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  • Weapon of Choice: BioShock's Wrench

      5:43 PM on 03.09.2013




    When people talk about weapons having 'weight' in video-games I always think of BioShock's wrench. From the minute Atlas said with his Irish laden lips "Pick up a crowbar or something." I knew that there was something afoot. Not only was there a poke at Half-Life mythology (which we covered last week) but there was just something about it. Atlas never directs you to actually pick up the wrench and, in some sense, it's one of the smallest chances of free choice that are offered by the game. I'm trying not to spoil it because it's close to Infinite's release and I think a lot of people will be playing the beast for the first time.

    The wrench works so well because it feels like a wrench. Swipes do take a degree of time, especially without the added gene tonic bonuses, and the thudding squash of flesh when the metal hits the Splicers always feels realistically satisfying. When you manage to thud a splicer's head as he's about to pounce on you, that's when BioShock really excels in its construction of tension and atmosphere. The wrench adds this layer of rebellion to it, like you're some laborer in Russia during the 1930s and you're bashing Russia into a brighter future with the Communist rhetoric blaring above. Although that vision's in stark contrast to the Randian rants of Andrew Ryan that spill out of the tannoys throughout Rapture.

    The wrench does feel just completely fitting of the game. I was always disappointed with BioShock 2's melee weapon, the drill, because it (puntended) never had the right impact. It always felt the slightest bit 'empty' in how you were able to spin it up a little and then smack people. You never tore through bodies, largely thanks to the limited capability of the engine and hardware stuffs, and it never had the same thud that the original wrench had. When you swiped a Splicer with your drill in BioShock 2 there was a degree of lethargy in it but also lacking of that special punch that the wrench gives. Like the jumping mechanics in Super Meat Boy, the timing of the swipes was nailed just perfectly with the wrench.



    Around a year ago I completed BioShock on normal difficulty using only the Wrench and plasmids at hand. Now I want to complete it on Survivor difficulty, no Vita Chambers, no tonics, no plasmids and Wrench only. Adding this rule to the game, I feel, is a lot like going Permadeath in Far Cry 2. It really does bring out the best in the video-game and also shows exactly what kind of special feels that the power of interactivity has to offer when combined with degrees of player freedom. I would not do this if sequel's drill was in the original BioShock, it just feels 'repetitive' to me.

    The wrench seems fine-tuned to any combat situation. There's tonics to make stealth attacks practically kill Splicers in one, there's a tonic to freeze enemies upon hitting them and there's even a tonic that drastically increases your damage output to make you a one man killing machine. In BioShock there's no 'Swiper no swiping!', there's a freedom to mix up the tonics, plasmids and weaponry per encounter to advance throughout the game in an exciting manner.

    More important to the very 'feel' of the wrench, in my opinion, is the idle animations. When not swiped for long, Jack will turn it over in his hands. There's even a metal 'clunk' when he does this. When you've got the winter wrench tonic attached then the frozen wrench still 'clinks' against his other palm. It gives an added sense of weight to the object and perhaps shows off that Jack is ready for action, ready to be the deliverer of pain.

    In short, this tool of bludgeoning gives BioShock even more of its mechanical identity. The plasmids, Tommy Gun and steampunk-esque arsenal all give a sense of 'weight' and harsh grit to the world and the wrench embodies this similar sensation of solidness. The wrench, above any other weapon in the game, allows the player to touch the world... with an instrument... to the face. Bloodily.

    Next week - Resistance's Bullseye

    Weapon of Choice: Half-Life 2's Shotgun

      1:30 PM on 03.02.2013




    Video-games are too obsessed with weaponry. I understand guns give that 'instant feedback' which is utterly crucial to tactile experiences but interactivity for a good amount of time has always resided in the tunnel vision of the blood-soaked industry. With that in mind I'd like to explore some choice examples of weapons that work beyond shooting people in the face. If this industry is going to build itself around weapons then the least we can do is find elements that are at the very least interesting or shape an experience in unique ways.

    Half-Life 2 is an indisputable modern classic. I've written on it before from how it cursed me for years and how I do believe it's the most 'competent' first-person shooter ever made. I still replay it every once in a while just to capture that very unique feel. One of the main criticisms lobbied at Half-Life in general is the lacking of mechanical identical. BioShock has its plasmids, Fallout 3 has its V.A.T.S and even Call of Duty has a very 'modern' approach to its arsenal. Half-Life, as a franchise, has carbines and alien guns and other apparatuses that really don't give it a 'distinct' identity when it comes to its mechanics. When I think of playing Half-Life 2 I instantly think of playing the game but not how the game plays. This is why the shotgun is so crucial to Half-Life 2, more than the gravity gun in my opinion. It truly is more unique than a simple physics firing wotsit.

    The shotgun (full name: Combine SPAS-12) in Half-Life 2 is given to you by Father Grigori in the Ravenholm section of the game and it, on the surface, functions like any other video-game shotgun. Push one button to shoot. The twist comes in its alternate fire that spews out two shots instead of one. This can be used to instantly ice certain fools or blow up barrels. One pellet is enough for certain enemies, such as barnacles, but others take more than two. It really depends on what distance you're working at. During boss battles and other heavy sequences you start to realize there's an intricate system to the shotgun. It has its own economy.

    The economy of the shotgun is as follows: the chamber can hold up to six pellets at the time. This means there's a need to conserve and also add up, within seconds, the root value of what exactly your next button press results in. This table might help:



    What you're constantly having to weigh up is how to maximize the pellets in your shotgun at any given moment. The shotgun has an economy within itself that really separates it from a lot of the weapons in the game. The sub-machine gun, pistol and magnum etc. don't carry the same 'power' as the shotgun. The magnum arguably has the closest economy to the shotgun, and it too usually kills all enemy types in one button press (one bullet), but it doesn't have an alternate fire like the shotgun does.

