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Violence, mystery, and meaning in the dark world of Limbo

Jul 26 // Andrew Kauz
You maybe probably shouldn’t read this if you haven’t played the game and care about things like spoilers and things. The strangest thing about Limbo is that, if you’re playing it having heard nothing whatsoever about it, you’ll truly have no clue what it is about. While press releases and game summaries reveal that Limbo is the story of a boy searching for his sister in Limbo, players don’t even see the sister until over halfway through the game. Because of this, playing Limbo’s first couple of hours can feel like playing a game without a story, or even a casual game that has no intention of presenting a narrative whatsoever. Instead, it’s simply a series of challenges to overcome. At its most basic level, it contains only slightly more plot than Tetris, and that’s only because you get to see the person who you control. Of course, one cannot stop at Limbo’s most basic level, as it’s not simply a puzzle game. Unlike Tetris, Limbo places the player within a darkened world of mystery and horror, where death is a constant threat from sources that the player cannot see or understand. The world and those things that surround the player at all times represent the true achievement of the game, placing it far above any puzzle-platformer in history. The most striking aspect of the world is how it is populated, both in terms of its living and non-living inhabitants. Unimaginable horrors seem to be around every corner, becoming more intense as the boy traverses the world. The environment in places seems crafted simply to block the player’s progress; this wouldn’t be a surprise, as thousands of games have done this. They present challenges simply to challenge the player, to entertain him. However, few games like this actively make you wonder about the nature of the challenges before you. For instance, early on in the game you see a pair of children much like yourself who are scampering around in front of you. Since they are the first people you encounter, the player is naturally curious. Soon, it becomes evident that those children are attempting to interfere with your progress. You see one operating a lever to complicate the path before you juts as they escape, never to been seen again. What the fuck? Who are these two assholes? Unlike other games with similarly minimalistic or absent storytelling, this is a question that I believe we are meant to ask about Limbo. Who is trying to impede our progress and why? Where did all of these oversized bear traps and saw blades come from? Because of this, a sense of mystery pervades the world of Limbo, so much so that the game eventually feels like the unraveling of a mystery even though you don’t understand what that mystery is supposed to be. Answers are never provided; an attempt at this is never made. The sheer brutality of Limbo’s world is another mystery that doesn’t appear to have an answer. This violence goes beyond the plentiful nasty deaths of the main character. Violence is built into the very world through which you travel, and violence is necessary simply to make paths to ensure your continued movement forward. For instance, there’s a moment fairly early in the game where the player is walking across a wooden platform. Suddenly, the platform gives way, sending the player crashing down to the ground below. However, there’s another descent taken by a previously hidden body that drops only part of the way, his fall cut short by the noose tied around his neck. This moment has no relevance to the gameplay, and the player isn’t even sure what happened. Was he dead all along, or did you cause his death simply because you were passing through? There’s really no way to be sure, and the game never answers that for you. But there is one thing you can be certain of: because of your progress, there’s now a body hanging by its neck in the middle of a forest. Another instance of brutality lasts for about the first hour of the game, beginning the moment that the boy encounters the first living thing in the game: the spider. This huge, nasty thing chases after the player relentlessly, literally losing life and limb in the process. The player tears the spider apart in a variety of terrible ways before using its lifeless, limbless body to climb onto an overhang. There’s no dignity in death, it seems. What’s so strange about this whole thing is that it begins rather innocuously. The boy approaches a tree with some strange branches, and if he gets too close, he learns that the tree is home to a very territorial giant spider with abnormally sharp appendages. If he backs away, the spider does not pursue; it essentially just comes down to a spider exercising self defense if the boy’s proximity seems to present a threat. But the boy has to go on, no matter the cost. In this case, it’ll involve getting the spider the hell out of the way by cutting its limbs off with a bear trap. Totally acceptable, right? I mean, he has to get somewhere! Because sister! When you really think about it, it’s strange, right? We’re quick to tear apart this creature in some seriously horrifying ways simply because we need to make progress, and this is before we even know why we’re doing it! I’m not sure if this was the creators’ intent, but this makes a pretty interesting statement about all of the mayhem we cause in games and how quick we are to acquiesce to those requests that require us to be brutal. The world created by Limbo is one where violence and brutality are both expected and required, despite the fact that we’re playing as a boy that, for all we know, was perfectly innocent before we took control of him in that forest. Now, in this world full of danger and brutality, we have become dangerous and brutal, affecting the world around us in terrible ways. All of this is story. It may not be storytelling or conventional narrative, but it is story. Plain and simple. The story told by Limbo is not one of story arcs, protagonists and supporting characters, rising and falling action, or resolution. It is one that presents a series of breathtaking moments and asks the player to find the meaning in them. Is there meaning at all? I fully believe there is, and I believe the title is perhaps the only thing needed to point us in the right direction in terms of finding that meaning. Wait, you want to know what meaning I think the game has? Dammit, I knew this was going to happen. Bear with me, and feel free to skip ahead if you’re more interested in doing your own ruminating. Limbo as a concept naturally originates in religion and is especially prevalent in the Catholic Church, though its popularity and nature has changed multiple times throughout history. The term comes from the Latin word limbus, meaning "border" or "edge" (it was actually used often to describe clothing, as in the places where two pieces of cloth are joined. The English word "limb" is derived from limbus). It is a place for those who have not been damned to Hell but have not earned entrance into Heaven. Especially noteworthy in this case is the concept of Limbo of Infants, which allows children who have not committed grievous sin to avoid hell, though they cannot enter Heaven due to original sin and their inability to understand sin itself. Since you play through the game as a child, it seems possible that the game has some connection to this concept. Is the boy dead, searching for salvation? Does he find it at the end of the game, being transported out of Limbo and into Heaven? Symbolism supporting this idea can be found everywhere in the world of Limbo. Since it is essentially the edge of Hell, there’s no surprise that horror and brutality would spill over into Limbo. It’s not a place of constant torture; after all, you can get through the game without a single death if you want to. But treacherous terrain, monster spiders, and children hanging from nooses all seem to be indicative of a world close to Hell. There are various parts in the game where your character is taken over by a worm that burrows into the boy’s head, causing you to stumble around idiotically, unable to change direction. The only way to turn around is to wander into bright light from above, which causes the worm to sizzle and crackle, turning away from the light to seek a safer path. In one moment, this even causes the boy to miss an opportunity to reach his sister; this comes at the first moment that you encounter her. Good and evil, anyone? Let’s imagine that this worm represents evil, which is able to burrow itself into a person and essentially control them. It shies away from light, which can be considered to represent good, or even a brief glimpse of Heaven (after all, the light does always come from above). If we consider the worm to be sin, and the sister to be redemption, Heaven, or Jesus, then it makes sense that the boy cannot approach her when the worm has taken him over. And, yes, it’s very possible that the sister is not a sister at all, but an escape from Limbo. After all, we’re never told why we’re seeking the sister. She never appears to be in any danger; she simply waits beneath a bright light next to a ladder leading upwards. Perhaps the sister represents that moment in which a child has overcome original sin in Limbo, which would allow the child to ascend to heaven. Of course, we never actually see the child ascend the ladder, so perhaps this represents only the hope that it is possible, or even worse, that it is not possible at all. Many Catholic writings suggest that Limbo is permanent. There is no departure, no matter what. There’s another more direct possibility. Perhaps the boy is indeed searching for his sister in Limbo, as they have both died as children and ended up with neither a ticket to Heaven nor Hell. This journey then would simply tell the tale of a boy searching for companionship in a place that has no escape. The boy awakes at the beginning of the game lying flat in a forest, and he ends the game in a similar fashion before rising to meet his sister. As the screen fades to black, this could be a symbol of a denial of Heaven or Hell. After all, once you've picked apart that poor spider, how could he be admitted into Heaven? This hopeless interpretation is a stark contrast to the redemption found in my prior theory. The best part is that such hopelessness and redemption can be considered equally viable as interpretations. Yeah, there’s a lot of hardcore conjecture and pretentious mental masturbation going on here. And that’s what I love about Limbo. It doesn’t answer questions. Hell, it doesn’t even ask them. What Limbo does is leave room open for players to ask and answer their own questions or simply ignore all meaning. They can play a game that is all about a boy solving some crazy puzzles in a black and white world. Or it can mean a myriad of other things, ranging from the simple “It’s about a boy looking for his sister” to “It’s a complex allegory for the death of a child and his journey toward salvation in the afterlife.” A quick trip around the Internets yielded a variety of other interpretations, ranging from a fall from a treehouse for the boy and his sister to a simple survival journey. In my mind, Limbo is the first videogame that can either mean everything or nothing. That’s a true fucking achievement, and it will be an honest-to-god tragedy if this goes unrecognized because people weren’t willing to go beyond saying “I don’t know what Limbo was about.” Limbo does not offer the best storytelling in the history of videogames, but provides one of the best foundations for players to infer their own stories. There’s just something damn special about that.
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Why games should play the player

