Goodbye, You Will Be Missed

Goodbye from Team Senseless Violence. This Centreterm has been truly my favorite time at Centre so far. This Course helped me look at one of my favorite hobbies, video games, in a new light. I have a renewed appreciation for history as well. I will always remember this class as one of my favorites. Team Senseless Violence wishes everyone a safe and video game filled break.

All the best,

Your Mario Kart Champion, Leland

Challenges at the End of the Road

As our time in this class draws to an end, tensions rise as we draw nearer to our group presentation. Questions such as “What do we do?””What do we talk about?””Why are you like this?” start to pop up amidst us, but these are just the trials and tribulations that we must face as a group, as all groups must face at some point when the rubber meets the road. Dealing with work alone is fairly simple, but having to coordinate a group of individual’s work into a coherent whole is like herding slightly uncooperative kittens. But alas! At the time of writing this, with all of my group members within arm’s length, I realize that we are closer than I thought to an amazing final day of class, and an amazing group presentation. Furthermore, our portfolio is turning out to be a quality work of historical research and video game influences. I can safely say that this Centre Term has been both fun and engaging mentally.

 

A Shakespearean Influence

As mentioned in previously posts, we wanted to portray senseless violence throughout our game. At the same time, we needed a connection between the two characters and a rationale for the violence. Enter a love triangle. We wanted to incorporate the dancer, Rebecca, into the story through dialogue, because we were unable to make her one of the playable characters in the game.

We developed a love triangle between Sheriff Jameson, Rebecca, and Billy the Kid. We wanted Billy and Rebecca’s relationship to be Jameson’s motivation for his violence. Jameson is in love with Rebecca and she was in love with him at one point in time. However, she is no longer in longer in love with him because he was too clingy. Rebecca felt an instant connection to Billy the Kid, despite his reputation, after meeting him at the saloon.

This relationship represents a Shakespearean tragedy. The characters each have their own desire. Rebecca wants Billy to make it out of town safely. Jameson wants Rebecca back and Billy dead. Billy wants to escape with his head. However, in the end, none of the characters’ desires were fulfilled. All of the characters’ stories end in tragedy, as if Shakespeare himself wrote it. In one of options for the final scene, Billy and Jameson are set to duel after Jameson walked in on Rebecca and Billy. Billy shoots Jameson first but Jameson persists and fires a deadly shot into Billy the Kid. The town surrounds Jameson with cheers as he takes his final breaths. In the end Jameson did not win over Rebecca and Billy did not make a great escape. Each characters’ fate ends in tragedy. 

The idea of adding a Shakespeare style romance to the game was not our original intent. We wanted to focus solely on violence. However, the romance aspect allowed us to implement more drama which in turn led to more senseless violence.

Team Senseless Violence

As we finish our last full week of Centreterm, I pause to reflect on how great it was working with this group of students. Prior to this project, I have had mixed feelings about group projects. Most good, but a few bad reservations. Working with this group was a great experience that I will cherish for my duration at Centre. On the first day of meeting with our group, we were struggling to find commonalities. One thing we had in common was that we like video games. We even didn’t share any favorite video games. This is what made the chemistry of Team Senseless Violence so good. Every member in Team Senseless Violence had a different specialty. Due to our diverse backgrounds and our different likes, we were able to be a multifaceted and dynamic group. On the second day of class, we added Mackenzie to Team Senseless Violence. She helped to further diversify the group, and support our team-like mentality.

At the beginning of the term, it felt like we discussed every group of people to do for our project. We discussed everything from the ancient Greeks to the Cold War Americans. It was only a few days into research when we decided to do a project on the ‘Wild West.’ Retrospectively this was the best possible option for the group. We were able to brainstorm for a day or two before we made any major decisions. Our first major decision for the video game was to make one of our main characters the notorious Billy the Kid. We thought that this would help us best convey a historical video game, because there were so many primary and secondary sources on Billy the Kid. After we decided on Billy the Kid, we believed that it would be interesting to entertain the possibility of more than one main character. This led us to discussions about how it could help us to portray a more comprehensive landscape of the ‘Wild West.’