    Now obviously I haven't considered the nature of the 'reload' and this effect drastically changes the internal economy. Having six shots gives you more options than having five for instance but being able to reload quickly gives the shotgun a unique quality in Half-Life 2 thanks to its alternate fire. Let's say you're fighting two big enemy types in the game and each takes around two shots to disperse but you're only carrying three shots in the chamber. This mean you can weaken them both with single shots and eventually killing at least one of them, or you can alternate fire and single shot another to at least take one away. With the added 'reload' there's now a multiple of possibilities and a layer of urgency thanks to this internal economy. Do you reload one more pellet just to alternate fire both enemies and vanquish them? Do you alternate fire and rush to cover to reload? Do you instantly rush to cover? You can interrupt reloading too which mixes everything up further. This entire system that orbits the shotgun is further deepened when you consider the various contexts that Half-Life 2 can put you in. Under water, open-spaces and other environments can all add or subtract urgency. Urgency can further be molded by manipulating resources in the environment or by the player his/herself; imagine having low-health in a room full of health items versus having low-health in a room without health items. Both scenarios play out drastically differently to one another.



    The value of the shotgun I'm writing about here does seem somewhat 'too heavy', but that's largely because a lot of this design is sub-conscious. All of those 'ripple' effects such as ammo supply, the environment, health items, enemy types and others are all entangled with the shotgun's internal system. The internal and the external marry to bring about a gameplay experience aka. 'a firefight'.

    Obviously the shotgun isn't your exclusive choice in Half-Life 2. You usually want to minimize input while maximizing output; using the least amount of ammo possible, conserving as much health as possible etc. The shogun's economy enriches this gameplay equation and its aesthetics are the cherry sweetener. The 'feel' of the weapon is felt with every reload, every pump and every shot/alternate shot. The weight is felt in both the recoil and in the second delays between reloads and shots.

    The shotgun isn't just engineered with a rather simple but intricate economy but also designed to be pleasing to both the ears and hands. Valve really do nail the mathematical and artistic principles of their weapons and, for me at least, the shotgun is my weapon of choice.

    Next week - BioShock's Wrench
    Photo

    Changes

      7:50 PM on 02.17.2013


    I have a few books coming out very soon (one on video-games, another on American Psycho, my first proper novel and a poetry compilation) so I'm very short on time at the moment. I'm here to say that I've now happily joined the Flixist.com crew as an editor so do expect more filmic editorial content from me over there on the front page.

    My DTOID blog however suffers given, well, I'm devoting a lot of my time to film now. NATHAN HARDISTY. BETRAYING HIS ROOTS SINCE 2013.

    I've decided then to start trying to write something short but weekly. Here's a few of my ideas and I'll start whatever you want me to at the beginning of March or something?
    Some ideas:

    Weapon of Choice: Every week I look at a unique weapon from a different game. Starting with the shotgun from Half-Life 2. As much as the industry's fetishization of violence often upsets me, it's still incredible to note just how unique we can make weaponry. This would be like 500 words every week or something.

    52: For 52 weeks I write about one singular video-game going through its mechanics, story, themes, level design and try to untangle what it means to exist as a 'video-game' today. I think it'd be interesting to do a not-so-well received game or a cult classic maybe? At the end I'd release it as a free eBook. Maybe even move on to a new game.

    1124 Years: I've recently jumped into the league of Paradox games, starting with Crusader Kings II and discovered that it's possible, through save game converters, to play a whole millenia of history. The Old Gods expansion for CK2 is releasing soon and pulling the start date back to 867ad which means with the release of East vs West I'd be able to forge an empire from the birth of Viking siege of York up until the collapse of the Soviet Union. I'm a history geek too so expect some stories spliced in. I have no idea how I'd write this.

    Why I've not been around so much.

      5:21 PM on 01.04.2013


    There’s a reason I haven’t posted much not so often, or not at all, in the last few months and it’s down to a singular reason. This reason has sucked up more time than anything. I fully expect my impending exams to do the same thing, so don’t expect a massive HARDISTY BLOWOUT just yet.

    As you know, I’m only eighteen years old. I’m doing my A-levels, the stuff you do the year before you gallivant off to university.

    Here’s the reason I’ve been hiding in case I got too excited and jumpy up and downy about it. I’m a History boy, if that’s not apparent already, and I’ve wanted to study History at university for a good while now. I got a few offers back quite suddenly after my application but…

    I also applied for Cambridge back in October out of trying to see if I could charm my way in. I had to write essays, extra questionnaires and read myself to death. I got an interview for the next month which went swimmingly well in which I discussed topics ranging from apocalyptic fiction birthed by the Black Death and Lyndon B Johnson’s penis. I kid you not. Since then I’ve been panicking, crying and pretty much dying in terms of motivation.

    Today I received a letter from Churchill College, you apply to the university and to a college within, stating that they have given me an offer of A*AA.

    Quite frankly, I’ve spent the day in locked-in disbelief, shock and a general ‘glass case full of emotions’.

    This is why my time has been diverted to other areas, this is why I have spent so long just cursing at myself and generally being self-deprecating and this is why I have yet to really established any pattern or schedule of content.

    But, yes, I did it.

    Expect waxings to pick up after the exam period. Early February probably. But for now know that, well, 2013 has started for me in an incredible place.

    Cheers,

    Nathan

    VGAs: Done right?

      3:55 PM on 12.05.2012


    Note: Yes, I disappeared for a millennium. Yes, I am back. Yes, things are hectic but hello!



