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A Far Cry from Satire
December 19, 2012 8:12 AM   Subscribe

"So his view of what’s going on on this island is his own view, and you happen to be looking through his eyes, so you’re seeing his view." Video game writer Jeffrey Yohalem defends Far Cry 3, his most recent work.

Released earlier this month, hotly anticipated first person shooter (FPS) Far Cry 3 has been met with critical acclaim - oftentimes "not because of the story, and perhaps even despite it."

Yoshalem first defended his work by speaking with Sopie Prell at The Penny Arcade Report saying, "what makes me sad is that people don’t engage with playing the riddle, trying to solve the riddle. It’s like a scavenger hunt where people aren’t collecting the first clue."

Though he admires the effort, Rock, Paper, Shotgun's John Walker is unconvinced: "...rather than making us aware of the horrors of the starving Irish when he says they should eat their babies, instead it too often felt like he was publishing baby recipe books to the very hungry."
posted by Tevin (87 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yohalem sounds like 13 year old me imagining writing these great meaningful novels where every person's name was oh so clever and symbolic.

In other words, an idiot who can't write worth shit.
posted by kmz at 8:25 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


"In other words, an idiot who can't write worth shit."

I think if you blame your audience for not 'getting' your brilliance you probably are past the point of taking any kind of valid criticism to heart.
posted by Tevin at 8:32 AM on December 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have to confess that I'm only sort of reading these because of spoilers, but I feel like I can sort of see what Yohalem is trying to do, but I think it's a little uneven in the actual game.

For instance, there's a moment, very early on, where your character reacts very negative to violence. He starts freaking out and has to be calmed down. There's another moment a little further on where that changed and he's excited by the killing and mayhem and someone else is freaking out. There something there; that's an interesting transformation and there can be a story there, but it feels wrong in the game because as the gamer you don't have to build up to enjoying the violence. As a gamer, I was already totally comfortable with the violence from years of playing video games.* There's also not a curve for the character, so the moment of freaking out about seeing someone die is, effectively, immediately followed by Jason happily machine gunning every person he sees.

I can't say about the racism in the game, simply because I'm not done with it, but I think it might be somewhere similar. Good intentions, bad execution.

*Interestingly, despite years of watching me kill thousands of virtual people, my wife freaked out when I sniped a shark in the game. My explanation that I needed its skin to make half a wallet did not help.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:33 AM on December 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Having never played any of them before but being mildly interested in any game that give the player lots of choices/options it seems to me like the Far Cry games are basically sandbox games akin to Fallout meets Skyrim meets GTA with graphics intense enough to make even the most impressive GPU break down in tears.

So now I should throw in poorly executed morality plays into the description as well?
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:41 AM on December 19, 2012


I'm really confused by video game credits. Here Jeffrey Yohalem is listed as head writer, whereas IMDB has Patrick Redding as head writer, and meanwhile my friend Meghan Watt is listed in the in-game credits under GAME DESIGNERS as Writer (she's the only one listed thus).

I do not know what this means.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:45 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


From the way Jeffrey Yohalem goes on and on about name of the island and the Alice quotes, I get the sense he's the sort of guy who has a private room in his house with newspaper articles pinned to the walls and yards and yards of string connecting them. He invites you in, always agreeing with you ("Yes!" "Correct!") as he guides you through the amazing connections he's made between the Truths underpinning reality. When you lean closer, you have just enough time to read the words HELP ME that have been scratched into the plaster beneath a yellowed piece of newspaper.

Then a table leg hits you in the back of the head and you awaken to find yourself bound and gagged with Yohalem standing over you, ready to explain to you how bad the Star Wars prequels were.

And then everyone complains about it on the internet.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:46 AM on December 19, 2012 [23 favorites]


The prequels were actually pretty good.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:53 AM on December 19, 2012


I can only read his excited explanations of his own brilliance as something that fits best in the context of a coked out script-writer pitching his brilliant revelations to an uninterested group of acquaintances at a party.
posted by sp160n at 8:59 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The prequels were actually pretty good.

You're right that Far Cry and Far Cry 2 were both good games.
posted by straight at 8:59 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm playing the game right now, so I only was able to skim the links to avoid spoilers, but last night I played through a controversial moment, and rather than the ham fisted writing I was appalled by the use of quicktime events. JESUS. Does anyone like watching the same scene four times due an inability to hit the X button art precisely the right time?
posted by Keith Talent at 9:01 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


@RolandOfEld

Far Cry 1 and 2 are not as sandbox as they might appear. The latter especially.

If you want that, look at the Just Cause games.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 9:02 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Warning: this post contains some things that may be considered spoilers, and some things that most definitely are.

REVISE: Just say "This post contains spoilers."
posted by JHarris at 9:05 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


“The story is itself something that can be solved, like a riddle,” he told the Report. “What makes me sad is that people don’t engage with playing the riddle, trying to solve the riddle. It’s like a scavenger hunt where people aren’t collecting the first clue.”

Bullshit. Total fucking bullshit.

The solution to games' stories not being good is not to make games less gamelike. In fact, stories that succeed as layered riddles are often more gamelike: they establish rules and patterns, which they then break as a way of hinting to you that something more is happening here. Subtlety and mystery go hand-in-hand, but that's because each enhances the other, not because subtlety is mystery. On the contrary, as every high school poet discovers: if you try to be too subtle with your layering, then people will never find the layers, and then it doesn't matter how much you wish your writing was nuanced. It's not.

I researched Far Cry this year because some critics drew parallels between it and the game I've been writing about, Pathologic, but the difference between the two is night and day. Far Cry tries very hard to tell you that you're part of its world: much effort goes toward carefully constructing scenarios that make it seem as if the world is revolving around you, even though you're just executing part of its preplanned script. Pathologic, by contrast, sets up a world that acts the same regardless of your actions, but that world is constructed of half-truths and mysteries which you always know are there, but which will not reveal themselves to you directly. If you figure the secrets out, then you can act differently, and your actions will reveal even more of the world's secrets, and filtering through all the stories you've been told is part of Pathologic's endgame.

But Pathologic had the opposite problem, critically speaking, as Far Cry: critics praised it for its brilliant layering without figuring out that the layering was meant to be part of the game, and as such they never beat it. Even the critics who tried to revive the game's popularity a few years ago admitted they hadn't played the game all the way through, and as such their explanations of what the game was were considerably flawed.

