Crysis 2 Critiscism: Nice Graphics, Shame About the Game ?

Crysis was better, Farcry was even better than that.

What is it about Crytek game designers ? There could have been so many possibilities here. So many chances to really add to the video game as a story telling experience to rival film, TV and novel. Why does it have to be treated like a trivial, throw away experience ? Read this interview with Marc Laidlow, writer for Half Life, where he hints at so many extraordinary possibilities that we could be getting into here. It just all seems like a pathetic waste.

It reminds me of some left wing political analysis I’ve seen. This is the triumph of spectacle over real content. Everything is designed to be an awe inspiring set piece like the latest product advertising, or political rally, or designer war. There’s no exploration of artistic nuances because that might couple the pure power of the computer with the age old techniques of story telling. God forbid, god forbid if teenagers are exposed to that. They might start finding out things for themselves and we can’t have that now can we ?

The game industry, especially the PC game industry, needs to break out of the grip of Nvidia, Microsoft and the companies all too eager to dance to their tune. Linux would be the perfect platform for games when we get an advanced release of the nouvea Nvidia open source driver. This has to be what is slowly stifling the genre. The monopolies have everything locked down in proprietary technologies and corporate distributing systems. Does that sound like one of these copy cat FPS’s stories to anyone … “take down the evil video game company” ?

EDIT: In fact this is exactly what I have done. I pledge that I will refuse to buy any more games produced or distributed by EA. I have decided to do this after reading the EA Wikipedia article. My decision is also based on observing their behaviour over many years. They are part of the same totally toxic alien (there’s your alien invasion) mindset that has taken over health, the prison system (in the USA), global “democratic” politics and many other areas. It is totally without soul or remorse. It destroys everything it touches. Creativity, Art and the Human Spirit.  It is video games that have always provided a sort of immune response to this corporate shite. This is because it reproduces a kind of fractal embedding (see the work of Dan Winter and others) that is mind freeing to some extent, although it is not a replacement for full healthy living that gives proper body field symmetry. The game is a fractal subunit of the outside world, mimicking in some ways the arrangement of individualised consciousness.

This may seem trivial to some … “it’s just a game” … but I grew up with arcade games and the first home computers. They were always a respite from the nightmare going on around me, although I did not know why at the time. What we are seeing is much the same thing as was done to the music industry or the film industry. Heavy corporatisation and the attempted crushing of genuine creativity. However the human spirit being what it is, some way is usually found to get around the clampdown. Maybe we will see this in the video game industry as front line game creators become more and more frustrated by corporate control and attempt to create alternative distribution mechanisms. What about an open source Steam-like client ? How long will it be before some video game “killer” application is running on Linux that will entice millions to some future (Steam-like) open source platform unrestricted by endless corporate nightmares like DRM and the exploitation of multiplayer gamers ?

EDIT: Been thinking about this a bit more. Crysis 2 is a very polished product. It has well made textures and environments as well as a high standard of sound and many other aspects of the game. However after playing the original Farcry it hit me what is wrong here.  There is absolutely no symbolism of any kind in the entire game that you can really tie into anything in the real world (by the way, all good science fiction should do this). It has all been meticulously and carefully removed. More so, there are no nuances in the game or the story. In Farcry we had some atmosphere creating references to history in the first few levels. Old Japanese tanks identified the location as somewhere in the pacific. A location of a previous Second World War battle or at least a Japanese base. This climaxed in the level with the old rusting Japanese aircraft carrier. This was all a brilliant juxtaposition of tragedies of the past with the use of these locations by Krueger for his human experimentation that gave Farcry an ironic edge. Remember, the Japanese are known to have experimented with poison gas and bio-weapons on prisoners in the Second World War. Later in the game we see messages left around such as this …

Notice especially the last line on the magazine in the second image. A message still relevant today, 5 years after Farcry was released. The addition of this kind of message just adds to the entire atmosphere, putting the story in context and subtly pulling in wider issues. Other games do this such as Half-life and Farcry 2 also successfully did this with their references to Dogon mythology and other themes, for example the little speeches that The Jackal gives is an effective deconstruction of the “free” West and its narcissistic assumption if moral superiority. But subtly is the key term. No game player wants a load of politics in their face. But the messages are there for those who want to look. If they don’t then there’s a subconscious effect that adds to immersion. Remember, immersion is not only to do with frame-rates and graphics. Just like any work of art the themes have to pull someone in.

Could the absence of any of these techniques in Crysis 2 have something to do with the corporate litigation culture ? With these big companies like EA, combined with the extremely politically correct culture we live in, any message that is deemed potentially offensive or litigious gets removed. Look at the terms used in the Crysis 2 credits …

“EA Embedded Test Team”

“Compliance Testing”

These are financial and business terms. Look at the definitions.

Definition Of Embedded Option:

embedded option A provision within a security giving either the issuer or the security holder the right to take a specified action against the other.

For example, a call provision is an embedded option in a bond that gives the issuer the right to redeem the bond prior to the scheduled maturity.

( Source )

And another definition.

EA Compliance

 This is the process by which the solutions (composed of services, application components, COTS Applications etc), that have been acquired and integrated or developed, are formally assessed for compliance with the Enterprise Architecture (EA).

( Source )

So it’s worth identifying why games like Crysis 2 are so god damn awful from an artistic and story telling point of view. The video game genre is still alive and kicking but we’re in a huge mess here at the moment in our world. There are signs of things changing for the better. But I still see storytelling in video games as a powerful way to step outside of the nightmare we have created for ourselves (at least for the moment). It would be an awful shame if gaming were corporatised like everything else. Maybe, just as in the music world, we need a new generation of punk game designers. Creative’s seeking to build their own worlds and cultures involving gaming as a form of expression rather than just another disposable product.

EDIT1: “Microsoft says WebGL browser games are “harmful”” … O’reilly ? Any security concerns for WebGL will of course be addressed but M$ show their usual totally greedy and corrupt posturing. They are like a pharmaceutical that has to supress any natural – freely accesable (like open source) – rivals to it’s expensive product. But M$ has a problem – Google and Apple. 

While the security concerns are obviously relevant, this also looks like the opening salvo in a similar battle to the OpenGL/DirectX one over a decade ago. That’s a battle less likely to have a clear winner if Microsoft ends up facing off against the likely supporters of cross platform web gaming: Google and Apple. You could probably throw Facebook and Amazon into that too.

M$ won the fight with OpenGL. The original Unreal Tournament came with OpenGL drivers. When was there last a big game with OpenGL support ? There has’nt been. They all require DirectX, and now even versions of DirectX only available on Vista or Windows 7. I don’t want to have to buy and find a place to install an entire OS just to play a single game ! An outragous, and sad, indicator of the state of PC gaming. Hopefully WebGL will free up this Microsoft/Nvidia stranglehold.

EDIT2: Desura announced a Linux client which is now in advanced stage of development and is almost ready for release.

“… the key ingredient is probably our ties to the indie community. As you may know, Desura is part of DesuraNET, which also runs ModDB and the spin-off IndieDB. This is something that no other game distribution platform has, and really does give us a niche market and more direct ties between us, the gamers, and the developers.” Desura on Linux interview.

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