Tuesday, December 27, 2011

We Want The Kid's Gloves Off, Right?

We've all had the moment described above, whether or not it stems from the same issue or the same game or not.  (It's a Penny Arcade comic, btw, which might not show up since the site is getting absolutely slammed for some reason.)  Basically the issue comes about when we start getting tutorials for things that honestly need no tutorials for us, since by far the most annoying ones are the ones in shooters telling us how to take cover, how to shoot a guy and how to run of all things and those things are, by and large, similar from one game to another.  Usually not the exact same of course but close enough that a few moments fiddling about with the conroller leaves us fairly assured that we know what the hell is going on.  So we complain, we bitch and we moan about how these forced tutorials are still around in the day and age where they are clearly not needed because we don't need hand-holding, essentially.

That's what we tell ourselves, of course, but is it the truth?  Are we, as gamers in general, well-enough on our own to really get by without these things, this perceived hand-holding in all forms?  After seeing a few games I enjoyed quite a lot panned for what were thrown about as 'plots holes' and 'poor writing'....I'm not too sure.  Obviously, there's a difference between being told "Press X to Jump" and throwing out a heavy-handed explanation for every little thing that isn't necessary.  Few games are accused of over-writing, though there are certainly some games that this is leveled at and rightly so, but it really stems from us being spoon-fed narrative and complaining when even one tiny bridge isn't made for us which I think is basically the same issue at heart here.

While I'm not suggesting that actual plot holes are perfectly fine if someone can hand-wave them away with a line of reasoning only derived from someone with a burning passion for whatever it is he's trying to defend, I'm saying that a leap of logic that most people could make off-handedly is, in fact, not a plot hole and shouldn't be spoken of as one.  There is a difference of course, and it'll be hard to really explain the difference without spoilers so I'm going to have to actually spoil a few things, but I'm going to be trying a new method here to discuss them to keep the pure pure and allow the rest of us to figure it out.  I can't have fancy spoiler tags that I know of in here and I can't eloquently black bar/hover for text like on SomethingAwful, but that principle is more or less the driving one here.

As you may or may not know, I really really liked Heavy Rain and as such my opinion of its writing and narrative is probably a little skewed, but I believe I can talk about it at least a little bit objectively.  Disregarding the line where I say "While I may hand-wave away the plot-holes I don't like" and then focusing more on the part directly after it stating, "as most of them can be rationally explained away in a way that isn't giving too much credit" you can see this is sort of a philosophy that I've been cooking up for quite a while and it's really just taken me this much time and evidence to really put it down in a way that makes sense.  Of course, the unfortunate bit here is that I haven't been able to play Heavy Rain again since that post because of the Move Patch that I cannot be arsed to download for being something between one or two gigs.  My internet is nowhere near capable of pulling that down, so even though I have a Move Wand and have wanted to experience the game with it...well, there's just that little step in-between.  I'll get it sorted some day after I clear my incredible backlog of games.

The above was said for a reason, as the unfortunate bit about it means that the narrative and story is nowhere near as fresh in my mind as I feel it should be to talk on it, but I'm going to attempt to anyways as there's always the one 'plot hole' that sticks out in my head as well as the one that I can't explain without giving the game too much credit to show the contrast here of my ideas.  Of course, this goes without saying but I'm going to be spoiling the game (and one other one, see the tags) pretty heavily, so I'm inserting a page break.

Of course, the one 'plot hole' that's mentioned more often than not is the moment when you find out the identity of the Origami Killer, as it leaves the player feeling betrayed and confused to know that (and here is the spoiler for those of you being nosey) it was actually Scott Shelby, one of the playable characters and possibly the best one.  That, I feel, is honestly a brilliant moment that's worth enough as is, since I had been completely thrown for a loop by it.  Personally, I had taken the bait of "This guy is too obviously the Killer to -not- be the Killer" in the Policeman that was at odds with 'Nahman', since I was thinking at least two steps ahead of the game itself.  The game double-faked me out, essentially and kudos to it for that.

