artist had in mind rather than just tacking it on as something not fully realized. Complementing with graphics can be easily done, without the need of a massive budget, knowledge of how to optimize DirectX11, etc..
That being said, there's been an interesting surge in "retro" graphics, where game developers use old-school techniques, such as 8-bit and 16-bit graphics, to showcase their work. The reason why these turn out to look better on a much more consistent basis is because the art is so simple and easy to perfect. Once the videogame world goes into the third dimension, a whole 'nother set of requirements have to be established to make the product feel complete.
There are different ways that a developer can do this, and the art of simplifying three-dimensional gameplay graphics is just being touched upon. In recent years, there's not that much work being done to simplify game graphics, causing unneeded headache due to increased workload for 3D artists. The most prominent 3D art simplification comes from the last generation of videogames, namely Okami and Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker.
Cel-shading, the technique used in Wind Waker, is a way that the developer can simplify the art but still looks extremely polished, more so than some games of this current generation. Good graphics does not mean ultra-realistic, but rather unifying visual concepts that help to bring out a conceptualized feeling the whole game is trying to portray.
Another game that I want to use as a case-study isnít out yet, but has material that I want to expand upon.
In From Dust, the graphics are a drastic farcry away from those of Minecraft, yet this isnít done solely to keep up with modern trends. Everything in From Dustís approach is selected for specific reasons. The draw distance isnít infinite, contrary to popular opinion on what makes a better game, but instead uses a fog that shrouds the horizon to center your attention on the minutia of detail right before your eyes that you might have failed to see otherwise. The farthest details are blurred, still included but portrayed with the illusion of depth to make the world seem far bigger than what the developers actually created. The necessity of detail in every stone, patch of dirt, or section of ocean is needed to showcase the difference when zoomed in and zoomed out. This game is one that focuses primarily on the art/visual aspect of videogames, and the techniques used to differentiate macro from micro is over-exaggerated to give a stronger juxtaposition between the massive elements of the world and the small, helpless humans that inhabit it.
Sometimes as gamers we concentrate to much of the ďgameĒ aspect of our purchases. This isnít a bad thing. Itís what keeps us coming back and separates us from film, graphical art, comics, etc.. Itís what makes our hobby ours. But videogames are also more than... well, games. Theyíre character models, environments, intros, endings, cutscenes, tutorials, text-bubbles, title screens, menu screens, loading screens, and all of the in-between. To take our focus away from the hard, hard work of concept artists and character designers demeans the entire industry, and itís graphical presentation that complements our experience with any videogame.
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