So...thirty days late and a Silver Eagle short, right? Well, be that as it may, this ain't no belated April-based gambit going down right about here. What you are in all actuality reading IS the March edition of my hallowed blog. It’s just taken a little while longer to serve up than I, and by extension I assume you, would have liked. It’s just been...tricky, recently, okay? I’ve been busy meeting new people, visiting new places, learning new things, exploring new planes of existence...working at a brand new job which I managed to snag myself, in fact. That’s right, both me and Matthew Rorie have come to the ends of our respective long roads. Thus, just recently I’ve been spending much of my time trying not to get fired as well as buying dope new tees to help me look super fresh pon road; rather than straining out this corpulent little bloglet for you to greedily devour with much gnashing and noshing of teeth.
(Send me your suggestions for dope tees, please.)
Don’t worry, I won’t be carrying on like that throughout this meandering journey into the recesses of my mind which contain these silly thoughts and ideas and feels relating to video games. Because I do have something to talk to you all about that is about a video game, well, two video games in general to be precise. I’ll not prolong your stay on those gleaming tenterhooks for much longer, I promise, I’ll get to the nadir of my point in the very next paragraph. I won’t make a fool of you, not again...not like last time.
Henceforth, I humbly introduce to you my novel idea of typing words mostly regarding this hot new jam called BioShock Infinite. Words, incidentally, which won’t include names/roles/arcs of characters, minor/major plot points, descriptions of combat scenarios or cut scenes, discussion of weapons or vigors, or indeed anything of much note that occurs directly upon the screen or amongst the vibrations in the air which issue forth from your speakers. The thing I’m primarily concerned with getting all up in the guts of on this fine
April March day, is the aspect that I’ve probably enjoyed the very most out of all the Shock games. That being the somewhat nebulous, sensually intangible, yet mightily palpable human notion of...
(All that being said, I am a ratified signatory to the Declaration of Spoiler Warnings, 1945, and as such I am officially warning any and all of you that there may be spoilers ahead for any and every aspect regarding this newly released video game. Although, as I mentioned above, this is not my intention in any way shape or form. In furtherance to that addendum, the following words are based on my initial 4 hours 36 minutes and 9 seconds of gameplay, so if you’re cool with me maybe spitting game about parts of this game that occur fairly near to the start, then we’ll get along just dandily*.)
Watch out, or you might tread on the toes of God...
It is observable, that their Conquests and Acquisitions in Columbia, (which is the Lilliputian Name for the Country that answers our America,) have very little contributed to the Power of those Nations, which have, to obtain them, broke thro' all the Ties of human Nature.
- Taken from “State of Affairs in Lilliput” by Edward Cave, as published in The Gentleman's Magazine, 1738. This is the earliest written record of the word Columbia being used to describe the country of the United States of America.
Columbia. An expression of an ideology from the mind of man. Made form in pure white cloud and blood-stained stone. The icy will of a nation and the hot toil of men, put to work in service of the realisation of a nation’s dream. A land of glory made real by those who now call it home, but which also plays host to the myriad nightmares of yet others still.
So, just a few lines above this word you will no doubt have bore witness to an image and a quote which I selected for your enjoyment and contemplation (there are many more of those to come, by the way). And just under those words I tried to write something that hopefully gives you an inkling of an idea as to where I'm coming from with regards to dissecting the parts of this game that I want to try and dice up on the cold slab of analysis. From the opening minutes of Infinite it was abundantly clear to me that the peeps at Irrational Games had created an eminently moody piece of art. Dozens upon dozens of aspects played into the feeling that I got from wandering and wondering at the world they’d created. Like their last game, a blending of the real and the fictitious helped to evoke very specific feelings in me. Calling to mind memories of our own human history, mixed up with how things could have gone if events had played out slightly differently. I’m not saying that this game went with the Fallout style of world building, which strongly plays off divergent courses of history, but it does do that very effective thing of allowing each of us to bring to the experience our own knowledge and feelings on certain real world events, places and people. For example, America is a real place, Abraham Lincoln is a real person, quantum mechanics are a real thing, but Infinite takes the meat of our real world and marinates, cooks and serves it up in its own very special way.
