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The fallacy of universal authorship in games (and why Uncharted 2 isn't GOTY)

Chi Kong Lui's picture

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves Screenshot 

It's been suggested by critic emeritus Gene Park, staff critic Matthew Kaplan and others outside of the GC community, that adding more interactive choices/decisions to the popular PlayStation 3 title, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, would change the very thrill-ride nature and universal appeal of its gameplay. The argument is that the inclusion of such choice would result in something that was "not the point of the game".

Gene insists that: "...I've followed the game's development through media and it's been said time and time again (even in the game's in-game documentary) that the purpose of the game was never going to be about player choice, but providing the same experience for all players."

I disagree with this logic of thought for multiple reasons.

1. Games are by nature subversive

As indie game developer, Jason Rohrer, so eloquently expressed on the A Life Well Wasted podcast, games defy authorial control because they require player initiation and persistent participation. No matter what vision or parameters the game developers decide to impose on players, ultimately the gamer is free to do as he or she chooses within the construct of the game. As Jason remarks "you can play Mario just by standing there if you want to or jumping up and down over and over until time runs out. You don't have to go all the way to the end and that's a complete game of Mario."

Whether or not a game is linear by design or tries to impose authorial control doesn't mean a player doesn't make decisions. The act of moving forward is in fact a player decision. As I played Uncharted 2, I always preferred to use the grenade launcher due to its bigger punch. I would try to horde it at every opportunity and save it for tougher situations, but it always seemed like a constant struggle to keep the weapon because the game wouldn't give me enough ammo, insistently dropping all kinds of other weapons instead. Uncharted 2 worked against what I wanted to do in favor of what it wanted me to do and that didn't feel particularly gratifying. I understand that there's plenty of room for games that don't require choices and there's nothing wrong with the developers making such design decisions, but you would think that a more progressive and praise-worthy game design would acknowledge this inherent dynamic rather than fight against it.

Gene argues that such an acknowledgment in game design would go against "providing the same experience for all players." I believe this is another fallacy, which leads to my next point:

2. Gameplay experiences are interpretive

"Every Breath You Take" by the Police is a sinister song about the obsession and control, but is largely thought to be a haunting love ballad by the masses and later reinterpreted as a commercially crass memorial tribute to Biggie Smalls by P. Diddy. There isn't one correct interpretation. They are all valid readings depending on who is doing the interpreting. Video games are no different from music and any other art form in that its artistic, cultural and personal context is malleable.

The ending to Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty holds a deeper meaning for me as a New Yorker because the 9/11 terrorist attacks are something that impacted my life firsthand and the Wall Street Washington Memorial featured prominently at the end of the game is a symbol that I was intimately familiar with having walked past it so many times throughout my life. The development of MGS2 predates the events of 9/11, but that doesn't change its historical and cultural significance in my mind.

So the notion that Uncharted 2 is able to provide the exact same gameplay experience to every player and every player will derive the exact same meaning from the game, is simply unattainable since we all interpret the game differently based on our own world-view (Alex Raymond's feminist readings of Chloe and Elena in Uncharted 2, for example). Again, there's nothing wrong with the developer, Naughty Dog, attempting a one-size-fits-all model, but you would think a more thought-provoking and artful game would allow for more player interpretation rather than minimizing it.

3. Linear games with choice(s)

As part of this blog post, I wanted to provide three case studies of linear games that did provide choices to the player without having altered the nature or integrity of its game design and instead improved it tremendously.

Case Study #1 - Metal Combat: Falcon's Revenge

The Choice: Metal Combat: Falcon's Revenge is a 17-year old SNES light-gun game made up of 11 boss battles whose game mechanics are a close cousin of Punch-Out. Prior to the final stage, the game plays out close to what one might expect given its genre and premise. It isn't until the final stage that the game interjects an interesting dilemma to the player. The final boss uses the player's mission handler as a shield and the player has to choose between shooting and killing the handler to expose the final boss' weak spot or taking the more difficult road to victory by shooting around the handler.

The End Result: The subtle and seamless inclusion of choice in the final boss battle made an already exceptional game that much more memorable and unique for its time and genre. Rather than disrupt the traditional light-gun design, the choice only served to enhance the gameplay experience because players had to make an in-game moral decision whether or not the handler should be sacrificed and those who defeated the boss without harming the handler, felt more heroic and rewarded for doing so.

Case Study #2 - Super Mario Bros. 2

Super Mario Bros. 2 Character Selection Screen

The Choice: At the start of each stage, the player is able to choose between four characters, each with their own characteristics: Mario (well-rounded), Luigi (highest jump), Princess Peach (floaty jump) and Toad (strength).

The End Result: Rather than change the DNA of the side-scrolling platform genre, the inclusion of character selection in SMB2 was an evolution that made the game more exceptionally diverse and replayable since each stage could be approached differently by each character. Giving each player-controlled protagonist unique traits also started a legacy of memorable Mario character designs and gameplay characteristics that endures to this day.

Resident Evil 4 Merchant ArtCase Study #3 - Resident Evil 4

The Choice: Unlike previous Resident Evil games, the player had the option to purchase and upgrade weapons through the colorful Merchant.

The End Result: At the time of release, the Resident Evil franchise was thought to be creatively stagnant and in need of a serious make-over. While giving the player the choice in weapons and upgrades wasn't the only thing that was progressively overhauled in the trademark survival-horror series, it was an integral part in allowing a more personalized gameplay experience and gave the sagging franchise the creative boost it needed to stay relevant with gamers. The weapon choice feature is still a part of the latest entry in the series.

* * * * *

In each of the vastly different case studies above, the inclusion of choice only served to improve the gameplay experience and make the game more distinct. So I'm not quite sure why this wouldn't apply to Uncharted 2 and how choice would irreparably alter what makes Uncharted 2 what it is. It's also funny to note that contrary to its reputation, Uncharted 2 is not a non-stop by-the-seat-of-your-pants roller-coaster ride that it's purported to be. Sandwiched between some of the game's explosion-filled action set-pieces are some tactical stealth- and puzzle-based stages where the player has to dial down the adrenaline and put on a thinking cap. So is thinking somehow inconsistent with the notion of decision-making? Don't the two usually go hand in hand?

I've maintained throughout this ongoing debate that I don't think Uncharted 2 is a bad game by any means and it's certainly notable for its technical implementation, visual design and character performances. I just think that a game that is deemed the best of what video games have to offer in 2009 should contribute more to interactive design because that is what makes video games unique as an art form. To suggest that any game would be better without choices is simply backwards thinking.

Category Tags
Platform(s): PS3  
Series: Metal Gear   Super Mario   Uncharted  
Articles: Editorials  
Topic(s): Games as Art   Game Design & Dev  

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Great piece, I read the

Great piece, I read the whole thing and enjoyed it. Specifically the last statement, which means a lot if you consider what many people see as a great game. The stealth and puzzle statement you made make a lot of sense, and I never thought about it that in that light.

Seriously?

After three or so blog-style posts and reviews discrediting Uncharted 2, the overly defensive comments in my post, and even a podcast, I think this is piling it on a little thick, no? This may start to be known as the official site of "Uncharted 2 Haters." ;)

Well, in any case, I obviously disagree with your post for many reasons, some of which include:

- A "roller coaster" is a roller coaster because it has highs AND lows, not just highs. I would hope you also can acknowledge that even non-interactive, quiet, and slower sequences can be thrilling and exhilarating in their own right. Or perhaps you didn't actually enjoy the Metal Gear Solid titles as much as it would seem.... I found every moment of Uncharted 2 to be thrilling, even when the action on-screen had slowed. Also, your insinuation that the game is NOT merely a one-sided shooter goes against some of your previous criticisms of the game.

- I find your analysis of "linear" titles that are somehow similar to Uncharted 2 and still offer successful "choice" to be a straw-man non-sequitor of the silliest kind. Resident Evil was never a linear series, period. It is a puzzle/adventure series that features sparse moments of shooting. If anything part 4 was more linear than the previous four titles (counting Codename Veronica) and the addition of a merchant is only the most superficial deviation from linear form.

Super Mario Bros 2 made alterations, not because it was part of the Super Mario Bros. series (in Japan, it originally took the form of a different game called Doki Doki Panic, which featured no Mario characters), but because it was masking the differences between the first game and the Western marketing of a game that wasn't its true sequel. You'll find that all subsequent Mario games, including the true Mario Bros. 2 (known in this country as "The Lost Levels") do not offer the "choice" you illuminate... yet many of them, including Super Mario Bros. 3 and Yoshi's Island, are rightfully considered terrific games. Still, these are cartoony 2D platformers, and bare only the slightest resemblance to a game like Uncharted 2.

Why not make a comparison to a game that's more like Uncharted 2? I'm not sure what you'd call it ("3D shooter/platformer/adventure mix"?), but it's definitely not Super Mario Bros., Metal Gear Solid, or a light gun game. Where is the wealth of player choice in a game like Contra? Tomb Raider? Half-Life 2? (Man, I feel like I'm repeating myself endlessly here.) Gears of War has diverging paths at certain points but they last for a very short time and are meant more to supplement the co-op function. Some games are very, very linear. And they leave very little to the player's imagination. There is only the ILLUSION of choice. I still don't buy the argument that these kinds of superficial choices would have somehow drastically altered Uncharted 2 for the better... and I don't buy the argument that more significant choices wouldn't have altered the genre of the game. Instead of using false comparisons, why not discuss the level design and structure of your ideal Uncharted 2? Because I just don't see it. Sounds to me like you were just nonplussed about the lack of innovation... which is, again, a complaint I could make about a lot of the "Best Of" choices this past year, including your GOTY Demon's Souls.

- There is no room for interpretation in Uncharted 2? Perhaps we didn't play the same game... or you were simply so turned off by the gameplay that you weren't seeing it. There is plenty of room for interpretation in the drama that unfolds onscreen... of certain characters' integrity, compassion, and motives. Of the mystery central to the main quest. Of the worth of the risk of the player's life and companion's life in the mission that tasks Drake with uncovering the lost expedition. These are major questions, and I don't think everyone comes away from the game with the same answers. I didn't shut my brain off while playing. I never went on auto-pilot. I was absolutely enthralled.

You seem to make the case that more "artful" game designers leave gaping, vague spaces of interpretation in all good games. Yet the ones you go on to name in the next point all fail on that aspect. You don't think Capcom wants every player to get the same enjoyable interactive experience from Resident Evil 4? I mean, there's room for interpretation in the worth of a story and its symbolism... but there's usually very little room for interpretation as to why a linear game is crafted the way it is. Even supposed "art games" like Braid only invoke a single dramatic possibility. And Uncharted 2 isn't The Path. I don't think anyone wanted it to be, including the developers.

I also don't think Metal Gear Solid 2--as it good as it was--was meant to spur comparisons between the game and 9/11... given the fact that it came out that fall in the US and was in production several years beforehand. You say as much yourself. I appreciate your placement of value in the game's ending as much as you do taking something away from it... but I thought this was a post about game DESIGN, not the value of reader response. So I find that comparison VERY confusing in the context of your post. Are you complaining that Naughty Dog didn't a game with a vague enough storyline, or are you complaining that the game's average fan doesn't have the intelligence to make cultural comparisons between, say, Drake's quest and their own lives? How do you know for sure that there isn't enough meat on that narrative's bones that no one could POSSIBLY take away anything special/personal/meaningful from the story being told? I think you really need to go back and clarify what you mean by a truly "universal" authorship and what you suggest by a possible universal readership. There's a difference between wanting to provide your audience with similar enjoyment and wanting your audience to have the EXACT same experience (or having so little faith in your audience that you expect it).

- A lot of these criticisms don't mention the multiplayer half of the game in any capacity... but that, too, is part of the game, and a serious improvement (at least in terms of value for the money) over the first game.

- You have a problem with the fact that you couldn't wield a grenade launcher as well as you could more portable weapons with (logically) larger ammo capacities? I mean, just think of every other game that has this "problem." It's certainly not limited to Uncharted 2, and I would hardly pinpoint it as a notable quality--negative or otherwise.

- I don't remember anyone arguing that Uncharted 2 as a bastion of innovation. Gene may have said that offering the kinds of choices you mentioned would have changed the fundamental nature of the game, but I don't think he said the developers were going out of their way to think outside some kind of game design box. That said, can't a game be of extremely high quality even if it doesn't reinvent the wheel? I think it can... certainly when the game is made with as much passion and polish as Uncharted 2. As you say yourself, there is a place for these kinds of games. Isn't it fine that Uncharted 2 truly knows and RELISHES that place?

Re: Seriously?

I just wanted to add that as hostile as the above may come across, it's really only a response to the ideas presented here... not the writing or even to your actual position. Again, I respect the position of those arguing that Uncharted 2 shouldn't have been GOTY. I can easily see that there are problems with the game (it's definitely not perfect), and if a game like Metal Gear Solid 4 or Fallout 3 had come out this past year, I would have laughed at anyone arguing Uncharted 2 should be GOTY. :) Well, maybe. But the point stands, I can see the opposing view here to a certain extent.

I just think that the ongoing quibble about the "nature" of the game is misleading on both sides. I don't think I or anyone else are really gameplay "purists" who do not wish gameplay to evolve in any way... and I really don't think you guys are stodgy Scrooges who can't appreciate linear gameplay.

If anything, I really hope that after this post this whole debate goes to bed. After all, we need to gear up for the God of War III versus Mass Effect 2 versus Alan Wake versus Heavy Rain versus Bioshock 2 GOTY debate. :)

No, Matthew. This isn't the

No, Matthew. This isn't the official site of U2 hatters. This is the place where some people managed to see beyond postcard vistas, technological fetishism, narrative writing worthy of a sequel to The Mummy, ad aeternum mind-numbing explosions, derivative gameplay, fascist shooting, homophobic innuendos, the annulment of challenges to reach casual gamers and Chloe's ass mathematical shots.

Chi thanks for airing out

Chi thanks for airing out your thoughts. Just wanted you to know that I certainly appreciate the amount of thought you are putting into this discussion.

However, I have to say you are defending far more than I am criticizing. If I wanted a good summation of why Metal Combat, SMB2 and RE4 were good games, I'd probably point to this post right here.

Otherwise I have to echo Matt's comments and wonder why you just didn't choose similar games like Gears of War, or even Ico, two games that do not provide narrative choices within the gameplay, and two games which Uncharted 2 unabashedly lifts from.

You insinuate in your reasoning that Uncharted 2's qualities make it somehow less than a video game, which Matt has already said in his blog post (which feels like ages ago already) that it is simply not true.

I'm going to assume that that is not what you are arguing, because I do respect your critical thinking.

So what I'm taking away from your post is that games like Gears of War (which also only lets you pick up weapons on the fly, but is even more restrictive cos you can take out jumping out of your tactics) or Ico (with its 'one-solution-only' puzzles) are on the same level of 'backwards thinking' design as Uncharted 2.

If that's how you feel, then fine. Far be it for me to change your mind on that.

Lastly I'm just going to point out some rather baffling points you made:

1) That you argue Naughty Dog's approach to the 'same level of meaning' is an exercise in futility because of the very nature of games, yet you point out Alex Raymond's feminist interpretation of Uncharted 2.

I mean, which is it? That the game can't be interpreted or that it can be? Clearly you and Alex came to different conclusions regarding the story. How is that not as interpretive as your reading of MGS2's ending? I loved the story, you found it cliched. Clearly you and I took away different things from the script.

2) Grenade launcher what? To return to Matt's 'Contra' comparison, I remember the days when I used to play with my father and we'd always race for the 'spread shot' powerup. Some days, he'd get it. Other days, I'd get the prize. But always, we'd always wonder to ourselves "Man I wish this game gave out more spread shots." But of course Konami didn't allow that. It's for the sake of balance.

Of course, you could always unlock the infinite ammo cheat in Uncharted 2 and unlock the ability to always carry a grenade launcher, both of which are easily purchased after a single playthrough of the game. But that'd throw off the game's balance wouldn't it? It's nice, then, to have that *choice* to be able to do that, isn't it?

3) I was gonna point this out but Matt already did. Nobody ever mentions multiplayer. Like ever. Choice, unpredictable narratives, gameplay, action - it's all there.

And lastly, I nor Matt never once said that UC2 is better without choices. So I'm not exactly sure who you are responding to regarding that.

Like I already said, and I'm really repeating myself here as well: I didn't want this to be just about UC2. I'm talking about the critic as an OBJECTIVE and reliable critical authority, a point you have not directly addressed.

Please Chi, this is the real point I'm trying to make. I'm talking about the very nature of opinion pieces. It's about criticizing games in a way that is persuasive to as many readers as possible, not only to the ones that agree with you and your tastes.

I don't care WHAT it gets, and that's what I'm trying to tell you.

If Roger Ebert gave every movie a thumbs down because it wasn't foreign, or it didn't offer a subversive script, then he wouldn't be a respected film critic. Yet he still finds time to review films like 'Iron Man' and give it a respectable 3-star rating, without having to resort to asking why it isn't more like Ramin Bahran's 'Chop Shop'.

Both ended up on his 'best of 2008' list anyway. As he saw it, there was plenty of room for both.

ckzatwork wrote: No,

ckzatwork wrote:

No, Matthew. This isn't the official site of U2 hatters. This is the place where some people managed to see beyond postcard vistas, technological fetishism, narrative writing worthy of a sequel to The Mummy, ad aeternum mind-numbing explosions, derivative gameplay, fascist shooting, homophobic innuendos, the annulment of challenges to reach casual gamers and Chloe's ass mathematical shots.

See. As much as I vehemently disagree with this summation of the game, this is a critique well within reason of the game, and I say this with no intent of being facetious.

(Well except for the homophobic part. I really don't recall that at all but I could be wrong. And may I suggest, 'assmatical'? ^_^)

Again, I don't care what people think of Uncharted 2. This is simply a far more reliable criticism of the game than one that wonders why you can't choose which girl you end up with by the end of the game.

