“Why we need a ‘Citizen Kane’… and why we may never get one.”

“Video games are art? Please, don’t insult yourself” – these are the thoughts that cross people’s minds. It’s true. Video games as a whole, have never held up to any form of mildly analytical, critical analysis from an art perspective.  That is why (almost) no one reviews games from a purely artistic perspective… hey, not even me, despite my somewhat pretentious goals. The truth is, if I were to do that, I would only employ half the compliments of my limited vocabulary, double the insults of my extensive verbiage,  and there would be no grade superior to a 3, except for maybe one or two games per year. And even if one admits that some video games are worthy of high brow status, that still leaves out 99.999999999% out in the woods to die, as mildly amusing entertaining products with zero cultural relevance. Why is it thus? Why is it, that when someone poses the Citizen Kane conundrum, the answers unequivocally end up being – “Metroid Prime”, “Ocarina of Time”, “Half Life 2”, “Super Mario World”, “Grand Theft Auto 3”, “Bioshock”… as if any of these games could really be seen as legitimizers of an art form. Don’t kid yourself, they aren’t art.

It’s been too long. We’ve spent 40 years of the medium’s lifetime sinking in its flaws and short-comings to the point we’ve grown to accept them. We love video games, do we not? And we love what they are, not what they can be! Forget what we think we believe in – that games could be more intelligent, provocative, emotional – we don’t want that. We want the saccharine aesthetics, the frantic rhythms, the noisy soundtracks, the childish narratives, the twitchy interfaces. And we are many. In the mid 90’s, Mac and PC CD-ROM grabbed part of the male adult demographics, and the Playstation grabbed the male young adult demographics. PS2 dug the casual audiences for the first time, and the Wii and Facebook took the vantage and grabbed the last bastion of hope – the girlfriends, moms, dads and gramps. No one is left to adhere. And all of them know what video games are good for – hedonistic entertainment, devoid of artistic expression, message, story and authorial verve. Hardcore or softcore, it’s all the same in the end: they’re merely different sides of the same expression, none of it high brow, none of it artistic. Admit it, there is nowhere left to run. We have told the world what to expect of video games. The world heard the call, came along for the ride, and the world doesn’t mind at all that games aren’t what we think we would like them to be. Heck, WE don’t mind. Video games are what they are, and everyone’s cool with that.

If a video game equivalent of “Citizen Kane” exists or comes to be in the future, it is hard to imagine anyone caring about it.  Really, think about the qualities I’ve pointed out in the previous article. Do you think that a truly thought-provoking work that’s interactive, deep, hard to really put your mind around it, that’s about real people’s lives, not some ridiculous fantasy, sci-fi or epic fiction, but a human drama about life, which has no genre or mediocre tropes about, and that didn’t care about entertainment value as much as it cared about its authors visions on life — do you really think gamers would buy it? It wouldn’t fit with our pre-conditioned notions of what games are, it wouldn’t be as ‘entertaining’ as we expect games to be and it wouldn’t give us what we’re accustomed to experience. It’d be dull, insipid and completely opaque to our soiled minds. Want proof? Just see the sales figures and reviews regarding a game that aspires to be art, and you’ll understand that we’re fighting a battle that cannot be won.

Meanwhile, the industry is giving us what we want. Shallow experiences. Game designers can’t risk one tick to make an interesting game, lest they not make enough money to maintain their jobs at multi-million dollar company number one thousand and thirty five. The scientists are investigating how to make the design process more efficient and lucrative for said companies, and also attempting to find out how to better light a pool of blood, texturize a gray rock and increase polygon count in a machine gun. The journalists are debating on how much “fun” the recently hyped triple AAA game really is, which game is actually game of the year, and when is too much violence just too much. Players are twitching like drug addicts for the next fix: hardcore’s eagerly expecting the new FPS, the new RPG, the new Action Adventure; the moms and dads all pins and needles to throw five bills at the new family entertainment set piece which will make them all grow thin and happy at the same time; and the wee-little girls are having a blast gossiping about the next big avalanche of casual, social games. Who exactly is expected to play the artistic game that will tell the world that video games can be art?

We can’t really afford to wait for a “Citizen Kane”. We need to mature as gamers first, because “Citizen Kane” is only a symbol for a collective change in perspective that has to start inside ourselves. If we change, we will find Kane, either in the present, past or future. If all else fails, we’ll create it ourselves. As long as we’re ready to understand it, to decode it, and to value it, someone will tell the world where it is. If we don’t, it’ll go by unnoticed. And right now, nobody is ready or paying attention. There aren’t enough gamers out there ready to embrace a new concept of ‘video game’. Of course, maybe there will come the time when some visionary geniuses pave way for an artistic model of what a video game can be. Or maybe the industry will crash so hard we’ll be obliged to look for interactive art, because there will be no entertainment left to experience. Perhaps capitalism will perish and games will be funded according to a grand communist committee that decides what is worthy and what isn’t, like cinema was in the Soviet Union. Perhaps we’ll magically realize that by not buying the latest FPS, in the long run, we’re telling the industry to change. Personally, I don’t buy it. We need to change first. Start now.

