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This Is All Your Fault

Spec Ops: The Line's lead writer, Walt Williams, on this summer's biggest surprise, one asking some heavy questions about the nature of the medium.

(Warning: This article contains spoilers about important story beats within Spec Ops: The Line.)

A devastating, clipping drought has gripped the midwest the last few months. While driving through Illinois farm country this weekend, a store selling farm equipment propped a telling sign out front: “Do a rain dance, please!”

Many players would share a similar sentiment about video game storytelling. Whenever a not terrible game story comes along, the world lavishes it with praise. Sometimes it’s water in the desert syndrome, and sometimes it’s because a game is truly daring, provocative, or, at the very least, interesting.

Spec Ops: The Line has been at the center of this conversation since it launched last month, a shooter that most, myself included, had written off after poor press showings that suggested a promising setup that spent too many years in development, only to lose its way and be pushed out the door by a publisher hoping to recoup costs.

We were wrong, and we have, in part, Walt Williams to thank.

Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard the name Walt Williams before. Even though Williams has been a producer at 2K Games for more than seven years, it’s only with Spec Ops: The Line that 2K Games granted Williams the opportunity to take a starring role and become the game’s lead writer.

Spec Ops: The Line, easily this year’s most surprising release yet, is the first game Williams had all to himself. He’s been assigned to story development on several other 2K Games projects, everything from Civilization V to XCOM to BioShock 2, but he was given a mostly blank canvass this time.

“I’m not a guy who plays shooters terribly much, to be honest with you,” said Williams during a recent phone conversation. “When I started on the project, one of the first mindsets I had on it was, ‘How do I make a shooter that someone like me would want to play?’”

The origins of Spec Ops is much different than what we're seeing today in Spec Ops: The Line.

Williams is one of the few individuals that’s been part of the Spec Ops reboot since the original conversations happened within 2K Games around five years ago. Spec Ops was originally a two-soldier focused realistic shooter series from Zombie Studios, and the first few games were published on the PC by Ripcord Games. Sequels continued and were brought to consoles (PlayStation era) by Runecraft and Take-Two Interactive (the parent company of 2K Games). The series went dormant after 2002, and while Rockstar Vancouver was assigned to begin the franchise anew, that project didn’t go anywhere, and the series stayed dark.

German independent developer Yager, a studio only known for an aerial dogfighting game with the very same name, was given the tough assignment five years ago. Williams was there on day one, too. Williams and Yager were tasked with developing a squad-based military shooter set in Dubai in the near future.

“That was it,” said Williams. “That was literally the box that we were given to play in. Outside of that, we were left to do whatever we want. I mean, the story has changed drastically over the course of the production. It’s always had the same characters and the same basic arc of where you were going, the drive of what was getting you there, but the intricacies of the story, the purpose of it, the subtext, what it was all pointing to, all of that has changed so many times over the course of this trip.”

The fact that players found Konrad dead at the end of the game, for example, was a recent change.

Even though 2K Games is based in Novato, California (previously, it was New York) Williams works out of Dallas, Texas. He was forced to leave 2K Games' headquarters for personal reasons, but 2K Games kept him on board. He regularly flies between his home in Dallas and the location of whatever developer he’s working with at the time. For Spec Ops, that was Germany. Williams had an apartment in Berlin he’d spend half the year in, typically staying in Germany for a month-and-a-half, and come back to the states for two weeks, then do it all over again.

The decision to explore the untold psychological tolls of war came from Williams’ own boredom with the shooter genre, and despite the game seeming to imply our obsession with shooters and killing is worrisome, there was never any pushback from the corporate side. Williams said it was on board since day one.

“There was always a part of me that thought, in the back of my head, that eventually the shoe is going to drop and they’re going to go ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, what are we doing? Go back and make this thing what people are expecting out of a military game.’” he said. “But they stuck with it the entire way, and were extremely supportive of the direction that we wanted to go.”

The role of a writer varies on each project. There is no standard process, which prompted me to wonder how much influence Williams really had. It’s not uncommon for a writer to submit a script, dialogue, and other plot details early in the project, only to have most of it disappear by the time the game ships. Conversely, games often leave story to the last second, trying to jam as much context into the game after the gameplay and levels have been locked.

To ensure consistency, Williams was not just a script guy, but his fingers were everywhere: level design, voice over sessions, cut-scene and animation development, environmental storytelling, and art design.

Five years later, Williams finally stepped away from the game about two months ago.

“There’s a certain part of working on a game,” he said, “when you’ve played the game 30 times or read the script 30 times, you start to...it’s like when you write a word out and stare at it for too long, you go ‘Is that spelled right? I’m not sure anymore.’”