    About roughly one billion years ago I wrote one of the very first 'Game Critique Corners' on Assassin's Creed Brotherhood. Forgive the spellings, grammar and general 'young Hardisty' vibe that the piece carries, but I still think it makes a valid point about the Spike VGAs. Both in video-games themselves, from cut-scenes to voice talent to linearity, and the industry itself, from advertisements to merchandising, there has long been a thought that we are simply living in the shadow of cinema. The term 'cinematic' has practically been  said about every video-game for the past decade, and it's this term that I think is now outdated. For a while the 'cinematic' influence was our stepladder to higher expression, and now I think it's happening. Now the teenage identity crisis is over. Now we have our own messages, themes, ideas and celebrities from Schafer to Newell. Now we have our own voice talent.

    The above image is taken from the nominations for voice talent in the Spike TV VGAs, the largest 'gaming awards' thing. This thing has been ridiculed, dissected and been utterly despised by gamerkind since its inception. Because it's not for gamerkind. Gaming journalist personality Geoff Keighley has served as producer on the project for many years now and I can honestly say that, after so long, this is one giant leap in a good direction. Go look at how Journey is nominated for Game of the Year, how Emma Stone is the last 'celebrity' nominated for voice talent and how Spec Ops: The Line (a goddamn SHOOTER game that DESTROYS AND DEMONIZES ALL SHOOTERS) is nominated for something. More importantly how Nolan 'I am in everything and give stellar performances every single time but yet have yet to receive a fucking Spike VGA award' North is primed to get something for once, for Spec Ops as well.

    This was the VGAs' voice nominees two years ago;



    Look at that. Not a real video-game talent in sight. Just celebrity after celebrity after Rob Wiethoff after celebrity. You can imagine them sending letters and requests to agents to PLEASE ATTEND! PLEASE LET PEOPLE SEE VIDEO-GAMES ARE COOL! It's a compromise. One that, quite frankly, remains detestable but necessary. Video-games had to become popular to become widespread, to gain credibility. Celebrities was the fast track. Keep in mind I still think that talent like Gary Oldman and Wiethoff delivered INCREDIBLE performances in their respective games, but video-games have long tried to find their own mix of talent. Now we have our own A-listers and B-listers and so on and so forth.

    We still have work to do, obviously. We still have celebrities helming the thing, we still have some stupid nominees (Assassin's Creed 3 for game of the year? Really?) and there's still the issue of some ridiculously warped categories like 'Character of the year' and 'Most anticipated game' and the general giant advertisement for next year's titles. Award shows shouldn't be trade shows, they should be separate.

    But the voice talent nominated? Some of the nominees for some of the bigger awards being goddamn downloadable? Spec Ops: The Line being nominated?! A game that literally beats the shooting genre to death and calls it out on everything (my personal game of the year and the main topic for my next book).

    This is more than pleasing.

    I'm Okay With No More Half-Life

      4:04 PM on 09.12.2012


    A note: I'm terribly sorry. Truly I am. I'm juggling a lot in the air right now and I've decided to cut off regular gamey type stuff like this. All of this will be irregular postings on whatever I want. For now I'm moving over to film journalism, but will still finish my book series on video-games at some point.

    This was written in an hour and it gets waxy and a little bit preachy. I apologize if it isn't up to the usual standards.

    Cheers,

    Nathan



    Black Mesa comes out in less than two days and we’re a month away from it being over five years since Gordon Freeman’s last formal outing. There’s a definite sting in the air as the anticipation of the continuation of the Half-Life saga begins to boil to a whimper. This is what I’m feeling. For a good while even at the slightest hint of their being Episode Three or Half-Life 3 there was a burst of emotion of almost child-like glee. For a good while there was genuine hope and a desire for Half-Life to continue. Half-Life is a part of our collective consciousness, especially when it comes to discussing Valve titles, and now it’s coming to over half a decade since the last title and I have decided that I would be okay to never see Gordon Freeman again.

    Although we don’t see him anyway because he’s a mere avatar for the player to control and a further element of game developer commentary on the nature of the protagonist and linear video-game design. Or something.

    I still delight in every new spring of Valve goodness. I’m currently looking forward to lapping up Counter-Strike: GO at some point this year, and I hope to finally head into Dota 2 at some point. I’ve relished the Team Fortress 2 updates and was stunned by the commentary, humour and bombastic artistic masterstroke that was Portal 2. I have a feeling that Valve feel themselves no longer defined by the ‘crowbar’ but by their wider franchises and genres that they dip their toes into. They have their fingers in many pies, delicious pies, and from Left 4 Dead to Portal there are heavy references and in-jokes about Half-Life and the mythical ‘Valve time’. I feel Valve are trying to build out an incredible, expanded universe of Half-Life to the point where everything around Freeman and company dissolves and we’re left with this giant pool of original and wide-stretching content. 


    The original Half-Life 2 took me over seven years to complete, so I’m no stranger to being patient with the franchise, and quite frankly I think it’s time to let go. It’s an elephant in the room with every Gabe Newell interview and every discussion involving Valve. There’s a definite crisis within gamerkind when we can’t shake the cloud of a franchise in the same sense that Hollywood or comic books or other mediums seem to do so effectively. Franchises and series and issues and heroes all wither and die eventually. I don’t think gamerkind it too overtly attached, emotionally entangled or even too immature to let go – it’s just we’ve never done this before – and we’ve never had a medium like this. Half-Life was birthed from the mixing pot of golden age shooters; the first title representing a dramatic almost monolithic shift into a new technological and engineered era of video-game design. To let go of such an important influence on the modern world, within popular culture and beyond, seems practically impossible. Half-Life fathered the modern shooter.

