Nostalgia Level: Star Ocean 2
Just doing my nightly Kotaku crawl when I came across a Let’s Talk About Star Ocean 2 article. Holy nostalgia, man.
The article itself was really talking about how bad the dialog/localization was in the original game (apparently remedied a bit by the non-digital, PSP-only re-release) which, like most things in 1999, I don’t remember being much of an issue. What I mainly remember is: sci-fi JRPG, action combat, 60+ hour campaign, Private Actions (a pretty novel method of character-building at the time), and 80+ endings. And those Skills. Good lord, those skills.
I keep thinking that if I had infinite time, that I would replay all these PS1 games, even if the experience itself would not quite be the same. It’s hard going back though. As the sidebar indicates, I’m sorta-maybe playing FF4 for the first time (started due to the Japan trip) and it’s tough getting past the “X and Y were bad game design decisions” sort of mentality. I can’t even imagine the field day I’d have with games like Star Ocean 2.
Still, I have some rather pleasant memories of that whole gaming era, which landed straight in my formative high school years. Star Ocean 2 doesn’t really come close to FF7 or Xenogears, but it ranks up there with the LUNAR series as being an unexpected delight.
The Siren Call of Dynamism
Looks like we have the next Jesus game:
EverQuest Next Could Fix Everything Wrong With MMORPGs
I’ve played every major massively multiplayer role-playing game released since 1998, yet it feels like I’ve spent the past 15 years playing the same game over and over again. That’s a problem. EverQuest Next is the solution.
I probably should have stopped reading that Kotaku article right there, but I’m a masochist at heart.
Don’t get me wrong, some of the things I’m reading about EverQuest Next sound interesting. Voxel-based things, somehow without looking like Cube World. And… err… yeah. Classless/multi-class systems like The Secret World/FF11. Stylized graphics like WoW, Firefall, Wildstar. Red zones on the ground that you shouldn’t stand in, like most every game these days. Jumping and “parkour” (which means what, exactly, in this context?) like in Guild Wars 2. Reducing abilities down to eight, like Guild Wars 2 again. Dynamic events and “calls to arms” like Guild Wars 2 and Firefall and Warhammer. Hell, considering they brought over Jeremy Soule to do their soundtrack, they probably should have just called the game EverGuildQuestWars2Next.
Then there are the hype red flags. A StoryBricks-based AI that wanders around and sets up camp organically? Neat. But then I started reading this interview:
So, to better understand the Rallying Calls, I wasn’t clear on some things with David Georgeson’s example: say you’ve built a big city, and built these stone walls around it, and now an army has come for a siege. Is that something that happens over a couple hours, or a week?
McPherson: That army siege lasts until the players on the server have completed that stage.
With the “emergent AI,” though, how can you maintain something indefinitely? If the army comes to attack, and is defeated outright in an hour or the players just ignore it, what then? Do you keep spawning enemies?
Butler: Until the things that spawn them are destroyed.
So, if orcs are released into the world and wander around looking for areas they like, they’re not coming from some point and spreading outward, they’re spawning from camps they set up?
McPherson: Right, perfect example. So in phase four of this Rallying Call, four large orc warband camps spawn in the hills. Those camps are literally swarming with orcs.
Butler: And they’re unassailable.
McPherson: Until you meet the requirements to move on to that next area and eliminate those. Then you and your army push past them and assault them in their homeland.
Butler: You try to fireball the palisade walls in the orc camps, but the fireball doesn’t take down the walls because you need catapults, because that’s what unlocks the next phase and gives you the ability to assault the camps directly.
What happens if players don’t do any of this?
Butler: It’s simple, it doesn’t advance. So just like a chapter of a book, right? You’ve got your personal storyline, you’re playing through the game. Your personal contribution and the story that goes with it goes on at whatever pace you choose to pursue. The server has a storyline as well, expressed with these Rallying Calls. If players choose not to pursue them, the clock just doesn’t advance.
Oh. So… these things are completely indistinguishable from anything we’ve seen a thousand times before, all the way back to simple phased quests in WoW? Will there be a little “Catapults put into position: 0/2” blurb in the middle-right side of the screen too? How dynamic and revolutionary.
