The Answers may SHOCK YOU! No, probably not. For a while now, I've been complaining on the bug reporting forums, trying to figure out 1) Why some of my games had CRAZY points attached to them 2) Why barely edited entries were still racking in points 3) Why aforementioned crazy points weren't getting added to my Wiki points score! But now I believe I has the solution. Or rather, Guy Upstairs Ethan does. Apparently, there's a bug on Giant Bomb where, if you're writing articles in Word and copying them into the editor(as opposed to writing the articles in the editor) some extra code gets factored into the "giving points" algorithm, dealing and displaying more points than they should. I had been writing articles in the editor, copying them into word for a final spell check(sometimes the editor misses misspellings) and them tossing them back into the editor. Hence the crazy points scores. So, that's that. I'm not sure if the correct amount of points will finally be tabulated, or if my contributions will finally start displaying the correct point scores, or if I may lose a ton of points because of the bug(I sure hope not!) Regardless, its good to finally know what's up, and hear that the guys upstairs are taking care of it.
Back in March of 2007, Rockstar released the very first trailer for Grand Theft Auto Iv. Before the release, people were wondering just what Rockstar would be announcing in the trailer. Would we be going back to Liberty City, or one of the other fictional cities from the GTA 3 Trilogy? Or would we explore a brand new location? Or, perhaps, would Rockstar announce that the latest GTA took place in a real world city? What time period would be featured in the game? Would the game be moved to the future? Or Would Rockstar go even further into the past then they did with Vice City?
Indeed, more than a few smart-asses wondered if the trailer would feature the cliche elements that were somehow a part of every single GTA trailer. Would there be a shot of a Police officer firing at something just off-camera? Would a classic, time-defining pop song play throughout the trailer? Would the main character, large guns in hand, walk straight towards a low angle camera while, high in the sky, a helicopter bursts into flames and careens towards the earth?
Would the trailer, they joked, show GTA IV to be exactly the same as the previous games in the series? The same ridiculous action, the same over the top humor � the same gameplay?
Nay, spoke Rockstar, from Scottish mores. This time ,things would be different. Now, as dust begins to settle from its release, it's become clear that most compelling aspects of GTA IV have almost nothing to do with the various gameplay changes that have been made to the franchise(cell phone communication, improved shooting and targeting). Nor does it have to do with the streamlining of the more obtuse gameplay idiosyncrasies that had plagues the franchise since 2001(the terrible mission structure which forced you, effectively, to reload your save game every time you had to redo a mission, the overly wonky car physics, the stiff control, an auto save function that activates after any mission completion).
No, the best parts of GTA IV are entirely related to the liturgical aspects of the game: the dialog, the satire, the story, and (most importantly) the characterization. GTA IV may have terrific technical elements (the size of the city, the detail packed into every inch of the city) but it's the writing and the voice acting that make GTA Iv one of the greatest games of all time.
In effect, the very gameplay of the latest GTA game is almost an auxiliary element; the most sophisticated aspects of GTA wasn't crafted by programmers and designers, but by writers and actors.
(That's probably a little extreme, but this IS the Internet.)
This is downright stupefying.
How could Rockstar, the developers of the single biggest franchise in the HISTORY of gaming, release a GTA game that prioritizes story and character development over the game design aspects that made GTA a hit? You know, violence! And more Violence! And civilian murder! Big guns and bigger vehicles! Boob physics! The very things the "mainstream gameplayer" eats up! Shooting cops! Simulation football! Bad minigame collections! Licensed crap!
...Those last few might not be GTA.
But it certainly has to be asked: why did Rockstar choose to change the focus of their game so dramatically? Certainly, Rockstar doesn't NEED to be creative, or to provide compelling new content: they could have slapped the name GTA IV on 50 Cent Bulletproof, and it would have sold bajillions(the next one, probably not so much, they could have gotten away with it once). The team at Rockstar clearly felt that an even greater focus on story and writing, rather than amping up the ridiculous gameplay of San Andreas, was the key to making things different.
Throughout the release of the GTA trilogy, Rockstar's open world design philosophy made the series a big whale in a small puddle: there simply wasn�t another franchise that was able to match GTA�s quality. Not that other studios didn't try: it's a war crime in some continents to even mention Activision�s True Crime franchise. Players who bought copies of Scarface(on any of the 200 platforms the game was released on (from original Xbox to ZX Spectrum, Apple II to N-Gage) would soon be slapping the sides of their head, lamenting how totally screwed over they were by the Al Pacino on the box(and not the game!).
The only two games that came even remotely close to meeting GTA's level of quality were Pandemic's Mercenaries(an action focused romp in an open world North Korea with a T rating) and The Simpson's Hit and Run(one of the few good licensed Simpson's games with plenty of jokes for hardcore fans). Even those games never managed to strike the same fire in gamer hearts that made GTA a phenomenon. And yet, with the release of the Xbox 360 and the PS3, GTA finally saw completion in some legitimately great open world games.
(Sorry Wii owners! Content yourself with No More Heroes, a masterful satire of ALL American game design, including open world games).