Oh nevermind ckzatwork. Just

Oh nevermind ckzatwork. Just remembered the Turkish prison line, although I didn't interpret it as a homophobic line at first. But I definitely see the context, it just kinda flies by so fast. Thanks for pointing it out.

[quote=Gene P.(Well except

Gene P. wrote:

(Well except for the homophobic part. I really don't recall that at all but I could be wrong. And may I suggest, 'assmatical'? ^_^)

Sorry for transcribing the text and posting it here, but I started doing it immediately after I read your comment, Gene.

Flynn: Relax? Relax? Have you ever been in a Turkish Prison, mate? If we get caught, they will lock us up and throw away the sodding key, you do realize that, don't you?
Drake: Better than you do.
Flynn: Well, you may fancy that kind of things, but I don't.

(laughs)

If you've seen Midnight Express, you will recall a sex scene where the protagonist shares an intimate shower with a cell mate. Because of that short and tender love affair, Turkish prisons gained this reputation during the 80s for being "infected" with homosexuals. And that's where this tasteless dialogue comes from.

My two cents

Personally, I really enjoyed Among Thieves (as well as Drake's Fortune) for the space it allowed me to play in. At any given moment, I felt that several options of movement and engagement were offered, and appreciated the need to improvise and adjust to the situations. No ammo left for the grenade launcher? Oh well, the opportunity will arise again ; let's try something else instead. The games were constantly imposing constraints and varying sets of parameters, but the act of dealing with them always felt distinctly "mine". I guess the same could be said for most of Gears of War's fighting sequences.

Conversely, the platforming and "puzzle" portions come across as requiring the least actual thought from the player. Observation and light method, sure, but not high-level "on-your-toes" computing. And that's OK, because apart from breaking up the action, this gives the developers a chance to showcase their artistry in a different light, in more subtle ways. The same goes for the cutscenes, which provide context and arguably fuel the player's involvement in the action (the attack on the village first comes to mind). I believe like other people that game design is about suspending a certain share of freedom and collaborating with the framework in place, and fulfilling my part in the unfolding of both Uncharted games is something I definitely took pleasure in.

I find it strange that the ending of Sons of Liberty is given by Chi as an example of interpretive diversity, because it really doesn't have any relation to gameplay at all. It is a fine case of traditional narrative delivery bestowing a larger resonance to the player's input, but I don't think it fits Rohrer's model of interpreting the user's behaviour as meaning in itself. In fact, I don't think this model would serve Uncharted's defense very much either ; clearly we are not talking about a piece where engaging with the mechanics in personal manners says much about the nature and workings of the world. However, as a game that openly delegates a certain, limited but crucial role to the player, while taking upon itself the bulk of the narrative duty, I believe Uncharted is a success according to its own fairly modest terms, if not especially constructive to the medium as a whole (and thus possibly not a legitimate GOTY).

Agreed

Gene P. wrote:
ckzatwork wrote:

No, Matthew. This isn't the official site of U2 hatters. This is the place where some people managed to see beyond postcard vistas, technological fetishism, narrative writing worthy of a sequel to The Mummy, ad aeternum mind-numbing explosions, derivative gameplay, fascist shooting, homophobic innuendos, the annulment of challenges to reach casual gamers and Chloe's ass mathematical shots.

See. As much as I vehemently disagree with this summation of the game, this is a critique well within reason of the game, and I say this with no intent of being facetious.

(Well except for the homophobic part. I really don't recall that at all but I could be wrong. And may I suggest, 'assmatical'? ^_^)

Again, I don't care what people think of Uncharted 2. This is simply a far more reliable criticism of the game than one that wonders why you can't choose which girl you end up with by the end of the game.

I'd agree with this as well. Ckzat must have taken what I said personally (although that was by no means intended), but his response was certainly appropriate. I think it's a legitimate critique of the game, and I can very easily see where opinions would split paths on these things.

Why? Because these criticisms are about the game that UC2 is, not about the game it was hypothetically supposed to be. I can understand problems with narrative, genre convention, lack of innovation. But I think when people start talking about something as nebulous as injecting choice and interpretative "gestalt" spaces into games (and Chi is by no means the only one to do so), the arguments begin to totally re-imagine Uncharted 2 as game design. I simply wonder how someone from Naughty Dog would defend the game against these kinds of criticisms. I imagine that they'd offer an apology for a lack of enjoyment, say they'll try harder next time, but with the caveat that they feel they succeeded in making the kind of game they wanted to create.

Again...

Louis F. wrote:

However, as a game that openly delegates a certain, limited but crucial role to the player, while taking upon itself the bulk of the narrative duty, I believe Uncharted is a success according to its own fairly modest terms, if not especially constructive to the medium as a whole (and thus possibly not a legitimate GOTY).

Again, I think this is beautifully stated. I think it's really about the perception of how certain games "aspire" to be something more than the sum of polished parts (or are at least injected with a certain amount of creative enthusiasm for the medium).

There are many different ways to "think outside the box" with regard to game design and creating art, but not every design team takes it upon themselves to create something that is open for drastic artistic interpretation.

I think of it like this: Some painters like, say, Norman Rockwell, draw a man as a man. They refine and polish that drawing so it is unmistakably man. There is real craft and artistry in the capturing of the form, and what's there is undeniably "art" on a certain level, even if the result is meant to evoke only a certain limited range of feelings.

And then there are painters like Pollack or the cubists, where the work is still undeniably art... polished, thoughtful... but also inspired with a certain level of imagination that allows the viewer to do more work.

I don't think there's a reason to dismiss either kind of painting as not contributing to the medium. It all really depends on the aims of the artist... and on the viewer's end, what the individual viewer is searching for... how the viewer wants to be affected. And it's likewise easy to see the range of opinions... how some call Rockwell "feel-good hokum" and others call Pollack "self-indulgent" and "pretentious." But I don't think anyone would argue that one sort of painting should be mistaken for the other... that Rockwell should have scribbled over his emotional, photo-like scenes or that Pollack should have tried to contain his raw expression. Certainly there is a place for the wide range of painting that is found somewhere in the middle between these two extremes. But there is also a place for the extreme itself... in Rockwell's case (and in Uncharted 2's case), something that leaves very little work up to the act of interpretation but can still evoke powerful emotions.

Hmm...

ckzatwork wrote:

Flynn: Well, you may fancy that kind of things, but I don't.

(laughs)

If you've seen Midnight Express, you will recall a sex scene where the protagonist shares an intimate shower with a cell mate. Because of that short and tender love affair, Turkish prisons gained this reputation during the 80s for being "infected" with homosexuals. And that's where this tasteless dialogue comes from.

(Speaking of interpretation...) I think this is open for interpretation, and while you make a compelling point as to how this can be taken as offensive, I would argue that: A.) Flynn is supposed to be a reprehensible person around whom Drake feels somewhat uncomfortable from the get-go, and B.) I think Drake's reactions to Flynn's jabs during these early sequences express less complicity (for example, in an off-color remark) than the bare minimum of synergy needed to get the job done. Drake isn't really interested in humoring Flynn, after all... he's interested in completing the heist. Again, that's just my take on the exchange.

Matthew K wrote: ckzatwork

Matthew K wrote:
ckzatwork wrote:

Flynn: Well, you may fancy that kind of things, but I don't.

(laughs)

If you've seen Midnight Express, you will recall a sex scene where the protagonist shares an intimate shower with a cell mate. Because of that short and tender love affair, Turkish prisons gained this reputation during the 80s for being "infected" with homosexuals. And that's where this tasteless dialogue comes from.

(Speaking of interpretation...) I think this is open for interpretation, and while you make a compelling point as to how this can be taken as offensive, I would argue that: A.) Flynn is supposed to be a reprehensible person around whom Drake feels somewhat uncomfortable from the get-go, and B.) I think Drake's reactions to Flynn's jabs during these early sequences express less complicity (for example, in an off-color remark) than the bare minimum of synergy needed to get the job done. Drake isn't really interested in humoring Flynn, after all... he's interested in completing the heist. Again, that's just my take on the exchange.

At this point in the game, we know nothing of Flynn, except that he seems to be replacing Sully as a companion in battle. I believe you'll agree with me to acknowledge that, during this preliminary sequences, Naughty Dog wants the gamer to empathize with Flynn, so that his upcoming treason gains poignancy. Regardless, the line was written to make you laugh. And that is both offensive to the gay community, as well as modern Turkish society.

Like I said, it initially

Like I said, it initially didn't raise any red flags for me, and although I am straight, I am an advocate for gay rights in Hawaii. After I was initially laid off in the media, I signed on pro bono as a media consultant for the movement to get a civil union bill passed in our state Legislature. I was proud to be a part of it (although it ultimately failed the issue should be revisited again this session), and would gladly participate again if I was not beholden to my nonbias role of a journalist again. I'm also pretty sensitive to many discriminatory social issues like race and sexism as well.

That being said, I *am* straight after all, and I could never possibly assume to know what would and wouldn't raise flags for the gay community unless I had felt the same social pressures as they have. I simply wouldn't feel right to say that it isn't homophobic just because I don't see it as a straight man. I can only view things as a straight man.

And Turkish prison jokes (in the context of 'Midnight Express') are homophobic.

I gave that line a pass because 1) The setting was in Turkey so I didn't think twice about it, and 2) The script didn't mention anything pointedly gay about the treatment they'd get in there, just about throwing away the key and 3) Prison is generally not a pleasant place to be. Drake obviously spent time in there before and wasn't interested in going back.

And of course, I gave it a pass not because I was asleep at the wheel, but because I'm not gay and thus just not as aware of it as a gay man would be. What may have been nonexistent to me or at the very least subtly suggestive, it was a crass joke for others.

So yes, I ultimately agree that the line definitely should've been removed and rewritten. It certainly isn't a necessary line for either character's development nor the script. Thanks ckz again for pointing it out.

I'm happy to know you're an

I'm happy to know you're an advocate for gay rights, Gene, and easily comprehend why you didn't get the camouflaged gay joke. Like you said, you're straight and can't possibly uncover all the subtleties of discriminatory humor that targets people with a sexual orientation different than yours.

When I heard the dialogue, I remembered thinking, boy those Naughty Dogs sure are naughty, but they will get away with it. No one will get it. Midnight Express is a long forgotten film and gays represent roughly 7% of the gaming community. What are the chances of having a gay male gamer who have read and saw Midnight Express? I thought I was the only one (the-only-gay-in-the-village, to everyone out there who watches Little Britain).

When someone here in the comments section also mentioned their discomfort with the writing, I saw it as a passport for bringing it up more significantly. Before, I feared doing so would look paranoid: another gay obsessed with homophobia - as you know, the community is constantly accused of being counterproductively preoccupied with homophobic behavior.

So, it is with great appreciation that I thank your thoughtful insights, Gene.

ckzatwork wrote: as you

ckzatwork wrote:

as you know, the community is constantly accused of being counterproductively preoccupied with homophobic behavior.

So, it is with great appreciation that I thank your thoughtful insights, Gene.

You are very welcome. You helped me remember that I've had the tremendous opportunity to meet and work with Cleve Jones. He said to me if he had known that while he was working for Harvey Milk that he'd still be fighting for gay rights in 2009, he would've gave up and been sleeping with women by now. :P All in jest of course, and I feel blessed to have met him. Completely forgot about that because of everything that's happened to me in the past year, so thanks for the reminder, however inadvertent.

I am well aware of such accusations, as I'm well aware of similar accusations lodged against people who cry "racist" or "sexist."

It's very easy to be taken aback by such words like "That's homophobic" or "That's racist," because they are such hot-button issues that raise much antagonistic feelings.

It's easy to feel defensive when someone says to you "Well you're not a woman, or you're not black so you don't know how it feels." I remember when I got into an argument with a feminist dear friend of mine, who told I'm not a woman so I couldn't possibly know how she feels.

At first I was all "Thanks for pointing out the obvious!" Then it hit me. It's then that I realized that it's also very easy to take a few seconds to realize how true those words are. I'm not black, I'm not a woman, I'm not gay. I'm a born Pacific Islander male that's straight and that happens to be an Asian, what is called a "privileged minority."

Empathy can only take me so far, but acknowledging my fated lack of life experience in those predetermined contours, I believe, was a good first step in bridging mutual respect that may lead to treasured lessons that I can learn from. Instead of putting up a wall and say that my or anyone else's intent is being mischaracterized, I'd rather learn and educate myself.

I sincerely hope that when the very inevitable time comes when racism, sexism, homophobia, disabilities or any kind of discrimination are brought up in the context of this beloved hobby of ours, we take the time to consider the limits of our life experience, and the own lessons I'm sure we've all taken away as our own.

Uncharted 2 still ROCKS though. It's plain to see you can't change me, cos I'm Nathan Drake Army for life. hehehe

Is that really what Naughty Dog meant?

ckzatwork wrote:

Flynn: Well, you may fancy that kind of things, but I don't.

(laughs)

If you've seen Midnight Express, you will recall a sex scene where the protagonist shares an intimate shower with a cell mate. Because of that short and tender love affair, Turkish prisons gained this reputation during the 80s for being "infected" with homosexuals. And that's where this tasteless dialogue comes from.

I'm interested in where this link has been made explicit by the game makers?

I understand and respect that as the reader of the text you feel this line is homophobic, even if I don't agree with you. However, your argument links UC2 to another text as if the game is specifically referencing a previous film from nearly two decades ago.

You argue that there exists some pop cultural stereotype emanating from Midnight Express which is commonly in existence today: that of homosexuality in Turkish Prisons. I remember the film and like to think I am pretty clued into pop cultural references, but I think this stereotype you speak of is at best obscure and unknown by most people (and therefore gamers), or as is more likely the case is non-existent. I'm not saying that the scene from Midnight Express isn't homophobic, what I'm saying is it is a concept which never caught on.

As such, either the writers at Naughty Dog have also developed and retained this obscure stereotype in order to employ it years later in a game, or you are projecting this view onto the writer/s responsible for that line. I suspect that the later is the case unless there is some quote from a UC2 writer stating that they were referencing Midnight Express.

Again, gamers need to interoperate their games as they see fit. After all, that is the point of reading any text. But I see it as pretty disingenuous to attribute references to the game designers which they haven't made themselves, especially when the reading in question is ambiguous.

D

1 The Midnight Express scene

1 The Midnight Express scene is not homophobic. Far from it, in fact. You can watch it here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=guCGGjrYHUo (and to everyone else, i would like to point how these 2 minutes of film making are light years ahead of at most cinematic videogames try to achieve regarding human emotions).
2 Developers will never address this issue. They will deny it to their death, specially Naughty Dog, whose work and image is seen as extremely "safe" and "politically correct".
3 What could that dialog refer to then? What is "that kind of thing" that happens in Turkish prisons? I can easily imagine the team who worked on this game watching all kinds of film material to get the adequate atmosphere. Maybe they wrote it unconsciously. But the reference is there. It is obvious and, simultaneously, it is clever. I think I'm not alone here.

uhhggggggg...

The point of a game is what YOU the player make of it not what the devs slap together and and give a fancy name to....god I miss Code breaker and Game shark.......ah simpler times when you could make a medicore game enjoyable.....

ckzatwork wrote: 2

ckzatwork wrote:

2 Developers will never address this issue. They will deny it to their death, specially Naughty Dog, whose work and image is seen as extremely "safe" and "politically correct".

What 'issue' are you talking about? Homosexuality or homosexuality in prisons or homophobia? What exactly are they 'dodging'? And why does having a heterosexual man as a lead mean they are dodging something? Should there be more homosexual leads in games? Maybe. But just because a developer decides to use a heterosexual male doesn't mean they are dodging anything.

Wouldn't it be better to have a larger representation of minorities who are more common than gay men? Like women, non-anglos, and other political and numerical minorities? It seems the developers are dodging a lot, doesn't it?

ckzatwork wrote:

3 What could that dialog refer to then? What is "that kind of thing" that happens in Turkish prisons? I can easily imagine the team who worked on this game watching all kinds of film material to get the adequate atmosphere. Maybe they wrote it unconsciously. But the reference is there. It is obvious and, simultaneously, it is clever. I think I'm not alone here.

Again, I'm not stating that the reference isn't to a possible homosexual encounter in prison, should the characters be caught. But you seem to hold some belief that there exists a homophobic stereotype about Turkish prisons emanating from Midnight Express, and that this stereotype is being alluded to by Naughty Dog.

You can't put aside the fact that homosexuality is a common, though not universal, occurrence in single sex incarcerations throughout the world and throughout history. I would even add that it occurs in single sex institutionalisation. Why is it 'homophobic' for two people to reference that?

You could argue that they use humour to do so, and are thereby making light of homosexuality. But given the heist scene in question it would be out of place for them to joke and kid the whole time and then to refer to prison in a singularly sober tone, only to then return to a mischievous rapport for the rest of the break-in.

I think it is too easy to label someone homophobic, but rather a lot harder to actually qualify it. I'm not saying that video games are outside being scrutinised, but just because someone uses a non-gay man in their game who happens to reference homosexuality doesn't mean they are homophobic.

Again, we are not talking about explicit anti-gay or homophobic themes in games (such as Infinity Wards "FAGS" marketing for Modern Warfare 2), we are talking about a single line which is, at best, ambiguous in how it can be interpreted. To then label Naughty Dog as 'homophobic' is rather underhanded. It is even worse to say that they are 'dodging' it since they are not owning up to their guilt.

D

"What 'issue' are you

"What 'issue' are you talking about?"

I apologize for not making myself clear, Fuchal. I’m not an English native speaker and my inarticulate writing can get pretty messy. I was answering to your possibility of someone from ND commenting the dialogue – you will now understand that to me they would never respond to it. It has nothing to do with the legitimacy of having homosexual leads in games. Again, sorry for making you extrapolate and bring subjects to the table which were not there.

"Why is it 'homophobic' for two people to reference that?"