Jul 14 // Andrew Kauz
Forgive them, for they know not what they do The unreliable narrator is a concept that has already made its way into videogames, though a lot has been lost in the translation from literature to games. Characters like GLaDOS have been cited as unreliable narrators, despite the fact that they aren’t actually narrating the action; they’re simply there to offer commentary and progress the story, much like any other major character. BioShock takes this idea a step further. Its main voiced character, Altas, consistently spreads misinformation to the protagonist. Again, he is not a narrator in the most traditional sense. Narration comes from the person conveying the story to the audience. If we the players are the audience, we have to consider the character we inhabit to be the narrator, as his or her perspective is the vehicle for our own understanding of the events as well as the method in which we affect the story. The true reliable narrator must be the player character, which presents an incredibly difficult challenge: how can the player play the character while the character is playing the player? It’s nearly as hard to say as it would be to implement. Regardless, I think it’s more than possible. For instance, many games can support a main playable character that is mentally unstable, lies compulsively, or simply has views that unfairly taint his perspective on the game’s events. Maybe he's even too naive to understand what's happening around him. For instance, imagine a game in which the main character’s mission is to infiltrate and destroy an evil organization. All the while, the player character keeps up a facade in all dealings with other characters. They’re treated like evil conspiracists who lie compulsively to cover up their true intentions, and they deserve to die for their crimes. Yet at the game’s eventual conclusion, players would see the true intentions of the main character: perhaps all along he had simply been striving for power, or maybe it was all a matter of revenge for the corporation somehow ruining his life. Either way, the shock of realizing that nothing is what it seems can be incredibly compelling if the illusion is strong. Braid pulled off a bait and switch similar to this, though the execution was far from perfect. Regardless, it serves as a proof of concept that it is entirely possible to create a game story in which you think you’re doing one thing, though you’re actually striving toward an entirely different, perhaps unsettling goal. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (spoilers will follow) utilized a sort of dual-narrator system, which at its conclusion not only revealed that the narrator and the player character were both quite unreliable but it also essentially changed the meaning of the entire story by revealing that you weren’t actually playing as the character you thought you were. It’s the sort of moment that can truly make or break a game, and in this instance, it turned a standard horror game into one of the best game stories of the year. What these two games prove is that videogames don’t need to stop at just presenting the story from point A to point B, with one character who goes through it all just as Random Faceless Protagonist would. We’re given such specific objectives, such straightforward characters, and such typical scenarios that it can be quite powerful when we realize that we had no idea what we were really doing. Humanity in a land of monsters We’re programmed to kill. I mean, god, how many lives have we taken as consumers of interactive software? The best answer that any of us can come up with is likely something akin to “Uh, a lot.” We’re conditioned to see human figures on screen and believe that we’re expected to shoot them. It’s really no wonder, is it? The worlds we’re placed into are constantly threatening, and it seems like any sense of humanity is better left at the door. If we want to survive, we had better be willing to abandon any reservations related to killing. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road presents a similar world, one in which human compassion has all but disappeared, replaced by the inhumanity of a post-apocalyptic wasteland where survival is accomplished through theft and murder. With no humanity left, how can there be any other response? At least, that’s the conclusion that we’re meant to come to during the events of the novel. The father teaches his son that they are the good guys, while everyone else they meet is simply out to take their food or perhaps cannibalize them. Nothing throughout the events of the story seems to hint that there is any other option than this. However, (spoliers follow) after the passing of the father, the son is left alone in this hostile world, only to meet a man on the beach. Of course the boy is skeptical, though we soon learn that a group of survivors has been following the man and the boy, waiting for the man’s death so they can take care of the boy. It is in this moment that we realize the tragedy of the man’s intentions: his desire to protect his son has been keeping them from the salvation they sought all along. It should be obvious where I’m going with this. We’re dropped into so many hostile worlds and expected to repay all of that hostility in kind. Occasionally, we’re asked whether we’d like to be good or bad, and we get to either bring a little light into the world or add to the darkness. Rarely are we unaware of the expectations of a hostile world. We’re either told to kill everything, choose whether we want to be bad or good, or told to simply be good and make a difference. The variety provided by these three choices really isn’t enough. We've come to expect even those choices, and we know how we're supposed to respond. If a game were to shatter those expectations, the effect upon gameplay would be immense. It has happened at least once before; Chad wrote about a moment like this a few months ago. Of course, in a God of War game, you wouldn’t think twice about killing anything in your path (unless it happens to have its tits out, in which case you either twist its head off or have sex with it. Never both.). But this simple moment succeeds in changing all of that, and it’s one of the most memorable moments in the entire series. It didn’t exactly make players ask questions first and kill later, but it at least made us pause and consider the carnage we were creating. Imagine this idea taken to an even greater level. Let’s say someone’s playing a game like Fallout 3, killing nearly everyone he meets in the wastes. Soon he come across a woman in rags, who quickly raises a rifle at him. Of course, not wanting to die, he shoots. The woman falls, and behind her stands a little boy, cowering and crying. There’s absolutely nothing to this moment in terms of complexity, yet it and moments like it could change our very understanding of our role in a game. Above, the player has just shot a terrified mother doing nothing more than trying to protect a child in a world of constant danger. It’s what any player would be expected to do given the basic situation: person with gun trying to kill you. But just because we’re conditioned to do it doesn’t make it any less monstrous. There are so many different ways to present a story that it’s a shame that game storytellers have largely fallen into a sense of complacency. Plenty of minor risks can be taken that don’t detract from a game’s marketability but still affect how we play a game and experience a story. In other words, let’s see some games that have the balls to fuck with us.
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Death, storytelling, and the manipulation of progress

Jun 28 // Andrew Kauz
Nature vs. Nurture in Red Dead Redemption While scientific debate concerning the theory of tabula rasa and inheritance of personality traits doesn't dominate the spotlight as it once did, there's no doubting that powerful statements can still be made in favor of one or the other (or, perhaps, a mixture of the two). Are we, as humans, products of our upbringing and the world around us, or do our genes determine who we will become? I will admit to being taken aback when the conclusion of Red Dead Redemption explored this theme. After the death of the main character, John Marston, the player regains control of the action, and the story continues. Obviously, there's a new character in the mix here: none other than Jack Marston, son of the game's main character, who the player had been teaching and training during the story missions leading up to the game's conclusion. Taking the narrative three years into the future, the game shows an older Jack Marston, dressed quite similarly to his father, before handing control of this character over to the player. The curious part of this is that Jack, in many ways, is not a new character at all. He is John, for all intents and purposes. Despite his different face model and voice, he steps right into the shoes of his father in nearly every way. Jack inherits all of the progress that the player has made throughout the game: if you finished all of the ambient hunting challenges and became a master hunter, Jack too will become a master hunter. Similarly, if you left a stranger's side mission half completed, Jack will inherit all knowledge of the mission's progress, and the player can pick up right where he or she left off. From a gameplay standpoint, this is simply a way to ensure that the player isn't prevented from continuing the gameplay experience after the death of the player character. An open world game killing the main character and refusing to let you continue to explore and clean up your side missions? An unquestionably bad idea. Giving player control over to Jack is an easy way to avoid that. However, the game's final story-related trophy/achievement, "Nurture vs. Nature," suggests that this decision was more than just a gameplay decision. While the plot doesn't actively acknowledge it (which would pretty much shatter the fourth wall, and maybe some other walls as well), the transference of in-game progress from John to Jack absolutely makes a narrative statement. In fact, each inherited element of the player's progress can be considered to make its own statement. For instance, one of the most visible statistical elements in Red Dead Redemption is the tracking of the player's honor. While I don't really agree with games assigning numerical values to morality and honor, Red Dead Redemption manages to make this compelling by the end of the game by transferring all of the honor or dishonor gained by John to his son, Jack. Quite a strong "sins of the father" statement, is it not? Especially in the face of many late-game proclamations that John hoped his son would be a better man than he, the tragedy of John's death is made more intense as we see that what could be considered his dying wish is not granted. The exact statement that this makes can be interpreted in a number of ways. Perhaps it is meant as a statement to the player: Jack inherits John's honor because it is not truly their honor at all, it is the player's. As characters, neither John nor Jack have free will, as they are only the player's tools. Take it a step further and this could even be twisted into a religious message, though I don't believe that was the writers' intent. As suggested before, the transference of honor could also be intended simply to make the player think about fatherhood and its effect upon children (which a large number of games in the past two years have explored). What effect do the teachings and actions of a father have upon his children? Do actions speak louder than words? How much control does a father have over who his child becomes? The statement made in this case is quite similar to that made in BioShock 2: a child will watch who his father is, and his actions will slowly but surely transfer personality into the child to shape him or her. But while BioShock 2 makes this statement via the game's ending cutscene and some preceding dialogue, Red Dead Redemption takes it that one step further. BioShock 2 takes your progress through the game and gives you one of a few different endings that essentially amount to "You were good" or "You were bad." Red Dead Redemption lets you take control of your legacy, spending some actual time with the man that you unwittingly created. None of this would be possible in a narrative that does not give the person experiencing it the control over the main character. A Death of a Different Kind in Nier Playing through Nier was not a pleasurable experience for me. The game, while it has a fascinating story concept and some of the best music I've heard recently, is so riddled by poor gameplay design choices that it becomes a chore far before you're finished with your first playthrough. This is a shame considering the fact that, to experience all of the game's story content, you're expected to finish the game four times. This is especially unfortunate since the game's final ending does something so bizarre that I'll forever regret finding out about it via a YouTube video rather than first-hand. So, imagine this: you've been playing thirty or so hours of a mediocre action RPG, forced to do such menial tasks as collect every weapon in the game simply to see all of the endings. You've been marginally interested in the story, which tells the tale of a man on a quest to save his daughter from a terrible illness and subsequent kidnapping. The game's first ending showed you a parallel story of another father trying to save his own daughter, whose life has been transferred into your daughter's body. Despite the game's somewhat poor storytelling, you're so intrigued by the concept that you continue on. For another 20 hours. You watch the remaining endings, which focus more on some of the supporting characters. Of particular interest is Kaine, whom the main character befriends during the course of the game. At the game's conclusion, Kaine becomes fully possessed, turning her against the player character. Two choices for ending the game are given: kill Kaine, or sacrifice your own existence to give life back to her. "An easy decision," you say. You place the cursor over the choice to sacrifice yourself, and you confirm it. Then, a voice begins, "You will disappear from this world. Your daughter, your friends...everyone in your life will forget you. You, and every sign that you ever existed, will be erased." You think little of this until a prompt appears on your screen. "If you choose this option, all of your save data will be erased." Wait, what? No, the game is not jesting. Confirming this option (and the many subsequent "are you sure?" screens) leads to a series of screens showing the game erasing all of your progress. The menu screen appears, as all of your items, weapons, quest log information, and, yes, even fishing records (no, not the fishing records!) are progressively erased. Then, the save screen comes up, and it too is wiped out completely. The screen fades to white, and a cutscene unfolds in which the defeat of the game's major antagonist is attributed to Kaine, and the main character's daughter makes no allusion to possessing any knowledge of her father whatsoever. The player character truly vanishes; check the continue option after the credits and, sure enough, it's empty. That's a bold move for a videogame if ever I saw one. One thing that any work of fiction lacks is the ability to make any tangible impact upon our lives; while an emotional film can cause us to cry, to think, or even to change our opinions on something, it can't cause us physical harm, or destroy any of our possessions. Nier, of any work of fiction I've experienced, gets closest. By threatening to erase all of our progress, Nier presents a choice that, for perhaps the first time in a videogame, appeals directly to the player, almost entirely independently of the in-game character. The choice isn't meant to be made by a player inhabiting a character, but rather by the player with regards to his or her own life and desires. The true sacrifice that the game asks you to make is not the life of the player character, but the record of your progress through a videogame. While it may seem silly on the surface to care that a save file would be deleted (especially for a game that, after its completion, you'll likely never play again), anyone who has had a memory card corrupted will know the feeling. Those save files are records of how we have spent our time, showing our accomplishments and assuring us that our memories of the games we played will always have some tangible record, like a snapshot taken and kept in a photo album. Is the life of a fake in-game companion worth the irreversible loss of 40 hours of real-world work? In the realm of choice in games, it certainly gives the player more cause for reflection than a situation like "Should I nuke Megaton?" But above all, it's another example of a way to tell a story that is entirely unique to videogames. A film trying to tell the same story would lack the same profundity; it would essentially amount to yet another story of sacrificing one's life. A game that shows a player character in the same situation essentially amount to little more than that. But a game that forces a player to make a choice of personal sacrifice rises above all other storytelling mediums. For videogames to truly come into their own as a storytelling medium, making them feel more and more likely movies isn't going to get the job done, not by itself at least. Instead, storytelling needs to embrace the unique qualities of the medium, and both Red Dead Redemption and Nier prove that, with a little creativity, this is not only possible but hugely potent.
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For years, we've heard the same tired proclamations about the limitations of storytelling in videogames. This argument stands apart from the talent involved in making games; it's not that the people making games are poor w...