Of course, it's not all puppies and rainbows here unfortunately, since a lot of people were wondering why Scott wasn't just walking around with the thought of "Boy, I sure am getting away with being the Origami Killer", but even among those that could understand why he wasn't doing that (either by dissociation or because there's no fun in that) many of them drew complaints from the method in which he was discovered as the killer when the game reminds you that, indeed, you lost control of Scott for a couple minutes while the camera focused inconspicuously on Lauren and the clock shop the two of you were in and those are the minutes that Scott took to eliminate a potential flaw in his plans.  Apparently losing control of him is simply not enough for this to happen, despite the fact that the characters actually do things that are beyond your control and do not simply wait about while you're off playing someone else.

This, I feel, is a 'plot hole' that is fairly easily explained away in a way that isn't giving the game too much credit.  The method of how this occurs is very, very Scott Shelby:  Impulsive, brash, but ultimately effective.  Remember, Scott Shelby is the character who decides it's a good idea to drive his car through the wall of a local asshole's house (I forget just why he was 'bad', but he was supposed to be a bad dude) and shot up all his guards after they began firing on him.  It was quick, efficient and brutal, much like a typewriter to the skull or however he killed the watch maker.  Perhaps the reason a lot of people were confused at this part was because maybe it didn't match 'their' Scott who maybe stood by and watched the Convenience store clerk get killed, who maybe did nothing to save Lauren and who maybe went out of his way to be as much 'not Scott' as possible, even in the confines of just how you could define the characters by playing them.  That's mostly why I picked a story-driven example for his character rather than one of the ones we could choose ourselves.

The plot hole that I honestly don't have a good defense for is the one involving Ethan having blackout wherein he ends up somewhere for some reason and always finds himself with an origami figure in his hand.  This is very much directly the definition of "red herring" and the only thing I could offer is....pretty reaching.  Ethan is clearly not a very stable person after the death of his first son and the psychiatrist session really just serves to reinforce this and it's very possible that he's suffered a psychotic break along the way.  Identifying with this person who goes around killing children, as he feels responsible for his own son's death, his brain just sort of takes over sometime and has him walk about in the rain with an origami figure as he's 'pretty much the same' and just as guilty and such.  This is obviously an example of there being simply too little present to make all those connections and it's more or less refuted by Cage who I believe admitted it was more or less just a vessel for a psychic link storyline that got cut for a more 'real' story.  So it is very much a good example for what I'm trying to put forth here as the difference.

The other game I wanted to talk about regarding this concept is one that I've been quite vocal about, as I staunchly believe that people are giving Uncharted 3:  Drake's Deception entirely too little leeway in the story and delivery of it.  Perhaps it's because of the subtlety that I mentioned that is heavily layered throughout the game, since that honestly doesn't mesh with the blockbuster in-your-face style that the Uncharted games have been painted as having (most of the blame for which lies on Uncharted 2:  Among Thieves in which very little was subtle), but that's not a fault of the game itself so much as it is a fault with the perception that the game had been colored with before most of us even played it.  (Starting White text below, once again highlight to read if you dare.)

The one thing that was complained about the most which drove me very nearly to rip out my hair in frustration is honestly the best example of gamers whining at not getting spoon-fed everything, yet complaining that developers are hand-holding us too much.  That one goddamn moment when Drake, Sully, Chloe and Cutter are confronted by Talbot after Cutter had been tripping balls and convinced to do Talbot's bidding is a source of frustration for everyone for varied different reasons.  The scene ends with Cutter shooting Talbot in the chest (if anywhere, this is apparent because he has very obviously not been shot in the head) and Talbot falls, only to get back up after a few minutes to the surprise of the group at large.  Players have basically taken this moment of confusion among the group (who are, by the way, complaining/voicing their questions while running for their lives and as such not capable of real, linear thought) and echoed it without giving it the slightest bit of thought as this is really goddamn simple, people.

