Category Archives: Features

Cahiers du Jeux Vidéo #2: LA Noire and performance

Cahiers du Jeux Vidéo is a series of posts comparing the narrative mechanisms of video games and movies with (hopefully) a bit more depth rigour than your average commentator breathlessly comparing Halo preorders to box office receipts. It’s named after foundational French film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma , because I’m a pretentious prick.

So: the whole conceit of this series is that we’re comparing video games to movies, and one of the key differences we’ve hit upon between the two so far is that playing a game is an “active” engagement with a piece of media, while watching a film is more “passive”; not a value judgement, but an important distinction. There are plenty of 1:1 comparisons between the roles of game development teams and movie crews, however. Environmental artists are not unlike production designers and location scouts. Those who work on character models are like hair and makeup, the costume department and casting directors rolled into one. Each form uses writers, directors, composers, producers, even actors. But the latter’s work appears mainly in cutscenes where the player cedes control of what’s happening on screen — that’s when games are most like movies. The rest of the time, the player has a part in this ecosystem. I put it to you: when you play a game, you are “performing.” You’re the star of this movie!

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Beyond Good and Evil 2 is the cynicism-killer

Coming to video games when I did, in the late nineties/early noughties, there were certain enshrined truths passed down from the mount by journos: Miyamoto was a genius, but Iwata deserves his due; GoldenEye 007 is the multiplayer experience to beat; Suikoden II is a classic, and you need to shell out however much money necessary to play it; Beyond Good and Evil is one of the greatest games ever made, and perhaps as a result of this unlikely achievement, we would never ever get a sequel. These were all things that had been decided long before I arrived, and were simply to be accepted as fact.

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The Persistence of Memory Cards

Memory is fucking weird, man. The other morning I woke up with “Scatman (Ski-Ba-Bop-Ba-Dop-Bop)” in my head, a song I hadn’t listened to willingly in at least a decade, and whose melody and “lyrics” I didn’t realise I had expounded precious grey matter to retain. On the other hand, sometimes I can’t recall the name of a friend I’ve known for the better part of ten years, which is as inexplicable a phenomenon as it is highly embarrassing. As with almost everything that goes on up in our craniums, nobody can quite agree on how memory works, or who we should trust when they start theorising all over the place: psychologists expound on short-term, long-term and context-dependent memory; neuroscientists put people into big machines and look at what parts of the brain “light up” when recalling particular subjects; and writers expect readers to pick up multi-volume reminisces about the first time they ate madeleine dipped in tea or got their end away. Memory in video games is a comparatively simple affair. Everything is remembered for you, whether it’s through a system of passwords or memory cards or auto-saves backed up to the cloud.

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Is it too easy to kill in games?

It’s 10 o’clock on a Saturday night and a man sat on the table next to me in the Manchester Piccadilly Starbucks is shooting people in the face. He’s playing a game on his iPad where you first select from a selection of rifles — hunting, military — and then aim them at medium-poly targets on what looks like an everyday city street. He drags his finger across the touch screen and pinches to zoom his scope at a target. He presses a button and the view switches, the camera follows the journey of the bullet through the air in slow motion. It sails across a road, over the tops of blocky parked cars rendered in simple polygons, and then tears through a man’s cheekbone. His jaw starts to fall off as a low-res cloud of gore blooms. WELL DONE! Says the game. ONE MORE CRIMINAL OFF THE STREETS! And I sip my cold cup of tea and wonder if there’s not something to this reactionary idea of video games deadening us to violence.

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Whatever happened to the Japanese video game rebels?

I don’t know if it’s Trump, the return of Twin Peaks or just the democratisation of cute animal videos thanks to phone cameras and YouTube, but compared to the rest of the world, Japan doesn’t seem so crazy these days. Time was that we in the West were transfixed with whatever the latest insane transmission from the East was: hilariously cruel prank shows, another hyper-violent Takashi Miike film or, for a brief shining period during the early-noughties, a spate of wildly inventive (and invariably quite cheaply made) video games. The likes of God Hand, Katamari Damacy and Earth Defense Force felt of a piece with that reality show competition where tried to cry the most (in volume of tears) within a strict time period, or the career of Beat Takeshi, as viewed through the prism of an entirely different culture on the other side of the world.

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Cahiers du Jeux Vidéo #1: Mafia III and editing

Cahiers du Jeux Vidéo is a series of posts comparing the narrative mechanisms of video games and movies with (hopefully) a bit more depth rigour than your average commentator breathlessly comparing Halo preorders to box office receipts. It’s named after foundational French film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma , because I’m a pretentious prick.

For the most part, TV shows or movies do not show you how the sausage gets made. There isn’t time, unless you’re Alfred Hitchcock, to show your lead character on the loo in a break between plot beats. You don’t need a forty-minute interlude of somebody driving on a freeway to understand how someone got from one location to the next between scenes. The magic of editing allows time to be compressed, the boring bits skipped over, leaving audiences with a lean meal of all the best bits. This is how it’s always worked. We are all on board with it. We understand that most of the “process” of these character’s lives and stories get skipped over. Video games, for the most part, are free of editing. They’re all about playing the process.

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Guest feature: Why Gone Home would make a really boring film

In our first guest feature, Jessy talks about why Gone Home and other story heavy games  like it prove that there are experiences only games can create.

“Game feel” is a term I learnt not long ago but have become attached to when talking about my favourite games. It’s generally used as a term to mean the physical feeling you get when playing a video game. As Brendon Keogh explains in his reader on game feel: “the reason we really play a videogame is because it feels real good within our soft meaty body. Video games are a carnal pleasure”. This physical manifestation of the intangible world of a video game is important to our experience of the stories within them. The medium gives us an extra layer of bodily experience inside of the base textual aspects of any narrative. This marriage of a bodily experience and traditional storytelling is what makes video games a very effective avenue for rich and layered stories to be told in interesting and new ways.

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The Thing on the Landing

As a kid, I was kind of stupid. I was super into the supernatural, an interest that lingers to this day, in a less intense way. My trips to the library were mostly focussed on finding graphic novels that weren’t for adults, and similarly kid-friendly titles about UFOs, ghosts, crop circles, spontaneous combustion. There was a surprising surfeit of compendiums which explained the Roswell crash, or the Enfield Haunting, in child-friendly prose – with plenty of full-colour pictures to boot! I don’t know if it was because of the X-Files, or if there was just something in the air, but the nineties seemed particularly geared towards getting kids into the arcane. Neil Buchanan, of Art Attack and fronting a heavy metal band fame, hosted a CITV show called It’s a Mystery which investigated topics as many and varied as the Loch Ness Monster and people getting trapped in abandoned tube stations. Its creepy, Twilight Zone-biting opening still haunts me.

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Give us a chance to learn

All games need a tutorial in some form, right? Teach the player the ropes, maybe throw in some simple early plot points; generally help the player settle in and ensure they don’t feel totally alienated right from the go. Unless you’re a Souls game I guess, in which case reverse all of the above.

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