Thursday, January 8, 2009

Video Games as Art 5-2

I realized today, as I perused my outline for these blogs, that I have way more ideas for these blogs than I originally thought. So, I’m actually thinking about continuing past 8-4, while labeling the subsequent entries “hacks” or “lost worlds” or whatever nifty subset I can think of to title them. It should still take quite a while before I have to cross that bridge though; I just thought I’d share that for the people who told me they enjoy these blogs. They’re already long enough as it is, I just decided that I’d do this, so it will keep me from trying to cram 3-4 part entries into a single “level”.

Repititous Ripoffs , Slamming, and Sequel Satisfaction

These are two of my older ideas that I kept in my aforementioned outline. I found out today that they are almost directly contradictory, so I morphed them together for this blog.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that most things that can garner a sequel WILL garner a sequel (it‘s a business based industry after all), be it a movie, book, or game. This worries plenty of people, it worried me until I sat back and thought about it for a bit too. Dangerous things happen every time a story or world is continued, and change is not something people adapt well to, unless they have some bead of control over it. Three things in particular have an impact upon the way stories perpetuate themselves, and it’s something we criticize day in and day out:

1 - Nature of the Developer
As an example, I’m pretty sure most people (the “nerd” subculture in particular) can safely say that they have a problem with George Lucas now. Sometimes a developer gets so caught up in what he/she can do, they never stop to think about whether they SHOULD do it.

2 - Tonal, Stylistic, and Sacred Consistency
Most creators often try to shake things up and that’s fine, but a great deal of the time, they will try so hard to do this that they lose what heart their first work may have had in the first place. It’s an absolute obligation on the part of the artist to cherish and cultivate their works. Perhaps most think they are, but I’ve heard no such argument so I had to bring this up. This is why something like The Dark Knight impressed me, because it didn’t just contain a well told, respectable, iteration of a classic comic franchise, but it carried it’s weight in harmony with Batman Begins. The title alone is brilliant in that it has more meanings than just one (It’s not just Batman: Whatever). Ironically enough, Christopher Nolan is fantastically speculating whether or not he SHOULD create a sequel, and that’s wonderful anyone is thinking like that. I’m not naïve though, with the money The Dark Knight generated, I’m sure they’ll hire someone and force a sequel if they can.

3 - The Times
These things take time to make, and the with the glamour of things right now, the frame seems to be depressingly increasing. THIS is what I personally fear the most. With more and more people collaborating to solely make big budget sellers, they often end up at the will of their “God as a Machine” (I.e. the computer and it’s advancements). We often forget that we already have tools that produce the same effect for the same if not more amazing effects. Just because CG animation has progressed significantly in the past 20 years, doesn’t mean it has to be such a dominating factor in digital media now. It’s only a base necessity for games because such is the nature to giving rise to characters and worlds for us to love. However, where Star Wars didn’t need all the glitz in it’s prequel trilogy, Metal Gear Solid 4 didn’t need all the superficial production value (which is of the one few flaws I found in the game for myself). It takes some bold creativity to try and do something stylistically with old hardware. I would rather see the original Metal Gear Solid remade with some stylistic twist to the pixels (which had strong ties to Shinkawa’s work) rather than seeing it upped “realistically” with Twin Snakes. And no, I’m not a Twin Snakes hater either (it‘s actually one of the above average remakes to me), I’m just expressing my concern, and it shows symptoms of what I’m talking about.

These days, we HAVE to be the bigger people here, and not just another disgusting consumer. Seeing “the same things” over must cause one to judge them on their own merit, no matter how derivative it is. No doubt we should call out ripoffs when we see them, but that doesn’t mean already-told stories can’t be told again with equal impact. Just because it's not the first to do something, shouldn't mean that we all automatically hold a slight against it, and it shouldn’t exactly demand that the task be carried off with the “bigger and better” mentality either.