The best I can say to you is that, as a gay man, I was offended by it. Let's imagine that instead of Chloe, a gay character was accompanying Drake and Flynn. After hearing Flynn refer to gay sex as "that kind of thing" with his cocky tone, followed by Drake's laughter, that guy would feel immediately self-conscious about his sexuality. He would feel repressed, withdrawn and out of place. And that is what homophobia, sexism and racism are about.

My problem with the scene is not with the characters but how ND tries to get a laugh from you. However, I didn’t generalize and said that ND were homophobic and I didn’t labeled anyone an homophobe. Just that the dialogue has the potential to offend and be seen as homophobic. You are either twisting what I wrote or wrongly interpreting it. Personally, the fact that it isn’t as evident as the FAGS marketing doesn't make it less dangerous or unpleasant. It actually makes it more elaborately perverse, because they had the prudence to dissimulate the joke.

Tell you what, Fuchal. I’ll be showing the scene to some gay friends and if you are interested I will post the comments here. Maybe you're right, maybe I'm reading too much here. I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.

And could you please elaborate a bit more why homosexuality is not universal? Is it specific to a few countries, being Turkey one of them?

Yeah...

The line made me uncomfortable because, not knowing the context or reference, it came across to me as a prison rape joke. Prison rape jokes are pretty much always a nasty mix of homophobia, misogyny, and making light of sexual assault, three things I am not fond of, to say the least. Perhaps I should have at least mentioned it in my review, considering one of my points was about how the game avoids offending. It's a dark spot on what is otherwise a rather egalitarian game.

Again, I think all

Again, I think all interpretations of the game, and of the line in question, are valid. I don't think anyone has to defend themselves if they felt it was offensive. You can only read the text using the cultural baggage you carry with you. Same goes for me.

And I certainly appreciate anyone who takes the time to post their views so coherently on a board which is not in the native tongue. As I say, their grasp of English, however poor one might say, is vastly better than my non-grasp of their language.

I guess the angle I was coming from was counter the claim that ND or one of its script writers, and therefore producers, was homophobic because one of their lines was homophobic. As creators of the work, one couldn't claim that a line was homophobic if one didn't claim that the author of the line was also homophobic.

Let me give you a good example to explain where I am coming from.

In Australia (my current residency) a fast food restaurant has recently pulled a TV ad relating to its fried poultry products. The ad in question is an ongoing ad in a series which uses the said product of chicken in order to defuse a cricket related situation. It should be pointed out that the national cricket team in Australia is also sponsored by this fast food product. Now, one of the touring sides to Australia this summer has been the West Indian squad. So the ad in question depicted an Australia cricket fan surrounded by a rather festive West Indian crowd at a cricket match, and has such he feels out of place. Said Australian fan then pulls out the chicken dish (which defuses any situation), and low and behold he and the opposing fans are now all best mates.

Now, this ad appeared in Australia for well over a month, before it was uploaded to Youtube and seized upon by major media outlets in he US who claimed it was racist. Why? Because in America their is a cultural history of the derogatory stereotype that all African Americans enjoy fried chicken. Now, it didn't matter that this stereotype doesn't exist outside of The US. It also didn't matter that the West Indian cricket team and fans are made up of largely Afro-Caribbeans, as well as Anglo and Indian Caribbeans. It also didn't matter that there were no complaints in the ad's country of origin. What mattered was this appearance in mainstream American media that the ad, and therefore company responsible, was "racist".

Now, was the ad racist? No. Are the ad's creators racist? No. Can the ad only be interpreted in one way? No. You see, despite the intentions of the ad's creators, and despite the culture it was being aired in (Australia's), the ad has the potential to be viewed in different (albeit naive) ways.

So returning to the topic at hand: UC2. Is the line in itself homophobic? No. Does it aim to make light of homosexuality? No. Is your interpretation of the line being offensive naive? No. You just happen to read the line differently because you bring to the game a different cultural prism, as do I. So to imply that the characters and its creators are homophobic because one line they wrote can be read in one way is unfair.

peeled currently wrote:

And could you please elaborate a bit more why homosexuality is not universal? Is it specific to a few countries, being Turkey one of them?

Sorry if it was lost in its original translation. What I was saying is that in institutes of incarceration (such as gaols), but also in other forms of institutionalisation (such as school dormitories, and military forces), homosexuality and homosexual acts do occur. However, it is not universal in these environments in the sense that not everyone in a gaol, or armed forces, or school dorm (whether male of female), is homosexual or partakes in same sex intercourse. And in order to pre-empt any replies, I do not think that homosexuality is un-natural.

Alex K wrote:

The line made me uncomfortable because, not knowing the context or reference, it came across to me as a prison rape joke. Prison rape jokes are pretty much always a nasty mix of homophobia, misogyny, and making light of sexual assault, three things I am not fond of, to say the least. Perhaps I should have at least mentioned it in my review, considering one of my points was about how the game avoids offending. It's a dark spot on what is otherwise a rather egalitarian game.

Wasn't it bill hicks who said that anything can be funny if it is portrayed right, even rape? Imagine Bugs Bunny raping Elmer Fudd?

D

Fuchal, I totally get where

Fuchal, I totally get where you're coming from, it's the same perspective I'm from. That line totally just whizzed by me and I didn't even notice it really. If anything, I might agree with Matt K's interpretation of it, like Drake not wanting to be too confrontational and just shrugging off an off-color joke, particularly since Drake himself already knows the realities of what it's like to be in a Turkish prison.

Plus I've never seen Midnight Express. I do know the Turkish prison line though, and there are homophobic connotations to it. It's not a commonly heard "joke," at least from my experience. So I suspect this whizzed by for a lot of other people obviously.

I do think you are being a bit overly defensive for Naughty Dog. If I am reading ckzatwork correctly, I don't think he is calling the developers and writers (Amy Hennig for one) homophobic.

You're absolutely right that we're not talking about overly explicit homophobia, and I think ckzatwork acknowledges that. I don't want to put words in his mouth, but that's the sense I'm getting.

I think what he may mean to say is that it stems out of ignorance of homophobia.

To call someone or something "homophobic" or "racist" comes with that icky connotation that you are accusing that person or entity of being purposefully hateful. I think there's always a huge misunderstanding there, on both sides of the discussion.

Much of what activists and whatnot call discriminatory stems from the "offending" party's ignorance of such issues. And again, I don't mean to say "ignorance" in a negative connotation, like you're somehow uneducated. I'm ignorant of how it feels like to be a black man, for example. That doesn't mean I'm an idiot, or a hateful person. I just don't have that experience.

If Hennig wrote that line, she was probably just like the rest of us and just simply didn't know the negativity that comes with it.

I do think that a letter to Naughty Dog would suffice regarding this issue. I don't know what you all think of them, but hearing them speak I get the sense that they are intelligent people who truly do care about their craft, despite the lumping in of UC2 with other "fuck yeah" manfests like Halo 3 and Gears of War. If anything they would at least listen and be a bit more self conscious about their writing in the future.

The reason I am giving Naughty Dog so much benefit of the doubt, is because I know some of their artists graduated from Hollywood's Gnomon School of Visual Effects. I don't know the UC2 folks personally, but the people I do know from that school are intelligent, sensible people who truly care about serving the art of animation and design.

That's also what gets lost in this whole talk about innovation in game design. I know scores of folks in animation, students and professionals. I last year I dated a 3-D FX artist from Hollywood who's done work for major studio films. I've watched her at work. That shit isn't mindless work. It's not as easy as "OK Pirates 2 had good graphics, so lets just make sure Pirates 3 looks better k guys?"

By saying, "Oh it's just graphics," really devalues the amount of artistry that goes into animation and graphics design. Of course a game isn't only that and the gameplay concepts must support the overall product. I'm just saying, champions of graphic fidelity need not be lumped in to the derogatory category of just being graphics whores.

Fuchal wrote: Again, I

Fuchal wrote:

Again, I think all interpretations of the game, and of the line in question, are valid. I don't think anyone has to defend themselves if they felt it was offensive. You can only read the text using the cultural baggage you carry with you. Same goes for me.

And I certainly appreciate anyone who takes the time to post their views so coherently on a board which is not in the native tongue. As I say, their grasp of English, however poor one might say, is vastly better than my non-grasp of their language.

I guess the angle I was coming from was counter the claim that ND or one of its script writers, and therefore producers, was homophobic because one of their lines was homophobic. As creators of the work, one couldn't claim that a line was homophobic if one didn't claim that the author of the line was also homophobic.

Wasn't it bill hicks who said that anything can be funny if it is portrayed right, even rape? Imagine Bugs Bunny raping Elmer Fudd?

D

Looks like we posted around the same time, but I certainly agree with you that it may be unfair to call Drake a homophobe because of the scene, and it's definitely cool that you appreciate how there could be a variety of viewpoints on the line.

BTW I love Bill Hicks. My hero. And yes, in the proper context, I do think many things can be funny. For example, I personally thought the Indiana Jones rape episode of "South Park" was hilarious.

It also made me uncomfortable, but what I took from it is Trey Parker and Matt Stone portraying the Dadaist absurdity of Lucas and Spielberg literally raping Indy Jones, while at the same time not trivializing the horror of rape. The scenes were both horrifying, and absolutely absurd. It was then that I couldn't help but laugh.

I really don't think the UC2 joke was in the same vein as "South Park" or Bill Hicks's dark humor, so I'm not sure how relevant it is. But still, I get what you mean.

Wow this blog's topic is totally derailed. Kinda like that wicked awesome scene when Nathan Drake was climbing that derailed train at the beginning. You guys remember that? It was siiiiiiick. ^_^

I certainly don't want to

I certainly don't want to state someone's argument as being something it is not. That would be unfair and, more to the point, unhelpful to this conductive discussion.

My posts were largely in reply to two of ckzatwork's previous posts describing his/her view of UC2's elements: post 1 and post 2.

Although I disagreed with these summations, which is an aesthetic difference I am cool with, I did feel they were also implying that UC2's creators possessed these negative qualities. That is something I guess I had an issue with.

As for being a defendant of ND, I am not. In fact, I feel there are a great many post-colonial tropes UC2 is guilty of employing. Most of these come with the territory of adventure genres set outside of Western societies, whether they be in film, novel or video game form. I can look past these and love the game, but also critique them at the same time. That is the great part of being the consumer of a text!

D

To avoid further derailing,

To avoid further derailing, I will continue this conversation with Fuchal through e-mail if he is willing to and has the time to put up with me. :)

I wonder what Chi makes of all of this. I'm betting he is waiting for someone to go berserk with UNCHARTED2 IZ GOTY.ITZ DA BEST GAME EVA, so that he can reply with NOOO! YOUREZ WRONGz!ITS DA DEMONZ ZSSOUL, and I will kick back with YOUR BOTHH WRONGZ. ItS MaKINarIUM!

ckzatwork wrote: To avoid

ckzatwork wrote:

To avoid further derailing, I will continue this conversation with Fuchal through e-mail if he is willing to and has the time to put up with me. :)

I wonder what Chi makes of all of this. I'm betting he is waiting for someone to go berserk with UNCHARTED2 IZ GOTY.ITZ DA BEST GAME EVA, so that he can reply with NOOO! YOUREZ WRONGz!ITS DA DEMONZ ZSSOUL, and I will kick back with YOUR BOTHH WRONGZ. ItS MaKINarIUM!

I don't think it is derailing to discuss what we have been discussing. You and I have certainly kept our opinions civilised and I think we have contributed to the thread in a fruitful, if someone what different, manner than its original path.

If you want to email me, just add my user name here with the url that my link points to. Personally I think other members can benefit from what you and I are fleshing out here, since we both seem to have a healthy respect for each others' opinions, and haven't resorted to flaming/trolling each other. I even enjoy the fact they can add their own 2 cents.

I also think Chi's original post may have run its course in this thread and in the one it is a response to. So let's keep it going. :-D

D

PS. Uncharted 2 was my GOTY, followed closely by Mirrors Edge.

honestly

Fuchal wrote:

Again, I think all interpretations of the game, and of the line in question, are valid. I don't think anyone has to defend themselves if they felt it was offensive. You can only read the text using the cultural baggage you carry with you. Same goes for me.

And I certainly appreciate anyone who takes the time to post their views so coherently on a board which is not in the native tongue. As I say, their grasp of English, however poor one might say, is vastly better than my non-grasp of their language.

I guess the angle I was coming from was counter the claim that ND or one of its script writers, and therefore producers, was homophobic because one of their lines was homophobic. As creators of the work, one couldn't claim that a line was homophobic if one didn't claim that the author of the line was also homophobic.

Let me give you a good example to explain where I am coming from.

In Australia (my current residency) a fast food restaurant has recently pulled a TV ad relating to its fried poultry products. The ad in question is an ongoing ad in a series which uses the said product of chicken in order to defuse a cricket related situation. It should be pointed out that the national cricket team in Australia is also sponsored by this fast food product. Now, one of the touring sides to Australia this summer has been the West Indian squad. So the ad in question depicted an Australia cricket fan surrounded by a rather festive West Indian crowd at a cricket match, and has such he feels out of place. Said Australian fan then pulls out the chicken dish (which defuses any situation), and low and behold he and the opposing fans are now all best mates.

Now, this ad appeared in Australia for well over a month, before it was uploaded to Youtube and seized upon by major media outlets in he US who claimed it was racist. Why? Because in America their is a cultural history of the derogatory stereotype that all African Americans enjoy fried chicken. Now, it didn't matter that this stereotype doesn't exist outside of The US. It also didn't matter that the West Indian cricket team and fans are made up of largely Afro-Caribbeans, as well as Anglo and Indian Caribbeans. It also didn't matter that there were no complaints in the ad's country of origin. What mattered was this appearance in mainstream American media that the ad, and therefore company responsible, was "racist".

Now, was the ad racist? No. Are the ad's creators racist? No. Can the ad only be interpreted in one way? No. You see, despite the intentions of the ad's creators, and despite the culture it was being aired in (Australia's), the ad has the potential to be viewed in different (albeit naive) ways.

So returning to the topic at hand: UC2. Is the line in itself homophobic? No. Does it aim to make light of homosexuality? No. Is your interpretation of the line being offensive naive? No. You just happen to read the line differently because you bring to the game a different cultural prism, as do I. So to imply that the characters and its creators are homophobic because one line they wrote can be read in one way is unfair.

peeled currently wrote:

And could you please elaborate a bit more why homosexuality is not universal? Is it specific to a few countries, being Turkey one of them?

Sorry if it was lost in its original translation. What I was saying is that in institutes of incarceration (such as gaols), but also in other forms of institutionalisation (such as school dormitories, and military forces), homosexuality and homosexual acts do occur. However, it is not universal in these environments in the sense that not everyone in a gaol, or armed forces, or school dorm (whether male of female), is homosexual or partakes in same sex intercourse. And in order to pre-empt any replies, I do not think that homosexuality is un-natural.

Alex K wrote:

The line made me uncomfortable because, not knowing the context or reference, it came across to me as a prison rape joke. Prison rape jokes are pretty much always a nasty mix of homophobia, misogyny, and making light of sexual assault, three things I am not fond of, to say the least. Perhaps I should have at least mentioned it in my review, considering one of my points was about how the game avoids offending. It's a dark spot on what is otherwise a rather egalitarian game.

Wasn't it bill hicks who said that anything can be funny if it is portrayed right, even rape? Imagine Bugs Bunny raping Elmer Fudd?

D

I do think you need to take this out of the forums because your opinion on people being gay or not, is completely irrelevant to the fact that the line is CLEARLY a joke against gay people, and i find it absurd that you feel the need to defend it simply because you like the game.

I also do not buy the "Cultural prism", to defend yourself, it's a complete cop our and insulting to ones intelligence.

p.s. I am also from Australia, so what. That ad is the worst example to prove a point also. I don't care how the vocal minority respond to that ad - off topic.

The game is not brain surgery and i don't think there is much to "interpret", its freaking uncharted 2, and the writing is banal and derivative.

Alex R wrote: Something to

Thanks for the link Alex. It reaffirms my cautiousness in declaring any rape joke to be funny, even the "South Park" episode I am referring to. To be honest, I can't recall a single rape joke outside of the "South Park" one that I've honestly laughed at.

I don't disagree with anything the author says. For certain.

At the same time, I just want to throw out the viewpoint that people deal with the dark extremities of life in many different ways. Some go to church. Some do drugs. Some drink. And some tell really off-color filthy jokes, like about rape or murder.

I've spent a lot of time with American troops. I've spent a lot of time with law enforcement. Both are dominated largely by men, so there in and of itself is an issue. But outside of that, both tell some of the most horrific jokes and commentary you can ever hear.

I've been on many assignments that deal with many facts of life that aren't faced with on an every day basis. The officers always find the time to crack some kind of crazy joke, about the nature of a person's insides, watch them pick up the pink brains and joke about how it really clashes with the furniture, the fresh stench of a nearby corpse lingering with the muffled chuckles. I've heard federal wiretap recordings of pimps viciously beating their women.

I always ask them, how do you deal with this shit? The easy way to deal with such brutal reality? Jokes. Jokes jokes jokes. That's why many of the best comedians (like the aforementioned Bill Hicks) tap in to a very dark place and come out with a joke. That's why so many great comedians are minorities, many of whom are blacks and Jews. It's the years of oppression that help opens their eyes, and provide the vitriol for their humor.

After years of having to cover some very nasty stuff, I've developed my own dark humor as well, a persona I rarely make public because of the sensitivity of much of what I've seen. But my closest associates know where my sometimes sick sense of humor comes from.

I thought about this as I read the bit about rape being a "benefit" of the Army. What if it was a soldier saying that? What if it wasn't a joke, but wry commentary on the unforgiving nature of being a hired thug for the state? How horrible of a person would I be, if I smiled not because of the joke, but because of this soldier holding on to his sense of humor like a dim beacon of light illuminating what has been otherwise a dark past? And maybe we could somehow bring this back to Drake, who obviously has killed a shit-ton of people and has seen his own share of craziness.

