Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Diary Entry #4: Some Gaming Notes and "Hollywood Envy"

                Over the past few days, I played through Alone in the Dark: One Eyed Jack's Revenge. I took some notes as I played. I'll list them off and attempt to explain what I was thinking for the weirder ones:

1. Cool taxi in beginning

                One of the nicer features of the Playstation port of Alone in the Dark 2 is the textured polygonal models. It gives the game a polished look that's slightly marred by archaic pixellated backgrounds.

3D Carnby and 3D ghoul.

2. I love the music

                There are about three songs in the game and they seem to play randomly. I love them all, but the best is easily the weird pirate polka.

3. Load times are VERY long.

                This is a problem that plagued much of my experience. Whenever the perspective changes, the game takes seconds to load. Whenever an enemy spots you an star to move, the game takes seconds to load. Sometimes, the game just starts randomly loading for no obvious reason. If you're stuck at a frustrating section that requires many retries, sitting through these loads becomes a tedious time.

4. Cutscenes are cool

                There's only a handful of them, but they're charming to the core. The inital cutscene goes on for ten minutes, though this is mostly due to the aforementioned long load times. Several cutscenes are in game, there are also about four or five very trippy cutscenes. The best of these is when Carnby falls into a pit and winds up in the basement of One Eyed Jack's house. Enemies fly by, pieces of wood are shattered, and blood is splattered everywhere until you hit the hard concrete.

5. Played with sword, touched a card and died.

                In the initial garden section, there's a random set of tiles with card shapes on them: a spade, a diamond, etc. All of them kill you if touched excluding the diamond, which I figured was the right path anyway because of a random diamond-shaped tile found elsewhere. In the cave below the diamond, I found a sword, which I started playing with back outside. When practicing my lunge technique, I landed right on the club tile and died instantly. Who knew.

6. Santa outfit

That eerie figure in the background is none other than
me dressed as Santa Clause. Note the ugly backgrounds.

7. Little midget

                In the scene above, there's a midget chef who calls a bunch of people to kill you unless you're disguised as santa. It's cool.

8. Hitting people with pans

                I found a pan.

9. Cool voice sample, scary pirate pic.

                Halfway through the game, there's a bunch of narrated still images that describe how One Eyed Jack and his crew found the Flying Dutchman. It's got a scary pirate pic, evidently.

10. This little girl carries a ton of stuff.

                At one point, you play as Grace Saunders, a little girl. She acquires a jar of molasses, a freezer, a chicken's foot, keys, a staff, a sandwich, pepper, and probably something else that I can't remember. Where is she putting all of this stuff? I guess it's like that in all of the classic LucasArts adventure game, which lead to the following point...

There's no way a girl that small can carry
a jar of molasses AND a freezer. I'm going
to say that about every little girl I see from now on.

11. Like Grim Fandango, but with action stuff.

...Alone in the Dark and its first two sequels are very similar to Grim Fandango, the supposed classic, groundbreaking 3D LucasArts adventure game. All the developer has to do is take out the wonky action sequences and it's practically the same game. The only difference is that Grim Fandango is funny and more expansive: there are dozens of puzzles, memorable characters, and interesting locales to experience. In Alone in the Dark 2, there are six puzzles and a lot of killing zombie pirates with tommy guns.

12. Puzzles obtuse, cannon sequence is awesome.

                At one point, you have to cut a cannon from the floor, move the cannon, put a small keg of gunpowder in the room across the hallway, then light the cannon in order for it to go off. It blows up an entire room of sleeping zombie pirates. I probably would have just made them wake up and kill them all if I hadn't walked into the cannon room first by chance.

                If I had to to rent or buy Alone in the Dark: One Eyed Jack's Revenge, I would definitely buy it for exactly five dollars and a copy of 1080 Snowboarding. I hope someday to regain a copy of 1080 Snowboarding, but until then, I'm happy with the choice I made.

                Another recent acquisition is Beyond: Two Souls for the PS3. Why I want to play it remains a mystery. The use of famous actors and actresses like William Defoe and Ellen Page is pointless indulgent crap. I don't play games because they have famous actors in them, I watch films for that reason. But why am I complaining? If Quantic Dream's previous games Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain are any indicator, I'm going to be watching Beyond: Two Souls more than I play it.
                Back in 1989, Ron Gilbert wrote an article entitled "Why Adventure Games Suck and How We Can Fix Them", which is avaiable here. It decries the notion of adventure games as Interactive Movies, a then-recent trend in the industry, while explaining how it came to be. Gilbert compares the sensations of adventure/story games to those of film, stating that while games have a distinct sense of interactivity, they share film's requirement for suspension of disbelief on part of the audience.

                Because the story game is the closest simulacra  to film in the industry, developers are filled with what he calls "Hollywood Envy", a secret desire to create films rather than games. Now more than ever, the video game industry is filled with crazy people who make games filled with numerous cutscenes. Metal Gear Solid 4 is probably the worst example of this, burying some very interesting ideas and competent gameplay beneath hour long cinematics. Perhaps the aforementioned Alone in the Dark was a big step in this style of action-adventure storytelling with its narrative-driven style, but damn, individual cutscenes should not be feature length Mr. Metal Gear dude!

                But Beyond: Two Souls takes "Hollywood Envy" to an extreme. As many media sites have stated, David Cage and his company Quantic Dream are well known for their desire to blur the lines between film and games, polarizing critical opinion of their game. Detractors say it isn't even a game. Honestly, I know what I'm getting myself into: I'll occasionally get to play a game that features a lot of quick time events and occasional puzzle-like scenarios. I use the term puzzle-like because there's little lateral thinking required. In one of the scenes I played, you have to control your random external soul to uncover some information hidden in a safe. In order to reach it, I have to distract a security guard so I can freeze his monitor without him noticing, allowing me to open the safe without detection. Of course, when the game decided I was taking too long to solve the puzzle, it immediately started showing cuts of what I was supposed to push. All I'm doing is pushing stuff that the game clearly outlines; no lateral thinking+adventure game-like stuff=puzzle-like scenario.

                Minus puzzles and plus quick time events and cutscenes, the game sounds like it's going to totally suck. Yet as I played Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain, I felt compelled to play onward. Is it because it's unique? Is it because it vaguely reminds me of the adventures games I played as a kid? There's just so many problems going on in Heavy Rain, the foremost being the propagation of game characters as bad Hollywood stereotypes, that it's appeal rationally eludes me. I hate "Hollywood Envy" garbage in other games, so why should Quantic Dream's products interest me at all? With Beyond: Two Souls, I hope to uncover why such a flawed formula can be so fun.

                Oh yeah, but my copy of Beyond: Two Souls is defective, so I have to return it and buy a new one. Onward to Evil Dead: Hail to the King for Dreamcast!

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