Random news mishmash!
Ken Levine had an AMA on Reddit on Tuesday, in which he took some incredibly soft, er, softball questions about Bioshock Infinite and its upcoming DLC. I am not sure what exactly I expected – perhaps an apology? – but I left pretty disappointed. Actually, I sorta found myself feeling angry every time I read someone proclaiming that Infinite was their “favorite game ever.” I keep thinking: “No it’s not. The game taking place in your head bears no resemblance whatsoever to the actual game you are playing.” Yes, there is an ontological difference.
I generally have no problem with people having different favorite games than me. If you liked Zelda: Wind Waker more than anything else in the world, good for you. And, hey, now you can buy the High Definition cel-shading version with 300% more bloom! And with basically all the extremely annoying shit you had to do back in 2003 tossed right out: your sailboat can go 50% faster, you don’t have to bother with changing the wind while sailing (pretty sad how exciting that sounds in a game called Wind Waker), and there is significantly less trolling the ocean floor for maps that lead you to pieces of the pieces of the Tri-Force, i.e. what you do for 60% of the game.
See? No judgment here.
I suppose I should be more accommodating for peoples’ favorite games, given how my top-list basically came out in 1997-1998. But, seriously, if Bioshock Infinite registered anywhere higher than Top 50 for you, I’m going to need you to play some other games because damn. It looked pretty and the soundtrack was awesome, but the gunplay and story… you know, it’s not worth it anymore. I’ve said my piece.
Let’s just smother that baby and pretend these paragraphs didn’t happen. ¹
Remember that not-Halo game Bungie was making? Me neither. Kotaku posted an article/video yesterday about how Bungie was coining the term “shared world shooter” for Destiny, and basically contrasting that with more traditional MMO player experiences. Which is actually a sort of interesting game design/philosophy argument when you think about it.
As the video points out, a game like Destiny or GTA: Online simply couldn’t work with 100s of players dicking around and causing mass mayhem. It got me thinking about how MMOs themselves manage to pull it off, and I realized that our extremely limited interaction capability is probably due to precisely this problem. The more people you put in one place, the less they are able to change or influence the environment, lest you spend your gaming hours traversing barren craters everywhere.
This is not a new subject by any means; I posted something similar way back in 2011 and the concept of TTP goes even further back (if not to cave paintings). The angle I had not considered was how ridiculous (and abusive) something like WoW would be if you could impact other players to degree you can in GTA: Online. Mount-jacking, being pushed off cliffs via collision-detection, and so on. Some sandboxes advertise these as features, of course, but I’m starting to wonder which one comes first. Like maybe you have to rely on player-driven content simply because players would just create a constant shitstorm in any sort of PvE content if they had to ability to directly
grief interact with others.
Getting back to Destiny… well, I’d rather not. Once I realized that they are basically making a non-cel-shaded Borderlands, my interest level plummeted. Just watch that E3 video again. Dungeons? Check. Bosses? Check. Random loot drops? Check. Raids? Check. It can still be fun, no doubt, and maybe they will be able to do some things better than Borderlands did. But the game is “Bungie’s Borderlands” to me now, and I am very much burned out from Borderlands 2 right now.
FF6 Coming to iOS/Android
I don’t have much to add to what’s already out there. Well, other than how I think it’s amusing how much these old properties are being mined for residual income in an environment that (I assume) is dominated by ROMs. Actually, it’s probably pretty smart in that even a relatively tech-savvy person like me balks a little bit at the steps necessary to play SNES games on my phone. Hell, I’m not even sure I want to play these games on my phone in the first place; my commute is a short drive and my breaks/lunches get filled pretty quickly via Feedly and Reddit all on their own. And even if I did want to play these games, I sure as hell wouldn’t want to play them using a SNES controller overlay on the touch-screen.
Although I have perked up a few times hearing that I could play Xenogears on the PSP and Vita, I just can’t envision a scenario in which I would be playing it and not be near either my computer or television. If I’m not playing ROMs on the computer right now, why would I be doing so on a handheld? Help me out here, people: when would you be playing these classics on portable devices?
Plus, you know, Sony is still selling 32gb memory sticks for $72 like it’s goddamn 2005.