    Mario, Zelda and so many more have outlasted the Freeman. BioShock and Fallout and too many series to mention will carry on to burn the gaming candle wick into the future. Series, heroes, icons and franchises are born every generation. Not as much as we’d like to think, I do believe the industry has a stifling and ‘choked’ attitude when it comes to original IP, but this might be due to the existence of the Half-Life colossus. The status quo of the video-game industry: retrofever. There’s always a sense of glee when something ‘retro’ or ‘familiar’ touches us in a video-game whether it’s a mechanic or a reference or an entire reborn franchise, there’s a tickle of our nostalgia. It’s becoming self-indulgent and I absolutely love that. Video-games are beginning to find their identity in this soulless corporate apocalypse that we call modern civilisation. It’s time to complete the final step.

    It let go of Half-Life would mean that something else would take its place, or several new things. A capitalistic fever could sweep the industry as soon as Valve announces its crowbar cruiser as now dead and buried. A healthy spur of competition and for the spoils and riches to be devoured by the true victor: us. When such a massive void is left in the industry, something has to fill that power vacuum. There are so many smaller series and franchises and old age dogs like IO Interactive and Obsidian who could create something exciting and interesting to fill the space. It makes further sense to let go, because then we can become used to it. Then we can let Call of Duty die out, deny the Duke Nukem revival and finally allow the ‘Assassin’s Creed Trilogy‘ (not really a trilogy) to remain just that. A trilogy. Christopher Nolan showed almost great excitement to the fact that The Dark Knight Rises would finish the story, that there’d be an opportunity to finally complete something. Can you think of many video-game franchises that had a completely satisfying and perhaps emotionally tied conclusion? Halo 3 went ahead and ‘finished the fight’ and became Halo 4, Modern Warfare 3 ended the story that begin in the first but there’s already rumblings of Modern Warfare 4 and Gears Of War seems to still be ballooning itself up with add-ons and spin-offs and lovely diversions. Would it be nice if we just… let go, and what better way to show it than through Half-Life? I understand that sometimes a franchise can come back with full spirit (Fallout New Vegas and Deus Ex Human Revolution for example) but some things are left undisturbed. There’s not a common culture in video-game design of ‘finishing’ something. Ask yourself, honestly, how many video-games have you played in the last few years that actually had ‘good endings’? There’s a need to make cliffhangers and ambiguity the status quo, because the sequel and franchise leasing is what leads to the survival of developers and not a refinement of original ideas.

    Half-Life 2 Episode Two ended in the most powerful way that I’ve ever seen a video-game do. It killed one of its main characters but eased up the stakes. Gordon and Alyx were heading towards the Borealis in the final push for humanity’s hope. For years we’ve imagined their journey, imagined the first blinks as we take our first steps out into the Arctic wastes and spy combine machinery. For years we’ve thought of the return of Barneyand Adrian Shepard and Judith and finding out what the G-man’s all about, what’s on the Borealis and answering everything and everything ourselvesEpisode Two ended in the right kind of ambiguity, the kind that makes you believe. I am okay with never seeing Half-Life again because, this took me some time to realize, Valve created an ending engineered to make you want to stop the Combine. To make you want to continue. To make you realize that it was now all in on the Borealis.

    I don’t think Valve can deliver on that. Not within an episode. I expect to find Half-Life return in a few years of time but, quite frankly this would sound blasphemous to my younger self, I’m become desensitized to the colossal hype surrounding it. I’d be happy to see it end, for Valve to finally let go of the crowbar and build new series, but I’m happy now. For it to end like this seems almost right for the franchise, because Valve already moved on a long time ago.

    They grow up so fast.
    Photo

    An update

      10:39 AM on 08.16.2012


    Not dead. Writing books. Maybe a gaming essay this weekend. I know I promised to write every week. Many sorries. Busy busy with university applications.

    x

    Nathan

    Spelunky: The art of death

      2:14 PM on 07.22.2012




    I sprint and land in spikes. The familiar screen stretches out once more. I am dead. Try again? Video-games since their very inception have championed ridiculous ideas around death. The near immortality guaranteed by a 'respawn system' removes all consequences from the player's hands. You are dispensable. Perhaps it's the missing ingredient missing from video-games as an artistic force? An ability to consider and contemplate death. It's utterly fascinating when the idea of a 'one life' is introduced into a video-game setting. The interactions, your approaches, your pace and your courage all feed into a singular playthrough. There is no turning back.

    Permanent death in the modern video-game setting hasn't been championed as much as it was back in some of gaming's early days. There were 'rogue-likes' and 'dungeon crawlers' and a variety of genres that spun the idea of permanent death into the fabric of interaction. Since the beginning of gaming, however, the whole idea of 'death' within the interactive context is that (for most titles) death caries no consequence. It seems odd to me that we have to brand it, almost with a tickle of humour, as 'permanent death' (or permadeath) but the entire setting of the video-game medium probably demands this approach to the lexicon. There are a few modern titles that do embody permadeath: The Binding of Isaac by Edmund McMillen, introducing permadeath into Far Cry 2 arguably creates the most immersive video-game experience of all time and then there's Spelunky.

    Derek Yu's Spelunky started out as a little freeware title that felt like an Indiana Jones dungeon crawler. I remember playing it for the first time and disliking it. Maybe it was the retro, pixelated aesthetic or the harshness of the game. It frustrated me heavily and so I decided never to return again. I later started reading up on the game and caught an article from Tom Francis in late 2009 (now available online) and rediscovered the game. I realized that my frustration at the video-game had been misdirected because I was actually ignoring my own failures. Spelunky is, at its very core, about failure.



    It's an incredibly harsh, infuriating and maddening experience but never does it feel unfair. There are no glitches or lags in animation nor any control malfunctions, the action is all in your hands. The mistakes are yours alone. It becomes readily apparent a good way into the game that you're an idiot. You need to learn. Patience, courage, thoughtfulness and all the systems of the game. How much does a box of 12 bombs cost? Is it worth getting the damsel? These are questions that slowly bleed you into the world of Spelunky and after 100s of hours logged into the game I have a confession to make: I have never completed it.