No one at Giant Bomb was impressed with Spec Ops the last few months, compounded by a poor showing at PAX East, in which players experienced the game’s opening scenes. Nothing about the game’s shooting mechanics stood out, the game’s much talked about moral decisions were nowhere to be found, and there was an awfully Nathan Drake-sounding performance by Nolan North as Captain Walker. It wasn’t until the final disc showed up and Jeff started playing through the game. He started telling us to pay attention. A similar chorus appeared from other critics.

Williams believed people would better understand Spec Ops after playing it, where the story had room to breathe, and he was right. Much of the game’s eyebrow-raising came from being unaware of the several revelations, including the infamous white phosphorous scene, in which the player accidentally torches dozens of civilians hoping to leave the crumbling city of Dubai. This pivotal scene was almost part of the marketing campaign.

“[We] ultimately decided that would completely kill everything that we wanted to do with that moment in the game to the player,” he said.

The white phosphorus scene is where Spec Ops puts its cards on the table, and it's clear no one is coming out of this mission a better person. You technically have choices during this moment, such as fighting the opposition with your stock weapons, but respawning ammunition buckets were specifically deleted from this scene to force the player to eventually use the nearby mortar. Upon picking up the mortar, the player is transported to a scene awfully familiar to the AC-130 mission from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. You see a white dot, and blow it up. Unfortunately, some of those white dots were innocent men, women, and children. How were you supposed to know? You weren’t.

“We wanted the player to be stuck in that same kind of situation, even to the point of maybe hating us, as the designer, or hating the game for, in many ways, tricking them, making them feel like we had cheated the experience and forced them to do this thing,” said Williams. “They would have to decide whether or not they could choose to keep playing a game like this after this moment, or if they would be pissed to the point of putting the controller down and saying ‘No, this is too much for me, I’m done with this. Fuck this game.’”

The game lingers on this for an uncomfortably long time, letting the moment sink in.

Williams knew the team was onto something when focus testers had to take a break after viewing the scene for the first time.

One theory around the office was that this scene was, at one point, a moral choice for the player that was cut due to budget constraints. Williams claimed this was not the case, arguing it would have cheapened the impact. This prompted Williams to wax philosophical about his own approach to game design.

“There’s a certain aspect to player agency that I don’t really agree with, which is the player should be able to do whatever the player wants and the world should adapt itself to the player’s desire,” he said. “That’s not the way that the world works, and with Spec Ops, since we were attempting to do something that was a bit more emotionally real for the player. [...] That’s what we were looking to do, particularly in the white phosphorous scene, is give direct proof that this is not a world that you are in control of, this world is directly in opposition to you as a game and a gamer.”

It’s this moment when it felt like Spec Ops was trolling the player, subverting traditional expectations of the designer-player relationship, especially for a game ostensibly about “choice.” This becomes especially uncomfortable as the game continues, Walker and his crew begin to unravel, the enemies become aware they’re dealing with insane, bloodthirsty soldiers, and one begins to wonder whether everything that’s happened in the past eight hours was a prelude to asking the player to consider whether they should be enjoying and celebrating this kind of video game.

Williams didn’t shy away from this idea.

“I actually consider that to be the real story of the game,” he said.

Spec Ops does not seem to make a definitive statement. It’s certainly playing devil’s advocate, but Williams doesn’t want players to come away with the impression that Yager, Williams, or 2K Games was out to advocate a particular stance. Rather, by the end, hopefully you’ve raised your own set of questions.

“Whether or not violent video games have an effect on us was not really the question that we were asking,” he continued, “but we were certainly saying ‘If we are going to say that we’re art, art has to affect us, and what does it say about us that these are the types of art that we chose to partake in? How does it really effect us to disconnect with that mentally?’ Because we have.”

Becoming self-aware can backfire, but Spec Ops does so subtly, gracefully, and effectively.

One of the more surprising ways the game plays with expectations are the loading screens. “This is all your fault,” reads one. These messages are traditionally meant to convey helpful hints or reinforce game mechanics important to the situation at hand. Though Spec Ops does have that early on, as madness surrounds Walker’s crew, even the usually handy tip screens turn against you. Williams said Microsoft and Sony never raised an issue with the decision to use the screens in this way, and it’s incredibly effective.

“In many ways, Spec Ops hates you, and it’s reacting to you, in the sense that, yes, we may have designed the game to work this way, but none of this would have happened, in the context of your experiencing it, if you had not put the game inside your system and played through it,” he said. “You are, within the context of you playing it, the cause of everything because you chose to play that game, and it is reacting back at you.”

The emotions weighing over the player when the credits roll are heavy, mixed, and contradictory, especially so if you experience the epilogue. I do feel bad sometimes for liking shooters, especially today’s awfully realistic ones, and Spec Ops was a useful outlet to explore these complicated questions. We know there is more at work than indulging in senseless violence, but Spec Ops forces us to ponder whether we’re pretending it’s not an issue at all.