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  • Comments (32)
    • pneves
    • November 30th, 2009
  1. I agree with you that the game industry has a long way to go to archieve its “Citizen kane”, but I don’t think games and gamers are as “naive” as they were 40 years ago.

    Maybe it is just as naive to expect a game that changes everything, but to argue that there is nothing with “artistic expression, message, story and authorial verve” is just as naive, and probably unfair too. As you said, the name “Citizen Kane” has became a symbol, a castle in the sky, something to look up to, up to the point where its level no modern film can expect to archieve or surpass, and anyone that even menction it is going to be declare an heretic, even by people that never saw the original.

    So, if we start by declaring that a Citizen Kane is almost impossible to archieve (not because of what it archieved, but because what it meant), we can start looking at this or any other new medium for the road it has traveled with its strenghts and archievements instead of the road it has yet to travel. Truth, it can be depressing to see that we are still a long way to archieve high art status, but to deny Bioshock theme, Flower presentation, Braid depth and even God of War narrative because on itselves they fail to compare to the notion of art set (and, subjectively, never matched) by a movie 70 years ago? Is Bioshock the same as Duke Nukem? Is Braid the same as Mario?

    I can see that you are growing more cynic at the same time I am getting more permissive. Its a pity, really… but I consider your “everything is crap, and as crappy as always has been” point of view as a rather big simplification.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • November 30th, 2009

    I don’t disagree with you Coyote. We share the same opinion.

    Your quotes are twisting my text ever so slightly, but enough to misinterpret my opinion. Don’t forget that I am always very cautious with what I write. I am pessimist, yes, but I am not crazy 😉

    Of course there is some “artistic expression, message, story and authorial verve”, and not “everything is crap, and as crappy as always has been”. But that which has become the definitive brand of our medium is crap. And that is the problem. We told the world: come, sit, eat crap with us, and share it amongst yourselves. We’re all compulsive crap-eaters. Well, I at least am. And that is the issue that I wanted to raise. Maybe there is a “Citizen Kane”, maybe there isn’t, the thing is: how would we know? Have we, as a collective mass of gamers, the taste-level, intellect, maturity and appreciation for the arts, to know when that comes to be? We don’t.

    Hell, as a medium, video games don’t even have an elite to tell us what “Kane” looks like, remember, they keep telling it’s Mario and whatnot. If you look at what thirty-years old play, it’s the same (more or less) as what a sixteen year old does. You look at what Steven Poole or N’gai Croal or Ian Bogost or Chris Crawford or Miyamoto or *insert_popular_video_game_figure_here* play, and you will see it’s not that different from what that sixteen year old plays. We’re older, but we haven’t demanded games to grow with us. We’re more selective with film and literature than we are with games. Partially, this can be explained by lack of options, but that doesn’t explain why so many artistic games tanked, and why we still don’t cherish our greatest auteurs.

    To add to the problem, there’s a host of new audiences out there that are even less demanding of video games than we are. And you know what the word is out in companies? Those audiences are becoming more lucrative every day, which means that our market segment is getting relatively smaller, which ultimately means that the medium is going to go back 40 years to accommodate those new audiences that haven’t still evolved as we have.

    Unfortunately, the best thing a gamer right now can do is stop playing games. Go read, watch movies, let companies rot to see if they embrace innovation and artistry. Come back in 20 years, and perhaps then, there will be space for us to sit by and enjoy a good video game. And that is the greatest truth there is to tell.

    Thanks for the comment Coyote, love to hear from you.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • November 30th, 2009

    Pedro, great link on GSW, hadn’t read that yet 😉

    As to Dear Esther, Void and Pathologic, I still haven’t had the mental energy to approach them, but I will 😉

    Thanks for dropping by. Feel free to troll and spank my pretentious ass 😀

  2. And there, you said what I’ve been wanting to say for quite some time “still haven’t had the mental energy to approach them” ~ that’s the though about art and stuff and, If games just aren’t it, we can play them without fearing the headache of going though an “artistic” thingy …
    I mean, you can see a Van Gogh as art, look at it for 5 seconds and pass on to the next “art piece”: you’ll take less then an hour on the museum and you can say everyone you’ve been there. That’s why you went there anyway! Gaming has that problem: it takes too long to play them, but I’m not even going there. Titanic had 3 hours and, lets not forget how boring it was. It’s niche movies and stuff and thats why we have movie genres.

