The’ Awesome Button’ - One press can ruin the game

Posted by ObeyCabbage (5 posts) -

Seemingly vast stretches of desert are broken apart with intermittent signs of chaos, attempted escape and desperation. The player and their A.I comrades battle against gales of wind, the tail end of a devastating sandstorm that had previously brought their helicopter crashing down. Upon finally reaching the top of, what appears to be a dune, but is actually a sand covered freeway entrance; the remaining swirls of floating sand disappear to reveal a devastated Dubai. The scene from the elevated platform is eerily beautiful, a teal sky compliments the endless, orange dune covered surface; a film-like visual treatment that developer Yager has adopted to accomplish their intended Hollywood style direction in their yet to be released title Spec Ops: The Line.

Based upon Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, Spec Ops: The Line promises a mature plot within a unique setting. Players assume control of Captain Martin Walker who, accompanied with two other Delta force soldiers, is tasked with investigating the incident following the devastating sandstorm, and rescue a missing army Colonel. Spec Ops: The Line will be the first entry into the franchise that features an accentuation on narrative and plot.

You know the world has gone to shit when someone has gone out of their way to raise the American flag upside down.

While this may seem like the beginning to a review for the game, this information has been gathered from playing the demo alone. It’s necessary to highlight Yager and 2K Games decision to build and emphasise the game’s ‘mature’ narrative and plot, as the demo itself manages to break this structure.

In today’s AAA video game climate, it’s becoming more and more imperative to implement a strong emphasis on visuals to compete against rival games, regardless of other decidedly important aspects of design. This visual ‘flair’ may come in the form of an artistic style choice or specific character actions and animations. Problems arise when the balance between a game’s visual flair and the other aspects of design is not made. As of late, more and more games are experiencing this imbalance, the quality of the other aspects of a game deteriorate in favour of high quality visuals. In the case of Spec Ops: The Line, the decision to implement an “execution” button ruined any opportunity for me to appreciate the narrative; or perhaps more accurately, it was the method in which I was initially encouraged to use this ‘awesome button’.

After fighting through waves of enemies through makeshift corridors of abandoned cars, road signs and parts of various buildings, Walker enters a shipment crate, alone ( it seems his A.I squad would prefer not to follow him through). Upon reaching the end of the closed crate, he barges the door open, sending an adversary who was holding it shut sprawling onto the sand. The player is then reminded that they are still in the tutorial section when white text appears on the screen, encouraging them to ‘execute’ this man you have effectively subdued.

Stone faced Walker remains composed as he stares into fearful eyes. All in the name of ‘looking awesome’.

Upon holding the prompted button, Walker enters an animation in which he stomps on his victims chest, followed by a killing blow to the head. By today’s standards of video game violence, this scene is relatively tame, the context however, is where I found the problem. Up until this point in the game, Walker is still operating as a decorated Captain of Delta force, apparently trained and disciplined; and in no circumstance should this enemy be murdered in such a way, other than because ‘it’s a game’ and ‘it tells you to’. In a game that opened with a promising premise and seemingly grounded in reality, it’s disappointing that the illusion should be destroyed so early on, with just one push of a button. Perhaps further into the game, performing this execution move feels justified in context to the narrative; in that case, they should have left this prompt until then.

He’s gonna feel that in the morning. No, wait…

Spec Ops: The Line is by no means the only culprit in sacrificing integrity for visual flair, another recently released game, guilty of conforming to this practice is Max Payne 3. Back in May, Keith Stuart wrote a fantastic article, acknowledging the growing problem of narrative dissonance in video games, arguing that Max Payne is a prime example, with good reason. Overall, the gameplay feels disjointed from the game’s narrative; after Max breezes through waves of scripted enemies through corridors of varying colour and style in a hail of bullets, he returns to his dilapidated apartment to console with a bottle of spirit about his past and present.

Oh, Melancholy!

