Wave Foam – “Endless Cycle”

Sad weeks for video games. I keep realizing nothing ever changes for the better in this land. When “Heavy Rain” hit, and I  started to see its value, I foolishly considered it would be a great banner for a different sort of ‘video game’. But whilst there seems to be a general adherence to the game, critics have been reluctant to give merit to Cage. I mean, “Heavy Rain” commits many sins, sure – interactive narrative, less-than-perfect voice-acting, over indulgence in Q.T.E.’s and cutscenes -, but it strives at something more, something else, and does that while remaining immensely accessible and fun for everyone, including these pseudo critics who live out of praising games that sell well no matter what. Some love for a game that is different, would be reassuring that there was  still some hope. But no, no luck there. “Heavy Rain’s” average meta-critic is decent, though on par with that of “Bioshock 2” (go figure), and all the columns I’ve read are flaring out against the game [see this and this]. “Deadly Premonition”, an off-beat “Twin Peaks” inspired, crazy japanese horror game, also got the heat from western press, (here and here) and if that wasn’t enough, today, the company behind “Hotel Dusk” is filling for bankrupcy, and you confirm the notion that even those simple, conventional, but still interesting games don’t have much space to live in this industry. Ah well, I’ve heard it was Oscar season, so maybe I should go catch up on film, see how they’re doin over there.

P.S. I forgot to mention, but the new “Tomb Raider” is a downloadable, co-op, isometric action adventure game… God, I love video games!

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  • Comments (15)
  1. I wouldn’t miss too much faith in the medium based on those articles. Not only Heavy Rain reached half a million sales (not too shabby for an “artsy” videogame, released just 2 weeks ago), but a lot of people are praising it on their podcasts, even among the ranks of people that usually devote themselves to more “commercial” endeavours, like the GiantBomb crew or Adam Sessler.
    Besides, most of the articles you link are from Sterling, which I have grown to consider as one of the least retrospective person in the media. It is not that he doesn’t have a point here or there on its articles, but he also have an obviously inflammatory way of writting (looking for hits), and a completely hedonistic view of the medium, bashing games like Heavy Rain for his tone, while paising the new Sonic out of nostalgia alone. Honestly, if his is the opinion you are using as an hypotesis about the lack of interest among the critics, you might be aiming at the least common denominator…

    • ruicraveirinha
    • March 8th, 2010

    Sadly, I think these are the guys that really shape opinions, and tend to serve as a better thermometer for what’s going on. I’m not saying that people aren’t buying and enjoying “Heavy Rain”, but the media response has not been as positive as I’d wanted it to be. Very few perfect grades or genuine praises for the game… ah well… I’m getting used to it.

  2. So, one of the best isolationist exploration games is going co-op, arcade style. Depressing. On the bright side, L.A. Noire, a game I thought was going to end up as an all-action GTA clone, is shaping up to be something worthwhile. You win some, you lose some.

    Heavy Rain is being the scapegoat for game “intellectuals” who were looking for a big budget art-house title with the proper frailties. They are frightened by the lack of gamey aspects that these games formalize. Most of them hail Super Mario as the best game ever made. As such, they need to be vocal about how Heavy Rain’s “aleatoric mechanics” and “poor narrative” are dangerous for the industry. They just can’t see the big picture, here.

    There’s also a general sense of cynicism everywhere, from gamers to journalists. It seems that people have lost the ability to limitlessly surrender to a game. Or maybe games aren’t good enough and drive us to be grimly analytical. That said, HR made me forget almost instantaneously about the technical lexicon it was using to make me feel – as such, I experienced it with a prevalent urgency.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • March 9th, 2010

    ” On the bright side, L.A. Noire, a game I thought was going to end up as an all-action GTA clone, is shaping up to be something worthwhile. You win some, you lose some.”

    We’ll see. Too early to tell.

    “Heavy Rain is being the scapegoat for game “intellectuals” who were looking for a big budget art-house title with the proper frailties. They are frightened by the lack of gamey aspects that these games formalize. Most of them hail Super Mario as the best game ever made. As such, they need to be vocal about how Heavy Rain’s “aleatoric mechanics” and “poor narrative” are dangerous for the industry. They just can’t see the big picture, here.”

