Not to say things aren’t taking shape, I’ve just had to reaquaint myself with the art, themes and characters again these past few days in order to rediscover my inspiration. Plenty of initial efforts ended up getting the slam dunk treatment in my waste paper basket but I think I’ve finally rehabilitated myself and got started on a continuation proper. More soon ;)
Catastrophes are usually by their very nature irreversible and today’s was no different. There I was sat in Kings Cross at noon, enjoying a ham and tomato sandwich before a job interview; suited up, portfolio in tow, preparation fresh in mind and lots of time to spare – everything was fine.
What happened next is probably best likened to a Hollywood actioner. Know that scene? Where the ‘buddy’ character takes a hit, laughs it off as “a scratch” only to collapse ten minutes later revealing the mortal wound in their chest? It was a little like that only with tomato splurge; I shrugged off the splatter on my leather jacket, unaware of the real damage. It’s got to be said, tomato tie-dye on a white shirt is hard to miss.
Upon discovering this disaster I thought three things in quick succession:
I’m an idiot.
How am I going to fix this?
I wish reality had quick-saves.
But it doesn’t. Neither do films, TV series, books or comics; excluding the odd bizarre exception (damn you adventure game books!) only videogames possess any kind of check-pointing/replay system where the outcome can be so drastically changed. ‘Catastrophes’ in their most literal form barely enter the equation.
It’s something I hardly gave any thought to growing up, being altogether too busy shooting monsters in the face to really consider what the medium did differently to its peers. In recent years though as the form has risen to cultural prominence the method of delivery and nature of interaction has begun to interest me as much as the content itself; it’s not just about shooting a monster in the face, it’s about how the monster was shot, what comes next and perhaps most importantly why in the face at all?
Through the 1990’s and early 2000’s I gleefully engaged in simulated mass murder; through Doom, Quake, Rainbow Six, Hitman, Timesplitters and countless others I unquestionably accepted murderous do or die objectives as freeform interaction. The violence never bothered me because it wasn’t real while impermanence of death was simply a non issue: of course I want to retry! Why on earth wouldn’t I?
It couldn’t last.
Gradually something began to gnaw at the back of my mind. As Call of Duty mania began to manifest full tilt I found myself questioning the simplicity of these shooting galleries. I’d played soldier plenty of times before without a problem but as the internet overflowed with chatter about ‘killstreaks’, headshots and weapon upgrades I realised how tired I was of the old formula: here’s a gun, these men are bad, go kill them.
More exasperating though was the apparent ease of survival thanks to the underlying mechanics. Getting shot? No problem your health regenerates. Dead? Look you just respawned, try again. For all the tension and excitement enemy rocket barrages, ambushes and slow-mo encounters might suggest on screen I felt increasingly deflated by the sense of assured safety. There are pitfalls sure, but you know there will always be checkpoint trampoline at the bottom ready to bounce you right back.
I’m not suggesting these criticisms are anything new – there are doubtlessly thousands of flame wars taking place right now on similar topics in forums distant and deep – nor would I like this to be misconstrued as outright condemnation or ‘ban this sick filth’ propaganda, I’ve played these kind of games plenty and to a degree I still do.
Ultimately it’s the desire to see better that I wish to highlight; the possibilities of interactive simulation are so immense and yet I feel like we’re still only scratching the surface; as much as I love them videogames are still lacking a crucial something.
It was a flash game One Chance that really sparked the idea for Replay Value. Visually it’s a modest effort which only lasts about 15 minutes at the most but it has a unique feature – you only get one try. Oh yes, you can wipe your cookies and replay anyway but the concept tapped into something wholly untouched within me; a genuine sense of weight to decisions made and a sense of truly sombre finality. Honestly, I don’t want to try it again because I know it will never capture the same feeling in me, that’s the whole point.
With Replay Value I really wanted to hammer home the sense of weary repetition at the heart of most popular games by taking the viewpoint of two supposedly soulless enemy AI’s and giving them a sense of humanity at odds with a merciless player who has the game tipped invariably in his favour.
