This is a new music-shooter from the chap who made Rez, Tetsuya Mizuguchi – it’s operated through Microsoft’s new Kinect motion-detection system and is meant to convey the sound-colour linkage of synesthesia. Sadly, as it’s colour-oriented, I’m aware that I’m probably never going to be able to enjoy this, in the way I couldn’t enjoy Space Giraffe.
I sincerely hope that this is all in-game footage – mainly because I can’t believe that it could all be rendered and because I’ve been hoping for something that’s a graphical leap forward, not in terms of quality necessarily, but in terms of smooth integration of divergent thematic elements.
It’s 2010 and my jaw is hanging like it’s been wired open. I can’t believe what I’m watching on screen. The wise-talking pensive scientist / special operative who’s been fighting robots and aliens and stuff at my side, is… singing. And, in the deep darkness of the far future, in the lab of my one-of-a-kind spaceship in uber science-fiction action-game Mass Effect 2 what he’s singing is… Gilbert & Sullivan? Particularly a parody of a Modern Major General.
It’s 2007 and I’m munching on a buffet at Bioware’s offices in Edmonton, Alberta. Their headquarters are a great solid block of a building, enclosing a wide covered plaza, and along one side of it are tables and a buffet. Opposite me, chewing lugubriously, is Drew Karpyshyn, chief writer for Bioware, and author of numerous pulp sci-fi novels and script. Like the rest of the guys here, he’s something of a shtarker – if, as I naively imagine must happen all the time in Canada, the whole building gets routinely buried under a mile of snow, these guys would survive on built-up buffet-generated body-fat for weeks before they had to start eating the QA team.
I look around at these guys and, while they seem smart, I’m, as always, a little disappointed with the atmosphere. Like all their compadres I’ve visited, the location of this group of North American developers is clinical and dull – 3D Realms had a bunker that was tedious cubicles inside, Blizzard’s base could have been in a Reading business park, Monolith and 2K are buried in silent office blocks in the suburbs… only EA (the campus in San Fran, or their recently-abandoned UK riverside headquarters) seem to have had a sense of the grand scale of what they’re building; these are the people building the future of the mind and they’re doing it from cubicle farms and bedrooms, enlivened only by merchandised cartoon dolls on their desks and the same sort of pop-culture posters on their walls their grandfathers would have stuck up during the war. Drew seems pleasant and bright, but not the image of wild-eyed writer I’d have expected.
Yet Drew, or one of his colleagues, wrote that scene. Someone in that company is aware of 19th Century British comic opera, well enough to write a parody of it (even including references to “patter” and the traditional updating of the song to current cultural events). That same person is also confident enough of their audience, confident enough of their own abilities and has enough confidence from their team, that they’ll put it into a wildly-inappropriate genre video game, but in a perfectly appropriate context. The moment doesn’t just work in the context of the character as an arbitrary grab at giving him depth – it works within the internal history of the game, with the character’s development from a simple doctor to something halfway between Mengeles and Einstein, and within the character’s motivations and especially his dark secret. It’s up there with Andrew Ryan’s Teetime and Modern Warfare’s helicopter crash – but better executed, less po-faced and completely tangential to the plot.
Internet culture talks often about the moment some piece of media “jumped the shark”; I’d say that Mordin moment, is the inversion of this, the moment when games stepped up from being puerile, simplistic and arbitrary constructs of a moment’s pleasure, to fully-fledged self-sustaining, confident and internally coherent worlds of their own.
I’m Big Daddy Delta, terror of Rapture, splitter of splicers, defender of the weak, diving suit fetishist extraordinaire. I’m stuck on one side of a door, there’s a broken window and a yellow glowing switch a few feet away. I have a clever hacking dart gun, which requires my simply pressing a button when a needle on its meter passes through a certain colour. I shoot, I score… and get a mild electric shock. I repeat. Again and again. There’s an endless supply of darts so I keep shooting until I die of Electron Overdose and respawn, humiliated, at a Vitachamber. Yet again, someone on the art team has thoughtlessly swallowed the Manichean standard that red is bad and green is good, and decided he should use a primary palette to distinguish between these opposites -which means poor old colour-blind me gets killed.
It’s no fun being the odd one out. As the only team member with an attention span counted in hours rather than seconds, I’m regularly taunted in the office for loving PC strategy games. The other team members treat me as if I’m backward and nerdy; and it’s true I do love strategy games, tactical combat games, turn-based games. Yet there’s a shift going on, a shift of strategy developers towards consoles, both in the numbers being developed for the Xbox 360 and how they’re being altered to fit it. Soon there will be more strategy games on the console than beat ’em ups, an unthinkable thing five years ago.
A super-long feature I did on console strategy games as my Parthian shot at OXM has gone on-line. If you like sending thousands of men to death and/or glory it’s an involved and in-depth read – read the Gameplayer version though, as it’s more legible. It involves interviews with Michael de Plater from Creative Assembly, Jim Vessella, Associate Producer on the forthcoming expansion Command & Conquer 3: Kane’s Wrath, Jim Bottomley, Lead Designer of Vivendi’s recent PC hit World in Conflict, Barry Caudill, Executive Producer at Firaxis Games talking about Civ Revolution, James Carey from Creative Assembly, and Mike Kawahara and Jim Ngui from Namco, developers of Mark of Chaos. That’s a lot of developers!
My face feels like it’s stuck to the pillow, and there’s a ringing in my ears that isn’t just the alarm. I vaguely remember dreaming about fighting a knight in a train, then eating some chokeberries. I drag my head up and the instant headache and scummy mouth is so repugnant, I assume I must have been drinking. I check my pockets and am nicely surprised; a wodge of cash is still there, there’s no outrageous taxi receipts, no ludicrously priced bills for London cocktails or ladies of the night (slightly cheaper than the cocktails, I hear). Thinking some PR must have been buying the drinks, I stumble into the living room, and the TV’s on. A familiar theme tune bangs out, with Patrick Stewart intoning over the top. Everything clears up. Playing Oblivion ’til three again? On a work night? I wish I’d been out drinking…
I shouldn’t be playing this game this much. I know off by heart the locations of every shop in every city, have run over the map for hours on end, just for kicks and yet, a couple of hundred hours in, I’ve still not completed half the quests, am nowhere near completing the main quest and have only just stopped being a vampire (thanks to the Vile Lair download pack). I’ve not only stopped doing the quests, I’ve started making up my own. Taking pictures of the flowers, seeing how high I can get my bounty, making the largest pile of naked dead people in a city square, and endlessly just exploring dungeons, just to see what’s in there. Oh and lots of running away. I speak to the members of the Thieve’s Guild more than I do my family (but, then, my family aren’t so hot at laundering goods.) I’ve wondered about checking into that clinic in Amsterdam to see if I can cure my addiction.
I recognise now that unless I complete all the quests, I’m never going to be able to let this game go. So, thanks to suggestions from friends, I’m now rebuilding my life around getting the game finished. I now do sit-ups whilst watching the screen, nap at work in my lunch-hour to recoup those precious minutes for later play, and have set up a credits system, where an hour of cooking, cleaning or eating bags me an hour fighting gobbos. I’m even aiming to take up smoking when the quests end just so I’ve got a secondary addiction to take over. The only cloud on the horizon is Bethesda; they insist on realising new, addictive downloads every fricking fortnight, and won’t promise me that they’ll stop doing it because they’re making a nice profit out of me.