Monday, September 7, 2009

Control Critique

[Playing Thief a bit more over the weekend has brought me back to the topic of critiquing the degree of control I have in the game as a player. When I speak of control, I mean the privilege that any gamer is granted in terms of mechanics, context, or perspective.]

1 ~ What is control?
2 ~ Where do we need 'control' in games?
3 ~ Where do we (or I) need to just shut the fuck up about it?

The first thing to note is that I just recently glanced at Brandon Sheffield's opinion piece on first-person video games. I honestly never thought to question the undercurrent of accepted prominence that first-person titles have accumulated for themselves over the years. Some of that is due to me mainly being a console gamer and therein likes my theory on why some of these more selfish memes exist.

I've always preferred third-person to be completely honest...

Why? Well...

I noted this in the VGA entry 'Perspectical Mess' (which I've taken down from 1UP to revamp) as MGS4's use of its own first-person view was a very defining moment for me in games. I realized that the very nature of the first-person view has consistently been one thing to me, an absolute failure. In many cases, I consider that particular point of view a very intimate process when I'm placed in the 'eyes of a character'. This is so intimate in fact, that all surrounding context and mechanics get warped around it for the sake convenience. That's my problem, I've no qualms admitting that, but my attacks from the stance are no doubt relevant to this post, so let's keep going.

Context & Control

The context of whatever game is in question is first and key to the experience. From the various masses of P.C. gaming purists, a very stubborn and elitist meme has been born that is interwoven with the first-person view (and therefore narrative) becoming attached to the notion of gameplay being the most pertinent part of a game. I call foul on that because it's based off the assumption that one notion translates to all. That notion is of course...

"Gameplay comes first."

That's not a rule I've ever played by and it's not something I'll waste my time entertaining in-depth now. The insularly argument that 'gameplay (I'm hostile towards that word to begin with) comes first' is built on the false foundations of gaming itself being a product. Fundamentally, are still being run and developed from a very business-oriented mindset. That won't change for a very long time either, as the diversity most people are clamoring for now will take decades more to build up at best. This doesn't mean that the consumerist culture videogames have accumulated for themselves is anything other than specious as best.

Control itself is only defined in this sense by how much influence we can direct over
any certain form. Its not even tied to characters and such from a base form, and therefore narrative is free from those shackles as well. When gamers try to blanket what defines a game (DEFINE NOT DICTATE) over what it potentially can mean for its audience, two things are disregarded entirely: the player's own perspective and the games surrounding world that's laid out.

At this point, we're kind of getting into an ontological game argument. As an example, I'll pose this question:

Does System Shock 2's performance entirely outstrip BioShock's weight as a game? How much is the latter diminished by the former's mere existence? If we're looking at it in in the B&C (Business & Consumer) sense, then it's a formula not to be broken. However, if we look at in any kind of artistic light whatsoever, the lines are not defined at all, which is why there's such discourse on matters like this. That artistic light people give games doesn't just cancel out the flimsy 'gameplay comes first' structure, it totally destroys it along with the B&C construct as well. This is because there's never gonna be a game that comes out and is unanimously hated by every person on the planet. Someone somewhere will be able to find subjective force to infuse into a title, and depending upon the circumstance---the context, nothing will be able to objectively nullify that (which is assuming that anyone can objectively judge a certain situation to begin with, which is pretty damn rarely).

Mechanics & Multiplicity

After the context is established, it should be a given that setting up mechanics to accompany it will be key to that game's success. This all depending on the designer's vision and authorship itself is a fairly 'new' concept to games, as designers like Hideo Kojima are still lambasted regularly on countless forums throughout the world (doesn't his own son say the series sucks?). There's also the directive of obstacles here where both third-person and first person-titles turn their respective crowds off, whether its the camera or the disconnect offered by a character such as Gordon Freeman. Developers are constantly fighting a game of trial and error in a market of fickle consumers, which denotes idiocy on both grounds (and I include myself amongst those idiots). I realized while playing Thief that I prefer the exact mechanics of how the lock-pickings works in the game, as opposed to what something like Splinter Cell is known for. Button-presses and timing are only factors when concerning how they influence the myriad of titles available to gamers. It's when the players try to deify certain mechanical memes (compare Half Life's cutscenes to that of Metal Gear Solid's for instance) that I begin to get annoyed with things.

Perspective & Petulance

I find third-person perspectives more engaging simply because they allow a sort of visceral fluidity in a character's movement. That engages me far more than the makeshift eyes I'm meant to have in the context of what Master Chief sees. So while I do consider most first-person games a true bastardization of my actual sight, I'm not going to fault any title for it past a certain extent and I won't let that dictate my own enjoyment of it either. Two exemplary paradigms I can put up here showcase the P&P ('Perspective & Petulance') which formulates my own opinion that gamers need to take a swim in a landfill somewhere.

The Resident Evil Argument

Look at the pictures on this blog. See the relevance for them now? As far as games go, this is a fantastic and abashedly nuanced representation of art vs business; two of mankind's most bloated creations that despite their co-dependence on each other, are constantly at war. A couple of quick observations on these pictures though:

1: How many of the nostalgia-grabbers are disregarding their own frustration with Resident Evil's prior fixed camera in order to idealize the franchise's former standings? How do we even begin to draw lines in where we establish what made the prior titles so memorable, be it the fixed camera or tank controls?

2: The fellators who grab on to the over-the-shoulder mechanics very fucking often overlook the fact that the franchise's story has suffered in lieu of embracing of two deluded falsehoods; either all the Resident Evil games have had crappy stories or they don't come to any game expecting a great story to begin with. There's something significantly wrong with that stance, and I won't say what it is because it's pretty damn obvious what kind cowardice fuels this.

3: Why wouldn't Capcom release Resident Evil 1-CV with RE4/5's perspective? Would it infringe upon the prior title's significance or is there too much money involved in 'properly' revamping them? It wouldn't be as easy as the GameCube's REmake of the original Resident Evil nor would it be any less risky as what Konami/Nintendo/Silicon Knights attempted with the Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes. Also, given that players HAVE idealized the Pre-RE4 titles, doesn't the fear of remaking them in that manner prove how flimsy their initial deification of the titles were to begin with?

The Mouse-Whore Argument

I'm too lazy now. Go see any P.C. gamer's rant or stance on why FPV works soooooooo much more efficiently with the mouse & keyboard rather than with a controller. I don't like touching that one because grabbing shit doesn't make it handier, it just makes my hands shittier.

P.S. For the full list of the responses that that 'Wesker' got from his question, click here.