What Disney Animated Classic would make the best game?

I had two options today: I could write something thoughtful, profound and provocative, or I could write about Disney movies. It wasn’t a difficult decision.

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As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m a gamer who’s happy to wait for new games and consoles; very rarely will I pick up a game the moment it is released into the world. The last game that I felt compelled to grab early was GTA V. The next game will most likely be Kingdom Hearts 3. This is due in part to my love for the Classic Disney movies and characters that I grew up watching. I take great delight in fighting alongside the characters I’ve known since childhood. My only concern is that those characters never really get the chance to lead their own games.

If I had three wishes, one wish would be to see more Disney stories turned into games. Whilst I greatly appreciate games that include Disney characters, I’ve always felt that the Animated Classics hold a great deal of untapped potential. I fondly remember platform-style games based on Lion King and Aladdin. Sometimes Disney princesses get a simple, interactive story book of a game that hardly does them justice. I can’t help contemplating what would happen if Classic Disney movies were given the chance to become fully-fledged games amongst the modern competition.

How would Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs translate into a video game? What game genre best suits Beauty and the Beast? Which movie would make the greatest gaming experience? I believe there’s a whole new world of potential in good old Disney stories. Below is what I think some of those games might look like.

Spoiler warning: I will be talking about the endings of three Disney Classics. If you haven’t seen one of these movies, you may want to scroll past that part. Also, we can’t be friends until you have watched them all…

Cinderella: A strategy game

If the Cinderella game appointed Cinders as the main playable character, the results might be less than entertaining. The gameplay would consist of completing all the worst chores in the castle, with the occasional berating from her evil stepmother and step-siblings. But then, the movie was neverjust about Cinderella was it? In my mind, this game would centre on the real heroes of the story: the mice.

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The game itself would play as a top-down view of the castle, allowing you to see into each of the rooms in the style of ‘FTL: Faster Than Light’ or ‘Dungeon Keeper’ (no not that Dungeon Keeper, just the good ones). From your over-seeing perspective you control the actions of Cinderella’s miniature friends. The main objective of the game: to keep dear Cinders happy.

As the step-sisters attempt to demoralise Cinderella with trash-talk and tasks that occupy her time, you move the mice around the castle to help take care of those demands. Feed the chickens, clean the floors, and mend dresses. The better you do: the higher Cinderella’s spirits. You can also use the mice strategically. You might set-up traps or diversions that distract her step family. The further you’re able to keep them away from Cinderella the better. Keep them squabbling amongst themselves. You could also search the dark recesses of the castle for forgotten trinkets and collectibles to give to Cinderella as gifts. Of course, there are risks to watch out for. The mean-old house cat will swipe and any of the mice that he comes across.

Ultimately, if you’re able to keep Cinderella happily whistling while she works, the end game will eventually begin. Once the prince’s Ball has been announced, you and the mice will have a limited time to resource and piece together a worthy gown. Now, you will know full well that this endeavour will fail – the dress will be torn asunder by her jealous siblings – but that’s not the point. The real aim is to do your best for Cinderella.

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This is where the video game can build on the finale of the movie. The transformations that the Fairy Godmother performs are the same each time in the movie (it would be weird if they weren’t) but in the game they could alter depending your performance in the game. The better the original dress, the more impressive the transformed version becomes. The more each mouse achieved during your play through, the more astounding they become as men and horses. Your success is presented in how spectacular Cinderella’s entourage appears. Her success at the Ball depends on your kindness.

Hunchback of Notre Dame: A stealth game

Given the recent trend of games which include audacious parkour as a central gameplay feature, I don’t think it’s too ridiculous to imagine Quasimodo joining the group. When you also add the Bell Ringers desire to stay hidden, you have the basis of quality stealth gaming. Borrowing a little from the repertoire of Assassin’s Creed perhaps, but with evasion and sneaking as an absolute must. Remember when Assassin’s Creed was a stealth game…?

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Quasimodo would stay close to his tower for the opening act/tutorial missions of the game. Then, as his confidence grows, he would stray further from his home, but always aware that he must be back at the tower for when his master visits. This would be the main way in which the game expands on the movie; exploration of old Paris would be a central part of the game. When you explore the city, you might dare to approach the local citizens. As the player, you would have to find the balance between staying hidden and trying to subtly interact with life around you. You might see a robbery and try to catch the thief, or defend a young street urchin from bullies, or simply collect souvenirs for your home in the bell tower, all the while masking your identity from the public by staying one jump ahead.

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Between explorations, the main story would move forward. The Feast of Fools and then helping Esmeralda to escape would both make exciting moments in the game. The only alteration that should be made is the ease in which Quasimodo learns the location of the Court of Miracles. Instead, Esmeralda’s clues in the game could be more cryptic, leading to more exploration of the city to find clues. Furthermore, The Hunchback of Notre Dame finale would make an awesome end game sequence.

