Letters to the Editor

Exploding Barrels


In response to “Show, Don’t Tell” from The Escapist forums:

Actually, it’s because they’re too-much there. Sure, some physical aspects of the character are neglected (rendered glasses in particular would be annoying enough that they would actually be far more distracting than immersive), but ultimately the control is far more direct than on most 3rd-person control models.

Really, they’d only be annoying because of the false perspective an FPS is forced to use; because most people don’t own a gigantic convex television that takes up their entire range of vision, we’re forced to have an artificially narrow view of the world that consists only of central vision, and sometimes not even all of that. Gordon’s glasses would be no more or less annoying than real glasses if they could put them where real glasses would be in his view, but they can’t.

It goes far deeper than visible physical interactions, too. The reason so many FPS player characters don’t speak except in cutscenes is that the direct association of first-person view means that if they say anything, it had better match up with the mental state of the player, and it’s hard to do that consistantly with procedural speech act usage.

Yeah, but the problem is if they say nothing at all, the game really isn’t asking the player to immerse themselves in anything; rather, it just has a blank space in the world for them to stand in and not have their presence challenged. It’s like those cardboard cutouts of strongmen at beaches; a child can stick their head through the hole and pretend they’re the strongman, but in reality there’s nothing there; they’re just a child sticking their head through a piece of cardboard, not being asked to act like they think a strongman would while they do so. Similarly, the silent protagonist is a cop-out; rather than trying to create a convicing everyman for the player to emphasise with (“I want to be this person”), it creates a nobody who they don’t have to empathise with. It’s avoiding immersion entirely so it can’t possibly break it.

This falls down when we’re asked to care about the nobody; for example, Alyx Vance falling in love with a man who has the personality of a tree stump, or trying to make people care about Rabbit dying in Medal of Honor even though the only way you can remember which one Rabbit even was was that he hung around with one of the guys from ZZ Top. Wait, no, that was Deuce. See?

Evil Tim


In response to “On the Front Lines” from The Escapist forums:
Milius was NOT responsible for the Jaws speech, despite a maddeningly persistent repetition of the urban legend. Milius was visiting as an aid to Spielberg and Gotlieb, polishing the script at turns, but the bulk of the work on the Indianapolis speech was by Robert Shaw. Spielberg does note credit to Milius on the DVD documentary, but stresses that it was very much only a part of the work that Gotlieb, Blencheley and Shaw produced, while Gotlieb, the primary script supervisor, maintains that it was Shaw who devised and wrote the speech in almost it’s entirety.

And the reason that Milius original draft of Apocalypse Now was rejected was because it was so utterly bad. The ending especially, which features Colonel Kurtz in a loincloth shooting at attacking planes with a machine gun while shouting “I can feel the power of my loins!”

As the article states, Milius is a qualified self-promoter, almost a bully-like figure that muscles his way into getting what he wants. The same is true for his grand image that has been built up by the same gun nuts and tinfoil hat theorists that he catered to over the years with films like Red Dawn. Despite given a somewhat smoother image in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, almost every other account of Milius is very negative and all point to the problems of Apocalypse, Now, and the story development behind it to Milius (and Coppola) being too bullheaded to budge with their drafts. But in the end, it was Coppolas film, and all the better for it.

Spider Jerusalem


In response to “Satan, Bad Acting, and Dice” from The Escapist forums:
After all the lives I’ve seen destroyed by the Satanic conspiracy moral panic I just don’t know if I could enjoy stuff like this anymore. After all, the same hysteria that fueled Skullduggery led to the McMartin trial.

Formica Archonis

At any rate, the mistake the PnP RPG community made here was engaging in outright denial, or exagerrated “booga booga” counter attacks with the people playing up this whole aspect of things. The proper response would have been to take a more laid back approach to the entire thing, explain the paganism for what it was, and how it bled in from other assorted geek cultures, and similar things. That isn’t what happened however.

Ah memories. I grew up during those times, too. And Theru’s right, the D&Ders response was mostly juvenile. Ooooga booga, indeed. The thing is, back then, the vast majority of players were pretty close to the stereotype: geeky male teens. Oh, sure, I lettered in wrestling. But I was still a complete geek, and so were my friends. What’s cooler? Dark ritual or dork ritual?

