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Untapped Potential: StoryTELLing, not StoryYELLing.

After playing two games, one recent, one from a few years back, I noticed some things with the story, or more specifically, how the story works in them. Allow me to explain, in a very pretentious way. Involving MGS mostly, as that is what triggered the writing of all of these walls of text.

Recently, I had the pleasure of playing Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, after I fixed my PS2 back into barely-working shape and found out a friend had it. I looked at the MGS series as if it were a beacon of how movie-class games could be done. It had brilliant acting in what I had seen of it, had a great plot when I found bits of it and it had multiple moments that, as many would argue is important in many games, seemed to make you feel like you were controlling a leading actor in a big budget movie. When I played it, it pulled it off…

But, then, I noticed something. It was something I had noticed in clips and online cut scenes, but perhaps playing the game itself just made me notice that I may have been right about it all along. In short, Metal Gear Solid’s plot is bad. In detail, however, it becomes an entirely different matter. Let us focus on what it actually is beforehand, so I may as well say that there is a good chance of SPOILERS throughout this rant. About MGS, Prototype and eventually Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy.

First off, I would like to crush any thought in any form that I don’t like it. I love it. It is now one of my favourite games, likely in my mentally-held ‘Top 5 Gaming Experiences I Enjoyed A Ton’. I am even, at this moment, listening to Snake Eater and in a few minutes will likely click the Main Theme itself. With that out of the way, down to the garden of analysis, as I call it.

MGS Spoilers around here:
When you inspect it down to its very roots, MGS is a bad story. That’s what I was saying, yeah. It is a story about a soldier who is so amazing he survives multiple encounters with nuclear bombs, helped invent a form of hand-to-hand combat and can kill/defeat people who shoot bees as if they were bullets, are able to carry 10-Million volts in their body and a man with a very large and intimidating flamethrower. Not just can he beat them, he can potentially beat them using only a tranquilizer gun, his fists and the occasional STUN grenade. After the defeating of his mentor, who he refers to as his mother at one point because they are just that gosh darn close sometimes, he gets a name that sounds similar to a name a gangster would use as his ‘tough’ street name, Big Boss. People then decide he is so awesome and worth admiring, they clone him. One of these clones eventually ‘kills’ him, then more nuclear weapons and more ways of firing these nuclear weapons become involved, some more enemies that have even stranger abilities and behaviour (Ranging from the ability to break down the 4th Wall to showing all the enemies you have killed and how you killed them) and even more insane things to be involved in something that bills itself as seriously as MGS does.

And it making itself act this seriously about a fat guy called The Fatman who plants bombs while on rollerblades while drinking wine is part of its charm.

It blows my mind considering it. This critically acclaimed game, a good portion of this acclaim due to its story, manages to make a man shooting flesh-eating bees out of his mouth at you not just work, but work in a way that makes it maintain its air of seriousness around the life of this elite soldier in one of the hardest fights of his life in a dire, volatile situation between countries playing My-Nukes-Are-Cooler-Than-Yours. Maybe I’m missing the point? Maybe it isn’t treating itself seriously? Either way, it really shouldn’t be this amazing. It presents itself so perfectly that I’m fairly sure it could have a sub-plot about a robot ninja who... Oh, it does. It could have a story about a bisexual nearly immortal man who drinks blood…No; it pulled that off as well. If I were to look deep enough, I’m pretty sure I could find a story about a Nun that steals the brains of children to construct a zombie factory and only be a little surprised.

Prototype Spoilers here:
In the other corner, we have a more recent game I played you may have heard of. Prototype has a damn good plot at first glace, if built around a small cliché known as amnesia. It bills a man, who knows little about himself, trying to discover who he is, how he came to possess the power to change nearly every detail about himself at the bat of an eyelid and who deserves to be killed as a result. That last one is odd, since if I had the power to do all of that, I’d thank the person. Either way, he eventually discovers how he worked for the company that developed a virus and how he accidentally released it while running away from blah blah Bioterrorism blah blah Bribery…I never truly understood the sections around the end. This is because, while the games plot is amazing in its scope, it barely ever flaunts its ability to tell the story. While the Web of Intrigue gives small details, it intentionally attempts to make you try to piece the story together without much help. I own the (first?) comic about the back story, and actively searched for details from the game that relate to the comic. Now, while I have yet to fill in the entirety of the Web, I still have yet to find too much about what happened in Hope, Idaho. All the game seems to say (so far) is that “Shit went down there; it is now going down here, but much worse”. I think of this as a bit of untapped potential (GASP!) on Radical Entertainments behalf, as if it went into more detail about the characters and events of Hope, I would feel a lot more…concerned, might be the word. I also found it very underperforming of it to go into so little character story. Very little is revealed about some of the characters, with a lot left open near the end (Betrayal, what happened to his Sister, etc). This’ll more likely than not lead into a sequel, but it still keeps a blemish on the game until then. Maybe I’m just nitpicking.

While thinking about writing this, I thought about how close to movies games have become. When movie-game pops into my head, I instinctively go for Fahrenheit (Or Indigo Prophecy), as that game was cinematic up to its neck. However, it suffered as a result. I enjoyed it quite a bit, despite the plot going a little insane, but nearly all of the most cinematic gameplay sequences happened to be…the deadly quick-time-event. The game starts off as a near-point and click puzzle game, but at around the half way mark, it becomes a ‘Run here, prepare for a hell of a lot of QUICK TIME FURY’. Near the end, it became nothing but one huge ‘Press Left to keep watching’. Except you could never watch. Because you were busy watching out for what buttons to press. And it still, in my mind at least, represents cinematic gaming. Perhaps it’s a bad thing, perhaps not, but I still find it amazingly cinematic in the few cases you do manage to catch a glimpse of what is happening behind the button combinations towards the end.

To wrap it all up into a short statement (Hello, ‘Read the title and skim read all the way down to get the point’ers!), the way the game’s story presents itself is just as important as the story itself. Is the aim to make a cinematic game or a game cinematic? Both sides are arguably right, but I think that games can be one, the other, neither or both. On one side of the spectrum, you have Metal Gear Solid, a series that can make grown men cry about a character who once defeated a character that uses insects as bullets, can make people form a deep respect and caring over a character who wet himself in front of a robotic ninja, can be considered one of the greatest franchises and stories of all time. On the other side, you have games like Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy), that attempt as hard as they can to be movies that resemble games and pull off a good job. Which would you prefer? Games which are close to movies in terms of presentation and style, or maybe games which are movie-like in quality? It may just boil down to something as simple as ‘quality over quantity’ and I just wrote over one and a half thousand words of mindless babble, but if it means I get to force myself and possibly others to think about the story behind games more often, I think I got the reaction I’ve been aiming for.

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About Havoc Fangone of us since 9:07 AM on 04.08.2009

There are no things. No more. Time has ceased, I am sorry.
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