Again, I'm no advocate of throwing these jokes out for just straight yucks. Just tossing out another viewpoint.

ckzatwork wrote: I wonder

ckzatwork wrote:

I wonder what Chi makes of all of this. I'm betting he is waiting for someone to go berserk with UNCHARTED2 IZ GOTY.ITZ DA BEST GAME EVA, so that he can reply with NOOO! YOUREZ WRONGz!ITS DA DEMONZ ZSSOUL, and I will kick back with YOUR BOTHH WRONGZ. ItS MaKINarIUM!

Hey now, no need to drag Machinarium into this :)

ckzatwork wrote: To avoid

ckzatwork wrote:

To avoid further derailing, I will continue this conversation with Fuchal through e-mail if he is willing to and has the time to put up with me. :)

I wonder what Chi makes of all of this. I'm betting he is waiting for someone to go berserk with UNCHARTED2 IZ GOTY.ITZ DA BEST GAME EVA, so that he can reply with NOOO! YOUREZ WRONGz!ITS DA DEMONZ ZSSOUL, and I will kick back with YOUR BOTHH WRONGZ. ItS MaKINarIUM!

I think its perfectly actually since my second point was gameplay experiences are interpretative.

For those wondering why I haven't been more vocal thus far, I work at the NY Chapter of the Red Cross and this has been a hellishly busy week to say the least. So don't worry. "I'll be back."

Shane

Hey Shane,

Thanks for taking the time to respond to the debate.

Shane wrote:

I do think you need to take this out of the forums because your opinion on people being gay or not, is completely irrelevant to the fact that the line is CLEARLY a joke against gay people, and i find it absurd that you feel the need to defend it simply because you like the game.

My argument/s thus far haven't been my opinion on whether someone is gay or not. In fact, I don't understand who you feel I am arguing is gay or not - the characters in UC2? Any of the other respondents to this thread? The developers at ND? Whomever it is you are referring to, it is irrelevant as I haven't argued anyone's sexuality.

Secondly, I am not defending UC2 because I like the game. I have been clear that I was taking issue with the possible claim that the makers of UC2 where homophobic because a line in the game can be read as homophobic. I emphasise possible because this is how I read two of ckzatwork's previous posts. I then went on to acknowledge that I may have misinterpreted ckzatwork's posts.

More to the point, I have stated that I am not defending the game, even though I like the game, and in fact I also find problems with the game along post-colonial lines. What I was defending was the reputation of the game makers based on ambiguous elements of their game. Period.

Shane wrote:

I also do not buy the "Cultural prism", to defend yourself, it's a complete cop our and insulting to ones intelligence.

Could you please elaborate on what you feel is this "complete cop ou[t]" I employ when referring to a cultural prism? I would like to respond further, but I feel you haven't put much effort into refuting my position. In fact, you have put no effort.

Shane wrote:

p.s. I am also from Australia, so what. That ad is the worst example to prove a point also. I don't care how the vocal minority respond to that ad - off topic.

Congratulations on being from Australia. I am not from Australia - I just happen to live here with my family. I don't see your point in stating you are also from Australia. Is there a point?

Again, I also don't see you elaborating on why my analogy is irrelevant. Just because you say it is "off topic", doesn't automatically make it so. How about completing this sentence? Fuchal, your attempt to parallel the reading of UC2 with the reading of a fast food ad through the concept of cultural prisms is wrong because...

Shane wrote:

The game is not brain surgery and i don't think there is much to "interpret", its freaking uncharted 2, and the writing is banal and derivative.

Finally, you've actually given us a reason why you feel a certain way about something. I don't agree with you on any of the points you just made in that last sentence, but I respect the fact you actually bothered to explain what you don't like about the game and where it sits with you in regards to complicated neural medical procedures.

If you wish to elaborate on any of your previous points, without resorting to rhetorical statements, then I will happily reply and offer my counter points. I will also treat you with the respect that I've shown to others on this thread who happen to engage with me in a civilised manner, even if we are diametrically opposed in our positions.

However, if you want to keep attacking me rather than my argument, then I will continue to reply to you in a condescending manner. I do not wish to do this, though.

@Gene

No, I definitely agree with you there.

I guess a good guideline is, if you haven't been there or haven't experienced this horrific thing (whatever that happens to be), you probably shouldn't joke about it, because you don't really understand. (Where "you" is the general "you", naturally.)

It also depends on the target of the joke. Too often it is women and rape victims who are the target of the joke, which is really messed up. But if the joke targets rapists or people who victim-blame or whatever, that's challenging that behavior. Amanda Hess has written quite a lot on the subject, and here are two relevant posts. I'm really annoyed I can't find the one that touches on your point! Argh.

I think you peeps have made

I think you peeps have made some great points regarding humour and serious subject matters. Although I tend to lean towards the side that humour can be a powerful weapon against repression and violence, I totally get where the authors of some of those links are coming from.

I think that if it is done tastefully, and not glib and never at expense to the victims and never seeks to forget what has happened, then humour can be a potent force. It will often break down social taboos enabling more people to discuss and take serious such horrendous acts.

I think of some of the work done by comedians like Mel Brooks whose immediate family was persecuted by the Nazi German regime, and who then when on to do this. In fact, here is a really good interview with Mel in which he raises some excellent points about humour and tragic events.

D

Misunterpretation of the criticism

I think a lot of people take criticism of Uncharted 2 as criticism of all heavily scripted games. I think there's a fine line between a "sublimely linear" experience (to quote Micheal Abbott, I really love that choice of words) and something more akin to playing Halo cooperatively with my overbearing cousin Charlie. Consistent level design and rules should indicate where I should go next, not a gaudy "Hint," prompt. Yes, game, I know where you want me to go, but I'm not done here, and I'm holding the controller, so piss off.

Furthermore, poorly-implemented stealth levels used to be everyone's favorite gaming cliche to deride. Now, god forbid I whine a bit when Uncharted 2 and Modern Warfare 2 force them on me.

@Matthew K

Matthew K wrote:

- A "roller coaster" is a roller coaster because it has highs AND lows, not just highs. I would hope you also can acknowledge that even non-interactive, quiet, and slower sequences can be thrilling and exhilarating in their own right. Or perhaps you didn't actually enjoy the Metal Gear Solid titles as much as it would seem.... I found every moment of Uncharted 2 to be thrilling, even when the action on-screen had slowed. Also, your insinuation that the game is NOT merely a one-sided shooter goes against some of your previous criticisms of the game.

Which criticisms are you referring to? I don't believe that I addressed this issue before and/or implied that there wasn't variety in the gameplay.

Matthew K wrote:

Why not make a comparison to a game that's more like Uncharted 2? I'm not sure what you'd call it ("3D shooter/platformer/adventure mix"?), but it's definitely not Super Mario Bros., Metal Gear Solid, or a light gun game.

Gene felt that my suggestion of having multiple playable characters and being able to choose who Nate rides off into the sunset with was not the point of the game (Justin's article echoed that thinking)--despite how these suggestions were perfectly within the context of the game.

I cited a variety of different types of games from separate eras, to illustrate that many games can benefited from having more significant gameplay choices and in each case, it didn't hinder the nature of the game and actually improved that respective gameplay experience.

Regardless of why SMB2 included the design decision to have different playable characters, my point is that if having different playable characters didn't hurt Mario and in fact improved the series and contributed something meaningful to the platforming genre. I thought the same logic would apply to UC2. I'm not sure why it wouldn't if someone wants to explain that to me.

Matthew K wrote:

Where is the wealth of player choice in a game like Contra? Tomb Raider? Half-Life 2? (Man, I feel like I'm repeating myself endlessly here.) Gears of War has diverging paths at certain points but they last for a very short time and are meant more to supplement the co-op function. Some games are very, very linear. And they leave very little to the player's imagination. There is only the ILLUSION of choice.

You can't analyze the cultural and artistic significance of a game in a vacuum. Would all the games you mentioned benefited from having more interactive choices? I believe so, but you have to consider the state of storytelling and interactive design at the time and what kinds of innovation was taking place relative to other games in that era when evaluating them.

That being said, my blog post above was not meant to be such an cultural analysis of Uncharted 2 or any other game that you cited or that I compared UC2 to. My main motive was simply to challenge the notion that Uncharted 2 wouldn't benefit from having more choices that would affect the authorship of the game.

Matthew K wrote:

I still don't buy the argument that these kinds of superficial choices would have somehow drastically altered Uncharted 2 for the better... and I don't buy the argument that more significant choices wouldn't have altered the genre of the game. Instead of using false comparisons, why not discuss the level design and structure of your ideal Uncharted 2? Because I just don't see it.

I'm not a game developer/designer and I'm not trying to be one here. I've thrown out a couple of examples that I think fit within the construct of the game and I think my pundits here have focused too much on those particulars rather than the overall idea of introducing choices and options that could influence the authorship of the game no matter how small or large. So rather than speculate on stuff that isn't my area of expertise, I thought it would be more productive to look at three different games that benefited from interjecting varying degrees of choices that impacted authorship.

Matthew K wrote:

- There is no room for interpretation in Uncharted 2? Perhaps we didn't play the same game... or you were simply so turned off by the gameplay that you weren't seeing it. There is plenty of room for interpretation in the drama that unfolds onscreen... of certain characters' integrity, compassion, and motives.

Yes, that was my very point--that *all* gameplay experiences are interpretative. I was pointing out the fallacy in Gene's statement that Naughty Dog aimed to create one experience for all or that this was even possible for any game.

Matthew K wrote:

You seem to make the case that more "artful" game designers leave gaping, vague spaces of interpretation in all good games. Yet the ones you go on to name in the next point all fail on that aspect. You don't think Capcom wants every player to get the same enjoyable interactive experience from Resident Evil 4? I mean, there's room for interpretation in the worth of a story and its symbolism... but there's usually very little room for interpretation as to why a linear game is crafted the way it is. Even supposed "art games" like Braid only invoke a single dramatic possibility. And Uncharted 2 isn't The Path. I don't think anyone wanted it to be, including the developers.

Again, I was not trying to give an broader critique on any of the games I discussed including UC2. Nor was I trying to say one game is better than another. By juxtaposing the three games against UC2, I was trying to challenge the notion that UC2 couldn't be what it was or better by interjecting more interactivity in the authorship. I think as gamers, sometimes we get stuck on this mindset that everything is a competition and if I suggest one way, the opposing way can't exist.

Matthew K wrote:

- You have a problem with the fact that you couldn't wield a grenade launcher as well as you could more portable weapons with (logically) larger ammo capacities? I mean, just think of every other game that has this "problem." It's certainly not limited to Uncharted 2, and I would hardly pinpoint it as a notable quality--negative or otherwise.

I probably should have elaborated on this point a bit more to avoid confusion. I wasn't implying that the game should accommodate my desire in the absence of challenge. A game should always maintain its balance in finding ways to accommodate the inherent desires of its players while still challenging them as well. Games like RE4 have developed weapon systems along those lines (again that's not to say that RE4 is a perfect game or even a better game). This was just one example of how UC2's game design didn't feel particularly progressive to me in light of how other games are starting to account for this more and more.

Matthew K wrote:

- I don't remember anyone arguing that Uncharted 2 as a bastion of innovation. Gene may have said that offering the kinds of choices you mentioned would have changed the fundamental nature of the game, but I don't think he said the developers were going out of their way to think outside some kind of game design box. That said, can't a game be of extremely high quality even if it doesn't reinvent the wheel? I think it can... certainly when the game is made with as much passion and polish as Uncharted 2. As you say yourself, there is a place for these kinds of games. Isn't it fine that Uncharted 2 truly knows and RELISHES that place?

I never tried to make the argument that UC2 isn't "extremely high quality". I just didn't think UC2 should be considered GOTY in light of kinds of justifications and rationale that its supporters were putting forth. This blog post is cumulative response to one of the persistent justifications that I disagreed with.

@Chi

Chi Kong Lui wrote:
Matthew K wrote:

- A "roller coaster" is a roller coaster because it has highs AND lows, not just highs. I would hope you also can acknowledge that even non-interactive, quiet, and slower sequences can be thrilling and exhilarating in their own right. Or perhaps you didn't actually enjoy the Metal Gear Solid titles as much as it would seem.... I found every moment of Uncharted 2 to be thrilling, even when the action on-screen had slowed. Also, your insinuation that the game is NOT merely a one-sided shooter goes against some of your previous criticisms of the game.

Which criticisms are you referring to? I don't believe that I addressed this issue before and/or implied that there wasn't variety in the gameplay.

My apologies; I was confusing your previous comments with those of another blogger.

Matthew K wrote:

- You have a problem with the fact that you couldn't wield a grenade launcher as well as you could more portable weapons with (logically) larger ammo capacities? I mean, just think of every other game that has this "problem." It's certainly not limited to Uncharted 2, and I would hardly pinpoint it as a notable quality--negative or otherwise.

I probably should have elaborated on this point a bit more to avoid confusion. I wasn't implying that the game should accommodate my desire in the absence of challenge. A game should always maintain its balance in finding ways to accommodate the inherent desires of its players while still challenging them as well. Games like RE4 have developed weapon systems along those lines (again that's not to say that RE4 is a perfect game or even a better game). This was just one example of how UC2's game design didn't feel particularly progressive to me in light of how other games are starting to account for this more and more.

Hmm, so I guess I'm still a little unclear on this point. What did you not like about the weapon system in Uncharted 2? Personally, I felt there could have been some additional variety, but that's just me.

As I've said before and offline (so to speak), I apologize for the tone of the above. I think it came off as far more accusatory than was originally intended.

@Gene Park

Gene P. wrote:

You insinuate in your reasoning that Uncharted 2's qualities make it somehow less than a video game, which Matt has already said in his blog post (which feels like ages ago already) that it is simply not true.

I'm going to assume that that is not what you are arguing, because I do respect your critical thinking.

Many of my comments were misread as to imply that UC2 is lesser game than the ones I juxtaposed it to. That wasn't my intension, but I can see how that may confuse people. And when I said that watching a movie is perhaps better than playing UC2, I'm not saying that UC2 is terrible experiment that shouldn't exist. What I'm saying is that both UC2 and movies are striving to entertain in similar fashion, but movies are still way more effective in conveying things like emotion and spectacle. I personally don't think its fair comparison because games are inherently different (as my blog post tries to convey), but its a comparison that Sony and Naughty Dog invited. The larger debate beyond UC2 is "should (some) video games continue to try to be more like movies?" or should we continue to innovate elsewhere.

Gene P. wrote:

So what I'm taking away from your post is that games like Gears of War (which also only lets you pick up weapons on the fly, but is even more restrictive cos you can take out jumping out of your tactics) or Ico (with its 'one-solution-only' puzzles) are on the same level of 'backwards thinking' design as Uncharted 2.

If that's how you feel, then fine. Far be it for me to change your mind on that.

As I said to Matt, you have to evaluate the cultural and artistic merits of each game relative to its time. No matter what you or I say, history that will be the final judge. I'm not prepared to do a full on analysis of ICO or Gears, but I do think Gears is fairly similar to Uncharted 2. Both games lean very heavily in the cinematic mold, but Gears is 3 years older and was influential in reintroducing the duck and cover gameplay and defining a lot of grimy multi-layer texturing aethetic that we see in games today.

Storytelling is more of a focal point in UC2 so I'm going to scrutinize UC2's narrative structure and how the game mechanics affect it a bit more. That's not to say that Gears gets a pass in the storytelling department, but many people have criticized its macho cliches. I'm not seeing this sort of balanced criticism being applied to UC2. Most people who sing UC2's praises cite its storytelling as a new paradigm and/or groundbreaking. Based on the weakness of the writing (see my previous comments) and the lack of interactivity in authorship, I don't agree.

Gene P. wrote:

And lastly, I nor Matt never once said that UC2 is better without choices. So I'm not exactly sure who you are responding to regarding that.

I'm going to have to call you on this one Gene. I suggested a couple of options in regards to providing the player with choices and you rejected the notion outright. So please clarify if that's not what you meant.

Gene P. wrote:

Like I already said, and I'm really repeating myself here as well: I didn't want this to be just about UC2. I'm talking about the critic as an OBJECTIVE and reliable critical authority, a point you have not directly addressed.

Please Chi, this is the real point I'm trying to make. I'm talking about the very nature of opinion pieces. It's about criticizing games in a way that is persuasive to as many readers as possible, not only to the ones that agree with you and your tastes.

I don't care WHAT it gets, and that's what I'm trying to tell you.

If you're implying that by being objective, a critic's taste should be a reflection of the majority, I will have to respectfully disagree. If that's not what you meant, please clarify.

To paraphrase Mike Bracken on our podcast, I can only represent my own view. Whether or not someone finds my view convincing or engaging is a reflection of my thoughts and writing ability.

Gene P. wrote:

If Roger Ebert gave every movie a thumbs down because it wasn't foreign, or it didn't offer a subversive script, then he wouldn't be a respected film critic. Yet he still finds time to review films like 'Iron Man' and give it a respectable 3-star rating, without having to resort to asking why it isn't more like Ramin Bahran's 'Chop Shop'.

Both ended up on his 'best of 2008' list anyway. As he saw it, there was plenty of room for both.

I think I said this already: UC2 is probably a 7 or 8 rating for me, which is in essence a 3-star rating. I'm all for variety in games. I just think that a higher level of critical thinking needs to be applied to UC2. Despite how it appears (as was the case with GTA3), I'm not trying to stand in anyone's way of enjoying UC2. However, if someone truly wants to appreciate UC2 as a cultural artifact, they need to step up their game. Anything less is a disservice to the said art object because weak analysis won't hold up in history.