After we were married to the idea of having multiple characters, we decided to include two more characters in addition to Billy the Kid. To create a deeper plot, we decided to add a lawman. This lawman is a manifestation of secondary sources on Pat Garrett. We wanted to take a few artistic liberties with the creation of Pat Garrett, so we decided to rename him Jameson. Throughout our video game, we portray actual stories about both Garett and Billy the Kid. These stories are from primary sources like wanted posters, but mostly from secondary sources. Our final character is the glue for our story. We decided to make the last character a saloon ‘dance worker.’ This character is completely fabricated.She was a creation of our group. We tried to use different stories about dance workers in the ‘Wild West’ to influence her. Once we decided to use these three characters, the rest was easy.

The most difficult part of the project, so far, has been deciding our characters and our setting. Once we decided those parts of the video game, the dialogue was easy to write. Mackenzie and I focused on the writing aspect of the project. We would bounce ideas off one another and writing for these characters became effortless, it never felt like homework to me. We could sit down and type dialogue for hours and it would feel like minutes. Tori is currently implementing our dialogue into the video game, with some help from Evan when needed. Evan and Clay focused on primary and secondary sources for the game.

Team Senseless Violence was able to come together with the shared goal of creating a fun, historically accurate video game. It was a pleasure working with these great men and women, and I will truly miss the camaraderie our group shared.

All the best,

Z. Leland Gray

In Defense of the Big Empty: Using the Great Plains as a Setting

The middle of America was once a highly romanticised and mystical area. As pioneers pushed through the Louisiana Purchase territory and carved states out of vast stretches of land; the legend of the west began. However, as the push to the west came to its conclusion and air travel became more popular these territories that once were on the spear tip of American society became ‘fly-over states.” Texas, Wyoming, New Mexico, and places of the like simply became swathes of land that folks could see out their windows while flying from some important east coast city to an important west coast city. The myth was debunked, the west no longer as wild and tame. Native Americans are no longer feared and wild warriors, they are a people trying to survive years of poverty and systematic neglect. The white Americans that live there are not seen as the honorable lawmen or dastardly bandits of the middle-1800s but as a conservative and simple folk that could not assimilate to urban life. The mythical west was all but forgotten, which is an incredible shame; especially in the video game medium.

For all the storied aspects of the west that have faded with time many still persevere. The western states are still as beautiful as ever. Video games have the unique ability to both show a beautiful place and have the player then interact with that landscape. ‘Walking simulator’ understand this part of the medium as they both present a setting and allow the player to explore it without relying too heavily on scripting or set-pieces. One of my group members mentioned Firewatch in a previous blog-post which is a perfect example of this. It allows the players to just sit and bask in the beauty of the setting, the action isn’t hurried along to the next platform or shooting gallery. Movies are able to do this with long, sweeping helicopter shots which remove the viewer from the action. Video games usually do not have the luxury of removing players from the action since it can create pacing and immersion issues. Therefore, settings tend to be in places where more people, places, and actions are happening at once. Grand Theft Auto is a beloved franchise because of how full the sandbox is. Creating chaos in urban landscapes is easy, not so much in big open plains. Creating sandboxes in the great plains area then has to become highly intentional and more involved. This is an argument I can sympathize with, screenshot hunting is only fun for so long and the game has to have a character outside of that. That is where the nature of the people who call this place their home pick up the slack.