Joining him along for the ride is the series trademark painkiller pills, interestingly, developer Rockstar has decided to introduce the drug into the game’s narrative, perhaps in an attempt to further support Max Payne’s new realistic direction. However, no explanation is given to why Max has the ability to slow down time, unless this is a side effect to the copious amount of pills he consumes, although I should not have to come up with my own reasons. When all other elements of the franchise had been reworked to fit Rockstar’s grounded, realistic motif, the inclusion of ‘bullet time’ requires a suspension of disbelief that shouldn’t be necessary.

The awesome button in Max Payne 3, what really drives home the disappointing contrast between the gameplay and narrative, is the ability to continue to shoot your target in slow-motion, after they are decidedly deceased. Upon firing a killing shot at the last remaining enemy in the room, players have the ability to continue to shoot bullets into the corpse in a disconcerting fashion, as it falls to the ground. It makes it difficult to relate to, or believe in, Max’s state of mind when he butchers his victims, then drowns his sorrows and bullies himself through internal monologue, only to rinse and repeat.

This is the ‘cleanest’ screen shot I could take. You should see the others…

The light at the end of the tunnel, an example of a well implemented ‘awesome button’, comes from the game that named it so, and I decided to adopt it for this piece. Saints Row the Third is an example of confident integration of gameplay and narrative, creating an outlandish plot, atmosphere and setting completely avoids any need for suspension of disbelief. From the word go, it becomes apparent what Saints Row the Third is, a game; it feels like a game in every sense. The ‘awesome button’ in Saints row is essentially a sprint button, only when the player comes into contact with another object in the game world, amazing things happen. Upon approaching a car, the player launches into the air, and crashes through the windscreen, forcing the previous driver out. Approaching another character in the game with this button held down will result in one of many comical takedown moves; whether its a drop kick to the face, flying crotch-to-the-face, or a leap frog punch, these moves feel as if they are part of the narrative; but I wonder if this is due to its open, sandbox mechanics and the opportunity to create my own narrative.

More of this, please. I think?

While I continue to purchase games in hope that they will adopt a structure similar to Saints Row the Third, I take solace in the fact that another entry into the franchise is in the works.

#1 Posted by ObeyCabbage (5 posts) -

Seemingly vast stretches of desert are broken apart with intermittent signs of chaos, attempted escape and desperation. The player and their A.I comrades battle against gales of wind, the tail end of a devastating sandstorm that had previously brought their helicopter crashing down. Upon finally reaching the top of, what appears to be a dune, but is actually a sand covered freeway entrance; the remaining swirls of floating sand disappear to reveal a devastated Dubai. The scene from the elevated platform is eerily beautiful, a teal sky compliments the endless, orange dune covered surface; a film-like visual treatment that developer Yager has adopted to accomplish their intended Hollywood style direction in their yet to be released title Spec Ops: The Line.

Based upon Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, Spec Ops: The Line promises a mature plot within a unique setting. Players assume control of Captain Martin Walker who, accompanied with two other Delta force soldiers, is tasked with investigating the incident following the devastating sandstorm, and rescue a missing army Colonel. Spec Ops: The Line will be the first entry into the franchise that features an accentuation on narrative and plot.

You know the world has gone to shit when someone has gone out of their way to raise the American flag upside down.

While this may seem like the beginning to a review for the game, this information has been gathered from playing the demo alone. It’s necessary to highlight Yager and 2K Games decision to build and emphasise the game’s ‘mature’ narrative and plot, as the demo itself manages to break this structure.

In today’s AAA video game climate, it’s becoming more and more imperative to implement a strong emphasis on visuals to compete against rival games, regardless of other decidedly important aspects of design. This visual ‘flair’ may come in the form of an artistic style choice or specific character actions and animations. Problems arise when the balance between a game’s visual flair and the other aspects of design is not made. As of late, more and more games are experiencing this imbalance, the quality of the other aspects of a game deteriorate in favour of high quality visuals. In the case of Spec Ops: The Line, the decision to implement an “execution” button ruined any opportunity for me to appreciate the narrative; or perhaps more accurately, it was the method in which I was initially encouraged to use this ‘awesome button’.

