The Bush of Goats

Marc Williams, writer & designer: 'Life's too short for empty slog ans'

Games I have loved, (a)moralities I have not.

Have been meaning to mention a game I thought was very good for a while, so do so now.

What I thought was a simple premise actually turned out to be a brilliant set up for the game-proper as Portal began with you participating in what was essentially a puzzle game in a laboratory environment. This was for the good of science, and had the benefit of making you think you knew the parameters of the experience to come. But things didn’t work out quite how I was expecting…

Approaching the ‘final level’ of the test, the calm computerised voice which had been guiding me through the test sequences (it’s been a bit stand-offish, but then it *is* a computer) reveals itself to actually be unconcerned with my survival: rounding a corner, I discovered not the cake I was  (repeatedly) promised, but a burning pit. I was shocked and confused; a little hurt, even.
But then I then managed to leap to safety – I actually thought I’d broken the game.

How awesome is that? I’d managed to avoid the game’s intentions, and for a delicious second, thought I’d found a glitch that meant I could delay the inevitable end if for just a few minutes.

And then I discovered a way out of the room!

I’d got quite a distance before it occurred to me that I hadn’t found a bug, I was now playing the game proper and the other stuff had been training. A great conceit really well executed.


PS: This is the final credit sequence and song . A good indication of just how smart and funny Portal is.
PPS: there’s cake…

By turn, I’ve played two games recently which I was woefully disappointed in.
Bioshock  and Grand Theft Auto IV

I hadn’t ever really connected with the GTA series in our previous lives and iterations (despite having the first game and working with someone who was very into San Andreas when it came out) I just kind of knew I wouldn’t really enjoy them, so I didn’t bother.

But after the recent Edge ‘GTA’ issue, I thought, ‘oh yeah, new console; latest in the series; Edge are bigging it up; they’ve never really connected with the series either; maybe I should reappraise. So I bought

It makes me feel a bit old, but I was genuinely alarmed by the absence of any guiding moral in what is a brilliantly realised world. But shouldn’t game designers think more about the morality of the spaces they are creating?

The evident confusion between the morals of the individual and the morality of the environment is in urgent need of attention.

I suppose what I mean is, if I’m stood on a rugby field, dressed in a rugby kit, in the middle of a team of people I have expressly chosen to play a hard physical game with, I wouldn’t have much reason to object to being charged into and slammed to the ground.
If on the other hand I am waiting for a bus and I am charged into and slammed to the ground, I may have a legitimate grievance with the person who has just done the charging and the slamming.
GTA is like rugby-tackling the unprepared for fun, and it made me feel a bit sicky (a feeling which worsened when I learned how some people were playing the game).

What I really wanted to do in GTA was to be good. I wanted to leave the unpleasant corrupting characters the game introduces me to and settle down with a nice girl. It’s because it’s such a vast, well realised world, that this is what I wanted to do, but the lack of any option to do good troubled me muchly. Your choices were stark: do crime or do nothing.
And that’s were it began to feel really quite uncomfortable. The absence of anything to do other than crime can echo a little too loudly on the streets of Clapton as the reality of daily life for a huge percentage of the games’ audience may not be all that dissimilar. You see enough teenage boys in Hackney, shambling between their bedroom and the corner shop to know how fatal boredom can be.

“Now if we could just ban video-computer-games and that awful rap-music they listen to, the world would be a much nicer  place!”

My reaction to Bioshock was similarly engendered by the beauty of the world I was being allowed into, and the paucity of things I was allowed to do in it.
Having finally sorted out connecting to Xbox live at the weekend, I downloaded some demos (‘The first few bits of a game for free? I probably wouldn’t get beyond that if I’d paid 50 quid for it in the shops!’) Bioshock was one.

Anyway, I was marvelling at the beauty and the set up, the ambience of it all when I’ve suddenly got these clunky ‘powers’ with which to refry the zombies charging at me from all angles. Turns out Bioshock is just a mediocre FPS with some of the greatest art direction and scene setting of any game I’ve ever seen. Bummer.
Game, 3/10: world, 9/10


Filed under: Games


June 2008


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