I'm frustrated with how primitive the world of game design still is. Games are still in that "early silent movies" phase as an artform: people are slowly figuring out they can tell more meaningful stories, but they're figuring it out one teensy element at a time and they haven't figured out how these elements cohere into a meaningful vocabulary of gameplay. Meanwhile plenty of idiots like this guy slap simulacrums of those teensy elements into their game without actually making those elements meaningful, crow loudly about how smart they are, and gaming press follows along because it's too stuck up gaming's asshole to have any reasonable perspective on what sucks and what doesn't. The result will be, of course, that fifty years from now most people ignore the entirety of now-contemporary games, and even game studies courses will only focus on a handful of gems from the era, and all the rest of gaming today is all flash no substance.

This should be an exciting time for aspiring game makers, but I find it difficult to be enthused rather than frustrated. The good games are only good in teensy tiny ways, and the bad games are everywhere, and there's so much noise that it's hard to tell the one from the other. Even the best design studios, like thatgamecompany or Team Ico, advance their ideas in such agonizingly slow ways. Bleh. I wonder if being an early movie enthusiast was this frustrating or if the proliferation of online games reportage help make video games feel so wearying.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:08 AM on December 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


Yeah, there's definitely a coke-y vibe about the guy.
posted by basicchannel at 9:13 AM on December 19, 2012


Yeah, there's definitely a coke-y vibe about the guy.

The game's loading screens constantly flash random words slightly related to the story at you, i.e. LICK GUN GIRLFRIEND LOADING MOM LOADING ISLAND. There's a pretty coke-y vibe about the whole thing.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:24 AM on December 19, 2012


"Games are still in that "early silent movies" phase as an artform: people are slowly figuring out they can tell more meaningful stories, but they're figuring it out one teensy element at a time and they haven't figured out how these elements cohere into a meaningful vocabulary of gameplay."

I disagree. I think that Portal 2 is the medium's Citizen Kane. It is the perfect marriage of movement, narrative and visuals.
posted by Tevin at 9:25 AM on December 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


There are games that transcend their art, mechanics and story and become life-changing experiences. You remember them because you didn't just play them; they played you. Fallout 2. Half Life 2. Dark Souls. It's a young medium but it's starting to mature now as the kids who were born with video games begin to engage fully with their creation.

Yohalem reads like a totally self-absorbed Machiavellian jackhole, though. He seems to just want to fuck with you rather than present something that can not only affirm who you are but help you push the boundaries of who you want to be. Parallels to Harvester, where the proper answer to "how can I avoid killing all these people I don't want to kill" is "stop playing this game now" could be drawn.

Sigh.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:35 AM on December 19, 2012


I get a bit itchy when game designers or critics start to talk about story in games, as so often it means gameplay is sacrifised and it also means critical attention is centered almost exclusively on those games that lent themselves to (linear) storytelling. With good games, the storytelling is in the player's head.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:36 AM on December 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think that Portal 2 is the medium's Citizen Kane. It is the perfect marriage of movement, narrative and visuals.

I've studied Portal 2 and Citizen Kane each at length, and while Portal 2 is fairly terrific, it doesn't hold a candle to what Welles & co. did with Kane. In fact, this is the sort of statement that most bothers me about gaming discussions (with respect, Tevin): to compare the one to the other is to underestimate what Citizen Kane accomplished as a movie, and to entirely miss what video games are as an artform.

At the heart of game design is process: the freedoms you're given as a player, and the ways in which the world responds when you act upon those freedoms. Portal 2 gives you tight gameplay and a gorgeously-created world, but its process is incredibly limited: at any given point there are only a couple of things the world will do to you, and they can be simplified down to "you beat the stage" versus "you lose the stage" versus "you are still stuck on the stage". The individual puzzles in Portal 2, furthermore, are completely boxed off from each other; each one teaches you about the next, but in no ways does your behavior in one affect the elements in the next, except (minimally) in the dialogue recited to you by other characters. I'd argue that even Half-Life 2, which predates the Portal series, is better at simulating a truly interactive procedure, but even then it's just that: simulation. At most you have a few prescripted options to choose from, and those options lead you down an entirely linear path.

If you want to look at the evolution of gameplay, which is what matters most here, then the genre I think is doing the most interesting thing is the sandbox genre, including Far Cry. But sandboxes simulate breadth without achieving depth. The largest sandbox I know of, Skyrim, is infamous for the attention it pays to detail in its individual aspects, none of which add up to a world that actually behaves in any kind of immersive. In fact, making a world as large as Skyrim's truly responsive would manner be a near-impossible feat without some major innovations in script generation and world management – fields of study which don't even really exist. In a sandbox, you're given many ways to interact with a world, but none of those ways overlap; essentially you're playing multiple little games within a larger world, some of which share mechanics. That's still not an especially deep process, but it's deeper than what exists in a game like Portal. (Minecraft does this better than most other video games, but even Minecraft, probably the most innovative sandbox in recent years, barely scratches the surface.)

This is what I mean when I say that watching games as a field is hugely frustrating. Innovation is happening pretty much everywhere, but that innovation occurs almost entirely on gameplay's surface. Very few games delve deep into making process that constantly affects their players' options, or that's formed from their decisions. Dark Souls, for instance, is the most immersive play-mixed-with-world that I've seen, but its gameplay is entirely limited to fighting things and killing things. That's a genre of play that's literally existed since the arcade era, yet even now we're only starting to see it search for depth. Meanwhile, RPGs like King of Dragon Pass offer players a lot of options and constantly change outcomes based on player choice, but their gameplay is correspondingly limited to selecting options from lists. Jason Rohrer's Sleep is Death allows for a deeper interaction by allowing one person to generate results on the fly for another player, but multiplayer games are a whole other animal.

In almost every case – I can think of very little exception – critics of games and gamers themselves don't have a useful vocabulary for talking about how process works in game design, beyond the absolutely superficial layer of "what makes games easier/harder to comprehend". Even the best game theorists, people like Ian Bogost, tend to work by revealing subtle machinations in pre-existing games, rather than following games which are more blatantly working to reveal depth – but that's because no games are. The only game I know of that's really done astonishing things in this field is Pathologic, which I'm writing about, but Pathologic is almost literally insane – cryptic, confused, frustrating, and very, very broken, to the point where (like I said) even people who love the game are almost never willing to actually beat it. When I started writing about this game I spent hours searching for writers who talked about Pathologic's endgame, and it was literally one person, and that person was a totally unknown blogger. The game's a decade ahead of its time – it came out in 2005 and nobody's come close to repeating its discoveries – and it's just not a fun or effective game in any way.

What Citizen Kane did that made it such an accomplishment was the way it brought together innovations in writing, in cinematography, in set design, in the way cameras capture performances on film, and created a movie that had unbelievable depth. It's an astonishingly well-made film that uses photography and editing and then-unheard of camera techniques to tell a story so nuanced, so well-portrayed, that there'd simply been nothing else like it in film. There were other "perfect" films before, and those films all did novel things with writing and shooting and acting and so on, but Citizen Kane not only innovated, it realized how its many innovations could fit together to form a film language that hadn't ever been crystallized before.