“We shouldn’t be afraid to question our own medium,” he said. “It is ours to do with as we see fit. There is no problem in questioning what is your own and asking what it is that you want to do with it, and are we necessarily doing the right thing with it? I mean, that’s the other great thing about mediums, is that there is no right thing.”

Patrick Klepek on Google+
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Posted by patrickklepek

(Warning: This article contains spoilers about important story beats within Spec Ops: The Line.)

A devastating, clipping drought has gripped the midwest the last few months. While driving through Illinois farm country this weekend, a store selling farm equipment propped a telling sign out front: “Do a rain dance, please!”

Many players would share a similar sentiment about video game storytelling. Whenever a not terrible game story comes along, the world lavishes it with praise. Sometimes it’s water in the desert syndrome, and sometimes it’s because a game is truly daring, provocative, or, at the very least, interesting.

Spec Ops: The Line has been at the center of this conversation since it launched last month, a shooter that most, myself included, had written off after poor press showings that suggested a promising setup that spent too many years in development, only to lose its way and be pushed out the door by a publisher hoping to recoup costs.

We were wrong, and we have, in part, Walt Williams to thank.

Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard the name Walt Williams before. Even though Williams has been a producer at 2K Games for more than seven years, it’s only with Spec Ops: The Line that 2K Games granted Williams the opportunity to take a starring role and become the game’s lead writer.

Spec Ops: The Line, easily this year’s most surprising release yet, is the first game Williams had all to himself. He’s been assigned to story development on several other 2K Games projects, everything from Civilization V to XCOM to BioShock 2, but he was given a mostly blank canvass this time.

“I’m not a guy who plays shooters terribly much, to be honest with you,” said Williams during a recent phone conversation. “When I started on the project, one of the first mindsets I had on it was, ‘How do I make a shooter that someone like me would want to play?’”

The origins of Spec Ops is much different than what we're seeing today in Spec Ops: The Line.

Williams is one of the few individuals that’s been part of the Spec Ops reboot since the original conversations happened within 2K Games around five years ago. Spec Ops was originally a two-soldier focused realistic shooter series from Zombie Studios, and the first few games were published on the PC by Ripcord Games. Sequels continued and were brought to consoles (PlayStation era) by Runecraft and Take-Two Interactive (the parent company of 2K Games). The series went dormant after 2002, and while Rockstar Vancouver was assigned to begin the franchise anew, that project didn’t go anywhere, and the series stayed dark.

German independent developer Yager, a studio only known for an aerial dogfighting game with the very same name, was given the tough assignment five years ago. Williams was there on day one, too. Williams and Yager were tasked with developing a squad-based military shooter set in Dubai in the near future.

“That was it,” said Williams. “That was literally the box that we were given to play in. Outside of that, we were left to do whatever we want. I mean, the story has changed drastically over the course of the production. It’s always had the same characters and the same basic arc of where you were going, the drive of what was getting you there, but the intricacies of the story, the purpose of it, the subtext, what it was all pointing to, all of that has changed so many times over the course of this trip.”

The fact that players found Konrad dead at the end of the game, for example, was a recent change.

Even though 2K Games is based in Novato, California (previously, it was New York) Williams works out of Dallas, Texas. He was forced to leave 2K Games' headquarters for personal reasons, but 2K Games kept him on board. He regularly flies between his home in Dallas and the location of whatever developer he’s working with at the time. For Spec Ops, that was Germany. Williams had an apartment in Berlin he’d spend half the year in, typically staying in Germany for a month-and-a-half, and come back to the states for two weeks, then do it all over again.

The decision to explore the untold psychological tolls of war came from Williams’ own boredom with the shooter genre, and despite the game seeming to imply our obsession with shooters and killing is worrisome, there was never any pushback from the corporate side. Williams said it was on board since day one.

“There was always a part of me that thought, in the back of my head, that eventually the shoe is going to drop and they’re going to go ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, what are we doing? Go back and make this thing what people are expecting out of a military game.’” he said. “But they stuck with it the entire way, and were extremely supportive of the direction that we wanted to go.”

The role of a writer varies on each project. There is no standard process, which prompted me to wonder how much influence Williams really had. It’s not uncommon for a writer to submit a script, dialogue, and other plot details early in the project, only to have most of it disappear by the time the game ships. Conversely, games often leave story to the last second, trying to jam as much context into the game after the gameplay and levels have been locked.

To ensure consistency, Williams was not just a script guy, but his fingers were everywhere: level design, voice over sessions, cut-scene and animation development, environmental storytelling, and art design.

Five years later, Williams finally stepped away from the game about two months ago.

“There’s a certain part of working on a game,” he said, “when you’ve played the game 30 times or read the script 30 times, you start to...it’s like when you write a word out and stare at it for too long, you go ‘Is that spelled right? I’m not sure anymore.’”