After fighting through waves of enemies through makeshift corridors of abandoned cars, road signs and parts of various buildings, Walker enters a shipment crate, alone ( it seems his A.I squad would prefer not to follow him through). Upon reaching the end of the closed crate, he barges the door open, sending an adversary who was holding it shut sprawling onto the sand. The player is then reminded that they are still in the tutorial section when white text appears on the screen, encouraging them to ‘execute’ this man you have effectively subdued.

Stone faced Walker remains composed as he stares into fearful eyes. All in the name of ‘looking awesome’.

Upon holding the prompted button, Walker enters an animation in which he stomps on his victims chest, followed by a killing blow to the head. By today’s standards of video game violence, this scene is relatively tame, the context however, is where I found the problem. Up until this point in the game, Walker is still operating as a decorated Captain of Delta force, apparently trained and disciplined; and in no circumstance should this enemy be murdered in such a way, other than because ‘it’s a game’ and ‘it tells you to’. In a game that opened with a promising premise and seemingly grounded in reality, it’s disappointing that the illusion should be destroyed so early on, with just one push of a button. Perhaps further into the game, performing this execution move feels justified in context to the narrative; in that case, they should have left this prompt until then.

He’s gonna feel that in the morning. No, wait…

Spec Ops: The Line is by no means the only culprit in sacrificing integrity for visual flair, another recently released game, guilty of conforming to this practice is Max Payne 3. Back in May, Keith Stuart wrote a fantastic article, acknowledging the growing problem of narrative dissonance in video games, arguing that Max Payne is a prime example, with good reason. Overall, the gameplay feels disjointed from the game’s narrative; after Max breezes through waves of scripted enemies through corridors of varying colour and style in a hail of bullets, he returns to his dilapidated apartment to console with a bottle of spirit about his past and present.

Oh, Melancholy!

Joining him along for the ride is the series trademark painkiller pills, interestingly, developer Rockstar has decided to introduce the drug into the game’s narrative, perhaps in an attempt to further support Max Payne’s new realistic direction. However, no explanation is given to why Max has the ability to slow down time, unless this is a side effect to the copious amount of pills he consumes, although I should not have to come up with my own reasons. When all other elements of the franchise had been reworked to fit Rockstar’s grounded, realistic motif, the inclusion of ‘bullet time’ requires a suspension of disbelief that shouldn’t be necessary.

The awesome button in Max Payne 3, what really drives home the disappointing contrast between the gameplay and narrative, is the ability to continue to shoot your target in slow-motion, after they are decidedly deceased. Upon firing a killing shot at the last remaining enemy in the room, players have the ability to continue to shoot bullets into the corpse in a disconcerting fashion, as it falls to the ground. It makes it difficult to relate to, or believe in, Max’s state of mind when he butchers his victims, then drowns his sorrows and bullies himself through internal monologue, only to rinse and repeat.

This is the ‘cleanest’ screen shot I could take. You should see the others…

The light at the end of the tunnel, an example of a well implemented ‘awesome button’, comes from the game that named it so, and I decided to adopt it for this piece. Saints Row the Third is an example of confident integration of gameplay and narrative, creating an outlandish plot, atmosphere and setting completely avoids any need for suspension of disbelief. From the word go, it becomes apparent what Saints Row the Third is, a game; it feels like a game in every sense. The ‘awesome button’ in Saints row is essentially a sprint button, only when the player comes into contact with another object in the game world, amazing things happen. Upon approaching a car, the player launches into the air, and crashes through the windscreen, forcing the previous driver out. Approaching another character in the game with this button held down will result in one of many comical takedown moves; whether its a drop kick to the face, flying crotch-to-the-face, or a leap frog punch, these moves feel as if they are part of the narrative; but I wonder if this is due to its open, sandbox mechanics and the opportunity to create my own narrative.