In The Long Dark, a survival game you play as a normal human being whose will to survive is about to be put to the ultimate test. Whereas this game is set in the Yukon it could very easily be Wyoming or the Dakotas if wildlife and hypothermia are the main antagonists. The game captures the character of living out in an area like that; where toughness and fortitude are necessary to live. What games miss by not using a great plains sandbox is the fact that life in that part of the country is not guaranteed. Rural Washington does not have hot dog salesmen on every corner waiting to sell you health packs; In Texas, you don’t just have to contend with the police force when committing a crime, but with many of the town folks as well. We often times believe that the people of the wild west were hearty, but the people living there now are direct descendants and have been raised with many of the same virtues of self-reliance. These communities are close-knit and the people in them are, for better or worse, aware of what their neighbors are going through. It would be interesting for a game to explore town dynamics in one of these areas. Instead, it is much easier to rest on our laurels and make something more tried and true.

Our group is making a game on the wild west. People want to hear stories about banditos and gunslingers and that is more than fine. However, I think that there is a severe lack of service given to the great plains area of our country. It has all of the makings of a compelling story: conflict, both internal and external, survival, and almost tribal togetherness. It also has a gorgeous setting that has the ability to stop a player in their tracks. It would require going all in though. To capture the essence a developer would have to embrace the things that may seem boring. Only dealing with a couple of characters, a sandbox without filler, a soundtrack that revels in the solitude of the plains. Players may find it boring, but if done correctly could be something that throws a wrench in gaming conventions and returns attention to the ‘fly-over states.’

Grand Theft Palomino

To make a video game set in the wild west without talking about Rockstar Games’s 2010 title Red Dead Redemption would be folly. For those who don’t know, Red Dead is by the company behind Grand Theft Auto, and Bully. So as you can imagine, it shares some similarities. I like to compare Red Dead to Grand Theft Auto 4, but without the crude humour, or… automobiles. Of course, being set in the wild west, there was a dearth of modern amenities, though some do show up later in the game. Set in 1911, the game manages to balance the old west and the new, modernizing west. At one point you travel to the fairly large town Blackwater witch has paved streets, and are given a Colt M1911. Not exactly the picture of the wild west. Other than that, most of the game takes place in a more classical setting; dusty saloons and arid deserts.

When thinking of how to incorporate scenery into a game that relies on text to tell a story, Red Dead becomes very useful. It is one thing to look at old pictures from the wild west, but it is another to actually experience it, or at least what the developers had in mind for the wild west. Iconic scenes from Red Dead, such as entering Mexico for the first time as “Far Away” by José Gonzaléz plays in the background, or the final standoff of the game are unforgettable; and subconsciously, it is difficult to imagine a wild west that isn’t influenced by such scenes. I only hope that our game will have even a modicum of the emotional impact of Red Dead Redemption. 

Team Senseless Hunger

It’s here. That point where it seems like it should be finals week but it isn’t, because this is Centre Term, but everything is finally coming together and group meetings are getting a little more silly.

Our group met for quite a while today! We managed to lay down quite a bit of story in the time we had, too! Everyone got their first peek at what Twine could be and what we’ve made of it so far, and we’re very excited. It surprised me to see that Twine has quite a lot of flexibility that I’ve never seen implemented in the Twine games I’ve played in the past, so that was really awesome to discover. We added several new things to our story that we hadn’t originally planned to add as we were discussing plot, and playing around with Twine as a group was really fun. Branching paths gives us the ability to add humor or side encounters where we hadn’t expected to have them before.

Once the clock hit 6, our progress started faltering. No matter what part of the story we tried to work on, it lead back to food. Stomachs were growling. Patience was failing. Leland, dedicated to our task, proudly paved the way through a particular scene where our current hero was starving. While he was writing the script, we watched as he struggled on the google doc:

“Billy has no money in his pocket, and no food in his snack.”

no food in his snack”

After several tries and fits of laughter, he pulled through. Shortly after, we called it a day and split up for some grub. Today was fun and  productive!

Historical Accuracy

As we look for sources on Billy the Kid, we found many primary sources on his life. Most of the sources on Billy the Kid are found in the newspaper, one exception is the book written about him by the man that killed him. Although some historians said there were some minor discrepancies in Garret’s book.

