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The jury's in... and they can't deny that view, either.
July 14, 2013 9:56 AM   Subscribe

A month after its release, Naughty Dog's sweeping interactive epic The Last of Us is being hailed as one of the best games of all time, with perfect scores even from notoriously demanding critics. Inspired by an eerily beautiful segment from the BBC's Planet Earth, the game portrays an America twenty years after a pandemic of the zombiefying Cordyceps fungus (previously), leaving behind lush wastelands of elegant decay teeming with monsters and beset by vicious bandits, a brutal military, and the revolutionary Fireflies. Into this bleak vision of desperate violence journey Joel, a gruffly stoic Texan with a painful past, and his ward Ellie, a precocious teenager who may hold the key to mankind's future. Boasting tense, immersive gameplay, compelling performances from a diverse cast, a movingly minimalist score from Oscar-winning Gustavo Santaolalla, and an array of influences from Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men to Cormac McCarthy's The Road, it's already being slotted alongside BioShock Infinite and Half-Life 2 as one of modern gaming's crowning achievements. And while it's hard to disentangle plot from action, you don't have to buy a PS3 to experience it -- YouTube offers many filmic edits of the game, including this three-hour version of all relevant passages. And don't miss the 84-minute documentary exploring every facet of its production.

More:

The complete soundtrack on YouTube, with links to segments in the description

The Last of Us: American Dreams, the official four-part prequel comic

TVTropes analysis

From the creator of Everything BioShock Infinite Gets Wrong: Everything The Last of Us Gets Right

Examining the moral issues raised by the ending (MAJOR SPOILERS)

A technical analysis from Eurogamer

Vsauce explores the plausibility of a Cordyceps plague

Did Ellie "rip off" Ellen Page's likeness?

And The Last of Us subreddit is full of fun memes, discussion, and debate (with spoiler topics courteously censored)
posted by Rhaomi (81 comments total) 75 users marked this as a favorite

 
The Last of Us is the least we should ask of games.
posted by zabuni at 10:07 AM on July 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Fantastic, I've been meaning to go hunt down all of the links in this post because I don't own a console and still wanted to experience some of the games story telling.
posted by iamabot at 10:08 AM on July 14, 2013


I don't really play video games anymore. I'm a few hours into the game. This game is so fucking fantastic.
posted by chunking express at 10:26 AM on July 14, 2013


I pre-ordered it, opened it release day like a kid on Christmas, played two hours, and haven't gone back. The game mechanics, the stealth and the shooting, just got me down. I'm on board for the story though! I'll go back to it, maybe sooner rather than later just so I can read all the spoilery discussion. It really is beautiful, but something about Naughty Dog's take on FPS mechanics just exhausts me. OTOH I haven't finished the Walking Dead games either. And that's about as un-gamey a game as there is.

I like this new trend of movie edits of game stories. It's kind of ridiculous, but also kind of a brilliant bit of genre bending.
posted by Nelson at 10:41 AM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Between this title and GTA V, I'm compelled to purchase my first console since the N64.
posted by troll at 10:47 AM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Game of the year 2013 is Dark Souls.
Game of the year 2014 is Dark Souls.
Game of the year 2015 is Dark Souls.
Lather, rinse repeat.
posted by GoingToShopping at 10:47 AM on July 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


I can't find the fourth part of the comic.
posted by hat_eater at 10:51 AM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


They are gonna be a lot more like novels from here on out.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:56 AM on July 14, 2013


I don't have a PS3, so I watched the full game (some 18-20 hours) through a VO-free Let's Play on YouTube, then sobbed and thought about Joel and Ellie for days. Still thinking about it. Still thinking about what I would do, were I either of them.

It was worth watching all that gameplay to build up to the end. It's worth avoiding the spoilers.
posted by mochapickle at 11:03 AM on July 14, 2013


Leng - story by Mark Laidlaw (of half-life game) featuring similar fungi.
posted by Artw at 11:03 AM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've not played the game yet but I'd like to point out there are a few dissenting opinions.

Thomas Grip, developer of Amnesia: "... while wrapped in an emotional plot, it is really just a game about combat and part of, what I think is, a worrying trend in video game storytelling … Embracing that videogames is all about violence feels very cynical and uninspiring to me."

Tom Chick, veteran game reviewer: "The Last of Us is as generous with its characters as it is confused with its gameplay. "

Ben Croshaw, game pundit (NSFW): "… it wants to be this big serious examination of character development but it's also very, very safe."

I'm interested in seeing how gamers, critics and game developers react to The Last of Us a few months from now. Will its reputation hold up or will we see instead some harsh reevaluations along the lines of Robert Yang's Bioshock Infinite critique ("... a profound failure in storytelling …")?
posted by Asimo at 11:11 AM on July 14, 2013 [16 favorites]


TBH I find an advertised length of all the cutscenes in a game a huge turn-off, even if they make a good little film.
posted by Artw at 11:14 AM on July 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


I also think the idea that once games perfect the ultimate cutscene they will be magically transformed into art is kind of bullshit - games are art or not art as games, not as vehicles for another medium.
posted by Artw at 11:17 AM on July 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


Honestly, if Metal Gear Solid had given the least possible explanation for Snake's actions, and had replaced all of its cutscenes with more places to play, it would have been a better game. This is true of any cutscene-heavy game I can think if. I don't see why it wouldn't be true of The Last of Us.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:35 AM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


This game really didn't sit well with me, because despite all the hailing of it as fantastic super story involved magical delight and emotions, you as the player make zero choices in the entire thing. It's practically a corridor shooter (with decent stealth elements). I got no resonance from the plot because I wasn't involved with it at all... whereas if it WAS just a movie or other non-interactive narrative form, it might be fairly decent. The form of 'game' now implies some small amount at least of player agency in determining the outcome, otherwise you're just watching a ball roll down a hill to its inevitable resting place.