Chi Kong Lui wrote: I

Chi Kong Lui wrote:

I think I said this already: UC2 is probably a 7 or 8 rating for me, which is in essence a 3-star rating. I'm all for variety in games. I just think that a higher level of critical thinking needs to be applied to UC2. Despite how it appears (as was the case with GTA3), I'm not trying to stand in anyone's way of enjoying UC2. However, if someone truly wants to appreciate UC2 as a cultural artifact, they need to step up their game. Anything less is a disservice to the said art object because weak analysis won't hold up in history.

Short response: You once again completely ignore my main point, the fact that you are bringing up unrelated features from other games into UC2.

Your criticism of Gears of War being older than UC2 is a good criticism. It works and I'm fine with that. That's what I'm talking about and that would fit perfectly in the review. Your criticisms on the story, however much I disagree on the quality of the writing, are objective points on the game.

But I don't know why you keep saying that you actually think UC2 is a good game, when I really don't care either way what you'd give it. I only brought up the Iron Man example not for the 3 stars, but because if you read Ebert's review, he never once mentioned Iron Man's flaws and strengths in the context of other movies that he'd prefer to be seeing.

THAT's objective criticism, not following the majority as you somehow think I'm proposing.

And about me "rejecting the notion outright," you've misread my statements. I didn't reject the notion, I had said UC2 would become a completely different game. I never said it'd be a worse or better game for it.

@Matt, Rockwell and Pollock

Matthew K wrote:

I don't think there's a reason to dismiss either kind of painting as not contributing to the medium. It all really depends on the aims of the artist... and on the viewer's end, what the individual viewer is searching for... how the viewer wants to be affected. And it's likewise easy to see the range of opinions... how some call Rockwell "feel-good hokum" and others call Pollack "self-indulgent" and "pretentious." But I don't think anyone would argue that one sort of painting should be mistaken for the other... that Rockwell should have scribbled over his emotional, photo-like scenes or that Pollack should have tried to contain his raw expression. Certainly there is a place for the wide range of painting that is found somewhere in the middle between these two extremes. But there is also a place for the extreme itself... in Rockwell's case (and in Uncharted 2's case), something that leaves very little work up to the act of interpretation but can still evoke powerful emotions.

Matt, first let me say that I really appreciate this excellent comparison.

Rockwell is wildly popular among Americans because his subject matter appeals to their sense of ethnocentric nostalgia and his detailed draftsman style is accessible and fits the mold of what the average person would be comfortable calling "art". However the majority of art critics do dismiss Rockwell for having contributed very little to art and art history books tend to agree as he is often a little more than a footnote. Looking at Rockwell's 4000+ body of work, it doesn't take a trained eye to tell that he's basically a one-note Charlie.

Toulouse-Lautrec was also considered an illustrator by trade who painted his environment, but Lautrec's technique was far more expressive and experimental and his subject matter was far more daring, revealing and provocative (hence his greater reverence in art circles). Pollock isn't someone I've studied too deeply, but my general impression of his work is that he's largely a one-note Charlie as well, but the big difference between between Pollock and Rockwell is that Pollock's one contribution was monumentally influential and relevant to modern art history where as Rockwell's art was largely irrelvent. That doesn't stop many people from enjoying Rockwell's work and there's nothing wrong with that, but there's not a whole lot to appreciate and analyze intellectually as critics and historians.

Gene P. wrote: Short

Gene P. wrote:

Short response: You once again completely ignore my main point, the fact that you are bringing up unrelated features from other games into UC2.

My original suggestions didn't come from other games. They were based on my reaction to playing Uncharted 2 and within the context of what the game was proposing to me. Your argument suggests that Uncharted 2 would be a completely different game, but my blog post proves otherwise. If you disagree, then tell me why you believe the game would be different and is that a good or bad thing?

Gene P. wrote:

But I don't know why you keep saying that you actually think UC2 is a good game, when I really don't care either way what you'd give it. I only brought up the Iron Man example not for the 3 stars, but because if you read Ebert's review, he never once mentioned Iron Man's flaws and strengths in the context of other movies that he'd prefer to be seeing.

THAT's objective criticism, not following the majority as you somehow think I'm proposing.

Has Ebert ever compared one film against another through out his long career? I don't read Ebert's reviews as regularly as I use to, but I'm pretty sure he's done it on more than one occasion. Even if he didn't, its pretty common technique in criticism/art theory and it works well so long as the comparison makes sense and is enlightening.

I honestly don't know what "objective criticism" is, what the rules are and how it invalidates my writing. If I have an idea that I think it worth sharing, I'm going to utilize whatever format I think is most effective.

Gene P. wrote:

And about me "rejecting the notion outright," you've misread my statements. I didn't reject the notion, I had said UC2 would become a completely different game. I never said it'd be a worse or better game for it.

Thanks for the clarification.

Chi

Chi,

I'm curious as to what your personal GOTY titles were for the previous few years?

D

Agree and disagree

Chi Kong Lui wrote:

That doesn't stop many people from enjoying Rockwell's work and there's nothing wrong with that, but there's not a whole lot to appreciate and analyze intellectually as critics and historians.

I find myself both agreeing and disagreeing with this (at least in terms of the comparison to Uncharted 2). Where we are in agreement--and really the reason for me making the comparison--is that Pollack (and, say, Shadow of the Colossus, although I'm really just plucking that comparison right out of my butt) is definitely a work that requires more interpretative work on the part of the audience. Obviously, art criticism as a scholarly endeavor has more to gain from, and be enriched by, the work of Pollack.

But again, we come back to the subjective sense of what makes for quality or even a historically notable product of art. I think Rockwell's talent--no matter what you may think of his use of those talents with regard to crafting dense material--is undeniable. He was at the top of his game, at least in terms of skill. Did he push boundaries of thought? No. But did he push boundaries of *craft*? I think so, definitely. And the thing is, he actually is rather significant in terms of the history of popular illustration, if not in art in general. But people know him... they know his work well in this country, precisely for the nostalgia factor you discuss. Part of the question up for debate is that whether that makes his work less culturally meaningful or "poorer" from an impossibly objective standpoint. Intellectually, yes, Rockwell isn't going to challenge many people. And Uncharted 2 certainly won't. Neither product is really innovative in the design/thought sense.

But as you sort of accept at the end of your comment above, that doesn't mean that these things can't be appreciated on a different level. The level of craft.

So let's say--purely hypothetically--that we have a multitude of paintings up for "Artwork of the Year, 2009." Which would win in this hypothetical scenario: The painting that engages AND intellectually challenges the viewer, or the painting that engages and truly satisfies the aesthetic desires of the eye? I would think the former, and I would hope at this point we're both in agreement there.

To extend this analogy back to the subject, however, I would still argue that if we're talking about what makes for the "best of the best," the problem with 2009 is that there simply wasn't any game that fit THAT bill. There was no Shadow of the Colossus, in my humble opinion (if Flower were a full-fledged game rather than something of a demoscene, maybe that would have fit the bill, but as is, it was a beautiful and wonderful sliver of game).

Nothing pushed the envelope in that sense. No game was running on all artistic cylinders. And I'm relatively tough on games where this is concerned. Some people regard Bioshock as the next coming of the game design messiah, and I have massive problems with the game's so-called "innovations" (though I still found the game very enjoyable). To me, Metal Gear Solid 4 is a game that pushes boundaries, and for all its kitschy dramatics and overblown style, it does make you think, particularly through its gameplay. Morrowind was a game that pushed boundaries. Half-Life 2. Planescape: Torment. Okami. Panzer Dragoon Orta. Deus Ex. Eternal Darkness. Portal.

But Uncharted 2? No. And I would say the same for other games I consider to be among the best of the past decade, including God of War I and II, Gears of War, and Knights of the Old Republic. Did these games resonate with me as an intellectual who appreciates challenging material? No.

So instead, we're left with a contest of craft. And in that case, I think Uncharted 2 is an immaculately CRAFTED work of art. It is made with all the care and heart that I'm sure Rockwell poured into his artwork, even if it lacks the enigmatic soul of a Mapplethorpe photo, a David Lynch film, or a Matisse.

The question that has irked all of us, however, even yourself, is whether it is fair to ask if someone like Rockwell should have privately aspired to be a Pollack in Rockwell's clothing. I mean, he easily could have painted something like Wyeth's Christina's World. Easily. But *should* he have? Would it have taken away from what makes a Rockwell a Rockwell? That's a different question--albeit slightly--than "Does that make Rockwell less gratifying to look at than something more complex?"

You lost me Matthew, when

You lost me Matthew, when you compared Flower to something from a demoscene. You have a thin and conservative view of what games should be and, as such, continually diminish the weight of experimental games (and art) - you did it with The Path, for instance. Why should I not consider Flower a full-fledged game? Because it doesn’t offer 16 hours of repetitive gameplay? Because it’s cheap? Because there is no scoring system? Give me a valid reason and I’ll shut up.

Meanwhile, I'll still believe that your orthodox thoughts are dangerous in the sense that they don’t award liberated creativity - and that's why I don't like UC2, because it is universally praised for presenting absolutely nothing fresh, except helping the medium approach the most prosaic perceptions of what film language is.

Uncharted 2's innovation

Okay, I was going to stay out of this conversation, but it's pretty frustrating to read everyone saying Uncharted 2 isn't innovative and brings nothing new or fresh to the table.

Uncharted 2 is an action game with believable, human female characters--women who are proactive, smart, and independent--who act like actual adults when it comes to love and romance, and neither of whom ends up dying. This is deeply meaningful and important for me, as well as for other women I know. And please don't make the mistake of dismissing this as a "women's issue" and therefore not as important as any other aspect of the game.

One of the other things I praised in my review was the attention to detail in Uncharted 2. The amount of detail in this game is ridiculous, well above any other game to date. I cite plenty of examples in my review, but as another example, on the last Joystiq podcast the hosts were discussing their GOTY list, and at one point Chris Grant talks about Uncharted 2, saying, "When you're aiming at an exploding barrel, and right before you pull the trigger, Drake says, 'Boom.' Best moment in a video game ever." It is this attention to detail that elevates Uncharted 2 above every other game out there. It simply sets a new bar.

Along those lines, I really recommend listening to this episode of the Brainy Gamer podcast, where Manveer Hier from Raven Software talks about why Uncharted 2 is his favorite game of the year. It is really enlightening to hear a game developer's perspective on that, since it seems that many of the things Uncharted 2 does (having an actual moving train be playable, playable sections inside crumbling buildings, a non-stupid romance/love-triangle plot, touching quiet moments in the middle of an action game) changes things a lot as far as game development is concerned, opening doors to new ideas and setting new bars for quality in both design and technology. And I believe there are going to be at least five sessions about Uncharted 2 at GDC, about everything from writing and acting to technological issues.

And maybe y'all don't care about those things, as critics, I don't know. But to say it brings nothing new to the industry, to the medium, is simply wrong.

@Alex

Alex R wrote:

Okay, I was going to stay out of this conversation, but it's pretty frustrating to read everyone saying Uncharted 2 isn't innovative and brings nothing new or fresh to the table.
*****
And maybe y'all don't care about those things, as critics, I don't know. But to say it brings nothing new to the industry, to the medium, is simply wrong.

Alex, first let me say that while you haven't commented much during this debate, I've always appreciated what you have posted because you're one of the few commenters who would address my ideas/questions directly rather than tangentially.

That said, I would advise against broad sweeping statements like the ones I quoted above without properly attributing them to someone so that they aren't perceived as confusing and overly hostile by others. For example, I never said that UC2 "brings nothing new to the industry." Matt, Gene and I have worked hard to reduce the level of hostility so that we can enjoy a much more productive discussion. I hope you and others would do the same. Thank you.

quotes

ckzatwork:
and that's why I don't like UC2, because it is universally praised for presenting absolutely nothing fresh, except helping the medium approach the most prosaic perceptions of what film language is.

Matt K:
Neither product is really innovative in the design/thought sense.

Sorry for being vague in who I was addressing, but these were the comments I was reacting to.

And, just to be absolutely clear, that second-to-last sentence was not intended as a dig in any way. I am genuinely unsure whether such changes to the game development landscape "count" as innovation as far as GOTY is concerned, which is from a consumer/critic point of view.

I’ve just reread my post

I’ve just reread my post and want to apologize to Matthew. I sound like an offensive asshole.

Alex, my idea of innovation goes beyond having a character saying “Boom” after he shoots a barrel. I would find it more innovative if the barrel wasn’t there in the first place. I find the detail you speak of to be futile, having the power to transform the experience into a juvenile spectacle.

Women have been portrayed as adult and independent characters that don't get killed in games like Enemy Zero, Phantasmagoria, Indigo Prohecy, Beyond Good and Evil, Syberia, The Longest Journey, The Path (yes, they get killed but their femininity is unequally explored). The only difference being the fact that they are playable. And is it really so mature for Chloe to leave the stage reminding Drake that he will never forget her ass?

As for the moving train “innovation”, the literate Last Express was released in 1997. I can also think of the unforgettable intro to Half-Life and, if you want games from 2009, Killzone 2. Crumbling buildings, I don’t know, the recent Alone in the Dark? But is this really what you think improvement is? Action clichés?

My biggest gripe with UC2 is the fact that due to its visibility and praise it will be molding a significant percentage of the next big budget games. And you will understand that, by everything I think and have said about it, I don’t see that as an exciting future.

I think I "lost" you long before that post

ckzatwork wrote:

You lost me Matthew, when you compared Flower to something from a demoscene. You have a thin and conservative view of what games should be and, as such, continually diminish the weight of experimental games (and art) - you did it with The Path, for instance. Why should I not consider Flower a full-fledged game? Because it doesn’t offer 16 hours of repetitive gameplay? Because it’s cheap? Because there is no scoring system? Give me a valid reason and I’ll shut up.

Meanwhile, I'll still believe that your orthodox thoughts are dangerous in the sense that they don’t award liberated creativity - and that's why I don't like UC2, because it is universally praised for presenting absolutely nothing fresh, except helping the medium approach the most prosaic perceptions of what film language is.

Ckzatwork,

First I want to say that it is extremely demeaning when someone calls your opinions "dangerous." If anything, I'm arguing for a liberated perspective of how two different game designs can be equally valuable in the eyes of the consumer and designer. I'm defending Naughty Dog's design ethos here, just as I would passionately defend ThatGameCompany's.

And on that note, perhaps you didn't read my Best Of 2009 post, because Flower is there. I only have five games (I think) in that list. I thought it was one of the best GAMES of this past year. And is it more "demoscene" than game? Probably. But I APPRECIATE the lines blurred in that area. I APPRECIATE how easily the game defies labels, though we amateur critics have nothing but labels to bestow upon such games. Trust me, I value Flower. I think it is a marvel. So please do not try to speak on my behalf here. You're doing a poor job.

Did I appreciate The Path in the same sense? No. That's really for a different debate, I think, but to recap: I think The Path is narratively wonderful but terrible in terms of design. And those are sometimes two different sides of the same coin, sorry to tell you.

What would have made Flower "the absolute best" game for me would have been a longer and more varied experience, yes. But if you wanted to step up and call it "GOTY 2009," I'd fully appreciate your take on it. I'd admire it. And I'd be glad someone was willing to stake their subjective take on GOTY on that game, because Lord knows Flower deserves even more recognition.

Casting me as the bad guy in this scenario makes no sense. It really seems--correct me if I'm wrong--like you just don't want to see my side of things here, no matter what I say, or for what kind of diversity of perspective I argue. When I said Demon's Souls wasn't "GOTY material" in the other post, I never said that that was some kind of universal, objective label for the game. Rather, I was suggesting that if someone could somehow even approach an objective take on GOTY (which is impossible, as we all know), it might be taking into account games that provide pleasure, create a sense of reward, and in this case... challenge the player's thinking. In this post, I argued that few games this past year did much challenging. I mention Flower only in the sense that while it challenged convention and made one think, it was fairly limited (at least for me) on the other two planes.

But that says nothing for its worth as a game, as a piece of "art," or anything else. That's ONLY in the context of the contrived "Game of the Year" race. So please do not confuse this discussion with another. If anything, in my painter/art argument, I'm trying to say that something can still be appreciated fully as "art" without necessarily reinventing the wheel... but also that some good art, perhaps the best art if we were ever to agree on such a thing, DOES challenge convention and thought as well.

And I believe that's the last response owed to you here. There won't be any more, seeing as you want to condemn me to critical anathema... and forgive me, but I take that more as a sign of wanting to shut down someone's part of the conversation, not continue it.

@Ckzatwork

ckzatwork wrote:

I’ve just reread my post and want to apologize to Matthew. I sound like an offensive asshole.

I very much appreciate the apology (which I only got to read after submitting my previous comment, sorry). But I hope you can see after my clarification that I'm not trying to argue for a more limited perspective.

So let's expand our definiton of "new"

Alex R wrote:

ckzatwork:
and that's why I don't like UC2, because it is universally praised for presenting absolutely nothing fresh, except helping the medium approach the most prosaic perceptions of what film language is.

Matt K:
Neither product is really innovative in the design/thought sense.

Sorry for being vague in who I was addressing, but these were the comments I was reacting to.

And, just to be absolutely clear, that second-to-last sentence was not intended as a dig in any way. I am genuinely unsure whether such changes to the game development landscape "count" as innovation as far as GOTY is concerned, which is from a consumer/critic point of view.

Well, I believe that innovation comes in different forms. That's sort of the point to my long-winded arguments here. Although I will say that the consensus seems to be that for a game to be "innovative" in the commonly-used way, it means in the genre sense.

But I will wholeheartedly agree with you, and I truly mean that, that Uncharted 2 does new things--or if not new, then perhaps surprising--with regard to the genre conventions it upholds. I love the sections in which the player gets to shoot while seemingly plummeting towards his doom. I've never seen those in another game. I also appreciate something like, say, the final bit of dialogue between Drake and Elena, which is also something I've never seen in a similar game. It's subdued and heartwarming.