How do we care for sequels then? It’s a “perfect problem” and it’s the duty to any artist to tackle it as such. Some examples of things I’d try myself though:

1 - Many developers would do better to obsess over the outside perspective, rather than the internal one they typically spend years using to sculpt the game. Time management is key here, and I understand that, but even a good excuse (I.e. a family), is still not something one should hide behind.

2 - Take more time for themselves to “cross influence” themselves. Just because games are a unique vehicle for art, doesn’t mean “gameplay” must strictly dominate it. Don’t just look around in the game industry to make games. REALLY Read a book far away from said hypothetical game, Go REALLY watch a movie far away from said hypothetical game, etc (notice I didn‘t say “good” or “bad“ concerning the movie/book either). Sometimes, distancing oneself from something is the best way to handle it.

3 - Hate your game guys. This is specifically hard for video games, because the teams consist of numerous talented individuals that don’t want to step on each others toes. In a perfect world, I’d love to be a game designer, but I’d be one of the most reviled in the industry. I demand absolute perfection (from my own sight), and I’d end up running around screaming at people by the end of the first day (this is coming from an extremely Zen-like person too). Some people don’t like using passion as fuel, as it’s a very combustible (albeit euphoric) emotion. If you regulate it to a minimum though, you’ll end up perpetuating dribble.

It will indeed be a long time before Games are truly able to begin generating their own version of “director’s cuts” (one could argue games like Subsistence are the first step), but it’s something to speculate over right? Seeing the developer’s extensive definition of their vision can sometimes offer a vast improvement over the original version (even if it’s a two minute sequence sometimes). Sure, we have to manage and regulate money sometimes (on both sides of the industry no less), but speaking outside of that for a second, it’d be nice wouldn’t it? It's something to ponder over at least.


I’m a science fiction junkie, so I’m no stranger to James Cameron. He’s actually a good example for this now that I think about it. Married five times, explosive temper, but was able to produce a number of great movies, many of which most sci-fi buffs hold in high regard. He’s also one of the few people I’ve seen pick up a franchise and successfully keep it’s spirit (no matter how downplayed) while moving it forward (Alien to Aliens). Anyway, I brought that up because I just watched The Abyss for the first time today (recommended from NeoJobe), and I was specifically told to watch to special edition, which I did. I realized that just a couple of minutes of extra footage upon a first impression can make the difference between life and death for some people (and experiences are supreme for me). How great would MGS4 be (a game structured on cinematic struts) if a simple sequence such as the PSX demo or Microwave hallway were omitted? Things that not only tied an almost spiritual window to the past, but made the player appreciate Snake’s truly horrible condition in that game. Just recently, I found that a game like Mirror’s Edge can actually tire me; Metal Gear Solid 4 uses a similar tool that actually made my back hurt, my mind weary, and my psyche crave a conclusion. This is also why I praise Guns of the Patriots so much and why I adamantly demand no more MGS games for a long time. It made me reach a point of solace in conclusion that was specifically designed for it as a game.

This is also another reason why I and many others should refrain from "slamming". Citing how "so in so is like so and so"/"If you like this, then you LOVE this!". When slamming is performed, one thing will indeed dent the other, that‘s just basic physics. Just because you throw a Wii at a 360 and the 360 breaks (and it will), it doesn't mean the Wii is superior, nor does it mean it's inferior.

The public's effect......on the creators of trilogies in particular worries me sometimes as well. It's what drives and what hinders them at the same time. Most of the flawed "twos" weren't as horrible to me as people cite them as, generally using them as a base standard for "BAD" (i.e. DMC2, Xenosaga 2, MGS2). The audience scares developers, directors, and even artists into altering their second takes for the sake of acceptance...which are both bad and good (and needed) all at the same time. The transition they make to the third entry is always what raises my eyebrow. Not necessarily the quality of the third entry itself, but everything that goes into it from the second one, even to the point of the creator admitting that they "made a mistake". Listening to fans is the greatest mistake any one creator can make. And yes, I just negated my entire blog with that…