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    PlanetQuake | Features | Articles | Classic PQ | Waiting For Casablanca
    Waiting For Casablanca By loonyboi

I would first like to point out that this is simply my opinion, and is not intended to represent anyone else's views here on PlanetQuake. This is an issue worth discussing openly, and this is simply my attempt to shed some light on an often overlooked aspect of gaming.

An Editorial by - Jason "loonyboi" Bergman

A recent survey on The Site asked the question, "are videogames art?" While most people seemed to answer, that in fact they are (and I agree, to an extent) many did not.

A more appropriate question may have been, "are videogames masterpieces?" To which I would have responded for the most part, no.

The Webster Dictionary defines a masterpiece as "a work done with extrordinary skill". A definition this pigeon-holed certainly applies to a work such as Quake, but at the same time it is a bit vague. Personally, I define a masterpiece as a work that brings together the different advantages of the medium in question and produces a work of unparalelled quality.

This, Quake is not. In fact, no videogame in recent years fits this discription.

I love Quake, don't get me wrong. And I love videogames in general. However, I can't help but think that there is so much untouched territory in the medium.

Lets begin by looking at the inherant qualities of a videogame. A videogame is, by its very design, a unique way to involve a person into its story. When playing a game, the user becomes a character. In the early days of gaming, this was realized, and games were tailored to take advantage of this. While technologically minimal, the text based games from Infocom presented a more immersive, and wholy satisfying experience than 95% of today's games.

Ask yourself this: when was the last time you felt an emotion other than anger or frustration in a videogame? Games like The Lurking Horror and Suspended, presented a world that was truly terrifying. What always amazed me about the glory days of Infocom, was the sheer and utter originality behind them.

Take this summary of Suspended's plot:

You are the Central Mentality on an advanced semi-automated planet. You were supposed to sleep -- in limited cryogenic suspension -- for the next 500 years, 20 miles beneath the surface of the planet, while the great Filtering Computers maintained all surface systems. But the computers have taken you out of suspension because something is terribly wrong: the weather has become brutal, food production is dangerously low, and the Transportation System is malfunctioning, causing unprecedented accidents and casualties. The planet is in chaos. You yourself cannot move. But you have six robots at your disposal, and you must manipulate them strategically to bring the Filtering Computers back into balance. Each robot has a distinct perception of the world and offers you specific abilities -- one offers you sight, a second hearing, a third access to information in the computer memory. Through the robots, you must save the planet from destruction.

Suspended was released in March of 1983. More than fourteen years later, videogames have yet to reach this level of immersion again.

I don't mean to insult the videogame industry as a whole. Again, I love games. But in recent times, the industry has become stagnant. In the persuit of "the next big thing" the industry has missed its greatest asset: its sense of meaning.

Games exist to entertain, yes. And if that's all you're looking for than any number of games will satisfy you. One might argue that games are analogous to film, another medium which has been plagued by stagnation. But in film, there are at least people who strive to create original, and genuine works of art; movies that do more than simply entertain.

Where are our Kubricks? Our Woody Allens? Today's gaming industry is driven by technology, or more specifically, mispent good intentions.

The underlying technology for truly great masterpieces of art has existed in the videogame industry for ages now. It's time to see some real meaning.

Flipping through a gaming magazine, you're likely to stumble upon one company or another, saying that their upcoming game features, "a storyline that is truly compelling" or "technology that will blow you away".

At the risk of alienating myself, bullshit.

Look at the companies that claim to be presenting "original, compelling storylines". These so called "stories" wouldn't make it past round one in Hollywood for God's sake. I have sat back and watched as id squabbled with Epic Megagames over the originality of featuring a woman, or a bald man as their lead character. Reading this, I had visions of hungry dogs, fighting over the scraps left to them by their masters.

Let's face it. Technology is only as good as the game behind it. In the end, does anyone really care about colored lighting? I certainly don't. Sure it's pretty, but come on. What point does it serve? Where is the promised immersion? A game can be more pretty than its predecessor and still suck.

But why is it that games aren't featuring more stories? Well, because frankly, you simply can't make a living off of it. Quake, a game we all know and love, has no story. I love Quake, but it's the truth. Quake made money. Lots of money. Who in their right mind is going to take the time to expand on that?

Well, one could argue id is, and that Quake 2 will actually feature a story. I love Quake, and i'm sure to buy Quake 2, but let's face it. No matter how good Quake 2 is, it sure as hell won't have a truly compelling storyline. Good enough to keep my interest? Sure. But I won't be moved by it. I won't feel any emotion for the characters.

This isn't id's fault of course. They're designers. Not writers. id is based on technology, so I'll forgive them. But other companies who claim to be working on games that differ need to stop lying to their customers. It doesn't benefit any of us to pick up yet another action game promising a great story only to find a shoestring plot, references to bad action movies, and no memorable story.

There are games I consider masterpieces. The early Infocom text games were beyond a shadow of a doubt masterpieces (hell, the recently released Infocom collection was titled "Masterpieces of Infocom" and rightly so). These are immortal games, games that I still play more than 10 years after I first discovered them. Quite suprisingly, I'm not alone in this, either. Sites like XYZZ strive to perserve both the classic text games, and help in the creation of new ones. Today, all it takes to make your own text game is a mild knowledge of the Inform programming language, and a narrative. Literally hundreds of great text adventures are availible on the web for every imaginable system, from Amiga, to UNIX. Infocom even gives Zork away for free now.

Quake as a single player experience is an ultimately empty exercise. There are levels I consider to be excellent, but they don't move me. They don't excite me. A well designed level can only do so much for a game.

But what about multiplayer games? Multiplayer games are great. I love them, really. Multiplayer games have evolved a great deal over time, and are starting to stand on their own. A major split is coming between those of us who want great single player games, and those don't. Games like Ultima Online basically have all but given up on structure, and are letting people make their own storylines (attempts have been made, but they really aren't very large; for the most part, players are on their own). MUDs and MOOs have managed to maintain a sort of chaotic existance for years like this, and for some people that's perfectly fine. But for some of us, a videogame should be like a novel. A single person, compeltely immersed in a compelling story.

I suppose in the end, it comes down to a matter of taste. Not-very-coincidentaly, many Quake fans, are also fans of Hollywood blockbuster movies, where the only plot is "man in trouble. Man kicks ass. Man says funny lines." I cannot claim myself to be one of those people. I do appreciate a decent storyline, and I wish more people did.

Gaming technology is amazing. Today, we have the capability to make games that completely immerse the player. Think of the early days of cinema. Once sound evolved, films took on a whole new level of artistic quality, creating masterpieces of astonishing brilliance. The computer industry has had CD quality sound for several years now, and I'm still waiting for Casablanca.

- loonyboi

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