    The curious thing is that I don’t think “Heavy Rain” is even ‘art-house’. It’s a very conventional game in pretty much all of its structural aspects, meant to please large audiences, and designed by a creator that is everything but erudite or pretentious. Also, when you carefully scrutinize it, you can see it advances very little in terms of technology or, more importantly, technique. The big game-changer for “Heavy Rain” lies in its ambitions and how they translate to its thematic and narrative focus. This is why I feel saddened by certain reactions of the industry: “Heavy Rain” is accessible, graphically and aesthetically stunning (have we ever seen better noir sets in a game? I think not!) and extremely entertaining for even the less demanding of gamers. So why all the hate? If such a game gets beat up, when is something like “Fatale” going to get any praise? Of course, one week later, “God of War III”, a game that does nothing in its genre except for the new graphical bells and whistles, most likely has a mediocre script and also uses QTE’s, is getting perfect grades all around. I have nothing against it, but the situation in itself is simply ridiculous, I don’t even know why I still care, really…

    “There’s also a general sense of cynicism everywhere, from gamers to journalists. It seems that people have lost the ability to limitlessly surrender to a game. Or maybe games aren’t good enough and drive us to be grimly analytical. That said, HR made me forget almost instantaneously about the technical lexicon it was using to make me feel – as such, I experienced it with a prevalent urgency.”

    I think people do surrender to games, just not video games (because they are different things). I’m sure these guys just let go of their mind for yet another session of endorphin releasing ‘ludus’ games, with their reward-pleasing schemes. In the end of another fix, they employ those technocrat lists – great graphics, soundtrack, balanced game-play, whatever – to rationalize why they felt great while playing. There simply isn’t a critical self-analysis of why a certain game is entertaining or pleasing. Of course, when faced with objects that challenge our minds and senses, there isn’t this mind-numbing effect, quite on the contrary, and so when forced to think and/or feel something, everyone just loses touch with the experience. Going back to the lists, they can find all those silly little reasons the industry carefully fed-spoon to them that explain why these games aren’t “fun”. It’s flow theory turned upside down: people only understand games from a very hedonic point of view.

    Great to have you back here José. Checked your blog before, really liked it, though one day you’re gonna have to explain to me why the hell you liked Origins 😉

  3. Oh, don’t embarrass me for having a great time with a wonderful fantasy soap opera. ☺ Origins hit all the right buttons with me in terms of character interaction, morals and revenge plots. It looks archaic, but I saw it like a self-conscious swan song – like a Todd Haynes tribute to Douglas Sirk (and the prize for the most dissonant comparison goes to me!).

    Heavy Rain is pretty art-house in the context of BIG budget games. I mean, you can sit your character in almost every scene, while the camera alternates between beautiful travelling shots of image composition. That’s film language in the purest sense and in a videogame it transforms what you’re seeing into virtually a video-installation.

    But yes, it’s not Shakespeare, Wilde or Faulkner material. Speaking of which, we all know how the plot gets confusing, some accusing of having holes in it, but I was happy filling the gaps with my own scenarios – like when you’re watching The Big Sleep, and just loose yourself in the sharp dialogs and atmosphere. It’s just too bad we don’t have a Faulkner apprentice writing for noir-inspired videogames.

    Apparently it is selling well and I hope the industry realizes that there’s a market for more contemplative and intimate experiences. May our love for the game materialize into something, I don’t know, just as good!

    • ruicraveirinha
    • March 9th, 2010

    “Oh, don’t embarrass me for having a great time with a wonderful fantasy soap opera. ☺ Origins hit all the right buttons with me in terms of character interaction, morals and revenge plots. It looks archaic, but I saw it like a self-conscious swan song – like a Todd Haynes tribute to Douglas Sirk (and the prize for the most dissonant comparison goes to me!).”

    I found it too dull and straight up adolescent serious to see its self-consciousness or self-irony. But I can relate to where you’re coming from, I’ve felt similar things regarding other games. Guilty pleasures are the stuff life is made of.

