Monday, February 04, 2008

The "New Wave" of games

Another great post from the Brainy Gamer about No More Heroes, comparing Suda 51 to the auteurs of the French New Wave. Without having seen, well, any of the films mentioned, I think I'm still on board with that thesis.

To gank a thought from my review, it seems to me that the amount of money and effort it takes to make a big-time console game these days practically requires design by committee. Too many people are involved in every level of the process -- from the artists, to the sound guys, to the suits sweating every nickel and dime -- for one person's vision to make the leap from conception to reality. Lots of good and even great games come out every year, but most of them lack that stamp of individuality, even if the graphics are polished and the online play is stutter-free. BioShock seemed to have that singular inspiration driving it, but apparently most of the storyline only came together near the end. With No More Heroes, you really get the impression that you're playing a game that has sprung, intact, from the deepest recesses of Suda 51's mind. While it's not as polished as a lot of games, that's a point in its favor. (See Leigh's comments on this post.) Frankly, I can't believe this game got made.

Right now, Roger Ebert's review of The 400 Blows is featured on his web site. At the top is this quote from Truffaut: "I demand that a film express either the joy of making cinema or the agony of making cinema. I am not at all interested in anything in between." No More Heroes, it could be said, expresses the joy of making games. Or maybe the agony of making games. Certainly, it revels in the joy of playing games.


Michael Abbott said...

Hi Mitch. I'm glad you enjoyed my post. I'm taken by your observation that too many cooks may be spoiling the game design soup these days, and I'm wondering if the same can be said of film these days (or at least some films).

Totally rough calculation here, but I think if you took all the Oscar nominated films this year and examined the lists of people who worked on those films - and then did the same for the films nominated 5 or 10 years ago - you would discover that some of the best films today are being made by "auteurist" directors like Tamara Jenkins, Julian Schnabel, Julie Taymor, and the Coen Bros with fewer producers and studio types involved in the process.

This may be a half-baked theory, but I think there's something to it that reinforces your notion that singular inspiration is a powerful thing.

Mitch Krpata said...

I certainly think there's something to the notion, although I'm hesitant to go too far out on the limb and start drawing broad conclusions. We tend to associate filmmakers more closely with movies than we do game developers with their games. But making movies is still a collaborative process, even for the directors you mentioned. Even somebody like Robert Rodriguez, who writes, directs, shoots, edits, and scores his own movies, still has to work with dozens of cast and crew. And yet I can tell a Robert Rodriguez movie when I see one. I can tell a Paul Thomas Anderson movie, a Wes Anderson movie, even a Michael Bay movie. Their stamps tend to be indelible.

How many game designers can you say that about? Hideo Kojima, Shigeru Miyamoto, maybe now Suda 51. The list is short, anyway.

Along those lines, I was struck by a comment Gus Mastrapa made on a post Chris Dahlen wrote about Burnout Paradise:

"I’ve always taken issue with the Burnout series’ reticence to commit to a style, position or even attitude. The worlds are always kinda bland, generic even. The radio hosts are usually suicide inducing. The crashes and racing are awesome, but the setting is so non-committal that it irks me for some reason. Who gets the opportunity to make a world and fashions something so utterly devoid of character?"

I read that and thought immediately of No More Heroes. By any measure, Burnout is the more polished and "professional" of the two games. Its open world is seamless. But the game lacks any kind of a voice or point of view. It doesn't possess an ounce of the character that Santa Destroy has. My instinct is to attribute that difference to the vision of Suda 51.

If I were to try to draw one lesson from this thought exercise, it's that sharing the creative process among a large group will tend to dilute what we'd call the artistic vision. It takes a strong, singular voice to succeed spectacularly -- and, probably, to fail spectacularly, which is why the money men are afraid to foster those voices. No doubt there are countless counterexamples, though, which is why I'm not convinced we've stumbled on to something too big here.

Hmm, this seems like it should probably become its own post, though.

Michael Abbott said...

Well, I did say "at least some films," [grin]

I'm not claiming any kind of seismic shift in the film industry, but I do think indie films--which have exerted far more influence on filmmaking than indie games have had on games--have created a broader acceptance in the film industry for maverick creators at this particular moment. I see some interesting parallels between American cinema in the 70s and some of what we're seeing now.

I have to disagree with you about games lacking the kind of signature style that you associate with certain filmmakers. To me, it's very easy to discern an Atlus game, a Sega game, a Capcom game, and a Grasshopper game. They each have very distinctive features and stylistic signatures. Yes, they can't necessarily be traced to a specific designer, but I think their distinctiveness is no less pronounced.

Apologies for another film analogy, but to me video games are like the cinema during the studio era in this regard. MGM films looked very different from Warner Bros. films, which looked very different from Paramount or RKO. I highly recommend a book called "The Genius of the System" which is a terrific account of how the collaborative, factory-like system of filmmaking in the 30s managed to generate such singular, artistically distinctive films.

It doesn't, in my view, always require a single genius at the helm to create a work of surpassing excellence...but if often helps!

Thanks for such a thought provoking conversation, Mitch. It's fun to think hard about this stuff.