Getting back to the Kotaku article, the author presents his final conclusion like this:
Addressing the Real Problem
Boredom is the enemy of the MMORPG, plain and simple. Now matter how gorgeous the world, or how animated the player base or how compelling the game itself, eventually all of that content the developers spent years creating is going to grow stale.
That’s the real problem here. MMORPGs have traditionally been developed much like single-player games. There’s a beginning, a middle and an end. They can be padded with downloadable content, but they’re still single-player games with other people crammed in there to keep us from realizing that we’re playing the same thing over and over again.
Maintaining a strong community helps, but its not enough. To really solve the core problem, you’ve got to create what so many games before have promised — a living, breathing, ever-changing world.
EverQuest Next sounds like the solution to me.
Now, he says he has been playing MMOs for the last 15 years, but I get the distinct impression that he hasn’t. All long-term compelling MMO content is player-based. An ever-changing world is irrelevant in comparison to a completely static world populated with other people you like hanging around with. People are still playing the original EverQuest for god’s sake! This is besides the fact that there isn’t a “living, breathing, ever-changing world” in EQN or anywhere.
Even if EQN or some future game actually managed to pull it off, would you even want to play it? As I pointed out back in 2011, player impact on the game world is considerably less interesting than many people make it out to be. Imagine if xxArthasDKlolxx killed an NPC and now you can never interact with said NPC again. Is that what you want? Feature sets that include “destructible environments” always have to be followed up by explanations about how it isn’t permanent, lest new players be introduced to a cratered wasteland made by bored griefers.
EVE has been in the news lately with its dynamic player impact, but all of that has been confined to player social structures, and not the game-world itself; star systems have changed ownership, but it’s not as though there are less NPCs or ice rocks in the universe.
That’s how you do dynamic content: with people. Whether orcs spawn in the valley or on the hill is extremely trivial, considering you still have to remove them in pretty much the same manner as you did 15 resets ago. GW2 has committed itself to two-week content obsoletion cycles, which I guess is one way to avoid the tedium of redoing the same thing over and over. Then again, even if the set pieces change, you are still interacting with the world the same way, more or less, as you did at level 1. “Kill this, click that, jump here, fill up your meter, claim rewards.”
I’m not saying that dynamic/changing content can’t be fun, I’m saying that dynamic content is not some silver bullet for boredom. Things might change randomly or dynamically, but your understanding of their mechanics only increases over time. Nils has talked about this years ago, as I have, but I think Klepsacovic summed it up more poetically here:
That last part is the key: anything I could think of. Early on I did not imagine what else I could want to do in this world. I’d done only a tiny fraction of what I could. This had two effects. One was that I had not run into a limit yet. The other was that I could not imagine a limit. I did not imagine that the sky ended, that the quests ended, that the raids could all be done. These were all true, but since I did not know them and did not even imagine them, they were irrelevant. I was running the infinite distance of a circular path.
Since then I’ve learned and my behavior has changed. I do not run in circular paths. I run out, find the edge, map it out, and then fill it in. This means that very early on my mind has already filled the size of the world, so that all that can happen after are details, with nothing big to be revealed. In my mind it looks like two strategies for filling in a circle. Both start at the center. One draws a line out to the edge and now the radius is known. It then spirals inward, knowing exactly where it is headed. The other starts the spiral at the center. It will cover the same area, but it will do so not knowing where the edge is, what the limits are, until it reaches them.
Cynicism is easy, but it’s also an appropriate response to any claim that non-player dynamism is going to solve anything. You can still get bored playing a procedurally-generated game; if that fact is not the simplest indictment of the intellectual bankruptcy of Mike Fahey’s Kotaku argument, I don’t know what is. People are the only thing that will continue making a game interesting once you have mapped out the circle. The player-built structures and other such things might bridge the gap, but it won’t be enough if you aren’t making friends and setting down roots. Given how EQN is F2P though… well, I’m not holding out hope for a particularly stable, long-term community.
All that said, EQN is now on my radar. If it’s fun, I’ll play it. Hell, I’m kinda interested in the incredibly devious EQN Landmark “game” where you’ll likely pay SOE for the privilege of building content for them (Landmark is F2P, but that just means the costs are hidden). Imagine building your own house – as in, your IRL house – and placing that in game… or selling it to other people. I have never used Portal 2’s puzzle-making feature, but I am always a fan of developers giving players tools to build in-game stuff. Crowd-sourcing is great, but even better is the ability to sorta build your own game design portfolio.