I’ll confess to dragging a copy of the Necronomicon to school, just to see if the fundie kids would wig. And yeah, some of them did. Yay dork teen me. Adult me would have said “Sheesh, you can be a fundamentalist Christian and get into games. Why not invite them over?” But hey. Making fun of the ruckus was so much “cooler” (according to our definition of the word. In other words, not at all)

I guess I can just be glad that LARP didn’t exist when/where I was growing up. I’d probably be skulking around the woods to this day, bean bag in hand ready to scream “Lightning Bolt!!!”

Mouse One


In response to “House of Horrors” from The Escapist forums:
Two things about Phantasmagoria:

– Being a gamer at the time of the release, I recall there was a bit of a divide between the game’s reception among gamers and among the mainstream press (the Will Shortz-created puzzle mag GAMES, which named it one of its games of the year; I think there were bits in Time & Newsweek). Sierra had hoped for Phantasmagoria to be a gateway for non-gamers into the hobby given its FMV cinemas – at the time, FMV wasn’t popularly viewed as the laughingstock as which we all see it now, but the key to games finally growing up, to a marriage between cinema and gaming. (A while earlier, in the wake of the Mortal Kombat controversy, Time had done a big cover story on gaming that examined the trend toward digitization and realism in gaming, hailing FMV as the wave of the future. The centerpiece for their argument? The Sega CD Corey Haim vehicle Double Switch.)

Anyhow, the game had been designed accordingly to be newbie-friendly, and many felt that the results were overwhelmingly easy. The puzzles were regarded as very easy and forgiving, and there was a built-in hint system that pretty much gave the answers away if invoked. The general attitude among gamers toward was this was frustration (even sometimes if they liked the title, IIRC), while the magazines were impressed with the game’s graphical prowess, seen to enhance the storytelling. There was the predictable brouhaha over the gore, of course (a bit toned down, actually, since Phantasmagoria has a gore filter you can turn on), but there was an equal controversy over whether Phantasmagoria was dumbing the genre down.

– I’m not sure the game’s story is as brainless as charged. It’s about an author and her photographer husband who’ve just moved to a new house. The heroine’s just off a new success and the hottest writer on the market (her profits bought their new place); her husband’s career, meanwhile, isn’t doing too hot, and though they love each other, there’s a sense that the husband might be jealous of his wife’s success. The subsequent tale of horror, about a demon who possesses men and takes his vengeance on the women they love, kind of builds on this theme of male suspicion of female independence – there’s a reason why the mad, possessed magician’s varied means of murder always target his wives’ heads specifically. At the climax (spoilers ahead), the heroine discovers her husband’s darkroom covered with photos of her with her head lopped off – at which point the husband (possessed, of course) bursts in and declares, “A woman’s body is a delightful thing – but the head is useless!”

Roberta Williams wrote the story, and despite the questionable execution, it always struck me as one that wouldn’t have come from the traditional programmer demographic. During the game, the husband becomes physically overpowering, using his physical bulk to intimidate the heroine, a trend which culminates, of course, in the rape scene, a form of violence perpetuated primarily against women specifically. I don’t want to be defending rape scenes here, but it’s almost appropriate here (a lot depends on execution and needless explicitness, of course), as the story’s about fears that are specific to women about men – fear of violence from a partner who will generally be bigger and stronger; fear about being resented for success by a husband or loved one because it’s “emasculating” to be “beat” by a woman; fear about being valued as a decorative object instead of a person and punished when one attempts to show agency or – well, use one’s head.

(Please note that I’m not with this analysis accusing males of being all horrible, oppressive wife-mutilators or claiming that women go around in perpetual fear of men. I’m simply noting these are fears that can pop up in certain male-female relationships and that it’s unusual for a game to explore them.)

Anyhow, there *was* a point to the story; whether it got drowned out by the extreme gore is another issue. (I’m certainly not going to argue with the article on the quality of the acting/directing or how the FMV/digital art mash-up looks today.)


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