Alfred Hitchcock Would Make Great Games

Alfred Hitchcock Would Make Great Games

Auteur theory is more than just making works of art.

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That was an awesome, awesome article. Maybe because of my blind fandom of Hitchcock, maybe just because it was a smart, well written and awesome article that I agree with. Take your pick.

I think it depends on what you're looking for in the experience. Sure, a quirky story-less title is fun from time to time, but the experiences which have moved me most have been story driven. Portal is, of course, the best example of having the best of both worlds. One could argue that the ingeniously crafted dark, yet humorous story is half of the appeal, while the mechanics are equally fascinating.
Like with cinema, I believe story is still an integral part of the experience, even if it's not endemic to the medium. And with the current standard of video game writing (the antithesis of Portal), I argue that more attention needs to be paid to crafting well written stories, not less.

Gaming needs to find its own language. How to express things, to convey feelings, to tell a story using an interactive medium.

I think Hitchcock would be great creating suspense in game stories, something that surprisingly even horror games fail. Imagine L.A. Noire made by Hitchcock. It would have been so much enganging!

Gaming also needs more auteurs, someone who directs the game and puts a personal touch to it. I think we have some like Ken Levine, but we need more, so that games stop feeling like they were created by lots of people with little to no conection. As long as the guy really knows how to direct a game. We don't want the gaming equivalent of Michael Bay and George Lucas nowadays.

I like this article, and I like this approach. When I think of the gaming equivalent of auteurs, the people who come to mind are people like Chris Roberts, Hideo Kojima, Shigeru Miyamoto, and Lord British. Maybe Notch, for a newcomer. What I don't think of are the Johnathon Blows and the David Cages of the world. They're too focused on making art to actually make games.

Edit: Seriously, this was a good article. It's the kind interesting musing about the medium that got me interested in this site in the first place, back when the weekly issues were still a thing. Susan, if you're reading this, seriously consider getting this guy to write more articles.

What is that Blow dude talking about?
Braid isn't a bad game, but its mechanics are average, whilst its artistic vision is pretentious to the point of being a douchebag.

When I think great gaming moments, the first thing that come to mind isn't what kind of experience games manage to deliver to you, but what experiences people managed to craft through games.

-Evo moment #37
-Starcraft Pimpest Plays 2002/03

Moments like those made gamers like Daigo Umehara and Lim Yo Hwan superstars, to the point of having had dozens of documentaries made about them.

-Pubmasters: The Movie.

Not just gameplay, as the pubmasters were good but not the best at counterstrike, but jaw dropping awesome.
So awesome, in fact, that n!faculty actually did a "pubmasters style" defuse in tournament.

-Illegal Danish

Sometimes, you use games as a medium with which to write stories.
Myndflame is not a good gamer. In fact, he's so bad he's often the sole reason his team fails during coop games.
He is, however, a machinima legend. That's some funny shit. Watch it.

Maybe that's just the problem with perspective here.
Maybe games aren't supposed to be artistic products, but artistic tools with which you, the player, create experiences.

Maybe that's why minecraft is so good.

But then you cheapen the role of the games to create feelings, raise ideas, itself.

MGS4 had the "death walk" scene, it was totally wholly fake, but the first time players encounter it they violently hit that button to keep snake dragging his body down that tunnel. You really think you can fail, that snake is at his limit, you feel his pain and desperation.

Spec ops the line another game, that puts a very uncomfortable spin on the whole super spec ops kill everyone let god sort em out games.

Mass effect series has any number of moments that put the player in the position of weighing very heavy ideas and having to judge on their own, there were a few times in the whole me series where i just stopped dead and thought, sometimes long and hard, about issues like brainwashing vs death, choosing who lives and who dies on a personal level and on a planetary level.

Even the final fantasy games when they actually made games were we cared about the characters, drew you into them, more than you impress your will on them.

Lets not diminish the role that the games themselves have in shaping a players experience and the best of them that is art in itself. Nevermind the games that can get someone to think about something in a very real way.

I might be coming at this from the wrong end, but I always thought that the only thing Braid had going for it was its art style and soundtrack. Everything else - including the time-manipulation gimmick - felt a little overt to me. I could see Blow's statement coming an hour into the game, too, seeing as the game very little effort to get me to empathize with Tim in any shape or form.

There's also the fact that the protagonist discovering he actually is to blame feels like a rather cliché development. So yeah, I absolutely don't get why Braid is elevated to near-godly levels. Johnathan Blow isn't out to "save" gaming or anything of the sort; in fact, he reminds me a lot of Peter Molyneux, just in an increasingly pretentious form. He crafts experiences that aren't terribly memorable and just because of one or two artistic flourishes, you're supposed to regard him as the Truffaut of gaming.

I have much more respect for game creators that are actually interested in making games, and not Western takes on the fairly hollow genre of the Visual Novel. There's plenty of ways to craft a meaningful story while getting the guy who's actually holding the controller involved in some fashion.

Hideo Kojima was listed as an example, earlier, but I can't really agree with this. Kojima produces hours of lavish and overly dramatic cut-scenes, and then occasionally remembers there's a player waiting to actually have some sort of input. That lasts for five minutes at most, and then it's back to watching Mister Director have his fun. Besides, hasn't he already commented on his desire to move away from game design and try his hand at film-making?