Any video game that is trying to engender a strong sense of atmosphere in a player’s mind, as might be particularly found in many games within the horror genre, has a whole host of tools from which to select and implement against the player’s brainspace. I’ll take a moment here to talk about the first of the games that aren’t BioShock Infinite, but which do conjure up the same sorts of feelings I got from Ken Levine’s latest opus. That game is, of course, Journey. That’s right, Infinite and Journey are directly comparable to each other if we evaluate them on the level of atmosphere. If you were completely crazy you could even make a case for the argument that they are set in the same fictional universe. Luckily for you I’m not feeling that crazy today, otherwise I would spend three or four thousand words talking about how these two games do take place within the same contiguous reality.
So, Journey. Just thinking about the name of that game stirs up all kinds of memories of the fantastic atmosphere it created through superb application of visual style, use of space, movement, light and shadow, fluid controls, simple core mechanics which were also used in a rewarding fashion, sound, music and maybe most importantly...storytelling. What that game is able to convey at an emotional level is utterly incredible considering it contains no readable language or spoken dialogue whatsoever. Those kinds of tools are comparable to the physicality of a canvas, upon which an artist is able to make their art. Whether through acrylic or electrons, watercolour or gouraud shading, the message or feeling or thought should always be at the heart of any creative endeavour. And in Journey and Infinite both, I feel like they were reaching out to touch my consciousness, using different tools, eliciting different feelings but still deeply engaging a part of my brain beyond just what looked pretty on the screen, or sounded ripe in my ear hole.
As Jenova Chen has talked about in the past, the primary driving force behind the games he created with thatgamecompany was that of the notion of attempting to convey emotion. Everything thatgamecompany put onto the screen was designed to facilitate that goal. Just as, I feel, BioShock Infinite intends to do with its own goal of immersing you in a thickly rich world, replete with atmosphere that’s positively dripping from its chiseled jawline.
I could list a whole bunch of events (both the mighty and the miniscule, the brief and the protracted), scenes and sequences that I felt helped in the spreading of such a crunchy pickle of atmosphere onto the ham and cheese sandwich of my soul. But that would be a gross violation of the things I talked about in the third paragraph, and boring, therefore it’s left to my significantly lesser ability of being able to talk cogently about what I felt, and not what I saw up on that screen that incited such feelings.
Have you ever been alone, void of contact or assistance, helpless apart from that which you can action by your own means? Let’s say, in a situation where you were stranded upon a lonely road, your vehicle has failed you completely. It’s night time, it’s dark...but it’s not any of that TV or film bullshit, it’s just a normal night, but you have somewhere to be...and you can’t get there. Let’s say this road that you are broken down on is in a rural area, a small two lane road cutting through fields, or maybe running alongside a forest. It’s an area you know well, maybe you’ve travelled this road hundreds of times before, you know you’re pretty safe from most harm. No terrible wild animals are coming to gore you, nor is any horrific crime likely to befall you. It is, however, going to be many hours before anyone else ventures down this road to proffer assistance. You decide to spend the night in the car.
Now, think of all the millions of people who have slept in their cars overnight for some reason or another. Very rarely will something have happened to them over the course of the night that would give them cause for alarm. You know you’ll be fine, alone, in the dark. But don’t you still feel like something, somehow, is watching you? Just out of sight. No, there’s no vampires or creepy trolls coming to get you, no Neo-Tokyo biker gangs barrelling down on you to beat you to death with chains, no aliens no wildfires no freak accidents no nothing. But you (I mean me, really) still have a thing in the back of your head that keeps you unsettled. The kind of sensation you might feel before a fight or a flight, before an explosion of energy and effort on your part. The feeling of tensed muscles, quickened breath, eyes widening, all brought about by nothing other than an imagined experience taking place inside your mind’s eye.
Your brain is processing hundreds of inputs from your surroundings (the chill of the night air, the white blue pallor cast over everything from the moon above, the occasional hoot of a distant owl) and filtering them against your conscious and subconscious mind, the place where you write your own narrative, quite removed from what’s actually happening in 4D space around your puny human body.
