I used to think the videogaming industry needed all its graphics confiscated until it deserved them.
But then along came Bioware, Valve, 2K, Bethesda, Quantic Dream and Double Fine.
Bioware are most famous for their award-melting Baldur’s Gate series, but they’ve consistently churned out superbly-crafted, story-driven games with eye-popping visuals (I’m currently playing Mass Effect. It’s astounding). Valve reinvented computer games in every way, including how we get hold of them.
2K Boston (previously Irrational Games) made Bioshock (above), the astounding culmination of 15 years of polishing one story format until it outshines everything. Bethesda are unrivalled world-builders. Quantic Dream filmed Fahrenheit, a supernatural film noir that just so happened to be a computer game as well. And Double Fine are the kind of idiots we need more of.
The good work of these talented folk commands my complete attention (oh, and I should include this game as well)- because they rattle off a good yarn. Yes, there are others who deserve a tinker. I’ve had a brief crack at the Final Fantasies and found them lovable nonsense (lovable, but nonsense). I’ve scratched the surface of Piranha Bites’s Gothic series to know they’ll be worth my time – if I had any, which I don’t. The Metal Gear Solids, the Longest Journeys, The Witcher, Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus…shedloads. And since my budding writing career keeps getting in the way, I may never play any of them.
So there’s a lot of good storytelling going on.
(I wouldn’t go that far, Peter Molyneux).
But there’s still an awesome amount of drivel. An unacceptable amount, I’d argue
The counter-argument goes like this: it’s a game. It’s not meant to be a good story, it’s meant to be a fun story. If you’re running around a tropical island with a gun in your hand, you want to be facing lantern-jawed bad guys with physiques like powered armour and intellects that come up with things like “you want some of these apples?” or “I’m going to tear you a new one!”. (Yes, Far Cry, I’m talking to you specifically. It’s personal). You want nubile female sidekicks with gaping wardrobe malfunctions. You want mad scientists, and Bosses that you have to repeatedly hit in the face with surface-to-surface rockets to get their attention. It’s not high literature – it’s a game.
Well, I don’t buy that. And neither do the six companies I’ve cited above.
The perfect illustration of what is wrong with the story-can-be-shit kind of thinking is that it’s directly led to Uwe Boll – who, let’s not forget, recently filmed Far Cry.
But on the whole, the industry looks a damn sight healthier than it did 5 years ago. And new gameplayers – I’m envious. You have the pick not just of the cream of the current crop, but also the classics – many of which are now free on the Internet either as public domain material or in the grey area known as “abandonware”.
To you, I’d say: play every graphic adventure by LucasArts (you can get them off Steam for peanuts, retooled and prettified to fit modern operating systems). Download Magnetic and work through the award-winning Magnetic Scrolls back-catalogue. Stick an Infocom interpreter on your phone and play games that were nothing but story (with all the manuals here) – or play them online!
(That Douglas Adams bloke? He wrote one of their games. ‘Nuff said).
After playing some of those, come back to the modern stuff, and compare & contrast. Still think plot doesn’t matter? Me neither.