Mulan: An action-adventure game

I’m pretty certain I could simply state that ‘Mulan would make a great fighting game’ and leave it at that, doing whatever the blogger equivalent of ‘dropping the mic’ might be. Mulan would make for a superb game protagonist. There are excellent characters and some awesome action sequences. Even the training sequences would make fun levels, or be used as enjoyable, extended tutorial segments. There would need to be more battles – there are two set-pieces in the movie – but then the Disney version is based on the historic ‘legend’ that (don’t worry, you’ve not been tricked into a History lesson) fought for 12 years. It would be reasonable for the game creators to add extra skirmishes before the two ‘main battles’ of the story. This would actually assist the story in a way; we’d get to see a clearer progression from zero to hero.

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This would be a deeper story than the average hack and slash game. The combat aspect of the Mulan game would make up a significant part of the experience. Between battles however, you will be interacting with the other soldiers as you travel to face Shan Yu. This is a challenge in itself. Whilst banter and camaraderie will boost friendships and morale, you are always at risk of being found out. You have to pick the toughest, ‘manliest’ dialogue options at times, in order to keep you true identity a secret. You have to find ways of raising the fighting spirit of the soldiers around you, without them asking why you always sit down to pee…

Further Thought

These are just three examples of Disney games that I feel would make truly great games if given the chance. There are other examples I could give – Snow White as a survival game, Beauty and the Beast as a Tower Defence, Black Cauldron as an RPG – but I won’t belabour the point. Plus you might have ideas of your own you wish to contribute. I’ve also barely touched the surface when it comes to discussing all the reasons why Disney Classes would make great games. The soundtracks for one thing, would be a big selling point; I defy you to find better battle music than “I’ll make a man out of you”.

Your Thoughts?

Do any of these ideas have potential? Can you think of alternative ways these games would play out? What other Disney Classics could translate into video games? Is there any way we can get Kingdom Hearts 3 released faster? I wonder.

Thank you for reading.

If you enjoyed reading my nonsense, you might like to  follow me Twitter to receive updates/warnings about my posts. If you didn’t enjoy reading…well, you did very well to get all the way to the end… well done you!

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Should more games let you choose your gender? Part Two

Last week, I posted an open question about gender in video games. I then proceeded to hide behind the sofa; I’ve been led to believe that the internet becomes a dark and scary place when it comes to this particular topic. When I finally raised my head above my cushion parapet, I began to realise that things are a little calmer than expected…

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Some people agreed with the notion that more games should include gender choice, providing examples of games which do it well. The majority of people disagreed with the notion, but did so in the best possible way. Whilst I am an advocate of gender choice in video games, these comments highlighted the difficulties when trying to implement this feature. Before you read this post, I implore to follow the links below to the previous post:

Rather than dive into the comments as they unfolded, I wanted to wait and see what was discussed. I had originally intended to push this discussion further, by looking at previous games which could have included gender choice. Instead, this ‘Part 2’ will focus on some of the great ideas and counter-arguments that were raised after ‘Part 1’, starting with the very nature of the question itself….

Obligation and Shoe-horning (Shoulda Woulda Coulda)

The phrasing of the above question split opinion. On the one hand, many people argued that games should add gender choice if they can (If it can be added, without detriment to the game, then why not?). Others however, pointed out that saying a game “should” include gender selection is inherently wrong. Game designers must not feel obligated to create a second model for their protagonist is they don’t want to. We shouldn’t feel the need to tell game creators that gender choice “should” be in the games they put together. If they want to add it, well that’s great; lots of readers expressed their love and respect for games that do include the option.

There were other comments that argued that gender choice can feel ‘shoe-horned’ into games; the female version of the protagonist added to pander to a target audience. That’s not difficult point to prove; there are lots of games where gender choice has very little impact, and seems to serve no purpose. It is however difficult to pinpoint which games added a female character because they truly wanted it there, and which games added the option simply as a way to appeal to more players. A game I played recently makes for a good example: Guacemelee!

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This is a game where the protagonist is a muscled, manly man. If you’re playing with a friend, they jump into the fray as a female luchador. The game does (sort-of) allow you to play single player as the female character, but it’s convoluted. As far as I am aware, you only have the choice on the PS3, and even then you are required you to jump through hoops like you are inputting a cheat code. This gender choice definitely feels shoe-horned in.

This is something to consider when criticising games in general for the lack of female characters. Whilst we know that women are under-represented in games, and voice those concerns, we should not expect (or want) game developers to immediately start churning out female protagonists because of growing pressure, or out of a need to pander to audiences. Game developers should ultimately make what they want.