    The freeware version still sits on my computer. I have been inches away from the fabled 'City of Gold', I have had 8 hearts and a full inventory of luxuries and I've even defeated the final boss only to clumsily slip to my death. Death. Mistakes. Spelunky is about failure and it includes the art of death within the sphere of failure. Every decision you make has an impact on your survival; every item, damsel and fall from a ledge. It's thrilling to look down and not know where the ground is, to gulp when the ghost appears or when you're trapped with one heart with ghouls and ghastlies all around.


    The Xbox Live version of the game is largely unchanged, but there's subtle tweaks and graphical elevations that just bring the game to a stage unparalleled. The connection that you make with the game's world is made more merrier. The game has some wickedly absurd humour, you can now rescue 'pugs' instead of 'damsels' (or a 'mansel'), and there's a real weight of care carried to every level. It feels handcrafted in a way, and there's some subtle things that make the game that much sweeter. Even if you're playing as the same sex of a 'damsel' or a 'mansel' there's still a kiss to be had. There's no hornblowing for gay rights, it just happens. Kisses are kisses bro.



    As you progress through the game, and I only got a twinge of this feeling with the freeware version, the value of your life increases. You gain items and inventory, obviously, but what makes the art of death truly artful is the value of an experience. I played for twenty minutes only to fall to my death and on that reset screen you just look back to that self-contained episode. You talk about your life. Not the game as a whole, not your kill/death ratio on Call of Duty nor how awesome it was to finally 'beat the boss'. There is a boss in Spelunky, but getting to him takes a literal lifetime.

    I might as well state that Spelunky (XBLA) is my current game of the year thus far. It's a smart piece of interaction. Its randomized levels make every life feel like a life, unique, and the systems are all fair. The game is pure skill and patience. It requires dying. It requires learning. Most of all it requires us to learn a lesson, that 'getting to the boss' doesn't matter in the end. Spelunky, if anything, can be summed up as a tremendous effort in survival.

    I will be writing on Spelunky in the near future with a focus on its aesthetic, some of its visual themes, its callbacks to the retro world of gaming and perhaps some other topics. It's a deep, enriching game and an incredible feet of both technical engineering and emotional construction.

    My free eBook on Blade Runner is now available

      11:23 AM on 06.25.2012




    It’s available here to read in PDF (for now).

    30 years ago Ridley Scott changed the world. I genuinely believe Blade Runner was a watershed moment in cinema history and I have absolutely no experience in dissecting and theorizing as to why it is so monumentally powerful. All I can do is produce a 130-page fanwork, a labour of love, in an effort to express exactly why Blade Runner has twisted me into the person I am today.

    I embarked on this project over two years ago. I’ve grown substantially as a writer and a journalist with this little project being a full display of my talent. I can talk about how I am horrible with my grammar, blasphemous with my spelling and poor with my sentence structure but I believe Tears to be the best work I have ever produced. It was all for Blade Runner and, more importantly, for the Blade Runner fans.

    I do hope you enjoy my interpretations, my theories and dissections of context within Blade Runner. It was both a torture and a pleasure to produce and you can expect Blade Runner Week to kick off tonight with a full-on Review of the picture.

    Cheerio,

    Nathan.

    Watch_Dogs: The greatest missed opportunity of all time?

      3:54 PM on 06.09.2012




    It's been a good, long while since a video-game truly excited me. Portal 2 maybe? I've been enthralled by video-games for so long, and perhaps it's fatigue, but at one point last year I just could not be bothered. E3 this year seems to be a tour de force of the absolute worst that the gaming industry has to offer. Far Cry 3 looks like a dull, sterile first-person shooter with a grizzly voiced generic protagonist whom I will have no connection to, and the ghastly disgusting depiction of women is just getting worse. Ubisoft literally opened their conference up with this absolutely stunning blasphemous piece of game design that probably had Clint Hocking and the Far Cry 2 leftovers just shivering in shame. For a while, it was a dull conference. In fact, the whole E3 was for the most part utterly insipid and the cynical beast inside of me is just so sick of shooting people. But then, something weird happened. Something utterly unexpected. Ubisoft closed their show with an absolutely mind-blowing presentation of something which has truly enthralled me.

    Watch_Dogs, aside from the absolutely underwhelming title (I liked Turn Off The Lights that was teased in the trailer), is probably the most exciting thing to come out of the triple A market in forever. Assassin's Creed 3Rayman Origins were pretty good shows in the same conference but Watch_Dogs stole the entire E3 for me. It's kind of hilarious to see outlets like Game Informer give the ridiculously (and Ubisoft published I might add) downsized, 'packaged' and rubbish Splinter Cell: Blacklist 'game of the show'. It really saddens me to see a gaming press so religiously devoted to regurgitating the same themes of basic violence and disgusting blasphemous 'cinematic gameplay' over and over. But... perhaps Watch_Dogs is the white knight to save us all?

    For starters, its mechanics reinforce its artistic messages. Wait, oh my! Artistic messages? In a video-game?! Been a while since that hasn't it! You manipulate the city at will, invade people's private life with a flick of a finger and are able to manipulate your way into the upper echelons of high society with just a few switches. The very mechanic of the society becomes a method of interacting with the world. You can literally use the infrastructure of a city to your will.

    That is probably the most exciting idea.



    Our world right now is... not so kind is it? Everything that Watch_Dogs bases itself around resonates with us. Its paranoias about the new technological age, the invasion of privacy and the destruction of individuality, the dystopia and Orwellian touches to a 21st Century civilisation and so on. Its very ideas touch us because they are completely and utterly relevant. They're not asking us to put ourselves in the boots of 'Sgt. Scurge McKill' and shoot ethnic groups in the face. They're not asking us to pilot planes and bomb land like it's Vietnam all over again. For once, a triple-A developer is asking us a what if question firmly rooted in a blended world of sci-fi and the pure real world. What if you had the height of control over a city? What if its systems, securities and technological webbing were in the palm of your hand? It's thrilling, exciting, fresh and scary because the minute we start thinking of the relevance of Watch_Dogs' world is the minute we start thinking that perhaps we're simply playing 'the other side'. The puppeteer.