    “Heavy Rain is pretty art-house in the context of BIG budget games. I mean, you can sit your character in almost every scene, while the camera alternates between beautiful travelling shots of image composition. That’s film language in the purest sense and in a videogame it transforms what you’re seeing into virtually a video-installation.”

    That’s just the thing. “Heavy Rain” is art-house in the sense that it uses a language that is considerably outside the box for games, but that in reality is pretty common, and simple and lowbrow for something such as film. Most references in HR are pure pop, and those that aren’t, such as those occasional references to Kubrick cinematography, have become banale and pure mainstream. For example, I didn’t find a direct quote to a classic noir… that reminds me of David Cage’s limitations.

    “But yes, it’s not Shakespeare, Wilde or Faulkner material. Speaking of which, we all know how the plot gets confusing, some accusing of having holes in it, but I was happy filling the gaps with my own scenarios – like when you’re watching The Big Sleep, and just loose yourself in the sharp dialogs and atmosphere. It’s just too bad we don’t have a Faulkner apprentice writing for noir-inspired videogames.”

    Actually, I don’t bitch about plot issues in “Heavy Rain”. For one, everything people are picking about is minor when compared to some of “Fahrenheit’s” heresies (which those same people placed on a pedestal, but now somehow changed their minds), and because they’re all attributed to the limitations of interactive narrative systems. At best, Cage could have gone with a linear story (my personal preference) which would probably invite even more silly criticisms in the vein of: “not enough choices” (which I’ve already read plenty of).

    But I tell you what: I still would like Cage to take some writing lessons 😉

    “Apparently it is selling well and I hope the industry realizes that there’s a market for more contemplative and intimate experiences. May our love for the game materialize into something, I don’t know, just as good!”

    Here here!

    Cheers!

  4. Ok. Now I get why you’re so mad about how people are reacting to this great game. I just read this: http://www.brainygamer.com/the_brainy_gamer/2010/02/heavy-rain.html#comments

    • ruicraveirinha
    • March 10th, 2010

    Yeah, it’s not just Sterling and Burch, believe it. In the academic community, there’s a storm brewing (if we’re lucky, it’ll come from both sides, but I’m not sure yet), and I’ve read a few written columns on the same note. You nailed it in your first comment: all the pseudo-intellectuals (or pseudo-scholars or pseudo-journalists) are taking tickets on kicking “Heavy Rain” down. Certain criticisms I would even accept, if not for those same people overlooking the same issues and worse in a thousand immensely inferior and immature games. I mean, “Far Cry 2” is Abbott’s great game reference? What gives?

    It’s video games greatest problem, I still believe: the lack of an accessible elite that can serve as reference for those who want something more out of video games. How can gamers evolve, with this constant barrage of information shouting that the best games are “Modern Warfare”, “God of War” or “Uncharted”? When the best games of the decade are chosen with no apparent logic, as dieubussy often laments, mixing a top place “Shadow of the Colossus” with the likes of “Halo”, “Wii Fit” or “Far Cry 2”? This scares me. I have a few highly educated friends that play video games, and the common thread is that they only play the video games the media tells them to. They’re scared of different things, and squirm their eyes when good references are hinted to them. There’s no reference, no pedestal, no establishing frame for them to conceptualize a different notion of video game…

    I think I’ll pretend the guys who’re picking faults in “Heavy Rain” do so just because it’s so ambitious and valuable that it truly deserves to be scrutinized with minutiae… I’ll sleep better that way.

    Cheers José!

  5. Another one from GC: http://www.gamecritics.com/richard-naik/heavy-rain-review#comment

    And the thing is, the more I explore it, the more I like it.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • March 15th, 2010

    I’ve only read this line: “HIGH: The Saw-esque anticipation of something horrifying.” And I’m done reading, can’t waste time on this kind of asshole.

    Cheers José!

  6. P.S. I forgot to mention, but the new “Tomb Raider” is a downloadable, co-op, isometric action adventure game… God, I love video games!

    And what is even more disturbing is the fact that everyone loves it.

    • Coyote
    • August 21st, 2010

    In all fairness, I believe the game should be given a chance before we dismiss it. We shouldn’t rule out a game for trying to explore new ground (if anything, it should be the other way around), specially from a franchise that has been known for not innovating besides the size of the cleavage. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have games like Resident Evil 4, 2008’s Prince of Persia or Final Fantasy XII.