Would I get bored with EQN eventually? No doubt. But I don’t see that inevitability as a negative – it is simply the natural consequence of learning and experiencing things. An MMO doesn’t have to last forever to be worth playing. People and relationships don’t last forever either, but I don’t see anyone saying those are a waste of time.
The Next Xbox May Have Always-Online Requirement
The rumormill is a-churning away on this piece of news:
“Unless something has changed recently,” one of the sources told us over email, “Durango consumer units must have an active internet connection to be used.”
Durango is the codename for the next-gen Xbox.
“If there isn’t a connection, no games or apps can be started,” the source continued. “If the connection is interrupted then after a period of time–currently three minutes, if I remember correctly–the game/app is suspended and the network troubleshooter started.”
Lending a sort of credence to the entire affair, and once again proving that people become drooling morons on Twitter, is this series of Tweets from the Microsoft Creative Director, Adam Orth. I will go ahead and transcribe them here instead of just posting pictures of tweets like the dozen lazy websites I checked before realizing that no one else was going to do it:
Sorry, I don’t get the drama around having an “always on” console. Every device now is “always on”. That’s the world we live in. #dealwithit
I want every device to be “always on”.
Alex Wells: Off the top of my head I know 5 people who own 360’s who current have no access to the internet. They would be screwed.
@TheonlyAlexW Those people should definitely get with the time and get the internet. It’s awesome.
Manveerheir: Did you learn nothing from Diablo III or SimCity? You know some people’s internet goes out right? Deal with it is a shitty reason.
@manveerheir Electricity goes out too.
Sometimes the electricity goes out. I will not purchase a vacuum cleaner.
The mobile reception in the area I live in is spotty and unreliable. I will not buy a mobile phone.
Microsoft apologized for the tweets by someone “not a spokesman for Microsoft” a day later.
Personally, I feel this is one of those rumors stupid enough to be true. Microsoft is already requiring the Kinect to be running the entire time the Xbox 720 is on, because somehow it’s important to Microsoft for there to be a camera trained on your living room the entire time you are playing Halo 5. Besides, this is not even the first time we have heard about this – here is an article back in February from an insider saying that Xbox games will require an online activation code and installation to the HD, thereby making the disc worthless to anyone else. It is not much of a leap to go from online activation keys to always-online.
Lost in all of this, of course, is what possible benefit there is to the consumer. Always-Online is not a feature, no matter how hard EA’s COO spins it, it’s a restriction. You have to be online to pay an MMO, or PlanetSide 2, or whatever other multiplayer game, yes, but that is because those individuals are not in your house. The single-player campaign or indie game or whatever is in your house and doesn’t require outside intervention except arbitrarily. Remember the SimCity fiasco? There were zero server-side calculations, or at least calculations that needed to be sent out to EA’s bank of super-computers (…lol) to process. Even if you could argue that Leaderboards or cloud saving were worthwhile features, no rational arguments were given as to why they could not simply have been optional.
Adam Orth’s analogy with cell phones is particularly instructive in regards to these corporate drones’ idiotic thought processes. Does your smartphone simply shut down and become unusable the moment you lose coverage? Or can you continue playing Angry Birds or taking photos or listening to music you saved to the device? Whether I am always-online already or not, there is no benefit to the requirement.
In any case, I cannot possibly imagine a better advertisement for the PS4 than the next Xbox coming out with an always-online requirement. Will it sway a majority of people away from the Xbox? Probably not. But as the margins in the console business continue getting slimmer, perhaps there will be enough losses that these anti-consumer practices will stop making their way out of the fevered wet dreams of CFOs everywhere.
And if not, well, there is always the $99 Ouya, right?
The Secret World’s Other Shoe, and Jay Wilson’s Apology for D3
A little over a week ago, I pointed out that Funcom’s The Secret World was not selling all that well; Funcom’s own public press release highlighted a (presumably optimistic) scenario in which they sell half a million boxes and have ~120k subscribers after a year.
As reported by Kotaku, that other shoe has dropped: 50% of Funcom’s staff has been laid off.