No one at Giant Bomb was impressed with Spec Ops the last few months, compounded by a poor showing at PAX East, in which players experienced the game’s opening scenes. Nothing about the game’s shooting mechanics stood out, the game’s much talked about moral decisions were nowhere to be found, and there was an awfully Nathan Drake-sounding performance by Nolan North as Captain Walker. It wasn’t until the final disc showed up and Jeff started playing through the game. He started telling us to pay attention. A similar chorus appeared from other critics.

Williams believed people would better understand Spec Ops after playing it, where the story had room to breathe, and he was right. Much of the game’s eyebrow-raising came from being unaware of the several revelations, including the infamous white phosphorous scene, in which the player accidentally torches dozens of civilians hoping to leave the crumbling city of Dubai. This pivotal scene was almost part of the marketing campaign.

“[We] ultimately decided that would completely kill everything that we wanted to do with that moment in the game to the player,” he said.

The white phosphorus scene is where Spec Ops puts its cards on the table, and it's clear no one is coming out of this mission a better person. You technically have choices during this moment, such as fighting the opposition with your stock weapons, but respawning ammunition buckets were specifically deleted from this scene to force the player to eventually use the nearby mortar. Upon picking up the mortar, the player is transported to a scene awfully familiar to the AC-130 mission from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. You see a white dot, and blow it up. Unfortunately, some of those white dots were innocent men, women, and children. How were you supposed to know? You weren’t.

“We wanted the player to be stuck in that same kind of situation, even to the point of maybe hating us, as the designer, or hating the game for, in many ways, tricking them, making them feel like we had cheated the experience and forced them to do this thing,” said Williams. “They would have to decide whether or not they could choose to keep playing a game like this after this moment, or if they would be pissed to the point of putting the controller down and saying ‘No, this is too much for me, I’m done with this. Fuck this game.’”

The game lingers on this for an uncomfortably long time, letting the moment sink in.

Williams knew the team was onto something when focus testers had to take a break after viewing the scene for the first time.

One theory around the office was that this scene was, at one point, a moral choice for the player that was cut due to budget constraints. Williams claimed this was not the case, arguing it would have cheapened the impact. This prompted Williams to wax philosophical about his own approach to game design.

“There’s a certain aspect to player agency that I don’t really agree with, which is the player should be able to do whatever the player wants and the world should adapt itself to the player’s desire,” he said. “That’s not the way that the world works, and with Spec Ops, since we were attempting to do something that was a bit more emotionally real for the player. [...] That’s what we were looking to do, particularly in the white phosphorous scene, is give direct proof that this is not a world that you are in control of, this world is directly in opposition to you as a game and a gamer.”

It’s this moment when it felt like Spec Ops was trolling the player, subverting traditional expectations of the designer-player relationship, especially for a game ostensibly about “choice.” This becomes especially uncomfortable as the game continues, Walker and his crew begin to unravel, the enemies become aware they’re dealing with insane, bloodthirsty soldiers, and one begins to wonder whether everything that’s happened in the past eight hours was a prelude to asking the player to consider whether they should be enjoying and celebrating this kind of video game.

Williams didn’t shy away from this idea.

“I actually consider that to be the real story of the game,” he said.

Spec Ops does not seem to make a definitive statement. It’s certainly playing devil’s advocate, but Williams doesn’t want players to come away with the impression that Yager, Williams, or 2K Games was out to advocate a particular stance. Rather, by the end, hopefully you’ve raised your own set of questions.

“Whether or not violent video games have an effect on us was not really the question that we were asking,” he continued, “but we were certainly saying ‘If we are going to say that we’re art, art has to affect us, and what does it say about us that these are the types of art that we chose to partake in? How does it really effect us to disconnect with that mentally?’ Because we have.”

Becoming self-aware can backfire, but Spec Ops does so subtly, gracefully, and effectively.

One of the more surprising ways the game plays with expectations are the loading screens. “This is all your fault,” reads one. These messages are traditionally meant to convey helpful hints or reinforce game mechanics important to the situation at hand. Though Spec Ops does have that early on, as madness surrounds Walker’s crew, even the usually handy tip screens turn against you. Williams said Microsoft and Sony never raised an issue with the decision to use the screens in this way, and it’s incredibly effective.

“In many ways, Spec Ops hates you, and it’s reacting to you, in the sense that, yes, we may have designed the game to work this way, but none of this would have happened, in the context of your experiencing it, if you had not put the game inside your system and played through it,” he said. “You are, within the context of you playing it, the cause of everything because you chose to play that game, and it is reacting back at you.”

