Life, The Universe, And Gaming — Inspired Gaming
Coming out of a manic March of Mass Effect 3 and not much else, I have to admit that when I haven’t been playing the ridiculously inexplicably addictive multiplayer, I’ve been living in 2008. With the exception of Red Dead Redemption, which is a 2010 title, I’ve been playing such games as Rock Band 2, Gears of War 2 and a certain other game by Remedy, pictured above.
I have been very late to the show, as far as Alan Wake goes, but oh how glad I am that I finally managed to get around to it. Yes, we already have not one but two reviews for the game but I thought I’d use a paragraph to explain my feelings regarding the title.
I love it. I love it, love it, love it. Everything just fit right and it was an experience I will not soon forget. I remember completing it after an intense weekend of dedicated playing, then just sitting back and smiling to myself — it was akin to that “I just had sex” feeling, but you know, for gaming. Not since Portal 2 have I felt such euphoria upon completion of a game and this time the game didn’t even sing to me as Portal 2 did, and Mirror’s Edge before it. The game was perfect, as far as I was concerned. A true masterpiece and a testament to what the gaming world is capable of. So the story started out different to how it ended, so there were huge odes to Stephen King novels littered throughout the game, so the ending is open to interpretation. The game introduced various plot elements in an episodic style and nailed home most of them with aplomb, and the torch-weapon combinations simply worked well enough that it still felt as if you had some amount of say in your survival chances.
To put things into perspective: It’s been over a week and I’m still dreaming of fighting ‘the darkness’ with my torch.
For those who’ve not yet played Alan Wake or need reminding, the game basically puts you in the shoes of a (crime story) writer with writer’s block, who visits a typical American backwater town near a lake; the perfect setting for most horror stories. However soon after arriving, he manages to black out a week of his life and awakens to discover that he wrote a (horror) story that is coming true, and his wife is missing. The game then shows you glimpses of what is ahead and what you are currently up to by revealing pages of the (as yet incomplete) manuscript Alan concocted, as you progress through the game. Brilliant.
In fact, I almost find it tongue in cheek since Remedy are the guys behind the Max Payne games, a series known for its ‘crime noir’ storyline and equally interesting and complex protagonist. And there were a lot of ties to that series as well, in Alan Wake. Writer’s block indeed.
My reason for bringing up Alan Wake is that it is my belief that the tie-in to literature is a huge part of why the game was so amazingly good in the first place. At times during the game, you couldn’t help but stop and take in all that was presented to you, which included constantly taking a break to read through the various manuscript pages that were revealed to you as you progressed through the game, revealing yet more insight into the backstory of the backwater town of Bright Falls as well as the various characters of interest, and of course Alan Wake himself.
Now I realise that Alan Wake is a game built of an idea but let’s take a step backwards here and look at it from a slightly different perspective; Alan Wake could quite easily have been a Stephen King novel or something similar and it wouldn’t have garnered nearly as much acclaim, nor been done nearly as much justice. Yes books are great since they allow you to create your own worlds using your imagination within the confines of the author’s descriptions but here is a fully fleshed out actual imagining of what could easily have been a character from a book, albeit one remarkably well-written considering it’s a horror story. I mean really how many well-written horror stories have you come across?
Take this same sort of mindset and let’s apply it to certain other series of books. Let’s stick to the popular ones since everybody knows those. Harry Potter, anyone? How about A Song of Fire and Ice? Or even the inspiration for my column title as well as various other aspects of my life; The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy?
I’m going to assume nobody’s considering this but if anyone is, no, the Harry Potter games that have released were license-games tied to the movies that covered very little of the extra omitted content and basically served only to cash in on the success of the blockbuster releases. They attempted to cover the events of the movie and not much else, which I mentioned in one of my earliest column pieces as being a huge waste of potential. Remember that?
It’s become remarkably apparent of late that Hollywood has run out of ideas, since they’re now basically taking old movies and remaking them, or looking to books instead. The world of written word and eReaders has the potential for some amazing stories, not yet actualised on screen and Hollywood, now suffering movie-writer’s block, has understood this, realised this, and is taking advantage of this. Not to discredit gaming writers because let’s be honest, there will never be a mindfuck quite like that one in BioShock, or indeed in Red Dead Redemption, or the Mass Effect 3 ending — had to — but wouldn’t it be cool if the gaming industry also looked to books for inspiration? I’m not saying become dependent on them as Hollywood has, but simply take a really good book and make it a really awesome game, because it has the potential for such a thing.
Let’s look at the recent buzz-book, that of The Hunger Games. No, not all of you have read it but I’ll wager a fair few more have watched the movie regardless. Now I’m not going to criticise you on that, I’m guilty of the same myself. But for those who have watched or read it, or at least know the story, do you not agree that it would make an amazing game? Certainly a better game than a movie if the game takes inspiration from the book rather than the movie tie-in.
How is this not a thing?!
The thing about games that makes them similar to books, more so than movies and music certainly, is that the potential for creation is seemingly limitless. And this is why a really good book could quite easily be turned into a really good game. Huge, throbbing potential.
Games combine the aural stimulation of music with the visual stimulation of movies, but also allow for re-imaginings of author descriptions a la books, with the added extra of interaction. It’s a “choose your own adventure” of sorts, if you have to speak in terms book-worms (closest “gamer” equivalent for those who read books?) can relate to.
Tell me you wouldn’t enjoy being Arthur Dent, escaping Earth just before its destruction and then exploring such wonders as Magrathea and the vicinity of Betelguese with your best friend, Ford. Tell me you wouldn’t insta-orgasm upon finding Deep Thought in such a game, who then presents you with The Answer.
Again, tell me you wouldn’t enjoy delving even deeper into the mysteries of Hogwarts as Harry, or perhaps some other character in the Potter-centric series. Exploring areas not even featured in the movies, uncovering secrets and getting caught having sex with a hufflepuff senior because you’re just that awesome with your wand, or something.
Movies don’t do books justice all the time, this much has been established. The Lord of the Rings trilogy aside, it’s usually a common complaint of any who’ve read the books that the movies that followed never quite hit that spot. Yes it’s partially because what you imagined isn’t what was actualised and that would be the same in a game, but I’d wager you would still appreciate it more than you would, something that only told what you knew to be criminally little of the actual story.
Exploring the worlds that books have already created would be a lot better than having to craft entirely new stories, possibly providing game developers with more time to really focus on such elements on gameplay and immersion while remaining true to the story they are taking inspiration from.
It would truly be inspired gaming.