Thursday, March 25, 2010

Heavy Rain Madness

Almost everywhere I look people are praising Heavy Rain, the new 'experience' from Quantic Dream. The problem is most people praising it are the people who made it - namely David Cage, the game's creator, who keeps talking about taking risks and making less conventional games.

Newsflash, David Cage: the PC has been and still is at the forefront of innovative gameplay. And you know what? A game doesn't have to be a boring, tedious tromp through banal and gimmicky storylines for it to be a strong emotional experience. The adventure games of old had a huge emotional impact, and they still managed to deliver interesting stories and have a gaming experience that was fulfilling. Other games today achieve great emotional connection with players by being desgined right.

Granted, I haven't played Heavy Rain, but I have played Fahrenheit, its spiritual predecessor. Sure, the graphics have improved and they've better disguised the QTE-controlled cut scenes but it's still the same crap: you follow several characters doing barely related key-pressing mini-games to advance the story. Only, if you get something wrong, the game doesn't end! It CONTINUES, AND BRANCHES IN A DIFFERENT STORYLINE! Wow, Quantic Dream... You designed more than one storyline and made them connect! This REALLY hasn't been done before... AT ALL.

But seriously, I've been asking myself why all this bothers me at all. Surely there's room in the games industry for these types of games. Well, after thinking it over, I have narrowed down why this angers me so much: Firstly, it's the presumptuousness of the developers. Every time David Cage goes on some damn interview and toots his own horn, an angel dies somewhere. This game is not original, has a poor story (from what I've seen), and takes credit for things which have been done before, and better. So the praising of this game is so misplaced it physically pains me.

Secondly, and in relation to the first point, is the media's apparent love or appreciation for the game. This frightens as well as angers me: the notion that people - fans and designers alike - seem to feel this is a good way for games to go. People, listen... having to press a sequence of keys to get the movie going is not interactivity. It does not make me better connect or relate to the character. I'm also a culprit, because I appreciate it too. Or, at least, I appreciate the attempt: the thought, the desire, to create a new kind of game. But what they're going for, how they're doing it, is not original or effective. To praise them for it merely because they had good intentions is counter-productive. Let them go back to the drawing board and make a better attempt!

I'm also angered by the current trend of having branching storylines. This is a great thing in RPGs when done right, giving you a range of possibilities to mold your own character. But in many other games this isn't the case. The problem is that so many gamers seem to think that being a gamer is all about choosing your own story. They don't see that this just holds games back. In a game like Heavy Rain, the multiple storylines just cover the fact that the story is poor to being with. You don't mold a character here. It's all under the pretense of having your own 'experience'. But even if you had a million possibilities, they'd still be limited.

On the other hand, a story with a single narrative that has control over characters and events will have a larger emotional impact but will also be less limited. Why? Because it will have a meaning that goes beyond simple replayablity. Its replay value will be the same you get in watching The Usual Suspects or Memento twice or more in order to really get the story, to have your own interpretation of it. So I'm angry because David Cage and people who think like him are endangering the future of gaming as a deeper medium, ensnaring it in the realm of escapist entertainment. These games can be great fun, to be sure, but they should not dominate the way we think of games.

And one last point in this seemingly endless rant:
I'm not against the choice-driven stories. Even in games where this is less appropriate and in my opinion even ruins the story, there are people who enjoy it and it's not like the game is unplayable because of it. The only problem I have is with this becoming too large a trend, and people ignoring other possibilities because of it.

But, as I said in the beginning of this post, the PC is always at the front of innovation. Sure, consoles have their accessories, their motion-control or whatnot, but when it comes to actually making the inner-workings of games works differently - this is the PCs strength. It doesn’t have to be marketable to be able to reach players worldwide. So keep your so-called innovation for the console, David Cage, we're quite happy on the PC, thank you.

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