Commentary tracks are considered a standard special feature for any DVD, some even offer multiple tracks. For games, this kind of look behind the scenes is still treated as something rare, usually reserved only for “special editions.” Yet, they’re slowly becoming more common, so perhaps it’s time to point out some of the successes and failures, looking at two cases in particular: Alan Wake, and The Secret of Monkey Island 2: Special Edition.
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In the waning months of 2008, I learned that an upcoming patch to PixelJunk Eden would make significant changes to the game’s rules. While it wasn’t exactly a problem of biblical proportions, I did feel a sense of anxiety about how the changes would affect my little digital paradise. I was faced with the options of either forfeiting online features in perpetuity or racing through the gardens before the patch was deployed. Partly out of stubbornness and partly out of principle, I vowed to finish the game in its original form. With only days to spare, I managed to swing, grip, and jump my way to victory.
In addition to giving me an unexpectedly enjoyable meta game to play, the experience awakened me to increasingly common problems that arise when studying games. How do we analyze games that change over time and games that are re-made? Games are subject to ports, re-releases, updates, and patches. What kinds of artistic and interpretive issues are raised by this plasticity?
I’ve been out of touch for a while, stranded in London with the world’s worst internet connection. Please, please, hold back your tears. I managed to survive my ordeal thanks to a seemingly endless battery of amazing sights, wonderful theater, fancy meals, and late night sessions of Civilization V. But now I’m back home and happily reunited with both my couch and my gaming consoles, and I’ve got some catching up to do.
I had a couple days to dip into Enslaved and Comic Jumper and Halo: Reach, but none of them were quite holding my attention the way that I needed. Halo came closest, with its familiar gameplay and exciting action, but I’m playing that online co-op with my brother (We’ve played every Halo game together in co-op. It’s how we show our love), so I can’t dive into it whenever I want. To be honest, I was sort of restlessly flailing around, not quite satisfied.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the cure for my homecoming blues was just around the corner. Tuesday morning, fueled by a morning of coffee-drenched arguments with some nutso’s conspiracy theories about the Bilderberg Group, I marched into Best Buy with a chip on my shoulder and restless trigger fingers. An hour later I was in the Wasteland of the Mojave, searching through ruined buildings for old pilot lights and bottle caps. Fallout: New Vegas, baby. I’m home at last.
Many folks are aware that modern fairy tales are frequently sanitized versions of the original tales that they are based on. Charles Perrault admitted that his version of the story “Little Red Riding Hood” was intended to teach a lesson to children to avoid strangers, especially young women who might be overcome by a predatory male. Thus, Red Riding Hood is devoured at the close of his tale as a brutal illustration of the lesson to be learned.
The Perrault version is especially disturbing because of its commitment to the potential for the instructional quality of story, as it is a fairy tale willing to not merely put a child at peril but to see consequences for foolishness on the part of the young to a very terrifying and very terminal conclusion. Even the Brothers Grimm, also not ones to normally shy away from violence in their tales, were unwilling to see their revision of the tale through to this conclusion. They found a way for a child to ultimately escape despite the errors of her ways.
Most modern versions of fairy tales also revise the more “questionable” elements of such stories, but David Bae and Nathan Ratcliffe’s Gretel and Hansel series returns to the uglier truths of a violent world that is unforgiving of the inexperienced and immature. Interestingly, the reversal of the protagonist’s names in the title, which signals the developers’ decision to make Gretel the clearly dominant hero in the story, seems to especially beg comparison to Perrault’s type of tale. It is the female character that is most at risk throughout the games, since that is the character that the player largely controls, making one wonder if there is a similar lesson intended, something about the fragility of children with younger women being made especially vulnerable here.
For a franchise like Dead Space, multiplayer is the logical “next step”.
Dead Space was a beautifully realized game, a legitimately frightening over-the-shoulder shooter whose technique of punctuating long stretches of quiet with jump scares and panic inducing swarms made for a genuinely satisfying gaming experience. The lack of multiplayer, while notable, didn’t seem like an omission so much as it did a stylistic decision; the difficulty of putting a believable excuse for multiplayer in a game so focused on isolation was immediately evident. Dead Space forced us to play single-player, and many of us loved it anyway.
As such, it’s a little surprising to see multiplayer introduced in its sequel. Without really knowing much about the storyline of Dead Space 2 (given that it won’t be released until January at the earliest), all we have is the first game to go on as a basis for the multiplayer, and the inclination is to think that the focus of the game will have to significantly shift in order to accommodate a multiplayer mode. It doesn’t make sense, given the context, so the context needs to change.