  7. I’m the first one defending the exploration of new ground, as long as it good and fertile one. The original (and brilliant!) Tomb Raider was all about isolationism and discovery, but this sidestep co-op topdown arcade shooter/puzzler feels totally distant from that. Underworld was quite closer to that essence that Crystal Dynamics has been trying to recapture. I don’t know. It just seems wrong to me. Like making a sitcom series of “Paris, Texas”.

    But I bet it is fun, so, that’s what it really matters, doesn’t it? :S

    Oh, and, would you really consider that PoP and Final Fantasy any good? Hands down to RE4, although we all know that we will never get the former claustrophobic atmosphere of the series again because of it.

    Geez, just look at the adjectives I tend to use to describe my favorite games: isolationistic, claustrophobic… I don’t really like to have fun while playing games, do I? What a twisted mind I must have.

    • Coyote
    • August 24th, 2010

    Actually, I didn’t like FF 12 at all, and found 2008’s PoP an interesting, yet flawed adventure… However I have to show respect for a team that thought moving away from J-Pop stories and gameplay defined by a 15 years tradition or a sucessfully proven franchise, to explore new grounds. The same can be said of the more recent example: Levine trying to get past Rapture and explore something new.

    Some of you may argue that those are baby steps, small changes that are hardly worth the use of “creativity” as a word, but in an industry with such a strong resistance to change, the fact that the mere thought of removing turn-based battles, teenage friendly themes or established gameplay mechanics was not shuted down by committies, marketing and other suits that feel more interested in getting something made than making something great. The fact that some franchises had names so strong that had to be played along its both a prove and a sad consecuence. I strongly believe the next Levine game would be much better if it doesn’t had to endure carring the “Bioshock” title around.

    Some of those experiments might end up not working (I already said I am not a fan of FF12 and PoP), some might fail because of the experiments or because of other changes, but I have a great deal of respect for them for taking the risk with a decade old brand.

    You menction Lara Croft here, and I have to be honest… I haven’t played it yet. So, I can’t tell you of its a good game or not. To be honest again, I think its a game that tries to inject some blood in a brand that not only hasn’t tried anything new or good since their first game (Underworld and Legend being exceptions, the last one mostly for being a remake of the original, and for trying to distance themselves of the caricature of a character miss Croft had become); that the only world I can think of when remembering the way they have managed the franchise is “prostitute it”. Not only innovation was banned from the game design, but the main character seems more prevalent in playboy magazines than videogames itselfs… It is the first franchise I can remember that passed from cultural phenomenon to audience boredom in a few years.

    So, this isometric arcade puzzle/shooter might not be good ground to explore (as I said before, I don’t know), but I certainly believe it is fresh and fertile… More fertile than the grounds it was revolving around previously and, since we are not talking about becaming a first person, or covered based third person shooters (because that would make more sense, right? 😉 ), I can at least give them the benefit of the doubt. At least, they seems to be trying something different…

    • ruicraveirinha
    • August 25th, 2010

    Innovation is not an end, it’s a means. We should not see it as a value to uphold by itself. As ckz says, it’s the direction which the game explores that counts, not whether there is a difference in direction in the first place. Especially when the framework of what we’re deeming “innovation” is being limited to a franchise’s history. That is also a fallacy in terms of discourse that has been long assimilated. Designing an FPS mario, FPS ICO or FPS MGS wouldn’t be innovation, would it?

    Co-op, Isometric, Puzzle, Action – these could all mean innovation for the Tomb Raider legacy, but look around, and you’ll see that’s not innovation at all. In fact, a new Tomb Raider that is respectful of its origins, such as “Underworld” is much more innovative, because it contradicts contemporary mainstream logic, with its marketing keywords and game design cannon non-sense. Its values are outside its time, even if not actually new in time, which still is much better than this shallow variation on recurring themes that we oft call innovation.

    That being said, I haven’t played the game. However, one of the people whose opinion I value the most has said it was a good co-op puzzle game. Is that worth anything these days? Most likely not. But I will try it nonetheless.

    Cheers guys.

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