The Time I Was a Madman in Half-Life 2

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like Smilomaniac pointed out there's the issue of playing a character that you simply don't like a problem that games with a silent protagonist doesn't have to deal with.

also i don't really think making a protagonist mute is a decision born out of fear its either a deliberate choice like half-life or portal which I think would not have been as funny if the protagonist wasn't mute or they just don't care enough to write dialogue for the main character.

I really like the way the devil survivors and persona game handle main characters every time they say something the player has to select what even if the choice is between saying hi and hello Sometimes you literally have one choice but you still have to select it.

Most of the time all it changes is one line of dialogue from the person you're talking too but it really does make the game more immersive and I could easily see it being used very well in both games with strong character focus and games without.

You're right. Half-life 2 would have been way better with Gordon constantly going "WHOA, THE CITADEL. HUH." or "MY GOD, THEY ENSLAVED PEOPLE LIKE SLAVES. I'VE GOT TO STOP THEM!!" or "YOU JUST GOT BARRED. CROW-BARRED, THAT IS."

I've always put a bit of my own spin on playing Half-Life. I remember my first playthrough of HL2. I essentially placed myself into the role. I talked back to characters, sometimes mentally, sometimes breathed out. Usually making fun of stuff, sometimes taking things a bit more seriously. Having fun with the silence.

One thing that strikes me is that in the Citadel when Breen harangues you, accusing you to name him one thing that you'd created. I answered out loud and surprisingly enough without sarcasm or irony. 'Hope'. Of course, he went on to say 'I thought so' but that's always struck with me, despite the cheese that's attached itself to the memory. At the time, it was immersive; I'd placed myself into being Gordon Freeman, recognising that it wasn't just about survival or just doing what the game told me too, Freeman had become a symbol and as I played the role, it's how I thought of him and how I chose to interpret what he would say.

Another fun thing is seeing how different voiceless characters are interpreted by others; I was surprised to see completely alien to me versions of how other people had seen Cipher from Ace Combat Zero.

These supposedly blank characters allow us to interpret how they would view the world and how the world views them and can give the same game an entirely different feeling depending on who's playing it.

To me, it's not escapism. I mostly play simulators for my escapism. It's more like acting a role in a play where everyone else has the lines, but you're adlibbing and reacting to how the world thinks of you and how you see the world.

I think half life works operating under the pretense that gordon talks, but you can't hear him. Every character in half life 2 treats him like hes the life of the party. Barney in particular seems like he was gordon's frathouse buddy or something. Not talking to people doesnt make you friends. As you said, it's creepy, especially with the amount of killing he does. Every human character is not only nice to him but also warm and friendly. If he really just sociopathically murdered their enemies with a crowbar and never spoke I'd think if anything they would treat him with cautious respect and nervous compliments. Also that aside, you can give commands to the resistance fighters when they're following you and theres no animation for it if i recall correctly.

Falsename:
I don't know how this has become a 'featured article', it's not even well written or a good idea to base an article off of.

It's just one person thinking up random things and putting pen to paper, there's no fundamental backing to Ed Smith's claims rather than just 'this is my opinion'. An opinion a lot of people probably oppose.

Oppose isn't the right word. Ummm, it's contradictory. No one things of Gordon Freeman as a madman who stares like the darkness of eternal night... or something. He's just silent, from back in a time when games were all silent. Half life and it's sequels are OLD GAMES. We have dialogue now. But even if we didn't, everything would still be the same because silent protagonist's aren't a bad thing. They're immersible.

So no this article probably wasn't worth reading, but then it did make for some stimulating thoughts on my end, so that's something atleast.

They're old, but they're not that old. The original Half Life came in 1998, at a time when /most/ FPS protagonists were chatty bastards, in large part thanks to the success of Duke Nukem. Half Life 2 came in 2004, at a time when silent protagonists in /any/ genre were unusual. It was a deliberate decision on the part of Valve to use a silent protagonist as an experiment in storytelling, an experiment that many of us (including the author and myself) feel was a miserable failure. It's high time somebody goes out and says it: the emperor is butt naked.