¹ That’s a Bioshock Infinite joke. If you don’t get it, be thankful.
I am not entirely sure how I feel about the news that Bioshock Infinite will be getting three DLC packs in the near future. Actually, I do: a distinct lack of fucks given.
The first DLC is a story-less horde mode that will subject you to more of the banal combat system. The second and third are portions of a presumably expanded narrative, although who can really tell what is going on in a time-traveling alternate-dimension throw-everything-at-the-wall plot? But, hey! We’re going to see a pre-destruction Rapture! You know, a throwback to the games that were actually good.
To be fair, Bioshock Infinite did do some things right. The visuals were gorgeous, Elizabeth made the game feel more human, Columbia had brilliant imagery, the music was fantastic, and so on. It is just that Kotaku’s recent interview with Ken Levine boiled my residual bile concerning the plot back up into white-hot incandescent rage. I was fine all the way up until the final paragraph:
“I walked away from BioShock Infinite actually very, very satisfied mostly because of the debate that people were having, not just about what happens in the game, but about what the meaning of it was. That we gave something for people to argue about. We trusted the gamers enough to say, ‘You know what? There’s some room here for you.’ If people walk away frustrated that we didn’t explain everything to them, it probably wasn’t a game for them.”
That noise you just heard is the sound of an aneurysm.
No, Levine, you do not get to fucking say that. As I pointed out months ago, the plot of Infinite is complete garbage. The “room” left for gamers is for them to refuse to apply critical reasoning to their experience, thereby passively constructing a better ending which doesn’t exist inside the actual game.
I can get behind a narrative that explores the descent of a man’s soul to the point that he believes unmaking his existence would be better for everyone involved. We can all probably emphasize with that, regretting having done things or failing to do so. That was not Bioshock Infinite’s plot. The real plot was this:
Finally, let me kind of wrap all these various ingredients up into one complete shit sandwich. What exactly is the message being conveyed here in Bioshock Infinite? What is the theme, the moral of the story?
At the beginning, I almost felt like Booker was trying to make up for his sins, to seek forgiveness and redemption, to put things right. But what is Booker’s actual crime that he is repenting? To stop a person he never turned out to be from entrapping the person he is into a crime a third version must now stop? Booker choosing to be drowned seems a noble sacrifice until you realize what exactly he is undoing: choices he never made. Or, even worse, stopping a man (Comstock) he had no choice into becoming. There is never any “good Comstock” because apparently being bad is a constant. Fate. Predestination.
What is the message here about personal responsibility, free will, and choice? You have none because Constants and Variables. And suddenly, infinite universes means you are implicitly responsible to consequences [of actions] that you never chose and never happened in your own universe. Do you remember when you donated to charity instead of setting a baby on fire? Well, you should feel real bad anyway because the not-you baby-arsonist is running amok and it’s up to you to stop yourself like you already did by not setting the baby on fire in the first place. GUYZ, DEEPEST PLOT EVAR.
There is no route from Infinite’s plot to a good story. None. The “grand redemption” is paying for mistakes you explicitly did not commit in this universe. Even in my most charitable reading of the game – that Booker acknowledges the potential darkness in his soul – leads to the same asinine moral conclusions. Because Booker can choose evil, and did so in an alternate universe, it’s better to kill all possible versions of himself before he can make that potential choice. O… kay? All of us have darkness inside; quite literally who we are is determined by how we manage that darkness. Simply choosing to have it never happen in the first place is an easy, childish fantasy.
And don’t get me started on how moral responsibility can possibly exist in a deterministic universe.
But you know what? This is not even about Infinite anymore. This is about the hubris of an artist to paint his/her deficiencies as strengths, thereby negating any difference between good or bad works. It is me telling you that if you do not find this argument convincing, it is your fault. “If you don’t like this thing I made, it must not have been for you, and thus you’re an idiot for having bought it.” That’s not how this shit works! And besides, Levine, you already told us everything relevant in the game proper: namely, that you’re the next M. Night Shamalanananon. A couple of great works, followed by a more crappy one, and all of a sudden (spoiler alert) the trees are killing everyone.