The emotions weighing over the player when the credits roll are heavy, mixed, and contradictory, especially so if you experience the epilogue. I do feel bad sometimes for liking shooters, especially today’s awfully realistic ones, and Spec Ops was a useful outlet to explore these complicated questions. We know there is more at work than indulging in senseless violence, but Spec Ops forces us to ponder whether we’re pretending it’s not an issue at all.

“We shouldn’t be afraid to question our own medium,” he said. “It is ours to do with as we see fit. There is no problem in questioning what is your own and asking what it is that you want to do with it, and are we necessarily doing the right thing with it? I mean, that’s the other great thing about mediums, is that there is no right thing.”

Staff
Posted by moomoomashoo

horse

Posted by Dunchad

I really need to buy this game and see what the fuss is about.

Posted by defcomm

okie doke i'll read this

Posted by JayCee

@moomoomashoo said:

horse

Meet Rider. Rider, meet horse.

Posted by xseedx

This is becoming more and more fascinating, getting me eventually to play the game and then be even more disappointed. Good read though!

Posted by theimmortalbum

So I saw you posting pictures of Spec Ops yesterday.. glad to see something written up on this. The Gamespot podcast that Jeff was on with this guy was fascinating, and I definitely wanted more.

Posted by Jams

FRAG OUT!

Posted by MrBeanTroll

Every time I read or hear anything about this game I really want to play it yet I know I don't have the patience for average shooter gameplay.

Posted by MEATBALL

I am so going to buy this when it hits $20. >_>

Posted by Forkstik

Great article, so far Spec Ops has been one of my favorite games in terms of story this year.

Posted by Jimbles

Cool article! I Probably won't have the time to play this, but the fact that this game was made is a great thing for the shooter genre, as well as game design in general.

Posted by CaLe

The phosphorus part had no impact on me for two reasons, first I tried to engage the soldiers with my normal weapons but the game promptly let me know this was futile -- the argument that I had a choice to just stop playing here is extremely flimsy. Then when I got to the scene with the dead innocents, I wasn't even aware I was the one who did that. I thought they were already dead before I arrived and was confused to the reaction of my team mates. Then the scene were you think you have a chance to save the person who dies anyway, I watched the moment his body went limp and it looked so dumb and gamey that I couldn't help but laugh. I'm glad an attempt was made with this game, but that's all it was, an attempt.

Online
Posted by Humanity

I wish people stopped using the term "trolling" at least in serious articles if not in all common day speech.

This is a decent companion piece, but if you're really interested in delving deep into the storyline business you should listen to the Gamespot Spoilercast with Jeff on it where the writer goes in depth about all those nuances concerning the story beats.

Online
Edited by pakattak

Great article, Patrick.

I'm super sorry to be 'that' guy, but this sentence really bothers me:

"While driving through Illinois farm country this weekend, a store selling farm equipment propped a telling sign out front: “Do a rain dance, please!”

This is implying that the store selling farm equipment is the subject driving through Illinois farm country. Instead, it should read:

"While driving through Illinois farm country this weekend, I saw a store selling farm equipment with a telling sign propped out front: "Do a rain dance, please!"

Again, sorry. But I loved the article. I haven't had the chance to play The Line (and I may never will, considering how I spoiled the game's ending(s) for myself), but I'm glad to see developers out there trying to do something somewhat unique with the medium of interactive story telling.

Edited by Zaph

Gotta admit, I really am not seeing whatever it is about Spec Ops critics are praising. Every aspect of the game felt like an exercise in mediocrity.

I understand that the video game storytelling bar is already pretty low, but if The Line was a film plot, that film would be a direct-to-dvd, low budget, action flick starring Billy Zane.

Posted by BBAlpert

I think Spec Ops: The Line's self awareness and "who's the real monster?" commentary is kind of like Asura's Wrath's use of QTEs. They work wonderfully for those specific games, and I commend their developers for that, but they really only work once (in fact, that's partly WHY they work so well).

Edited by Cleric

@Humanity said:

I wish people stopped using the term "trolling" at least in serious articles if not in all common day speech.

A hundred times this.

@MrBeanTroll said:

Every time I read or hear anything about this game I really want to play it yet I know I don't have the patience for average shooter gameplay.

I say wait for a price drop then pick it up and play it on easy. It's a short game so there's not so much to endure and I think it's totally worth it.

Posted by StingerMK2

when you break down what this game is, it's actually kind of insane, a shooter that has been marketed to appeal the average FPS audience, that pretty much subverts the very reasons they go to these kind of games in the first place. I'm glad someone made it, and after hearing about it for so long i am tempted to play it, but i just don't like shooters any more (especially military based shooters) I really hope this game sold well to the more blood thirsty, military fetishising gamers of the world, and that they take something away from it, but some how i doubt that is the case.