Errrrrrrrrr, so...what I suppose I was trying to get at there was that Infinite impressed upon me such a strong presence of it’s own remarkable world, that I could imagine myself as being there. Immersive is a word that has been used (not by me, heavens no) by many, and hated by yet more still. I will simply state here that both Journey and Infinite immersed me so deeply inside their own worlds, inside their own perspectives on the subjects they deal with internally, that for a brief time at least; I felt I could connect with them on a level bordering my own understanding of the real world around me. I felt like I did not have a screen in front of me, nor a controller in my hands.
And...er-hem...that was cool, I guess?
God, I should really write these ahead of time shouldn't I. Barf.
Behold, Britannia! in thy favour'd Isle;
At distance, thou, Columbia! view thy Prince,
For ancestors renowned, for virtues more;
- Taken from a collection of poems written by a group of Harvard graduates in 1761.
I want to do a thing, won’t you please help me do a thing? If not for me, then for the kids? As all good and true duders will doubtless be aware, we like to play video games around these parts. Play video games on camera whilst being streamed live over the Internet, in a good number of cases. Especially around the time of October/November, since about the year 2008. In case all of this is shooting right over your head like a mighty DPRK missile; I am, of course, talking about the yearly annual Extra Life 24 hour gaming marathon that takes place every year, annually. Throughout which people sit down and play video games on camera for a long time whilst other people donate money to the just cause (if you’re still really completely clueless, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals through Extra Life is an effort to makes games, toys and other fun stuff available to sick kids up and down the country of Columbia, so as to give them something fun to do whilst recuperating in shitty hospital). A pretty cool guy has been heading up this community's efforts over the past few years, and will continue to do so for this year’s iteration, but what won’t be the thing that has been done before is ME taking PART in this THING.
Now, whilst the 2013 edition of Extra Life is officially going down on November the 2nd, you’re actually allowed to raise money at any time throughout the year. So, with that being said, that is what I’m going to try and do. Partially because I want to get my name out there as a person who can do this, so that when it comes to the real deal, even if no one watches/donates to me then, I’ll still have some amount of cash built up in donations beforehand. As well as just to try and get some practise in for the big night, mainly because I consider myself a pretty boring and charmless kinda guy, if I can figure out the stuff which does and does not work, then the real thing should go a bit smoother for all involved.
Oh, and the marathon is actually for 25 hours this year. Daaamnnn. RAISING THE STAKES.
FOR THE KIDS.
Because I'm totally a complete loner and don't get to talk to many sweet people about video games, I'd very much like your opinions on what I should play. So I rustled up a little list for you guys to provide steer (god, you can tell I work in a real workplace with working people now can't you?). If you have other suggestions or comments on the matter, please feel free to shout at me through the normal digital pathways.
The little (p) symbol next to the name of a game means that I’m at least part of the way through it.
If thou'st clicketh me, thou will be set free
I strongly suggest that y'all check out Lorne Lanning's great little Eurogamer Expo talk about Abe's Oddysee HD Hyper Megamix Edition in particular, as well as a bit of Oddworld in general. Which I am mainly mentioning here because I am both going to this year's expo, and starting to get quite hyped for the release of Abe's Oddysee New N' Tasty this very autumn.
* See how I made you scroll all the way down here to see this stupid little thing? I know!? Right!? Total dick move if you wanted to read this part without having to scroll past all that hot wet content I typed up for you. Well, seeing as you’re down here, we may as well get to know each other just a little bit I suppose. I like video games and that dope Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate bar with toffee popcorn inside it, oh, and also this totally rad cherry cola made by a company called Fentimans. Check it out if you can.
IF you rolled down here natural style, could I be so bold as to recommend you try out some dope stuff like this, this and this? There’s no real reason for this thing to be down here, I just thought we might be able to vibe better, you know, outside of the confines of all that total shit what I done typed up there up there...which...incidentally...you might not have read if you just skippity skipped down here upon seeing that asterisk in the first place. Do you do that whilst reading proper stuff too? Do ya read the footnotes in a novel right there and then, or save them up ready for the turn of a page? Terry Pratchett, in particular, has a great knack for adding brilliant stuff into his Discworld footnotes, you should check them out sometime...I guess. Anyway, we’re about done here, sorry to have wasted your time if I wasted your time. Send me your cool things via the World Wide Web if I didn't waste your time and you want to be pen pals.