Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Who have i forgotten?

After the death of Harvey Pekar  and the sadness and tributes which have flowed (and rightly so) to him from the comics community it has made me wondering if gaming has any such unsung heroes.
The medium is so young that few practitioners have been active more than a decade or so and much of the specialist medias coverage focuses on commercial successful designers.

It feels the legacy of people like Miyamoto is assured, his contribution to gaming remembered every time Mario appears.
Its good to see now that far greater efforts are being made to catalog and preserve the source code of games and the hardware they have been played on but much of the progress made here seem to be undermined by commercial interests.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and its sequel could turn out to have been breakthrough titles in terms of cultural and commercial success, but with the fallout of the Infinity Ward's mass staff exodus it feels unlikely that much information concerning its production will ever see the light of day. This secrecy seems to affect small studios just as badly as big ones certainly compared to other media .

I have some anxiety that we too early in the mediums growth to have scholars who can speak with the necessary authority to highlight and bring to prominence those who would slip between the cracks of mainstream gaming media's coverage.

So who have i forgotten?

Well the problem is i'm in no position to know, and until the game industry operates with greater transparency the number of people who might be able to shed some light on the question will remain low.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Dragon Age 2: Brave or Foolish (time will tell)

So Bioware have decided to announce that unlike the almost blank slate we were presented with in the original Dragon Age 2's player character will be a fully voiced and back storied individual named Hawke.

Obviously the Bioware forums are now full of cries that its the end of the RPG, and the wailing and nashing of teeth.

The main grievance seems to be that Hawke is “not MY character”.
One of the most loved things about Dragon Age Origins (DAO) was that it allowed the players to experience the world from the perspective of one a number 'Origins'. Each Origin gave a glimpse into the way the land operated, and made it far easier to for players to feel a sense of building a personal narrative in some as they wandered the roads of a strange new land.

The withdrawal of this perceived freedom was bound to lead to a backlash, and when you add to the mix DAO's open ended and vague conclusion, plus the expectation that many had that they would be able to move their character to the new game (just as Bioware had allowed in Mass Effect) then its not surprising that many feel betrayed.

The best stories need a rich and believable context to take place within, and in many ways it seems DAO was designed to allow players to build this sense of context, to immerse themselves in a world and the people who inhabited it.

Looking at the preview/press release on Game Informer the single most interesting detail to me is
“Dragon Age II is not about killing an ancient evil or about quelling another blight”
The idea to take a step back from one of the biggest tropes of the fantasy genre feels pretty brave in many ways. But you only have to look to the Hobbit which is far more a tale about the life and adventures of Bilbo than it is about the slaying of a dragon, to see that this can be a very successful approach.

I remain hopeful that DA2 could perhaps be The Hobbit to DAO's The Silmarillion.
A personal journey through a time in a character's life and things which are personally significant, rather than a tale of epic deeds and arch evils.
Obviously to someone searching for a sandbox RPG this is a disappointment but Bioware have been drifting from that template for a while now and perhaps its time for another studio to pick up that particular torch.

Explorers and Storytellers

Seeing the discussion over at Brainy Gamer and the discussion of Deux Ex's 10th anniversary on RPS and Kieron Gillens Review of Replay, it seems there is a genuine desire within the gaming community to more fully explore the history of the medium.

In a Art form as young as games there is still a bias towards chronicling the advances that are made in the techniques. Part of this I'm sure comes from the way that genre in games is defined more by mechanics than content, when people talk about Halo they don't describe it as Science Fiction they describe it as a First Person Shooter.

One of the clearest descriptions of the way any art advances I've come across was in Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics.
McCloud postulates that all art can be divided into 6 steps:

  1. Idea/Purpose:
  2. Form
  3. Idiom
  4. Structure
  5. Craft
  6. Surface

and that most creatives focus on one of the first two steps Idea/Purpose or Form. He calls these two types Explorers, and Storytellers. Explorer focus on exploring what the form is capable of, and Storytellers focus on using the medium to effectively express their message.