    Maybe we need a new definition or a new genre inside gaming in order to separate what we want from the normal games ~ that would help the general public and some gamers too to be less biased by what “games” and could focus on what to expect from that thing-whos-name-is-not-here. Rigth now I played “i made this. you play this. we are enemies”. If I see it as a platform game, its purposeless, confusing, irritating and boring: I’d never play it again, much less recommend it to anyone. But, if I see it as a abstract/modern/contemporary work of art that is, by pure chance or artistic pretentiousness, interactive, I’d be much more tolerant about it. The mistake is pouting them both in the same mental bag. You wouldn’t see one on a contemporary art museum and you wouldn’t see the other in a normal kids PlayStation collection. If they are so far apart, and I’m not focused on the quality, relevance or awesomeness of it, as sonic and some wired thing in MOMA, why should they be so misleadingly mixed in your heads?

    • ruicraveirinha
    • December 1st, 2009

    The mental energy issue is complicated. I don’t thing 5 seconds is enough to really see a Van Gogh. Video games are perhaps too demanding in that aspect, I agree. But if you look at indie/artsy ventures, they have made it their crux to afford short, but deep experiences. “The Path”, “Rez”, “D”, “Gadget”, “Braid”, can all be experienced “fully” in a couple of hours, “ICO”, “Myst”, “Silent Hill 2” take 5-8 hours; in video game standards, these aren’t long or difficult experiences (sorry, my repertoire of artsy games doesn’t go much further than this 😦 ). But these games don’t have (for the most part) the “game” appeal. That is why I, or you, don’t play these games as oft as would be necessary. But we should.

    The name issue is relevant, we can agree on that. That is surely why Tale of Tales make such a point of mentioning that they’re making real-time art, and not video games (though ‘some people’ fail to understand the difference between the two 😉 ).

    But it isn’t that clear that a separation between these two conceptual avenues is the best way to get the point across. We risk the alienation of an entire generation of video game players that (at least think they) want something more. Let’s face it, film doesn’t need that distinction between lowbrow and highbrow, between entertainment and artistic – it’s film, period; the same is true for any other medium. Genre distinctions come after, not before. And, in principle, all mediums are conceptually open to a host of different interpretations of what they can be. We just need to understand that video games are not just what we’ve seen until now.

    The problem with video games is that it is a new medium that, unfortunately, originated from a low brow medium that existed before. And that lineage is felt in many of the dogmas we have come to live by in the medium. Ludic games aren’t art; they have cultural relevance, they’re entertaining, but they have never been regarded as art… and they’ve been a part of human society since before there was a man. Thousands of years, and you want to me to believe that nobody saw it was an art form? I seriously doubt that. If games were never regarded as art, maybe that is a good indicator that video games need to be something more or something different in order to attain that status.

    Video games are games, as the name so implies. But they are many other things too: language, narrative, aesthetic representation, simulation, three dimensional immersion, etc. etc. We need to start focusing on what they have that is good, and minimize the relevance of what isn’t. Games have their place in video games, but if we recognize in this medium any potential of becoming a legitimate art form, we need to go beyond ‘games’. We need to foster creative avenues that allow a different objects to emerge. But for that to happen, we must first recognize the problem, and then put our money where our heart is. We need gamers to really want change, for change to happen. And that is what I was trying to say. That means we must all change, starting at myself.

    Thanks for the comment! This is what I like about this blog: I pour my heart out, and get massive discussion from you guys. Whether we agree or not, is indifferent, we’re all reflecting, in a serious manner upon the same issues, each from his own angle, with his own ideas. Keep up challenging the status quo, challenging me, challenging everything. Games are only bad because we forgot to challenge them.

  3. @mors: It is true… Videogames being called like that inmediately includes the word “games”, with have some expectations about it that work against the potential of the medium. It is unfortunate, yet I can’t think of a better name right now. “Interactive experience” or “real-time art” feels kind of pretentious to me, as if stating its intend somehow makes it more real, instead of the other way around. To me, a medium has to prove its worth before it can claim the right to have it. It is similar than when the comic books starting calling themselves “graphic novels” in an attempt to make themselves more highbrow, when (except for very few exceptions) it was still the same thing.