Edited by pweidman

Good article here but not much new after the long podcast w/Williams on Gamespot. I hope more people play this game. It's really pretty damn good, and the story and choices will leave you wondering and thinking well after playing it.

The setting and the whole 'sand factor', as well as the verticality of a buried Dubai add enough uniqueness to the standard tps gameplay to be fun. But it's the story, and the choices with the consequences, that hit so hard. I am very impressed by this game and the idea behind it and with 2K especially, for giving their complete support when many a publisher we are all familiar with probably would not have.

Posted by Cincaid

@JayCee said:

@moomoomashoo said:

horse

Meet Rider. Rider, meet horse.

*slow clap*

Posted by BlueWolverine

Spec Ops: The Line is a great game. It examines the relationship between the player and the character the player is controlling. One of the few shooters (FPS or TPS) that offer something more than just the inherent enjoyment of shooting your fellow man. It offers so much more, and boy does it have a huge impact.

Posted by resident_UA

@MrBeanTroll said:

Every time I read or hear anything about this game I really want to play it yet I know I don't have the patience for average shooter gameplay.

I really enjoyed the gunplay on easy. Not sure why so many people are disappointed with shooter mechanics. I think they are at least above average. Also I don't get all the complaints about graphics. I thought the game looked pretty impressive.

Posted by BlueWolverine

Infinity Ward could learn from Spec Ops: The Line. This is how you create that "shocking moment."

Posted by tescovee

Well written tricky.

Posted by Pezen

I really enjoyed this (and the Gamespot spoilercast) interview with Walt Williams, he seems like someone with some really interesting ideas about not just the approach to writing but also about game design and player-game relations in general. The fact that he brings up the aspect of players not getting what they want just because they expect it is something I find quite refreshing. The whole notion of "choice" not necessarily being a binary thing with expected outcomes I really quite liked in the game.

I'll be looking forward to what this man does come future projects.

Posted by Xer0Signal

The loading screen stuff really bothered me.

But, not in the way that Williams & Co.probably wanted it to bother me. I wasn't disturbed in a "oh wow, this IS all my fault" way. I was disturbed in a "oh. Well, good to know I paid $60 for your sermon, go fuck yourself" way.

I get wanting to make a statement, and, for the most part, I think they did a decent job, but, once they started blaming me, as a player, for being part of the problem, I started checking out.

Edited by nintendoeats

http://www.giantbomb.com/spec-ops-the-line/61-29445/i-beg-of-you-do-not-play-the-line/35-554935/

I wrote that a few hours before Patrick posted his piece. It's intended as more of a commentary than a warning against the game. But still...I can fully acknowledge that they've accomplished what they set out to do, and that they did it exceptionally well. One of the big issues is that it does unpleasant things to the player/designer relationship, and that is something that matters across the genre. Am I supposed to now assume that one of my relevant player verbs is "stop playing" in ever game I play? I have a huge respect for what they have accomplished, but I don't think that we should get into the habit of violating the bond of designer/player trust, especially in such a direct fashion.

Posted by Phatmac

Noticed a typo here: Williams said Microsoft and Sony never raised an issue the decision to use the screens in this way, and it’s incredibly effective

Spec Ops is certainly worthy of praise, but I still can't agree with William's sentiments on our medium and the problem with playing violent video games. I'm not a big fan of shooters, but I still enjoy a dumb video game from time to time. Just as people enjoy seeing violent movies for the same reasons of letting loose the same could be said for violent video games. The problem in our medium is that it is simply overused to the point of frustration. Unfortunately, violence sells over deep and complex gameplay that doesn't resort to violence. I would still remind people that we're at a point in which indie devs can create such an experience that offers more than mindless violence. Perhaps I'm over blowing this sentiment, but I can't help telling people that we're at a point where video games are evolving at a rapid pace. This doesn't mean that violent video games will be phased out, but that there will be other avenues for non-violent gamers. I also agree with most people that I absolutely hate the word trolling and hope that it isn't relied upon in articles such as this. It shows a blemish on an other wise fantastic read.

Posted by randomfella21

Great article. Spec Ops has so far been my favorite game of 2012. For those of you worried about the mechanics being average I would say that everything else about the game makes it decidedly above average. The mechanics are solid, and in my opinion the gameplay itself is fun. However I would absolutely say that without the story and brilliant performances it would be nothing more than an average third-person shooter, and would get quite boring. As it stands, I would say you should AT LEAST give it a rent. Or wait for a price drop. Hard to justify 60 bucks on a 4 hour campaign and shitty multiplayer, even IF the game is really good.

Posted by CJduke

Great game and a great story. It forced the player into tough situations. I loved it because unlike other games, there was no guarantee that your choices would make everything turn out perfect and happy. In war nothing that is done is ever a "good" choice and I think they set that up perfectly.