Gaming is nowhere close to that. Game designers are nowhere close to that. Even the best designers working today don't even approach the ambition that Welles had for his debut. And I wouldn't be surprised if the game that truly does fit the stupid Citizen Kane comparison (and the comparison is a silly one to try and make) comes from a first-time developer who's never made a game before but spent her life studying all the things games were capable of and saw how the pieces could fit together. But critics and gamers alike are so damn determined to establish the validity of games as an artform that they jump to these ridiculous conclusion, make these utterly stupid arguments as to why X or Y game is a masterpiece, that they make it completely impossible to follow games as an evolving artform without running into a lot of bullshit. This Far Cry 3 guy doesn't even come close to being the worst that's out there, or the most-lauded (unfortunately).
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:58 AM on December 19, 2012 [17 favorites]


MartinWisse, that might be true and it might be not true. With movies, we have different types of movie - action, documentary, educational, advertisement, serial - and the type tells us not only about the content but also about the format of the story.

With games, the different types - adventure, puzzle, action, platformer, sim, rpg, sandbox - only tell us about the format of the game itself, with nothing said about the format of the story.

A game like Heavy Rain and a game like Mirrors Edge are very different games in terms of gameplay and also story. So long as we just keep calling them all "games", no one will ever be able to do it right.
posted by rebent at 10:00 AM on December 19, 2012


I'm frustrated with how primitive the world of game design still is.

Is it? Or are you confusing game storytelling with game design?

You can have a terrific game without trying to tell an explicit story at all. In the best games, an interesting story is created through play, even if the story is just of how you brought your opponent to checkmate.
posted by JHarris at 10:02 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I get a bit itchy when game designers or critics start to talk about story in games, as so often it means gameplay is sacrifised and it also means critical attention is centered almost exclusively on those games that lent themselves to (linear) storytelling. With good games, the storytelling is in the player's head.

You would like Jonathan Blow's 2008 talk Conflicts in Game Design, in which he discusses how designers trying to artificially insert narrative on top of gameplay often ruin either their gameplay or their story or both in their attempt. The ungainly word that I like to describe how stories work in gameplay is "ludonarrative", narrative formed by the process of play. Blow asks in the lecture whether it's even possible for games to tell a story, and while he comes off a little pessimistic (partly because Blow himself is a fairly incompetent writer IMO), he makes some fantastic points about the many pitfalls of game narratives, attacking big titles like Grand Theft Auto IV and Half-Life 2 for failing in a pretty big way without seemingly realizing their own failures.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:02 AM on December 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Holy moly, tough crowd. The guy is apparently an "idiot who writes like shit," a potential serial killer, and a cokehead? And this was gathered from a short article in which bits of an interview were excerpted?

I haven't played the game yet and, after I do, I might agree that he should be drawn and quartered and that his name should be erased from history forever, but I at least found it refreshing that the lead writer of a major studio game is talking about explicitly exploiting and subverting some of the genre's conventions. The wisdom of the crowd seems to be that he doesn't succeed, at all, but it's at least a step in more interesting direction, no?
posted by treepour at 10:03 AM on December 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


I've only watched someone play Far Cry 3 for about half an hour, but I did play and enjoy Far Cry 2, and it's funny to me that they seem to have fallen into the exact same pitfall despite a new setting, characters, and writing staff. It is extremely, extremely hard (if it's possible at all) to brutalize a video game PC. The vast majority of players will shrug off the violence (and the racism, too), even if they don't find it entirely tasteful, and the rest will just turn it off and blame their discomfort on the game itself and not how our media has normalized killing thousands of people to get a gold star. That so many people would grudingly go along with horrifying evil just to get some narrative or gameplay rewards is fascinating in a Milgram Experiment sort of way, but basically no one is going to get your point about the way we portray violence in our culture. It's not going to work, and you're likely to come off much worse for it.

That's not to say that I don't admire the attempt in some way. Once I realized that Far Cry 2 was sort of trying to get me to question why I was single-handedly tearing apart a small African country for the vague promise of revenge, I was taken aback at how little I'd thought of killing the first half-dozen unarmed bureaucrats the game has asked me to. Sure, the Minister of Tourism was dead and I had destroyed the country's supply of malaria medicine to enrich my dirtbag partner, but that meant I got a Humvee with a rocket launcher at every save point, so, no questions asked. Unfortunately for me, that point was about a month or two after I finished playing the game, which goes to show how effective it was at getting its point across.
posted by Copronymus at 10:05 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I dunno, getting people to engage with your narrative is sort of your job as a writer, or, at least, a writer on a mega-name big budget video game.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:06 AM on December 19, 2012


"ludonarrative", narrative formed by the process of play

Neat word. Question: do you use it to indicate the stories the players are telling themselves about the game, or the story as shaped by the game itself; e.g. in Dice Wars where you have yellow attacking pink in its turn, leaving the way free for purple to conquer its part of the board on its turn, etc?
posted by MartinWisse at 10:17 AM on December 19, 2012


I think if you blame your audience for not 'getting' your brilliance you probably are past the point of taking any kind of valid criticism to heart.

Not necessarily. It is certainly possible for the audience to "not get" something, and it's not all on the creator for not spoon-feeding the audience enough. I think you have to judge it on a case-by-case basis. Take the movie Starship Troopers. At the time of release, most reviewers really didn't get the satire, and it got widely panned as jingoistic action crap with shallow characters. But they were simply wrong. In the time since then, the movie has practically proved to be prescient. That's not failing your audience; it's being ahead of your time.

Is this the case with FC3? I just finished the game two days ago, and I'm not sure I can answer this question yet. I certainly take the author at his word that this was his intent. I find it interesting to compare FC3 to Hotline Miami, another very recent game with similar things to say about games and violence. Hotline Miami was probably more effective in its statements, but in this respect it benefits from being a lot leaner, and it certainly does a lot more to highlight these issues. But FC3 was effective at creating a great amount of unease in me at some points during play, especially during encounters with the execrable Buck but even in my dealings with Citra. Now that I see how intentional this discomfort was, I can't say that FC3 was ineffective at making its case.
posted by Edgewise at 10:19 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


but it's at least a step in more interesting direction, no?

Well, no.

I mean, it might be if he actually accomplished what he now claims he was trying to achieve. Instead, it seems that he either completely fails to understand the effect of his creation on his audience or, and I think this is more likely, his writing is as shallow and cliched as everyone thinks and he is just trying to convince us that it is actually deeply layered satirical art that we are too shallow to appreciate.
It really does sound like a lot of desperate nonsense to me.
posted by Zetetics at 10:19 AM on December 19, 2012


Question: do you use it to indicate the stories the players are telling themselves about the game, or the story as shaped by the game itself; e.g. in Dice Wars where you have yellow attacking pink in its turn, leaving the way free for purple to conquer its part of the board on its turn, etc?