    It's been a long time since a base of mechanics actually thrilled me in such a way that I now think of endless possibilities, and it's just so satisfying to see it done justice. The city seems populated with individual, maybe randomly generated, citizens. People with jobs, desires, homes, wants, needs and secrets I can crack into. Maybe I'll find myself...

    I read somewhere that, in one example, the 'JOURNALIST' in the game demo (the one who commits 'PLAGIARISM') it's apparently available to the player to follow her home, download the data off her laptop and then blackmail her for money. Grand Theft Auto IV had the promise of a city that felt 'alive' but I would argue that it felt fundamentally 'empty'. I knew that the words the pedestrians said were simply lines fed into a recording studio, written by some hack of a writer (Dan Houser is not a natural writer). I knew that their lives were stitched out of textures, paint and pushed audio-bits but in Watch_Dogs these people have names. They have jobs, they have lives and privacy. That is more alive than some scripted pedestrian. The fact I can invade that privacy is even more interesting, but this is where I begin to question the legitimacy behind Watch_Dogs' promise.

    Can a whole city, with that many citizens, be truly alive? It's been proved in the last two years that the current generation of consoles, once heralded as the technological masterpieces of console gaming, is now stuttering with its lack of RAM and processing power. Developers have squeezed the last juice from the pulp of these systems, and it's hard to see how a truly fully simulated Chicago can be full of Apartments and places and people with names and digits and lives. That's my one worry, and it's the one that might prevent it from being one of the most exciting things to come out of this generation. I truly believe that the technology might hold it back.

    Then there's the worry that... well... the demo they showed had massive glaring faults. The protagonist had his own voice, his own muse and was a seriously generic and bland character. You already know my stance on player-characters; they're simply conduits for my interaction and nothing more, giving them a backstory I can't connect with will just hinder my connection to the world of the game and thus my interactions. To be handed this 'Adrian Pierce' or whatever... it's kind of really underselling the promise of the game. How about just let me customise my own character and blend my own morals and rules into the game, maybe I can learn something through my trials and tribulations throughout the experience.

    Maybe the game can matter to me?



    What also scares me is the still almost throbbing cinematic leech on the presentation. I can sense some Blade Runner and Total Recall (both Philip K. Dick actually) influences blending in, and that's completely fine, but the characters and plot seem ripped out of the Hollywood machine. The most obvious example being the dreadful and almost deafingly bad writing. I expect better of video-games, and that's saying something when half of the modern medium is Call of Duty's limbs stitched into neat places. I'm serious here Ubisoft Montreal; let me write your game. I'll do it for free. I've read me some books here and there and I know a thing or two about writing stuff (implying I'm a good writer) so let's not... oh... you're doing cutscenes as well. Okay. We can make it work somehow?

    The nail in the coffin to my massive enthusiasm, which is now just a restless excitement, is something that I noticed. Throughout the whole of E3 2012 I found that gamers and tweeters and folks were starting to become aware of the fact that shooting things is just boring. It's been fun for a while, it's even been interesting to find new ways to kill people. But for the first time, I began to notice tweets that despise the entire practice of murder. I still enjoy Gears of War and Uncharted but it's time to put away the meaningless violence. I want to know about my enemies, my antagonists and the targets. I want their backstories, their privacies and their worries because it's more interesting if I'm then given the opportunity to manipulate that. That I could invade a single-mother's home, drain her bank account with a touch of my screen and weeks later see her sick on the pavement with her daughter begging me for money. That I could take down a drug kingpin by invading his home and having all the police flood into his place, only to find his family photos on his laptop.

    The very act of promising me a whole world to dive into, to manipulate and to discover is incredible... but if there's one thing I notice on my Twitterfeed is that when the demo switched to third-person shooter mode, there was a sigh. Just a worrisome sigh. I was hoping to play a true everyman, not a suddenly trained killer. Maybe I'd use my fisticuffs, but for the most part I'd always be against the odds and have to use my wits and the city on the edge of my fingertips to aid me.

    Just don't blow this one Ubisoft. This could be something special.
    Photo Photo Photo

    Journey: Engineering Relationships

      3:30 PM on 06.02.2012




    Spoilers


    It was an odd sensation to find myself inside the real of writing once more. For the past month or so I have devoted my life to endless revision, endless tweaking of my learning and endless devouring of poor-grade food in the twilight hours. I've been sick, I've yearned for sleep so much it made me cry, I've had nightmares and tremors and it's safe to say that it was a month of hell. It's relieving then to say that I am back. I am back, scratching the burning itch that riddled me for so long. So we kick off my new Summer gaming essay series with the most recent title to grace the 'artgame' genre. With the likes of Fez and others peppering 2012, it's nice to see indie gaming is still being recognized as a functional and profitable slice of the gaming colony. It's even nicer to see games that are a direct juxtaposition to an industry which has now portrayed endless violence ad nauseum to the extent of which it has become insipidly boring.

    Journey then isn't a surprise. Except, that's probably what you expected of me right? To rave on about its artistic merits, its fresh spirit against a colossal sandstorm mainstream collective thought? Journey, in many ways, can be interpreted as a critique of the industry as a whole, an allegory of the linear video-game among many other tricky fancypantsy lines of reading. Unfortunately, I'm not one inclined to critique and read and gush about how amazing video-games are. That's reserved only for Portal 2 or any other Valve ilk, to which I have a brutally explicit bias towards. And by 'bias' I mean 'borderline erotic obsession'.