If I had asked, “Could more games let you choose your gender?”, then this would be an easier discussion. Many comments confirmed that when gender choice is implemented, it’s appreciated, and there are other games which could do the same. However, as has quite rightly been pointed out, gender choice should not be included for the sake of it, especially if it impairs the games design, premise or story…

Gender affects the Game (This is a man’s world)

A lot of responses that disagreed with more gender choice did so on the grounds that the gender of the player character is not just important, but integral to the game. Specific character gender is often seen as vital when story is a main part of the game. It’s a very hard argument to counter. I enjoy imagining whether ‘that character could me a man/woman’, but there will always be something in the game that changes as the character’s gender is swapped.

One game heavily criticised for its lack of female characters was GTA V. These criticisms of course referred to the lack of both playable and non playable women. Nevertheless it’s hard to argue that the sex of these three protagonists is unimportant. And not because women ‘don’t fit’ the GTA landscape, or can’t match their villainous male counterparts. (there have been real and dangerous female gangsters since the 1920s.) The GTA V protagonists are arguably male at their core.

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It requires a distinctly high level of testosterone to even begin to explain Trevor’s behaviour; Michaels’ character is highly influenced by his role as father figure within his disreputable, ‘nuclear family’. Franklin, in my opinion, is the character whose gender could be most easily swapped. This is a character defined less by emotions and relationships and more so by their objectives – a young street gangster trying to make more of themselves and impress the veteran criminals. However, the way in which the Female-Franklin would be seen and treated by the other characters would differ greatly. Whilst I personally believe that ‘Frankie’ would have made a very interesting contribution to the story within GTA V, I cannot see how his/her gender could be swapped without altering minor aspects of the game, and I cannot fault the decision to make the other two characters male.

One of the many characters I’ve imagined with swappable gender is Nathan Drake. What would happen to the character, story and gameplay if Nathan Drake could be Natasha Drake? There’s nothing overtly masculine about Nathan and his personality traits, his confidence, quick wit and carefree attitude could all be transferred. Whilst I believe Tomb Raider and Uncharted are very different games, Lara Croft shows us that women are more than capable of the kind of stealth, combat and exploration that Drake goes through. In my mind, the only real issue with Drake’s possible gender swap are his love interests. To allow for a changeable gender means that, like in Mass Effect, the sexual preferences of the players love interest have to be flexible too, if not abandoned entirely. I think Elena Fisher might object…

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There were some comments that pointed out that a small number of games with gender choice do make minor changes to the central story depending on which choice you have made. Whilst I’ve not played these games myself, it’s interesting to see that game creators are aware that gender differences can affect a story and use this as part of the game’s design. This leads on to a practical issue with gender choice that several people raised…

Budget and Time (Hey big spender, spend a little time with me)

This isn’t really something I can comment on personally, but this is something definitely worth discussing. Many comments pointed out that adding gender choice takes a significant toll on the budget and timescale of a project. I’m not a game creator, but I am curious to know how true this is. I can see that, in some cases, another voice may be needed for the script, and a different character model is needed, but how much impact does this have? Furthermore, could you therefore argue that game companies with bigger budgets should be more inclined to offer choice of gender?

Representing gender (That, that dude looks like a lady)

So you’ve decided to add gender choice to your game. Now you need to decide how to show that difference. Whilst in ‘Part 1’ I argued that Mass Effect’s Fem-Shep was equally as awesome her masculine alternative, this was countered with the argument that there isn’t anything inherently ‘female’ about Fem-Shep. Her voice, mannerisms and parlance with other characters matches Male-Shep throughout the game. I have to agree, and also state that Male-Shep never really presents himself as overly masculine either. This isn’t a particularly bad aspect of the series – the characters are meant to be largely neutral avatars – but it does highlight an issue with gender choice. There’s a risk that the two characters you create are male/female in a cosmetic sense only.

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If you decide to make two characters that are different because of gender, you also have to decide how you are going to present that difference. You could go with long standing clichés such as ‘men=blue; women=pink’ or ‘boy=cap; girl=bow’. Not everyone is going to agree that the way you represent the genders is correct. Why can’t my female character have short hair? Why can’t my male character’s armour have a ‘boob-window’? The act of trying to allow greater choice in your game could ultimately reinforce old stereotypes.

The FPS (Do you want to see the world? In a different way, yeah)

Different types of games seem better suited to gender choice. The RPG scene has an over-abundant collection of games which allow you to choose the sex of the character you play as. It was interesting to see people declaring the First Person Shooter as another genre ready for greater gender choice. This makes sense to me: if you’re looking through the eyes a character, which in most cases is entirely silent, why not allow the player to choose the eyes they are looking out of? Of course, this may not have any visual bearing until you go into cooperative/multiplayer mode, but as I said in ‘Part 1’, having the choice on any level should be a positive thing.