Some of these initiatives are part of normal procedure following the launch of a major project, such as adjustments to the customer service staffing based on the number of customers in the game as well as adjustments to the production team as the project goes into a post-launch phase following years of intense development. Many of those affected on the customer service team are on temporary contracts which is common for a live service such as ‘The Secret World’ where customer service demand shifts based on the game’s population levels.
Even the “good news” part of that – the developers/designers were less affected than “temp” customer service reps – comes across as bad news to my ears. After all, if the MMO was doing better, then one would presumably want to retain a robust CustServ department.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but I wonder whether or not we should start using layoffs as a metric of MMO success. Obviously subscription numbers have been used as the de facto measurement for years, and I imagine it correlates with layoffs pretty strongly already, but I think most of us recognize the dissonance between claiming “Game X failed” while it still remains profitable. I mean, for god’s sake, Warhammer Online is still kicking it with a subscription¹. EA is not keeping that thing alive out of the goodness of its heart. In fact, arguably, keeping Warhammer alive is unnecessarily cruel.
Or… perhaps we would all be better off not bothering with arbitrary success or failure designations entirely.
…nah, this is the internet. There can only be one!
Speaking of immortals losing their heads…
You will be forgiven if you have not been following the “Example #38417 of How Social Media Will Ruin Your Day” Diablo 3 news story, staring Jay “And Double It” Wilson.
The short version is that one of the developers of the original Diablo (David Brevik) made some comments about Diablo 3 in an interview, and essentially said he would have made different decisions. More or less. The current developers of Diablo 3 did not like that too much, and Jay Wilson thought it was a good idea to respond on Facebook by saying, and I quote, “Fuck that loser.” You can read the Kotaku write-up if you like, as it includes snippets of the interview in question and a screencap of the Facebook post itself.
Looking at the other comments, I’d say Eric Bachour’s “You’d think that guy wasn’t responsible for Hellgate: London. Lol.” was the more epic burn.
In any case, Jay “Fuck that loser and Double It” Wilson has an official pseudo-apology up on the Diablo 3 boards. I do not expect you to actually click on that link, because most of it is PR bullshit (redundantly redundant much?). Well… alright, if you skip the first four paragraphs, things get more interesting. Or you can simply read this handy list of bullet-point quotes:
- “We believe it’s a great game. But Diablo III has flaws. It is not perfect. Sales mean nothing if the game doesn’t live on in all of our hearts, and standing by our games is what Blizzard does.”
- “If you don’t have that great feeling of a good drop being right around the corner — and the burst of excitement when it finally arrives — then we haven’t done our jobs right.”
- “Out of our concern to make sure that Diablo III would have longevity, we were overly cautious about how we handled item drops and affixes. If 1.0.4 hasn’t fixed that, you can be sure we’ll continue to address it.”
- “Part of the problem, however, is not just item drops, but the variety of things to do within the game. “
- “As it stands, Diablo III simply does not provide the tools to allow players to scale the game challenge to something appropriate for them.”
- “Later in the development of Diablo II, the ‘players 8’ command — which let people set monster difficulty — was added to address this issue, and we’re considering something similar for the next major Diablo III patch to allow players to make up their own minds about how hard or how easy is right for them.”
- “The Auction House can short circuit the natural pace of item drops, making the game feel less rewarding for some players. This is a problem we recognize. At this point we’re not sure of the exact way to fix it, but we’re discussing it constantly, and we believe it’s a problem we can overcome.”
I have a spoiler alert for you Jay: that last bullet point ain’t going to happen. Not only is that cat out of the bag, it has been skinned in more than one way across all nine of its lives.
I played a few hours of D3 since the patch, and I have noticed three things:
- “Normal monster health increased by 10%” = +5 terribly boring seconds per mob.
- I can tank Act 3 Inferno elites in the same gear/skills I was 2-shot in pre-patch.
- Gold prices have gone from $2.50/million down to $1.06/million.
That last one is a real shame, as I was hoping to cash out my ~5 million gold and (combined with the few bucks from earlier sales) maybe purchase a month of WoW ahead of MoP. Then again, that would be kind of silly to do given the Scroll of Resurrection’s free server transfer bonus, and GW2’s imminent release notwithstanding. Oh well.