I feel that the stories players tell themselves are influenced by that ludonarrative, in that they're not coming up with these stories out of thin air, but that stories which arise from gameplay have become their own kind of artform entirely. See the Let's Play archive, in which telling stories on top of games is entirely the point.

Is it? Or are you confusing game storytelling with game design?

Both are primitive, but I feel that inasmuch as storytelling in a game is game design, the poor storytelling in games is a reflection of the primitivity of the design.

Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of games which I love. My roommate and I just started playing Dark Souls and it makes us feel like little kids playing Mario 64 for the first time. But the gameplay is still primitive and fairly basic. Basic gameplay can still result in some complex and nuanced games – I use chess and Go as frequent examples – but inasmuch as game design is an art, we're still forming a modern language of what computer-backed games can achieve, and we're nowhere close to seeing the games that truly understand how to put this processing power back into creating powerfully responsive games.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:26 AM on December 19, 2012


"I've studied Portal 2 and Citizen Kane each at length, and while Portal 2 is fairly terrific, it doesn't hold a candle to what Welles & co. did with Kane. In fact, this is the sort of statement that most bothers me about gaming discussions (with respect, Tevin): to compare the one to the other is to underestimate what Citizen Kane accomplished as a movie, and to entirely miss what video games are as an artform. "

I'm not putting Portal 2 on the same level as Citizen Kane. I'm saying it has pushed video games, the medium, to 'the next level.' Which it has. The movement, the environment and the narrative all work together better than any other game I've ever played. Just like the editing, cinematography and narrative all worked together in Citizen Kane in a new way that pushed cinema forward. This is not saying that one holds a candle to another. Sorry if that was not clear.

Please don't lecture on what 'video games are as an artform,' either. I appreciate your zeal but I can do without the pedantic flavor. I think the debate on what sort of art video games are is far from closed.
posted by Tevin at 10:30 AM on December 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I also find the disconnect inherent in trying to shoe-horn a plot into a sandbox game to be a problem in that it breaks the immersiveness that a sandbox game could be. As it is, though, I'm playing Far Cry 3 and I don't once feel any real pressure to save my friends. In a non-sandbox game, I would be constantly working to try to free them, but in Far Cry rescuing my friends is effectively the end of the game, so as long I'm enjoying it, I should put that off. If I'm having fun liberating outposts, I should keep doing that and not rescue my friends.

It makes the world feel ultimately very fake because that's not at all how a real person would approach this problem. They might spend time training and weakening the enemy's resources or what have you, but they would never stop in the middle of rescuing their friends from slavery to help a local woman deal with their daughter's no good boyfriend. It's a subtle reminder that, no matter how beautiful the world is, you're ultimately accumulating points and it breaks the immersion.

I feel like the solution might be a sandbox with no story whatsoever, but I doubt that would sell.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:38 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Tevin, I still wholeheartedly disagree with that view of what Portal 2 accomplished, but I'm sorry if you felt I was disregarding your stance. I'm curious how else you think video games ought to be judged if not as procedure-driven art – I can think of no more general explanations of how games work – but perhaps this thread isn't the best place to continue the discussion. MeMail?

I feel like the solution might be a sandbox with no story whatsoever, but I doubt that would sell.

What about a sandbox whose story arises from your actions as a player? You've given a world, and your own actions threaten to disrupt it or change it irrevocably. Every choice you make introduces new potential conflicts, and part of the gameplay becomes understanding the impact you yourself have on your world.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:42 AM on December 19, 2012


I feel like the solution might be a sandbox with no story whatsoever, but I doubt that would sell.

Minecraft comes to mind.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:45 AM on December 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


What about a sandbox whose story arises from your actions as a player? You've given a world, and your own actions threaten to disrupt it or change it irrevocably. Every choice you make introduces new potential conflicts, and part of the gameplay becomes understanding the impact you yourself have on your world.

This is actually sort of what I had in mind as an ideal, but I'm not sure the capability exists right now, although I feel like I've been promised an open world that I can truly change since I first started having unrealistic expectations of video games with Daggerfall.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:48 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm not putting Portal 2 on the same level as Citizen Kane. I'm saying it has pushed video games, the medium, to 'the next level.'

Portal did that; Portal 2 was good but more of the same, just bigger.

Also Rory is right: both Portal and Portal 2 are entirely linear; and there are no choices you can make that affect anything other than your success or failure on the chamber you're in. I feel Portal 2 actually took a step backwards there by further constraining choices within each chamber: compared to Portal, there are a lot fewer portal-able surfaces, and a lot more signposting and handholding. Getting through a test chamber in Portal often involved a lot of looking around, thinking, experimenting, and failing. Getting through one in Portal 2 more often involves following the rails, subtle or otherwise, that Valve have put in place to direct your gaze towards the solution.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:00 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I feel like the solution might be a sandbox with no story whatsoever, but I doubt that would sell.

I would buy the hell out of that. I would even take a sandbox game that figured out how to do away with cutscenes, which always seem to be forcing an experience on me that I may or may not be having. My favorite game of all time is GTA:Vice CIty, and It's not because of the storyline, which I don't even remember the details of. It was just a fun little world to tool around in, causing trouble while listening to 80's music. I've often wished there was some sort of side industry where the focus was using advances in game technology were used to continually flesh out old games. Adding more sand to the box, as it were.
posted by billyfleetwood at 11:36 AM on December 19, 2012


I feel like the solution might be a sandbox with no story whatsoever, but I doubt that would sell.

Sim City sold pretty well, as do the various sport team management simulation games. And then there was Second Life...
posted by MartinWisse at 11:40 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Aside from the drug habits of the writer, the meaning of the game on the grand stage of gaming history, and the value of authorial intent versus the "consumer's analysis" (for lack of a better term?)...

...is there anyone here who has played the game that would like to actually comment on whether or not it was an enjoyable experience? I rather prefer these types comments coming from people who aren't being payed to do so ad nauseam and enjoying the experience is really my only goal in the end (regardless of whether it comes from story, gameplay, both or something else entirely).
posted by ~Bert at 11:44 AM on December 19, 2012


I'm enjoying it. It's nothing groundbreaking and it feels a lot like Just Cause 2 if Just Cause 2 were trying to be very serious, but it's a solid sandbox shooter. The island is beautiful and exploring it is fun. There's some decent emotional moments in the story. The combat is decently engaging.