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Many shooters feature a protagonist that is a soldier. In these cases, it seems all the easier to employ gender choice, simply because it is not uncommon for first names to be ignored in a military environment. Soldiers are often referred to by their rank and last name only. Why not let the player choose the first name, and the gender that goes with it? If nothing else, why does the FPS need to tell us whether the character is male or female? If it’s a solo-campaign game, then let the player decide for themselves.

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My Conclusions

Should more games let you choose your gender? Well, no game should have to, but it seems more game creators could ask themselves whether the gender choice could be fit into their design. They shouldn’t do this because they feel pressured, or because it’s seen as the ‘right thing to do’, but they should instead add gender choice because it adds something positive to the game. It might improve immersion for certain players, add a new perspective to the game, or even add a new reason for a second play-through.

Is this a solution to the disparity between male and female protagonists? In a small way, I still like to think it is. There are clearly lots of issues and pitfalls for game creators to consider when including gender selection, but I see the simple act of discussing gender in games as a positive thing (as responses to ‘Part 1’ proved). If more games creators explore or debate the options of gender choice, the underlying discussion – “could this character be female?” – might be addressed with greater conviction.

Your Thoughts?

There’s no way I’ve covered everything that was mentioned in the comments. If you feel that something that was raised in ‘Part 1’ should be discussed here, let me know. If you feel you have something new to add, please comment below or on the previous post.

Thank you for reading and commenting.

If you want to contact me. You can find me on Twitter.

Should more games let you choose your gender? Part One

If you’re the kind of person that thinks, “I don’t want to play as a [Male/Female] character” or “There are too many [Female/Male] characters in gaming” or “[Men/Women] are underrepresented in video games”, then you [Madam/Sir], are in the right place.

The discussion of ‘Gender in Video Games’ is a tricky subject. Perspectives can often be so polar, opinions so aggressive and mindsets so entrenched that even parties that might agree with each other take verbal jabs and casts hurtful comments at random. The point I’m making here is that I approach this subject tentatively. To raise the issue of ‘gender in video games’ on the internet seems akin to walking into the lion enclosure… ringing a dinner bell… dressed as a lamb chop… singing ‘Be Our Guest’ from Beauty and the Beast

Why do it then? Why write this post? Well, because I believe I have something positive to say. No criticism, persecution or prejudice. I simply wish to talk about a (possible) solution to a Big Problem in gaming. Oh, and it’s not my idea. It’s not even a new idea. There are quite a few games out there that have already employed this solution.

The Big Problem in this case centres on these points:

  • There is a vast disparity in the number of Male and Female playable characters.
  • A lot of people don’t want to play as women.
  • Developers worry that Female protagonists won’t be well-received.
  • There is a perception that Women don’t play certain games so there really isn’t an issue.
  • Many people just enjoy playing games for what they are.
  • Some people want more female characters; some people don’t.

This is not a Problem that can be solved overnight. However, there are already several games that present an answer to the question of representation in games: the choice of gender. Allowing players to pick the character they want is instantly inclusive, and also highlights the fact that not every game has to decide the sex of the protagonist for you. Furthermore, you don’t have to play as a woman if you don’t want to. A long term hope in this scenario would be that game developers become more confident in creating games with female protagonists.

Should there be more of this? If the gender of the main character is not integral to the game, should the player get to pick male or female?Let’s start with one very obvious, very successful example:

Mass Effect did it.

Despite a slightly ropey finale that left some fans somewhat embittered, the Mass Effect series was good gaming. Player choice was a big part of each game. Your character could be kindly or cruel, fierce or heroic. You could pepper you opponents with bullets or psychically torment them. Whatever your choices, Shepard became a galactic legend by the end of ME3, and at no point did gender have an impact on that legacy. Some minor differences occurred during each game – it affected which characters wanted to see you naked – but Fem-Shep was not held back by her femininity, in any way. Furthermore, if a player didn’t want to be awesome as a female character, they could be an awesome dude instead. The aforementioned Big Problem fades significantly.

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As I’ve said, this is by no means the only game that employs gender selection. In medieval style RPG games with gender choice, I tend to play a man. This is because my History Teacher side reminds me the chivalric code and the realities of the feudal system. In my head, a male knight makes more sense, even if the game is also a fantasy. So in Dark Souls and Oblivion, I choose to play as a man. However, when I started playing Dragon’s Dogma I played as a female character. Why? Because I had just been watching Game of Thrones and I wanted to play as Brienne of Tarth. Why? Because she’s awesome, that’s why.

The fact is, as an individual I have enjoyed games that let me choose. I’m sure there are many of you who feel the same. The fact is that letting players choose their gender might just be the way to start bringing more female protagonists into gaming without angering people who only want to play as men. It won’t completely solve the issue, but it’s a way to head in the right direction.

Boy or Girl?

There are other games that go even simpler. No character creation or character modelling, just a simple question at the beginning of the game: Male or Female?

