Sickness, and pondering on lack of maturity in games

· by Steve · Read in about 6 min · (1106 Words)

Curse you, viral organisms of all kinds. Somehow you can detect an upcoming holiday and marshal your forces to strike at the very moment it’s most irritating. You never come up when there’s a meeting I want to get out of, do you? Typical. I can’t focus on anything logical right now so playing with VS 2005 is going to have to wait, and it looks like that champagne we were given which was earmarked for tonight is going to remain unopened unless I start feeling a hell of a lot better in the next 10 hours. Bah.

Instead I’ve been mostly sitting in bed reading and thinking (and hacking / coughing / sweating, but lets not dwell on that). One thing that’s stood out to me is how much of a missed opportunity Call of Duty 2 is to really connect emotionally with the player. What do I mean by that exactly?

Well, COD2 is a very good shooter which I’m enjoying, but that’s all it is. They’ve spent an awful lot of money making the characters and settings very believable indeed - graphics and sound even on my less than top-notch machine are very impressive and certainly convey a very authentic setting. Your fellow squaddies behave very believably in a combat environment, even though they’ll always wait for you before pushing ahead even though you’re only a low ranked soldier (another case of sound game design over realism).

But my problem is this - I don’t care about them. I don’t differentiate between members of the squad, and I don’t bat an eyelid when one of them gets gunned down in front of me, only to be replaced by another coming up from the flanks. Some token attempt has been made to give them identity by reporting their rank, name and ‘profession’ (e.g. rifleman) when you look at them, but that’s it. Inevitably since the game is mostly full-on action, I don’t take any notice of that information, because it’s really irrelevant and has no bearing on the game itself.

Now, you could say that this is just a FPS and it doesn’t matter, and you’d probably be right. But it strikes me that, since so much time has been spent making these characters look and sound real, and behave realistically in a combat sense, it shouldn’t be that much more of a leap to make me actually care when one of them gets killed. So much else has had so much attention, surely some could have been spared on the emotional side?

Instead, the game is mostly emotionless, a pretty standard ‘twitcher’ game with extremely realistic looking / sounding environs. It makes you wonder what the point of all that visual and aural detail is, really, things like the very realistically normal mapped faces. If I don’t care about the people, I don’t much care to look at their faces much except to appreciate the art, and that wears off quickly. That’s why I think there’s such a missed opportunity here.

Look at Saving Private Ryan. Now, the visual and aural elements of that were incredible (who can forget that opening sequence), but that’s not why it’s a good film. It’s good because it does a great job of creating an emotional connection between you and the characters - their plight is the stage on which that takes place, not the focus of it.

Then, look at Cannon Fodder. A very old game with what are now quite simple graphics, but it managed to make you care about your soldiers by pulling your strings - some embedded in the game mechanics (soliders who stayed alive for more than one mission got more proficient and thus were more valuable), and some cosmetic (seeing the graveyard of your fallen soldiers build up at the end of every game made you feel guilty about letting so many die during your campaign).

There’s none of that in COD2, despite it being one of the most immersive WW2 games around. The immersion is there, but it’s all quite clinical and detached, but it didn’t have to be. Simple things like having ‘down time sections’ where your squad regroups, reequips and perhaps say things not related to the fighting - this doesn’t have to be complex interaction, HL2 did this quite well with the main character never saying anything at all - but it could round out the characters some more. As it stands your squad has quite a high speech allocation, but it’s always combat-related and builds no character. Also, have a way of showing your squad before and after each mission, and bring survivors forward to the next one. I think this may happen already, but since you never actually see a list of the people you’re fighting with it’s hard to tell, they’re just a collection of random allies.

Many people don’t care - they just want to shoot stuff. Which is ok I guess, but there’s really no point setting it in WW2 then, it could be any fictional setting and have exactly the same gameplay. But, if you’re going to set something in a real setting like WW2, I think it deserves more emotional weight than this - real, everyday people fought, died and were exposed to things that affected them for the rest of their lives, physically or emotionally. Somewhere deep inside I find it offensive for that aspect to be trivialised and I think when resources like this are thrown at the personal combat simulation, it deserves more. I also think building that emotional connection would have made it a better game - one which you might come away from with something to think about.

Games which keep you thinking after you’ve finished playing them are few and far between, unlike books and movies - perhaps that’s why they’re not taken as seriously by many people outside the avid games playing world. Whilst games weren’t realistic but were just fun distractions, this wasn’t really an issue, but now games are trying to imitate Hollywood, trying to be accepted as an art form, and depicting very realistically some serious subject matter, I think they need to start taking a more mature approach - and ‘mature’ doesn’t mean more blood & gore or women with unfeasibly large anatomical features. That’s what adolescents and young men think of as mature - if gaming wants to be taken seriously (and any observation of the industry today shows that it wants that very badly indeed) it should start to take a grown-up approach to serious subjects like this.

I’m just rambling now. Back to nursing this flu…