America At War
This week, Drew Toal took us on a tour of an occupied America in his review of Homefront: The Revolution. The game is set in a world where North Korea has somehow become the world’s dominant superpower, and after years of putting up with the United States’ inability to pay back its national debts, North Korea decides to just swoop in and take over. It’s like Wolfenstein: The New Order crossed with Red Dawn, but Wolfman Jew isn’t sure if there’s even a way to make that setup work:
Damn, that plot…it’s idiotic even by the standards of modern shooters. I get that “America under siege” (not to be confused with American Under Siege, where Steven Seagal stuffs Tommy Lee Jones’ head in a microwave) is an exciting and admittedly compelling idea. We’ve been a superpower for so long that the vicarious thrill from an underdog conflict is enticing. But really, why even be a modern war shooter—a genre inherently based in at least some level of fetishistic realism—if you also want to go through these hoops? But fine, I’ll play ball and try to do this right: How would you make a shooter about a vulnerable America?
I guess, for me at least, the notion of America as weak isn’t really due to external problems so much as internal ones, from politicians who openly denigrate their own people to obstructive institutions that hinder the ability to make things potentially better. Because of that, I think that this shooter’s villains shouldn’t be an international force, but one comprised of our worst elements. It should be a violent, widespread faction, perhaps an odd collusion of different fringe groups that have risen up to take over major sections of the country. This would allow you to have more enemy types, create a plot where groups rise and fall over the course of the story, and set up a dichotomy between both the positive and negative aspects of the nation as being comprised of many separate polities.
BurgerOfTheDay has a suggestions, but it seems like the idea of a game about America under siege is simply too risky:
You’d have to do something like a new civil war, unless you went far enough into the future that political conditions in other countries could have changed enough to make them realistic threats.
A new civil war would definitely be too controversial and sensitive for any publisher to spend a lot of money on, but it would have a lot of potential. I’m sure the impulse would be to make it a modernized version of the actual Civil War, but there are a lot of political dynamics that would make it more complicated. This runs the risk of them just turning it into another “evil foreigners” game, but seeing how our allies and enemies react to and take advantage of a civil war in the U.S. would be really interesting.
As for North Korea, DJ JD has a theory on why the game stuck with such a relatively unlikely villain:
I think if you mentally replace “North Korea” with “China,” you’ll have the story they actually wrote. The idea that they might want to sell the game in China someday made the name-change necessary.
Look At This Photograph
On the lighter side of things (as long as you ignore that image up above), Patrick Lee’s entry in the latest Special Topics In Gameology series questioned whether or not a video game can teach you how to be a better photographer. Patrick discussed the good and bad lessons he picked up from Pokémon Snap, Fatal Frame, Life Is Strange, and Dead Rising, but jakeoti brought up some other games with interesting photography mechanics:
Not mentioned here is Pikmin 3, which had a camera mode that no one seems to remember. The mode was more a fun diversion, since it really had no actual point in the grand scheme of things. It didn’t unlock anything, and time would keep moving, so it was arguably bad to even waste time using it. But it was a fun little diversion that made good use of the Gamepad. The game would even tag any monsters that you had in the shot when it uploaded to Miiverse, so getting a good picture of each of the bosses could be a nice challenge. I definitely waited in places to get shots of my crew bringing back the corpse of a fallen monster or a particularly large piece of fruit.
The Smash Bros. series also has some fun camera work. Starting with the first, there was no way to actually save the pictures, but so many people still know about taking pictures of the characters’ skeletons when zapped by electricity or the goofy faces that Yoshi made when eating an enemy. Melee added in a weird camera mode that was tricky to get used to and only allowed three players (one of the four controllers was devoted to controlling the camera). Brawl gave us the camera mode we needed, though, by just letting you save pictures from the pause screen, and then Super Smash Bros. For Wii U upped the ante by letting you draw on the pictures. Staging out shots can be tough, but setting up the perfect pose and seeing the payoff is well worth it.
And the final example I can think of wasn’t at all a camera mode in the traditional sense (I don’t think you could see the pictures or anything), but the first Baten Kaitos game had a camera card that was your main source of bringing in money. Using the card in a combo would give you a picture of whoever you targeted, and it was one of the only types of cards that sold for any value. The quality of the photo could also be adjusted by using light or dark cards in the combo. It also meant, of course, an absolute nightmare for completionists, since you pretty much need to get a picture of everything, including bosses. Fortunately, though, using it in the right combo could mean you could still up your damage, the main character would yell “Say Cheeseburger!” sometimes when using it.
Venerable Monk chimed in with a way to make competitive online shooters a little more friendly (and a lot more artistic):
I used to spend a ton of time making screenshots and short video clips of my multiplayer matches in Halo 3. Its match recap function was perfect for flying around the map and finding the perfect angle to demonstrate exactly what’s happening in the game. Really, every online multiplayer game could use such functionality, to lower the barrier for folks who want to record some of their best moments but don’t have the resources or the intention to edit and produce a YouTube video of something.
Going back to Fatal Frame, The Space Pope explained how that game’s Camera Obscura item boosted the horror and provided some interesting thematic depth:
I always appreciated Fatal Frame‘s use of the camera as a weapon. Most horror games turn to firearms as your primary means of defense, so they invariably turn into frustrating third-person shooters every few minutes. I think it ultimately makes the enemies less scary if they’re vulnerable to ordinary gunfire, though that may be just a personal preference (not that mowing down all comers with the unlockable infinite machine gun in Silent Hill 3 wasn’t a hilarious good time, mind you). Fatal Frame‘s premise maintains the enemies’ mystique and alters the traditional horror risk-reward calculation: You can move while you fight, but you have to look through a viewfinder at the same time, shrinking your field of vision and increasing the danger (and, hopefully, the tension).
So the use of the Camera Obscura instead is both a refreshing change of pace and an opportunity for some interesting thematic work. Defeating ghosts with the camera not only plays off the old “the camera will steal your soul” superstition, it also literalizes the camera’s ability to “capture” a moment. Most of the ghosts in the game—as in a lot of ghost stories—are weaponized memories, dangerous reminders of some past trauma or tragedy (in this case, fucked-up religious rites) that unfairly repeat themselves in the present. By capturing them on the special film, you’re effectively transferring them to a safer, healthier form of memory. You thought you were fighting off ghosts, but no, you’re performing therapy on a goddamn house. Or village. Or what have you, as long as what you have is full of ghosts.
And that’ll do it for this week, Gameola-li-lu-le-los. Thanks for giving me a chance to step away from the Newswire desk and take Matt Gerardi’s place as the supreme arbiter of your opinions. As always, thanks for reading and commenting, and we’ll see you next week!