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I still remember the first time I switched on my Game Boy to play Pokemon Blue. The game soon asked me to name my character and my rival. The names were fairly boring because my younger brother would have told on me if I had gone with my first choices. I then got to pick my first Pokemon, which was Bulbasaur (the right answer, by the way). That was it – decisions made. It made no difference to me that “are you a boy or a girl?” was not a question introduced until Pokemon Crystal.

You might argue that it doesn’t matter if that little set of pixels you control is a boy or a girl. And you’d be right: it doesn’t matter to the game…and that’s the point. Gender selection in Pokemon wasn’t necessary, but it was added nonetheless. The game creators took the time to make the smallest change to their games, and now all the children (and adults of course) that play Pokemon get that choice.  A small gesture, that allows gamers to feel just a little bit more included and respected.

Another series which has implemented gender choice is Halo. Whilst the early multiplayer warriors were all men, Halo: Reach and Halo 4 have allowed players to fully customise male or female Spartan armour. Again, the impact that this has on players who want to ‘be men’ is negligible. For players who want to ‘be women’, it’s at the very least a sign that game developers know they exist. That they have a place in gaming. I found some of the customisations look better on the female Spartans (don’t look at me like that, you know what I mean).

On a slightly tangential note: I’ve often thought that if the original Halo had been made after Mass Effect, then the developers may have been inspired to make Master Chief’s gender changeable. There’s very little in Chief’s character that suggests that he could not be Fem-Chief if the player so wished it.

Which games could let you choose?

It’s an idea… could it work? I personally don’t think it would work with every game; it is often possible to argue that a character’s gender is important. However, I believe there is more room for gender selection – a simple message at the start of the game that asks “would you like to be a boy or a girl?”. To demonstrate this, I intend to write a ‘Part Two’, in which I will talk about the biggest games of the last few years and discuss how they would have coped with the addition of gender selection (including games where the protagonist was female) and whether the ability to choose genders has any impact on the games themselves.

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I could continue writing here, but I wish to pause, even for just a few days. This is because I want any following discussion to go in the right direction. Firstly, I want to hear your views on just the concept of more gender choice in games, before picking out particular examples. Secondly, if I’ve made an error in judgement or said something you disagree with at this stage, then it’s best to deal with that first. Thirdly, you get your chance to share your own experiences with games that have let you pick the character’s gender, or suggest games I should talk about in Part 2.

Your Thoughts?

  • Do you think there should be more games that let you pick your gender?
  • What other examples of games with gender choice have you enjoyed?
  • What games would you add gender selection to, if you could?
  • Or do you disagree with the idea of promoting gender choice in video games?

Why do the silent start speaking in sequels?

I’m sure that if I asked you to name your favourite video game characters, your list would include one or two silent individuals. Many of the most legendary protagonists are taciturn, and are often respected for staying quiet. Unvoiced characters often let their actions (or their games) speak for them.

Whilst many of these voiceless stay hushed, the decision to grant speech has occurred in many game sequels. In the past, this could be attributed to what games were capable of doing – voice acting in video games didn’t develop until the 1980s. Nowadays, this character change needs to be considered carefully. In my opinion, the addition of a character voice can change the very foundations of a game. Occasionally, a franchise will eject its original silent protagonist for a speaking lead, which has a definite impact on how the next game plays out.

Below are a few examples of games that gave their heroes permission to speak. I discuss how I reacted to the change, and the difference that change made.

1. Isaac Clarke from the Dead Space series

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In Dead Space 1, Mr Clarke arrived on the space ship USG Ishimura, to find the crew had been reduced to reanimated corpses suffering with serious finger nail overgrowth and a tendency to hug and kiss a little too enthusiastically. Now, if this was you or I, we might have something to say about the situation…

“Oh my word” we might say. “There are an awful lot of monsters trying to chew my face off. I am slightly perturbed by this predicament, and find this whole scenario quite taxing.” And so on.

Isaac Clarke however relies on a series of grunts and groans to communicate his feelings as he trudges, stomps and blasts his way through his own personal nightmare. At no point did I find Isaac’s silence off putting. On the contrary, in a game where isolation and paranoia factor heavily, the absence of a lead voice added to the atmosphere. Mr Clarke was alone and he knew it.

Then he starts talking in Dead Space 2. I know why they made the decision; I understand that they wanted to flesh out the story and the characters. At the end of the day, it hardly breaks the game. I just didn’t appreciate the change. The inclusion of more speech detracts from the lonely-helpfulness of the original. There were some other people in the first game, which Isaac refused to speak to, but in the second game he jabbers on with anyone who will listen. If he can talk, why did he never call out to his girlfriend in the first game? That was the whole reason he was there.

