Monday, October 12, 2009

The Cowboy Version of Biohazard 6

I guess this is my two cents for Halloween too…

This post originally started out as an examination of the original Resident Evil’s mansion, but has since only become a minor footnote in accommodating an elaborate day dream I had while watching the 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead and REC (and by direct association, Quarantine). This post should go up on Fanatical Conception, but since this is more of me just pouring reckless desire out, it seems much more fitting to serve as simple whimsy here. Anyway, a lot of discrepancy lies between Japanese and American game design, and Resident Evil is innately a Japanese game aimed at Westerners. Since there’s no real hope of seeing more cross-Pacific game franchises occur (other than the passing comment Kojima recently made for Metal Gear), I think this can satisfy those urges as well. The Japanese (generally speaking of course) are way too muddled down in their sense of tradition and social discipline to see something like this through. So here’s some arbitrary musings from a reckless Westerner.

Since I’m seemingly the only person with insatiable desires to see a ‘true science fiction video-game’, I’m going to let that bleed through into this as well. Luckily, Capcom already gave me the tools I require (benefits from working from a fictionalized universe, they’re like training wheels); it’s just a matter of fleshing them out. All things that stem from the progenitor virus can be given mechanical significance to work within a new game. Not only that, but they can be exalted past being mere vectors to move the plot along as well. The most basic example I can provide here would be the G-Virus, which is defined by its volatile nature of mutating out of control. Any host of the ‘G’ will simply be dubbed as such and mutate into drastically different forms; akin to rapid evolution. Imagine various areas of a game where different strains of the progenitor virus were being let loose. No doubt that the ‘G’ (an advanced form of the progenitor) areas would be in intermediate to advanced areas of such a game, as the creatures hosting it would more challenging to neutralize. There’s various possibilities at this point, one could even have a working system in the game controlling how, where, and what becomes infected. This in turn makes such a game unique and worthy of multiple playthroughs. There’s no use for realistic attention to science either, I’m certainly not advocating that. It’s not only creatively incarcerating, it’s just as messy as letting things run loose as well. As long as it’s remotely plausible from surface glance, it’s possible.

The next thing I’m willing to toy with is diminishing the campy nature of such stories. Make note that I’m not suggesting elimination of levity, just a more subtle use of it now. This is something that has affected the Resident Evil franchise since its debut, and it worked for what it was (when we were young at least), but it never grew --- not one bit. Adhering to the notion of keeping things the same in that manner is broken logic because the audiences by nature change and age. The games in turn must reflect that, or monsters like me will only get worse (and we’ll grow in numbers too). One could argue that the sales of Resident Evil 5 for example are an ends-justify-the-means concept. The game no doubt made its chunk of change (it’s the best selling game to date), but is that the shield gamers and developers wish to remain behind in this matter --- to take solace in? The fact that it made the most money should definitely count, but not become an oppressively determining factor in how any more titles are made. The fact that the game can be played online accounts for entirely too much now as well, and is serving as the gaming populous feeding the fat kid on the game industry’s see-saw of art & business (the fat kid being business of course). Kick the obese little shit off and let someone else have a turn.

Considering my penchant for oppressively narrative- based games, I can understand that all gamers don’t share my patience of being able to sit back and watch ‘bad voice acting’, long cutscenes (or just cutscenes in general these days), or cliché thematics. Various titles have come out in recent (and not so recent) years and have showcased very effectively how narrative can be told in far more engaging ways that are unique to the medium. Moving back to my hypothetical Resident Evil game, I’d propose the usage of more various media devices in the background. Titles like Prey for example feature integrated televisions and radio transmissions where the player is granted a indirect link to the game’s own meta-narrative; it ties into the audience’s necessity to be a part of ‘this’ information age (e.g. ‘what’s going on in other places?’). Make no mistake, if I had any control over something like Resident Evil, it would be a global disaster; I’d have the virus consuming the entire planet. I’ve seen the ‘isolated events’ all too much, and they shouldn’t define the fucking series at this point. Hell, even giving the player an actual radio which would play scripted transmissions would be a step up, and that’s kind of sad all in itself. The notes and leftover pertinent bits of information from older games could also be reformed as Looking Glass type recordings (e.g. System Shock 2, BioShock, etc).

There’s also a bit to be said about how villains are laid out for the audience. Traditionally, the catalyzer of events in Resident Evil titles is the archetypal villain --- scientists with diminished moral compasses. While that exaggeration shouldn’t be whisked away entirely, there’s more room for formulating an indirect bond with whatever antagonists there are to be conjured. Alexia Ashford was the series’ pinnacle for me because (among a few other reasons) she has an indirect and constant influence on the player, despite only appearing prominently in the last third of the game. Her appearance overall was only a slight tweak to the typical villain’s formula (for example, Alfred’s incestuous relationship with her), but it resonated so strongly that many still consider Code Veronica the unsung hero in the entire franchise. A new title should make it a priority to subconsciously program the audience with the antagonist’s presence. Taking it one step further, one could simply eliminate all presences of humanity with no discernable antagonist, leaving the player isolated within a world of pure outbreak (which is ironically opposed to the aforementioned ‘isolated event’ cliché).