Forced morality in games will never, ever work

Jun 03 // Andrew Kauz
The event above (a personal experience from Red Dead Redemption) is actually a fairly minor misstep on a path that an increasingly large number of games are choosing to tread. The line for forced morality, brought about when a game implements a system to track your morality (whether it is good vs. evil, honor, or whatever the game wants to call it), seems so clearly defined in games. Do something good and you'll get "good" morality points. Inversely, do something bad and expect horns to start popping out of your dome before long. But what my Red Dead Misreckoning does demonstrate is the major failing of any videogame morality system: it can only analyze what I did, not what I meant to do. It's an incredibly important distinction to make; morality is an inward trait, something that exists only in the mind. In the case of a videogame, this morality exists in the world as some sort of hovering presence standing ready to judge you at a moment's notice. It's a disconnect that is always going to prove problematic for a videogame that tracks your morality. How often do you have people judging your morality in the real world? You know, other than those people who tell you you're evil for playing videogames. Hell, we don't want to fraternize with people who are constantly judging us in real life, but we want to spend twenty hours with a game that does the same thing? That just doesn't seem right. The real world cannot calculate morality, so why should a game endeavor to do so? There's also the issue of moral choices in games. You know the type: press this button to be good, press this other button to be bad. Enough has already been said about the failings of these systems, so let's just leave it at this. Does anyone actually find these compelling? The answer is probably no, as it's just another way to force feed us morality, the videogame equivalent of finding a basket of newborn kittens on your doorstep and asking yourself, "Hmm, now should I take the kittens inside, bathe them, and call the humane society, or just set the basket on fire and cut myself?" Do we, as players, really want to be judged? I know that in my case, the answer is no. I don't need a poorly implemented morality system to tell me I'm being good or evil and maybe put some ugly scars on my face if I'm being too naughty. Honestly, I'd just prefer a menu option at the beginning of the game asking me, "Do you want to be good or evil?" It would essentially amount to the same experience that most morality systems offer, except with fewer button presses. Really, morality isn't about good or evil. I mean, in our daily lives, how often do we think of the good and evil in our actions? It's rarely that simple. We aren't usually given the sort of choices that amount to A or B, black or white. The focus needs to be on choice, not morality, and this choice doesn't always have to be forced. It can be ambient choice: a single, unplanned moment in a game where the player has to make a choice. For instance, hunting plays a rather large part in Red Dead Redemption, and there's a large variety of animals that you can gun down and skin. Pretty straightforward, right? It was for me too, until I came across a fox. Don't ask me why, but I've always had a soft spot for foxes. They're just so damn cute (though, I admit, they're no red panda). So with my revolver trained on a fox, I found myself unable to pull the trigger. I just rode away, despite knowing that a nice fox fur would probably net me ten bucks or so. I eventually did kill a fox to complete an ambient hunting challenge, and I felt like an asshole for a little while. I got over it. Yes, this is a silly and simple example, but even this moment felt far more compelling to me than the honor system in the game. There's a very basic explanation for this. It was my honor system kicking in, not the game's. I knew that, if I shot a fox, the game would just continue on like nothing happened. No sheriff would come and try to shoot me, and no wandering peasant would spit judgment at me as he passed. The world would not change, but I would. I'd be just another asshole who shoots foxes for profit. So why not just let morality and choice come out in a game when it naturally should? I'm not saying that developers should not integrate choice into games; Heavy Rain, for what it is, proves that programmed player choice can be compelling even if the game doesn't sit there and hand you a treat for your good behavior. It inserts important choices where they belong and lets you live with the consequences. The system isn't perfect. Many of these consequences aren't quite far-reaching enough to give them a true sense of gravity (many of the things you do actually don't end up mattering much, if at all), but it's better than choosing good every time to try to max out your good alignment and get that 50g achievement, no? Heavy Rain may not be a game about morality exactly, but it sure as shit is one about choice, and it does so without giving us some ridiculous meter that assigns numerical values to our choices. Morality systems appeal to what a game wants us to think about, but in most cases, they're the sorts of choices that we thought about and decided on in, like, fifth grade. So, let's just forget about the whole morality thing now. It's never going to feel compelling. Instead, make choice an important part of the game experience, and leave the judging up to the player. We're smart enough for it. I promise.
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Open-world mission design is awful, let's fix it

May 24 // Andrew Kauz
Mission design, as I see it, is all about dots and lines. Across all game genres and mission types, missions can be understood as either following a line or approaching a dot. A great many games insist that players complete missions by following a line, sometimes quite literally. Essentially, "line"-style mission design asks players to move from point A to point B, giving players essentially one path to follow, though that path may have minor branches; the important distinction is that these branches do not provide a true alternate path to travel. To complete the mission, you still have to follow the line. Myriad games follow this mission design, from the Call of Duty series to the recent Red Dead Redemption. "Dot" mission design, on the other hand, essentially gives the player an objective, yet does not set out to provide the rules for reaching that dot. The "dot" can be any number of objectives, from getting to a location to assassinating a dynamic target. Or there may be multiple dots, as in Splinter Cell: Conviction's hunter mode: take down the targets in the area, then move on to the next. While you move through the areas in a linear fashion, what you do within each area is entirely up to you. This is even visible in the game's story mode to some extent; Maxime Béland, creative director for the game, suggested that "each environment is built like a small sandbox," and it shows a hell of a lot more than in most true sandbox games. The main problem of open-world games is that they do not play to the strengths of an open world. While not in a mission, you get to experience all of the joys of an open world: exploration, non-linearity, and multiple approaches to any given situation. You get to play the game your way, which is, essentially, what an open-world game should allow you to do. But as soon as you accept a mission, you're too often put on a path. Go here, do this. All in a very specific way. James Hague, the design director for the massively enjoyable Red Faction: Guerrilla, seems to be the only other person talking about this problem. He wrote a fascinating article on Gamasutra quite recently that should be required reading for game designers and players alike. In it, he not only talks about the design process for Red Faction: Guerrilla, but he also talks about mission design in open-world games on a larger scale, hinting at the fact that, yes, most of the time, it isn't very good. One statement of his in particular strikes me: "An open world is more than just a lobby for starting linear missions." This pretty much encompasses my feelings toward the mission design in Red Dead Redemption, a game that succeeds in nearly every way except those related to mission design. I don't want to pick on Red Dead, because it is not the worst offender, nor is the game bad by any means. But the reality is that the soporific and repetitive missions in the game continually threatened to cause me to abandon the story altogether, making me want to set out to make my own experience out of the game. So, what's the problem? According to Hague, successful mission design in a game like Red Dead Redemption requires that the developer let go of control within missions, and that seems to be the major failing of the game. In any given mission, each player will experience the event in the exact same way thanks to the mission design. Wiping out a gang means moving in a line toward the leader, and shooting him. There's no room for multiple approaches aside from, in some instances, a choice to take the high road or the low. This level of superficial freedom defeats the purpose of the rich world that the designers created. By controlling each step in the completion of a mission, the designer prevents the player from playing the game how he or she wants to play it, which essentially negates the open world. Before I propose any solutions, some important concessions have to be made. Designing missions to allow for complete freedom is a nigh-Herculean task, as it presents a variety of ways for a player to break the game, both from a narrative and gameplay standpoint. It also requires the developer to implement the tools required to give players those freedoms -- you can't set up an explosive surprise for a carriage if you aren't given explosives. Still, the choice to create a game with an open world comes along with an expectation of freedom in all facets of the game (or at least it should), and that means not only giving players the tools to create chaos, but also letting go of the sort of mission design that has driven games for years. What it doesn't mean is abandoning narrative within missions and creating vague objectives with loose connections to the progression of the story. One basic solution is to insert players into a mission in a location that allows for maximum freedom. It sounds simple, but it's something that a lot of games seem to miss the mark on. For instance, imagine a mission where the player is tasked with reaching an objective at the center of a canyon. If the player is placed at the mouth of the canyon, the expectation is that the player must move forward on the canyon's path, progressing linearly until the objective is reached. However, start the player even just a little bit behind that, outside of the canyon, and suddenly new possibilities are opened up. Does the player enter the canyon there, or attempt to ride up the canyon's slope and attack from behind or even above? Even this simple choice makes a world feel open, and not like window dressing for a linear mission. Another solution is to abandon many of the same tired mission types that have been appearing in open-world games for years. The first time I played a horse racing mission in Red Dead Redemption, an audible groan escaped my lips as I asked, "This again?" Truly, does every open-world game need some sort of boring racing mission, especially one that is tied to the main storyline? Not only is the racing itself boring, but it stands out as a forced inclusion in a game where it doesn't belong. Dropping the player in an open world requires an entirely different approach to missions appropriate to the world itself. The Saboteur achieved that in this respect: the world created was all about sabotage, and the missions reflected that, both in the design and the freedom given to players. Sure, it had its fair share of "drive here" missions, but it also had those where destroying an objective could be completed through the use of a car bomb at 40 miles per hour, an RPG from a rooftop, or a few explosives placed directly at the base. These multiple approaches, combined with the dot mission structure (which allows for any number of paths to be taken to the objective) gives true freedom, and allows the player to create his own story for every mission. Instead of "I went here, I shot some dudes," it becomes, "I started on the roof, sniped a few sentries, blew up a car as a diversion, sneaked in around the side, took out the target, and got out undetected." Doesn't that sound like fun? The solution certainly isn't all about varied ways to blow things up; that is, of course, not appropriate for every game. But what can be learned from what The Saboteur does is that a game's theme needs to be written into the very design of the missions, and those missions need to reflect the overall direction of the game. This goes far beyond the cutscenes that lead into the missions; a mission in Red Dead Redemption should make me feel like a regulator, not a damned amateur jockey trying to invent the grand sport of bumper horses. There's also the possibility of abandoning the mission structure in an open-world game altogether. I have no doubt that this would have serious consequences for any game hoping to tell a cohesive story (at least in our current console generation), but imagine a game that could progress a story without actually forcing you to do anything. Every choice would be the player's own, and never would the player enter into any sort of traditional "mission." Perhaps situations would be dynamically generated to react to the player's actions, progressing the story based on what happens in these situations. Could that even work? Hell, don't look at me; I just write about games. But I think that day might be coming, and when it does, we'll have an open-world game with genuine freedom that is far more rewarding than many of the experiences we have now.
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[Editor's Note: We're not just a (rad) news site -- we also publish opinions/editorials from our community & employees like this one, though be aware that it may not jive with the opinions of Destructoid as a who...