More of this, please. I think?

While I continue to purchase games in hope that they will adopt a structure similar to Saints Row the Third, I take solace in the fact that another entry into the franchise is in the works.

#2 Posted by AssInAss (2649 posts) -

@ObeyCabbage said:

Up until this point in the game, Walker is still operating as a decorated Captain of Delta force, apparently trained and disciplined; and in no circumstance should this enemy be murdered in such a way, other than because ‘it’s a game’ and ‘it tells you to’. In a game that opened with a promising premise and seemingly grounded in reality, it’s disappointing that the illusion should be destroyed so early on, with just one push of a button. Perhaps further into the game, performing this execution move feels justified in context to the narrative; in that case, they should have left this prompt until then.

He’s gonna feel that in the morning. No, wait…

Yeah this narrative dissonance was a big thing talked about when Uncharted 2 came out and everyone called Nathan Drake a mass murderer, it's almost a meme at this point.

About Spec Ops The Line, it's really just the tutorial to introduce you to melee but the developers seem to be aware of your dissonance. They want you to feel a bit ambiguous about Walker's morality. I agree that they should avoid the dissonance by creating a more specific not-as-brutal melee animation to take down the dude (because he will stand up again! lol) for only that situation, and gradually the melee animations becomes more intense later but I don't think that's what they're going for that Walker starts as a good guy. I've heard the devs say something to this effect in interviews but not to that Walker starts off as a decorated goody-goody fresh Captain. Remember in the demo, he's worked with Konrad in the past, he's not that green. In the game later on, I'm guessing you lose your good righteous side, you're in a fucked up place, and those melee animations get even more brutal.

Actually here we go, Cory Davis mentioned the brutal melee executions here:

By having the characters that are with you evolve throughout the course of the combat, throughout the course of the game… we have these executions at the beginning. When you execute someone, it’s very quick. It’s brutal because it’s a more physical way of killing, but it’s more to the point, almost out of mercy sometimes. Towards the end, where [your squad has] built up all this anger and resentment, they’re just beat down and primal. They may shoot a guy in leg, in the knee or in the stomach before they shoot him in the head. They may knock out his teeth with the barrel of their gun. They are expressing their anger through their body language and action and also how they talk. Lugo at the beginning is very jokey and funny. They’re having a good time. By the end, they’re barely calling each other by their names.

And here:

But perhaps the most surprising aspect of Spec Ops: The Line’s take on morality is its brutal execution system. In the most recent issue of 360 Magazine, the lead designer of Spec Ops: The Line, Cory Davis, was interviewed, and amongst the various questions asked he had the opportunity to go into more depth about the game’s execution mechanics:
Cory Davis: “In Spec Ops, we play with this element of uncertainty around death. A lot of games want this black and white situation of when you shoot someone, they die. And afterwards you high-five with your buddy and move on. In Spec Ops: The Line, after combat, people are bleeding out on the battlefield, they’re dying in pain in a horrific way, and so we wanted players to have to encounter those situations, and we wanted to provide mechanics they could choose to use in those situations. For example, there’s a real gameplay element here in that enemies don’t give up weapons and ammo until their death.
A lot of times when you feel you want or need to grab some ammo, you’re going to have to kill someone who’s in a horrific situation. It’s been really interesting to see how some players react to that. Some will want to put them out of their misery quickly; others will run away and not interact with them; others will want to take revenge and brutalize them. As we get further into the game, the mental states of the characters break down and the executions Walker performs begin to reflect that. There are a huge range of these things that evolve from the start of the game, because we wanted to keep things consistent between the gameplay and narrative. So that evolution affected a lot of things damaged clothes, bloody faces.”

And they've mentioned often that Spec Ops The Line is not trying to be a realistic game. (1:15 of this interview):

"In Spec Ops The Line, we're not a realistic game. We're trying to be authentic to the emotions and the stories that are told about these scenarios, the things that people feel in wartime scenarios. But as well we have a unique setting that allows us some freedom."