I also never felt that Isaac needed more character. Dead Space was a game designed to scare the player, to make us feel insecure and lead us to question what was going on around us. We didn’t need to connect with Clarke to play the first game, so why are we being told to make friends with him in the sequel?

2. Jak from the Jak and Daxter series

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Jak and Daxter are a little arrogant. They celebrate the collection of every Power Cell with the bravado of an entire football team. There’s a level of self-assured smugness about Jak too. In the end though, he turns out to be a charming protagonist. In Jak and Daxter: the Precursor Legacy, his physical reactions – eye-rolling, shoulder sagging, head shaking – convey all the audience needs to know about the current situation. With the bubbly Daxter quipping from his shoulder, Jak was never called on to say anything. He didn’t need to; he was the hero and he was going to get things done, high-fiving and fist-bumping all the way.

Then Jak is given a voice. Not just a voice though, he gets an overhaul. Everything from his hairstyle to his underlying personality were remodelled. The sequel itself is leagues apart from the predecessor. The series took a sudden left turn into ‘dark and edgy’ territory, and slung a pile of personal baggage over Jak’s shoulders.

The overhaul is one of the reasons why I personally accepted the ‘Talking Jak’. The transition itself is dealt with pretty well. There’s a defining moment early on the game when Jak begins talking, and it’s instantly used to show that the hero has gone dark and brooding. He never needed to say anything when he was happy saving the day. After two years in prison he’s got issues he needs to resolve. Daxter’s comedy relief is not only welcome, but is now also pretty important in keeping Jak on the right side of the line that separates Good and Evil. The jokes at the expense of Jak’s former silence are a nice touch.

“Maybe this guy’s a mute, like you used to be.”

3. John “Soap” MacTavish from the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series

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The Call of Duty games are full of mutes. From World at War to Black Ops, the world is seen through the eyes of numerous people, and most of them remain hushed. There are (and I’m sure to be chastised for a miss-count) six playable characters in the first Modern Warfare and the majority of your time is spent in the head of John MacTavish. He’s happy to act as trigger finger for the player without making a sound. This lends itself to the ‘every man’ feeling of the First Person Shooter; you’re playing as a character, but it’s really you that’s saving the day.

When Modern Warfare 2 rolled round, “Soap” MacTavish got a voice. The problem is… he’s really weird about it. When he’s a Non-Playable Character fighting alongside you, he’ll chat freely. When you take control of him in the final few missions of the game, he goes quiet again. It could be that MacTavish is conforming; maybe the “CoD characters don’t speak in first-person” is actually a strictly enforced rule. Either that, or when the player ‘pilots’ MacTavish, they’re actually sitting on the part of his brain that controls speech.

4. Claude from the Grand Theft Auto series

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As mentioned, sometimes it’s the game that changes rather than the Player Character. When Claude rolled up in Grand Theft Auto 3, the franchise was greatly advanced. The world was now 3D, the story and characters more fleshed out. The one thing that was yet to change – Claude, like his ancestors, was entirely silent. He would walk up to a payphone or into a cutscene. The mission giver would talk at Claude, congratulate him on the good work he had done so far, and then offer him a new mission. Then Claude would walk off again. Half the time, he wouldn’t even nod or show any sign that he had understood the instructions; he would just leave.

The fact that Claude was mute (he is the one very literal mute on this list) made no difference to the enjoyment of this Grand Theft Auto. In fact, from an immersion/gameplay point of view, it could be argued that his lack of voice made sense. The fact that he never comments on missions or describes how he feels about characters illustrates that Claude is not invested in the story, which (let’s face it) many people wouldn’t be either. It often seems strange in later GTA games that the protagonist will spend two minutes of a cutscene expressing raw, barely-controlled hatred for an antagonist in the game, but between missions the same character can spend their time collecting taxi fares or shooting pigeons. Claude’s lack on investment makes sense inside the GTA sandbox.

Having said that, the Grand Theft Auto games that followed have all been superb. The next instalment, Vice City, still holds the title of ‘favourite GTA game’ in my brain. Whilst the more story-driven approach tends to go against the free-roam nature of the franchise, allowing protagonists like Tommy Vercetti and Niko Bellic to talk has made (at least) one positive change to series: whoever you are playing as…it’s their story now. In GTA 3, you’re completing a random bunch of missions for other people; fixing their problems for them. From Vice City onwards, you were completing missions so that you could succeed; fixing problems so that you rise to the top.

5. Jack from the BioShock series

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This is the most recent transition from silent protagonist in the list. Again, the new, talkative character also came with a bold new direction for the series. Or at the very least, a new altitude (look at how clever and witty I am).

Jack isn’t completely silent in BioShock. He says/thinks an introductory statement, and then shuts up for the duration. Just as Isaac’s silence allows the atmosphere to press in on the player in Dead Space, so too does Jack’s reluctance to speak. Jack is clearly confused by underwater madness of Rapture and it’s equally doolally occupants, and we share in his puzzlement.

