In the meantime, I'm just a guy who writes about videogame theory and how the medium can achieve better cinematic emulation (while keeping its own indentity). Though, if that's too boring, you can always find something delightfully fluffy in the following:
As videogames attempt to be taken more seriously through cinematic emulation, it seems like most critics forget that not everything put on celluloid is a masterpiece. Developers are also quicker to shun the influence of the straight to video market, in favour of impressing non-believers in the manner of an attention seeking child. Not that I have a problem with the videogames industry wanting to show off their maturity through emulation, but without leaving the training wheels on, we get naive efforts that are patted on the head and generally accepted as a ‘milestone’.
I know some readers have the common misconception that I want videogames to perfectly replicate cinema rather than impress on their own merits. I don’t really think that, I just want developers to understand what they’re copying; taking a few notes before they attempt a full-blown thriller or a fictional war.
Personally, I find too many developers have ideas above their station; showing off with an elitist smirk and disdain for the cheaper productions. Some manage to pull it off without the attitude, like Remedy and Valve, while others disappear up their own, shall we say, self satisfaction.
But what of the smaller videogames that know exactly what they want to be?
Look at it this way, if Alan Wake is the successful recreation of intelligent mystery shows like Twin Peaks, then something like ObsCure is the heartfelt homage to the B-Movie.
I picked up ObsCure in 2004, which was also around about the time Silent Hill 4: The Room was released. Being a massive fan of Silent Hill, I particularly loved The Room but there’s the nagging belief that I enjoyed it more because of the franchise rather than its attempts at breaking the past clichés.
ObsCure is commonly seen an average game that doesn’t mess with the survival horror formula much. Though unlike The Room, it doesn’t try to be something that’s running away from expectations. The intention is to give you a game to pass the time, make some money and if you enjoy the ride, then it’s a bonus. It’s clear that the developers, Hydravision, sat down and watched The Faculty while thinking “hey, that would make a great game.”
The plot of ObsCure could easily be written down on the back of a matchbox. Some high school students get locked in at their decrepit school and have to fight monsters using torches and an assortment of weapons. Some people get killed along the way; they discover the truth and destroy the main monster. The end, now go away.
While the idea of a single antagonist chasing them around the school would have served better, as with Clock Tower and Friday The 13th, it’s perfectly formed to please those who have come for a quick rental in the story or the interaction. There’s nothing here that demands the discussion of writing versus creation as in Alan Wake or the psychological effects of divorce in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, but it does recapture the feel of a disposable night in and arguably is more successful than its influences due to its interactive narrative assimilation.
With cinematic horror genres like the ‘slasher movie’, it can be argued that we don’t really connect with characters that we passively gaze upon. Many are written for the sole purpose of being killed and we all come to expect that ‘the final girl’ will survive. As discussed before, survival horror creates a bond between player and protagonist; their need to survive is essentially your goal - to be rewarded with the ending. In ObsCure’s case, this transcends the stereotypes that you are required to control.
While the characterisations are typical of the genre, they all have individual survival skills; therefore, keeping them alive (while not necessary) makes advancement easier. It also cleverly ensures that you care for the cast, even the unpopular ones. Add to this the freedom to interchange teammates, each with their own conflicting personalities and you eventually relate through experimentation, i.e. see what the nerd says when teamed up with the jock.
While ObsCure plays up to B-Movie conventions, it also enhances them through interaction. It’s a game that doesn’t outstay its welcome or even pretend to break any boundaries, though I believe it should be credited with the ‘fight with light’ aspect long before journalists called it unique to Alone in the Dark and eventually Alan Wake.
In theory, videogames like ObsCure are ones that copy the cinema screen more closely than ones that claim some kind of artistic integrity, like Heavy Rain. Essentially, it does so because it manages to stay within the confines of its chosen framework and pairing itself with a similar movie genre that allows for plausible set-pieces.
These kinds of movie emulating videogames know their place as much as the Jean-Claude Van Damme straight-to-DVD efforts you’ll always find in a rental store’s New Releases section. Movie-goers embrace the ‘video dungeon’ as much as the big screen and it’s no different to gamers embracing the likes of Deadly Premonition and Nier while enjoying blockbuster entertainment of the Uncharted and Modern Warfare franchises.
If the audience can do that, then why do developers have a hard time putting the cart before the horse in a miscalculated effort to better oneself? They don’t really learn anything other than repetitive mistakes that become encoded in their descendents. I’m pretty sure I learnt more about filmmaking from Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II than Lars Von Trier’s The Five Obstructions.
It’s a slow climb to maturity and sometimes we can learn from the childishness we shun, like videogames that emulate the breakout low budget efforts. They took the smaller steps and while some succeeded, other surpassed expectations because they paid close attention and made careful planning.
Then again, some completely blow it like when Hydravision made ObsCure II, but that’s another bedtime story.