Which is a shame, because the game *is* beautiful, and the mechanics of what little freedom you do have are decently engaging. If you could put the production polish and writing shine of LoU into a sandbox-esque format of something like State of Decay where your choices actually do determine to some extent who or what you ally with and who lives or dies, something great could occur. As of right now tho, it just rings hollow to me. Which is interesting, because up until a short while ago games, no matter how story-oriented (like the MGS series) were exactly the same, with no real player interaction with the story at all. Things like Dragon Age and Mass Effect have set the bar higher for story development, and now backtracking design-wise feels notably less satisfactory.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:40 AM on July 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


i've been playing video games since the atari 2600, so i've played many games that almost felt like watershed moments in the potential of the medium to transcend its "childish" reputation and tell an engrossing, emotionally mature story on par with film or books, while not losing the aspects that make video games something quite unique. all of them so far have failed in one way or another: technological limits paring down ambition, tedious gameplay mechanics, bugs, questionable story writing, etc.

the last of us may finally be the game that can legitimately be crowned as a turning point.

it is not a perfect game by any means, it is not the "citizen kane", and a few of the dissenting opinions bring up some valid points, but i would wager none of them could give an example of a game that, as a whole, clicks on so many levels and does so much right. if anything, this is a game that gives a glimpse into what the medium can become.

it is one of the best i have ever played, and to have an opinion without experiencing it firsthand, or at least watching a playthough (HassanAlHajry has a pretty comprehensive, commentary-free series), is a disservice to anyone who has an interest in games that goes beyond wasting time.
posted by clarenceism at 11:42 AM on July 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Is this a commercial?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:43 AM on July 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


The Last Of Us is... decent. It manages to integrate a story with gameplay in a manner that's not grossly insulting to its player. It is no The Road, but its writing isn't offensively stupid. And that is a significant achievement in game design.

A friend and I played through BioShock Infinite last night, because so many people had recommended it to me—I don't know why I trust gamers to know what good things are, and the first BioShock was awful, but we tried it anyway. Got fed up around two hours in: Jesus, the art direction is amazing, but as a game it's as primitive as Doom! Only it's a worse game than Doom, because all the time it spends making you walk past carnival game and set decorations and listening to monologues and phonographs is time that you're not playing the fucking video game.

Leigh Alexander is completely right. The Last of Us is the least we should expect. It's the equivalent of a 75% movie on RottenTomatoes: likable enough, does some neat things, gameplay works fine. But the best video games are still the non-narrative ones, the ones that are all about goddamn gameplay, because that's what game designers know what to do (kind of). Dark Souls, Fez, Antichamber, all do fascinating work. But ludonarrative (narrative driven by some sort of play factor) is harder to do than simply trying to make a movie happen around you as you walk, and of the big game studios trying to do it, only Valve seems to have an idea of what that might entail—though their games are entirely linear, which I feel that a proper game story should not be.

Also, anybody who tries to suggest that BioShock is in any way comparable to Half-Life 2 should be shot, hung, or head-crabbed.
posted by Rory Marinich at 11:51 AM on July 14, 2013 [12 favorites]


Disagree that The Last of Us is a turning point, though. It's an evolutionary game, not a revolutionary one; it is the culmination of a lot of things that video games have been attempting to do for a whole bunch of years, but gameplay-wise it feels an awful lot like a bunch of other games that may've even handled the survival-horror shtick a lot better.
posted by Rory Marinich at 11:56 AM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


The use of cutscenes can be killer. That is what Half Life 2 (and the subsequent episodes) got right. You were playing while what would ordinarily have been a cutscene played out before you. Or at your back, if you're listening in and scrounging for supplies at a critical safe spot.

Frequently, the player finds themselves looking at a scene, perhaps a bridge with soldiers crossing it off in the distance or looking at a series of troopships flying in low over the water on a coastline. It looks awesome, then it suddenly clicks.

Wait. WAIT. I should be in cover, or something. SHIT.

I don't see Half Life 2 leaving top five lists from serious reviewers for a long time.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:59 AM on July 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Tom Chick review nails it. I was really taken in by the opening sequence and was expecting greatness. Instead I just got frustrated with the gameplay after about three hours and haven't picked it up in a couple of weeks. I'm as disappointed in this as I was in Bioshock Infinite's last half slog.
posted by eyeballkid at 12:02 PM on July 14, 2013


The got that right with Half Life 1. And yet still: Cutscenes everywhere. it's disapointing.
posted by Artw at 12:04 PM on July 14, 2013


Yeah, and the worst part of Half Life 2 is the end where it's like "hey step into this Exposition Machine so we can take you through our evil factory and then have you be monologued at for five solid minutes without saying anything."
posted by Rory Marinich at 12:05 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


it's already being slotted alongside BioShock Infinite and Half-Life 2

This pairing makes me sad.
posted by straight at 12:09 PM on July 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


(You know, it is really interesting to note that discussions of storytelling in games always come back to "but is it interactive/can I choice." That's interesting to me because while, yeah, interactivity is a quality all games possess, interactivity and personal choice are not really important qualities that all good examples of storytelling possess. It doesn't really make sense to evaluate the quality of storytelling in a game by its range of possible branching choices, especially considering that as a mechanic that's something that can hamper and limit a good story.

Ditto with knee-jerk negativity toward cutscenes and writing in games regardless of quality: you really can't convey much with mechanics alone. Games as a medium do need to badly learn a little subtlety, but well strung words in them is a good thing. It's poorly strung words, poorly directed cutscenes and lengths of unnecessary interactivity that should be criticized, not writing in itself.