There is this thing called a Bulletproof vest that is actually designed, get this, to be wearable under garments (such as, oh, I don't know, a white button up shirt with a suit vest) to offer the protection one would need to survive a bullet being fired at them as well as the opportunity for surprise for one who might not notice that they are wearing a bulletproof vest because, again, that is the point.  This is -exactly- the kind of thing Talbot would be wearing at all times (if only for the very first part of the game where Cutter goes beyond orders and 'shoots' Drake and Sully who don't die, get it it's called goddamn foreshadowing or pattern establishment) because Talbot is very cerebral and very open to putting himself in the front-lines (as is shown by the numerous, numerous times he gets all up in everyone's faces) and would need such protection.  I guess the fact that he didn't say "GEE, THAT VEST SURE CAME IN HANDY" while/after he stood up means it was not obvious enough.

Of course, if that's not enough proof, then why don't we just refer to the last part of the game where we finally actually get to shoot the bastard in the face.  Of course, if you defer to shooting him elsewhere, perhaps in the vestial region (which is totally a thing), it takes more than one bullet to kill him there.  Most would dismiss this as "Oh, well, BULLETSPONGE like the rest of the enemies" because enough people have forgotten the mantra from Uncharted 1 of "Aim for the head, goddamnit, this isn't that hard" that they had real difficulty with the game, but if you assume that he is still and has always been wearing a bulletproof vest (which is not a leap of logic by any measure), the vest absorbs enough of the impacts before deteriorating (as they do that) and he finally dies.  If this was a puzzle, Naughty Dog threw all of the pieces but one within a border and a goodly amount of people put together the puzzle and lamented the missing piece without even looking for it, even though it's like three inches to the left, goddamnit.

It's just things like those that people threw out to explain away why Uncharted 3's narrative/story were weak, despite the constant praise of the way the relationship with Drake and Elena was handled.  The 'did they, didn't they, will they, won't they' was brilliantly subtle for the way it wasn't awkwardly talked about in a purely expositional manner, yet that alone was not enough to indicate to people that, perhaps, the story and the narrative make sense in at least most of the areas (certainly as many as Uncharted 2's) if you just sit and think on it for even a few moments.  Though the fact that, (yes, I'm bringing this up again) there were actually people who played the entirety of the game and didn't understand the subtitle "Drake's Deception" leads me to believe that, well, perhaps we still need a little hand-holding on the whole.  At least for a little while.

I hope I didn't come off as too judgmental as the above is, of course, entirely my opinion and perhaps it's not my place to factually state what is expositional enough and what needed a little more explaining, though I can certainly have my opinion on such matters.  And that's the majority of what I do here, is dispense my opinion on things even though I oftentimes mingle them with facts.  Oftentimes with a bit of humor mixed in, which I hope came through well enough.  Regardless, that's been something I've wanted to get out for a while and I feel good now that it finally happened and that I finally found the way to express it satisfactorily.

1 comment:

  1. I felt the exact opposite about Uncharted 3's writing. Unlike 1 and 2, the writing in 3 was very heavy-handed, lacking nearly all subtlety. I've theorized that this is, perhaps, because some of Naughty Dog's talent split off to work on The Last Of Us - perhaps Amy Hennig's editor went with them?

    Either way, there was a lot of U3's dialogue that should have been left on the cutting room floor. Instead of actually exploring why Drake risks life and limb in questionable pursuits in a meaningful way, they just had a bunch of ancillary characters (Elena, Chloe, Sully) - unprovoked, and almost out of nowhere - flat-out ask Drake why he risks life and limb in questionable pursuits, seemingly for the purpose of watching him squirm and offer a limp shrug of an explanation.

    It doesn't feel meaningful - it feels awkward, and forced. Uncharted 3 had the worst writing of the series, and Emily Rose's uncharacteristically two-dimensional performance seals the deal; the story presentation is nowhere near where it was in Uncharted 2.

    Honestly, I've spent the last two days debating with myself if U3 really does offer the best presentation of the year with those two significant flaws - 'cause they really grate at me.