Lilani:
I think choosing a silent protagonist should depend on exactly whose eyes you want the story to be told through. If you have a set player-character like Nathan Drake, then the story is going to be "Uncharted--as interpreted by Nathan Drake." Or perhaps more accurately, "Uncharted--as interpreted by a fly on the wall observing Nathan Drake dealing with all this shit." In the Half-Life games and Portal, the story is told by the world around you. There are all sorts of stories in the environments and the NPCs in the HL games, and a good portion of Portal's story is told through the environments and the general state of Aperture. These elements that the player is supposed to slowly soak in would be undermined if they were constantly being filtered through the player-character's stream of consciousness. Or at the very least, they would be significantly changed.

So silent protagonists work for HL and Portal because the story is intended to be viewed through the player's eyes. It's not about the player learning about how Chell feels about Aperture, or how Gordon feels about the G-Man, or any of their emotional journeys. It's about the player experiencing the world and taking their own emotional journey.

And here I was convinced I was one of the only posters on this forum who got that. Who understood that that was/is the purpose behind Freeman being silent.

Games like Half-Life, Portal, and others aren't there to tell a story, in the traditional sense, but rather presenting a story-verse, and sequence of events, from which the player experiences the story. Whereas much of the tale of, say Mass Effect, is told through player-NPC dialog exchanges, cut-scenes, and log-books, something like Half-Life tells much of it's tale through environmental clues, NPC dialog, and event progression. In a way, making it the players story and not Freeman's story.

Neither method is any more or less "valid" than the other. Great narratives can be presented through either philosophy. Which is why it irks me so when I hear people completely dismiss one or the other simply because it's not what they're used to. Or worse, because someone did one method poorly. (thus, assuming ALL examples are poor) As if to say, "Modern games have silent protagonists and are bad, therefor silent protagonists are bad."

I've been saying these things for years, but it seems my words always fall on deaf ears.

It always makes me laugh when people talk about making a Half Life movie.

The protagonist has ZERO character.

And the plot is super cliche. (Mad experiment gone wrong, aliens invade, government is evil, whatever)

Half Life is remarkable not for its story, or its characters, but the way in which the story was told. People don't seem to understand that.

I dont really agree, I have never been more invested in a world where the character I play as talk "for" me. For whenever he/she says something that I never would I get pulled out of the experience and suddenly play as a fly on the wall. I think you should look into the extra credits shorts "JRPGS versus western rpgs" and "the myth of the gun"

ritchards:
What's better? A mute character that doesn't respond, or one that does but utters completely stupid rubbish?

This. Farcry 3 is a great game, but during a chase sequence early on, the panicked shouting, bitching, whining and insulting was just so out of place as I one-shotted pursuing trucks with an infinite ammo grenade launcher before the gunner had noticed me. The player character shouting out "women driver" insults and jokes to his girlfriend was just really jarring: up until then he was my avatar, but then he broke my immersion because I couldn't identify with such a sociopathic character who seemed to be getting kicks from taking the piss out of his traumatised, terrified girlfriend.

In the right places, written well, player character dialogue can be really powerful at bringing you into the world, or easing plot exposition, or making you seem more a part of the world. On the other hand, if what he's saying is too far removed from what the player is thinking, it can have the opposite effect ("Who is this wanker, and why doesn't HE drive if he thinks he's so good?!")

Though perhaps I should question why the mass slaughter he'd been engaging in up until that point made less impact than a few poorly scripted lines of dialogue...

Reading this my initial reaction was that you had a terrible idea, then I read the second page. I like silent protagonists, however I would like to trust people to tell me their story and do it with confidence. If that means that their character needs to have a voice so be it. Bioshock infinite was not ruined because Booker had a voice, He was silent when required and spoke when necessary and it was cool. I think that game had a... shite...no not shite.... ending, but I still see the potential. But since I like my blank slates I would settle for branching dialogue where it's understood that I'm saying what I've chosen. If the writing is a little better than Baluder's Gates that has potential as well. At the end of the day what I want the developers to do is what they feel the most comfortable with and makes the story shine the most. I can agree that they should have every option at their disposal.

I love Half-Life 2. Of course I do, because I'm a rational human being.

I will find you.

And I will punch you.

Metaphorically speaking, with all the reasons why I find Half-Life 2 to be a mediocre game at most.

The Random One:

I love Half-Life 2. Of course I do, because I'm a rational human being.

I will find you.

And I will punch you.

Metaphorically speaking, with all the reasons why I find Half-Life 2 to be a mediocre game at most.

Mediocre, yes -- ten years later, after most of the industry caught up to bar which HL2 launched into orbit. YOU WEREN'T THERE, MAN!