    However, I do disagree with your notion of other art forms having it easy because it takes less time to experience. Many commercial movies range between 4 (Return of the King) to 15 hours (Berlin Alexanderplatz); some songs can get up to 80 minutes; And I don’t think I could experience a Van Gogh in 5 seconds (not even 10 times that time). Considering that Braid can be fully “solved” in under 45 minutes, it is not a bad time… I do, however, think that games have a harder time with its audience because they require a set of skills to experience that are not common, and marginally useful in other environments; and because of that, they are harder to “get” by other than gamers. Part of my point can be found on this article: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v31/n01/john-lanchester/is-it-art

    • José
    • December 2nd, 2009

    You mustn’t forget that the market isn’t exclusively made of shallow triple A blockbusters. There are niche games.

    I think your main problem relates to the fact that big budget games are just not interesting. But you shouldn’t give up on games because of that. It just means that you don’t belong to the mainstream group of gamers. You’re a dissident. Accept it and enjoy what leftfield developers offer.

    Meanwhile, I don’t think reviewing Modern Warfare II is the right decision. If you want these type of productions to change, they need to be as invisible as possible in a blog like yours. Giving them relevance helps the machine to work.

    I still haven’t played your game because I use MAC OS. Any chance of a mac version?

    • ruicraveirinha
    • December 2nd, 2009

    “You mustn’t forget that the market isn’t exclusively made of shallow triple A blockbusters. There are niche games. “

    True. But unfortunately, they don’t make an impact in video game culture and they are still not lucrative (at least, not the ones I look up to with admiration). What will happen, for instance, to Tale of Tales when they no longer have funding for their projects? What will happen to Dan Pinchbeck when his grant runs out? What will happen to Rohrer once he needs a job? Ueda or Chen, when Sony runs out of money for near-break even projects? The answer is: exactly the same that happened to so many other geniuses of the industry: they will either find another job, or succumb to the weight of the industry, producing mediocre games for mediocre gamers. You will find this tale repeats itself regarding many interesting creators and companies (dieubussy’s blog has a few, check out what happened to Eno, Shono, Sato, etc) So, as long as they remain “too” niche and non-profitable, they are not going to be a valid alternative to mainstream games. We need a counter-balancing force, yes, but it has no chance of vindicating whilst it remains irrelevant for the current industry context. It’s capitalism: as long as they don’t make money, they remain panaceas for an evil that seems impossible to counter-act.

    “Meanwhile, I don’t think reviewing Modern Warfare II is the right decision. If you want these type of productions to change, they need to be as invisible as possible in a blog like yours. Giving them relevance helps the machine to work.”

    In a way, I agree. But reviewing these games in a different light is what helps people reflect on the quality of these games. Ignoring mainstream, and only reviewing retro-classics and indie-like projects is fine, but it’s also a way of avoiding the beast and not really analysing what is good and what’s not. Closing ourselves in a little space where nobody can hear us is another way of helping the machine work. You’re not really standing up, you’re just accepting the status quo.

    Not enough people review games like “Modern Warfare 2” and claim they are bad games. I’ve been trying to establish a critical discourse on games, so I own it to myself to accept all games as equal. I try to be as fair and balanced as I can with my own thoughts in these games, and I try to vary the games I review: yesterday a mainstream game, today an indie venture, tomorrow a classic. It can lead to contradictions and ambiguities in my discourse, but I always assume you guys will foster your own opinions. I am merely pointing out mine. I admit having0 been somewhat lenient to triple AAA games in the past, but this is a trend I have been changing as my own tastes mature.

    Besides, there’s no relationship between quality and a game’s mainstream or indie status. Some of the best games I have ever played are mainstream. Some of the worst too, of course 😉

    “I still haven’t played your game because I use MAC OS. Any chance of a mac version?”

    Seems impossible, because it was developed with Microsoft’s XNA framework. You aren’t able to run windows in your Mac? Even an emulation should be more than enough. Hope you get it workin!

    Thanks for the comments. Keep saying stuff José 😉

    • ruicraveirinha
    • December 2nd, 2009

    Burch recently spoke about these issues, pointing out something similar to what I’ve said in the last comment:


    • José
    • December 3rd, 2009

    Thanks for the comprehensive reply, Rui. 🙂

    Yes, it’s a shame what happened with Kenji Eno, but he is still making games, smaller ones, for the Wii and Iphone, and I believe his work left a considerable mark on the industry. D was a success (it was released in 4 different formats) and, although I don’t know if Enemy Zero sold well enough, just the fact that he managed to hire Michael Nyman to compose the soundtrack for a videogame game means that, for his time, he was an influential fellow.

    We all know that a lot of respectable artists aren’t recognized as ones during their lifetime. Maybe the same thing is happening with videogames. However, you can’t say that Flower is being ignored by the media, and for what I see on the north american playstation store, it is still selling well, constantly on the top list.

