Thursday, 13 October 2011

Let the products sell themselves

So that Bioshock Infinite E3 demo huh? Looks pretty good.

What struck me was how natural everything felt, which is actually kind of a red flag when you’re watching a gameplay demo. Because whoever is controlling Booker, the main character in Bioshock, he knows where the good stuff is. He knows what Elizabeth, yr pal, is going to say at certain times. He knows the Songbird, this kind of weirdo villain, is going to appear at the window, and in true Half Life fashion, this little moment isn’t really a cutscene. You’re still in character. Booker goes over to Elizabeth and hides behind a counter, out of sight, away from the Songbird.

In the video commentary for the Bioshock Infinite e3 gameplay video, Ken Levine, creative director for Infinite, claims,

“We don’t talk over our demos, we let our demos speak for themselves.”


But I appreciate that they made a commentary because I want to know how much of this game I’m going to actually be playing, and I was hoping they'd address that, and they absolutely don't.

If I don’t make myself duck behind the counter, if the songbird sees me, what happens then?

This scene looks so natural, but who would duck in time? This is why games have infinite lives now, because the story is the thing, even though 99% of games’ stories are like helping your dad try to do something good and oh he’s sacrificed himself and you’ve been tricked this whole time and you’ve been captured but you escaped.

So, what, is that scene scripted? Do you lose control of Booker for that little bit? Or can the story change utterly at that point, or does the Songbird just kill you instantly if it sees you?

They don’t talk about that at all in the commentary. The printed interview featured on the gamespot site mentions the improv elements to the game, which extend only to little asides the character makes, and a few scenes where the player can initiate combat or not. So it’s like yeah, you can interact with this game, but only when the game says so.

We’re at a stage with games where this game could have a massive improv element, like Mass Effect or Fallout: New Vegas. I’m not saying it should, but the game looks so fluid and nice, you can’t tell if it’s scripted or just well played.

Admittedly this article is all hyperbole and I’m about to fall victim to a criticism I’m going to make in a minute or so. My point is, it’s so unclear, what’s playable and what’s not here. The demo cannot speak for itself, because it’s speaking in another language almost, hiding behind how cool everything seems.

I want this game to be great, it looks great, and I will almost certainly buy it, and hopefully I won’t be disappointed. What if a game was judged not by its strongest moments, but by how it treats its weakest? Every game has downtime. Not just breaks in the action, but breaks from being worthwhile. Like do I really need to take Roman Bellic bowling AGAIN and do I even need the Gears Of War 3 campaign at all?

Bioshock Infinite, two words which make no sense together (one of which isn’t a word anyway), has been growing up in the public eye, kind of. The Songbird has been mentioned plenty, and it’s a neat element. This monster, stalking you throughout the game, has this relationship with Elizabeth. It’s been her carer, and her prison guard, for years. But I only know this because I’ve been told it, by the games developers, in interviews.

Infinite compares itself to a novel. In what novel do you already understand the relationship between the main characters before you even read it, because the author already told you? Maybe you’d get a hint of something on the inside sleeve, but the inside sleeve isn’t out like a year before the book.

This isn’t so much a criticism of this game, but all games. Mass Effect 3 isn’t out until next year, along with Bioshock Infinite. We, as gamers and consumers, rely on theoretical information, opinions given by games journalists, as to what a game will be like. We’ve been waiting for Skyrim for almost twelve months at this point. No other medium builds our hype as much, and has us queuing so long. In no other medium are the negative reviews so outnumbered by the blindly positive.

It would be nice if the games could speak for themselves, but even the demos don’t get a chance, assholes like me always want a word in. But at least I don’t get paid for it.

Bioshock Infinite is being developed by Irrational Games and published by 2K and will be released sometime in 2012, apparently.