Games

“Footsteps in Movies” and Other Strange Notions about the Authenticity of Media

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes (Konami, 2014)

Footsteps in movies never sound real. They shouldn't. after all, they're footsteps in movies.

I said, ”Footsteps in movies.”

“Footsteps.”

“Footsteps in movies never sound real.”

“They're footsteps in movies.”

“You're saying why should they sound real.”

“They're footsteps in movies,” she said.

-- Point Omega (Scribner, 2010)

The preceding conversation from Don Delillo's novel Point Omega occurs between a documentary filmmaker, Jim Finley, and the daughter of a man who is the subject of Finley's latest documentary in progress, a woman named Jessica Elster. It is probably no surprise that a documentarian would raise the issue of how reality may or may not be successfully depicted in film. Representing reality as authentically as possible would seem to be the bread and butter of most documentary filmmakers.

Jessica's response, though, is an interesting one and probably a useful one for the documentarian to consider. Film will always be artificial, always be representational, despite one's intention to be as real or as truthful as possible. Jessica's comment suggests that the medium of film, the world of representation, is a world of its own, a world that has its own ontology. That ontology is probably largely forged around an audience's perception of what is (the film, not their direct experience of what a film might document). In other words, the ontology of film is based on its audience's expectations of what constitutes the reality of film, not what constitutes reality.

One doesn't expect to hear the sound of footsteps in a film, one expects to hear the sound of “footsteps in a movie” in a film.

While certainly video games are an audio-visual medium (so similar expectations about the representation of sounds or images might be expected by gamers in terms of what audio and visual elements should sound like or look like), this notion got me thinking about what might constitute the “footsteps in a movie” in a game as a result of it being a game.

Stealth games, like Thief, the Batman: Arkham series, or Metal Gear Solid have always contained an element to me that never quite seemed real, guard routes. While the AI governing guards patrolling an area has grown more and more sophisticated over the years, still, guard movement always feels programmed (well, because it is). Hence, guard movement never feels real.

In the earliest Metal Gear Solid games, generally speaking guards followed certain simple surveillance patterns (not unlike the movement of an oscillating security camera, which simply swoops back and forth, back and forth over the same area in the same predictable way because its oscillation is timed). A guard might follow a corridor, reach a fork, take a left, stop at the next intersection, turn fully around and follow his route back to his starting point, before, of course, doing it all over again and again and again and always over the same course of time.

“Getting caught” in such a game is making the mistake of simply not timing one's movements properly. The rule for success in such a game is: don't be in that guard's field of vision at the wrong time. The guard moves, again, like a machine, not like a human.

Also, once again, guard movements have gotten better, less seemingly mechanistic over the years by adding different elements into their program, like following multiple programmed routes, stopping briefly for a smoke at some point in their route, or even moving somewhat more randomly as a result of sights or sounds that distract him. However, even the latter type of movement requires that the guard responds in certain scripted ways and returns to his old patrol route in a fairly predictable way (see Batman: Arkham Asylum for some clearly obvious examples of this idea).

Further though, the idea of predictability is actually rather essential to games like Metal Gear or Batman or Assassin's Creed. If guard movement were truly more life-like, more unpredictable, the game would no longer feel like a game because it would lack a means of “playing well” under the circumstances, non-scripted, random guard movements. Stealth games are games that are beatable because they are programmatic, because these games are made “fair” for the player, allowing them a way of predicting outcomes and playing within the boundaries of a situation. If guards moved like real guards, what would suffer as a result is the game as a game because sneaking around would become next to impossible in some situations or extremely dull. You might have to wait in an area for hours at a time before an opportunity arose to move unseen and undetected. In other words, guards in video games should not act like guards in real life. Guards in video games should act like guards in video games, like machines that follow artificial rules.

Indeed, that is what they are. They are not guards. They are guards in video games.

Since rule systems govern games, creating balance and fairness, it is rather essential to the ontology of video games, that representations in video games act like what they are representing -- but in a video game.

Perfect simulations, often feel less like games because they lack our expectations of fairness. Imagine, for example, a game in which one simulated World War II in which each player took on the role of one of the countries dominantly involved in the war, say, the United States, France, Great Britain, Poland, Germany, Italy, Russia, and Japan, and in which those countries military resources were “true to life.” Playing Poland in a perfect simulation would be terrible. It would be unfair. If you want such a game to play like a “proper” game, you need Poland with its more limited resources and military technology to have some perk, some benefits that violate the “reality” of the simulation, that makes it possible to win, putting you on an even ground with the other countries and, thus, the other players.

Why should guard routes feel real? Why should countries represent their actual historical situation?

They shouldn't. After all, they're guard routes in video games, they're Poland in video games.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

Next Page
Related Articles Around the Web
Film

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Noel Fielding (Daniel) and Mercedes Grower (Layla) (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back in time to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

People aren't cheering Supergirl on here. They're not thanking her for her heroism, or even stopping to take a selfie.

It's rare for any hero who isn't Superman to gain the kind of credibility that grants them the implicitly, unflinching trust of the public. In fact, even Superman struggles to maintain that credibility and he's Superman. If the ultimate paragon of heroes struggles with maintaining the trust of the public, then what hope does any hero have?

Keep reading... Show less

The Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop artist MAJO wraps brand new holiday music for us to enjoy in a bow.

It's that time of year yet again, and with Christmastime comes Christmas tunes. Amongst the countless new covers of holiday classics that will be flooding streaming apps throughout the season from some of our favorite artists, it's always especially heartening to see some original writing flowing in. Such is the gift that Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop songwriter MAJO is bringing us this year.

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

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

rating-image