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The world needs to stop revolving around protagonists


Apr 29
// Andrew Kauz
Videogames are intimately familiar with the concept of the hero; Games seem built for protagonists, with worlds pieced together and relationships formed to benefit the hero's journey. Yet a strange thing occurred to me rec...
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Love, loneliness, and companionship in our Fragile Dreams


Apr 15
// Andrew Kauz
[Editor's Note: We're not just a (rad) news site -- we also publish opinions/editorials from our community & employees like this one, though be aware that it may not jive with the opinions of Destructoid as a who...

A charming skull-laden kickass world: The art of Brutal Legend

Apr 09 // Andrew Kauz
Imagine this: Tim Schafer walks up to you and asks you to make a videogame world out of every metal album cover in existence. I mean, good lord, what do you even do with that? "It was a bitch," Lee told me. "We had years of concept art and a ton of really awesome ideas that all of the members of the team had come up with. Way more than could fit in one game. Or maybe three. Trying to integrate that into a cohesive experience with some sense of progression and achievement was really tricky. "I think what worked for us is that we had largely divided the characters of the game into several 'factions': the human 'Ironheade' faction lead by Eddie Riggs, General Lionwhyte’s glam-rocking sell-outs, Ophelia’s Goth influenced 'Drowning Doom', and the demonic race of the 'Tainted Coil'. Each of these groups represented some side of the metal experience for us -- and they all had their own look. "We pretty much organized the world around these groups -- so various areas of the world reflected their inhabitants. As the player progresses through the game, the world around them changes as they encounter and become involved with these different groups. "Layered underneath all of this was the backstory. That meant incorporating remnants of the ancient race of Titans throughout the world. This is the race that helped forge the world, and allowed us to create some really cool "album cover vista views" with giant weapons and skulls embedded into the terrain." With so much to create and integrate, there must be, I don't know, one or two bits of art that have to be drawn up, right? I asked just how much art is created for a game like Brutal Legend. "A metric ass ton," Lee responded. "More than any other studio that I’ve worked at, Double Fine provides a lot of time for “exploration and inspirational” concept art up front in a game’s development. But the concept art doesn’t stop there. Once a game is actually in full production, there is still a lot of “production designs”, “model sheets” and “draw-overs” that are generated to help guide the art team." And the amount of environmental design changes? "Two metric ass tons. Although we have a process, with defined milestones, for making a “level” once we’re in production, games evolve pretty organically. We employ agile development when making our games–so every two to four weeks the entire company is always looking at the game and thinking about how well some of the pieces are working together. One of the things that makes big games difficult is that it’s hard to see how all of the elements are fitting together until relatively late in development. But it is how well the game harmonizes with itself that makes for good art design. "Something that felt great earlier might need some lovin’ later in development because other parts of the game have changed. With environments, for example, it’s a close connection between the space design and the actual moment to moment gameplay that makes the world really rich. Gameplay is a very iterative process, so finding ways to account for that in the visual design is key. It’s an imperfect process, filled with both successes and failures, but it’s something we try and do well at Double Fine." The scale of some of these changes can be rather startling, and there was no lack of this in Brutal Legend. "Early in the development of Brutal Legend’s world, we made everything giant. We wanted an epic, crazy metal world so everything was made immense. In our early skirmish mode (multiplayer), where the player can fly, this worked out great. However, in the majority of the single player game, which was developed later, the player is on the ground -- either chopping wildlife with his axe or driving his car through a throng of druids. While on the ground, it felt like the player was “staring at the ankles of the world”. The immense world was simply too large to be appreciated from that angle. "Because of that we re-thought the world a bit, and added more detail of different scales to the game, catering specifically to what Eddie was going to be doing in that space. If it was an “on-foot” mission, the space was smaller and the detail more human-scale. If it was an “open world” driving space, we mixed in a variety of different sized detail, and organized the space around specific “album cover vista views” to still capture the epic heavy metal feel that we wanted." As I hinted at before, art design, in many cases, feels dull and impersonal. Shouldn't an artist inject personality into videogame art? "I think personality is one of the focuses at Double Fine -- not just in the art design, but in the story, the characters, and the gameplay. There are other studios out there who focus on creating slick “roller coaster, Hollywood” game experiences, but I think Double Fine really excels at instilling a sense of personality. Sounds easy, right? If only it were. There's a reason that so many games look similar, and Lee had some thoughts on why personality was so evident in Brutal Legend. "I think giving a game a strong sense of personality starts at the top with strong creative direction; that creative direction should influence and be incorporated into all aspects of the game. From a visual standpoint, we thought about the whole world as a living breathing METAL world, which meant incorporating many of elements of heavy metal as natural elements in the world. So the sky is metal, t shirts are the bark that sloughs off of trees, and beer is a natural resource that trickles in streams from sacred trees." Wait, you mean all members of a development team should inform and support one another? Yeah, it sounds obvious, but a large number of games seem to stray from this path. To make a game a success, Lee thinks a little cooperation can go a long way. "More than ever," Lee said. "I think the best game experiences are when all aspects of game production are really in tune with each other. The best teams approach the game as creative partners, blending together their divergent backgrounds and perspectives to make something that is better than a single discipline could. "So, yeah, all of the aspects affect each other whether you want them to or not. Playing the game a lot in development and thinking about how those elements can be brought closer together, even in small ways, is one of those things that is both satisfying to a developer and a player. "Tim is a huge creative presence at the studio, and the backstory he wrote and his tastes had a huge impact on the art. Tim’s a very visual guy, too, and thinks a lot about context and what story the art and the gameplay is communicating to the player." Ah, yes, Tim Schafer. The man with the plan. Let's be honest: he's the kind of boss that we all wish we could work for. And I just had to know: what sort of craziness suggested by Tim actually ended up in the game? "When you work with Tim Schafer, there are a lot of jokes and lot of crazy ideas that end up the game. In fact it’s so common place, I’m not sure I can come up with a great example. I do remember that we were having trouble coming up with the design for the “Bound Serpents”. These were elements that we could put all over the world that the player could do a guitar solo on and get some rewards for exploring the open world. The problem was that everything we came up with involved the player doing something that was destructive, making the world look more desperate, or downtrodden. Tim wanted the player’s actions to the make the world better in some way (“to create beauty simply by rocking”). "I came up with the idea that there were ancient statues that the Tainted Coil demons had defaced. The visual design for the Tainted Coil was an unusual combination of the paintings of 16th century artist Hieronymus Bosch and the Bondage/S&M scene. Taking this into account, we made the statues bound with leather studded straps and placed a red ball gag put in the mouths of the serpents. The player would play a pyro solo on his guitar, which would free the statue from its straps, causing it to spread its wings in freedom and the bright red gag ball would fly off and roll around the world like a ball. "I was always trying to get as many gag balls as I could in the game; it’s been a career goal of mine." Can anyone think of a more noble career goal? Didn't think so. Indeed, inspiration seemed to flow from every stream in that game, but what exactly was it that the game's inspiration was founded on? After all, as we saw before, there's plenty of opportunity to fill the game to bursting with every possible inspiration. "Last year," Lee said, "I gave a speech at GDC on the art direction of Brutal Legend. For that speech, I broke down the inspiration of Brutal Legend into four main elements: Heavy metal, fantasy artist Frank Frazetta, Hot Rods, and Tim Schafer. It was the combination of these elements that gave us our unique feel. "Our take on a heavy metal game was a charming skull-laden kick ass world filled with painterly skies and giant hot rods. I think other people would’ve approached a heavy metal world game very differently. Lee felt that great art design in general, across all games, is tied directly to inspiration. "Something I often say is to not imitate your inspirations, but make them your own. Being influenced by others’ work is a good thing, but if you don’t bring something of yourself to it, you’re in danger of your game not having its own visual identity. Of course, there's no simple answer to the question "What makes awesome art design." There's quite a bit to consider, and there's quite a bit that you might not have thought about yourself. "I think excellent art design is also about unity and not uniformity. Some dissonance in art design is good. It’s all too easy to design the art of a game in a really obvious, cookie cutter fashion. Making choices like the “good guys” are green and all of the “bad guys” are red. It sounds silly, but this type of thing happens a lot in games, especially when, from a gameplay point of view, there are valid reasons for that type of approach. But I think when something has more depth and subtly, you get a better total game experience. "I think it’s a tricky combination of left and right brained thinking. Trying to let your imagination go to new places and thinking about last few thousand years of art as inspiration, but then adapting all of that to work with the medium of video games. "But that still isn’t enough. You have to help find a way to make it happen. You need to communicate ideas to a team, and work with a whole group of people of very different backgrounds to make something that somehow feels cohesive and original." Without much of a personal background in art, art design, or really anything beyond three-armed stick figures, I also wanted to know just how many different facets of art design there were to consider in the creation of a videogame. "Art design isn’t just about a drawing on paper. You really have to know your medium, and be willing to work closely with some very smart and technical people to understand what the hardware can do. You need to find what elements of your art design work best on screen, at your target resolution, and with your particular game engine. "What’s working best needs to be embraced and expanded and maybe other elements need to be re thought or redesigned. For example, in Brutal Legend, one of the things that always felt great was the skies. Even early in development, they had a great painterly, overly dramatic quality that made the whole game feel more “metal”. At the same time, the characters’ surfaces felt flat and uninteresting. Because the skies were working so well, we pushed the characters’ surfaces to feel more believable and respond better to what was going on in the sky. This decision helped define the sky and lighting as one of the central parts of the game’s final look." Well, from where I'm sitting, Double Fine has always gotten art design right. Psychonauts, of course, did just about everything right, and Brutal Legend kept up that tradition for the HD crowd, and in style. So, what's next? Ha, as if I was going to get an answer to that. "Just keep an eye on Double Fine. We’ve got some really cool top secret stuff going on right now that I can’t wait for people to see." Let the speculation begin. Personally, I'm pulling for Goggalor vs. Eddie Riggs in Space, but perhaps that's just me. And, hey, while you're here, don't forget to check out some awesome exclusive artwork from the game in the gallery below. For more art from Lee, check out his personal art blog.
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It has been said so many times that it now borders upon a meaningless cliché, but the fact remains: a lot of games look the same. I'm not going to lament the propagation of brown color palettes, generic RPG characte...