It doesn't revolutionize the genre or anything, but it's very good. It's basically "Skyrim with guns" so if you think you'd like that, it's worth a buy.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:50 AM on December 19, 2012


There's a Far Cry 3 thread over in MeFightClub if you're registered over there.
posted by sidereal at 11:59 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


>Is it? Or are you confusing game storytelling with game design?
Both are primitive,


Actually, no. People have been designing games for thousands of years. Video games are just the most recent medium for that. It's arguably just as advanced as any other artistic field, just that a lot less actual work has been done in learning about it, although I think that is changing now.

If you want to see impressively advanced game design, pick up a copy of Puerto Rico, watch a YouTube video or two explaining how to play it, then play it with a bunch of friends. Warning: leave your evening open for this, you're going to want to play it a few times.

but I feel that inasmuch as storytelling in a game is game design,

It's not. Why would you try to tell a story through a game? Write a book or make a movie instead! Games are about players making their own stories.

My roommate and I just started playing Dark Souls and it makes us feel like little kids playing Mario 64 for the first time. But the gameplay is still primitive and fairly basic.

Compared to what? I am not sure you have thought enough about what a game is.

Gameplay has to be basic, because the player has to learn it in order to explore the game. A lot of video game development in fact has focused on simplifying play, so as to be more understandable to a player who doesn't want to spend weeks just learning to play something.

Basic gameplay can still result in some complex and nuanced games – I use chess and Go as frequent examples

So does everyone else. Those games are great because of their simplicity, because of the profound implications of simple rules. Less here is more.

we're nowhere close to seeing the games that truly understand how to put this processing power back into creating powerfully responsive games.

I find that when a lot of people work very hard on something and don't get results after a long time, it's often because they have made false assumptions about the nature of the problem. No amount of alchemy will turn lead into gold, you have to delve into nuclear physics to pull off that trick. Neither will you make a truly great game by thinking about plot development.
posted by JHarris at 12:13 PM on December 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


...is there anyone here who has played the game that would like to actually comment on whether or not it was an enjoyable experience?

Yes, I would like to comment, and yes, it was fun. I just finished the main storyline two days ago, and it took about a week of fairly intensive play. There's a ton of content, there. There are a lot of interesting missions, especially assaults on enemy camps.

In addition, I find that the design of the environment, graphics and general gameplay are filled with lots of nice touches. The physics of movement are just about perfect; the (limited) platforming elements are as good as they have ever been in a first person game. Diving and swimming feel very right. Vehicles and weapons are well-designed and have a solid feel. The pacing and character progression are nicely tuned; you rarely feel over or under powered, and part of that is because the sandbox nature of the game allows you to tackle challenges that suit your abilities. There's nothing truly innovative, but a whole lot of things that were done extremely well. Also, did I mention that the graphics and art are just plain beautiful? You can run across either island without encountering a loading screen, or just go to the top of one of the island mountains to gaze upon a pretty expansive (and just plain pretty) vista.
posted by Edgewise at 12:23 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The solution to games' stories not being good is not to make games less gamelike.

I would have agreed with this, but then I played The Walking Dead. It's not very gamelike at all. And yet, it's amazing. That game is genuinely important and it deserves to sweep every site's Game of the Year award, which I think it will. (It won the Spike VGAs and is taking top honors on a bunch of podcasts.) It's not Citizen Kane good, but it is the biggest advance in innovation in game narrative since at least Portal.
posted by painquale at 12:31 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The physics of movement are just about perfect; the (limited) platforming elements are as good as they have ever been in a first person game. Diving and swimming feel very right.

I'd agree with this. The platform is shockingly good. It feels fluid and challenging but without repeated failure. Every time you jump a gap it seems like you're just making it, but (I at least) don't fail, so it has that sort of movie quality without the breaks to redo that can interrupt that in other games.

The swimming, but especially the diving, is great as well. You spend a fair bit of time jumping into deep water and the way that happens with your body sinking into the water just the right amount and moment of blackness when you hit the water; it just feels real. That's the sort of details the game gets really right.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:34 PM on December 19, 2012


...is there anyone here who has played the game that would like to actually comment on whether or not it was an enjoyable experience?

I've played it every night for about a week now and I am enjoying it very much!

Edgewise's comment could have been written by me, so ditto.
posted by sidereal at 12:36 PM on December 19, 2012


From what it sounds like, the guy should have just handed his notes over to the Thief/System Shock Team. Or at least have those dudes give him pointers. Then I might actually buy the game...
posted by The Power Nap at 1:17 PM on December 19, 2012


I would have agreed with this, but then I played The Walking Dead. It's not very gamelike at all.

Hmm. Which Walking Dead game are you referring to? (I know of a board game but no other version.)
posted by JHarris at 1:20 PM on December 19, 2012


I'd also like to add that the wildlife play interesting roles in the game. In addition to looking damn cool and sometimes being fun (and necessary) to hunt, the possibility of a tiger wandering into the middle of a firefight can add a wildcard to the mix. Some of the animals play no role in the game, per se; running across giant tortoises and rays minding their own business adds to the illusion of a "living world".

On the other hand, I was nearly halfway through the game before I ran into my first crocodile, thinking I had already seen every animal in the game, and I practically jumped out of my chair when it attacked. I wandered up to the side of a river saying "hmm, that log looks a little like a crocodile" and all of a sudden I'm like "SHIT IT'S BITING MY FACE AHHHH DEATHROLL!"
posted by Edgewise at 1:26 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of my favorite mechanics is the caged animals in some out posts that you can silently free to cause havoc in the outpost before you attack. At one point, I unleased a tiger on a camp and the first guy to respond to it decided that the way to deal with it was to throw a Molotov cocktail at it, which promptly set one half of the base on fire. By the time the enemies were done being mauled to death/catching on fire, there were like two of them left.

It was a ton of fun.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:29 PM on December 19, 2012


I get uncomfortable discussing 'innovation' in games, because people so often take it as a claim that innovation is necessary for a game to be respected. Luckily that doesn't seem to have happened here.

That said, Portal and Portal 2 are only innovative, if at all, in their marriage of a compelling narrative to a puzzle game. Other than that, they are just linear games where the player doesn't even have the illusion of choice. They share the same basic design with Half-Life and dozens of other games: a story is occurring, and the player can advance the story by playing a specific part correctly.

I don't know, perhaps wishing for something more is like asking for flying cars. Cars have improved stupendously over the last century; should I criticize them for sticking to the same old four-wheel design? It just seems like video games should be able to move beyond the interactive-movie stage.
posted by yath at 1:36 PM on December 19, 2012


Hmm. Which Walking Dead game are you referring to? (I know of a board game but no other version.)

Telltale's episodic game. The first episode is free on the iPad right now (though I only played it on PC, so can't speak to the iPad quality).