Booker DeWitt is Jack’s opposite when it comes to all things oratory. Not only does he spend the length of the game conversing with the ever-enchanting Elizabeth, but he will also comment on pretty much anything remotely interesting. Whilst Jack is determined to sneak and creep around the maze of pressurised tubes of the underwater asylum, DeWitt bounds around Columbia, commenting on the scenery, the enemies he faces, the contents of bins…everything.

Now of course, these are two very different games. Yes, one is in the sky and one is in the sea. The moods and atmospheres are different. The stories too, are contrasting. I believe that the use of speech in BioShock Infinite was necessary for such a dramatic change to work. DeWitt’s relationship with Columbia, Elizabeth and his back story would not carry the same narrative weight without his verbal contributions.

It also goes some way to showing that FPS protagonists can have voices. Although… Infinite does have a few weird moments where DeWitt is talking about things he remembers… but you’re playing as him and only hearing these things for the first time… which means the way you perceive Booker and his surroundings are different to how Booker sees things…which means you’re not seeing the world from his perspective… but you are literally seeing the world through his eyes… now I have a nosebleed.

Your Thoughts?

  • How do you feel about silent characters that gain voices, or the games that abandon the silent character?
  • Do you disagree with my assessment of any of these sequels?
  • What other examples of this transformation are worth mentioning? (I’ve missed a few obvious, big series like Sonic, for example.)

The Search for the ‘Ideal’… Melee Weapon.

You! Yes you! You have a decision to make! Well… that’s not true…you don’t have to. It’s just a bit of fun really. I didn’t mean to put you under that much pressure. I’m sorry I shouted. Let’s start over.

For my first post (which was a whole month ago! How the time flies) I asked a simple question: Which games would benefit from a Zelda Weapon? What was most intriguing was that many of the responses from readers reached a consensus: every game could be improved by the addition of Link’s Hookshot.

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Continue reading “The Search for the ‘Ideal’… Melee Weapon.”

Minecraft & The Roman Empire

I am a history teacher, and I have used Minecraft to teach my students.

When you want to help someone learn, at any age, you start small. You begin with a simple concept, and then you build on it. The better that starting point, the easier it is to add more information. It also helps if that starting point is interesting and relevant to your audience. I’m not the first teacher to realise that Minecraft fits the bill as a starting point for learning. Nevertheless, I’d like to share my experiences with Minecraft as a teaching device.

Education warning: This post contains small amounts of learning.

Continue reading “Minecraft & The Roman Empire”

Weird Theory: Is Kratos really the God of War?

There is no doubt that the God of War series is excellent, most of the time. I wouldn’t try to convince you otherwise. There are, however, a few aspects of each game that don’t add up; details in each episode that don’t quite fit; features of gameplay that don’t belong; strange moments in Kratos’ behaviour…

Individually, these minor issues mean very little, I could brush them aside with comments like “oh, that’s just a small mistake, no harm done”. When brought together and treated collectively, I have gradually begun to realise that these ‘small mistakes’ could be subtle clues to the true story behind the whole series. Clues to the true identity of the main character.

I could keep my ridiculous views to myself, but I’m of the opinion that every theory, no matter how bonkers, should be addressed and discussed. And this theory is truly bonkers. In fact, it’s crazy on more than one level…

THE THEORY:

Short version: ‘Kratos’ is completely insane and he is not the God of War.

Long Version: Kratos is not a Spartan. He is not, and has never been, the God of War. He is not even alive during the time of the Ancient Greeks or Greek Gods. Kratos, whatever his real name is, (probably something similar like ‘Craig’ or ‘Chistopher’) lives somewhere in the modern world, deep within the walls of a psychiatric hospital. The gods, monsters, scenes and violent acts ‘Kratos’ perceives are, in fact, incredibly vivid hallucinations.

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At this point you might be thinking: “Red Head, you could argue that every game is imagined, a dream, or make believe.” That’s true, but in the GoW series, that’s the point. My theory is that Kratos’ insanity is a deliberate part of the game’s design, gameplay and story – I believe that the games’ creators have deliberately placed clues throughout every ‘episode’ to the truth behind the illusions. I expect that in the next few instalments of the God of War series, the real world will begin to seep into the game, cracks will begin to appear, as Kratos’ mind begins to come to terms with the fact that his adventures are all in his head.

Warning: This blog contains itty bitty God of War spoilers.

THE PROOF:

1) ‘Kratos’ doesn’t know his own strength.

I wrote a blog last week about double-jumping, in which I make fun of Kratos. I pointed out how he seems to have trouble lifting himself off the ground, despite being strong enough to boot open giant doors and stamp creatures to death. This isn’t the only irregularity concerning Kratos’ physical power.