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Something about sex: Videogame items that sound inadvertently sexual


Mar 25
// Andrew Kauz
[Editor's Note: We're not just a (rad) news site -- we also publish opinions/editorials from our community & employees like this one, though be aware that it may not jive with the opinions of Destructoid as a whole, or...
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The hidden truth behind game reviews


Mar 19
// Andrew Kauz
[Editor's Note: We're not just a (rad) news site -- we also publish opinions/editorials from our community & employees like this one, though be aware that it may not jive with the opinions of Destructoid as a whole,...

The convergent futures of music games and higher education

Mar 02 // Andrew Kauz
So, what is the NYU Music Video Games Research Project? "The NYU-MVGRP," Howard-Spink says, "was started as a way of getting the word out around the university and further afield that the convergence of music and gaming deserves closer attention. I began working in NYU’s Music Business Program in 2007, and came in excited about the opportunities gaming and mobile apps offer music creators and publishers. There are a handful of gaming related initiatives around NYU dealing with interactive design and esthetics, or gaming and learning, but nothing dedicated to the convergence of musical and gaming cultures and businesses." "Once I started, it I began to get attention from a variety of places, mainly professors whose students are asking for more classes dealing with these emerging opportunities. In the past semester a group of undergrads has formed the NYU Game Audio and Music Association (NGAMA) and they are now driving student activities. My own department, Music and Performance Arts Professions in the Steinhardt School, is developing game-related courses in its music business, music technology, and film composition programs. It’s very early days but my great hope is for our graduates to be leaders the field." I'm sure you're all thinking about clicking that "new tab" button and sending in an application to NYU, but stick with me here. I asked Professor Howard-Spink what, exactly, these groups hope to find, both in terms of the oft-discussed monetary side, and also in terms of the cultural importance of these plastic-instrument games. "It is rapidly becoming the case that there aren’t really pure music “consumers” anymore, in the way that we were at some point all consumers of pieces of plastic embedded with a recording, or as radio listeners where we consumed music in exchange for our attention to be sold to advertisers. People who value music in 2010 are “users” much more than they are consumers. In fact a recent survey shows that American kids spend 7.5 hours a day multitasking with media, most of which integrates music of some kind." "So I don’t see games as having the power to completely change music purchasing, rather they will expand economic opportunities for music creators and fans in ways we’re just beginning to understand. Games are already expanding the variety of music people are exposed to and are therefore likely to want to purchase and own, as well as the places and circumstances under which this mutual reinforcement takes place." When a JRPG leads me to purchase hours upon hours of Romantic piano, it's hard to argue with Professor Howard-Spink on this point. Indeed, I know that I have personally expanded the types of music that I listen to based solely on games that have music in them: not only music games. But if consumers are being introduced to so much new music, why are CD sales still down? "On the supply side, games and interactive media in general are definitely increasing the opportunities for music creators to make their livings licensing works to developers. Everyone knows CD sales are down from their historic peak around 2000, but what is often forgotten is that music publishing revenues and distributions to composers and songwriters are up everywhere because of all the new ways music is used and paid for in new media. Music is more important and enjoyed by more people than ever before, but the CD is not, and they’re not the same thing. The recording business will always stick around, it will just be less dominant vis-à-vis other music economies." I also wanted to know about this idea of the cultural importance of music games. Just how closely tied are games and culture, and how does music fit into all of this? "Videogames and music have always had a close relationship, in much the same way cinema and music have. In both of these entertainment forms the visual elements tend to overwhelm the musical, but as a game like Guitar Hero shows, this is not always a given. Original scores and compositions for major games are decent sellers in their own right, and performances such as Video Games Live are driving teenage boys to sell out orchestral concerts. Games that base their play mechanics on music per se are more rare, but anyone who has played PaRappa the Rapper or Rez understands the attraction. I think Chime is a beautiful example of this, and at the same time it’s pioneering socially conscious gaming." "As for licensed soundtracks, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City broke the mold on integrating popular music into the gaming experience, along with the big sports and x-games sims. The “rhythm-action” genre represented by Guitar Hero and Rock Band has been as culturally significant as they have been commercial successes: Guitar Hero 3 was the first game to generate $1b in sales revenues, and in my humble opinion the genre itself has helped to save rock’n’roll from being fully Nickelbacked or Maroon 5-ed into a coma. The games have certainly increased the number of young people interested in pursuing musical activities in many ways; just ask any guitar instructor or owner of a musical instrument store. And when South Park bases an entire episode on Guitar Hero, it’s clear we are dealing with a genuine pop culture phenomenon. When it comes to the cultural significance of music games, I was also interested in getting an educator's opinion on the use of music games in education, both in terms of getting students interested in learning an instrument, and the possibility that music games can lead to a deeper understanding and appreciation of music history. "While there are now many studies showing links between gaming and learning -- for kids and adults -- to date there have not been many rigorous examinations of their relationship to music education, although there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of their mutual reinforcement. Remember that musical training isn’t solely about scales and correct finger placement; rhythm, song structure, key changes, lyrics, genre styles, etc. are all elements of a musical education, and playing along with songs on Rock Band absolutely aids in the development of the awareness of these elements." "Of course, this just happens to be what we have at our disposal today. If you look at the YouRock Guitar, which has strings and is also designed for play with Guitar Hero and Rock Band, you can see the outline of a possible future for music gaming that places greater emphasis on musicianship." There was plenty to ask about DJ Hero, as well. Now that we've passed over into 2010, it's hard to get a straight answer about just how well the game did. Activision says that it was the highest-grossing new IP in 2010, yet others suggest that it didn't sell very well. So, what's the deal? "DJ Hero is a fascinating case study, and a genuinely innovative game. It was framed as a “failure” when it didn’t meet Guitar Hero-level sales in its first couple of months on the market, which just goes to show how narrowly success is defined by industry “analysts.” Consider this: in January Activision put out a press release saying that DJ Hero was “the highest grossing new IP (intellectual property) in 2009 in the US and Europe.” The release didn’t provide a hard number, so there are a couple of ways to look at this. Either DJ Hero has been much more successful than was suggested by its early sales figures, or so little new IP is produced these days (compared to the recycling of pre-existing IPs) that a relative low-seller like DJ Hero can claim that title." "Other factors to consider are that every kid in every part of America knows how to swing a guitar around rock-star style, but DJ-ing and turntablism are strictly speaking urban forms that have less universal appeal. Plus of course the game was released into a truly awful economic and consumer spending environment with a high price tag. I’m encouraged that Activision has already announced DJ Hero 2 for this year." I think we can all agree, at the very least, the DJ Hero is a breath of fresh air in a sector of the industry that is, at this point, largely doing the same thing over and over again. One could argue that consumers agree, as sales of The Beatles: Rock Band weren't particularly amazing. Professor Howard-Spink had some thoughts about the potential stagnancy of music games. "The genre has lost its early “wow” factor, but I see many reasons to be optimistic. The fact that $60 GH expansion packs are not selling as well as the original titles does not mean the music game is dead, it means the players of these games are making more careful decisions about what they buy." "And they are buying, especially DLC tracks, packs and albums, some 60m to Rock Band alone according to Harmonix. They don’t all need brand new plastic instruments to play now, so of course overall revenues from the games are going to be down. I think there may be some legs in band-specific releases depending on the acts. For example, if Jimmy Page ever comes around on this issue, I’m pretty sure a Led Zepellin Guitar Hero would blow away The Beatles: Rock Band in terms of sales." "The true innovation in the music game space is Harmonix’s Rock Band Network. In fact, Rock Band in general has pursued a much more sustainable “platform” model than Activision’s major releases every few months. Activision has acknowledged that it saturated the market in 2009 with six separate GH-branded releases, and in 2010 is restricting itself to Guitar Hero 6 and DJ Hero 2. Writing off music games at this point is not dissimilar to the “set-‘em-up and knock-‘em-down” mentality characteristic of the pop music world." Ah, yes, Rock Band Network. Professional song-creation tools for bands and artists, a new way to distribute for smaller acts, and the potential for limitless expansion of the Rock Band platform. As a concept, it sounds amazing. But will it work? "The democratization of access to Rock Band’s distribution platform is highly significant, much more so than the lower sales of new Guitar Hero full-game releases. I’m not convinced that Rock Band Network will be a raging success out of the gate, but over time I expect it to become a very important sales and promotion outlet for indie musicians and bands." "At Midem in January, a Harmonix exec told label heads that it was a “no-brainer” to release a DLC version of any new album they’re putting out to capture that group of eager fans. Networked information economic models undermine the rationale for all-or-nothing hit-seeking and million-sellers, and expand opportunities for new entrants. This is a huge opportunity for indie labels and acts and will live or die according to their enthusiasm, whereas the major labels (with the notable exception of Warner Music Group) prefer the hit-based Activision model and hence we get Guitar Hero: Green Day." "It’s good for every stakeholder in this field that there is some healthy competition between the two formats that goes beyond dueling tracklists." Personally, my main concern with the growth of peripheral-based rhythm games is that we'll begin to see fewer and fewer non-peripheral music games, such as Amplitude, PaRappa the Rapper, and even games like Audiosurf. Even the PSP release Rock Band: Unplugged arrived to little fanfare. Is there still room for such games in an industry so focused on high-profile, peripheral-based releases? "Certainly," Professor Howard-Spink says in response to this question. "With the ways that gaming is growing, especially in mobile applications, I’m pretty sure that we’ve only scratched the surface in terms of the ways that music and games are going to hybridize. Word is that it’s the gaming and music businesses [that are] most bullish on the iPad." "Besides, innovation without the addition of new peripherals within existing games is still possible. You can see this is the ways that Harmonix and Activision have added new functionalities to their existing hardware, for example the inclusion of extra notes during a long sustain, or the open E string on the bass. The Beatles game took one controller and managed to turn it into three-part harmonies – that’s an amazing innovation that doesn’t hugely expand the number or type of peripherals needed." Then there's a whole separate sector of music that deserves attention: the fantastic compositions featured in games, both modern and retro. How many readers of this site, for instance, have game music loaded onto their iPods? How many videogame composers appear in the top ten of our Last.fm pages? Professor Howard-Spink discussed this with me as well. "As a researcher and teacher in this area, I find it useful to break down music and gaming into four (sometimes overlapping) categories: the original soundtrack, the licensed soundtrack, rhythm-action, and emergent or generative (in which the actions of the player determine the music generated, as in Rez, Lumines or Chime). As far as orchestral OSTs go my recent favorites have included Dead Space, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Assassin’s Creed 2 and BioShock, which has what I consider to be the best sound design and musical integration of any game in the past five years." "Licensed soundtracks I’ve enjoyed include GTA4 – 18 radio stations and 200 hours of material is simply amazing – and the Rockabilly tracks from WET. BioShock 2’s licensed soundtrack does an amazing job of using songs from the 1930s and ‘40s to creep the hell out of me. And I bought a London Symphony Orchestra recording of Beethoven’s Ode To Joy after playing nothing but Peggle for two weeks straight last year." Then, just to throw some fuel on a fire that still rages, I had to ask: Rock Band or Guitar Hero? "As a gamer, I prefer Guitar Hero because it’s geared more towards high-speed shredding and employs all the little reward mechanisms that keep a gamer coming back: incremental improvements in scores, note streaks and percentage breakdowns, for example. I prefer the hardware too, the smaller buttons allow for more speed than the fatter ones on Rock Band, plus I like the click in the strum bar. Rock Band is the better product from a musical and social gaming perspective." This seems to disagree with a lot of people recently, who have come to loathe both Activision and the Guitar Hero franchise, especially after the recent closure of Red Octane, the publisher of the original Guitar Hero. "It’s a little too easy to frame Activision as the corporate baddie and Harmonix as the scrappy indie that could once you remember that it’s owned by Viacom. Last year I think I played Guitar Hero: Metallica more than any other game -- I’d never even liked Metallica until I played it (Lars and Napster, long story), and the tracks from supporting acts are outstanding -- and now I listen to and buy a lot more thrash and death metal than I did a couple of years ago." And will there be an eventual winner in this war? "If I had to make a bet, I think that in the medium to long term the Rock Band platform will win out over Activision’s half-dozen disc releases a year." If all of this talk about games, music, and learnin' has you interested, you can learn more about NYU's games-related offerings at the NYU Game Center and the NYU Music Video Games Research Project blog.
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You know what makes a lot of money? Music games. Even in 2009, a year in which music games saw a 46% drop in sales from 2008, DJ Hero became the highest-grossing new IP across all genres. It's a game that was being called a f...