The finale blends the gameplay mechanics with the story in a manner more masterful than I've ever seen. It affected me more than a game ever has before, I think.
posted by painquale at 1:41 PM on December 19, 2012


All you need to know about how amazing a writer this guy is is that he talks about how people Just Didn't Get his oh so edgy Alice in Wonderland quotes (seriously, the fonts twitch when they are on the screen, it's like OHHHH, grungy!)

I appreciate that he was trying for something, but having played the game (the gameplay is a ton of fun, but the story goes from ok to really painfully, don't let anyone see what I'm playing bad) it's pretty obvious that what he was going for was way beyond his abilities to pull off. Watching the writer now blame that on the players is just sad.
posted by aspo at 1:57 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of my favorite mechanics is the caged animals in some out posts that you can silently free to cause havoc in the outpost before you attack. At one point, I unleased a tiger on a camp and the first guy to respond to it decided that the way to deal with it was to throw a Molotov cocktail at it, which promptly set one half of the base on fire. By the time the enemies were done being mauled to death/catching on fire, there were like two of them left.

It was a ton of fun.


Thanks, now I have to buy this game.
posted by billyfleetwood at 2:40 PM on December 19, 2012


Confession: I stayed up pretty much all night playing Far Cry 3, because capturing the outposts is a ton of fun and I'll just do one more and hey what's that over there and then it was 5 AM. And then right before I toddled off to bed this article popped up on my twitter stream and as I read it I thought "I should post this to MetaFilter because I really want to discuss this game." And here it is! Yay.

First: yes, the game is fun to play. It rewards both thoughtful observation and grenade-chucking mayhem, the island is scattered with things to see and do, the various vehicles are a blast to drive (though steering is a bit twitchy and takes some getting used to).

I haven't finished the game. I just arrived on Hoyt's island, and I'm climbing radio towers. I'm going to capture as many outposts as I can before continuing the story missions. I don't know what that whole "torture your own brother" thing is about - at this point in my game, Jason thinks both his brothers are dead, so I guess there's a plot twist in my immediate future.

The only part of the game that isn't particularly fun is... the story. I just don't care about my douchebag friends. At all. Screw 'em, Vaas can have 'em, imma go hunt bears with C4. The writer seems to think it's some Grand Statement to construct a narrative of tissue-thin substance and then blame the player for shredding it. And yes, the game works to reinforce the silliness of the narrative. There are about five body models for the Rakyat. Sitra is exoticism made flesh, all waggling hips and war-painted breasts. Vaas, the only interesting character in the game (and marvelously, chillingly voiced), is killed off in a hallucinatory QTE of such profound stupidity that the game designers might as well knocked on every player's front door and stood outside with a megaphone yelling COME AND GET YOUR THEMES, HOT FRESH THEMES, COME AND GET 'EM.

For all that this game wants to say about player agency and player-as-gun, what really comes across (so far, remember, haven't finished yet) is that story is subservient to mechanics. Building a world is not building a narrative engine. Far Cry 3 is a lovely world of entertaining violence, but it's a mess as a narrative engine. If the point of your linear story is that players don't play games to experience linear stories, then, well, you're kinda in "stop hitting yourself why do you keep hitting yourself" territory. That's not clever. That's just annoying. And wrapping that annoyance up in a tidy package of colonialist tropes doesn't improve things or mitigate the vapidity at the heart of it.

You know what would have been a better story? Rakyat kid grows up, takes home island back from pirates. The End. The mechanics of this game are so good and it is so much fun to mess with them (hint: plant C4 on tiger, kite tiger into outpost, BOOM HILARITY ENSUES) that the slightest skeletal narrative would've served to keep me playing.

Games CAN tell stories. That doesn't mean they all SHOULD.

Oh, and: if anybody wants to play the co-op, friend me on Xbox Live. Same name.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:42 PM on December 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Maybe I'm Doing It Wrong, but I find capturing outposts a bit too easy now that I have a silenced sniper rifle; it's just..

1) Get to a vantage point.
2) Start shooting at bad guys.
3) If they notice you, just move back a little and switch to an assault rifle.

Maybe I should Rambo it a little more.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 3:09 PM on December 19, 2012


I like deactivating the alarms, then trying to string together takedowns. Once you have the "Heavy Beatdown" perk, you're pretty much an unstoppable killing machine. And taking down heavies is worth 500 XP, as much as the outpost itself, so it's a nice way to get lots of experience quickly.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:31 PM on December 19, 2012


I really wish there was a way post win to restock the bases. I've beaten the game. I've cleaned out all the bases. I just want to have some fun sneaky kill all the dudes times. Can I do that in multiplayer without actually, you know, other people?
posted by aspo at 3:45 PM on December 19, 2012


I just don't care about my douchebag friends. At all.

Yup, screw 'em.

I find capturing outposts a bit too easy now that I have a silenced sniper rifle

Capture them undetected for bigger XP. It's a challenge.

I hope everyone is playing with headphones. The sound is really impressive.
posted by sidereal at 4:50 PM on December 19, 2012


So, it's Just Cause 2 but with better physics and a OH JOHN RINGO NO "ludonarrative?"

Also, Far Cry 2 was only a good game superficially. It's respawning choke points and mission system totally undermined the effectiveness of the story and the immersiveness of the gameworld, which was probably better set up to do the whole postcolonialist thing (that JC2 pulled off, but without trying to deny the inevitable cartoonish irony of delivering that message in AAA FPS release.)

Now, Far Cry itself, when it came out? That changed the rules. That's the game that had people's jaws dropping over the vistas, wildlife and enemy AI. None of this seems new, or even new to Far Cry.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:56 PM on December 19, 2012


All you need to know about how amazing a writer this guy is is that he talks about how people Just Didn't Get his oh so edgy Alice in Wonderland quotes

"The problem with making a dark and disturbing version of Alice in Wonderland is that it's pretty dark and disturbing to begin with, which gives it little training wheels that help cultural firebrands ride it into geniusdom once every eighteen months or so. Masterminding a trippy reinterpretation of Lewis Carroll is like making a version of Crazy Traxi, only crazy!" -- Old Man Murray
posted by straight at 5:08 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, Far Cry 2 was only a good game superficially. It's respawning choke points and mission system totally undermined the effectiveness of the story and the immersiveness of the gameworld

I disagree. Far Cry 2 is so good it that even the horrible respawning choke points couldn't ruin it.
posted by straight at 5:10 PM on December 19, 2012


Dammit, your conviction is making me want to dust off my stalled FC2 my playthrough.