Kind of wonder if that dude who paid $200 for my friend’s 2H sword is still playing the game. I do not know which possibility would be more sad for him/her.
¹ Warhammer says it is F2P on the website, but as far as I can tell it operates more as an unlimited duration free trial than true F2P. For example, you cannot go to the capital cities, cannot engage in any economic transaction with another player, and are limited to “Tier 1 scenarios,” whatever the hell that means (it’s been years since the one month I played).
SWTOR Drops an EVE in Size
In other words, SWTOR lost 400,000 subscriptions in the last three months:
Star Wars: The Old Republichas dropped from 1.7 million active subscribers to 1.3 million, publisher Electronic Arts said today in an earnings statement.
That’s a loss of nearly 25% for the massively multiplayer online role-playing game, or 400,000 subscribers. […]
Update: In a conference call this afternoon, EA said the decrease was indeed due to “casual and trial players” cycling out of the game.
It is worth noting, of course, that the 1.3 million current subscribers is circa March 31st; things may have stabilized or gotten worse sense then.
Remember the whole brouhaha concerning the free month of game time given to Bioware’s “most valued players?” That took place two weeks into April. So while that may still have been a cynical move to prop up subscription numbers, we can be reasonably certain that the 1.3 million figure is not being finessed by anything (the 1.7 million figure at the beginning of the year had some vague language).
I’m not sure I’m going to follow SWTOR with the same level of attention I give to WoW’s subscription/raiding numbers, but for some future reference, here is an Xfire screenshot:
I personally don’t like using Xfire as a metric – the sample of players here are playing SWTOR for 5.3 hours at a time if I’m reading that right, and I’d assume even happily subbed players play less over time – but there you go. Damning evidence of EAware’s hubris and impending downfall, or signs of a much healthier MMO than most releases have achieved in the last few years. Obviously 400k is nothing to sneeze at, but 1.3 million is much better than analyst predictions of 800k.
Spin that narrative however you please.
Best ending line in a gaming news article goes to Kotaku.
The short version of events leading up to that article is that, similar to the (shut down) Child’s Play charity drive, a group of gamers decided to “protest” Mass Effect 3’s ending by sending Bioware 400 cupcakes… each one identical, aside from red, blue, or green frosting. The cupcakes arrived, and then this happened (emphasis mine):
Writing on the company’s forums, Chris Priestley says that while “we appreciate creative and thoughtful” acts of feedback, “we decided ultimately the reason that they were sent was not done in the context of celebrating the work or accomplishment of the Mass Effect 3 team.”
As a result, instead of eating them all up, BioWare donated all 400 cupcakes to a local youth shelter. Where, presumably, after picking their colours and finishing their last bite, the kids were left wondering whether their choice had really been that important, and if somebody could please come in an explain what the hell just happened.
I’m sure that, one day, I won’t find these stories so goddamn hilarious. Today is not that day.
In other news, I have added a new section to the site called “Currently,” as in Currently Playing/Reading/Watching. I do not expect it to become relevant to the blog proper, but if you enjoy occasionally seeing what other bloggers are up to (as I do), there you go.
Bioware “Addressing” Mass Effect 3’s Ending(s) via DLC
Dr. Ray Muzyka, co-founder of BioWare, has a blog post up regarding Mass Effect 3’s ending and resulting controversy. The money-shot (literally), is this paragraph:
Building on their research, Exec Producer Casey Hudson and the team are hard at work on a number of game content initiatives that will help answer the questions, providing more clarity for those seeking further closure to their journey. You’ll hear more on this in April. We’re working hard to maintain the right balance between the artistic integrity of the original story while addressing the fan feedback we’ve received. This is in addition to our existing plan to continue providing new Mass Effect content and new full games, so rest assured that your journey in the Mass Effect universe can, and will, continue.
My first, immediate reaction? Summed up by this picture I saw on the Kotaku forums:
Between the wording of that paragraph and the extent to which he stresses that the team was “surprised” at the “passionate reaction of Bioware’s most loyal fans,” this news does not exactly inspire confidence. Implicitly, it sort of disproves Indoctrination Theory, yeah? And even more depressingly, it implies that the team of writers who had crafted this brilliant narrative up to that point felt like the Normandy bit at the end made a single goddamn piece of sense.
