Scary Transmedia Synergy Within the 'Gears of War' Universe

Perhaps in this age of serialized television, franchise-driven films, and transmedia everything, the very idea of a stand-alone product is antiquated.

Last week I wrote about the differences between the Gears of War games and the books. The latter succeed with characterization because we’re allowed inside the characters’ heads. In the games, we only see their tough, impersonal personas, which makes it hard to care about them.

But this is not to say that the books are above any criticism. In fact, they’re missing a very important element of the Gears universe: action (something which the games happen to excel at). The fact that both pieces of media complement each other so well makes me wonder if this is just a coincidence or some kind of expertly planned transmedia formula.

Karen Travis, the author of the books, is more interested in what a character is thinking during a fight than the fight itself. And since we’re reading about the fight from such a limited perspective, it’s hard to follow what’s going on. Even when she does go into detail about firing formations and such, it’s only very basic descriptions. She doesn’t set the scene or describe the landscape in any detail, so it’s hard to picture the layout of a battle. During a major battle against exploding enemies on an oil rig, she writes about the characters running along catwalks and climbing ladders, but as I read it, I realize that I don’t want to read about this battle. I want to play it.

Imagine: you have to constantly be aware of your surroundings because killing a baddie might ignite the flammable vapor on the rig, the environment is always changing as catwalks collapse around you, and the designers could easily funnel you towards specific blown out walls that give a great view of the chaos. It could be a fantastic set piece, but unfortunately it only exists on paper, which is not the best medium for action. All action feels more immediate in a game or movie than in a book. Writing out a sequence of events naturally slows the pace.

So the games are good with action but not with characterization, and the books are good with characterization but not with action. Together they supplement each other quite well, but separately they leave much to be desired. On one hand this seems like an effective tactic when handling a transmedia property, since it allows each product to embrace its given medium while encouraging consumers to buy more stuff. On the other hand, since no one product can stand on its own if you only consume one, then you’re willingly or unknowingly missing out on other important aspects of the universe. I’m left unsure whether to compliment the Epic team or admonish them.

Assassin’s Creed has rather infamously spread itself over as many mediums as possible. There’s a live-action short movie, a comic, and multiple animated shorts -- all stand-alone products. However, none of these products take advantage of their particular mediums. The movie doesn’t do anything that the games don’t already do. In fact, it tries very hard to be as similar to the games as possible. And none of these explore the central mystery of the series concerning Those-Who-Came-Before and the Pieces of Eden. Unless you’re a major fan, there’s very little reason -- if any at all -- to hunt down these extra stories.

After all, when a product is properly stand-alone -- when it does everything right -- there’s no need for me to buy the expanded fiction. Even though I adore the Mass Effect games, I have no desire to chase down the novels or comics because the games already excel at world-building and character development. This makes the games better products, but it also costs BioWare money since I’m only purchasing one kind of media.

Dead Space has expanded with mixed results. Its two movies and one of the comics have not expanded the universe in any significant way or done anything unique with their respective mediums. The first comic takes advantage of the fact that (unlike the game) it doesn’t have to look realistic at all: The characters are appropriately stylized, and the color palate is appropriately bleak. The doomed colony looks oppressive even before any monsters show up. The book Martyr also seems like it will significantly expand on the mythology since it’s about the creation of the Unitologist cult. But again, this is a novel taking up the slack of world-building when the games utterly fail to do so. But this also makes it more worth reading.

Perhaps in this age of serialized television, franchise-driven films, and transmedia everything, the very idea of a stand-alone product is antiquated.

At what point will a publisher’s business acumen take over and a game’s fiction will be purposely split across mediums to the point where no single product has a definite end? Instead, everything ends in a cliffhanger, to be continued in the upcoming comic/novel/movie/series/facebook game.

At least Epic seems to disagree. The fact that they hired Karen Travis to write the game suggests that they want to add some proper characterization to their game. And Gears 3 does include some genuinely affecting moments, so it’s more of a complete package than the previous games. Maybe it really is just a coincidence that the books and games supplement each other so perfectly. As for the Gears comics, I haven’t read them yet. It makes me wonder what else I might be missing.


You can follow the Moving Pixels blog on Twitter.

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.