So I do think Naughty Dog worked hard to elevate this particular type of action/adventure game. But I think we'd also all agree--and this goes back to the quote you captured--that Uncharted 2 doesn't try to create a new, blurred genre... or present a storyline that unhinges our concept of the serial-style adventure. I don't think that was even the goal of Naughty Dog. What they set out to do, I think they did beautifully and with a great deal of creativity. If the whole game was rote for me, I wouldn't have enjoyed it so much. It's familiar, yes. But not rote.

@ckz

I would appreciate it if you didn't dismiss my points by saying things like "my idea of innovation goes beyond having a character saying “Boom” after he shoots a barrel." That's not what my point was.

What's important about that moment is Drake says "Boom" BEFORE the player pulls the trigger. This is an important distinction. Afterwards would be a simple scripted event. Saying it before is predicting the player's behavior.

And that was but one detail out of many. There are also the ones I mention in my review: the notebook, which gives the player amusing insights to Drake's personality, and being able to kick a soccer ball to a group of children in the Tibetan village, to name two. How are those contributing to the "juvenile spectacle"? But more importantly, how can attention to detail EVER be a bad thing? In any medium it is a sign of quality craftsmanship.

The thing about the train and the crumbling buildings is they are things that have never been done in games before. There has never been a train sequence that takes place on an actual moving train before Uncharted 2. Every other train sequence is a static train with a scrolling background. Having the train actually moving allowed for the train to actually make turns, and to have realistic physics. Naughty Dog built the technology to make that possible. Same with the crumbling building: Drake leaping out of a collapsing building isn't a cutscene, it's a playable sequence. Same with fighting enemies on a platform that is sliding down a mountain. These things have never been possible in games before, but now they are because of Uncharted 2.

Again, I really recommend listening to that podcast. Manveer Hier talks at length about how Uncharted 2 completely changed developers' ideas of what is possible in a video game, both technology-wise and emotionally. Whether you think that is relevant to the GOTY discussion is another matter, but Uncharted 2 IS doing new things. Just something to think about.

My biggest gripe with UC2 is the fact that due to its visibility and praise it will be molding a significant percentage of the next big budget games.

This happens with everything in every medium. That's how the entertainment industry is. It's annoying, sure, but it's not really an argument against Uncharted 2's quality.

Overall I think our culture places a lot more emphasis on impressive technology than what is being said WITH that technology (see Avatar, for a recent example). But that doesn't mean we should *completely* dismiss the technological aspect, especially when it comes to video games, which are an even more technical medium than movies are.

@Matt Can't disagree with you there.

@Alex on believability

(Due the size of this comment, I'll only be addressing the first part of Alex's comment for the time being.)

Alex R wrote:

Uncharted 2 is an action game with believable, human female characters--women who are proactive, smart, and independent--who act like actual adults when it comes to love and romance, and neither of whom ends up dying. This is deeply meaningful and important for me, as well as for other women I know. And please don't make the mistake of dismissing this as a "women's issue" and therefore not as important as any other aspect of the game.

Adding to ckz's thoughtful list, I think Samus Aran (Metroid), Terra (FFVI), Angel and Spirit (Wing Commander), Joanna Dark (Perfect Dark) also fit the bill of being proactive, smart and independent. From games I haven't personally played, Alyx Vance (Half-Life 2), Faith (Mirror's Edge) and Cate Archer (read Erin Bell's excellent review of No One Lives Forever) are often cited as excellent role-models. There's so many strong women characters that have appeared in western and JRPGs over the years (many of which I have never played), it would be interesting for someone do a role-call of females in that genre as well. That's not to say there's an exhaustive list of believable women (or men for that matter) in video games, but they are there and have existed before UC2 (unlike how some outside writers have implied).

Getting back to UC2, let's discuss the issue of "believability" and what makes Chloe and Elena believable. I get that they sound like mature adults through a competently written script and excellent voice performances, but here's what I didn't find so believable. Chloe and Elena have values that are on the opposite end of the spectrum. One is idealistically altruistic and the other is cynically self-serving. So in what world do these two types of personalities get along? They share nothing in common except their relationship with Drake. Even if they aren't competing for his affections, is sharing a common romantic bond with the same person, something that would allow them to overcome their HUGE differences in values and personality? I have a hard time believing that. I get that by not having the two women fight over Drake is defying the convention and remarkable, but having them work well together is something that I don't think is believable from a human condition stand point.

Chloe and Elena aren't so much believable as they are familiar. As Tom Cross' Sexual Politics article argued, Chloe and Elena are archetypes in movies that we've seen many times before. What sets them apart in video games are good performances from the actors and a lively script, but they aren't getting a whole lot help from the writing that provides zero motivation and isn't particularly believable.

The other thing I find shocking in all this talk of UC2 being GOTY partly for its amazing writing and portrayal of women, why is no one bothering to mentioning Dragon Age: Origins--a game that was released 15 days after UC2--in the same breath. Not only are Morrigan and Leliana two of the most wonderfully written and beautifully acted characters EVAR (with complete background stories and believable motivations), but their relationships (relative to the player and other characters) and development are completely dynamic and evolving according to the player's actions and choices through out various gameplay mechanisms. That to me is progress.

And before someone points out that one is action game and the other is RPG, why does that matter? Writing is writing no matter what type of game and if anything UC2 has the advantage of having to write for a lesser amount of characters.

Re: Chi

Chi,

I was hoping you would answer my earlier question as to what you hold as your GOTY for the previous 2-3 years. The question may have slipped past in the wave of other excellent responses on this thread.

In regards to the article itself, you present some interesting points about how games can offer different forms of interaction. Yet, you fail to address the title's claim that UC2 can't be GOTY material due to a lack of 'interaction.'

I understand that you feel there wasn't enough 'choice' for you in UC2, and I appreciate the other games you state which do offer varying degrees of player interaction, but what examples of interaction and 'choice' do you recommend UC2 should have had to make it better (and ultimately make it a GOTY contender)?

I thought you would offer something to do with weapons choice, as you mentioned there wasn't the ability to simply use the grenade launcher for the entire game, but you steered away from this at the last minute. Presumably you realised that allowing a player to utilise the grenade launcher as a primary weapon would have devalued the challenge of the game?

I am not wanting you to acknowledge UC2 as GOTY, or even as GOTY material. However, I do think you need to validate with examples what interactive elements should have been in UC2 and which, by their absence, invalidate it as being considered GOTY? Listing examples of other games that have interaction does not back up the claim that UC2 doesn't.

D

@Fuchal

Fuchal wrote:

I was hoping you would answer my earlier question as to what you hold as your GOTY for the previous 2-3 years. The question may have slipped past in the wave of other excellent responses on this thread.

My apologies for not being able to respond sooner. I do want to respond, but there's so much to discuss in this thread and only so many hours in the day. ;-) I will respond to past GOTYs part later.

Fuchal wrote:

I understand that you feel there wasn't enough 'choice' for you in UC2, and I appreciate the other games you state which do offer varying degrees of player interaction, but what examples of interaction and 'choice' do you recommend UC2 should have had to make it better (and ultimately make it a GOTY contender)?

I believe I addressed your questions (including the one about the grenade launcher) in my comment to Matt here.

To clear, I'm not suggesting that UC2 only needs to have more choices to be GOTY. I think GOTY should be more progressive in general, but I focused on the interactive choice part because its been suggested that UC2 is successful for its lack of choice/decision-making, which is something I have a hard time wrapping my head around.

@Chi regarding weapons

Thanks for the reply, Chi.

And thanks for pointing me towards that post you made.

With regards to the weapons system, I don't think having a Role Playing style weapons system similar RE4 would contribute positively to UC2. Whilst I agree it may add an element of interaction and extra authorship, it would in fact sacrifice an already existing element of player choice. And one that is, in fact, greater.

By limiting the weapons system to stock weapon attributes and load-outs, Naughty Dog have ensured you make conscious decisions about what tools you will take, what tools you'll leave, and what tools you'll horde for possible use later on. By itself, this doesn't make UC2 any different to say Gears of War, or Tomb Raider, or even games in other genres like Call of Duty/Modern Warfare.

However, UC2 offers players a number of ways to tackle most, if not all, sections. Although it would seem there is one obvious or 'standard' way to progress past a section, you can decide to employ stealth tactics or melee/close quarters or distance sniping with a pistol or any number of options at your disposal. There is no one way to complete a challenge which involves enemies, and I found that through increasing the difficulty and thinking laterally you can really discover some unorthodox ways to play the game - ways the developers didn't even think of.

This is accomplished in UC2 because they have really well made environment maps, with objects that defy one dimensional use. You are restricted in weapon options, but you have an environment which is begging to be explored and exploited and redefined. Look at Gears of War which also has standard weapons, but doesn't have the dynamic environment for players to exploit. It (GoW) is fun, and I really enjoyed the first one, but it doesn't give you a lot of choice as a player.

Now, let's add the weapon system option you have spoken of from RE4 (or any RPG style game). You would open up your options for how your weapons behave and what effect they have on enemies. You could probably find some novel ways to use these, even in ways the designers didn't intend. You would, in effect, have the new element of choice your article and subsequent post craves for. But!

You would have reduced your approach to the game and, in fact, would have imposed blinkers to the vast majority of players that steer them only towards weapons based approaches. This great environment you've created would be viewed with one dominant characteristic in mind: how will I use my custom made grenade launcher or pistol or whatever?

Gone is the need to think about how you can resolve the problems between you and your goal. You don't need to analyse the environment and how enemy and friendly AI react, because you can just tweak your weapon. You don't need to look at that car or lamp post or rail or cliff or fallen pillar in dozens of different contexts. You just see if it will blow up or provide cover and use your weapon to clear a path.

Players, in this alternate UC2, will have had their overall options reduced in order to present a lesser form of 'choice'.

D

@Chi regarding UC2's female characters

I didn't want to create one long post in reply, hence I've made a separate reply to your post which discusses UC2's female characters.

With regards to choosing which of the female characters Drake devotes himself to at the end of the game, I kind of feel you miss the point to having these women in the game. I also think you don't understand the character of Drake.

As the player of Drake you rightly have the choice of what weapons you use. You have the choice of how you use them. Of if you even use them. You have the choice of how you will use the environment. And in the multiplayer you have the choice of what clothing you wear. This is because these choices have to do with inanimate objects and their utilitarian role in the game.

The women of UC2 do not fall into this category, because the women in UC2 are defined people in of themselves. To mix and match them with your choice of T-shirt or handgun would be to reduce them to the level of accessories to Drake. And this is largely defined by the game genre of UC2.

In most RPG's you are playing a form of you. They may look nothing like you, and they may possess skills you never can possess, but they are an expression of you as a gamer in a world you will never live in. As such, you need to be given options of what you would do in that world. So in RPGs - from obvious ones like Mass Effect and Fallout 3 - to more subtle ones like GTA4 - there are a range of narrative options and you can decide what ones to follow and who you want to develop relationships with and what sort of relationships they will be, et al. And in this genre (that of RPG), these choices are not, if done correctly by the developers, demeaning to you or to the other characters. They are, in fact, the game.

But UC2 is not an RPG. It is a game which has a linear narrative and plot. It's weapons don't change. It's environment doesn't change. It is a game about using different tactics to get from point A to point B. But it's characters do change.

They change according to the single script and story line which is presented. It is a game about telling an adventure story with people you and I will never meet, doing things which boarder believability, but displaying motives and feelings and characteristics you and I can relate to because they themselves are believable. You yourself may not respond the exact way Drake does. You may not hold an ideal one of the characters does. So your motivation might be different in that context. But it is believable that humans can behave these ways, and not just in the UC2 world.

You state that you felt it was unrealistic that Chloe and Elena didn't fight over Drake because in the real world two women can fight over a man. But equally it is possible in the real world for two women to not fight over a man. In fact, I've witnessed both happening to people I know and have known. And I'm guessing so did the writers at ND. So why is it unrealistic if characters do what is possible but which you feel they shouldn't? Is it unrealistic because most other games would have them fighting?

But I digress. At its core UC2 is a story you are being told, but that you also get to participate in. And that is its genre.

In this genre, allowing a player to chose which woman Drake ends up with would devalue the character arcs Naughty Dog have created with Drake, Chloe and Elena. It would reduce these two women to mere accessories, and it would negate the compassion and maturity that Drake has developed into his masculinity over the course of not only UC2 but UC1. He would end up being just another Alpha Male lead.

Ultimately, Chi, I think you devalue Uncharted 2 because it is not an RPG. That is why I am interested in what your GOTY titles are for the past few years, as I suspect they are primarily, if not all, RPGs in one form or another. I could be wrong, so please correct me if I am.

But your article as well as the subsequent posts (and posts on the other articles regarding UC2), all seem to point towards the view that 'progressive' gaming, 'innovative' gaming, and GOTY titles can only be those which are, or borrow heavily from, the RPG element. And I feel that can lead to a very narrow concept of gaming and subsequently what qualifies as true innovation.

@Fuchal on Weapons

Fuchal wrote:

By limiting the weapons system to stock weapon attributes and load-outs, Naughty Dog have ensured you make conscious decisions about what tools you will take, what tools you'll leave, and what tools you'll horde for possible use later on. By itself, this doesn't make UC2 any different to say Gears of War, or Tomb Raider, or even games in other genres like Call of Duty/Modern Warfare.

I think you make a valid argument about making scarcity a gameplay element, however you also inadvertently supported my point about the grenade launcher. You agree that we as players make such concisous decisions to horde weapons for preference and strategy, but its something the developers never acknowledge because there's no need to horde weapons. Inveitably, enemies will drop something servicable for you to use and you never need to save any particular type of ammo because when you reach the boss battles the game will give you the exact weapons and ammo you need to complete the job. That's not improvisation.

Secondly, if you say this system is no different than a lot of other games, I agree and so why does UC2 deserve praise for being on par with everyone else (at least in regards to how it handles it combat system)?

Fuchal wrote:

However, UC2 offers players a number of ways to tackle most, if not all, sections. Although it would seem there is one obvious or 'standard' way to progress past a section, you can decide to employ stealth tactics or melee/close quarters or distance sniping with a pistol or any number of options at your disposal. There is no one way to complete a challenge which involves enemies, and I found that through increasing the difficulty and thinking laterally you can really discover some unorthodox ways to play the game - ways the developers didn't even think of.

I didn't have the same experience here at all playing on normal. The only time I was able to employ stealth was in the stage designated for stealth. The only time was able to effectively snipe was in parts that were designed for sniping. Even in the stage near the end in the ruins where it seemed to be a setup for stealth, I tried multiple times to employ stealth and wasn't successful beyond picking off one or two guys before I was discovered by the others. Same goes for the final boss battle. Was there any other way to beat the tank other than going from roof top to roof top? Again, I felt like the game was fighting me the whole time in terms of what I wanted to do vs what it wanted me to do. I'd like to hear some specific examples of how you were able to improvise.

Fuchal wrote:

This is accomplished in UC2 because they have really well made environment maps, with objects that defy one dimensional use. You are restricted in weapon options, but you have an environment which is begging to be explored and exploited and redefined. Look at Gears of War which also has standard weapons, but doesn't have the dynamic environment for players to exploit. It (GoW) is fun, and I really enjoyed the first one, but it doesn't give you a lot of choice as a player.

While I don't agree with you on UC2, I agree with you on Gears. I didn't play it a whole lot, but of what I did play, I found it to be pretty dull and monotone in gameplay.

Fuchal wrote:

Now, let's add the weapon system option you have spoken of from RE4 (or any RPG style game). You would open up your options for how your weapons behave and what effect they have on enemies. You could probably find some novel ways to use these, even in ways the designers didn't intend. You would, in effect, have the new element of choice your article and subsequent post craves for. But!

You would have reduced your approach to the game and, in fact, would have imposed blinkers to the vast majority of players that steer them only towards weapons based approaches. This great environment you've created would be viewed with one dominant characteristic in mind: how will I use my custom made grenade launcher or pistol or whatever?

Gone is the need to think about how you can resolve the problems between you and your goal. You don't need to analyse the environment and how enemy and friendly AI react, because you can just tweak your weapon. You don't need to look at that car or lamp post or rail or cliff or fallen pillar in dozens of different contexts. You just see if it will blow up or provide cover and use your weapon to clear a path.

Players, in this alternate UC2, will have had their overall options reduced in order to present a lesser form of 'choice'.

So why isn't this a problem for RE4, RPGs and any other open ended game? It's up to the developer to balance out the gameplay with restrictions and adaptive AI. I never asked for my game to be unbalanced. I asked for more personalization in my challenge.

@Fuchal on Women, Reward vs Authorship of Uncharted 2

Fuchal wrote:

The women of UC2 do not fall into this category, because the women in UC2 are defined people in of themselves. To mix and match them with your choice of T-shirt or handgun would be to reduce them to the level of accessories to Drake. And this is largely defined by the game genre of UC2.

I never said that either of the women should be treated as a reward or accessory for Nate. That's taking what I said way out of context. One critcal point you don't mention is that Nate does make a choice. He chooses one girl over the other. The only issue here is whether or not the player should have a hand in the authorship of the game by deciding who Nate chooses. This isn't an option in movies or books. This is what makes video games unique and special as an art form.

While I get that games can also be linear and don't have to give the player a choice, which in effect makes it a passive experience closer to a movie or book, why do we want to celebrate a game like Uncharted 2 whose supposed greatest contribution to the art of video games is at best a replication of another media and at worst, an inferior version of it. Shouldn't a praise-worthy video game exploit and explore the unique advantages of its art form rather than deny them?

Gene and I think to a lesser extent Matt have argued that we should be judging Uncharted 2 on its own merits, but shouldn't we be judging video games as a medium on its own merits rather than as films or any other linear narrative?

Fuchal wrote:

You state that you felt it was unrealistic that Chloe and Elena didn't fight over Drake because in the real world two women can fight over a man. But equally it is possible in the real world for two women to not fight over a man. In fact, I've witnessed both happening to people I know and have known. And I'm guessing so did the writers at ND. So why is it unrealistic if characters do what is possible but which you feel they shouldn't? Is it unrealistic because most other games would have them fighting?