I think I need to make a post dedicated to narrative/artistic integrity at some point, if for no other reason than to try and hammer out my own feelings on the subject. I felt post-ending DLC worked well in Fallout 3 (regardless of whether it was based on fan reaction or not), but at what point does this become indistinguishable from game companies selling us the final chapter to incomplete products? If Bioware changes the ending, is that them “caving to pressure?” Is a revised ending still the inviolate artistic expression it was before? And what if the new ending is actually good? Will you be able to, as a player, re-immerse yourself without the nagging feeling of patronization?
While I do some soul gerrymandering on the subject, don’t miss Kotaku’s “Why I’m Glad Bioware Might Change Mass Effect 3’s Ending for the Fans” article, or Forbes’ awesome “Mass Effect 3 And The Pernicious Myth Of Gamer ‘Entitlement’” take-down (thanks to Liore for pointing it out). They sum up my general feelings on the subject, although… well, suffice it to say, I’m the kinda guy that got annoyed that the Oracle was played by a different actress in Matrix 3 (and how they handled the transition) even though the first actress died IRL.
As a general rule, I try not to get too excited by anything.
Part of this is due to the standard sort of defense mechanism against disappointment. As the saying goes, a pessimist is either right, or pleasantly surprised. Of course, that often leads to pretty dreary life experiences, so there are certain realms in which I let it all hang out.
But the main reason I strive to keep skepticism high is out of simple and repeated experience: you are always punished for your enthusiasm.
Case in point:
If you will recall, I ended up paying ~$85 for Mass Effect 3: Digital Deluxe Edition about two days ago. Had I waited those two days, I could have spent $16 somewhere, anywhere else. I am not in a financial situation in which the $16 necessarily matters, but it matters to me that I essentially paid an Enthusiasm Tax.
The deal was via Dealzon, and I was made aware of that via Kotaku’s The Moneysaver article. It expires today (March 10), in case you are interested. Then again, I have little doubt that you could wait a month or two and get an even better deal.
Incidentally, based on my ME3 experiences thus far, it is worth waiting for the price drop.
Quote of the Decade
Today, Kotaku reposted an earlier article from Rock, Paper, Shotgun entitled “Do We Own Our Steam Games?” which was the inspiration for yesterday’s post. The example scenario that makes up half the article is not exactly the most flattering, as it involves a Russian gamer who, quote, “[…] openly admits that he’s gifted games to people in exchange for money, to help them get them cheaper.”
In other words, some Steam games are cheaper in Russia, so you could call this guy up, have him buy LIMBO for the equivalent of $0.50 instead of $9.99, have him gift the game to you, and then you give him $3 or buy him a beer or whatever in exchange. Of course, regional price differences sometimes work the other way too. For example, Deus Ex: Human Revolution costs $29.99 in the US, but €49.99 in Europe… the equivalent of $66.36, or an increase of 121.27%.
That sort of thing will get you banned, of course.
It was around this time in the comments that someone named “iteyoidar” dropped this gem:
Funny how when it comes to globalization, when it’s games devs and publishers dodging domestic laws and getting cheap shit in other countries, it’s just business, but when it’s the consumer using the same thing to their advantage to buy cheap media, it’s “fraud” and “cheating” and they’re all scum.
Yeah. Yeah. Is there a particularly good reason why we tolerate price discrimination on identical, digital goods? Other than, of course, that companies wouldn’t like it?
I get that standards of living are different, that you can’t ask for $15/month in China when the average person makes $20.27 a day, and so on. But as a consumer, why should I care? Spare me the “holistic” crap of feeding game devs and races to the bottom, because obviously that shit only works one-way when it comes to outsourcing jobs. Why is it okay to presume a business has a right to profit, but a consumer lacks the equivalent? Because that hurts businesses?
Oh. Oh, I see.
The people that can pay more should pay more, eh? Where have I heard that before?
Bioshock Infinite DLC Cometh
Posted by Azuriel
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.
Can this be considered fan service?
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:
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.
Remember to feel guilty for killing them in an alternate universe you weren’t a part of.
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.
Posted in Commentary
Tags: Bioshock Infinite, Constants and Variables, Interview, Ken Levine, Kotaku, Plot, Shit Sandwich