Volition's Saint's Row, before its release, seemed UNBELIVABLY derivative of GTA 3 and GTA San Andreas before its release. Players who grabbed the demo on Xbox Live were stunned by its artificial :street tongue", which seemed so far removed from actual human dialog that it could only have been written by Whitey. It seemed that, going in, Saints Row was going to be a mediocre, albeit ridiculous, open world game.
How foolhardy of gamers(myself included) to doubt Volition(the developers of Freespace 2, the finest spaceflight Sim ever created), as Saint�s Row managed to be the first legitimate GTA clone. Volition managed to add an excellent GPS system to all cars in the game, making driving from point A to B a breeze, and an excellent 3rd person combat system, removing GTA�s terrible targeting system that always had you pointing your gun at the wrong people. Add to that a surprisingly thorough customization system(clearly building off of the mild physique-building elements of San Andreas) and a neat progression system that had the player completing all of the extraneous content(the races and carjacking and rampage missions in the periphery of the past GTA games) to proceed in the story, giving the player a decent amount of mission variety between the story missions.
Even the ridiculous dialog managed to grow on players: Saint's Row fans are apt to describe the moment when they stopped thinking of the writing as serious, and started thinking of it as ironic. Once players hit that point, every bizarre interaction manages to seem even more hilarious , and the true genius of Volition's script comes out: the game is damn funny. Maybe not as funny as the GTA games, but just enough so that, combined with the various upgrades , Saint's Row stood out as a great, modern substitute to the aging GTA games.
While Saint's Row proved that other companies could successfully duplicate Rockstar's masterpieces (and improve on them) Real Time Worlds proved, with their surprisingly fun Crackdown, that other companies could successfully CHANGE the old formula. David Jones, founder of Real Time Worlds and the original creator of Grand Theft Auto (in its 2-D origins) certainly knew a thing or two about creating a large open world, and Crackdown is the most OPEN open world game available on consoles: the game sets you loose after 3 main dudes. Take out their generals if you want, but all you have to do to complete the game was off the 3 gang leaders making.
Crackdown also proved that your open world game didn't have to place you in the role of a criminal to provide enough game play options in the world: Crackdown, the GOP's number one game of 2007, placed you in the role of a super-powered cop, with the authority to take down gang members by any means necessary to serve the public and uphold the peace. With a ton of firepower at your disposal, and droves of gang members littering the streets, there was literally no reason to beat up civilians.
Crooks get shot in the face!
Crackdown also provided a pretty sophisticated RPG system(an upgrade to the light RPG building elements in San Andreas) where the main character would slowly become more powerful and adroit as he performed tasks over and over: firing guns would slowly make you more accurate and able to target opponents from farther distances, while using your melee skills would eventually give you superhuman strength, letting you throw cars and enemies.
So, what do Saint's Row and Crackdown have to do with GTA IV�s increased focus on story rather than gameplay?
Think about the key features of both Saint's Row and Crackdown: the best parts of both games are how they improve on aspects of the past GTA games. There's nothing particularly original about either game(though Crackdown does have a very nice pseudo-cell shaded look). These are products that sought to beat GTA at its own game. Unlike legions of imitators to come before, Saint's Row and Crackdown were the first games to be truly successful knock offs.
If Rockstar had kept a focus solely on the elements that made the series a wild success- the technical prowess(in building a HUGE city), and the wild action (that made the predecessor's so crazy)- GTA IV could very well have come across as a knock-off of the knock offs. Both Saint's Row and Crackdown(combined) do (basically) everything that the older GTA games did, and well. Had Rockstar contented itself to simply build on the progress of the knock-offs, the series might have descended into the realm of the has-beens: the classic game series, once synonymous with a certain style of gaming, that have been far outclassed by more proficient entries in their genre. Series like Doom/Quake and Final Fantasy have been overshadowed by newcomers because of their tired insistence of simply tweaking the formula rather than truly innovating.
By putting the focus of the game on characters and dialog over textures and physics, GTA IV manages to feel nothing like Saint's Row and Crackdown. The overwhelming feelings of empathy you have towards the games characters, the genuine concern for their well being, the tremendous sadness for the endless cycles of violence- these are the emotions that stand out once you complete Rockstar's latest magnum opus. It's unlikely the player would care as much about the story and dialog had Rockstar put the majority of the game's effort into ridiculous game play scenario's and game play improvements. GTA deftly stands as a bridge between the past of gaming, the razor's edge competition of top of the line graphics and gameplay- to the future- where narrative development will drive a game's focus. It's the focus on the latter that makes the latest entry so spectacular, and unlike any
It's that newfound focus on story that I hope defines gaming from this point henceforth. I dream that the proficiency of the writing in GTA extends to all other works in the medium.
Jeff: Hey dude, we'll probably approve most of what's in the queue right now, but don't just set an emulator to take a shot every 20 seconds and upload all of them to us. We don't need shots of the Konami logo fading out or 10 shots of the fight with Baxter in Turtles in Time. Thanks.
Totally Busted! In my own shameless efforts to inflate my wiki points score, I used some emulators to go and take screen shots of old games I used to love, then throwing them(sometimes in an ugly mass) into the image page. Foolish me to think I could get away with it.