    What I believe is that the people behind these type of projects can’t aspire to make the same type of money as the Modern Warfares and, consequently, have to deal with smaller budgets to capitalize on their investments. Restriction can be a positive factor on the creative process, right?

    I’m really hopping Heavy Rain shakes things up a bit. It seems on the right track. I’m still seeing a lot of guns on the trailers, but so do the film masterpieces Burch refer on his video comment. If there’s one thing I’m tired of seeing on videogames, it’s guns and shooting – and this is coming from a noir aficionado.

    Cheers, mate

    • ruicraveirinha
    • December 3rd, 2009

    “Yes, it’s a shame what happened with Kenji Eno, but he is still making games, smaller ones, for the Wii and Iphone, and I believe his work left a considerable mark on the industry.”
    That’s the thing, it didn’t. It left a mark on the creative history of the medium, and even that is debatable, for I bet most historians will give little attention and credit to “D”. You know it’s special, but that isn’t the same as saying that the industry knows it is. In fact, it proves everyday that it doesn’t.

    “However, you can’t say that Flower is being ignored by the media, and for what I see on the north american playstation store, it is still selling well, constantly on the top list.”
    Ignored, no. It got enough praise to make it relevant, and thank god for that. But we don’t know if it is selling enough to pay for its investment.

    “What I believe is that the people behind these type of projects can’t aspire to make the same type of money as the Modern Warfares and, consequently, have to deal with smaller budgets to capitalize on their investments. Restriction can be a positive factor on the creative process, right?”
    Yes. But we aren’t at the point in which these small projects can generate enough positive return to keep them afloat and remain creatively free. There are examples of success, such as “flower” and “braid”, but kid yourself not, these are the exceptions and not the rule.

    “I’m really hopping Heavy Rain shakes things up a bit. It seems on the right track. I’m still seeing a lot of guns on the trailers, but so do the film masterpieces Burch refer on his video comment. If there’s one thing I’m tired of seeing on videogames, it’s guns and shooting – and this is coming from a noir aficionado.”

    Noir may have guns, but it don’t have shooting 😉 I also hope “Heavy Rain” is successful, because Sony has a lot of money riding on it, and because it is a game that seems specifically targeted for adults. We need games like “Heavy Rain” to succeed, to make money, to establish new paradigms of game design and marketing, oriented towards adults. But, sincerely, I don’t expect “Heavy Rain” to be anything but a marginal improvement over “Fahrenheit”. And that is a real shame.

    Always a pleasure!

    • José
    • December 3rd, 2009

    Of course they have shooting, Rui.

    3 noir reference from different periods:

    Double Indemnity ends with a shooting.
    À Bout de Souffle ends with a shooting.
    Taxi Driver ends with a shooting.

    What they don’t have is action-shooting. 🙂

    • ruicraveirinha
    • December 3rd, 2009

    You understood exactly what I meant 😉

    And something tells me that your classification of “À Bout de Souffle” and “Taxi Driver” as “noir” isn’t really consensual… I know of a certain arts teacher that would cry out blasphemy…. but that’s besides the point I guess 😀

    • José
    • December 3rd, 2009

    Those art teachers are so wrong. 😛

    I remember my film-noir classes and how I had to defend Taxi Driver as being neo-noir. I have a short essay on it somewhere. 🙂 I can e-mail it to you if I find it and if you want it. I’m not sure If you agree or disagree with me in considering them noir films, at least post-noir. Directors during the 40s where never consciously making film-noir films. It wasn’t a genre till Truffaut and Godard started defining it in Cahiers du Cinéma.

    Of course I could have picked films from the more conventional period: american films from the early 40s. I just did it like this to show that noir is a style that mutates through the decades and reappears in modern classics.

    But I see noir everywhere. From M, to Sunset Blvd. and Blade Runner. I’m obsessed with it.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • December 3rd, 2009

    Hehe, very complex issue, and I am far from being the most enlightened in such things.

    I guess it all comes down to what is a genre, and what type of classification would you place “noir” in – is it a genre, a subclass of a genre, etc, etc. I am sure you know you will find it hard to get consensus on what noir is outside the frame of reference of the ~1940s. And the problem is that once you open up the definition of what constitutes noir, you open up a pandora box , and everything is “noir” something 😉

    An interesting discussion nonetheless.

  4. Exiting MetaGame. Entering CineGame. Long live the 7th-and-a-half art.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • December 10th, 2009

    Perhaps dieubussy-sama would like to share his views on noir?

    P.S. José, forgot to tell you, please send me your essay, I would love to read it as noir and Taxi Driver are also one of my many loves!