Speaking of the setting, where could one place Resident Evil now without it seeming like ‘rape’? I mean this in the sense of exhaustively placing the game in an area to satiate the player’s need to see something new. After Resident Evil 3, the series moved very violently across continents and layouts; this left very few general backgrounds to superficially grab people’s collective eyes (Resident Evil 4 being the most successful ‘rapist’ of the lot). Style will count quite a bit for a future installment, but idea is going to have to be dug into a tad deeper in order to individually set a new title apart. Personally, I’d suggest going back to Antartica. With Code Veronica (and various lab areas throughout the games), a very brief glimpse has been given into how cold weather can ‘color’ various interpretations that people will take from them (not to mention it would complement the recent Oroboros romp in RE5).

What of the game itself? For the more devoted fans, the big schism that happened with RE4 was the departure from the atmospheric fixed camera angles to the over-the-shoulder perspective that very generously welcomed more action-based sequences. Luckily the balance has already been seen and that’s with the more paranormal version of RE4 shown before the revamped Las Plagas incident. At this point, it’s just an argument of design and I’ve already been pretty outspoken on bringing back zombies and the like. Given that I’ve already established mapping out effective science fiction mechanics, the sky is the limit here; whether it’s multiple stages of zombies, experimental B.O.W. (e.g. hunters), or even tyrants.

All that the over-the-shoulder technique really needs is an even more effective way to swiftly turn around. I’m talking even more dedicated than the RE4/5 technique; perhaps even giving the maneuver its own ergonomically-placed button for the action. Depending on the design, the nature of stationary shooting is up for grabs as well. I honestly never had a problem with it, but I know that people don’t comb through games like do. This is a case where I’d argue against atmosphere being compromised and any fashion. If moving and shooting infringes on any grounds in that regard, I say toss it and let the bitchers do what they do best. One of the best ways to hide that is going back to the ammo conservative style of play. After RE4, Capcom knew whole heartedly that the numbers and appeal the series got came from the fact that they put a lot of bullets and guns in the player’s hand. Innately, gamers will fall prey to that kind of armed dispatch, as it’s simply a more flashy manifestation of any 2D shooter that drove the players towards ‘killing for points’.

And just who do we place at the forefront to lead the narrative anyway? Going with a brand new character is always an option, but I’ll be against that on the fundamental grounds that it will split loyalties and enthusiast continuities (e.g. the only thing that made Resident Evil 4 a Resident Evil title at all was the fact that Leon was in it; what I’m referring to is the exact opposite). I’d personally suggest Claire, as she’s the everyman --- er woman character that fans and newcomers will be able to grasp easily. Jill and Ada have too much ‘baggage’ (e.g. being action-esque sexual icons and such) and Rebecca is a niche presence in the series both visually and mechanically (not to mention thematically). Having a male act as support would be nice, but I haven’t really thought of a practical way to execute that yet. The first idea I had was using the zapping system from Resident Evil Zero, which led me to placing Billy Coen as the male. The catch was that Billy wouldn’t be playable in the traditional sense, he would simply be a cameraman of sorts and the player’s perspective would be from his point of view. That idea became problematic however, as many people have a problem with handycam sequences already and the placement of Billy would always mean he’s susceptible to whatever dangers are threatening Jill and therefore the player (i.e. the ‘camera’ would always be in danger as well).

All problems considered, I’d prefer this potential depiction to either the fixed camera or traditional RE4/5 state of what it exists as now. Taking the beauty of what RE4 gave us and moving it along is key --- and is all that I’m suggesting.

As I opened with, the inspiration for this post was the perspective distortion presented by the original game’s mansion. It’s not nearly as big as many remember it as, but they do remember it being fairly labyrinthine. That says two things, the game was fairly-well crafted and people are slaves to their own perspective like no other. Look at it this way, the design of how the doors were presented to the player created cognitive barriers in how they navigated the mansion. Not only that, but the actual design --- running from room to room, solving puzzles, and micro-managing emblems --- they all played a key factor in how the Spencer estate stuck with players. So, bringing that kind of indirect hindrance back is a plus, and not the attack on RE4/5’s design as many will write it off as. It doesn’t have to be the archaic and ominous zoom-in as the player opens the door, but they don’t have to revel in kicking them down either.

One way to update this distortion would be placing in an instance of risk. Solidifying death or failure would be one way of such an experiment. By this, I mean an extremely limited number of saves or no saving at all. An example of that would be the aforementioned camera setup I described, in which the players/characters could upload their video into a computer to save their progress (an homage to the old typewriters). However, the computer can be destroyed thus eliminates their saves, placing them back to the most recent point they last saved at (if they did at all). Things like this would have to be extremely carefully placed and designed. Someone like me would keep these computers to a minimum and establish frail setups throughout the entire game. By placing save points in touch with their own mortality, the player actually tastes death --- I rather like that.

Normally, I’m for the more diegetic music in games, but I’ve always rather liked Resident Evil’s music, so I’ll just suggest scaling it back to more ambient tunes. In fact, ambient tunes can formulate a sort of makeshift mixture of both sound effects and ambience. Various creatures can be escorted into sequences via sound effect cues being taken to another level. In some ways, Resident Evil does that already, but only to the extent that was obviously required. The clicks that the Hunter creatures made when they walked for example, were the only sounds they consistently made to suggest their presence. Accompanying that with more vocal sounds and an increasing amount of varying ranges of auditory engagement would be a rich addition.

Of course they could just let the series die too, but having it exist as a functional ‘zombie game’ (*coughanactionpacedshooterthathasstrayedtoofarfromitsfuckingroots ---- oh cough*) is an irony too bittersweet --- even for me.