Maybe you've had nightmares like this too. Finding yourself stuck in the middle of an impossible nowhere with no hope of getting back to the safe and familiar. I stared at the unending maw of the ocean, a handful of sand teeth poking through the surface. This did not look like the kind of world I could survive in.
I discarded the desert island world and asked for another. This time I was presented with trees. Pigs. Snow-capped mountains. A pond.
And then I began playing Minecraft (Mojang, 2011) for the first time.
The Conversation is a retelling of my meeting with Dan Stubbs, who is developing the probably-too-ambitious-for-its-own-good game, The Hit. In part one, we discussed the squandered promise of the GTA open world model, in part two, the restrained ambitions of AAA. and part three touched on financial success and multiplayer. This is the final part.
While we headed towards his flat, Dan Stubbs made a stray observation that perhaps Mike Bithell is “betraying” his audience making a Metal Gear Solid game when they probably bought into him for more Thomas Was Alone. But we didn’t discuss the problem of developers trying to buck their stereotype (like Chris Park from AI War to Tidalis) and focused instead on Metal Gear Solid, because Stubbs loved that game, even though it is well-known for, er, cutscenes.
“Metal Gear Solid is pure opera,” he mused. “It has events that are so much larger than life and is fantastic because of it. People moan about the insanely long cutscenes but they're as much a part of it as anything else.”
“It's why people buy it,” I added.
“I think Metal Gear Solid is one of the best narrative games because it is so self-aware about what it is doing, about the fact that it is so completely ludicrous and over the top. But it's playful - and I think this is one of the most important things - there's far too many cutscenes that aren't, just portentous doom-laden things, where Very Serious Things happen.”
We crossed the road.
The Conversation is a retelling of my meeting with Dan Stubbs, who is developing the probably-too-ambitious-for-its-own-good game, The Hit. In part one, we discussed the squandered promise of the GTA open world model and in part two, the restrained ambitions of AAA.
What is The Hit?
When I originally arranged to meet Dan Stubbs I thought of it as a GTA open world with a bit of dynamic narrative trickery, but as time went by, I realised I was trying to visualise a ten-dimensional object in my head: all I could see was a three-dimensional slice of the whole. Stubbs had said that giant AAA projects were “like a collection of different things” but that’s all I really appreciated of The Hit.
“I'm taking development at my own pace,” he told me, still in the coffee shop, forced to listen to an endless torrent of the 80's greatest hits. “So if you make your own world, I want you to put your own money up so that if people can beat your own story or win whatever goal you set, they actually have a reason to play it.”
Beat your own story. Or win whatever goal you set? This didn’t sound like the GTA open world with emergent narrative system I had pictured in my head... it sounded more player-authored?
“Whether they are winning pennies or a fortune, whatever, it doesn't matter. But I love the possibility of advertisers being able to have a ‘Cokeworld’ and you actually go there because you think you can win money. Or film tie-ins or something.”
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Time to talk about money. And ethics.
A presentation Maddy Myers gave in September at AlterConf 2014 went up on YouTube just a week ago. It's titled "The Objectivity Myth" and Myers talks about the need for gonzo videogame journalism which accepts that the writer is part of the story. I discovered this rather than this is what happened.
Below, you'll find the video and a brief response of my own.
The Conversation is a retelling of my meeting with Dan Stubbs, who is developing the probably-too-ambitious-for-its-own-good game, The Hit. In part one, we discussed the squandered promise of the GTA open world model.
As Belinda Carlisle belted out Heaven Is A Place On Earth from the coffee shop speakers, our conversation veered towards Bioshock Infinite.
“My favourite moment of Bioshock Infinite was a moment that wasn't a cutscene, wasn't a scripted moment,” said Stubbs.
“It was the menu?”
“You look at AAA games and they're all about playing it safe,” he said. “They're all about taking something that already exists and remaking it in a slightly different format. Watch Dogs is GTA plus Deus Ex. It's because you're trying to raise X amount of money to make these things because they're so expensive. But nobody knows what the Hell videogames are.
“Nobody knows what they're making.”
I want to talk a little about games that subvert traditional mechanics at the expense of the player, that poke at the player's assumptions and maybe make an example of him/her.
Spec Ops: The Line (Yager Development, 2012) is the big, mainstream example which I already covered in some detail recently but what has brought the subject back is a conversation I've been having with Boson X developer Ian MacLarty about a jam game he made called Booot.
It's given me a different perspective on such subversions, a perspective relating to player education.
My latest Rock Paper Shotgun piece went up a few hours ago. It contrasts Michael Brough's local multiplayer epic Kompendium with Alexander "droqen" Martin’s Starseed Pilgrim, highlighting how both games have a spoilery exterior that prevents you from talking about them in too much detail.
Here's an excerpt:
We were locked in a duel with unknown rules – so we talked rather than competed, exchanging theories about what we were supposed to do. Even though each game in Kompendium is a fight to the win, the ambiguity of its rules means players often start out in a cooperative struggle against a common enemy: the opaque system.
Of course, there’s a dangerous point after this where the fog lifts more quickly for one player than the other and they acquire the knowledge to win. I figured out “March Eternal” before Gregg did and had to consider whether to explain to him what I had figured out. I considered it and then I destroyed him.
Look, this is going to be a short post as I am still working on resurrecting my PC. The above image from Watch Dogs (Ubisoft Montreal, 2014) snowballed on Twitter this month. Perhaps the one with 2,000 retweets is the original although I've found a mention of this unfortunate juxtaposition back in June on the Giant Bomb forums:
How about after his tear jerking moment at the grave, you are immediately presented with a "Vault" prompt on the tombstone. I hoped over my niece's grave 4 times, having a good laugh at how silly it was.
It's true. Over the grave of the protagonist’s niece hovers a ghost. A ghost called Vault. This means we can finally discard that monstrosity ludonarrative dissonance and instead write the game vaults the grave.
It’s a brilliant example of where systems clash with narrative intent but... also misses the point.
This week’s viral video masterpiece is a surreal Russian dash cam road rage incident. Thanks to longtime Electron Dance reader Ketchua, it hit my Twitter a couple of days ago and the ensuing laughter brought tears to my eyes.
Then I started thinking about the context around the video, why it was funny and how it's an analogue to the problem of games that act all serious.