  5. I’m not an expert. Although I can think of a few examples of Noir aesthetic in games. This is what this blog is about, isn’t it? 😉

    All I can recall is The Dark Passage’s silent influence in videogames, namely in its use of the First-Person perspective. The protagonist, played by Humphrey Bogart, was a jailbreaker who went to see a plastic surgeon so as to become unrecognizable. The final result was Bogey’s own face (one Bacall couldn’t keep her eyes away from). However the film couldn’t afford to show the actor during the first scenes – this was long before the Winston or Baker movie make-up age – so the director decided to use a first-person perspective for the first few minutes and conceal it.

    So here you have it: Bogart as the proto-Freeman. Just as Gene Hackman is the proto-Faith in French Connection 2.

    – Hey, Charnier!
    (Roll the credits)

    • ruicraveirinha
    • December 11th, 2009

    I haven’t seen Dark Passage (my bad 😦 ), but wasn’t “Lady in the Lake” the first to use the subjective perspective? And consistently too. It was cinema’s own “Breakdown”, n’est-ce pas? The first entirely first person sh… huh, movie 😀

    But there is so much noir in videogames… just not usually well translated. Just referencing the numerous graphic adventures of the nineties that mimicked noir tropes would lead to a large list of poorly scripted, worse acted videogames (interactive movies?).

    P.S. “French Connection” is just full of gold, hey? Too bad “Mirror’s Edge” missed the boat.

  6. I didn’t say The Dark Passage was the first: though it was arguably the best. Indeed Lady in the Lake is pointed as the first to use that particular shooting style 🙂

    You’re talking about Tex Murphy adventures, right? Or is it Private Eye? Black Dahlia? In their days, both were quite acceptable. Noir and DiscWorld Noir seemed somewhat better. Fate By Numbers is also a nice blend if a little uninspired. Grim Fandango had its share of Noir elements, too. And then there’s the Neo-Noir in Blade Runner (PC) or Policenauts. Film Noir references abound.

    • José
    • December 12th, 2009

    I didn’t know this thread was still alive and kicking. 🙂

    Rui, I’ll search for the document. It’s probably in one of my dozens of hard disks. I’ll post it here when I find it. If I remember it right, it’s really short.

    Dieubussy, I played most of the games you mentioned and they were all excellent. I’m a Tex Murphy fan. I actually would like to know which games Rui refers to when he mentions games with poorly translated noir elements. When is L.A. Noire coming out?

    • ruicraveirinha
    • December 12th, 2009

    I was thinking of Ted Murphy and so forth (haven’t played some of those that Dieubussy mentioned… alas! ). I can understand that, by video game standards, they weren’t “bad”, but they certainly weren’t good, neither from a pure “game” perspective, and surely not from the narrative’s point of view. Truth be told, there simply wasn’t the money or technology to emulate a film genre with the necessary quality. Good writers and actors those guys had not.

    Of course, “Discworld Noir” and to some extent, “Grim Fandango”, were great noir parodies, mostly because their creators acknowledged limitations imposed by the medium, and played well with its inherent strengths. Identically, though in an altogether different vein, both “Max Payne’s” were great “noir” translations, and of course, all the neo-noir offshoots out there. All these succeeded, because there were good writers and good voice actors on board. If you’re gonna emulate cinema, you need the resources to do it (half)right, or else you end up with some amateur looking, seemingly fan-made FMV ‘thing’ that can only remember you how much better cinema is to tell stories, and how much more interesting interactivity can be in ‘proper’ games.

    L.A. Noire should be coming next year. Though I woul’dnt have high hopes for something coming out of Take Two. I’m pretty sure that in the quasi-neo-post-noir-whatever vibe, we’ll be better off with Heavy Rain.

    Cheers guys!

  7. I’ll be waiting for a “Why we need a ‘The Night of the Hunter’…” thread.

    • José
    • December 13th, 2009

    Night of the Hunter. One of the most important american films of the 50s that people keep forgetting. Including me. Good post, Goro. 🙂

    And now, back to Rui.

    I swear that if anyone else dares to question the quality of another favorite game of mine this week, I’ll start writing as the kids from IGN. UNDER A KILLING MOON IS THE BEST GAME EVAR 4EVER! 🙂 (I had a long discussion this week about Grim Fandango). Just kidding, mate.

    Alrighty, here we go.