I think the way forward is to treat videogames with the same level of critical expectation as we do other mediums, with the understanding that this is always a case by case thing and that some games will be aiming for telling a story and other games will be aiming for other things. The technology and craftsmanship are there for games to be ready for this kind of respect, but they fail a lot of metrics when we do that, and that failure is mostly cultural, rather than something inherent to the medium.)
posted by byanyothername at 12:20 PM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Conveying things with mechanics, interaction and environment should ABSOLUTLY be where games are judged as art.
posted by Artw at 12:29 PM on July 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


Disagree that The Last of Us is a turning point, though. It's an evolutionary game, not a revolutionary one; it is the culmination of a lot of things that video games have been attempting to do for a whole bunch of years, but gameplay-wise it feels an awful lot like a bunch of other games that may've even handled the survival-horror shtick a lot better.
posted by Rory Marinich


i agree completely in it being an evolutionary culmination--in my somewhat hyperbolic praise i made a conscious effort to avoid words like "revolutionary" because of that fact.

my rationale for calling it a turning point is that the game just works well on so many levels as a whole, something prior attempts have tried (bioshock/half-lfe), but largely fell short of in one or more glaring aspects. it is the "we are finally seeing what's possible"-ness of this game that excites me.

who knows whether it will stand the test of time. all i know is that despite its flaws, this game impresses the hell out of me more than anything i've played in a good long while.
posted by clarenceism at 12:30 PM on July 14, 2013


The thing is, integrating narrative alongside gameplay is very different from a gamelike narrative. I think that some people, myself included (which is why I made this the study of my undergraduate thesis), are very excited about the possibility of the latter, and also kind of feel lukewarm about the former. Because when I play a video game, I don't want a story—I want some kind of a machine that puts me in command, makes me feel like I'm in control. Back in the day, when video game narratives were almost universally "look at how awesome I am to be saving the say and shit", the occasional narrative game was alright, but games like BioShock Infinite or Skyrim (or whatever other shitty game that cost millions of dollars to make and only budgeted like $50 for writers) seem to delight both in creating stories where the only cool things that happen are beyond your control (in Skyrim you are practically a passive vessel for Story to Happen To) and in thwarting your feeling like you actually have any control whatsoever. BioShock in particular is famous for this, and does it in both games I've played in the series.

What's frustrating is that there already IS a narrative inherent to games: it exists in every game ever played. That's the narrative of what a player's actually DOING, and it is incredibly exciting and interesting, which is why even people who don't play sports like to watch sports happen. There's no built-in narrative to football; the stories, as they are, are entirely player-driven. (Cynically speaking, politics is like this too.) When a game does a bad job of acknowledging your own player experience, or even actively tries to counter your feeling that your choices matter, it's not just less satisfying than what games are capable of, it's actively frustrating.

What games CAN do, but which few games bother with, are creating stories through the mechanics of their gameplay. The two games I know of which do this best are ASCII games, in fact, Crawl and Dwarf Fortress, and what makes them fascinating is how their mechanics are so complex and ripe for possibility that entire narratives unfold that are unique to whichever instance of the game you're playing. Minecraft and The Sims do this to a lesser extent, but triple-A titles usually don't even bother thinking this way because they've got these huge hard-ons for movies.

Now to take things a step further, into the realm of the almost-unheard of, if you have a game in which player actions lead to a story unfolding, you can start to ask the question of HOW your actions affect the world. In what ways must a player consider their behavior in a game world in order to bring about change? This can be very shallow (CONSTRUCT ADDITIONAL PYLONS), or it can be very deep, theoretically, in which a player considers why they behave the way they do, and their self-contemplation brings about new changes.

This corresponds more closely with literary and cinematic depth than what we normally point to in game storytelling. The "depth" of the story in question is closely linked to the mechanics of how a player actually plays, but it leads to emotional resonances and narrative developments that are unexpected, moving, delightful, whatever. Most games don't bother going in this direction at all, because it's nearly alien to how we consider game development nowadays. But luckily for us, writers have been considering the possibility of these chaos-driven, open-ended narrative structures for decades and decades.

A lot of people will, if you're talking about playful narrative, refer you to Borges and Calvino, but I think the writer that absolutely every game enthusiast ought to know is Robert Coover, whose stories are... EXPLODED, for lack of a better word. Coover's trick is to tell you a tale that you know well, some kind of archetypal somethingorother, and then shatter it into these fragmented pieces that don't at all hold together. They're not puzzle pieces: they're possibilities And what makes Coover simultaneously hilarious and unsettling and touching is the way he keeps starting these stories over, going back to moments and seeing how they could have gone differently. Sometimes tragedy is averted at the last moment. Sometimes it's darkly hilarious. Sometimes it happens, or you just imagined it happening, or people worried about it happening and missed the second awful thing lurking just around the corner. He makes these little spherical worlds out of what ought to be (and usually are) straightforward narratives. It's fascinating and still somewhat shocking to behold.

That's what I think a lot of people dream of: a story, even a very simple story, that can nonetheless go a hundred different ways. Something where you are a person within this world, and the world reacts to what you decide you ought to be doing. There's still a craft to it, in that one writer is wandering these paths and seeing where they ought to be leading, but it's a craft that merges storytelling with gameplay consideration. It's like a jazz improvisation on a popular song, only the player's the one improvising, and the game's the band playing along.

Give it ten or twenty years and that is absolutely the direction that game design will be heading: there's simply more possibility there than there is in the straightforward narratives of a game like The Last of Us. Ambitious youngsters will want to make NEW things, not just mimic what's already there. Reviewers are comparing TLOU to Citizen Kane, but they're jumping the gun: We're in the era of Griffith and the early talkies, where we're still learning basic techniques for how to integrate storytelling with this new medium. The Citizen Kane game isn't gonna be one that simply tells a story, it's gonna be the one that comes out after we have a hundred competent storytellers and says, your story's interesting enough, but brother, this is a fucking GAME.