Posted by patrickklepek

@Phatmac said:

Noticed a typo here: Williams said Microsoft and Sony never raised an issue the decision to use the screens in this way, and it’s incredibly effective

Thanks.

Staff
Posted by bloodsoul5

@MrBeanTroll said:

Every time I read or hear anything about this game I really want to play it yet I know I don't have the patience for average shooter gameplay.

The gameplay is actually really enjoyable on easy. Much better then gears or uncharted simply because the enemies aren't bullet sponges. The campaign is also only about 4 hours long. Maybe don't buy it but definately give it a rent or buy it used down the road.

Posted by Veektarius

This would have had greater utility as a no-spoilers article to convince those of us who didn't play to give this game a shot. But I'm operating on the assumption this thing has fairly low penetration. I might be in the minority.

Posted by PoisonJam7

Very interesting article, thank you for writing it.

I'm not a fan of Shooters- at all, but I was initially interested in Spec Ops: The Line after reading a bit about it in an issue of Game Informer. I as going to try it out, but after reading the lukewarm reviews I decided against it. I doubt I'll ever play it, but It's good to know that there are at least some people who are trying to do different things with the genre and continue to push the medium in new directions.

Thanks again for the article, Patrick.

Posted by AssInAss

I'll never look at a shooter the same way again, I felt guilt and anger when they showed the mother and child in those charred remains. That image has been seared into my head. Wise decision to not have that be a choice, they want the player to be uncomfortable and more games could do with tackling the designer-player relationship like Alexander Ocias' Loved.

Personally, my Game of the Year. Hyperbole maybe, but the experience was unprecedented to me. Playing it again and again, little details keep on popping up. Like how Walker sometimes narrates the Intel himself.

There's also this IGN article where he pretty much spells out (hinted earlier with the Konrad billboard) that after the chopper crash, it's all pretty much a hallucination.

Posted by Lava

That was very interesting to read. Kind of tempted to go and check out this game now. It's awesome to hear that so much time was spent on the story for this game. From the looks of it The Last of Us is going the same route. It'll be interesting to see where other companies take these ideas over the next few years.

Posted by metalsnakezero

@BlueWolverine said:

Infinity Ward could learn from Spec Ops: The Line. This is how you create that "shocking moment."

Infinity ward of the past or the current one?

Posted by tsiro

As awesome as this article is, it pains me a little bit to read all of the comments from people who, after reading some of the major plot points and twists, are now going to check out the game. For me, at least, part of what made the game so impactful was not really knowing what to expect except a "mature-themed shooter", whatever that means.

Regardless, great write-up, Patrick! Spec Ops is one of the most interesting games that I have played in a while, I'm glad to see that people are paying attention to it.

Posted by Binman88

"Big twist ending" is not specifically something that makes a great story for me. I haven't played the game, so perhaps my comment doesn't apply to it, but if we're judging storytelling in games by how shocking it is, we're on the wrong path. A premise and a well designed universe/environment can be all you need to make a great "story", allowing the player to partially create some of that story themselves through their imagination, influenced by the atmosphere of the game world. An example of that in my experience is any of the STALKER games. Fairly low on story beats and exposition, and pretty straightforward overall plots, but the game world and the atmosphere you experience transported me into the fiction better than any corridor shooter, feedmetheplotandshockmeattheend game ever has.

Posted by Bubbly

I posted this in a thread here before, but my biggest problem with the game was the disconnect of having no choice during the phosphorus scene. For those that didn't listen to the Gamespot spoilercast, Jeff even brought up the disconnect during that section. My biggest problem was that I saw the exit (the ropes to rappel down) by the mortar, but the game did not let me go down. Williams even brought up in the spoilercast how this was the biggest mistake they made with the scene. He talked about how the game was supposed to make you feel like you really had no choice in that situation, that you couldn't control it, but I didn't buy it. I had killed so many dudes at that point I highly doubted that I couldn't do it here. If the game had actually let me go down and fight people and they somehow made it impossible to win (too many snipers and armored guys or something) then I would've bought it. Williams even brought up how you will eventually run out of ammo shooting people from the top, and well, of course I'm going to run out of ammo since you wouldn't let me go down and scavenge ammo from the people I killed just like I had been doing for the whole game. Due to that scene being so pivotal and having such a disconnect for me I didn't have the experience that so many others here had. Jeff also brought up how he realized the people in the pits were civilians (something I also noticed) and that there is no way to continue without shooting them, even after you realize this.

I do still appreciate the ideas they had going for this game though. That Gamespot spoilercast illuminated some really crazy ideas that I had not realized during my time with the game. Just a shame that that all too familiar disconnect between narrative and gameplay got in the way for me here. They were close, but not close enough.