I put this blog here to get what I deserve: public flogging. Hopefully you all can get your anger/fury out in a meaningful way in the comments section, and i can take the schadenfreude I so richly deserve.
After nearly 40 hours of gun-blazing, lady-dating- comedy-watching,decision making action, I closed the book on GTA IV. I'm going to try and articulate my feelings discuss the various aspects of GTAIV, specifically, I'm going to try and explain why GTAIV(for me, anyway) is the most important game released since The Legend Of Zelda: Ocerina Of Time(my personal vote for the greatest game ever made). I'll try to articulate how GTAIV flaws and blemishes in all, is a potent, mainstream illustration of Game as Art.
But I'm getting a tad ahead of myself. I want to start with just one thing I love about GTA IV, and go from there.
GTAIV is, (finally), the game that actually understands the best way to offer players a Choice.
Legions of Western RPG's have tried to offer the player "choices" in games, offering the player a greater opportunity to further interact with their game of choice. However, these games almost always force players to make choices in the realm of morality, and, as such offer such black and white notions of good and evil that the very option of a choice feels disingenuous. Bioware's RPG's in particular, are guilty of offering a player such obvious choices: it's a punch to the face to anyone who believes that(maybe! just maybe!) issues may have some shades of gray. Even last years Bioshock basically offered you the choice of being a cold- hearted survivor or the salvation of the children. At the time, it was easy to be bamboozled by the frightening effect of the Little Sister's, but after 10-15 hours of making the same choices over and over again, the Little Sister's ceased feeling like a frightening genetic monstrosity, and started feeling like a mechanic. Choice CANNOT be so black and white, and(most importantly of all) choice cannot let on exactly where the game story is going to end(prime example: if you save the Little Sister's,you get the Good ending. Big Surprise. Wee.)
This is not choice. This is insulting.
GTA presents the player with choices that have NO clear outcomes. Every choice offered to Nico(and, by proxy, to the player) seem to offer no "best choice". Each decision offers a real dilemma, where you cannot even choose "the lesser of two evils": both choices seem so downright ambiguous that you could potentially make the choice with a coin flip. The player has no knowledge of where these choices will lead them, or what these choices mean about the player: they are real choices, offing the player simply a fork in the road, two paths, and no directions. By not offering the player a helping hand as to which choice is "the good one" or "the evil one" players are finally forced to make choices based on their own damn principles....and they may find out which principles are most important to them.
I will provide one such "choice" that resonated with me. Keep in mind that if you still intend on going into GTA fresh, this would be considered A MINOR SPOILER. BE WARNED WITH YA BAD SELF.
One of the missions close to the middle to the game has you track down a Russian cadre responsible for funding terrorism. Once Nico has dealt with the man's guards, you have option to kill the man at the end of the mission or not. Doing one or the other will end the mission and earn Nico is payout.
The terrorist was unarmed. He was begging for his life. He was a terrorist. My mission was to kill him.
For Krishna knows what reason, I didn't execute the man.
He was unarmed, I thought to myself. I had done enough damage in this mission. I "got my point across". But for all of my rationalization, I had revealed to myself my true colors: I would not shoot an opponent who surrendered, and, as a result, I let a man who funded terrorism go on living. Just because he was unarmed. Did I really do the right thing? Could this character potentially recover from my attack and still fund an assault on civilians? Did I do innocents of the world injustice by not ending a man who could destroy the country?
I had murdered so many others, I told myself. Plenty of others. Here I had an opportunity to show mercy. I could let this one live. I wasn't about to kill an unarmed man. Not when I didn't have to.
I justified my decision.
I think Dan Houser(who co-wrote the game) must have, at some point between the development of San Andreas and GTAIV, must have picked up some of the works of quintessential American poet Robert Frost; many of the choices that Nico Bellic makes throughout the course of the game draw perfect parallels to Frost's classic poem The Road Not Taken. In that poem, the speaker comes across a fork in the road and is forced to make a decision. One of the two paths:
"TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth;"
The speaker of the poem makes a choice, almost arbitrarily. Most importantly, however, he spends the rest of his days justifying his choice, and all the events that resulted from that choice, calling it "The Road Not Taken". It doesn't matter what choice he makes; all that matters is how he justifies it:
"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference"
GTAIV presents Nico with ambiguous choices and lets the player make the final call. It doesn't matter what call the player makes, so long as he or she can, or tries, to truly justify it for themselves. That is the essence of real choice. GTA IV nails it in a way that no other game has yet to achieve. GTAIV doesn't always let's the player know the results of their choices, and very rarely does the player see the effects of their choices play out during the rest of the game. Occasionally, Nico will here some tiny little factoid that may have some impact on how the player feels about the decision, but(and this is the key) there is never any good choice or bad choice, no right choice or wrong choice in the game. The player has to do exactly what Frost said:justify the decision for themselves. The choice, removed from any type of "gameplay system" of "vague idea of morallity" has more weight than in a dozen other games that claim to offer "freedom"". And that has made all the difference.