Finally, I just wrote an article about Shadow of the Colossus. I meant to do that for a long, long time, having played it just when it was released. This one will be a bit shorter than what I wrote about Resident Evil 4, GTA or Mercenaries, and focused on two aspects of the game: consistency in the game production, and the notion of guilt.

There are quite a few articles I would like to complete, including reports on Killer7, New Super Mario Bros. and Animal Crossing Wild World… wish I had 240 hours days!

This week, I took some time to upgrade gamethink to SPIP 1.9.0. To be honest, it didn’t completely work as expected at first time. But anyway, now it does and since this version introduced a new way to order files and directories on the server, I also cleaned up my templates, which are now much more straightforward (and available here, for those interested in SPIP templates). I also studied some SPIP contributions to add some new functionalities to the site. First I finally enabled comments on articles. Well, this is a default SPIP functionality but I had to adapt it to gamethink’s look and feel. Second, I created some new tags in gamethink to be able to have side boxes in the flow of the article. That’s something I’ve been wanting to do since the beginning and now here it is.

I just wrote a column on gamethink.net about the ideas at the very origin of a game project.

That movie made me wonder about the difficulties to adapt a movie into a game. I mean, whenever we hear about both industries we always hear about all those things that games should do like in the movies. But it doesn’t always work.

To make a long story short, the movie is about a place in the desert inhabited by people who have mutated, due to nuclear testing in the 50s, into a bunch of man-eating psychopaths, and their tragic encounter with an American family. To put things in perspective, there are about 10 mutants, who are reminiscent of Ganados, of Resident Evil 4 fame, among which half are harmless. In RE4, Leon would dispose of five ganados in about 30 seconds. Or maybe he’ll die and try again. And that would be it. In a whole game of RE4, he kills approximately 1000 of them. On top of that, our family travels with guns and ammo. For movie standards, 5 psychopaths with surhuman strength is more than enough to inspire terror, and it’s fair to say that the movie does a good job at that. But in terms of videogame contents, this just doesn’t work.

In the movie, there are several confrontations with the bad guys, the longest of which spans over, I would say, 5 to 10 minutes and in which the main protagonist does his utmost to avoid being killed by his opponent who is about twice his axe-wielding opponent. We, spectators, feel that if the hero let his concentration down for a second, it will be quickly beheaded. Then, eaten. Whereas in a typical action-adventure game, heroes can take no small amount of punishment before giving in and if they are hurt, that will not affect their in-game capacities. It is necessary if the game intends to be fair, that is, to give players a reasonable chance to survive if they play right. In that movie, however, the slighest error of the protagonist means immediate death. In the movie, this fight follows a very precise scenario. In a game, it is difficult to maintain this frame and let the player have some control over their character: traditionnally, they control when to attack,  how, when to dodge, when to run, and the like. The closest way to translate such a sequence into something playable would be to use the quick time event paradigm: the player watches what appears to be a cutscene, and a button will appear very briefly, which the player must press immediately or lose. But this works in gaming only if used very sparingly.

Another point. This horror movie never reaches the spectator so deeply than when they feel powerless as they witness events that they wish would not happen, for instance when good characters die or get hurt. But in gaming, the opposite is true: the player will feel commited most when they are in full control. Cutscenes when something bad happens despite the heroic efforts of the protagonist further the suspense in a movie, but they disturb the player’s experience. Again in RE4, the hero, Leon, has to battle hordes of ganados to rescue and protect the president’s daughter. But, inevitably, she is abducted by the forces of evil no less than three times. Oh sure, this is all very spectacular and impressive, but how do the players feel when that happens? touched, scared perhaps? or rather disheartened, frustrated? And is that a feeling that a game author want their players to experience?

Finally and most importantly comes the issue of penalty. In a game, penalties are always relative – if, again, the game is to be fair, then the player does not suffer more than necessary, the penalties are not inevitable and are seldom always reversible. The player could avoid that their hero be hurt or captured or killed, they could heal their wounds, and if anything else fails, they could just load a saved game. So the story line of the game involves the protagonist being in rather good shape and on top of things. If things deviate too much from this scenario, chances are that the player will fail and will have to start again at least part of the game. In the movie, this is very different. Some characters die and the main protagonist goes through a lot of hardship. It would be very expensive to transcript in a game a scenario with as many branches as there are opportunities to go right or wrong in the story. In a movie, this is ok: the writer chooses exactly how things are going to happen. But in a game, the player has some liberty and can influence the way things happen.

So indeed, games could do worse than get inspiration from the themes movies choose and some of the techniques used in cineam too. But in essence, the same content cannot work for both media.