    First of all, and I’ll be focusing on Tex Murphy’s adventures, they had the money. Lots of it, in fact. They managed to hire James Earl Jones as a narrator and several stage actors for Under a Killing Moon. For the time (1994), the game had cutting-edge 3D technology. The engine allowed you to look in all directions (something that Doom didn’t) and included shadows and a high number of polygons. The take on hardboiled fiction was accurately humorous and introduced a sci-fi setting where mutants were marginalized (the game raised interesting questions about fascism when a powerful figure proposes moon’s colonization) and our drunk hero, an humiliated cynical private eye, represented the most irreverent avatar one could play. The dialogue is sharply written and puts to shame all of the formulaic Uncharteds of this “next-generation”. There are shots in there, as well as plot elements, paying homage to John Huston and Raymond Chandler.

    In my opinion, these are still extremely good takes on the genre (and I recently played Pandora’s Directive, thanks to GOG) and allowed an unprecedented level of interactivity offering more mature high-entertainment than all the of the action GOTYs of the last years. You frequently say in this site that gamers should give up on games and wait for them to grow up. Titles like Under a Killing Moon were helping the genre head for the right direction, presenting intelligent mature stories without the use of gratuitous violence and stupefied characters.

    They were good games and are surely missed.

    • José
    • December 13th, 2009

    And what about that sweet music. 😛 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDit7XoIU0M&feature=related

    • ruicraveirinha
    • December 13th, 2009

    Well, not wanting to hurt your sensibilities towards Tex, I sadly disagree. Truth be told, I did arrive late at that party (one of Dieubussy’s favorite arguments whenever I disagree with him on some classic videogame, right Bruno-sama?). My view on those games has the frigid distancing of years gone by, sure, but on the other hand, I don’t have the nostalgia glasses (I have loads of that for other video games, of course).

    I didn’t mean to imply that Tex didn’t have what was then considered a big budget, or the most advanced technology of the time. It did, however, in that specific period of time, considering some of the creative choices that were made, what was available wasn’t enough to get a credible, consistent object. I mean, look at Tex with a critical eye – you have these low-res 3D scenarios, with shabby lighting and chromatic patterns, sharing the same image with real actors (well the actor part I would debate, but…). The contrast is just overwhelming, earth shattering, it’s like having two diegetic planes forced in the same shot… it makes “Immortel” and “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” look like masterpieces in CGI / live-action blending.

    And, let’s face it, in that period even if you could get a good cast of actors, it was very hard to extract convincing performances from them, in those eerie, vacant, blue-screen sets, especially without having experienced directors and writers on board. I get it, video game creators were infatuated with the replication of film, and couldn’t understand they still hadn’t the knowledge, the technology, nor the budget to start emulating some of the basic principles of cinema. Especially, when using live action.

    Some of the best experiments in those years used iconic characters, because their expressiveness matched the detail that was available in the technology, and because of that choice there wasn’t an uncanny-valley effect. This is especially true in LucasArts’ adventures – it is no accident that they are still played and sold today, whilst most interactive movies have become over-criticized relics (somewhat unjustly, of course). Even games like “Myst” used live action sparingly, and in very constrained events. The ending, for instance, in which you meet the brother’s father is probably one of the less fortunate parts of the game, mostly because it makes crystal clear the limitations of the technology that was available.

    I’m not saying that these games aren’t relevant or interesting. I wouldn’t have played them otherwise. But I contest the notion that they were on par with anything cinema was doing, even back in the 1940’s. And I get it, the narrative focus, the witty references and all, the well intentioned attempt at adult discourse, but they were too bold, heck, too foolish attempts. I find much better results, in the same adventure game vein, in other, apparently less mature works.

    Cheers José!

    • José
    • December 13th, 2009

    Funny how this is starting to seem like the same discussion I had about Grim Fandango. I’m tempted to paste my text here. 🙂

    It seems that the biggest difference between me and the rest of the world is that I don’t see technology as a limitation on the creative process and can evaluate these works independently of it. I never use the term outdated or low res or whatever type of terminology that minimizes the figurative role of the entire setup. It’s like saying that stop-motion and the rest of the tricks from the work of Méliès compromised his artistic output. It didn’t. It just enhances the emotional impact, because so much was made with so little.

    But I’m old-fashioned. I prefer Henson’s animatronics to CGI. It may explain why Tex Murphy’s games don’t shatter my earth.

    It’s not about nostalgia glasses, at all. All the current games in 4 years will look old according to most game reviewers, because they still haven’t free themselves from a narrowed technological sensibility. When you’re saying that these older games can’t compete even with films from the 40s, you’re revealing that to you those old films are deficient in their presentation, when they are not.

    But this is going nowhere. We will continue to disagree with each other on this one. And I’ve just run out of my weekly mana for the “defend games I love” magic. :p

    Cheers, mate

    • ruicraveirinha
    • December 13th, 2009

    Now you’re just twisting what I wrote, lol. 🙂

    It’s not the technological aspect that’s at fault, as much as it is the creative choices done with each technology. No work is independent of the employed techniques. You can never truly express what you want to express; you always have to take into account what techniques exist and what they allow to express.