(When you study film and game design in college, a video game that people insist on comparing to movies is basically your Achilles Heel. I sincerely apologize if I am blathering on to the point of deathly boredom, but the question of what stories games might tell is literally one of my top five most favorite things in the entire universe.)
posted by Rory Marinich at 12:53 PM on July 14, 2013 [39 favorites]


It's gaming's very first 3rd person Strangler/Ladderer.
posted by Apocryphon at 1:12 PM on July 14, 2013


I think you're exactly right Rory Marinich, and I appreciate so many of you saying games should be games and not movies, because it means I don't have to say it.
posted by JHarris at 1:14 PM on July 14, 2013


That's what I think a lot of people dream of: a story, even a very simple story, that can nonetheless go a hundred different ways.

The various Falloutses?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:19 PM on July 14, 2013


Crusader Kings?
posted by Apocryphon at 1:20 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd just like to stick up for linear storytelling in games. If you have a specific story to tell and you know how to tell it, there's nothing wrong with putting players on a rail if you do it right. See: Half-Life 2, The Walking Dead, Grim Fandango. Just because games can be open-world and expansive doesn't mean being so is a prerequisite for greatness.
posted by Punkey at 1:21 PM on July 14, 2013 [10 favorites]


Fantastic post. I haven't played the game yet, but there's a lot to explore here until I do.
posted by Gelatin at 1:24 PM on July 14, 2013


Yeah, definitely. Linear games can be great. I still half-think that Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon is one of the best games ever made, and it's completely straightforward. "Series of rooms" is fun if the rooms are all well-made, but it's not the same thing as "one big house", so to speak.

Fallout does a clever trick in that it's a series of rooms, but it lets you walk between them as you please. The rooms aren't really connected, but the game's built to get more challenging as you get more powerful, so any order you pick feels right. It's frustrating when you hit those limits that remind you it's all one big illusion, but if you stick to it you can get lost in those worlds for a long time to come.
posted by Rory Marinich at 1:27 PM on July 14, 2013


Wow, that ending (from the MAJOR SPOILERS link) is incredibly annoying railroading of the worst sort. At least if you are going to railroad, make there be some actual logical connection between requirements! Definitely not for me.
posted by tavella at 1:46 PM on July 14, 2013


It's also incredibly hokey because the moral dilemma that it presents has been done over and over in other video games already, much less in fiction in general. Just because a new game presents great production values and style (Bioshock Infinite) or has good writing and characterization (this one) doesn't mean that it presents new storytelling or even new stories.
posted by Apocryphon at 1:52 PM on July 14, 2013


What say you metafilter, is it worth buying a PS3 for this? Don't thnk I won't
posted by Ad hominem at 1:55 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ditto with knee-jerk negativity toward cutscenes and writing in games regardless of quality: you really can't convey much with mechanics alone. Games as a medium do need to badly learn a little subtlety, but well strung words in them is a good thing. It's poorly strung words, poorly directed cutscenes and lengths of unnecessary interactivity that should be criticized, not writing in itself.

Any designer worth their salt needs to believe otherwise. Otherwise, they'll follow old conventions without modifying them. Worse, they might not even come up with new ones.

Cutscenes are conventions, just as are scattered diaries and NPCs full of conveniently eloquent and accurate exposition. Conventions aren't necessarily clichés, but they become so in games that follow them too closely. I shouldn't find scattered diary entries in the order in which they were written. I shouldn't get the absolute truth from any one character. I shouldn't see a cutscene that conveys information that could have been conveyed in a way that allowed me to use my head.

Yeah, and the worst part of Half Life 2 is the end where it's like "hey step into this Exposition Machine so we can take you through our evil factory and then have you be monologued at for five solid minutes without saying anything."

This is another narrative convention that bugs me. That game abounds in Exposition Rooms which you can't leave until the exposition has been delivered. The moment in the Spire is just the most egregious one.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:57 PM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Last of Us is really good. At the moment - and admittedly I'm not paying attention to most of the hype - it has lived up to the hype. I think it will probably get reappraised in future the same way anything does when the hype for it inevitably outpaces its actual quality (this never has anything to do with the product itself, and has everything to do with the nature of hype). Nevertheless, objectively and on its own terms, irrespective of what anyone else is telling you about it (good or bad), it's a really good game. I don't think it's a reach to say it's an easy game of the year contender. As for one of the best of all time...I mean, it's been out for a month. I don't think there's enough distance from the freshness of it to appraise it against the backdrop of gaming history.

It is only revolutionary in the sense that it's really good, and it's put together well, and it tells a compelling and well-assembled story from start to finish. It will only represent a sea change in video games on the whole in that there will be some games ripping it off in the near future, trying to do what it did. It doesn't break acres of new ground but it's a good story told well, and a good game, designed well, and the two halves of it work together to strengthen each other.

What say you metafilter, is it worth buying a PS3 for this? Don't thnk I won't

Only if you can get a PS3 for cheap, and/or there are some other games that sort of interest you, and/or you've been looking for an excuse to buy one. Don't get me wrong, it's an excellent game, but it was worth exactly the sixty dollars I paid for it, and not that plus a couple hundred extra.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:58 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Because when I play a video game, I don't want a story—I want some kind of a machine that puts me in command, makes me feel like I'm in control.

I do want a story, though, and don't want a shooting gallery and I'd like to have a culture of games where people see that and shrug, the way they do when you like a foreign film your friends don't, instead of freaking out and patronizing to you about how you're wrong, the way they do when you care about the creative elements of a game (writing, atmosphere, aesthetics, art direction, music, environments) and have little interest in mechanical elements (programming, level design, combat, puzzles). I am kind of tired of people trying to convince me that "emergent storytelling" is better than a good writer, especially when all the examples we have of the former are incredibly dull as stories. Not liking or wanting story in your games is a legitimate POV to me and doesn't need to be dressed up in the emperor's new clothes to be acceptable: most games are made in such a way that good storytelling is very difficult within the structure they impose. Those sorts of games could benefit from less storytelling because if your story is only there to explain how you got from a jungle level to a snowy mountain level, it's not doing anything for anyone.