The tragedy in all this is that we already know who ultimately wins the historical narrative. It has been four months since the debacle started, and all the comment sections in the DLC posts are filled with those gushing over the “deep” ending. And why not? Those who were disgusted as I am have long since stopped caring, or are embarrassed to silence that they still do, leaving the uncouth Philistines to drown in their Confirmation Bias echo chambers. And that is how this whole thing will play out: a great game with a good plot that sold millions of copies. Just like 50 Shades of Grey, Diablo 3, and EA’s Sim City.
Constant and variables, amirite? Christ, how depressing.
When I got to sit down with Infinite‘s creative director Ken Levine on Thursday after playing the game and asked for his thoughts, I got an extensive, thoughtful answer that in a perfect world would put an end to all of the bellyaching.
“I understand that some of the fans are disappointed. We expected it. I know that may be hard to hear, but let me explain the thinking.”
“We went and did a tour… around to a bunch of, like, frathouses and places like that. People who were gamers. Not people who read IGN. And [we] said, so, have you guys heard of BioShock? not a single one of them had heard of it.”
“And we live in this very special… you know, BioShock is a reasonably successful franchise, right? Our gaming world, we sometimes forget, is so important to us, but… there are plenty of products that I buy that I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about. My salad dressing. If there’s a new salad dressing coming out, I would have no idea. I use salad dressing; I don’t read Salad Dressing Weekly. I don’t care who makes it, I don’t know any of the personalities in the salad dressing business.”
“For some people, [games are] like salad dressing. Or movies, or TV shows. It was definitely a reality check for us. Games are big, and they’re expensive, I think that’s very clear. And to be successful, and to continue to make these kinds of games which frankly, of the people who make these types of games, there’s not a lot of them, and they haven’t exactly been the most successful with these types of games that have come out in the last few years. I was thrilled because I love them, and I hope that we had some small role in getting those games greenlit… But they have to be financially successful to keep getting made.”
“I looked at the cover art for BioShock 1, which I was heavily involved with and love, I adored. And I tried to step back and say, if I’m just some guy, some frat guy, I love games but don’t pay attention to them… if I saw the cover of that box, what would I think? And I would think, this is a game about a robot and a little girl. That’s what I would think. I was trying to be honest with myself. Trust me, I was heavily involved with the creation of those characters and I love them.”
“Would I buy that game if I had 60 bucks and I bought three games a year… would I even pick up the box? I went back to the box for System Shock 1, which was obviously incredibly imporatnt — that game was incredibly influential on me, System Shock 2 was the first game I ever made. I remember I picked it up… looked at it and I said, I have no idea what this game is. And I didn’t have a lot of money back then. So, back on the shelf. And I was a gamer.”
“I wanted the uninformed, the person who doesn’t read IGN… to pick up the box and say, okay, this looks kind of cool, let me turn it over. Oh, a flying city. Look at this girl, Elizabeth on the back. Look at that creature. And start to read about it, start to think about it.”
“I understand that our fan says, that’s great Ken, what’s in it for me? One, we need to be successful to make these types of games, and I think it’s important, and I think the cover is a small price for the hardcore gamer to pay. I think also when we do something for the hardcore gamer, there’s something we’re talking about and something we’re sure about. The thing we’re sure about is that we’re going to be releasing a whole set of alternate covers that you can download and print. We’re going to be working with the community to see what they’re interested in.”
“We had to make that tradeoff in terms of where we were spending our marketing dollars. By the time you get to the store, or see an ad, the BioShock fan knows about the game. The money we’re spending on PR, the conversations with games journalists — that’s for the fans. For the people who aren’t informed, that’s who the box art is for.”
I like this excerpt for a lot of reasons, but mainly because I think its useful to occasionally be reminded that the majority of the games we like playing couldn’t have been made without a bunch of other people paying for them too; people who “don’t get it,” or otherwise are incapable of appreciating the game for what it is or what it represents. There are some outliers as always, high-profile titles exclusively geared to its niche, and thankfully the positive PR around the indie movement has made it possible to break the AAA budget straightjacket.
But sometimes the “dumbing down” is, in fact, necessary. Or at least useful in ensuring that you see more development from that studio/those designers.