Are you sure about this? Because I forced myself to put it down when I realized I had entirely stopped having fun about halfway through the game, as I was clearing the same road junction for the 50th time, while traipsing back and forth from the mission computer to farm upgrades, and was still playing because of reading people saying things like this.

posted by snuffleupagus at 6:25 PM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've never played Far Cry 3, and probably never will - I'm disinterested in FPSs as a whole - but I do find the idea of an unreliable narrator in a game to be something very interesting.

Of course, you could take it further and make it more obvious. Who's played "Full Throttle"? (Lucasarts, adventure, directed by Tim Schaefer). The whole thing is presented as a story the player character is telling, which makes for some fun moments - when you're doing the final, climactic puzzle, it's possible to die, at which point the action stops and your guy comes in with a voiceover: "Wait, that's not how it happened". And you get to do that puzzle again. This is a biker sitting in a bar, telling you about this crazy thing that happened to him once, piling on the absurdities. (And piling on all the time he spent trying to use various objects together, but hey, it's an adventure game.)

But basically I think you need to actually frame the story as "Main character is telling you this story after it's happened" before you can even think of really saying they're an unreliable narrator; there has to be a narrator first. And it kinda sounds like maybe FC3 doesn't bother doing this?

Anyway, I'll let folks who've actually played it get on with discussing it, and maybe play some more Saint's Row 3 when I get home. I prefer my sandboxes to be seen from the third person.
posted by egypturnash at 6:48 PM on December 19, 2012


Are you sure about [Far Cry 2]?

If you'd only played a few hours, I'd maybe tell you to give it another chance, but if you've played half the game and don't like it, I don't think it gets significantly better.

I loved the location, the subdued beauty of the environment. I enjoyed being able to make my own plan for how to attack a location (and which weapons to bring) and then having to improvise when it goes to hell because my gun jammed or my malaria acted up at the wrong time or because a fire I started got out of control and blew up the vehicle I needed to use or because I accidentally drove into a ditch while looking at the map. I liked setting things on fire. I loved the low-key, un-American voice work and the unobtrusive story. I liked driving around and looking for diamonds. I loved the commitment to minimal game interfaces and menus, keeping as much as possible in the world. If you're not enjoying these kinds of things, I don't think there's many hidden virtues you'd discover if you keep playing.
posted by straight at 7:38 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wanted to love Far Cry 2. I loved aspects of it, pretty much the same things straight mentions. But the endlessly respawning checkpoints, combined with the lack of fast travel, made me put it down and never finish it. Far Cry 3 is, for me, a much more accessible game, in terms of gameplay mechanics.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:48 PM on December 19, 2012


I've never played Far Cry 3, and probably never will - I'm disinterested in FPSs as a whole - but I do find the idea of an unreliable narrator in a game to be something very interesting.

Bastion has a kind of unreliable narrator.
posted by painquale at 9:00 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


"I just don't care about my douchebag friends."

Spoiler Alert!!!

I'll give the writers some credit for being absolutely aware of this. At the end of the game you get two choices --















"Good" ending -- save your friends (yawn)

"Bad" ending -- literally slitting your girlfriend's throat open and murdering the rest of your friends in order to become "The Warrior," having hot racist jungle monkey luvin' with the horribly cliched exotic Nubian sexpot, and while she's riding your turgid ivory tower she pulls out a knife and murders you mid-climax.

I was laughing hysterically during the "bad" ending of course. It's just so insane.

Hard to say whether or not its a "criticism" or racism and violence in video games though. A game that sort of jokes lightly about rape probably doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt.
posted by bardic at 9:37 PM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


That said, bitteroldpunk is right. The best parts of FC3 -- the genuinely kind of thrilling part -- is exploring the islands themselves. The "radio tower" mechanic is brilliant. You are basically "blind" until you make it to 20 or so of these towers and unlock them. Thing is, you know where the towers are (pretty easy to spot from far away) but until you climb them and set up a transmitter you don't know where really important things like plants (need those for healing, mostly) and collectibles are (lots of fucking collectibles in this game, and they're actually important). When you get enough you get access to new weapons and drugs (lots of fucking drugs in this game).

That's the game right there -- exploring an island without a god-like map feature until you've taken the risks inherent in going deep into the jungle with no idea what awaits you. That, along with liberating the outposts, was fucking awesome.

The "real" story?

Meh.

And I say that as someone who thought GTAIV was pretty tight, story-wise.
posted by bardic at 9:44 PM on December 19, 2012


I need to go read over this thread when I have more time; but I wanted to quickly say that my impression is the writing is pretty bad.

The thing that really bugged me was the scene Bulgaroktonos mentioned above, where Jason rescues somebody and she's appalled by his attitude towards violence. That might actually have been an interesting idea to work with - if the entire extremely violent preceding scene hadn't been played for comic relief.

Like, you're escaping with this girl and they have banter like a bad action movie, all while you're blowing up your pursuers with a grenade launcher. And then as soon as you're safe, she starts chastising you about how much your character enjoyed it.

But you can't play the violence for laughs, then, see? You can't have them engaging in cute banter and then accuse Jason of not taking the violence seriously because you've already endorsed his point of view as the writer. It didn't make any sense at all.

and i hate the flavour text that constantly refers to how much the guy hates his ex-wife. hilarious! but i suspect someone else is responsible for that garbage
posted by neuromodulator at 10:02 PM on December 19, 2012


Ok, some more thoughts, first on FC3:

1. I think you guys are being a bit harsh on this guy. As I said above, I don't think what he produced actually works the way he intended, but I'd still like to see more efforts like this and I can understand where he might be frustrated. Unfortunately, yeah, you can't really complain about people "not getting it" without coming across poorly. But I'm not getting "cokehead asshole" from him, either.

2. I think the point about the respawning checkpoints in FC2 is interesting because they bugged me (both as a nuisance and as immersion-breaking) until I started playing FC3, and now I understand why they were there. See aspo above wished that the island could be repopulated, and how my island is turning into a great big empty playground as a traverse it. I think it's a tough problem to solve - other solutions, like having the pirates take back camps, have been incredibly annoying in other games, too.

3. Adding to the compliments on the platforming and diving and driving, I also think the game handles stealth very well for an FPS. Well, the close range stealth, anyway. It's really bugging me that I can be a mile away from people in the bushes with a silenced sniper rifle and if I miss a shot everyone knows instantly where I am (but maybe that's because I'm on hard?). But the takedowns are insanely fun.