But the reverse should be acceptable too, and it's really not; there are more and more games that would do better to focus on writing and aesthetics and exploration than on being shooting galleries. I would love to play some version of Bioshock Infinite where you can actually explore and play some role in Columbia's history. The premise and aesthetic are fantastic; the shooting gallery element hurts that. We won't ever get those sorts of games if every game must, at the end, be a shooting gallery.

I like Fallout and I like Flower and I'm cool with the things Jason Rohrer does; I am probably a bigger game nerd than most gamers even are, so I get really tired of being the perpetual outsider feeling alienated both by game culture and by people who want games to be this one--only this one--very specific, hyperfocused, completely abstract mechanical kind of thing.

I want games to be all kinds of things. It's a very organic medium, with so much potential. The things I really want to play mostly don't exist and mostly wouldn't interest the average gamer, but I am cool with that. Like I said above, I mostly want stories and experiences rather than shooting galleries and when I speak up about this stuff, all I'm really saying is that I'd love for it to be as noncontroversial a statement as, "Not all novels should be romances" or "Not all movies should be comedies" to say not all games should be shooting galleries.
posted by byanyothername at 2:31 PM on July 14, 2013 [18 favorites]


Is this a commercial?

The most dastardly kind of commercial, one that tells you about how good something is and then immediately offers you a way to experience it in a fraction of the time and for free.

Ad hominem, I dropped ~$200 on a used PS3 bundle (including HDMI cable, controller, and headset) plus $40 for a used game disc, and I haven't regretted it. To be fair, I was planning on playing other exclusives like the Ico/Shadow HD bundle*, Journey, the Unfinished Swan, and Naughty Dog's Uncharted series, but I wouldn't feel too cheated if the console broke today.

*I adored Shadow of the Colossus since the PS2 release, but this is my first time playing Ico and I just don't get the hype. The story is touching and the art direction interesting, but it's wrecked by frustrating camera controls, an awkward save system, and tedious combat sections. Is it one of those things that's more impressive for its time, an ambitious story told before 3D games really nailed these technical mechanics?
posted by Rhaomi at 2:34 PM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Every time, the same debate about narrative vs. mechanics in games; the same remarks about how games uniquely do interactivity so that's what they should focus on, not linear storytelling. I can see why people are fascinated by this issue but I think the debate frequently gets tied up in knots when we start to compare mechanics-heavy games like, say, Civilization or SpaceChem, versus story-heavy games like Bioshock Infinite or The Longest Journey. I honestly don't see that they have a lot in common other than the fact that they're interactive and they both run on PCs or Macs.

We don't spend a lot of energy comparing poems with movies, or poker with football, because they don't have a huge amount in common. Indeed, Wittgenstein used games as the paradigmatic example of family resemblances.

Now, I do like the fact that players can generate their own stories from more open-world games like Civilization or Minecraft; indeed, I actually wrote a few fanfic stories based around games of Civ and Alpha Centauri back in the day, and it was a lot of fun. Were those games 'better' than more narrative-heavy games? I honestly don't see how they can be compared, any more than my playing paintball and having a great time should be compared with going to the theatre.

The wonderful thing is that game development tools are cheaper than ever, and it's possible to reach more people than ever without having to go through publishers. I look forward to playing innovative, fun, and/or meaningful mechanics-heavy and story-heavy games in the future.
posted by adrianhon at 2:38 PM on July 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's fascinating to me that people dismiss narrative in games as inherently inferior to a movie and not worth trying. There's really no comparison. I see games narrative as having an incredible power that static narratives can't match: evoking emotions of agency. If I watch a little girl die on film, I'm going to be sad about it. If the little girl I'm responsible for in a game I'm playing dies, I'll be sad, but the texture of that sadness will be tinged with guilt because it was my fault. Games can make you feel proud and frustrated and guilty and complicit. Books and movies and TV shows... not so much.

I also have a chip on my shoulder about people conflating authored story with self-constructed story. Saying that you tell yourself a story of what happened in your football game is a semantics dodge that obfuscates the conversation, and attempts to erase what is, in fact, a very meaningful difference. I've written previously about why it bothers me so much and offered a food-base metaphor to illustrate the difference.
posted by Andrhia at 3:06 PM on July 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


Are games worth watching instead of playing?
posted by Artw at 3:11 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thinking about these The Film of the Game edits, I'm surprised games like this don't implement a kind of replay system. Take a system like Halo 3's Theater that records each attempt (either flat video or full 3D), saving at scripted sections, discarding anything that ends in death. You end up with a complete, flawless playthrough of your one successful run of the game, similar to the "Quantum Mario" concept BioShock Infinite touched on. It would at least make it easy to produce movies like this.
posted by Rhaomi at 3:13 PM on July 14, 2013


I do want a story, though, and don't want a shooting gallery and I'd like to have a culture of games where people see that and shrug, the way they do when you like a foreign film your friends don't, instead of freaking out and patronizing to you about how you're wrong...I am kind of tired of people trying to convince me that "emergent storytelling" is better than a good writer, especially when all the examples we have of the former are incredibly dull as stories.

I mostly agree with your "let us have lots of every kind of game" attitude. But I think the current popular discourse about games is so heavily weighted toward games that want to be interactive movies that it's justifiable for people to shout, "No! I want something different! You're missing what games are best at!"

And I have to disagree with you about dull stories. I'd say the vast majority of authored stories in games are dull (or stupid, or hopelessly cliche). I have a much easier time thinking of memorable emergent stories and experiences that were made possible by gaming systems than I can think of a video game story that stuck with me in any way.
posted by straight at 3:14 PM on July 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


*I adored Shadow of the Colossus since the PS2 release, but this is my first time playing Ico and I just don't get the hype. The story is touching and the art direction interesting, but it's wrecked by frustrating camera controls, an awkward save system, and tedious combat sections. Is it one of those things that's more impressive for its time, an ambitious story told before 3D games really nailed these technical mechanics?

