Tuesday, March 19, 2013
"Aliens", "TWD", and a lesson on Tone.
There's a part in the director's commentary for "Aliens" that really stuck with me. In it, James Cameron explains how, in his opinion, Aliens works well on an emotional and storytelling level because it stays consistent. There are changes in mood, yes, but the tone of the work is absolutely consistent. The movie feels like an enclosed reality, where people are afraid for their own well-being rather than making cheeky asides to the camera or throwing off one-liners. The movie depicts an intensely dangerous situation and you can feel this rather than simply being told it. People live and die in ways that make sense - death is sudden and harsh, while struggling to survive takes a huge amount of effort and resistance. Every battle is important, and every conflict can lead to another survivor being picked off.
With that said, I'd like to call attention to two games. The first is Telltale Games' "The Walking Dead", an episodic adventure game following a group of survivors as they attempt to escape from a zombie-infested Georgia. The second is Gearbox's "Aliens: Colonial Marines", a run-and-gun action game where a heavily armored protagonist and his invincible AI buddies shoot their way through corridors full of aliens and even other human beings. These two games represent two opposite sides of a spectrum: on the one hand, a game focused very heavily on social interaction and decision-making, and on the other hand, a largely brainless shooter with almost no real interactivity.
Between the two, Colonial Marines is actually the more "serious" (read: melodramatic) game. While there's a few distasteful quips here and there, the entire story consists of people getting angry and shouty and grim. This is contradictory with the game's actual gameplay, where the protagonists are in no real danger. The opposite of this would be a game like "Uncharted", where the protagonists are constantly laughing and joking despite being engaged in life-threatening adventures where they are literally killing hundreds of people. Both of these tones are inconsistent with a single reality, but rather reflect a warped reality that exists most commonly in videogames.
By contrast, TWD has moods that are appropriate to the situation - some scenes are cute and heartwarming, others are scary, still others are moving and sad. Despite this, it's a far more serious game, because all of these exist as realistic mood changes in a single consistent reality. The zombies never really "go away" - there is no point where they truly act like they're not there anymore. But there are certain periods of levity and lightness even in the face of tragedy, just like there are in real life. Their jokes carry the weight of their situation, rather than being entirely separate from it.
The main accomplishment of TWD is that it is a game where social interaction and interpersonal relationship are actually a huge part of the game rather than a goofy little sideshow to the shooting/stabbing. It does this through a mostly brute-force method, individually creating scenes and then linking them together with an if-then relationship. While the amount of work necessary to create this scenario makes it difficult to expect as a mainstream gaming concept, it should still be appreciated when it exists. The fact of the matter is that TWD, along with its spiritual predecessor Heavy Rain, masks its weaknesses by making the player afraid of making mistakes at all times. Not all failed QTEs lead to bad results, but the player doesn't know which ones are acceptable to fail and which ones aren't. TWD takes it a step further than Heavy Rain by having some failures affect the way characters think of you even if they don't die. Like Aliens, TWD is a small-cast survival scenario, and the gameplay actually reflects this rather than keeping it separate as a cutscene.
If there was going to be an Aliens game - I mean an actual "Aliens" game, a game version of the movie Aliens - which of these games do you think it would resemble? For clarity's sake, I'll make two comparative lists.
Things That TWD Has In Common With Aliens
- Centered around a group of survivors attempting to hole up against a relentless horde of hostiles.
- Focuses more on social dynamics and interactions than direct action.
- Weapons and ammo are tools for survival, and rationing their use is incredibly important.
- Maintenance of a consistent theme, tone, and reality even as the mood darkens and brightens.
- When action does take place, it is highly likely that a character will die during the course of it.
- One of the characters is a young girl whose parents are killed and who is adopted by the main character.
- There is a slight focus on "family dynamics" to create a new home (and hope) for the young girl.
Things That CM Has In Common With Aliens
- It's the same setting.
- A lot of the sounds are reused.
- Hicks is in it.