Thursday, 15 November 2012

The Writers' Guild Award For Video Game Scripts

Did you know the Writer’s Guild of Great Britain gives awards for best video game script? Well they do. I don’t know why I was surprised to find this out recently. The average video game script has about 7000 lines which, when you think about it, is a mind blowing amount of dialogue. To give that figure a reference point, the average film is only 600-1000 lines long. Writing a script of such magnitude and trying to keep it engaging, while not making a game become disjointed is an achievement that deserves a great deal of praise and recognition.
Seriously, who watches the VGAs? Not on Neil Patrick Harris’s watch.
It’s a shame that I’m questioning the first decision I heard from the Writers’ Guild. The winner this year was Paul Crocker, one of the writers behind Batman: Arkham City. Don’t get me wrong, I love Arkham City. It’s well paced, incredibly designed and has a lot of depth to it. However, in terms of its dialogue, my only description really is that it is functional. Batman says he needs to go to a place. Batman comments about the indirect route he needs to take to get into a place. Batman questions a guy about which place he needs to go to next. Repeat until you’ve got about 10 hours of gameplay.

Because Violence doesn’t solve everything.
There isn’t one character interaction in the whole game that I would call exciting. The overall story was okay but it didn’t really get much further than “What’s protocol 10?” and that’s pretty much forgotten an hour in to the game in favour of Batman doing a convoluted series of fetch quests. In fact, the game has to keep telling you that Protocol 10 is happening by means of a really unsubtle reminder by Hugo Strange’s countdown. The only parts which I think could even be called a stand out piece of writing is the Hugo Strange tape to Batman, a few inmate interviews and possibly the Joker voicemails; and even then I can’t be sure how much of that can be put down to the sublime quality of voice acting.

The game still manages to be exciting but on reflection, I find it’s because of the things that Batman does cool rather than anything he says. The engaging things I recall are moments such as Batman leaping from a bell tower to avoid an explosion; Batman drifting in and out of reality when fighting in a drug induced state; and who could forget the simple pleasures of Batman beating up a shark.

It’s like this, except the shark repellent is his fists.
Maybe this is just an inherent issue with the character of Batman. He doesn’t really get emotionally involved in anything he does. It’s like watching an accountant in the hope he’ll have a breakdown and reveal his true emotional colours when performing an audit or contemplating his tax returns (in this simile, “performing an audit” means “beating the misguided, criminal underclasses into submission” and “contemplating his tax returns” means “contemplating the time he beat up a shark” ). The whole Writers Guild award thing seems that is was due to game sales and by the numbers reviews rather than overall writing merit. I mean last year saw the release of Bastion, one of the best narratives I’ve played through since Portal and far more deserving of the award. Now the voice over from Bastion over a Batman game, that is an award winning game right there.

Side note:
My other two main pleasures from the game come from:
1) making some kind of pun, turning detective mode on and singing The Who to emulate CSI Gotham.
2) Getting in a fight with a group of thugs and playing this playing in the background:

Monday, 12 November 2012

Does Dark Souls give you a Dark Mind? - A Psych evalutation of the current male residents of Bedford 11

There's a very popular personality test used by employers and psychiatrists to divide people up into four main trait classes, each with four sub classes. Apparently I am a Guardian Protector. Reading up about it actually convinced me that the theory behind the testing framework was definitive  but other intelligence has come to light that suggests otherwise.  I now know that From Software's Dark Souls holds the key to understanding the innate psychological profile of anyone who is made to play this game.

Take myself for instance, I completed my first playthrough as a female Sorcerer by the name of Munfupper. Note that I completed my playthrough, which already means that I have the tenacity, persistence and wisdom to accomplish my goals in the face of both crippling difficulty and immense pressure. However, my character build also revealed a certain level lethargy and moderation. I almost exclusively relied on a high intelligence statistic and a couple of very powerful sorceries to win almost all of my boss encounters. I would rarely entertain the notion on attempting a boss fight unless I was reasonably confident that the spells in my possession would have more than enough damage potential for me to win without having to resort to any other form of combat. I played the game with skill and intellect and to great effect, but took almost no risks at all. It shows an chronic default level of restraint in my psyche.

If both my Kamehameha and my Spirit Bomb fail, I'm generally fucked
Contrast with Tom Dransfield's build, a berserk motherfucker (named Tiawoo) with an axe of lightning and a nothing but a butcher's sack for her headgear. There were countless times throughout Tom's (ongoing :p) playthrough where anything but a sack would have made Tiawoo's life that little bit easier stats wise but Tom had forsaken all but the sack for the sake of the sack itself. Bear in mind that this is a man who created an entirely naked Elder Scroll's character simply named 'The Fist'. This hardcore aesthetic isn't just for show either. Tom plays with a very direct and in your face manner, using Tiawoo's relentless lightning strike combos to cut through defenses and stagger slow enemies. The only enemies that give Tiawoo much trouble (other than the final boss :p) are those which are effectively brick walls that nullify her desperado offensives. However, as we know from his own blog posts on the subject, Tom rather enjoys running into brick walls endlessly for hours on end and so too is Tiawoo. I also know that if Tom wants something, it would take a pretty tangible and real obstacle to deter him from doing so, (a big fiery king for instance :p). Tom plays the game with an intense sense of passion and style, which fits in with his no compromise style of living. Direct in Dark Souls, direct in life.

Ragna the Bloodedge from BlazBlue, with his unblockable sword attacks and anarchicism, is a good fit for Tom.

Where Tom shuns indirect methods, Liam champions them. Etheroth (his Thief Archer) is more than capable of parrying, evading and generally stabbing away at adversaries that are of a similar lightweight build to Etheroth's skinny woman body. For most other challenges, Liam is more than happy to exploit terrain, glitches and game mechanics to sit Etheroth down somewhere and fire an endless stream of arrows at the unsuspecting enemy. Oddly enough, it can be very difficult to aggro certain enemies in the game with arrows at various points in Dark Souls. Where I'd find this immersion breaking and Tom would find it wussy, Liam does not give a flying fuck so long as it means he's winning and making progress. A very methodical and business like approach to playing this game means that Liam has all the best gear (stats speaking), is able to farm for souls optimally and ruthlessly (and hypocritically) uses game guides to find all the elusive loot drops, hidden rooms and enemy weaknesses. That leaves only logical evaluation for Liam and his Etheroth play style...

I could have also gone with Business Scrub from Zelda
Many personality tests exist. I quite enjoy this one used by companies worldwide to categorise their employees/applicants and of course the D&D alignment test. They're well worth doing for their own sakes but if you really want to see what truly lies within your mind and spirit. Try your hand at Dark Souls. It will get inside your head.