Imagination. When my character doesn't speak, it's assumed he says something, or acts as I would (Were I he, or as I would as myself in rare occasions where that makes sense, like in Thief). Personally, this causes a fair bit of dissonance with me because I've yet to see a character act as I would that wasn't at least party blank (For example, in every love-triangle where a guy is hounded by two girls, my response is to fuck both of them, and if one's not ok with that, the other wins... in most societies this is frowned upon, so it's never in the coding). In RPGs, this is more understood and notable in older games: You generally assume the PCs have said something to illicit response, without having to hear them say "We are on a noble quest for the Holy McGuffin! Have ye any knowledge to aid us in our quest?" everytime you speak to anyone.

Further, lack of voice is not lack of character, specifically. Crono is a fantastic example of this. He is a person, and he has goals and somewhat defined reasons for doing what he does, responses to his surroundings, etc. Sonic and Knux, in S3&K, are another solid example. The fact that you can head-canon them in various ways is part of the greatness, and allows for more people to feel settled with the character (For example, I've always seen Sonic as the eco-terrorist that tears up 'botnik's neat stuff to benefit humanity because he's a naturalist dickbag. It's not who I am, but it makes more sense to me in context of the character and his actions).

In terms of Gordon, I've always thought he was actually mute, and was kinda cold *because* of it. Also why he'd be a researcher... he's alone with his data and his work, and everyone else can fuck off. Yeah, lady, you have issues... I've got a brain that puts everyone to shame and a hard time communicating because my vocal functions don't exist. Guess which one I care about more.

I think I get the point of the article, and it is something of an issue though I feel like the Half-life series in particular was always kinda clever about addressing the protagonist's lack of speaking.
However, I think that the opposite approach has its share of potential pitfalls as well. If you give the player avatar a specific character, you either have to railroad the play experience so that the character's actions match their words and mannerisms, or you run the risk of there being immersion-breaking dissonance between the player character's actions and attitude. Imagine if at point Gordon Freeman responded to a comment by saying something like "I've always been a practical person, I never do anything that doesn't help me reach my goals" as he stacked boxes on top of each other to see if he could bump his head on the ceiling. Or if a character was preaching the virtues of respect for fellow man while simultaneously lighting people on fire because the player wants to see the cool death animation. The advantage of the silent protagonist is that the player can make the character do whatever they want, and though it will sometimes be odd it won't be inconsistent.
Of course, in both cases your mileage will vary. Some people have an easier time ignoring or hand-waving their own actions in the context of the story, and prefer the player avatar to be a fully fleshed out character like all the major NPCs. Others will prefer to have the game account for what they as the player choose to do (or at least not have the two be directly contradictory) and by contrast are willing to have a specific, fleshed out character for the protagonist sacrificed to achieve that.
At the end of the day, I don't think either approach is wrong, they just accomplish different things.

StompinPaul:
Or if a character was preaching the virtues of respect for fellow man while simultaneously lighting people on fire because the player wants to see the cool death animation. The advantage of the silent protagonist is that the player can make the character do whatever they want, and though it will sometimes be odd it won't be inconsistent.

As a side-note to this, this is exactly what Ultima 4 was about, and how the later Ultimas happened. This absolutely can work, but only if there are consequences for actions built into the mechanics themselves (and doubly so if there's no save scumming, as a side-note).

What a very silly article. The author clearly has no understanding of the narrative theory that goes into a silent protagonist. To suggest that a protagonist is silent in order to allow the player to put themselves in their shoes is to completely miss the point and is a gross misreading of the intent of the writers/designers.

The idea behind the silent protagonist is to provide a filter through the which the story of the game can be viewed. Freeman's ideas and speech would get in the way of the authored story being told. Literally, Freeman is a camera that allows you access to that world - he is barely a part of it, reacting to events happening around him rather than inducing them.

A silent protagonist allows the player to view the events being told in a subjective manner, rather than through the thoughts and speech of a specific character. That is the advantage of a silent protagonist.

To suggest that the authorship of a game is diminished because of the inclusion of a silent protagonist is to completely misread the situation. The author himself says that his background is in film. Perhaps he would do well to remember that games are not films, and therefore use different means of storytelling to allow the plot to unfold.

I'm surprised that The Escapist allowed an article of this low quality to be published.

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