You can just tell from the launch trailer that Walker won't be such a nice guy.

I don't think we should give up on improving narrative while in-game. There's space for both types of games that embrace their game-yness like Saint's Row 3 and those that try to create as consistent a world in every detail.

#3 Posted by Klei (1768 posts) -

I get what you mean. Until you brought it on Max Payne. His ability to slow down time doesn't need to be explained, it's just a '' gaming '' gimmick to accentuate the action. It makes you understand that Max is a dead-eye shooter, and to accurately render it into the game, Remedy created the bullet time mechanic back in MP1. That's how I see it. Also, I think MP3 is excellent and a masterpiece of a game.

#4 Posted by ObeyCabbage (5 posts) -

Your definitely more versed with the development of SO:TL than I, especially with the focused direction it has taken over the last few years. I had not read up on these interviews or studied these trailers; as previously stated, my impressions of the game were based entirely on the demo. While it could be argued that I was quick to judge the game's intentions solely on this one interaction, i feel that there may be others that find themselves in a situation where they will purchase the game without any background knowledge and encountering a similar response. While the game's introduction sequence did indeed give me some idea of what to expect from these characters, i didn't feel that it was enough to justify a military soldier to execute an enemy in that fashion; i felt that it was still too early in the game, where the situation hadn't properly been established yet, or perhaps that they had not disclosed enough information about Walker's and Konrad's personality; but this is entirely my opinion, and i may have expected a bit too much.

"I don't think we should give up on improving narrative while in-game. There's space for both types of games that embrace their game-yness like Saint's Row 3 and those that try to create as consistent a world in every detail."

I couldn't agree with you more, and I appreciate your reply.

#5 Posted by ObeyCabbage (5 posts) -

@Klei As a fan of Remedy's Max Payne, I felt that Rockstar had changed so many elements of the franchise that in essence, it didn't feel like a Max Payne game. The ability to hold around 20 weapons has been stripped down to a realistic 2-hand mechanic. The painkillers were introduced into the story as a narrative focal point. When every 'gaming gimmick' that Remedy has built into the franchise is altered, or removed, by Rockstar, I can't quite understand why they stop there, and didn't attempt to rationalise bullet time, Max Payne 3 featured an accentuated cover mechanic, that I used much more frequently than bullet time, to the point where I wonder was it necessary to keep it in at all? Sure it wouldn't be a Max Payne game without bullet time, but when every other aforementioned element had been changed or removed, Max Payne 3 didn't feel like a Max Payne game at all; it just felt like a fantastic, solid shooter with a well written plot and narrative. Again, this is just my opinion, and for the sake of Max Payne fans, I'm glad that Rockstar didn't completely change the franchise formula that Remedy had so lovingly built.

#6 Posted by AssInAss (2649 posts) -

@ObeyCabbage said:

Your definitely more versed with the development of SO:TL than I, especially with the focused direction it has taken over the last few years. I had not read up on these interviews or studied these trailers; as previously stated, my impressions of the game were based entirely on the demo. While it could be argued that I was quick to judge the game's intentions solely on this one interaction, i feel that there may be others that find themselves in a situation where they will purchase the game without any background knowledge and encountering a similar response. While the game's introduction sequence did indeed give me some idea of what to expect from these characters, i didn't feel that it was enough to justify a military soldier to execute an enemy in that fashion; i felt that it was still too early in the game, where the situation hadn't properly been established yet, or perhaps that they had not disclosed enough information about Walker's and Konrad's personality; but this is entirely my opinion, and i may have expected a bit too much.

"I don't think we should give up on improving narrative while in-game. There's space for both types of games that embrace their game-yness like Saint's Row 3 and those that try to create as consistent a world in every detail."

I couldn't agree with you more, and I appreciate your reply.