A powerful ally for narrative: The audio of Bad Company 2

Feb 24 // Andrew Kauz
To start off our e-mail conversation, Stefan gave me some thoughts on the overall goal of videogame audio. "I believe what makes truly excellent sound design is the ability to conform the sound-scape to transport you into the world you are creating." Today, the technology behind the audio, combined with the demands of complex narrative-driven games, require a much different, much more multi-faceted approach. "We’ve come to expect more from sound design these days. The lowest bar has been raised, and sound can be an extremely powerful ally for narrative." This isn't a simple process, of course, especially in games that don't always follow a highly scripted progression. Stefan points out those two separate disciplines of sound design have to be considered: storytelling through audio and the creation of audio worlds. "Storytelling by great sound design is one thing that I have so much respect for," he says, "but I would still consider creating believable audio worlds paramount." One can imagine how important these audio worlds are in a multiplayer component, where narrative cannot be relied upon to direct the audio. Of course, there are plenty of games that have believable audio, but just don't sound as good as Bad Company 2. So, what's the difference? "I believe the results are based on a combination of two things," Stefan says. "First, we listen." Simply listening may sound like a simple step, but in terms of fine-tuning a set of sounds and the subtle differences between them, this step is vital. "We don’t assume anything when we create sounds for our game. It is so easy to break immersion, so we work hard to counteract repetition, because a game by nature is repetition. So a lot of sounds do have factors of dynamically generated manipulation applied to them." The fruits of this effort are apparent; five minutes with the game will make the differences in sounds obvious, such as the drastically different sound of explosions nearby and at a distance. It's a far cry from just lowering the volume of an effect. "Secondly, we strive to make war sound like war even if you play our game at lower volumes. That is a factor that I truly believe is key." I have to agree; far too many games sound poor at low volumes, losing not only fidelity but also the audio immersion that is created by a really loud, powerful setup. "A lot of games do sound good when played back in a studio or bigger home cinema playing at louder levels. So does our game. But, what about playing war at comfortable levels? That’s where I think we shine. Our game sounds loud and dangerous in a TV." Even with one ear covered by a headset and volume at a lower level, you'll never feel like the audio has lost its power. The audio team for Bad Company 2 also spends plenty of time on the less apparent aspects of audio design. David has plenty to say about the use of ambiances in the game. "The ambiances we have in Bad Company 2 do much more than just provide background noise for the other noises to sit in." According to David, this is especially apparent in the single-player campaign. "[We put] a type of narrative in the ambiance for each level. They are made to provoke a feeling that resonates with the current stage in the single-player narrative. It works probably mostly subconsciously; by putting extra effort and thought into the design, there is a lot to gain." Many players might have stumbled upon another minor addition to Bad Company 2 in the demo: the "War Tapes" audio setting. According to David, this was an addition intended to provide the player with a way to get right down onto the battlefield. In my experience with the demo, sounds become instantly more powerful, giving the game a huge, epic feeling. "We pushed the sound-scape to become really close and upfront," David says. "Perhaps not the choice for the puritan audiophile, but for all out action it gives a sense of presence that is hard to match." It's also not the setting you want to use if you have old people or skittish cops as neighbors. Just saying. As you can understand, none of this is easy. Even some of the seemingly simpler tasks, like keeping the levels of different audio assets in check, require a ton of attention. "It’s a combination of tech systems such as the HDR mixing system [a much touted element of DICE's Frostbite engine that you can learn more about here] and just good old hard work," David says about the work required to ensure that the player can hear what he or she is supposed to hear. "We also work lots with the actual sound of the voices, doing filtering and equalizing [so] a character can cut through [the other sounds] without being too harsh." Turning their attention to the specifics of the team's process, David reveals just how tied the audio is to the rest of the game design process, including ensuring that the game itself is good. "Since a lot of the time it’s ‘the game’ that plays the audio, to have great sounding audio you need a game that plays well. It’s about pacing, balancing, AI, the list goes on." All of these are included in the many, many tasks that an audio team must keep its attention focused on. After all, how many times do we notice stellar audio in a bad game? It works the other way around, as well. "The sound you hear is very much a team effort, and I don’t only mean an audio-team effort, but a game-team effort," David explains. The team must decide exactly how the audio will be implemented, and how it will complement the other game elements. And there are plenty of important decisions that need to be made before this can happen. One such decision relates to how the sound complements what appears on screen. "First it’s a decision about what is important to hear, and [the game must] play those sounds," David says. "Then, secondly, [it must] play all the expected sound to cover the basic things happening on screen." "I think it’s important to take control of the audio and not let the game do the audio direction by just playing what happens to be triggered by the game engine. Then of course the other side of that is to influence the gameplay to play out in audio-friendly way. A lot of the time pushing the gameplay towards a better sounding place also makes the game play better, because somehow there then has to be a natural pacing and flow in what happens." It's easy to forget that all of these sounds that go into a game have to come from somewhere. The foley work, or the process of creating sounds for use in the game, is especially impressive in Bad Company 2. Sounds are gathered in a variety of ways; metal sheets can be hit with hammers to create a shotgun sound, for instance. To me, foley has always seemed incredibly fun. I didn't know the half of it, apparently. For Bad Company 2, EA flew a group of development studios out for three days of foley ecstasy. "Last year we did a large recording session in LA as a joint venture between DICE and three other EA studios," David explains. "We spent three days up in the mountains north of LA and got a huge amount of great assets. The LA recording was quite a big operation; we planned it a long time in advance. EALA organized all the logistics. The list of weapons fired was extensive to cover the needs from several projects. And the number of microphones was equally impressive." Now there's a job I wouldn't mind having. Still, even the foley process has many approaches. "I would consider us very naturalistic in our approach towards foley and guns." Stefan explains. "We are not trying to construct sounds as much as picking the right source to build the family of sounds that we want to have." Beyond that, there are plenty of considerations apart from choosing the right source. "Sometimes picking the right microphone can do all the difference." "I think that the magic happens later in the process," David says. "The source assets are the ore or the gold nuggets. Then there needs to be many stages of refinement before we have our hopefully brightly shining and sparkling audio coming out of your speakers." Something that I just had to ask the pair about was the choice to include such unique music selections in the original Bad Company. In any given online battle, you might hear a Humvee careening through the countryside blasting surf rock, only to be blown to bits seconds later by a player's explosive charge. The single-player was designed similarly, with a huge variety of music types heard throughout the campaign. I asked what was behind this decision. "We didn’t take the obvious route with the music," Stefan replied, "and that’s partly what made it memorable. I think the game really needed something to counteract the brutal violence on screen, something that didn’t just add to the mayhem. I didn’t want to aestheticise violence by music." "Instead, it became a very powerful ally to build another world that was just slightly off axis from the real world." So, should we expect more of the same from Bad Company 2? Perhaps not. "Bad Company 2 is still that universe, but there’s more at stake this time, and the sense of adventure is bigger. The soundtrack is used sparsely and it contains both minimalistic and bombastic sections." Indeed, Bad Company 2 appears to be a very different game in terms of its tone, largely leaving behind some of the whimsicality and humor of the original in favor of a larger scale and more war-like tone. Players will get to see if the overall experience matches up (or perhaps surpasses) the original when Bad Company 2 releases in North America on March 2nd.
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The multiplayer demo for DICE's upcoming war FPS, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, has been out for a while now, and as the release date approaches, people are eating up the one-map demo and finding themselves consumed despite the...