This is an
inaccurate reading of what I wrote. I did *NOT* say that Chloe and Elena should be fighting over Drake and in fact I acknowledged that they weren't in competition for his affection. Please reread. (edit: Although, I didn't say they should be fighting over Drake, I made a change to the last sentence to be more clear.)

Fuchal wrote:

In this genre, allowing a player to chose which woman Drake ends up with would devalue the character arcs Naughty Dog have created with Drake, Chloe and Elena. It would reduce these two women to mere accessories, and it would negate the compassion and maturity that Drake has developed into his masculinity over the course of not only UC2 but UC1. He would end up being just another Alpha Male lead.

In my mind, the ability to choose isn't about accessories or reward. Its about writing the ending that I think it best suited for these characters based on my world view. My life experience has taught me that intimate relationships aren't so much decisions as they are necessities to the couple involved. It's why everyone universally agrees with Hikaru/Rick being with Misa/Lisa over Minmei in Macross/Robotech. They needed each other far more than Minmei needed Hikaru.

The writers of Uncharted 2 didn't give me a heck of lot to work with in regards to the characters backgrounds and histories, but based on the personalities, I personally felt that Chloe and Nate needed each other far more than Elena and Nate needed each other. As I mentioned before in a previous comment, Nate and Elena come across more as brother and sister than being intimate. So I didn't believe in the ending and having the option of authorship would have allowed me to write the ending that I saw fit.

In the end, having the player write the ending that they see fit is what I believe would be most gratifying and in one small way would have made Uncharted 2 a better video game because it would have taken advantage of the art form.

Fuchal wrote:

Ultimately, Chi, I think you devalue Uncharted 2 because it is not an RPG. That is why I am interested in what your GOTY titles are for the past few years, as I suspect they are primarily, if not all, RPGs in one form or another. I could be wrong, so please correct me if I am.

That may indeed be the case, but it would require a far longer post for me to explain. Damn this discussion just gets better and better. ;-)

@Chi reply 1

Chi Kong Lui wrote:

I think you make a valid argument about making scarcity a gameplay element, however you also inadvertently supported my point about the grenade launcher. You agree that we as players make such concisous decisions to horde weapons for preference and strategy, but its something the developers never acknowledge because there's no need to horde weapons. Inveitably, enemies will drop something servicable for you to use and you never need to save any particular type of ammo because when you reach the boss battles the game will give you the exact weapons and ammo you need to complete the job. That's not improvisation.

Secondly, if you say this system is no different than a lot of other games, I agree and so why does UC2 deserve praise for being on par with everyone else (at least in regards to how it handles it combat system)?

I think you missed the greater premise I was making. I agreed with you that UC2 employs a weapon system that isn't very different from other games. But I then went on to state what UC2 does to differentiate and set itself above those other games. I premised the statements paragraph with a "however," and have included it below:

Fuchal wrote:

However, UC2 offers players a number of ways to tackle most, if not all, sections. ...[A]nd I found that through increasing the difficulty and thinking laterally you can really discover some unorthodox ways to play the game - ways the developers didn't even think of.

Getting back to your first point, if you play UC2 on the harder difficulties you tend to save the better weapons for the tougher enemies. The guardians at Shangri La are damn tough and best defeated with their golden cross-bows, so you ensure you employ other weapons or other tactics in the areas leading up to them in order to hold onto the precious golden bows you come across. If you use them before you get to them, you will have a damn hard time beating them with a pistol, which is exactly what I had to do on one play through on the hardest setting.

This means you have to change the other weapon you carry (as you can only carry two), and you have to change your tactics in order to use that weapon. But again, you are not limited as to what your other weapon is or your tactic/s. You just have to think it up.

Chi Kong Lui wrote:

I didn't have the same experience here at all playing on normal. The only time I was able to employ stealth was in the stage designated for stealth. The only time was able to effectively snipe was in parts that were designed for sniping. Even in the stage near the end in the ruins where it seemed to be a setup for stealth, I tried multiple times to employ stealth and wasn't successful beyond picking off one or two guys before I was discovered by the others. Same goes for the final boss battle. Was there any other way to beat the tank other than going from roof top to roof top? Again, I felt like the game was fighting me the whole time in terms of what I wanted to do vs what it wanted me to do. I'd like to hear some specific examples of how you were able to improvise.

A good example of not being pigeon-holed into game play throughout most of UC2 is the train section. On my first play through using the normal setting, I employed the obvious method and proceeded to shoot my way through the centre of the carriages with an assault rifle and cover. On my second play through I clung to the outside of the train for most of the time and pulled enemies to their death or stealth killed them. On my third play through (on the hardest setting), I took my time and Solid Snaked most carriages by watching the enemy patrols and sneaking through undetected and without killing anyone. There were a couple of scripted enemy you had to kill here and there, but I don't think my kill count got above 6 or 8 for that entire level, and that includes the mini-gun enemy and the big boss.

In fact, the claim that UC2 doesn't offer ways to complete goals outside of what the creators wanted loses weight when you and I have just shown how we played the game differently.

Chi Kong Lui wrote:
Fuchal wrote:

Now, let's add the weapon system option you have spoken of from RE4 (or any RPG style game). Players, in this alternate UC2, will have had their overall options reduced in order to present a lesser form of 'choice'.

So why isn't this a problem for RE4, RPGs and any other open ended game? It's up to the developer to balance out the gameplay with restrictions and adaptive AI. I never asked for my game to be unbalanced. I asked for more personalization in my challenge.

It is not a problem with RE4 and the other games mentioned because of the other elements created in those games. In these RPG games like Fallout 3, GTAIV and games with RPG elements like RE4, we are put in worlds with expansive maps/levels. In these expansive environments there are specific placements of objects and buildings, and they can be (and should be) used in a variety of ways.

In UC2, you have a very specific map, crafted with specific objects and structures. Some of these objects and structures are responsive, some are not. But in UC2 you know you are playing levels which are finally combed over by level designers, with each element placed in a specific location to maximise the level.

The maps in Fallout 3 or RE4 are just as convincing as UC2s, and they work just as well because they all have great artwork, lighting, sound and other elements which contribute to overall atmosphere. But in UC2 it really hits home that the environment is more than just a stage for action to take place on. It is arranged to force you to think of a variety of ways to accomplish a set goal.

Some games have a lot happening at face value as far as options go to produce interaction and to achieve different goals, and these are generally RPG games or games with RPG elements. Other games accomplish the same interaction for players by stripping back what you have at your disposal and giving you a single goal in order to force you tho think of novel ways to accomplish the goal.

Think of the game of Portal. Most of the rooms in Portal have a variety of ways to get through them. You only have a single portal gun and it can only fire two portals. You have to get from the entrance of the room to the exit. What methods will you use to get you and your portal gun to the end?

Can you imagine the sort of game Portal would be if you were given customisation options for your portal gun? Or if you could carry a hand gun? Or a gravity gun? It would sacrifice the stronger interactive component of Portal in order to give the player a lesser interactive component.

I see a lot of Portal's minimalist brilliance in UC2. Both utilise brilliant map design, with objects and structures placed in specific spots to make you really think what you will do. Neither is an RPG game. But that is the point. Not every game needs to be an RPG or have RPG elements in order to give the player interaction. And in fact, some games would be worse of if given RPG interaction.

D

@Chi regarding passive vs active & gender concepts in UC2

Chi Kong Lui wrote:

I never said that either of the women should be treated as a reward or accessory for Nate. That's taking what I said way out of context. One critcal point you don't mention is that Nate does make a choice. He chooses one girl over the other. The only issue here is whether or not the player should have a hand in the authorship of the game by deciding who Nate chooses. This isn't an option in movies or books. This is what makes video games unique and special as an art form.

There was no suggestion on my part that you directly viewed Chloe or Elena as accessories, or that you in fact lowered them to that level.

I was, however, pointing out that in the genre of the single player game of UC2 (which is what we are evaluating here), to ask the creators to provide players with a choice does, however unintentionally, reduce the female characters to 'options.'

In an RPG, characters aren't reduced to options because in that genre everyone and everything, including your own character, functions as an option. But UC2 isn't an RPG. It sets itself up as a different genre of game which places important anchors on its characters. To want the single player component of UC2 to change that eliminates the work put into these two different women.

Chi Kong Lui wrote:

While I get that games can also be linear and don't have to give the player a choice, which in effect makes it a passive experience closer to a movie or book, why do we want to celebrate a game like Uncharted 2 whose supposed greatest contribution to the art of video games is at best a replication of another media and at worst, an inferior version of it. Shouldn't a praise-worthy video game exploit and explore the unique advantages of its art form rather than deny them?

Firstly I don't view other mediums as 'passive'. Music, film, literature, and other forms of established art require a multitude of actions on the part of the readers of these texts. Without going off on a tangent about reception theory, I think it is problematic to label one text or genre as 'active' and another as 'passive'. It creates a theoretical hierarchy which just evaporates when evaluated in the real world.

But I will come back to your last sentence later in this reply, as I feel you are actually not evaluating UC2 in its fullest form.

Chi Kong Lui wrote:

Gene and I think to a lesser extent Matt have argued that we should be judging Uncharted 2 on its own merits, but shouldn't we be judging video games as a medium on its own merits rather than as films or any other linear narrative?

No argument with me there. I feel video games have to be evaluated in the genre of their medium, but I have no problem when they are also compared and contrasted with other mediums.

Chi Kong Lui wrote:

This is an inaccurate reading of what I wrote. I did *NOT* say that Chloe and Elena should be fighting over Drake and in fact I acknowledged that they weren't in competition for his affection. Please reread. (edit: Although, I didn't say they should be fighting over Drake, I made a change to the last sentence to be more clear.)

I re-read your post and I apologise that I have read it incorrectly. Thank you for clarifying what you meant, as I always try to ensure I am presenting someone else's argument faithfully when I have a discussion.

Chi Kong Lui wrote:

In my mind, the ability to choose isn't about accessories or reward. Its about writing the ending that I think it best suited for these characters based on my world view. My life experience has taught me that intimate relationships aren't so much decisions as they are necessities to the couple involved. It's why everyone universally agrees with Hikaru/Rick being with Misa/Lisa over Minmei in Macross/Robotech. They needed each other far more than Minmei needed Hikaru.

The writers of Uncharted 2 didn't give me a heck of lot to work with in regards to the characters backgrounds and histories, but based on the personalities, I personally felt that Chloe and Nate needed each other far more than Elena and Nate needed each other. As I mentioned before in a previous comment, Nate and Elena come across more as brother and sister than being intimate. So I didn't believe in the ending and having the option of authorship would have allowed me to write the ending that I saw fit.

In the end, having the player write the ending that they see fit is what I believe would be most gratifying and in one small way would have made Uncharted 2 a better video game because it would have taken advantage of the art form.

I want to answer this last paragraph of yours by coming back to an earlier question you asked: "Shouldn't a praise-worthy video game exploit and explore the unique advantages of its art form rather than deny them?"

You mentioned earlier UC2 needs to be evaluated in terms of the medium itself, and not a vacuum. Whilst I agree with this statement, I feel you aren't evaluating UC2 as a whole game.

If you feel you want greater authorial control over what the characters do and the choices they make, then why have you not mentioned the Machinima tools Naughty Dog have included in Uncharted 2? ND have certainly marketed these elements in UC2, and I've seen reviews of the game made entirely using the custom cinema mode.

You state that UC2 can't be considered (not awarded, but considered) GOTY because it does nothing to differentiate itself from an adventure film. But no adventure film, or any film I've ever seen for that matter, has included the tools to create your own ending of the text. Or to completely make a up a new text. Uncharted 2 does!

So really, your whole premise that there isn't enough freedom of choice in UC2, and as such no reason for it to be considered anything but linear, exists because you are ignoring the offer of ND to make the ending you want. You may not have the patience and time to create the ending where the characters responded in they way you felt was 'realistic' to human behaviour, but you can't claim UC2 doesn't offer you powerful tools to achieve this ending?

In RPG games, the creators give you a dozen endings possible. Hell, they may even give you 1000 endings. But it is still a range of endings you have to just select as suites you.

UC2 is a different genre, with the aim of presenting a tightly written single player story, presented in a very polished form. The writers at ND had a story they wanted to present (which is open to player interpretations) and that's what the single player element is. But they have also given you the tools to achieve what ever ending, or beginning, or middle, or whole new narrative that you want. I can't think of any RPG game that does that.

Chi Kong Lui wrote:

Damn this discussion just gets better and better. ;-)

I certainly agree!

D

@ Matt K on Flower for GOTY and crafting

Matthew K wrote:

To extend this analogy back to the subject, however, I would still argue that if we're talking about what makes for the "best of the best," the problem with 2009 is that there simply wasn't any game that fit THAT bill. There was no Shadow of the Colossus, in my humble opinion (if Flower were a full-fledged game rather than something of a demoscene, maybe that would have fit the bill, but as is, it was a beautiful and wonderful sliver of game).

I personally wouldn't downgrade my appreciation of Flower due to its length and relative size. It may have been a shorter experience, but I got so much more out of it intellectually and emotionally than so many games this year and like you, I would applaud anyone brave enough to make that case. So why didn't I pick it? On our podcast, we had a separate category to recognize Flower. Consequently, I felt less conflicted in selecting a more conventional choice for my GOTY.

Matthew K wrote:

Nothing pushed the envelope in that sense. No game was running on all artistic cylinders.

Do you not consider Flower to be running on all artistic cylinders?

Matthew K wrote:

So instead, we're left with a contest of craft. And in that case, I think Uncharted 2 is an immaculately CRAFTED work of art. It is made with all the care and heart that I'm sure Rockwell poured into his artwork, even if it lacks the enigmatic soul of a Mapplethorpe photo, a David Lynch film, or a Matisse.

I think the concept of judging UC2 based on its crafting is well said and something I can accept on a basic level. The one thing I will continue to dispute however is just how well crafted UC2 is based on some of the criteria that I have pointed out that many critics have used--which I don't believe holds up to upon more in-depth critical scrutiny.

And I think you'd agree that arguing that UC2 is GOTY as a matter of selective default, whether or not is logical, is not a very compelling argument. ;-)

@Fuchal on difficulty level, improv and evolving gameplay

Fuchal wrote:

A good example of not being pigeon-holed into game play throughout most of UC2 is the train section. On my first play through using the normal setting, I employed the obvious method and proceeded to shoot my way through the centre of the carriages with an assault rifle and cover. On my second play through I clung to the outside of the train for most of the time and pulled enemies to their death or stealth killed them. On my third play through (on the hardest setting), I took my time and Solid Snaked most carriages by watching the enemy patrols and sneaking through undetected and without killing anyone. There were a couple of scripted enemy you had to kill here and there, but I don't think my kill count got above 6 or 8 for that entire level, and that includes the mini-gun enemy and the big boss.

In fact, the claim that UC2 doesn't offer ways to complete goals outside of what the creators wanted loses weight when you and I have just shown how we played the game differently.

Fuchal, thank you for sticking with this discussion and I believe you've made some of the strongest arguments thus far and that's really what I've been hoping for. To your credit, there's not a whole lot for me dispute, but the I do have a couple of counter points:

1) Is it reasonable to expect players to play the game on the higher difficulties in order to get the experience your describing? Keep in mind, while playing on normal, I *tried* to employ stealth and sniping at every opportunity that presented itself and very rarely was it effective beyond the sequences designated as such.

2) While the train stage is great example of what you are saying, that stage is the exception rather than norm and it isn't particularly exceptional design-wise compared to other games. By in large, the parts in the game that stood out the most to me are the boss battles and the shit-in-your-pants cinematic sequences, which are handled with limited hand-holding style direction.

And while I think we both can agree that there isn't a set laundry list of items that would either qualify or disqualify a game for being exceptionally "interactive," even UC2's most ardent supporters tend to agree that its gameplay leans heavily towards the linear end.

Fuchal wrote:

The maps in Fallout 3 or RE4 are just as convincing as UC2s, and they work just as well because they all have great artwork, lighting, sound and other elements which contribute to overall atmosphere. But in UC2 it really hits home that the environment is more than just a stage for action to take place on. It is arranged to force you to think of a variety of ways to accomplish a set goal.

You kind of lost me here so please forgive and correct me if I take anything out of context.

When you say that "it is arranged to force you to think of a variety of ways to accomplish the goal," that reinforces the notion that when I enter the stage, I'm constantly reminded of how the developers want me to play a certain way (even if they give me two or three options) rather than feeling like I'm the one making it up as I go along. It's like the game is shouting at me, "we just dropped this shield so you can get past the next part that has a lot of suppressing fire" or "use this rocket launcher on the helicopter." I don't see how this can ever be more gratifying then if you are given the freedom and responsibility of deciding what weapons and skill sets are most useful and finding a way to accomplish the goal within the rules of the game world. This doesn't only happen in RPGs. UN Squadron for example, a 21 year old game and my all-time favorite shmup, allowed the player to pick the plane and extra power up weapons at the start of every stage.

Fuchal wrote:

I see a lot of Portal's minimalist brilliance in UC2. Both utilise brilliant map design, with objects and structures placed in specific spots to make you really think what you will do. Neither is an RPG game. But that is the point. Not every game needs to be an RPG or have RPG elements in order to give the player interaction. And in fact, some games would be worse of if given RPG interaction.

Again, this is very well-thought out comparison that I can support. The only thing I'll add here is that Portal introduced this new concept of using portals to solve puzzles, but what happens in Portal 2? Where do the developers go from there? Do they just keep designing new puzzles and we just appreciate that or should be perhaps evolve the gameplay to allow for more player authorship and/or other progressive features? It's not only about player authorship. This is simply one thing that I focused on in my blog post for brevity, but progress takes many shapes and forms.