I went to see Silent Hill the other day and would love to say something nice, but I’m not sure I can. For one, the movie was well directed, the special FX were convincing and the attention that was devoted to what makes the SH atmosphere was very welcome. The director, Christophe Gans, is a devoted gamer and his previous movies included many references to game situations, and this one is no exception. Is it the first “good” game->movie cross-over? well, there are a few buts.
The story is an adaptation of the 1st game of the series with some elements from the 2nd. After 4 installments (some say 3, some say 5, so let’s settle for 4) the world of Silent Hill kind of makes sense. Eventually, we gamers get an explanation as to why Silent Hill “works” this way.
In SH1, a girl, Alessa, was sacrificed by her mother, Dahlia, a witch of sorts, so she could get greater powers. Alessa was severely burnt but secretly kept alive so her powers could grow. But then, she generated a projection of herself in the form of a baby girl, who was adopted by the hero seven years before the events of the game. Over time, while the Alessa became more and more powerful, her hatred and fear also grew and eventually destroyed the city – her vision of the city, that she aquired during her short, painful life, turned real. Silent Hill became Alessa’s nightmare, especially places in town that she knew well, like her school, the hospital, her mother’s house, etc. invaded by creatures made out of her own childish fears (animated dolls, blood-thirsty nurses…).
The hero arrives to Silent Hill with his daughter and has a car crash as he sees a little girl just like his crossing the road out of nowwhere. But when he wakes up, her daughter is gone. He meets with Dahlia who explains that Alessa is the source of this situation. To progress throughout the game, the hero must go into Alessa’s nightmare and defeat what causes her fears. Eventually, he confronts Alessa, and can finally escape to reality with his little girl.
In SH2, another hero is drawn to Silent Hill, by a letter sent by his late wife, Mary, who died three years ago after a long illness. Could she still be alive? There, he meets different characters: Maria, a woman with a troubling ressemblance to his wife, a little girl who seems unaware of the dangers of the town, and two other persons who seem to have a lot on their conscience. Over the course of the game, it appears that Silent Hill is some kind of purgatory, who punishes the sinners with an alternate reality based on their guilt. This is somehow consistent with SH1, where the nightmare was created by the tortured mind of the poor Alessa. This explains why all characters seem to evolve in completely different universes: Maria is a creation of the town, the little girl is innocent, so she is not affected by the town’s magic, and the other two are facing their own personal hell, which they won’t survive. The hero is also confronted with monsters who spawn from his own nightmares, such as four-legged mannequins, the nurses from SH1 and the terrible pyramid-head, a gigantic monster with a huge, rusty knife and with a pyramid-shaped iron mask who eats other monsters alive. Over the course of the game, the player will come to realise that it is the hero that killed his wife, although he managed somehow to forget it. He killed her because he couldn’t stand her endless suffering to which there was no cure. But, if the player beats the game right, the hero will understand that he has done what his wife wanted all along and will find redemption. More interestingly, otherwise, he will be treated with a variety of melancholic endings which give the game much of its savor.

So back to the film. It is based on SH1, that is, Silent Hill is tainted by Alessa’s nightmare. Yet, it is haunted by creatures from SH1 and SH2, such as Pyramid Head. Why? The plot has been modified somehow. For instance, the tormenters of Alessa are different – it is some form of cult whose members tried to sacrifice her. At some point, the heroin confronts them and the cult leader in a church. This scene features dialogues which are easily among the 10 worst in over a century of cinema. That’s even more surprising considered that the screenplay has been written by Roger Avary, who has also written for movies with unforgettable lines, such as Reservoir Dogs, True Romance or Pulp Fiction. Also, how the movie ends kind of contradicts SH logic. It’s kind of a clever, but frustrating twist. The movie lasts for approximately 2 hours, which is a long time for a movie but short for a game. It is too short to explain the “mechanics” of Silent Hill to viewers. Note that the game itself doesn’t provide a convincing explanation, and that what players know, they got it from Konami interviews or the like. So I guess that people who are not familiar with the Silent Hill universe will not be able to get into the movie, and that’s really too bad.
All in all, Silent Hill the movie is definitely not as bad as those inspired by, say, Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat, but while it had potential to be one great standalone movie, it falls short of that. Is the game->movie genre jinxed? maybe they’ll try Project Zero next time…

My statistics told me that today, gamethink.net passed the 1,000 visitors threshold. Thanks to everyone who had a look! only 999,000 to go for the million 🙂 !

What do Metal Gear Solid and Super Mario Sunshine have in common? How about WipeOut Fusion and Half-Life 2? Or Street Fighter II and Starcraft? Find out in this article about genre parallelism. Continue Reading »

Last week, after reading favourable reviews, I picked up a copy of Phoenix Wright which was just released in France. I did that out of sheer curiosity: I wanted to see how it worked. And it's quite an understatement to say that I wasn't disappointed.

Continue Reading »

My next series of article on gamethink.net is about defining what's a good game. Actually, this is a double question:

  • what are the relevant criteria that define a good game, and
  • how can they be applied, in other terms, what is important in a game so it can be good. Continue Reading »

I start this article collection at gamethink.net by a series about game history. Why? Because game history contains many examples that can be used in the other articles. Plus, the interesting part about game history is that it is rather neatly separated into meaningful periods. 

The purpose of these articles is not to relate every anecdote in all the hypothetical "garages" that have led to gaming as we know today – there are so many sites that do it much better than I possibly could. Rather, I have tried to discuss the significant changes that have occured over the years decades that have had a direct influence on how games are built and played.

Here are the articles:

Well, I figured that on gamethink.net, I could store my articles, while on this fine blog, I could react about things I read, see, play, or just chat about stuff.

Videogaming is my life.

In 1999, I decided to interrupt an exciting career as IT consultant to enter the hairy world of videogame development. That last for more or less three years. In that time, I always wanted to write, but never could find the time and the angle to say what I wanted to say. It's been a while since I left the industry now and all of a sudden, I felt the urge to write about it again. Hence, gamethink.net. I creted that site to write about game theory, game production, history, you name it. Visit now, visit often!

The good thing about the opening post on a blog is that it doesn't have to be as good as, say, the 1000th, as it will hopefully be burried under hundreds of more interesting tidbits as the blog acquires a life of its own. So all I have to say for the moment is "hello world" and I love you all

Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress.com. This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!