Now, as for videogames in general: I disagree, Rory, that Dark Souls has primitive gameplay. I think it has quite a lot of depth to it, and so I think it's a pretty interesting exploration of a certain territory. I think I understand what you mean, in that I think you're saying something like "maybe we can do a lot more with games than hit things with swords and buy things from people" and I do agree with that. But I also think that the area it does occupy, it occupies well. I would say the same thing about any pro-calibre fighting game, or Starcraft 2: the gameplay of some of those games is polished to really interesting degrees, and I think they are what they should be. They're pretty thorough realizations of an idea. I get the impression, possibly wrong, that you're wanting more open systems to explore, but I'm not sure how interesting open systems get, generally speaking. I think when it comes to gameplay, maybe very narrowly defined spaces are pretty interesting territory. Again, I'm thinking of Street Fighter IV as I think about this: I think the depth of that game is just about perfect, and I think that's only possible because of the restrictions they're playing with. Maybe.

And, JHarris, unless I'm misreading one of you, I think you and Rory agree about the role of storytelling in gaming. I think he is saying that it should emerge naturally from gameplay and design principles and not be this extra layer of narrative weirdness informed by storytelling from more traditional media.
posted by neuromodulator at 11:19 PM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


"I think it's a tough problem to solve"

They should have just implemented a New Game+ mode where you just reset the map but you get to keep all the stuff you've crafted and the guns you acquired.

But I think then the problem is that it's obvious the story missions are kinda weak, and just turning the thing into a sandbox from the get-go would be admitting that the writing sucks balls.
posted by bardic at 11:41 PM on December 19, 2012


Oh, I'm reading the last link now, and now the guy is coming across as more of a dick to me.
posted by neuromodulator at 11:47 PM on December 19, 2012


And, JHarris, unless I'm misreading one of you, I think you and Rory agree about the role of storytelling in gaming.

It is possible that I'm misreading him, really. I've just gotten so sick of what passes for game storytelling these days. I hardly play any mainstream games anymore, they've just chased me completely away.
posted by JHarris at 11:52 PM on December 19, 2012


And piling on all the time he spent trying to use various objects together, but hey, it's an adventure game.)

As if you wouldn't be telling the story of how you used mechanical rabbits that played Wagner to disarm a minefield.
posted by ersatz at 3:28 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ubisoft seems to have this recurrent problem with their key series. They build absolutely stunning and interesting game-worlds, with rich and textured conceptual backgrounds. They combine this with a really good set of basic mechanics. Assaulting Borgia towers in Rome, particularly climbing the towers. Creeping through the African bush in Far Cry 2, using grenades to distract checkpoint guards whilst picking a vantage point to them pick them off. Really finely tuned stuff.

Then they make the player repeat the same 3 or 4 activities over and over again, spending 5-10+ minutes in transit back and forth. Then they try and shoehorn in overly ambitious narratives, which show a lot of promise but never quite get there. Then it just starts to fill like a lot of filler material.

Haven't had a chance to play their latest iterations, but I think the problem is that they are trying to do everything outstandingly, rather than a few things perfect and than most of the other stuff reasonably well. It's for mine a question of how you allocate finite resources and understanding the limitations you're working within. Morrowind, despite being a completely different genre, and STALKER, and probably the original Far Cry are the ones that have probably got the balance of competing factors best balanced.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 5:05 AM on December 20, 2012


Though, as I meant to add, they all do it in quite different ways.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 5:07 AM on December 20, 2012


and i hate the flavour text that constantly refers to how much the guy hates his ex-wife. hilarious! but i suspect someone else is responsible for that garbage

That's a decent warning. If you're the type of person to be bothered by jokes about kill your ex-wife (not unreasonable, obviously) avoid the flavor text descriptions of weapons and people and such. They're not all kill the ex jokes, but there's a lot of those, and the other flavor text is not really funny enough to make up for it.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:29 AM on December 20, 2012


Oh, I'm reading the last link now, and now the guy is coming across as more of a dick to me.

I don't think he's a dick so much as a bad writer who thinks he's a good writer. He's hilariously pleased with himself for naming the island "Rook Island." And the whole “The dumb parts are deliberately dumb as a commentary on how dumb video games are!” schtick would be amusing if there weren’t so many idiot game developers who really do think that kind of thing is deep.

I'm sorry, but you're almost certainly not going to be able to do anything interesting with the whole, "Aha! You're actually playing a video game! And video games are senselessly violent! And look, I can make you do terrible things by not letting you keep playing unless you do those terrible things!"

And I love that his idea of a good story is Avatar. That right there tells you why video game stories suck. They’re trying to be almost as good as bad movies.
posted by straight at 9:43 AM on December 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


They build absolutely stunning and interesting game-worlds, with rich and textured conceptual backgrounds. They combine this with a really good set of basic mechanics...

Then they try and shoehorn in overly ambitious narratives


This is what I hate the most about gaming these days. Crystal Dynamics have proven that they are masters at creating beautiful, interesting environments to explore, integrating obstacle courses that are fun to traverse and nifty puzzles to solve.

But for some reason, this isn't good enough. No, they want to tell a story. And they've already demonstrated that they are lousy, terrible storytellers, not even as good as a really bad Hollywood movie. Now they're all excited about their new origin story for Lara, which looks like it might be, at best, almost as good as one of the Resident Evil movies.
posted by straight at 10:05 AM on December 20, 2012


He's hilariously pleased with himself for naming the island "Rook Island."

This irritated me to no end. Anyone would think this "Rook Island" thing is totally for the birds.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:12 AM on December 20, 2012


The Idle Thumbs guys have a pretty good discussion complaining about the narrative of Far Cry 3, comparing it to the glory that is Cart Life, in this week's podcast.
posted by painquale at 1:43 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Quoth the Great Writer: "...the people are called the Rakyat, which means “the people”. It’s the laziest name for a tribe ever, they’re not real, they’re a metaphor..." And that leapt out at me, because there sure are a lot of real world tribal peoples who have the laziest. names. ever. and aren't real and are metaphors.

Also, I now have to check out this Cart Life thing.
posted by Drastic at 2:19 PM on December 20, 2012


Yeah, Drastic. That really bothered me too. It's about as dumb as saying, "The tribe goes around barefoot all the time -- such an obvious stereotype that it's clear you shouldn't think of them as real people."

The guy is right up there with game developers ten years ago who would brag about how they're drawing from a lot of classic science fiction cinema as inspiration for their game.

"Like what?"

" ... you know ... like ... well ... Aliens."
posted by straight at 6:40 PM on December 20, 2012


Far Cry 3 is Rock Paper Shotgun's Game of the Year. Huh. I didn't see that coming.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:16 AM on December 24, 2012


Complete with an impressively vehement dissenting opinion. I love RPS.
posted by straight at 11:39 PM on December 24, 2012


If you enjoyed the open world and gadgetry aspects of FC3 but haven't played Just Cause 2, it's on sale at Steam today for $3.74.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:21 AM on December 29, 2012


...and today the Far Cry franchise is being discounted. FC2 is available w/all DLC for $2.50.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:28 AM on December 31, 2012


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