Mass Effect, Metal Gear, Moon Unit, and more: An interview with Jennifer Hale

Jan 20 // Andrew Kauz
[embed]161049:26710[/embed] [embed]161049:26711[/embed] Andrew Kauz: This is Andrew Kauz for the Destructoid community, and I'm talking here with Jennifer Hale. Thank you very very much for agreeing to chat with me. Jennifer Hale: My pleasure. Kauz: I want to start of by talking a little bit about videogame voice acting in general. You've done a lot of it; you must have done something like fifty games by now, maybe more. Hale: It's actually quite a few more, and I don't know how many. I've lost count, but, yeah, I feel really lucky. Kauz: Yeah, it's a lot, and it's a lot of really good stuff too. But I just wanted to ask you, how have you seen voice acting change in that time, especially in terms of what's asked of you and the quality of the final product that comes out of it? Hale: I've seen two things change. I've seen the depth of the actors' involvement in the game grow, which has been great. Because technology has advanced and people are realizing what we can bring to a game, there's a lot more room for us in the game--a lot more for us to do. And the second thing is perhaps my favorite thing, which is it's becoming more and more and more realistic each year. They're letting us just be in the game. It's very cinematic...it's getting more and more cinematic, which is awesome. Kauz: I was going to ask you as a followup to that about the freedom that you're given as an actress to simply act. Is that what you're hinting at? Hale: Yeah, that's getting to be more and more the case. I think as the visuals get stronger, and the subtlety starts to come into the visuals and the nuance can be communicated by what you see, then what you hear can be allowed to be more and more authentic. We don't have to push a little bit to get it across because it's coming across in the visuals so well. We can just really be honest in whatever moment we're in. Kauz: Yeah, I'm really interested in that idea of nuance in both voice acting and in the way that the characters are depicted on the screen. What's an example of a great moment of nuance that you've experienced lately? Hale: Wow, let me think for a second. An example of how that has really come into play recently...well, for example, in Mass Effect 2, there are some scenes now, with the exception of me walking into a bar and trying to track somebody down when you've got a bar full of bar noise and everything else going on, in just the one-on-one stuff you can really just be in that moment, with that person, and say what you have to say the way that you would really want to say it instead of having to push it a little because you really had to push past some awkward visuals just because the technology wasn't there yet. Now, you can really just let it rip, and it has been that way through a lot of the game. Some of the evidence for that are some of the people we have working on Mass Effect 2. We have Carrie-Anne Moss: she's a film actress, primarily. She's very cinematic, obviously, that's her genre, that's her deal. We have Tricia Helfer, and the whole style of Battlestar [Galactica], and Michael Hogan, both of them very very close to the hip. Michael Hogan a little bit less so because [Hogan's Battlestar Galactica character] Tigh was such a great, intense character, but Tricia Helfer from the Sixes is very very subtle, and it works perfectly in the game because we've been allowed to be so much more truthful. Martin Sheen, Claudia Black, and all those guys are just able to slide right in now because the style has evolved to that point. The two worlds are meeting, which is great. Kauz: I'd like to talk a bit about Mass Effect for a moment, and specifically what the overall approach was in crafting Commander Shepard, both in the first game and leading into the second, and how you and Bioware went about crafting the character especially when there's, of course, the male counterpart in the mix as well. Hale: Well, as is still the case a lot, sometimes the female leaders get overlooked. Kauz: Sadly. Hale: Yeah. Fortunately that's changing, and I put a plea out there to everybody listening, please let Bioware and everybody else know that you like it when we have-- Kauz: And I support this plea. Hale: Yeah, and you want to see more of female Shepard as well. I mean, no skin off Mark's nose, he does a great job. But, hello! The approach really, as in any game, it really begins with the geniuses who come up with the ideas and the writers who spend all those hours just working out storyline after storyline, and crafting those storylines so that they develop character, and without them, we don't exist, and we've got nothing to do, and ya'll have got nothing to play. It really begins there and goes from there. The producer locks onto their vision, and oversees the whole thing, and then it goes into the director's hands. We had two great directors on Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2. I mean, there's was such a volume that it took two of them to get Mass Effect 2 done, especially. Ginny McSwain and Chris Borders...they would come in with the vision given to them by Bioware and describe to me what the environment was, because the environment is so key in any game because every world is different, and should be. As an actor it's our responsibility to key into "What is that world?" and "How do I live in that world?" and "How do I get done what I have to get done?" and "Where do I come from?" Fortunately, all of that was made really clear. Shepard's not just an ass-kicking commander, she's a person with a history and an agenda, and stuff to do, and stuff she hates to do that she has to do, and stuff that she likes to do that she has to do, and a demeanor that she has to carry herself in all the time to be a commander, to be the first human Spectre, to really fill those shoes right. And then there are little moments where it falls apart, and how does she put it back together? And then in Mass Effect 2, just the way that whole thing starts is crazy, the whole history of Shepard, that thing is just wild. Kauz: Leading into Mass Effect 2, what can players expect from Shepard this time around? We know some of the story so far: the basic idea is that Shepard is on this suicide mission. So how do you see Shepard as a character as having changed since the first game, and how much did you try to change your performance to fit that? Hale: She has seen a lot more, if that was even possible. She absolutely has. She has been through a hell of a lot more. But the thing that hasn't changed is that she's keeping her eye on the ball. She knows what she has to do; She lives for her mission, and she will get it done, no matter what. That is the same. The circumstances that she finds herself in are very different. There is an element in this story that she's having to deal with that she does not like at all. But it's sort of a necessary evil. So how she manages that has been something to constantly address. And Martin Sheen plays a role in that. And that's all I'm going to tell you! [Note: At this point I tried unsuccessfully to tear more information from her. No dice! I edited my pleas and groveling out. Because, honestly, who wants to hear that?] Kauz: You've managed quite an impressive set of a lot of different performances. We've got Commander Shepard, of course. We've got Bastila, we've got the characters that you've done from the Tales series, we've got Jennifer Mui from Mercenaries 2. I mean, it's an unbelievable list, and then we can bring in all of your cartoon work and television work. But the thing that has always impressed me is that there's always something different about every single character that you play. Sometimes it's something really subtle, sometimes it's incredibly drastic. What do you do to achieve this massive range of characterizations? Hale: Thank you. Kauz: You're welcome! Hale: It's nice that that has gotten across. It's specificity. It's all about specificity. If you're general in your approach to playing characters, and you're playing "a commander," frankly that's uninteresting. I think you're cheating [the people] who play the games or the audiences who watch or listen. I think it's lame. I don't think it's doing your job. I think you have to be incredibly specific about who this person is, why they say what they say, why they say it how they say it, and what they want. When you get into those specifics, the writing will take care of you. It's also really fun to stretch and expand. When I started, god, eighteen years ago, I had three characters I could play. I could play me at whatever age I was, I could play me ten years younger, and I could play a valley girl. And that was all I knew how to do. Kauz: I have to hear your valley girl. Valley-girl Hale: Oh my god! No, really? You're kidding! Regular Hale: The hilarious thing was that it was based on this old song I heard. One of the Frank Zappa songs, Valley Girl. And in it, his daughter Moon Zappa did the valley girl. And years later, I ended up in acting class out here in LA with Moon. And it took me a year or two to tell her. I was like, "You started my whole career!" She was the only character I could do. She just thought that was hilarious. She was a really nice person. So that was a funny little circular thing. The thing that has helped me the most are my peers. I remember when I got my first animation job, it was a cartoon series. And I was scared to death because when you do a series, you're a regular character, but they also hand you an incidental role or two or more every week to do. You know: Woman of a Corner, Little Boy Running from the Truck, Mouse, Insect, or whatever it is. You had better figure out how to do it, because you're getting paid, and you're in there, and you're a professional who's expected to be good. Man, I jumped into class immediately, a couple of different classes taught by a couple of really great animation directors and actors, and the other thing I did is just sit in those rooms with people like Frank Welker and Dee Baker...gosh, everybody...and just soaked it up. as much as I could, just watching and learning how they did it. And that was the greatest thing ever. I mean, I worked with Rob Paulsen, Jeff Bennett: some of the most talented people on the planet. It's heaven. Kauz: Yeah, I'd really like to ask about the idea of working with others. I imagine that in a lot of cases your voice acting turns into kind of a solitary experience once it comes time to record. One of the biggest games from last year was Uncharted 2, which was this really cinematic, highly narrative-driven experience, and what they did was they had all of the actors come in well before everything got off to a full start, and they had them do full theatrical-style acting with plenty of improvisation, physical acting, and they recorded all of the motion capture and everything. Have you ever had the chance to do something like this, and if you haven't, would you be interested in doing that? Hale: It's one of my favorite things. I did a project for EA that ultimately didn't get off the ground, but it was with a phenomenal crew: Bobby Coddington and a bunch of people over there. [NOTE: this may be the canceled EA project Tiberium] And we did what I guess is the equivalent of a pilot presentation for a TV show. We spent a few days up in Vancouver in the suits with the mocap stuff on. It was one of my favorite jobs that I've ever done because you really get to be there. It was just awesome. I actually made a great friendship out of it with a wonderful actress named Cara Pifko. She and I got to butt heads, and it was so much fun. So, yes, I've had that experience, and I'm regularly volunteering myself for "suit duty" as I call it: for getting in the mocap suit and jumping in and doing that. I would love nothing more. Absolutely love it. I mean, I also rock climb, and I'm really physically active, so I would love to do the stunts. In fact, I got in trouble on that shoot [with EA] for climbing the scaffolding. I'm like "Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!" Cara and I were together, and we both got in trouble. But I love that stuff, I absolutely love it. Claudia Black [Chloe from Uncharted 2] and I--it was down to us and maybe a one or two other people for one of the Drake jobs--I can't remember the name of the game. Kauz: Was that for Uncharted 2 as well? Hale: Yes, that was for Uncharted 2. Kauz: So you had tried out for that game? Hale: I did! Kauz: Awesome! Hale: Ironically, when I read that character, Claudia was exactly who I thought of, and it turns out that's who they cast, which was, frankly, brilliant. But I was bummed because I do love the game, and I adore the director. And Nolan North, who is the lead in that game, is fantastic. We worked together on Wolverine and the X-Men. It was just--I love suit duty. I was bummed to not be able to do that, but Claudia's so phenomenal. I mean, big-fat thumbs-up to her, because she's awesome. But yeah, I love working in the suit. Love it, love it, love it. I did have the good fortune on Metal Gear [Solid] 4. We were brought in together. Dave [Hayter] and I worked together a lot; we had known each other for a long time...over ten years. So, it was fun working together on that. And Christopher [Randolph] and a couple of other groups of us got to work together on that in the same room at the same time, which was awesome. Kauz: Yeah, I saw another interview that you did--a video interview--where you guys were all in the room together. You guys seem like you have a really great connection, and I think that comes out in Metal Gear Solid 4 as well. You all just work well together. Hale: Dave and I actually met...I think it was like '96 or something. He was the Captain America in Spiderman and we just became buds, and we've been buds ever since. He's great: great guy, super talented, obviously, but also just a really fun guy. Kauz: What do you think that game developers at this point in voice acting could do to make the experience better for you? Hale: As an actor? Kauz: Yeah, just in terms of allowing you to put out the best work that you can possibly put out. Hale: Put me in a suit! Let me be the visual as well. You can change any parts you need to. You can put any face on it you want to, but let me be the body and the voice. That would be the only thing I would ask for. Kauz: And that really is, at this point, pretty rare still, right? Hale: Yes. In my experience it is extremely rare. Kauz: All right, now, of course, I have to ask the tough question. Hale: Oh no. Kauz: Is there anything really exciting right now that you're working on that we should know about? Hale: Oh, there's some great stuff that I'm working on! And if I told you I'd have to kill you. Kauz: Any very very subtle hints that definitely couldn't get you in trouble? Hale: No. Actually, there's an iron curtain there and never ever will get behind it. I do not ever--I will not do that to those people. But there's some great stuff. Kauz: So, some really exciting stuff? Hale: It's exciting, and it's been an exciting year, with Mass Effect [2] and Brutal Legend and everything that's been going on. It's awesome. It's really awesome. Kauz: I did not know that you did Ophelia [from Brutal Legend]. Hale: Oh really? Kauz: Had no idea until I looked it up. Hale: Fantastic! Kauz: And that just goes to show how varied your performances are. Hale: Thank you. Well, there's also a business element to it too. You want to keep working, you had better come up with something different to sell. Ultimately, it's a business, and you had better have a good business head about it, or you're going down. Kauz: Thank you again for agreeing to chat with me. Hale: My pleasure. Thank you, and a big thank you to everybody out there who's playing and listening. I promise to keep doing my absolute best for you. So, that's that! Another huge thanks has to go out to Jennifer. It's extremely evident that she cares a whole lot about her work and her audience. Otherwise, would she have done this? I rest my case.
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Ever played a videogame with a female character? Chances are, then, that you've heard the voice of Jennifer Hale. Ophelia from Brutal Legend. Naomi from Metal Gear Solid. Jennifer Mui from Mercenaries. Bastila from Star Wars:...