    That is what I meant with 1940’s cinema. It’s not an issue of technology, as much as it is an issue of the evolution of a language that is ever mutating, as people find new ways in which to explore it. Editing and Cinematography came a long way since then, allowing visionary authors to use a language that is more complete than that that was available before. That is one of the issues why Kane is relevant. Now, this is not demeaning of a film that was done in the 20′, 30’s or 40’s – some of the best movies of all time come from that period. But it is undeniable that today directors can (in theory) express new meanings with new techniques. It’s semiotics! 😀

    See, I don’t hate or love CGI, or Animatronics or even Stop Motion. It is never a case of which technology you use, but how you use it. Just because it is old or new, does not make it better. Different techniques allow for different end results, and are more or less appropriate for different stories, themes, etc. CGI for example, allows Lucas to create expressive creatures that he couldn’t even dream of in his original trilogy. However, using that same technology to model a human face or just create a normal set ends up lending an artificiality to each scene that is unwelcome. The same is true for every new technique. Stop Animation is great for animation, but today there are better choices for Special FX in live action. We needn’t use slow moving monsters anymore, unless you want to do an “Ash versus The Army of Darkness” (a great masterpiece by the way).

    You have to match technology with what you want to express.
    In my opinion, Tex’s creators error was to choose to blend live action with CGI in the early 90’s. Why? Because it produces an inconsistent aesthetic, because it inevitably leads to the uncanny valley, and because you couldn’t, at the time, produce a decent cinematic experience. The technology wasn’t ready for what they (and so many others) wanted to express. You get that amateur look and cheesy humor, and it’s not properly contextualized. Now, you may choose to oversee these short comings, the way I choose to do so regarding so many other games. It’s an issue of taste and subjectivity. I won’t even try to make you stop loving Tex, but I’m trying for you to reflect on certain problems it has.

    It is also true that I think others achieved vastly superior results even with inferior technology, because they understood the limitation of what they could express, and played with those same limitations. Myst, D and Gadget are excellent examples of CGI games from that same period that utilize technology in their favor, and not against their purpose (apart from the odd live action moment in Myst). I mentioned LucasArts, because in many ways, that animation aesthetic was all the medium could express at the time. And they used it in their behalf, playing parody with all they could get their hands on. Snatcher has a similar background than Tex, but from an aesthetic point of view is much more coherent and pleasing (even for me, and I’m not an anime lover, quite on the contrary!). Look to the recent Machinarium, that I know you loved as much as me, it also produces great results because its authors were mature enough to understand the strengths and limitations of their resources and technology. They knew they had to use an animation aesthetic, because they couldn’t (even if they wanted) produce realistic characters.

    We may not like it, but this is an issue in all Art. You have to make do with what you’ve got. Play with it, find out what potentiates your ideas and message, and then work with what’s possible, not with what could be.

    So please, don’t be naughty and say I don’t like old games, or I’m a technology freak, because it isn’t really true 😉

  8. I was shattered by this…

    “Well, not wanting to hurt your sensibilities towards Tex, I sadly disagree. Truth be told, I did arrive late at that party (one of Dieubussy’s favorite arguments whenever I disagree with him on some classic videogame, right Bruno-sama?).”

    If I ever said this it meant that some games need to be seen in the context of their day in order to make perfect sense. And when you emulate them or play them years later it’s easy to understand why part of their relevance can’t be reached: it’s like jumping onto the track to catch a long departed train 😉

    • ruicraveirinha
    • December 15th, 2009

    I didn’t mean to imply you we’re wrong sensei!

    It’s a valid argument: of course playing games out of their context greatly influences our views. It just isn’t an excuse for every ill-formed opinion of mine… And, as you know, a healthy amount of distancing can be as much a curse as a blessing.

    Big hugh sensei!

    • ness
    • January 4th, 2010

    I think games like Heavy Rain are a close step in the direction of Kane caliber games. The narrative alone warrants that. Although I believe that games alone have formed into a separate art. For example, some games include everything a film would have. The only exceptions being length, perspective and most different interactivity. The main thing that film and games share for me is feelings. Try playing Demon’s Souls a little and you will definitely feel something. Yes, the game is hardly cinematic or perfect but, when you feel the terror creeping up your back when encountering one of the games bosses the unrelenting feeling of dread is remarkable. To me art is feeling and emotion. All other arts seem to rely on the same function. Not all games achieve this but, many of them do for me (mainly nostalgic reasons). Irregardless of who believes games are art or not. They will forever be my favorite muse.

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