We noticed some differences in the primary sources, especially in the number of people Billy killed. One of the newspaper said he killed nineteen people, another said twenty-one people, and another said he killed eight people. What does a video game producer, who wants to be historically accurate, do when the research is conflicting?

The same can be said for the video game producers that want to do a historically accurate video game on other events that weren’t recorded well. For instance, like we talked about in class, during the French Revolution, only the elites were written about and wrote in their journals. The lower class did not keep a record of what was going on. This causes limitations for video game producers who would want to produce a video game that was historically accurate about the lower class pre-French Revolution.

I think the reason a lot of video games focus on the world wars is because there are a lot of primary and secondary sources on the wars. This gives the producer the tools to make the game historically accurate or lack accuracy depending on their objective for the game. However, I think producers are trying to diversify games with the inclusion of less documented history and alternate history.

Historical Accuracy of Call of Duty World War II

For the past week and a half, I have been thinking about the historical validity of various video games. Mainly Call of Duty World at War. I have played this game for a few hours and have actively thought about many historical aspects of the game. I have also looked at the portrayal of the Nazis. Juxtaposing online multiplayer and campaign, it is instantly apparent that campaign is more historically realistic than online multiplayer. Although the campaign is more accurate than multiplayer, it is still historically inaccurate. Both game modes over glorify war by making fighting into a competition. For the most part, a player’s score is based on how many kills a player gets. I have noticed that the two game modes diverge from reality on many occasions, most notably with customization. In online, the main way to show ones skill is through gun camouflage. This is not historically accurate. One of the most prestigious camouflages in the game is solid gold. Preliminary research into whether or not soldiers used vibrant camouflages on their guns show it did not happen. The historical accuracy of online multiplayer is so limited, a review pointing out all of the flaws would be too long for a blog post. Therefore, I will focus mostly on the campaign. The campaign is thoroughly enjoyable and very marketable as well. War is over-glorified in campaign mode, which likely one of the reasons the game is enjoyable. The game wouldn’t have been as fun if it was less action packed, which makes the over-glorification of the game understandable for marketing purposes. Another inaccuracy of the game is the type of weapons used. On campaign, many German soldiers used Russian weapons, which is historically inaccurate. One common occurrence is on the Western Front, many German soldiers used the PPSh-41. The PPSh-41 is a Russian weapon and was never used by the German forces. There also weren’t any swastikas on German soldiers’ fatigues. The use of swastikas was blocked in the United States, Canada, and in Germany. This is interesting because many other countries heavily affected by Nazi influence have the swastika in the game. The swastika is still very taboo throughout the world, but is still especially stigmatized by the Germans and the North Americans.

I asked one of my friends about his thoughts regarding the historical accuracy of the game. He said, “I have never really thought about it, I just like the combat and first person shooter aspects of the game.” He went on to agree that the game is over-dramatized and over-glorified.

I believe that it is interesting to think about the historical significance of games, rather than mindlessly running around shooting people.

Group update: Team Senseless violence is making rapid progress. We have begun to write dialogue and are edging closer to the use of twine. Hard work and camaraderie have been good catalysts for Team Senseless Violence.

All the best,

Leland Gray

DOOM: Ripping and Tearing Genre Conventions

In 2016 the first person shooter genre was flagging greatly. The genre was stilted with multiplayer-focused titles that ranged anywhere from arcade to incredibly realistic. Gone were the days of the sitting down and playing a shooter alone just to blow off some steam. The single-player aspect of games also became stilted in lore. Cutscenes that lasted as long as the gameplay were no longer exception but the norm. Developers wanted so desperately to tell a story with a moral that would inspire or move a player they forgot the core aspect of gaming, its supposed to be fun. Regardless of Ian Bogost’s criticism, there is a place for “Big Fucking Guns” in video games and it took the game that made the BFG-9000 a cultural cornerstone remind gamers of that.