Yeah, that was the era of wonky cameras. It was actually way better in that respect than most games.

I actually didn't play much of ICO, I found it pretty frustrating at times. My roommate at the time would just snatch the controller out of my hand after watching me fall off a the same narrow beam over and over.

There was one water effect in ICO we looked at for like an hour. We were probably stoned, but it was the most impressive water effect on the PS 2.

I'm considering getting a PS 3 now. I want to play GOW 3 as well.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:25 PM on July 14, 2013


There was one water effect in ICO we looked at for like an hour. We were probably stoned, but it was the most impressive water effect on the PS 2.

Under the windmill. (YT) My single favourite game space of all time.
posted by distorte at 3:29 PM on July 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


Every time, the same debate about narrative vs. mechanics in games; the same remarks about how games uniquely do interactivity so that's what they should focus on, not linear storytelling. I can see why people are fascinated by this issue but I think the debate frequently gets tied up in knots when we start to compare mechanics-heavy games like, say, Civilization or SpaceChem, versus story-heavy games like Bioshock Infinite or The Longest Journey. I honestly don't see that they have a lot in common other than the fact that they're interactive and they both run on PCs or Macs.

I think the distinction should not so much be mechanics based games and narrative games, but rather whether the mechanics and the narrative cohere together. One of the frequent criticisms of Bioshock Infinite was that the underlying gameplay did not adequately reflect the change in narrative and setting. The game is set in a completely different place with a different history, a different narrative with different characters and themes. So why should the gameplay feel the same as if you were back in Rapture again?
posted by taromsn at 6:32 PM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'll pick it up if it comes out on Steam; it has to be at least as good as The Walking Dead by Telltale, right?
posted by Renoroc at 6:43 PM on July 14, 2013


Sigh. Exclusive to the PS3.

I so wanted to play it.
posted by sotonohito at 7:00 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


an awkward save system

Also pretty much the most adorable one ever with the best save music of all time, though.

It's possible that ICO is now a bit past it's sell by date, it's hard for me to tell because I was so touched by it. For whatever reason I was more emotionally invested in the minimal story in that game than anything else I've ever played.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 7:59 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Andrhia: "It's fascinating to me that people dismiss narrative in games as inherently inferior to a movie and not worth trying. There's really no comparison. I see games narrative as having an incredible power that static narratives can't match: evoking emotions of agency. If I watch a little girl die on film, I'm going to be sad about it. If the little girl I'm responsible for in a game I'm playing dies, I'll be sad, but the texture of that sadness will be tinged with guilt because it was my fault. Games can make you feel proud and frustrated and guilty and complicit. Books and movies and TV shows... not so much."

I watched someone play through several of the Assassin's Creed games, and let me tell you, they had exactly as much agency as I do when I watch a movie at home. They just pushed the play button a lot more times than I do.

More seriously - it seems like in these discussions, as with many discussions about art, the real trouble, the source of contention, is the fact that parts of the creation are split when they shouldn't be. I mean: I haven't played a lot of games, but I've watched a lot, and my experience is that the most annoying thing about games is that there's this part where there's narrative in the form of cutscenes, and then there's this part where there's game mechanics the player directly manipulates some basic thing in a repetitive way. Like Rory (I think?) I have some yearning for the rogue-like world of pure manipulation where games reduce themselves to simple play; I do feel like that's often annoying absent in many modern games, which have a crapload of narrative fluff. But even so I can see that narrative itself isn't necessarily fluff.

I'm admittedly no expert on games, but my sense is really that what needs to happen is those things need to stop being separate things. Game mechanics should be narrative, and narrative should be game mechanics. And - again, from my limited perspective - it feels like "here, choose which of these three or four things you want your character to say" is a wall we've hit without there being an easy way to get past it.

But a lot of people want different things from games, it's true.
posted by koeselitz at 9:33 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


They need to stop making them all about killing people. It's really simple. That's what's wrong with them. They know it too. They just can't bring themselves to stop.
posted by ead at 12:54 AM on July 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


*I adored Shadow of the Colossus since the PS2 release, but this is my first time playing Ico and I just don't get the hype. The story is touching and the art direction interesting, but it's wrecked by frustrating camera controls, an awkward save system, and tedious combat sections. Is it one of those things that's more impressive for its time, an ambitious story told before 3D games really nailed these technical mechanics?


Thats funny because I loved Ico, then got Shadows and found the controls and camera wonky enough to bounce off after a while...

I'm a big fan of linked cut scenes and gaming as well as self generated narratives. I've had enormous fun playing Crusader Kings 2, watching my kingdom vanish as a self interested regent makes terrible choices for my invalid king, or endless attempts of Scotland to crush Ireland, each time being foiled by the assasins knife. That said, if I had to give up narrative games, I'd have to give up games like FF10 where SPOILER!! the protaganists father turns out to be a giant monster called Sin. I mean, how cool is that, I get to fight a giant metaphor on the back of an airship?

I do get why people push for the created narrative thing, because it is unique to video games, and the media gets obsessed with pretty cut scenes. Of course the AAA companies need to make the pretty cut scenes, because they need to sell these things to a mass market that gets fooled by pretty visuals.

I do think as well that created narrative is often only as good as the player. I've heard some friends tell me Dwarf Fortress stories and they were tedious, because those friends are not good story tellers.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 1:09 AM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just watched the "movie" version. Not bad.

I gave it a mental "pass" for certain storytelling problems that were obviously caused by the fact that it was designed as a game.