Yeah I'm pretty hyped about Spec Ops' story, so been following the interviews about the narrative and about Walker. Not to say that particular melee execution is completely excused, I did tweet to Cory Davis [Lead Designer] and Walt Williams [Lead Writer] about what if others mention the narrative dissonance about Walker showing so much brutality with melee so early in the game. Other than Walker having worked with Konrad before in Kabul, there's not much to go on Walker's personality to have him be that aggressive.

It's a great argument to bring up.

#7 Posted by ObeyCabbage (5 posts) -

Yeah I'm pretty hyped about Spec Ops' story, so been following the interviews about the narrative and about Walker. Not to say that particular melee execution is completely excused, I did tweet to Cory Davis [Lead Designer] and Walt Williams [Lead Writer] about what if others mention the narrative dissonance about Walker showing so much brutality with melee so early in the game. Other than Walker having worked with Konrad before in Kabul, there's not much to go on Walker's personality to have him be that aggressive.

It's a great argument to bring up.

I'm glad that it kind of made sense. Incidentally, i found the rest of the narrative, up until the end of the demo, very entertaining, and the game itself is a exemplary, solid modern shooter with some interesting mechanics. Also, that gif from the trailer is fucking badass and totally saved.

#8 Posted by Napalm (9020 posts) -

@AssInAss: Interesting post, man. This makes me a bit more curious about Spec Ops: The Line.

#9 Posted by egg (1467 posts) -

"However, no explanation is given to why Max has the ability to slow down time, unless this is a side effect to the copious amount of pills he consumes, although I should not have to come up with my own reasons."

You shouldn't have to? but why?

#10 Edited by ObeyCabbage (5 posts) -

I think that was bad pharsing on my part. What I meant was, Rockstar should have came up with a method of introducing bullet time into the narrative; but because they didn't, I introduced it myself in jest with "unless this is a side effect to the copious amount of pills he consumes", i shouldn't have to make up excuses for them.

#11 Posted by AssInAss (2649 posts) -

In relation to Spec Ops, here's Cory Davis' [Lead Designer] reply to my tweet:

Interesting...

#12 Posted by CatsAkimbo (626 posts) -

@AssInAss said:

In relation to Spec Ops, here's Cory Davis' [Lead Designer] reply to my tweet:

Interesting...

Cory was on Weekend Confirmed last week and made it sound like there was some intentional ambiguity and subtleties in the story. A knife to the throat isn't subtle at all, but maybe combined with other things it'll make sense.

#13 Posted by CornBREDX (5306 posts) -

While I agree, there is a dissonance in a lot of games like that (see Uncharted as a good example) Spec Ops the Line actually plays with that aspect of shooters on purpose. I feel saying much more would be to spoilery but just finish the game. 
    

 
^Not kidding this is kind of spoilery^
#14 Edited by Frag_Maniac (107 posts) -

I have to say although I liked the gameplay more than I thought I would (I tend to like shooters that challenge the player somewhat), the story left me feeling kinda meh. There's nothing wrong with dissonance in a story, but this is sheer mindless dissonance without focus. Too much of a good thing equals a bad thing is what I'm saying.

I'd have preferred the underlying theme be more subtle (in story, not in graphic scenes), and they'd focused more on a clear cut plot, or at least a two or three way branched plot with clearly different possible endings. Instead it comes off as feeling like a fruitless journey with soldiers being mindless mechanisms of war, and it even does it with a rather cheesy occult ending.

It's odd that there was so much controversy over Six Days in Falluja, merely for paralleling actual incidents, but they can take a totally fictitious (even sci fi at times) piece of work and make the soldiers look just as bad if not worse, and it's perfectly OK. I'm still hoping SDiF gets released someday in it's true, uncensored form.

This edit will also create new pages on Giant Bomb for:

Beware, you are proposing to add brand new pages to the wiki along with your edits. Make sure this is what you intended. This will likely increase the time it takes for your changes to go live.

Comment and Save

Until you earn 1000 points all your submissions need to be vetted by other Giant Bomb users. This process takes no more than a few hours and we'll send you an email once approved.