At its heart, Doom is a pure gameplay experience. The first level sees the Doom Marine retrieve the famous armor and receive a goal for the next fifteen minutes of gameplay. After receiving the goal a character begins to monologue; in any other game this would have played out for minutes. Not in Doom. The Doom Marine picks up the radio and throws it across the room. In the first two minutes, Doom has established the pace that the player can expect from the game. No cutscenes, minimal tutorial, and no moral dilemmas. Literally, all hell has broken loose and it is up to the player to shred through hordes of demons to complete the game. This was all that was needed to be conveyed and that was all that was conveyed. In world stilted with grey areas, Doom allowed a player the solace of a black and white narrative; you were good and the demons were evil. A player who is truly interested in the game world and backstory can pick up audio logs and fill the codex to fill holes in the story. Meanwhile, a player who just wants to rush from kill room to kill room with the Super Shotgun (like I did) receive a bare minimum story to keep the objectives straight. In a time where the stories of games would hold your hand all the way through, Doom took the story and chucked it into the boot and drove off down the highway. Doom’s minimalist story might have been a bit sparse if it was not complemented by gameplay that took a chainsaw to the timely conventions of the genre.

In 2016 most shooters relied heavily on cover, regenerating health, realistic movement speed, and high damage weapons. Save the high damage weapons, Doom does not follow these conventions at all. Doom is a hardcore, violent, and aggressive game and the gameplay reflects that flawlessly. The Doom Marine carries all of the weapons in the game as they become available, runs at full speed at all times, and double jumps over most obstacles. Health is done with a bar, and just as easily as it can be depleted by the numerous enemies the player will be facing at once it can be refilled just as easily. The ‘Glory Kill’ system was the mechanic that made Doom work. By getting an enemy to low health the Doom Marine could finish them off with a brutal hand-to-hand kill that dropped health like a pinata. The lower the health these ‘Glory Kills’ were performed at the more health would be granted to the player. The infamous ‘chainsaw’ worked the same way. Granting a one hit kill and a treasure trove of ammunition in exchange for relatively scarce gasoline. These mechanics made it so the action was always moving forward. In many games with health bars, the player has to stop and backtrack for health and ammo. Doom is about movement, forwards and sideways, but almost never back. One of the gameplay tips on the loading screens is “Hell devours the indolent” and it could not be truer. Playing Doom like you would play a conventional shooter, especially on the higher difficulties, will see you waiting around to die more times than not.

I would be remissed if I did not give kudos to Mick Gordon’s incredible soundtrack for this game. In a gaming culture where game scores are either orchestral or techno, Doom turns the Djent metal up to eleven and keeps it there. It was a bit of risk on the developers part to use music like this. Metal is a niche genre and most people simply do not enjoy the constant auditory bombardment that it offers. However, Doom uses it right, it compliments the gameplay loop so well and really urges the player on the really tough fights. Plus it is simple euphoric when you finish off an enemy and the blasting guitar riffs fade into a more ambient synth. The game uses its soundtrack to let the player know when they have a break and when its time to rip & tear. Atmosphere is obviously created in other games through this method but Doom sets itself apart by using a genre of music that most developers would touch with a ten-foot pole.

When Doom was announced the E3 demo looked like more of the same. It moved slowly, the soundtrack was synthy and safe, and its atmosphere was simply weak. People feared that Doom, the powerhouse over-the-top shooter that changed gaming many years before, had fallen into the same trap that many great franchises had fallen into by 2016. What was eventually released was so far from conventional that a ‘low-brow’, loud, gore-fest became a Game of the Year candidate for many in the community. Doom is not a game that can be accessed by everyone, but any fan of the shooter genre should give it a shot just to see how good the genre can be once the fat is cut. Some may decry the ‘childish power fantasy’ of Doom but if not in Doom, the series which created many of these discourses in the first place, then where? It should not be shameful to enjoy the catharsis of Doom and games like it. The world is stilted in uncertainty and unsolvable problems; Doom allows its player to turn off the lights, pump up their headphones, and solve problems two barrels at a time.