“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people, not characters. A character is a caricature.” – Ernest Hemingway.
Since gaming first became popular we’ve seen it evolve from something that passes the time to something that grips us. Something that we can immerse ourselves in like we would a movie or a book. Something that we can live through.
For me, that last point is key and it puts gaming on a pedestal in the entertainment industry. It’s not always about what our next upgrade is or what the next winnable trophy is. It’s about the journey. About going on that journey with your character and experiencing it with them rather than through them.
That’s not the same for everyone. Some people live for trophy hunting or to simply finish a game in the quickest time and move on to the next one. If you look at some of the highest rated games of all time though, they’re always the games with the blockbuster, Hollywood worthy storylines.
No Easy Feat
Creating that kind of game isn’t easy and with gaming becoming bigger and better by the year, developers face huge competition for their games to be recognised. All too often games fall into the category of style over substance and I can see why. My last article talked about the money to be made with big franchises and the theory applies here. If you can create a game that looks graphically brilliant, there’s a high chance that it’s the game that’ll be talked about the most. That buzz will turn into sales and everyone’s a winner, right?
Obviously the answer is no. Often, all that’ll do is leave gamers with a sense of anti-climax and a bad taste in the mouth.
Let’s look at Destiny – the biggest release of the year so far.
At the moment, it’s all I hear people talking about. It’s understandable because as a game it’s in a very niche market. To start with, it’s beautiful. The missions on The Moon look stunning, the jungles on Venus look (almost) as good as the scenery on Killzone and the Cosmodrome is gritty. The fusion of FPS and RPG works well and the upgrading works seamlessly to keep you hooked. The interesting thing for me is that there isn’t really a central character. Essentially, as each player creates their own Guardian there isn’t a lot of emphasis placed on the storyline. Instead, it’s a habitable world full of social opportunity. We’re all in it together and no-one is better than the next person in his or her fireteam. If a game is going to place its bets on one area and sacrifice the story though, it needs to be big.
Recently, I’ve started to hear a few murmurings of discontent. The worlds seem empty, the enemies aren’t varied enough and the missions can be quite repetitive. I’ve not played it enough (yet) to really comment and I know there’s DLC coming out, but not everyone wants to spend more money on content for a game they’ve already spent £40 on.
For my part, I’ve enjoyed it. I was playing a game last night and someone on my friend list jumped into one of my missions and gave me a hand. Last week my fireteam played though The Summoning Pits mission on hard mode. After dying countless times it took around 45 minutes to finally kill Phogoth but it got the adrenaline pumping and gave us all a huge sense of satisfaction. To echo the comments of another friend, that’s where the beauty of the game is.
I’m not sure that’s enough though.
I miss Joel and Ellie
I started playing Destiny straight after finishing The Last of Us and I’ve grown up with games like Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill. Those titles all have strong characters, epic cinematography (Res Evil aside) and stories that leave you with memories for a lifetime. Each Metal Gear is basically a movie in itself and even though that generates some complaint, each title is sublimely good. The first one in particular had twist after twist, each boss fight challenged your skills in a different way and the whole changing the control port gimmick was brilliant. On top of all of that you played through it as a character with real emotions and a real history.
I don’t think I really had that with any other game up until I played The Last of Us. Only then did I realise how much I’d missed playing games that gripped me. The Last of Us is set around two characters with no special abilities (Ellie’s immunity aside). Two characters that could easily be you or me. You’re drawn into the game from the offset and from then on, it’s an emotional roller-coaster as you travel through various locations with various people you meet along the way. That’s what a good story and a good character can do. It can grip you and it can give you feelings that no movie or book ever can.
The Last of Us is a game I’ll remember forever, much like Metal Gear and I’ll always be on the lookout for the next game that’ll give me the same feelings.
Right now, I’m not sure where that game is coming from. FPS has never had that kind of role, so Destiny isn’t really all that much of a game changer. The Last of Us was, and rightly so. It woke people up to gaming with feelings and the amount of awards it won is testament to its success. I hope it’s seen as a blueprint for good storytelling and good, strong characters because that, in my opinion, makes a great game.
If I’m honest, I don’t think that gaming is going to move away from strong characters but with so much placed on how a game looks and plays I’m worried that the story line will be left behind rather than go hand in hand with graphics and playability.
I hope that’s not the case, however I’m sure time will tell.
This is the second article in which I’ve mentioned Metal Gear Solid. I do play other games and I promise I’ll try to write about and use different examples other than Metal Gear. It’s just so damn good though, isn’t it?