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:
In the excellent Canadian horror movie Pontypool, three radio station workers are besieged by an mostly unseen infected horde. Simply put, it’s a zombie film sans the zombies and seen from the viewpoint of arbitrary characters. Though, the real genius lies in the film’s tagline, “Shut Up or Die”, which won’t be explained for the sake of a great twist.
Low budget filmmaking is not always the greatest, but by being on a shoestring, restrictions create intuitive thinking. Pontypool succeeds through its emphasis on audio and character interactions to build tension, shifting focus away from the obvious and offering inspired subtext in its place.
So, how is it that we don’t see besiegement, as with Pontypool, playing a prominent role videogames?
Imagine a videogame scenario where you’re having an ordinary day at work at a similar radio station. You’re taking in messages, reporting the news in your own way, antagonising your indifferent staff, but then the newswire breaks some story about something odd downtown. As the situation becomes less about your job and more about survival, you’re required to hold the fort and keep listeners informed.
At least until rescue arrives.
Half Life’s opening minutes start in similar fashion with the mundane, yet opens up on a large scale when the aliens appear. Most of the time, Gordon Freeman is breaking in to places and being used by other scientists to complete their objectives.
What’s wonderful about Pontypool is that the main character, shock-jock Grant Mazzy, is morally ambiguous when it comes to decision making. He’s an intelligent, cynical, burnout that cares for the lives of his staff, Sydney and Laurel-Ann. However, when it comes to the dirty work, he’s reluctant to get involved, unless it’s personally beneficial.
He’s the perfect cinematic counterpart of today’s generation of player protagonists.
Essentially, videogame morals are inconsequential forced situations where your decisions boil down to you, as a player and not a character, reaching your real objective – the ending cutscene.
Fallout: New Vegas prides itself on the Machiavellian nature of participants. It has morality tales, but the consequences are justified and lack hypocrisy, even though the end results are predetermined by design.
With a confined space and a Machiavellian participant, the main crux of a besiegement would come from your interactions with fellow survivors. Given the freedom of your tiny world, you have to rely on these people; crassly using their skills to their irritation or helping out for everyone’s benefit. Let’s say you needed windows boarded, an area of reconnaissance and a generator refuelled; you wouldn’t need to do all those things yourself. In a nutshell, it’s improvised micro-management.
Cinema has had its fair share of besiegement, with famous iterations like Assault on Precinct 13, Rio Bravo and Night of the Living Dead; all relying on a tense/release dynamic in their pacing. Let’s not forget real life situations like The Alamo or Pavlov’s House at the Battle of Stalingrad.
As military shooters like Operation Flashpoint supposedly aim for increased realism, it’s interesting to find that, because of a reliance on constant player stimulation and strategic objectives, the scenarios are large scale and always “On Mission”. Very rarely do we see something like the documentaryRestrepo, though with good reason.
When videogames have these lock down moments, they’re primarily about the instant gratification, as we’ve seen with any number of survival horrors and Left 4 Dead finales. Admittedly, Dead Rising wouldn’t be half as engaging if it lacked reasons to explore and it shares the same reasons why the claustrophobic cabin in Evil Dead: Hail to the King featured so briefly.
So, the technical problem of creating such a videogame might be entirely down to scripting and engagement. Eventually, you’re juggling one factor with the other, since there are all kinds of implications with timelines and multiple consequences. Thus, there’s an inclination to heavily script one factor to allow the freedom of another.
Problems aside, you might be wondering why a videogame like this doesn’t exist. Yet, in a way, it did.
Sentient was a real-time, dialogue heavy, sci-fi adventure set on a doomed space station. Personally, it wasn’t an enjoyable title; with the distinct memory of an Official Playstation Magazine reviewer comparing it to a chess board, where all the pieces moved independently. Sentient exemplified what happens when too many ideas in confined spaces are given free reign. It had potential, but whether it was down technology restrictions or cumbersome design choices, it was a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth.
Even the most simplest of ideas can become complicated under development time and costs; each exploration opening up endless new avenues. Still, that doesn’t mean you should curtail everything involved or create a mod campaign with an SDK. The tools and inspirations are out there.
Videogames easily identifies itself with blockbuster cinema, from budget to spectacle, so you wonder why most developers negate independent ideas. Grasshopper Manufacture experimented with low budget voyeuristic horror in Michigan, borrowing elements from The Blair Witch Project in the process. Of course, it’s still emulation without subtext on a smaller scale, but they decided to assimilate intuitive filmmaking into their own left-field idea.
Tower Defence videogames are addictive, but they lack emotional substance and engagement beyond stats and upgrades. If you’ve ever playedThe Last Stand 2, you’re already aware of it adding micro-management to the original’s premise. As of now, despite many moments of being holed up in terrible situations, in war, horror or sci-fi, we’ve yet to see the potential of true survival instinct.