A great example of narrative theory in an actual game, at least to me, would be Minecraft, with an increasingly lesser mention given to the likes of your average BioWare RPG or Bethesda's offerings. Minecraft isn't just about crafting a doom fortress for yourself - as the act of creating that doom fortress can be considered as a narrative act in and out of itself. Mass Effect 3 or Skyrim give you sequences of premade narratives, and the only real control you have involves those occasional forks in the road.

It's not bad at all and it's a pretty good way to ensure you game has a beginning, middle and end - but it's a lot less freeing than what Minecraft has to offer.

Thanks for the feedback, guys.

Farther than stars: I'm with you. For all the Cahier's grumbling about overdone scripts, I still think that a movie just wont survive without strong writing. By the same token, it's hard for a game to keep a solid form without a strong story to back it up. Portal, though -- Portal was so great not because the story was great (which it naturally was) but because the narrative was so seamlessly integrated with the gameplay. It's sort of surprising no one had done it before: a condescending and alienating voice mocks your straining brain as you struggle through puzzles, motivating you to prove it wrong and succeed / live. Puzzle games make you feel like a lab rat, and Portal worked that into the story. And it was great.

pilouuuu: For a Hitchcock LA Noire redux, I would kill a man, experience massive guilt and alienation, lie to my lover about it and eventually face justice.

Danceofmasks and cerebus23: I think you're both right, in a way. Games are a singular sort of give and take between architect and inhabitant; it takes a knowledgeable creator to scaffold possible experience (notch included, as freeform as Mineform appears) and it takes a willing and capable player to drive that creation to its limits -- in rare cases, players exceed those limits. But I think the danger of this conversation is leaning too far one way or the other: the developer should always be credited for crafting and bounding the well of possible experience, and the players should be credited for tapping that well 'til it's empty. Both parties deserve the credit.

And Owyn: [corny joke about how I'll pay you later, wink wink]

But seriously, thanks.

It's always a good idea to push the boundaries of technique and style in respective mediums, but the "over-valued written element" is the solid foundation from which these methods must built upon. A good story is one that connects to everyone, and it's important to have that anchor when exploring into new territory via techniques. A good story with bad technicals still gets a "well it looked weird but the story's still good" while a shitty story with an interesting technique gets "that one thing they did was cool but it still sucked".

Even in games, where the interactivity is half the experience, a crappy story is a pretty safe way for a game to be cast aside. Look at Indigo Prophecy. The game did something new and different, but the story took a sharp nosedive off a cliff around the end of the second act, so no one really cared about it.

The second you start thinking that the dialogue "should just be another noise" is the second you become Michael Bay or Eli Roth.

I reckon the Cahiers crowd is a great way to think about the whole 'art games' debate. Godard and co. found artistry within popular cinema, and made it seem easily as legitimate as the art-house or avant garde. People don't like to bring up these parallels but I think studying how another medium found critical validation can only be helpful for video games.

I'm surprised this hasn't got more comments, its the best thing I've read on The Escapist in ages.

irishda: You're right, a good story "connects to everyone," and that's a valuable for any product. But you're conflating the "written element" -- the script and dialogue -- with the narrative. The quote I pulled was meant to demonstrate Hitchcock's preference for nonverbal narrative ("eyes tell the story in visual terms") over spoken or expository narrative, not a distaste for story as such. It's sort of unusual for a director in the higher reaches of our critical/artistic respect, but Hitchcock's films tended to be exquisitely plot-driven. What set him apart was his ability to depict the movement of the plot with visual devices rather than with dialogue. He told stories, great classic stories, but his stories were shown and not told. That's what earned him the respect of the Cahier -- while he was without a doubt a for-profit Hollywood titan, like Bay or Roth and with all the catering to the bottom denominator that entails, he still managed in the meanwhile to push at the boundaries of film's visual storytelling potential.

As far as games go, I just can't get on board with this bit: "a crappy story is a pretty safe way for a game to be cast aside." I mean, except for a few shining exceptions, most popular games have weak-ish stories. A lot of the time their plots are just barely cohesive enough to string together the action elements, the core mechanics. Games like Indigo Prophesy fail not because they have poorly written plots, but because they're trying too hard to be plot-driven and the plot isn't solid enough to lean on. Of course there are games with excellent stories, and of course those games are appealing -- there are plenty of excellent dialogue-driven films, too, but they don't do anything exciting visually. (Also, some pieces do it all: there are excellent plot-driven, dialogue-heavy and a visually innovative films; there are are plot-driven and mechanically innovative games like Portal.)

In a recent blog post, Leigh Alexander pulled a quote M. Wasteland's book, and I think it's relevant here:

"I think instead that the problem was structural - deeply structural to the product itself, at a level where no amount of "smart" versus "dumb" choices can really change things. One of those games centered around shooting aliens with guns and lasers. Another was about navigating an environment and punching people until they died.
"The very second you try to wrap actions like those in a "good story" that does not somehow address what happens during the mechanical part of the experience is the second you fail to write a good story."

burymagnets: First, thanks for your kind words. That's pretty high praise. Second, I totally agree: auteur theory is valuable because it allows "higher" appreciation of pop products. Also, it just seems more concrete than the eternal "what's an art game after all" debate, and that's refreshing.

The main thing I got out of this article: Jonathan Blow thinks updating Myst is a big deal. It is to laugh.

Thoughtful article, though, really. I just got distracted by the linked-to article that basically consisted of a couple of guys making completely arbitrary distinctions about what is or isn't good/valuable game design seemingly based upon whether or not it's designed by Blow. It seemed more like a long-form marketing campaign writeup than a review or critique of anything.

 

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