If I hadn't know that, I would have had some real problems with it. For example -- weird pacing issues (how long do we have to watch her chase that deer ...); believability issues (there were always thirty million enemies in any given fight rather than a more realistic three to five or so); tone issues (those same insane fight scenes were at odds with the otherwise melancholy atmosphere); and structural issues (it had an extended multi-act structure more suited to something like a TV miniseries than a one-sitting movie.)

But knowing that those things were there because it wasn't really designed to be a movie, I was able to kind of blank those out, so to speak. Doing so, I found it pretty enjoyable. Nothing world-changing, but a decent little zombie-apocalypse flick, and a fine way to spend an otherwise empty afternoon.

I don't think I would have enjoyed playing it as a game nearly as much, honestly. But though I've played a few games I've liked, I'm not really a gamer. (I watched playthroughs of Portal and Portal II and enjoyed doing so a lot, but always thought they looked like utter misery to play.)
posted by kyrademon at 7:09 AM on July 15, 2013


They need to stop making them all about killing people. It's really simple. That's what's wrong with them. They know it too. They just can't bring themselves to stop.

Warren Spector interviewed by RPS:

RPS: For a lot of people, though, I think it still fell apart once combat entered the picture. For whatever you might end up working on next, have you given any thought to the idea of removing guns entirely?

Spector: I almost hesitate to say this, because I don’t know if it’ll actually happen, but I can’t tell you how desperately I want to impose the “no weapons” restriction on whatever I do now. Just to force myself and the team to solve a lot of tough problems. Guns and swords, they’re such crutches for us. They’re so easy for us to do. Unless we force ourselves to do the hard things, I’m not sure we ever will. I don’t know. I may not actually do that. I may end up doing a game where you get to shoot lots of people. Who knows? But I’d very much like to impose that constraint on things. We’ll see.

posted by Artw at 7:19 AM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not just no weapons. No killing. The fact that it's so hard to picture a story in this putative art form without an associated body count is telling of the problem. Imagine that was true of painting, music, writing, film, theatre.
posted by ead at 8:27 AM on July 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hell, even Crusader Kings II, which is about as systems-driven as a big-budget game gets, is mainly about the often-lethal intrigues among petty lords, and when it's not about intrigues, it's about wars.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:39 AM on July 15, 2013


They need to stop making them all about killing people. It's really simple. That's what's wrong with them. They know it too. They just can't bring themselves to stop.

Human Revolution and Dishonored handle this pretty well, killing being the easy quick route and non lethal routes being harder.

After watching the play through of Last of us it does seem that the gameplay(excessive violence in hand to hand combat) and mechanics were really what was holding it back (there's always a pallet or a ladder)
posted by MrCynical at 8:53 AM on July 15, 2013


The verbs in Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Dishonored are still "attack another human being". There's not much difference between "shoot in the head with a 9mm" and "shoot in the chest with a sleeping dart". I want games where the verbs are entirely different, not based in direct combat. There are plenty of indie games out there that do this, but precious few mainstream ones.
posted by Nelson at 9:08 AM on July 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


The trick is finding something as viscerally satisfying as shooting that lacks violOH WAIT, WE'VE HAD GAMES LIKE THAT FOREVER. The best parts of Mario are the parts of just moving expertly through a world. Ditto Sonic. Ditto Final Fantasy (which would be a vastly better game if the combat was removed entirely, and it was just wandering through a world triggering story events). Ditto a whole bunch of game genres that used to be great but weren't 'cinematic' enough to be worth a trillion-dollar graphics engine.

I've cited Fez already in this thread, but Fez was proof that if you took Mario and removed the bad guys, the result was a better game. Hell, Minecraft is in some ways what you'd get if you removed the gun from an FPS game; it would be even better if monsters were so big and terrifying you couldn't even thwack them with a sword. Games that require you to kill everything in sight are worse than games in which you can't do that because they give you methods of removing obstacles.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:52 AM on July 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Nelson, you forget that those games are also based around stealth, too.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:03 AM on July 15, 2013


Sure, Apocryphon, but the stealth path in Dishonored, for instance, has verbs like "cut out his tongue," "doom to slavery," and "send to a life of imprisonment and rape."
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:06 AM on July 15, 2013


There are plenty of indie games out there that do this, but precious few mainstream ones.

There are plenty of mainstream games that don't revolve around combat, but very few in the Action genre as that usually involves some form of combat even if it's non-leathal.

Games like Dishonored, Elder Scrolls and Deus Ex get praised for giving players additional paths to complete their objectives which often utilise non-violence because it adds to the challenge(which is one of the big reasons people enjoy games)

Portal is a good example of a big budget action title with killing not being a goal, focusing only on the puzzle solving in a 3D space ends with a very very short game though.
posted by MrCynical at 10:28 AM on July 15, 2013


Having branching paths for easy ultraviolence and difficult pacifism is a bad way to remove violence from a game because it still encourages violence and there will be people who will want to go the nonviolent route but can't if it's too difficult (I'm currently stuck in this with Lone Survivor, which I'm loving anyway). There's room for stuff like this if it's handled well--I love the way Siren does violence; you spend most of your time in that game being completely helpless, and when you are given a gun (I think there are two? like, specifically two guns, not two kinds of gun; they change hands several times over the course of the game, which is...an interesting way to further the narrative when you think about why this person instead of that person has that gun now) your ammunition is limited so retributive violence isn't possible.

Siren is hard, though (note to developers: ❤ difficulty sliders), and still very violent. It's notable for disempowering the player, but there is still lots of violence directed at you. Completely nonviolent games are a lot more interesting to me--and I'd love to see something like Final Fantasy with all the battles just removed. The Last Story was hugely enjoyable to me for taking all the things that work about FF (charming characterization, detailed fantasy worlds to explore, a strong emphasis on linear stories, aesthetics, art and music, etc.) and dropping all the things that don't (random battles, reliance on player levels and specific skills...combat entirely, much of the time). There are a variety of things to do, but whatever you do ends up furthering the story and fleshing out the characters or world. I like that a lot; I think that's the way to go (one way to go). The Last of Us seemed to be going in that direction, too, but I don't have a PS3 and have only watched it. I think if certain kinds of games keep going in this direction, eventually they're going to have to just drop violence entirely as another thing that doesn't work; then we'll have games like Journey, but with more emphasis on writing. And I will be happy and stop poking at gamers.
posted by byanyothername at 11:01 AM on July 15, 2013


The various Falloutses?

