Things you should see.

Archive for May, 2011

There are trainwrecks, and then there’s The Office

Having never been in the situation to know, I imagine that when you can see you’re about to be hit by a bus, time must slow down. It must be a terrible feeling, kind of like getting punched in the face, where you can tell something’s about to go very wrong but can’t do a damn thing about it. Well the 6-month long saga about Steve Carell quitting The Office is something like that. Except that it has been protracted over a very long period and I’ve been feeling sick about it the whole time.

A few weeks back Michael Scott exited the show – with a lot less fanfare than I was expecting, I might add – and his immediate replacement was Will Ferrell, a man for whom subtlety, and, apparently, comedy, are foreign concepts. I can’t stand him but the real blame on this one has to go to the writers. The utterly painful character of Deangelo Vickers had nothing going for him from the beginning and it would have taken a much greater actor than Ferrell to redeem anything from the mess. There was barely any writing to him at all except maybe the word ‘obnoxious’ in caps and underlined in red alongside Ferrell’s own name and on an otherwise blank page. Although his contract was only for a limited number of episodes I couldn’t help but feel a very negative audience reaction lead to his sudden (and completely ridiculous) ousting a fortnight ago. And low and behold they replaced him with no one. And call me a cynic but, for what was once my favourite TV comedy, I now couldn’t possibly care less which sideshow phony they call in for tomorrow’s show.

If you recall my earlier rant on this very topic the sentiment here should come as no surprise. But I have effectively endured a never-ending hit-by-a-bus situation for the last half year or so, and until this sham of a show dies the gruesome death it didn’t deserve you can bet I’ll continue whining about it. See you next week.

GTA and my silly, casual gamer friend

L.A. Noire that protracted, overstuffed and meandering game (I’m predicting what the reviewers will say about it) from the guys up the street at Team Bondi is due to come out on the 20th of May after, oh, 5 years in development? 6? I wonder at how a studio – Rockstar is behind Team Bondi and, marketing would have you believe, made the game themselves – so bereft of talent or focus has the seemingly endless coffers to payroll such a long and fraught dev cycle. But I have that friend and he had something to say about it.

You know that friend? The one who will always chime in with popular opinion – the politically correct one – no matter what the topic is and no matter how ill-educated to the task they are? Well I have that friend and he thinks he knows a thing or two about games. What games? Just GTA. Wow, that’s quite a breadth of experience right there but it gets even better. I get a lecture about ‘interactive storytelling’. And then he used the word ‘sandbox’. At this point I had to put on the breaks and get a few things straight.

To get it out of the road, I hate Grand Theft Auto. Absolutely hate it. Can’t think of a single thing about any of the games, except for maybe some of the snappy writing, that is redeemable. And yet without fail each instalment has sold hundreds of thousands and its all because of ride-the-wave fuckers like the guy across the counter from me.

Answering the charge of ‘interactive storytelling’, a term so pretentiously vague it makes me want to burn down an arts faculty somewhere, I say what is interactive storytelling? And more importantly how to you qualify good ‘interactive storytelling’? Let me tell you how don’t: 1) Have a million plots that go nowhere. 2) Populate the story with stereotypes. 3) Forget to introduce any meaningful character connections or conflict at any point. GTA, and we’re talking Vice City and afterward here, is guilty of all these things. And why does everyone think moving closer to a cinematic experience is good thing, for that matter, either? The fact that a game has fully-voiced people talking doesn’t by virtue make the story any good, and I’d like to stamp that onto the forehead of everyone who says Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots had ‘a mad story’. I’d dump them into the trash heap of morons who confuse convoluted with complicated and add points for their lack of comprehension – The Dark Knight school of hivemind thinking and opinion, I’d call it. Not that I’m coining that phrase or anything.

With that out of the way we have gameplay of Grand Theft Auto that tries to be everything to everyone. And none of its good. That’s the real crime. In a world where there are AAA+ shooters and AAA+ driving games coming out the wazoo, why would you stoop to doing any of these things in the half-arsed manner presented by GTA? Because the dickhead singing its praises hasn’t played much else to know that. I’m not advocating people devote every second of free time to their Xbox but if your diet consists solely of Big Macs you can’t call yourself a food critic, can you?

If I really wanted to be dismissive – and believe me, I do – I would say that the market for Rockstar’s games has the equivalent gaming illiteracy of the cinema-goer that thinks Michael Bay’s latest is the best thing ever. Not that I’d put myself in the snotty film snob elite camp (been there, didn’t like it), but there is something to be said for the appreciation of more mature forms of media. Sure I’m irked that the big GTA budgets go to titles pandering to the lowest common denominator, but what really pisses me off is when the legions of those low-brow know-nothings call such games the second coming and think their opinion means anything.

I realise I’m skirting dangerously close to a much larger debate about casual gaming and the mainstream-ifying influence of Wiis, iPhones and 99c games. So I’ll close by saying that if you cut your gaming teeth pulling people out of cars in Liberty City, maybe keep your shortsighted and uninformed opinons about what makes good gaming, and what doesn’t, to yourself. You just come off sounding like a twat otherwise.

But don’t worry, I don’t blame you ignorant hipsters for not knowing any better… oh who am I kidding? Of course I do. And not only that; I’d lay the simplifying of design, skyrocketing prices, and the consolification of the market at your feet as well. And after all that don’t be surprised if I spit on you on the street, or fail to break at the zebra crossing you smarmy self-righteous fucks.

Oh and as for the friend I was writing about, I promptly slapped him with the back of my glove and bid him good day.


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