Posted by tsiro

@MODernChris: It's too bad that that scene didn't work for you, because it totally did for me. I guess I just didn't notice the ropes, because at first (until you had to go down there) I didn't see any way down. I was up there for a while, and used a few clips of ammo before realizing that there was no way to kill everyone, and that I'd have to use the mortar. At every step, I felt like I was in control of my actions (even though, as it turns out, there's not really a standard "player decision" there).

Just like a later scene where I'm still a bit shocked at what I did, but I won't spoil that for people who haven't played yet.

Posted by samcroft90

This article (and the gamespot podcast last week) made me think quite a bit about how I play games.

I came to the conclusion that i've never been able to get truly attached to a video game from a story and character stand point. I always struggle to imagine what people are saying when they tell me they are 'immersed' in a games universe. I always feel completely detached from every thing that I see in a game even if my actions directly caused the outcome of a scene (for example in an RPG).

It's not that I lack imagination either I just simply can't get past that fact that i'm playing a video game. The game box, the controller i'm holding and the TV i'm playing the game on all contribute to the feeling of being detached.

What they did with Spec Ops however was incredibly clever and spoke to me an awful lot more than any richly crafted video game world could. They communicated directly with me, as the player of the video game in the real world. They didn't send all these messages to the character I was meant to be playing or to the world I was supposed to be immersed in.

Posted by Alraiis

When I was at the scene with the white phosphorous mortar, I was going slowly enough (I was on Easy to get through it, and I don't see well so I'm used to looking very closely) that I could tell, without a doubt, that those were civilians before I bombed them. They were grouped too close, they were clearly in a sheltered area, and they were milling about harmlessly in a way that soldiers wouldn't be in that situation. The sounds of gunfire had died down; I was safe, but the game still demanded that I clear out that group. (Were they next to a vehicle you had to destroy? I don't remember precisely.)

In some ways, I felt a bit cheated that I had to make an obvious mistake to continue—and in other ways it was effective, because the action was fully deliberate. But it was only deliberate in a "meta" sense; I was doing it to move the game forward, not completing my mission or saving my squad's lives. It probably would have been different if I wasn't on Easy and had to think faster, but regardless, some of the impact was lost on me.

When Williams says he doesn't agree with the idea that "the player should be able to do whatever the player wants and the world should adapt itself to the player’s desire," I see where he's coming from, but there are risks. At that moment, I, as the player, wanted to back away from the mortar, rappel down and get the civilians to safety. I couldn't do that. I haven't felt that strongly resistant to a game's critical path in a long while, perhaps ever. It cast the rest of the game in a different light than many people experienced it, I expect.

Posted by AuthenticM

@narujoe93 said:

Is it just me, or is patrick the only person who writes articles on giant bomb?

He was hired specifically for this. So yeah. Alex also writes news, but not editorials.

Posted by Rmack

@Binman88: It's not "big twist ending" as much as the second half of the game being completely different from the first, at least in terms of the characters and tone.

Posted by Ravenlight

@Xer0Signal said:

The loading screen stuff really bothered me.

But, not in the way that Williams & Co.probably wanted it to bother me. I wasn't disturbed in a "oh wow, this IS all my fault" way. I was disturbed in a "oh. Well, good to know I paid $60 for your sermon, go fuck yourself" way.

I get wanting to make a statement, and, for the most part, I think they did a decent job, but, once they started blaming me, as a player, for being part of the problem, I started checking out.

I read the loading screens completely differently. I read them as part of Walker's increasingly unhinged internal monologue, flipping between blaming himself and trying to reassure himself that somehow there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

Posted by Peacemaker

I ended up playing and enjoying the game. It was completely worth it for the story and I found only a few annoying spots. I would say to just put it on easy an experience the story. It was totally worth it.

Posted by mnzy

I would be really happy if we would get to the point were the medium is able to question itself. Hasn't happen so far really, eventhough looking at what you often really do in games makes you wonder about that.

Online
Posted by Xer0Signal

@Ravenlight said:

@Xer0Signal said:

The loading screen stuff really bothered me.

But, not in the way that Williams & Co.probably wanted it to bother me. I wasn't disturbed in a "oh wow, this IS all my fault" way. I was disturbed in a "oh. Well, good to know I paid $60 for your sermon, go fuck yourself" way.

I get wanting to make a statement, and, for the most part, I think they did a decent job, but, once they started blaming me, as a player, for being part of the problem, I started checking out.

I read the loading screens completely differently. I read them as part of Walker's increasingly unhinged internal monologue, flipping between blaming himself and trying to reassure himself that somehow there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

Well, yeah, it's definitely meant to be interpreted either way.

Like, it fits in the context of the story, but, it's also a commentary on people who play these types of games.

And, to me, it felt like they were trying to say we're shitty people for wanting to play the game. Which, is a totally valid opinion to have, but, if you're gonna charge me that much money to tell me I'm a piece of shit, then...

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