    Journey is the most beautiful game I have ever had the pleasure of partaking in. The art style is unparalleled; a half-blend between photorealism and cutesy cel-shaded bits. Some of the moments in Journey gave me more emotion than my entire experience with art as a whole. Art as in paintings, portraits and all those basic visual pleasantries. The artistic experience really does come home in Journey and when these sweeping, wonderful views all collide and align with the interaction then something truly unique is pieced together. A rare emotion, perhaps an aesthetic epicentre. What left me even more entangled with the game, however, was its technological set-piece. The online system.



    It's really rare that I find myself unable to truly articulate something. Not because I'm a writer by trade but because... everyone knows words. Everyone can vaguely describe the most complex of emotions. Bittersweet almost has a texture in its description, like biting down on a grape in the sun. Love is arguably the most complex emotion of all, because it has multiple levels. Heartbreak, entanglement, the fall, the rise, the companionship, the throbbing feel of an evolving tie among others. That's only speaking from personal experience as well, I imagine the mature folks would have a myriad of descriptions. Journey explores the punctual basic of Love, the capital letter if you will. It creeps its way around the 'L' itself; the relationship.

    What Journey does is probably one of the scariest, worrisome and yet all the more wonderfully beautiful things in the history of video-games. It introduces relationships with anonymity beyond pseudonyms, beyond the basics of communication and almost bypasses all forms of 'human interaction' altogether to create a sweet pile of mathematical, technological dilutions of a relationship. It engineers one. One without chaos or order or blissful humour or discourse. It heavily, heavily tips into the overarching artistic themes of communication, relationships and technology.

    What Journey does is introduce a computer into the most purest of human experiences. The incredible irony is that the word 'connection' now has two connotations. I think Journey is about this connection, about engineering the relationship.



    It's an almost volatile combination. I wouldn't be particularly surprised if there were some sceptics in the webbing of ThatGameCompany's team. I don't blame them, because I'd be on their side. To introduce technology into the human relationship, even one built around anonymity, is unethical. It's perverse to centuries of linguistic explorations, language formations and the very evolution of communication itself. Journey's core communication device is diluted into a single button press and the movement of your character. Think about that, buttons and movement. The faceless protagonist is a template for all players. It, in short, removes individuality. This is the very first video-game to pride itself in collective communication.

    Except the technology's influence does not end there. In engineering a relationship, it removes formal emotion. Except, it introduces probably the scariest piece of the puzzle. New emotion. I found myself waiting, once for a whole hour, for someone I had just spend five minutes with. I've read up on other experiences of the game, particularly the bits involving enemies and the ending. Everyone seems to have a unique, individual experience to the 'connection' and suddenly I'm wondering if that's the greatest irony of all. That our unique, individual experiences can be shared so rapidly over the internet that (in short) it's a mirror image of Journey's collectivist communication. Matched button presses, flowing of movements and symmetry of characters. Journey is the first of its kind.

    So what does that mean? Video-games have long managed to create relationships out of nothing. They've had cut-scenes, scripts, characters, dialogue, plots to glue characters together, diaries, text information, private messaging, chats, inner-blogs and so on and so forth. The gaming community itself has message boards, messaging, emails, discussion bits, image sharing and all kinds of social media interaction. What Journey is about then is something none of us have ever experienced, and I honestly believe this to be the case. Journey is a world where we cannot speak, where we can only move and sway. Journey is both devoid and full of communication. It's one giant oxymoron of an interactive experience.

    In short, we are able to experience our caveman days.



    A long, long, long time ago mankind didn't have scribbles or typography or even language. Just stepping out of its primate soup, covered in the primitive goo, we started to grunt and wave our arms. We formed tribes, hunted, raped and destroyed our way into surviving the harshness of nature. Our civilisations, our technology, our very evolution all comes down to the building (and continuity) of communication. The brain named itself. Words, meanings... even this very piece is in thanks to the evolution of communication. English itself hasn't been around for that long, especially not this sophisticated, and suddenly a lot of us are losing faith in this natural impulse. Literacy rates are falling, reading ages are plummeting and it seems the volcanic darkness is clouding its face of mankind's communication landscape. This has a drastic effect on our relationships. As they become more digitized, as they become more template. When memes replace jokes, when LOL replaces laughter... well... that's already happened hasn't it?

    As a linguistics student, among many other subjects, I should care. But I don't. The effect on relationships (in my opinion) has been drastically... iffy. In some senses, it's incredibly positive for the anxious, the indifferent, the awkward and the introverted. In other senses, it's destroyed the extrovert and in a massive amount of cases it's amplified their power. Now they can Facebook snap all their parties and women, clip together their collection of C-grade photography on Flickr and even send en-masse invites through a wealth of social media services. The human relationship has already been parodied, surgically diluted, investigated, destroyed, rebuilt, webbed out, mapped out, plunged and bathed and burnt and cooled. This is the very evolution of language, the very next step, and Journey is about the evolution of communication and (in particular) the explicit manipulation of technology upon the human relationship. When servers and networks decide the fate of a friendship, then something has changed.



    And it's already happened. In fact, I'm probably late the party. This very article is a form of superspeed, bandwidth chugging communication. The beautiful irony of is that I'm, at the end of the day, simply writing about writing. Writing used to conjure images of pens, typewriters, quills and books and frustration. Now I can say I'm a writer and be only in the league of the keyboard. Technology's influence on words themselves has been around since the beginnings of complex civilisation. I don't think Journey is about strictly anything, it's made by ThatGameCompany and could mean practically anything, but if it addresses one theme or explores one idea then it is this. Technology. And whether or not it does it positively or negatively is up to you.