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The Future: Demanding more from the voices of videogames


Jan 11
// Andrew Kauz
[Editor's Note: We're not just a (rad) news site -- we also publish opinions/editorials from our community & employees like this one, though be aware it may not jive with the opinions of Destructoid as a whole, or how our...
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Love/Hate: A plea to play as a female Shepard


Dec 16
// Andrew Kauz
[Editor's Note: We're not just a (rad) news site -- we also publish opinions/editorials from our community & employees like this one, though be aware it may not jive with the opinions of Destructoid as a whole, or how our...
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A warning: Regrets from a former life and experiences yet unlived


Nov 27
// Andrew Kauz
[Editor's Note: We're not just a (rad) news site -- we also publish opinions/editorials from our community & employees like this one, though be aware it may not jive with the opinions of Destructoid as a whole, or how our...
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Top ten games for people who hate Thanksgiving


Nov 26
// Andrew Kauz
[Editor's Note: We're not just a (rad) news site -- we also publish opinions/editorials from our community & employees like this one, though be aware it may not jive with the opinions of Destructoid as a whole, or how our...
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The wrong thing: Being evil should be more like sex


Nov 13
// Andrew Kauz
[Editor's Note: We're not just a (rad) news site -- we also publish opinions/editorials from our community & employees like this one, though be aware it may not jive with the opinions of Destructoid as a whole, or how our...
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Staying dry in a sea of spoilers is a matter of building a boat


Nov 11
// Andrew Kauz
[Editor's Note: We're not just a (rad) news site -- we also publish opinions/editorials from our community & employees like this one, though be aware it may not jive with the opinions of Destructoid as a whole, or how our...
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Lessons on taking games just seriously enough


Nov 08
// Andrew Kauz
[Editor's Note: We're not just a (rad) news site -- we also publish opinions/editorials from our community & employees like this one, though be aware it may not jive the opinions of Destructoid as a whole, or how our moms...
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Come, take your pilgrimage to gaming’s one true mecca


Nov 01
// Andrew Kauz
[Editor's note: We're not just a (rad) news site -- we also publish opinions/editorials from our community & employees like this one, though be aware it may not jive with the opinions of Destructoid as a whole, or how our...
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Here's to you, random-JRPG-dialogue-writer-man


Oct 13
// Andrew Kauz
[Editor's note: We're not just a (rad) news site -- we also publish opinions/editorials from our community & employees like this one, though be aware it may not jive with the opinions of Destructoid as a whole, or how our...
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The forgotten: Crushing disappointment at the hands of Crash ‘n the Boys


Sep 19
// Andrew Kauz
[Editor's note: We're not just a (rad) news site -- we also publish opinions/editorials from our community & employees like this one, though be aware it may not jive with the opinions of Destructoid as a whole, or how our...
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The people who have the power to change the world


Sep 14
// Andrew Kauz
[Editor's note: We're not just a (rad) news site -- we also publish opinions/editorials from our community & employees like this one, though be aware it may not jive with the opinions of Destructoid as a whole, or how our...
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The draw of exploration: Antarctica to Oblivion, Shackleton to Shadow Complex


Sep 04
// Andrew Kauz
[Editor's note: We're not just a (rad) news site -- we also publish opinions/editorials from our community & employees like this one, though be aware it may not jive the opinions of Destructoid as a whole, or how our moms...
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Improving game communites: Enough with the negativity


Sep 03
// Andrew Kauz
[Editor's note: Community member Kauzu contributed a piece to our Weekly Musing subject on how to make gaming communities suck less. Please post your own over on the Community blogs. It may get read during our panel at PAX th...
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I suck at games: BlazBlue and a slapdash attempt at fisticuffs


Aug 09
// Andrew Kauz
[It's time for another Monthly Musing -- the monthly community blog theme that provides readers with a chance to get their articles and discussions printed on the frontpage. -- CTZ]   When it comes to pitting two f...
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I, the Author: My Everest


Jul 15
// Andrew Kauz
[It's time for another Monthly Musing -- the monthly community blog theme that provides readers with a chance to get their articles and discussions printed on the frontpage. -- CTZ] When searching for strong narrative, th...
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Untapped Potential: The gamer's education


Jun 11
// Andrew Kauz
[It's time for another Monthly Musing -- the monthly community blog theme that provides readers with a chance to get their articles and discussions printed on the frontpage. -- CTZ]   I began playing videogames at a...
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Other Worlds than These: Our world, only different


May 09
// Andrew Kauz
[It's time for another Monthly Musing -- the monthly community blog theme that provides readers with a chance to get their articles and discussions printed on the frontpage. -- CTZ]    If you think about, think...

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