It struck me as an amusing concept, exploring a kind of gaming hell that also doubles as a story about working stiffs in a dead end job. I wanted to highlight what games have yet to and indeed may never truly master; a sense of the finite and the genuinely unpredictable. Win or lose both sides will be resurrected within the space of a loading screen, while it doesn’t look like faceless enemies in balaclavas will be disappearing anytime soon.
It would be unfair to say there’s been no attempt to push the medium forward and push the boundaries of interaction and involvement: the Portal games managed to sustain interest and humour through an FPS with no conventional shooting, Bioshock directly questioned the contradictory illusion of choice at the heart of gaming while the Mass Effect series had a serious go at creating a sense of widespread consequence to your actions. Still, the rusty old mechanics of videogames past continue to permeate all, simultaneously nostalgic and maddening.
Perversely, on another level I’ll continue love bright red exploding barrels, improbably ordinance stashes, absurd power ups, high scores and all the other clichés – like old friends dropping by to chat about the good old days. I’ll also no doubt continue to quick save every 30 seconds for many years to come but so long as that sense of peril, fragility and irreversible consequence remains out of reach so too will any deeper emotional connection with the form.
As for my shirt stain? I did up my suit and no one was any the wiser ;)
Done! Massively late but here it is nonetheless; the concluding page of Replay Value!
It’s been a busy Christmas to say the least, there was a house move in there somewhere amongst all the food and booze and besides struggling to sit down and finish this thing the page itself had a few troublesome spots. Wanting to raise the quality of the finale typically resulted in a bloated schedule – like my stomach post Xmas – such are the perils of being one’s own master…
I’ve also got something of a postscript I want to write on my inspiration for this one, however I imagine it’ll be a sizable essay in itself and right now I’ve got to stress out over a few other things for the next 24 hours or so. I’ll see that it arrives ASAP along with the massively overdue continuation of my old flame Branch.
Apologies to everyone I’ve spectacularly failed to follow and communicate with this yuletide – I haven’t forgotten you and I’ll hop back on the digi-wagon very soon, honest!
Today I had one of the most uplifting encounters of the past year.
A very small thing perhaps within a year which has included my first expo, graduation and plenty of other general commotion, nonetheless I found myself profoundly effected by it perhaps because it was so entirely unexpected.
Lately I’ve spent a fair amount of time in a cafe within a local bookshop, partially because the store portion seems to act as a buffer against the caffeine seeking lunchtime hordes, partially because my bedroom is starting to feel like an office. Mostly I figured a change of scenery would be a good way to kickstart my enthusiasm and make headway with my short. As such, I found myself in there on several occasions, colouring pages on my laptop.
While these sessions helped me avoid distraction and broke up the monotony of working at home I must admit I often felt a little uneasy about being out in public with these pages on show. Paranoid maybe, especially when they ultimately end up on the internet anyway but there’s something about having my working process observed which sets me slightly on edge. Besides occasionally noting what I imagined to be a disapproving stares I treated my surroundings as background noise.
I’d only brought a notepad when I dropped in this morning and was casually sketching some rough stuff, when one of the staff stopped by my table to pick up some empty cups.
“Not got your laptop today?” she queried chirpily. Without thinking I automatically told a casual lie “Uh no, I finished what I was working on.”
Stacking the mugs she paused for a moment before following this with another question.
“What do you do?”
Immediately defaulting to startled rabbit mode at the unexpected interest I mumbled vaguely about being a designer, inevitably far too self-conscious to admit I’d been working on a comic.
As it turns out though, I didn’t need to; pausing again as she pushed everything onto a tray the girl spoke again.
“We really like what you’ve been doing, it’s really cool.”
I was so utterly shocked by the realisation that these strangers – people I had been inadvertently treating like coffee serving automatons for weeks – had even noticed what I was working on – let alone liked it – that it’s miraculous I managed to blurt out a “thank you” in response.
A very small thing perhaps, a speck of kindness in a sea of cynicism, still I don’t think I’ve ever walked out of that cafe feeling quite so giddy.
Time to finish that comic.