    I personally don't see it as a critique of new communication. If anything, I think it creates a beautiful, touching landscape of relationships. The PSN names at the end are simply a formality, and it feels almost like a devolution if that makes sense? Grunts, names, movements and signals are the basics of human communication, and to have writing and images and modern communication removed outright just amplifies the experience in my opinion. The engineering of a relationship, no matter how artificial it may feel at first, is probably among the most surreal experiences of my entire life. To know that there's another human being flying around, donning similar scarves to you, without a name or a face or any form of recognition. With the very basic caveman recognition... it's utterly surreal.



    How do I know this is intentional? It doesn't have to be. I believe all artistic studies; literature, film theory, art studies and all kinds of artistic explorations are all simply study of the sub-conscious. The author's sub-conscious itself is more interesting anyway than the intentions they present. As a writer myself, it's quite scary to revise past works and see how much of the 'self' bleeds in just without you even noticing. I've since just being outright blatant with it, and my work has improved as a result. Journey isn't exempt from my philosophy on art, but there are some signs that point towards its exploration of communication.

    The mysterious language that you come across is almost like cave painting scribbles, the pictures themselves all piece together an ancient and dead civilisation, the 'gravestones' (seen above in the picture) all seem to unidentified, the creatures are all made of fabrics and are usually faceless and the iconography of the 'ending screen' (seen below). The only communication is through movement and button-presses. While the game is heavily linear, and that's one of the slight critiques I have of it, it  feels like a wider portrait. Journey's world is simply a synecdoche of the entire civilisation, and there's some pieces which are seriously interesting to me.

    The gravestones in particular, with the holes at the top, reminds me of needles. It reminds me of the fabrics, the patchworks and the clothing... the aesthetics of the game all create an image of 'fashion', not in the strictly modern/cultural sense, and I think the game addresses language as 'patchwork', or an evolved quilt. Pieced and knitted together, the fabric of communication. Communication is the very basic building blocks, the minerals of the world of relationships.



    Journey is a brave, brave game. I've read up on all kinds of interpretations. I've read Freudian analysis, interpretations about the 'journey' too. I've read that the title may actually be a pun, that the game's 'journey' is linear and while full of wonder, is ultimately fulfilling in the ending itself. I've also read the opposite, that it's instead a celebration of the 'journey' of any interactive experience.

    It's not getting there that counts, it's how you get there. The very journey of life. Crawling out of the womb, learning how the spit words, readings words and books, getting your way through school and your packed lunches, chewing down your packaged dinners and being a little consumer, tying up education, falling in love, becoming heartbroken, meeting friends and strangers, finding yourself on the edge of depression, finding your emotional epicentre, working and toiling towards something, meeting people, finding yourself, finding everyone else, building and mentoring the next generation, meeting people, looking at places, looking at faces, jumping and diving and swimming and sporting, achieving, celebrating, partying, crying, meeting people, marrying or not marrying, losing and winning, meeting people and then finally dying with people by your side. The ultimate end to the human relationship.

    Journey's ending to your relationships is... much more different:



    Final image from GhostRobo's YouTube Playthrough: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HBH17NbhmMY
    Photo

    Hiatus

      11:09 AM on 04.15.2012


    As you’ve probably noticed, there’s been a distinct lack of content recently.

    This was a pretty hard decision for me to come to, but it’s one that I need to take. For the next month and a half I’ll be thrown into the hardest academic period of my life and I need to be at peak efficiency. This means I’ll be taking a long break from the internet in general, no more Redditing for me! The fact is, I just don’t have the time to make quality writings right now. I always like to spend time crafting pieces and noting ideas and putting effort, research and myself into these pieces and essays. Unfortunately, it seems I simply can’t afford to even write anymore. This means that I’ll be taking a hiatus for the remainder of this month and all of May. I’ve decided I’ll still be tweeting, answering emails ([email protected]) but I… I was stupid not to stockpile articles and stuff and this will not happen again. Next year, there will be weekly content that I’ll just write months in advance. Or something, we shall see.

    This means I’ll have a lot of stuff to do, and I’ve been promising stuff over my Twitter and in my essays over the past few weeks that all needs addressing.

    Journey: I have played it, I will essay it as soon as I get back. I promised it for last week but, timing and revision and stuff etc. It'll be on my regular blog and here.

    Filmy Essays: The Dollars Trilogy, The Alien Anthology, Prometheus, Pulp Fiction, Titanic, The Weatherman, Empire Strikes Back and so many more films. These will all be essayed. You can read these over on my regular blog or on my Flixist bloggins.

    Up, Down, Left, Right – Volume Four: I need to do some heavy planning on this, but it might not be coming this Summer. I’m reworking the premise and philosophy of the piece, and after Volume Three I just want more time to work on these things.

    Up, Down, Left, Right Remasters: I promised these months ago. I will get to them this August if it kills me.

    Tears In Rain: My book on Blade Runner will be coming out on time. I haven’t finished writing it yet but I will get it completed for the 30th Anniversary if it kills me.

    Film Book 2#: We’ll see…

    Because I’ve broken your heart (and mine) I’m putting together a Welcome Back package. It’s a lot like what Sony did during the PS3 hacking scandal except without money and scandal involved.

    Weekly Essays: Gaming essays (like the good old days) every Saturday, filmy essays every Sunday. All throughout this Summer.

    Critique Corners: I can’t get get into the juicy stuff without essaying it, and I prefer the new format anyway.

    Blade Runner Week: All throughout the 30th Anniversary week (25th June – 1st July) there will be seven articles. Essays, reviews, scene analysis. All found on my regular blog and Flixist bloggins.

    So, there you go. That’s me bidding farewell for a month and a half, wish me luck. As soon as I get back I’ll be chucking out essays every week. Articles, updates and other projects will come at the same time. This will not happen again, this little hiatus, I promise. It’s due to my poor planning really.

    Feel free to email, tweet and whatever me over the next few weeks.

    I’ll see you soon.








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