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He can murder monsters a hundred times his size with brute force, but opening chests causes him to struggle and strain. At one point in his adventures, we see Kratos forcefully prise a titan’s finger and thumb apart. But not just any titan… a titan strong enough to hold up the earth. Yet time and time again, we watch the God of War whimper and whine as he wrestles with closed gates, straining painfully to lift a few bars of metal. I used to be worried that he might have a hernia.

This discrepancy could just be an oversight in game design. Just maybe though, we should have already realised that Kratos isn’t really using physical strength. Instead, his troubled mind is making up rules as it goes.

2) The guy is always raging.

What did you do when you were last angry? Shout and swear, pace up and down, grumble to yourself? Maybe you played a violent video game? Whatever you did, at some point you would have begun to chill out. It might have taken you a while, and you may have been quickly annoyed by something else, but for a time you were a little calmer.

​Not Kratos…

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No matter who or what he impales, crushes or eviscerates, there isn’t a moment when Kratos shows any sign of calming just a little bit. He actually seems to get progressively angrier. I don’t know about you, but if I literally pulled someone’s head off, there would be a tiny release of some of that built-up rage. I might want to sit down somewhere quiet and think things through… maybe take a walk and reassess…

Kratos doesn’t relax, even for a second, because there is no release. The man behind the scenes is someone most likely sat cross-legged, held fast in a straightjacket, inside a padded room. He can imagine all the terrible things he would do to with beasties, fictional or otherwise, but he’s not actually able to deal with the real problem. Whatever that is…

3) The mythology is all over the place.

Call it what you want: poetic license; a touch of creativity here and there; the writer’s own interpretation of Greek myths. There’s no denying that the GoW series has taken Greek mythology and dropped it in a blender. To me at least, it’s easy to see the events of each game for what they are – visions formed from a mind that has absorbed, enjoyed and even obsessed over Greek myths, but hasn’t fully remembered or understood all of it. The myths are so muddled, so mixed, that it must surely be a deliberate message to the audience.

  • There is only one Minotaur in Greek mythology, and there’s only one Cerberus, yet Kratos sees them everywhere, all around him, wherever he goes.
  • The big, flashy Pandora’s Box in God of War 1 that super-sizes Kratos is… well it’s all wrong. In design, origin and purpose. It wasn’t even a box in the myth – it was a jar.
  • Finally, the mystery ‘patient’ himself has Kratos all wrong. There is an actual Kratos in Greek mythology, and he’s already a God – the God of Strength and Power. The ‘real’ Kratos also had wings… which would sort out that pesky double-jump problem.

4) It’s all a bit convenient.

The only GoW game I haven’t played is Ascension. My main question when I eventually play that game would be: “Is there anyone new left for Kratos to bump into?” Sure, it’s an origin story (sort of), but we always expect to see something new.

By now, the red and grey ball of rage has bounced around every corner of Ancient Greek mythology. Inaccuracies aside, the number of famous people, gods and creatures Kratos has come into contact with is remarkable. I struggle to recall anyone (or anything) that Kratos has not met, murdered or… mounted.

In the first GoW, Kratos was a Spartan leader affiliated with the original war god, Ares. By the end of God of War 2 Kratos is the son of Zeus and is best buds with the Titans. By the end of God or War 3 Kratos has butchered pretty much ever big-league god on Olympus.

​Then there are those moments where you turn the corner to find another random person plucked from Greek mythology, for no apparent reason…

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Kratos: “Oh hey, Perseus, what are you doing here?”

Perseus: “I’m a boss battle!”

Kratos: “Oh… weren’t you the demigod who really killed Medusa and pulled her head off.”

Perseus: “……..I’m a boss battle!”

The reason, of course is simple, it is not enough for the ‘modern day Kratos’ to fantasise about taking on Ares, Zeus and the other gods. In his mind, he is at the centre of all Greek mythology. He is the most important man in the room. He will eventually be the only man in the room, the way he’s murdering his way through the cast list.

5) Read between the lines

​ When you begin to see that these games are little more than the imaginings of a tortured mind, you begin to see the signs. The ‘relationship’ he has with Zeus can be attributed to deep-seated father issues. The way every single person in the game seems to betray him or try to kill him: clear signs of abandonment. The chains that bind his arms reveal his feelings towards the asylum that holds him. I’ve played the demo for Ascension, so I know that Kratos begins his story chained up, before breaking his shackles and setting himself free.

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Plus, think for amount about the sheer amount of breasts in every game…on almost everything. Freud would have a field day.

All of this, in my mind, paints a very clear image of who the ‘true Kratos’ is.

Your thoughts?

Which is more insane: Kratos, or my theory?

Have you seen anything else in the series of games that confirms or counters my ideas?

Are you upset that I have potentially spoilt the end of the God of War story??