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"Haha! Now I shall reveal my TRUE FORM!"
Posted on Friday, February 29 2008 @ 15:44:50 Eastern

I’m sick of it.

I’m tired of game writers, who not only have the cheek to put the player down a linear adventure full of irrelevant side-quests and escort missions full of adrenaline-junkie allies, but then, at the final hurdle, throw in an incomprehensibly powerful boss to throw all thoughts of realism out of the window with absolutely no thought to inventiveness or coherent narrative. Basically, I loathe writers who simply cannot write well. Allow me to elaborate:

I dislike it when, to put it simply, videogames with even a hint of even the most mediocre of stories across any genre, try to surprise the audience with a few cheap tricks. More specifically, when developers throw in the age-old mechanic of overcharging the last enemy (the vast majority of the time it is the main antagonist) as an excuse to test out the player’s ability.

Right, let's look at Mass Effect and Bioshock to begin with; these both use the predictable twists (Hah!) of a good guy turning bad (although it is earlier on in the game in Mass Effect) and then an 'epic' final battle with a boss who happens to suddenly be overpowered. Appropriately you can pound both last, suddenly superhuman bosses simply by pile-driving them to death with all your available weapons, but that is irrelevant. This plot device in games has been going on since the first Legend of Zeldas (where earlier bosses would return in harder forms later on, as the game ended) and even was applied to a lot of the common Nintendo 64 collection; ranging from Lylat Wars (“Braaaaaaains!”) to Super Mario (“More bombs, kthnx!”). It is somewhat sad that, almost a decade on, developers are still using the same mechanics to induce a 'shock' from the audience at the game's closing minutes; even though we all realise that there's always an blockbuster battle to conclude with (and, in all honesty, we would be disappointed if there wasn't). I picked Mass Effect and Bioshock out because these final encounters are explained with lore which seems like it was designed to be an excuse to bring back the character for the battle (EVE and the Reaper specifically). I am torn between liking the fact that the writers have incorporated the entire plot into the final incarnation of the antagonist, and hating the fact they were reduced to making use of such a lowly twist just to test the player’s skills built up over the course of the game. For comparison, look at my other two examples:

In Metal Gear Solid 2, the antagonist is established about half way through the game to be Solidius Snake, ‘brother’ of Solid Snake. The plot which has featured in over three games tells us how powerful Solidius is, so when we have to face him in the end without a huge, pointless morphing scene, it doesn't surprise us. In fact, the game's writers do a wonderful job of not only using Soldius's obvious power to further the plot ("Look! There's a Harrier II!") but also to build up a great amount of anticipation with the player until the moment comes where you actually do battle him. The game is a wonderful demonstration of how writers can include some really magnificent surprises (ranging from the death of E.E to the discovery of the S3) without the entire experience resting on an average (if not slightly more quick-witted than usual) character becoming extraordinarily powerful simply for the sake that the player is going to kill them six minutes later quite easily anyway (I personally found Solidius a lot harder boss than, say, Saren from Mass Effect).

My final game of choice is Final Fantasy X. FFX gets a lot of stick because of the 'weakness' of the main character; but as a journey and in relation to the issue at hand: It is beautiful. Much like Mass Effect and Bioshock, the game takes place in a fantasy universe and the final boss is based around a supernatural occurrence within the world's lore. However, similar to Metal Gear Solid 2, it is established fairly early on that the end battle will be tough as old boots. It doesn't have to suddenly surprise the player with a (somewhat anticlimactic) encounter at the finale; because it is already rest assured that the final boss will be larger-than-life. And it is. This satisfies the player, who has been baying for a piece of this gigantic beast for the entire time of playing. Along the way, big events happen due to the presence of this terrific monster (Operation Mi'Hen!) which furthers the plot still and through a line of negative conditioning, makes the player want to kill the end enemy. On top of all this, the game still includes some of the best, tear-jerking twists I've ever witnessed (Yuna's 'sacrifice', the nature of Tidus and Auron, Seymour's obsession) through any media.

Putting in a (ironically very predictable) event such as ‘zerging’ the antagonist, even in the natural context of the game's backstory, just to have him or her be killed by the player moment's later regardless, is needless and, more often than not, ruins the immersion of the game. Certainly, I am the last to criticise an experience because of a few twists here and there within the journeys which make up all of these games, but please, when it comes to the closing moments; don’t try to fool the player by the addition of a sudden transformation. Anyone who had picked up even a reasonably long videogame within the past two years or so will know what to expect, so why patronise us with cheap tricks that even a pantomime would be ashamed of?

Mel's Note: After my last editorial/rant was featured in last month's PC Gamer UK on Cables (PCG 185, Page 49, under '(Synthetic) Interaction'), I thought it was a good idea to keep posting my words of adovcation (be that of the Devil) here.

Original post.


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