There’s a pitfall games tend to inevitably plummet down whenever they have multiple endings. Almost invariably there will be a “good” ending and a “bad” ending, but if you get the “bad” ending, then it doesn’t feel like a conclusion to the story. It just feels like you failed in some way, receiving a non-standard Game Over, which could just as easily have been acquired if you’d simply died in the preceding boss fight. The first time I played through Silent Hill Homecoming I got a “bad” ending, and in that game the ending you get depends on some really arbitrary factors that have very little to do with victory or failure, so I felt cheated and disappointed, like my hooker for the evening had broken off half-way through to answer the phone. In contrast, as I’ve said before, Singularity of all things does a good job of making each of its three endings actually feel like a conclusion.
Force Unleashed 2 is a very curious case. There’s a good ending and a bad ending (or ‘light side’ and ‘dark side’, rather, Star Wars does nothing if not run with a theme) and predictably the dark side is the shitty ending where you die and fail. But here’s the odd thing. The entire last chapter of the game seems to be leading up to a twist at the end, ‘cos all the other characters are going “No don’t go that way some things are better off not knowing,” etc. But are you ready for this, internet? The twist is only revealed in one of the endings. And it’s only revealed in the bad ending. The one where you fail is the one where the story finds some payoff. How does that make any fucking sense? Is the bad ending canonical, then? So what was the point of anything when events basically begin and end in exactly the same situation?
So that’s the first point. The other is one that has been irking me for some time about games and popular culture in general. You see, as I said in the video, Starkiller (named after a rejected suggestion for Luke Skywalker’s name, trivia fans) is ridiculously overpowered, compared to the skill levels on display in every other Star Wars adaptation. He can pick up and crush giant robots and spaceships with his mind. He can do a shockwave attack thing that makes everything within a wide radius instantly disintegrate. He can, for all intents and purposes, fly. It makes one wonder why Darth Vader was so impressed by Luke Skywalker when he’d been knocking around with this motherfucker a scant few years previously.
Visual effects technology in both videogames and films have advanced to the point that what is put on screen is limited only by the director’s imagination, and whatever the people in marketing say has to be added or removed because they don’t want to alienate the foreign market. This has led to this continuing game of mass media one-upmanship where designers try to bring us the biggest, most spectacular, most not the least bit grounded in reality set pieces their Korean sub-contractors can create. And I posit that it is more than possible for a sequence to be too awesome.
Let’s go back to Lucasfilm for an example. For that small number of you who actually went to see Indiana Jones and The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull and haven’t consciously forced yourself to forget everything about it, remember that chase scene through a jungle where two jeeps travelled at ridiculous speeds along two suspiciously straight jungle tracks perhaps laid out by the exceedingly rare Giant Two-Wheeled Sloth. In which charisma event horizon Shia The Beef stands with one foot on each vehicle, getting hit in the giggle zone by passing foliage, never being thrown off to his death by, say, physics. Then the heroes’ jeep drives off a waterfall and bounces off a horizontal tree in a crafty escape plan that could only have been accounted for by a clairvoyant lunatic.
Imagine that scene playing out splitscreen style alongside the scene from Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade in which Harrison Ford attempts to climb aboard a slow-moving tank. At one point, he dangles from one of the tank’s side guns while the tank tries to scrape him off on a rock wall. Harrison Ford is visibly exerting himself to a great degree, getting his clothes and skin torn and covered in dust and grit. It’s a much more exciting scene even though it’s considerably slower, because it’s grounded in reality, not space pixels. Except for the following bit where Indy destroys a cannon by blocking the end with a bit of jagged rock that didn’t even seal it properly, but what do you want, it’s Hollywood.
Now, Last Crusade achieved this effect because it was a real stunt occurring in reality between real, physical objects, which is virtually impossible to fully simulate in pixel space because of the millions of factors you can’t possibly predict, like the movements of the thousands of dust and grit particles that cloud up and get in Harrison Ford’s face. Video games obviously can’t have that level of reality since they’re made up from pixels by default, but looking like reality isn’t the issue. Even if you could create something akin to the Crystal Skull example and make it look 100% physically real, it’d still be a worse scene than the Last Crusade example because it’s just too much.
Picture an ice cream sundae. Looks tasty, doesn’t it. Now imagine five ice cream sundaes in front of you that a moony-eyed Italian violinist seems to be expecting you to eat. It’s still easy to picture and you may feel slightly nauseous at the prospect. Now imagine ten million ice cream sundaes in the same context. You can’t, can you? You don’t feel nauseous this time because you’re not even sure off the top of your head how much physical space ten million ice cream sundaes take up. And while a psychotic Mediterranean forcing a mere five ice cream sundaes upon you sounds possible, if unlikely, ten million is just silly. Your brain rejects the notion. This is exactly the problem with video games today.
Look at that one bit in Force Unleashed 2 where you have to fight a giant monster the size of two velodromes, or at the start of God of War 3 when you fight an absolutely colossal man-horse-scorpion thing made of water and rocks. The sheer difference in size between the enemy and the player character was so massive as to be unquantifiable. The prospect of any human-sized man defeating the thing was so absurd that I lost any sense of fear. Meanwhile, I remember Condemned, or Escape From Butcher Bay, where I’m in a dark basement down to my last health nugget trying to punch a hobo’s teeth out before he brains me with a bit of old pipe, and the visceral humanity of it makes me ten million times more scared and invested in the action. What’s more, the excessive visuals of the former practice take up precious memory and are, I’m sure, one of the main reasons why I’ve played so few games of a decent length lately.
The problem with games like Force Unleashed 2 is a lack of editorial discipline, which is in turn a consequence of design-by-committee, the philosophy that is the source of all evil in mainstream media and which I have railed against for years. But what are you doing about it, mainstream games industry? What do I have to do to make you change? Shall I drop a swear? Will that do, you stodgy cunts? Or should I drop ten million swears until the words lose all meaning in my head? Worth a try, I suppose. Tune into ZP each week to hear me gradually work towards this target.
Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn’t talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.