Yes, precious. The Gaffer's delight, and rare good ballast for an empty belly.
posted by ersatz at 12:29 PM on July 15, 2013


Fair enough, but Dishonored is all about playing a steampunk assassin, right? Whereas in Human Revolution you're a cyberpunk investigator so you have a little more leeway for sneaking around without explicitly encountering anyone, whether lethally or nonlethally.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:31 PM on July 15, 2013


I think this video gives a good explanation on why video games are so violent. It is not only game design laziness, but also something inherent from the medium.
posted by florzinha at 12:45 PM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hell, Minecraft is in some ways what you'd get if you removed the gun from an FPS game; it would be even better if monsters were so big and terrifying you couldn't even thwack them with a sword. Games that require you to kill everything in sight are worse than games in which you can't do that because they give you methods of removing obstacles.

I think Minecraft handles its enemies well. They come out at night. They come out in force. The inexperienced or ill-equipped can't handle them. They need to build shelter. Most monsters die at sunrise, but the scariest ones live on. You have to look over your shoulder even at noon. The nightly assault will come no matter what you do.

That's not the worst of it. In the caves, the monsters never die. You can light them, but almost never completely. The caves stretch on for too long. They wind too randomly. Monsters will find a way to ambush you.

You can make weapons, but your resources will always be scarce. You always need to retreat at night.

Minecraft is a horror game.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:15 PM on July 15, 2013


Ditto Final Fantasy (which would be a vastly better game if the combat was removed entirely, and it was just wandering through a world triggering story events).

I don't think that would work. In most of these games, random battles are the test that determines if the decisions you made in equipping your characters are good ones. And the story in most JRPGs is nothing special at all.

Those games also use random battles as spacers that make the story seem longer than it really is. There's really not that much actual story, in terms of text length, in your standard JRPG.
posted by JHarris at 1:47 PM on July 15, 2013


I still play through FFIV every few years for the story and characters, even though the battles are tedious as hell for me by now.

But I think you've hit on the actual fun gamified part of JRPGs, though -- not the fighting, the equipping.
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:07 PM on July 15, 2013


I think maybe that's the fun of Tower Defence games - its basically ALL equipping.
posted by Artw at 2:10 PM on July 15, 2013


When I played through one of the Splinter Cells, I made a point of trying to complete each mission without killing anyone. I seem to recall the game rewarding this style of play as well and it greatly enhanced the tension.
posted by jamincan at 3:35 PM on July 15, 2013


My complaint with violence in mainstream games isn't that I don't like violent games. I love them. I just played Saints Row 3 through a second time and gleefully giggled at the cartoony freeze-frame way pedestrians splash across your windshield when you mow them down. And I'm having a great time with Sleeping Dogs right now, a very visceral hands-on sort of brawling violence. Totally fine with that.

I just feel that too many games are wedded to this "shoot people" mechanic, that it's become lazy. Both The Last of Us, discussed here, and Bioshock: Infinite, frequently mentioned in the same breath, are games that IMHO are weakened by their sticking to the FPS tropes. I don't blame the game companies for doing that; FPS is a proven game genre. Also "Joel and Ellie's casual stroll through zombie-torn America" would not have made a very good game. But I'm just kind of tired of everyone going back to the same well. Could you imagine if almost all movies were action thrillers?
posted by Nelson at 4:07 PM on July 15, 2013


I might have some minor details of this fact wrong (as this series is something I've read more about than played personally) but--
Metal Gear Solid games tend to be completable without killing anyone, or killing only bosses, and the best rank can only be obtained by doing so. And in MG4, there's a scene where you're haunted by everyone you've had to kill up to that point.
posted by JHarris at 6:27 PM on July 15, 2013


I still play through FFIV every few years for the story and characters, even though the battles are tedious as hell for me by now.

I used to feel that way about those games, and still have some residual fondness for them. But I also realize the story is strictly soap opera. Like, every party character other than Cecil "dies" at some point only to come back later. Except for Tellah that is, at least they made his death stick. FFVI's story is better, but it's still pretty much on a par with a trash fantasy novel, more a guilty pleasure than anything. But then, I have a Master's in English Literature. I might as well have SNOB branded on my forehead.
posted by JHarris at 6:31 PM on July 15, 2013


(Don't even get me started on Fish Summoner 3.)
posted by JHarris at 6:33 PM on July 15, 2013


I just feel that too many games are wedded to this "shoot people" mechanic, that it's become lazy. Both The Last of Us, discussed here, and Bioshock: Infinite, frequently mentioned in the same breath, are games that IMHO are weakened by their sticking to the FPS tropes. I don't blame the game companies for doing that; FPS is a proven game genre. Also "Joel and Ellie's casual stroll through zombie-torn America" would not have made a very good game. But I'm just kind of tired of everyone going back to the same well. Could you imagine if almost all movies were action thrillers?

I have exactly the same feeling: I loved Hotline Miami and Spec Ops: The Line, for example. But with Bioshock Infinite I felt that 20% of the game had a very interesting story, with a great art direction and a compelling character -- and the remaining 80% was spent slaughtering thousands of generic enemies with generic guns and generic colorful magical powers.
posted by florzinha at 7:01 PM on July 15, 2013


Then there's the later GTA games where sulky regretfulness in the cutscenes is undercut by gleeful mayhem on the streets.
posted by Artw at 7:04 PM on July 15, 2013


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