Rockstar are now the kings of big scale game development. They have conquered quite literally the virtual world and even then built their own that we wanted to join. Rockstar now even makes games about mythic portraits of times in history while still keeping as close to cinematic as their engine will grant them. It was only recently that one of the original creators left and now the great machine rolls on down the track without him, on its way towards greater and bigger things because that's what got it this far.
And one time they also made Oni, L.A Noire, Warriors, Max Payne 3 and Bully or 'Canis Canem Edit', as it was known where I'm from. You know that your game is at a disadvantage when your friends won't even know the game when they're holding it and reading it. I think that title was due to controversy at the time for whatever reason, but I guess Rockstar just weren't used to that sort of thing and turned torward more innocent projects from then on.
I once made a video in my school classroom and I used the music from Bully because I really did like it and I was going for that Danny Elfman sorta vibe. The second I hit play on that media player, three male students immediately repsonded from behind me and recognised it at once. These were guys who, before this, game talk had never went beyond COD4. This game was liked, even loved by some I still know today. In my little corner of the world, this game reached and reasonated, that is usually safe grounds for assumption the love for this game was shared elsewhere.
Another oppressing force away from future success is that the game didn't really come through on its title. Were you the bully? Were you being bullied? Did you get points for bullying?(you did not) Did you grow up to be the murderer in Manhunt? The game gave you the option to bully all the kids at Bullworth Academy- Ohhhh, right 'Bull-y'... but even if bullying was encouraged, the prefects proved deadlier than the police in GTA. Maybe they intended for a feeling you were fighting against 'the Man'.
And like GTA this game gave you freedom to roam in a flexible sandbox except that you were not old enough to drive. But there was plenty of violence, vandalism, property damage and cycle-by-slingshottings.
And here we have a game about you being friends with all the kids in all of the cliques in the school and standing up for the Nerds against the Jocks and the Greasers fighting the Townies and for the Girls who you can get in with by helping... you know the drill, it's simple at first but later down the road is a spud-gun which is as amazing as it sounds.
Rockstar clearly had some glimmers of great inspiration circulating, a young rebellious male inside a boarding school, with a uptight New England setting. This game had alot of fun things in it, there was a raging crazy homeless man, the janitor, the sexual fluidity, bikes, infinite sprinting and better skateboading than any recent Tony Hawk, Simpsons skateboarding and KH2.
I enjoyed the changing seasons which lead to great mission opportunites at Halloween and Christmas. Almost makes me wish we got a sequel where we had the college days and a St Patricks Day to see how messy things could become. There was also that one mission where you dress as a mascot and get creative in being offensive. I liked how much of a breeze the subjects were at the start and then by the mid-semester I was running around trying to beat the clock and failing Science and Math, so I felt this was an accurate portrayal of school life. I was delighted to fill a balloon, load it, charge it and then shoot it at a well-groomed academic, shove a round nerd into a bin and break into a locker for a girl with cute glasses.
I like any game where you are almost unrecognisable by the end, you look different(barbers and hats helped), have different weapons, the setting has changed and so have your partners in crime. Bully did this great, the towns were nice to walk through, the people were fun to fight, you could grab cars while on your skateboard, the rich residential part of town made me feel like a young youth out to challenge their home security.
The Wikipedia pages says that the hero Jimmy is here to stop bullying despite looking like every angry, abused and abusive skinhead teenager stereotype I’ve ever seen. Maybe like that scene in GTAIV where Niko beats up that guy for attacking his out and proud gay friend Berni, this is their protagonist out to better himself in an oppressive world. Protagonists like John Marsten and Franklin would follow and earn our love. Jimmy could have been like alot of kids playing this game what with not fitting into any social group, a chip on your shoulder, your only friend was a loser like you, the game and its setup manages to fit the Rockstar mould very well.
Is it bad I forgot Gary was in this game? Rockstar has certainly carved out some formidable antagonists such as Dutch, Tempenny, Sonny, to name a few without spoilers. Like alot of these villians, he disappears for the majority of the game while you build rep with the different groups for their support. I think this has more to do with their design approach, climbing the crimeworld pyramid.
I dunno, Rockstar has always given the impression that they get a stand out game released after waging brutal earth-scorching warfare across the world of code just to get it done and released. Proving that it was half a decade long walk through a minefield but it is done and we will forever mourn those we lost along the way.
Rockstar are not above trying new things, they resurrected Max Payne to decent, and tropical, results and they resurrected Red Dead to worldwide success and Scrooge McDuck amounts of wealth. Everyone who has read up on L.A Noire development (or watched that great 'What Happened' episode) knows it was a big risk that what they got out the door is pretty close to what they sought out to do. And they never mentioned it again, that drop on their profits graph being enough of a reminder.
Bully feels like an amazing little experiment by Rockstar, one that shows the stage they were in their growth. This was before the graphics shined at equal quality with the writing and before critics were calling their games 'milestones' and 'literature'. Maybe I like Bully because it was a take on these sandbox games that felt focused solely on fun done via a young mans destructive energies, y'know the simple things. When you can buy, steal and then blow up everything in sight and fly off in a chopper it can be different. Someone once said every film that gets made is a miracle and games can be just as or more of a difficult task. Getting released and even a chance to swing for the big leagues should've been enough for Bully. But I think it deserved to be be treated like a franchise with many ages, educations and time periods to target. Maybe they did everything they wanted in the one game. I know I would have enjoyed many more of those innocent days.