UC2 is far from the first Indiana Jones-inspired adventure game so this goes back to Matt's point about Norman Rockwell (thanks Matt for the reference). Yes, we can celebrate every single Rockwell painting as a masterpiece in crafting, but there's not a whole lot to talk about intellectually and historically. This is a generalization and I would not equate UC2 to Rockwell's 4000th painting. UC2 does bring some new elements to video games, but those accomplishments should be put in its proper historical and critical perspective. I don't think we're seeing that from the industry and even from the "brainy" critical community, who have been overly ecstatic about a level of storytelling/writing that largely equates to a mediocre action-movie and game design that is mostly derivative (I'm address Alex's point about attention to detail and having player control during cinematic sequences later).

@Chi

Chi Kong Lui wrote:

I personally wouldn't downgrade my appreciation of Flower due to its length and relative size. It may have been a shorter experience, but I got so much more out of it intellectually and emotionally than so many games this year and like you, I would applaud anyone brave enough to make that case. So why didn't I pick it? On our podcast, we had a separate category to recognize Flower. Consequently, I felt less conflicted in selecting a more conventional choice for my GOTY.

I think we're at the point where we can truly reveal the wizard behind the curtain here and say that "GOTY" is a completely contrived contest. Fun to talk about, yes, but it just doesn't hold up to extended analysis. I've explained my own methodology for what could be considered Game of the Year, and I guess separating it into different categories could be another way of going about it. Basically, we just love top 10 lists and contests. We're geeks, and proudly so. But we all appreciate different games for different reasons. If nothing else, this thread and the ones before it illustrate the psychosis and obsession that goes into even the most seemingly arbitrary of decisions for the average critic. Long live the GOTY debate.

Chi Kong Lui wrote:

Do you not consider Flower to be running on all artistic cylinders?

I don't. Part of that is the reason I suggested before: craft. No game is perfect, and Flower is no exception, powerful as its experience may be. It's thoughtful but it's also more than a bit didactic and forced (particularly the final level, which overstays its welcome just a bit). The integration of trophies (which I guess can be considered paratext depending on your POV) was poor, I think. And yes, I think if they had wanted to extend the basic mechanics more than what existed for that brief stint, they could have done so and made it quite compelling without pushing the "hunt for the green flower" secrets angle further. Why not play around more with the wind physics? Or on a more thoughtful level, why not tackle other kinds of interrelated pollution (water to land, for example) rather than just keep playing around with the floral metaphor?

Chi Kong Lui wrote:

I think the concept of judging UC2 based on its crafting is well said and something I can accept on a basic level. The one thing I will continue to dispute however is just how well crafted UC2 is based on some of the criteria that I have pointed out that many critics have used--which I don't believe holds up to upon more in-depth critical scrutiny.

And I think you'd agree that arguing that UC2 is GOTY as a matter of selective default, whether or not is logical, is not a very compelling argument. ;-)

I don't think UC2 can be considered a "default" in any sense. It's beautifully crafted, and I believe it was better crafted than any other game this past year. I simply don't think a "better" (i.e., more well-rounded) game along. Logical, no? If that's what you consider a "selective default" then I would assume all top-tier choices are simply defaults compared to the hypothetical tier above them.

So let's pause at the comment above that one... that you disagree that UC2 was well crafted. I think that's where this debate should have been this whole time, but I feel enlightened for the fact that it went elsewhere.

Matthew K wrote: I think

Matthew K wrote:

I think we're at the point where we can truly reveal the wizard behind the curtain here and say that "GOTY" is a completely contrived contest. Fun to talk about, yes, but it just doesn't hold up to extended analysis.

100% agreed. I've been slowly veering away from it in my latest comments. It only popped up again here because I was getting back to an older comment you made.

Matthew K wrote:

So let's pause at the comment above that one... that you disagree that UC2 was well crafted.

Can I start using TNWIS for "That's not what I said"? If that's not an acronym, it should be. ;-)

See the bolded part of my quote...

Chi Kong Lui wrote:

The one thing I will continue to dispute however is just how well crafted UC2 is based on some of the criteria that I have pointed out that many critics have used...

Matthew K wrote:

I think that's where this debate should have been this whole time, but I feel enlightened for the fact that it went elsewhere.

Funny you should say that because that's what I've been struggling to discuss since the start. ;-)

Chi Kong Lui wrote: Fuchal,

Chi Kong Lui wrote:

Fuchal, thank you for sticking with this discussion and I believe you've made some of the strongest arguments thus far and that's really what I've been hoping for. To your credit, there's not a whole lot for me dispute, but the I do have a couple of counter points:

1) Is it reasonable to expect players to play the game on the higher difficulties in order to get the experience your describing? Keep in mind, while playing on normal, I *tried* to employ stealth and sniping at every opportunity that presented itself and very rarely was it effective beyond the sequences designated as such.

2) While the train stage is great example of what you are saying, that stage is the exception rather than norm and it isn't particularly exceptional design-wise compared to other games. By in large, the parts in the game that stood out the most to me are the boss battles and the shit-in-your-pants cinematic sequences, which are handled with limited hand-holding style direction.

And while I think we both can agree that there isn't a set laundry list of items that would either qualify or disqualify a game for being exceptionally "interactive," even UC2's most ardent supporters tend to agree that its gameplay leans heavily towards the linear end.

Oh, c'mmon, Chi. Others have made these arguments before, although I fully support Fuchal's articulation.

You're starting to flip-flop a bit here. If it's a stealth section of the game, then it's too derivative of other games, but it's also not a big enough portion of the game.

Actually, there are many situations in the game that can be played out this way. Think of all the times that you're introduced to an area with villains and they're not immediately aware of your location. It's not limited to only the train section. Several parts of the urban battle (not counting the rooftop sequence), the area before Shambala (which is quite large), the guard section you mentioned previously.... The game often leaves it up to you whether you want to go in with guns blazing or be sneaky. Obviously, this is not the first game to do this. But I would agree with Fuchal that it's well done in Uncharted 2.

Also, while this may allude to a player choice, that doesn't mean the game isn't still linear. And I think there's a difference between "linear" and "hand-holding" in the way that you're using the latter. Linear simply means that the game is a travel from point A to point B. Even Splinter Cell is a linear game, and I played the heck out of the first one just trying out different ways of getting past guards.

Hand-holding is a bit more vague, and while the forward momentum is always readily apparent to the player, that doesn't mean that everything is force-fed. The difficulty levels obviously have a great deal to do with how challenging the enemy combatants are. There are over 100 treasures/secrets to be discovered, and I would argue that's a great deal more hidden content than any of the Contra or Metal Gear Solid type games in recent memory. Also, there is still some degree of skill required to jump at the appropriate time, shoot at the appropriate time, etc. It would be hard to believe that you yourself didn't die while playing the game... or that your completion of the game is owed only to "hand-holding." To me, holding one's hand through a game would be something like a dedicated hints system (ala Professor Layton) or the constant reminders early in Siren on the PS3 that tell you exactly how to get by an enemy. That leaves no thought, no impulse, no degree of skill for the player. In what section of Uncharted 2 are you told explicitly which series of inputs result in success? Did the game lead you to a clothesline that you would scoot down, or a rocket launcher that you could pick up? Yes. But leading and telling are two different things. I actually found the leading quite organic, always contextual and stemming from logical next step, very much like Half-Life 2 or Metal Gear Solid 4.

And again, what about the multiplayer? I still haven't seen you tackle this. I found the multiplayer to be wonderfully crafted, combining some of the best elements of Unreal Tournament, Uncharted's single player, Splinter Cell's multiplayer, and even Gears of War 2's Horde Mode. Derivative, yes, but absolutely polished and brilliantly fun.

I've seen the word "choice" used several times now and I still don't possess any better understanding of what kind of choice you needed to see in the game. While I understand that you liked Uncharted 2, it doesn't come across in these responses. Perhaps if you start out with what you like about the game, it would be easier to discern where you started to take issue with specific design choices. Perhaps something like, "I really enjoyed how so-and-so sequence started, but it turned out to be something underwhelming compared to what I expected, which was..." Or, "I admired this aspect of the game, but it could have been pushed to the next level if the designers had done X and Y with it..." I know you've argued that you're not a designer and shouldn't be accountable for these observations, but surely your disappointment stems from desires that were left untapped?

Chi Kong Lui wrote: It only

Chi Kong Lui wrote:

It only popped up again here because I was getting back to an older comment you made.

Mea culpa? I thought that was the topic of this entire blog post.

Chi Kong Lui wrote:

Can I start using TNWIS for "That's not what I said"? If that's not an acronym, it should be. ;-)

Sorry, you are correct there. I meant to say, "You do not think it as well crafted as we do."

Chi Kong Lui wrote:

Funny you should say that because that's what I've been struggling to discuss since the start. ;-)

Gotta' disagree with you there. You've been arguing about what Uncharted 2 isn't, not what it is. I mean, look at the original post here. There's more about Super Mario Bros. 2's gameplay than there is about Uncharted 2's. You can only carry that deconstructionist argument so far before it becomes a tangent. The most specifics about Uncharted 2 have come from its defenders and those who have criticized the storyline. I could go on and on about what specific parts thrilled me or delighted me, but the onus is on you to pinpoint what specific (not hypothetical) parts of the game you felt were lackluster. I'm not saying this to be a jerk, but rather to try to get you to go through the game and pick out what did and didn't work for you. If you did this already and I missed it, I apologize (I sometimes have to skim these comments).

Matthew K wrote: Oh,

Matthew K wrote:

Oh, c'mmon, Chi. Others have made these arguments before, although I fully support Fuchal's articulation.

Thank you Matt, for saying this. And I thank Fuchal especially for his articulation. I definitely appreciate it. He's very well spoken and I agree with everything he's said.

But really, it's just been another way of saying more or less the exact same stuff you and I had been saying all this time.

And yes Chi, there are numerous instances (many not obvious) where stealth could've been used. The train isn't the exception. It was pretty much on par with several other levels.

Matthew K wrote: Oh,

Matthew K wrote:

Oh, c'mmon, Chi. Others have made these arguments before, although I fully support Fuchal's articulation.

I said that Fuchal made some of the "strongest arguments thus far", not that no one else tried to make them. Fuchal was the only person who made his case with two detailed examples that included the train stage (something no one cited to date).

Matthew K wrote:

You're starting to flip-flop a bit here. If it's a stealth section of the game, then it's too derivative of other games, but it's also not a big enough portion of the game.

Where's the flip flop? Where did I say its "not a big enough portion of the game"?

Matthew K wrote:

Actually, there are many situations in the game that can be played out this way. Think of all the times that you're introduced to an area with villains and they're not immediately aware of your location. It's not limited to only the train section. Several parts of the urban battle (not counting the rooftop sequence), the area before Shambala (which is quite large), the guard section you mentioned previously.... The game often leaves it up to you whether you want to go in with guns blazing or be sneaky. Obviously, this is not the first game to do this. But I would agree with Fuchal that it's well done in Uncharted 2.

In my experience with the stages that you described, at best I was able to take out one or two enemies before other enemies were alerted. Was anyone able to complete an entire sections of the stage using only stealth? My impression was that if the developers weren't signalling the player to use stealth, it wasn't an option and even when it was an option, it was extremely limited. At no point did I feel that I could invoke stealth if it wasn't something that the developers made openly obvious to me (as I said with the shields and the rocket launchers). That's not what I would characterize a good implementation of stealth. If someone had a vastly different experience than this, I'd like to hear it.

Matthew K wrote:

But leading and telling are two different things. I actually found the leading quite organic, always contextual and stemming from logical next step, very much like Half-Life 2 or Metal Gear Solid 4.

For further clarification on linearity and hand-holding, read my comment to Fuchal on UN Squadron.

Matthew K wrote:

And again, what about the multiplayer? I still haven't seen you tackle this. I found the multiplayer to be wonderfully crafted, combining some of the best elements of Unreal Tournament, Uncharted's single player, Splinter Cell's multiplayer, and even Gears of War 2's Horde Mode. Derivative, yes, but absolutely polished and brilliantly fun.

As I've been saying over and over, I've been challenging the level of critical thinking that has been used to justify UC2's greatness. No one raised the multiplayer feature so there was nothing for me to discuss. Even when you brought it up earlier in this thread and now, you haven't given me much to analyze. I don't play multiplayer in general so I don't get the references, but I'm willing to appreciate it if describe to me why its well crafted.

Chi, a large chunk of the

Chi, a large chunk of the Nepal levels can be accomplished through stealth, from the getgo after the two trucks crashing you can take out all three enemies without anyone noticing. There's another section with a bunch of masks on the wall where you can take out a number of enemies in stealth. All of the enemies before the helicopter area can be taken out with stealth kills.

At the beginning before Shangri-La, you can be stealth all the way up until the turret section. There are several encounters afterward that could be stealth only.

Even again in Nepal, after learning the location of Shangri-La, when the enemies storm the area, you can stealth kill all of them.

There are simply several encounters throughout the game where stealth could be employed. I'm not sure why you have to ask us to cite examples. We saw them. We played them.

@Chi regarding more UC2 analysis

Chi Kong Lui wrote:

1) Is it reasonable to expect players to play the game on the higher difficulties in order to get the experience your describing? Keep in mind, while playing on normal, I *tried* to employ stealth and sniping at every opportunity that presented itself and very rarely was it effective beyond the sequences designated as such.

I think it is perfectly possible to get the experience I had on the normal difficulty. Certainly you will need several play-throughs in order to try out and experiment with different approaches. But I could have easily chosen any of those options I mentioned on the train stage on my first play through. I just ramped up the difficulty on my subsequent play-throughs in order to set myself some challenges and to get trophies.

After all, for someone who holds Demon's Souls as their GOTY, I can't see playing UC2 on the hardest setting as being a problem.

Chi Kong Lui wrote:

2) While the train stage is great example of what you are saying, that stage is the exception rather than norm and it isn't particularly exceptional design-wise compared to other games. By in large, the parts in the game that stood out the most to me are the boss battles and the shit-in-your-pants cinematic sequences, which are handled with limited hand-holding style direction.

I guess I would have to disagree with you on the train stage being the exception for the game. Apart from the main boss battles and some plot directed sections, you can pretty much use stealth during any part of the game. You just need to develop you skills with the game. Areas where I got through nearly entirely undetected were Streets of Nepal, Road to Chintamani, much of the hotel Shangri La, the Monastery and Shangri La itself. Again there are some areas where you have to use fire-fight tactics, but these are mainly plot dictated sections because you are leading friendly AI's about or the story calls for you and the enemy to have a pitched battle (like leaving the underground Temple in Nepal).

I just used the train stage as an example because every other game I've ever played with a train level can only be passed with one linear method. So for UC2 to offer a variety of methods spoke volumes of why it isn't just repeating what's come before it.

Chi Kong Lui wrote:

And while I think we both can agree that there isn't a set laundry list of items that would either qualify or disqualify a game for being exceptionally "interactive," even UC2's most ardent supporters tend to agree that its gameplay leans heavily towards the linear end.

I don't doubt that many supporters of the game have said it is linear in gameplay. But I would say to them what I've posted before: play the game though again and, if need be, ramp up the difficulty in order to force yourself to find the methods that work and which you can still enjoy. If you find the gameplay simple, or linear, then you aren't challenging yourself. Again, if you state that Demon's Souls is your GOTY, step up to the challenge and play other games on their hardest setting.

Chi Kong Lui wrote:
Fuchal wrote:

The maps in Fallout 3 or RE4 are just as convincing as UC2s, and they work just as well because they all have great artwork, lighting, sound and other elements which contribute to overall atmosphere. But in UC2 it really hits home that the environment is more than just a stage for action to take place on. It is arranged to force you to think of a variety of ways to accomplish a set goal.

You kind of lost me here so please forgive and correct me if I take anything out of context.

When you say that "it is arranged to force you to think of a variety of ways to accomplish the goal," that reinforces the notion that when I enter the stage, I'm constantly reminded of how the developers want me to play a certain way (even if they give me two or three options) rather than feeling like I'm the one making it up as I go along. It's like the game is shouting at me, "we just dropped this shield so you can get past the next part that has a lot of suppressing fire" or "use this rocket launcher on the helicopter." I don't see how this can ever be more gratifying then if you are given the freedom and responsibility of deciding what weapons and skill sets are most useful and finding a way to accomplish the goal within the rules of the game world. This doesn't only happen in RPGs. UN Squadron for example, a 21 year old game and my all-time favorite shmup, allowed the player to pick the plane and extra power up weapons at the start of every stage.

Again, apart from a select few scripted sequences, you can play through UC2 using any variety of weapons; or no weapons and only stealth kills; or no weapons and no stealth kills; or any sequence you want.

When you first get to a section, the easiest way and the first one that sticks out at you to get past might be to toss a grenade, pick up a shield and push your way through, then get to the end and use a rocket launcher to finish off a truck of enemies. But if you are wanting choices of how to get past, the levels are so well designed that you can also sneak past, or stealth kill or climb up to elevated positions and rain down death.

Some times its harder to use stealth because the enemy patrols are complex, so you may chose instead to use firearms. Other times the patrol patterns are simple, so it would be best to use brute force. So what if an enemy drops a choice weapon? Ignore it and try and keep stealth'ing it. So what if there are too many enemy to easily fight with a gun? Ignore the easy to sneak past path and start cranking out the rounds. But the levels are so well made and the control functions are so naturally implemented that you can mix it up to suit your style of play. It would be boring if ND made it so stealth was of equal difficulty to gunfire and/or stealth kills the whole way through the game. The same could be said of MGS4: sometimes the easiest way to get through a level is stealth, sometimes it is firepower. Offering variety is how you keep your game interesting.

Chi Kong Lui wrote:

Again, this is very well-thought out comparison that I can support. The only thing I'll add here is that Portal introduced this new concept of using portals to solve puzzles, but what happens in Portal 2? Where do the developers go from there? Do they just keep designing new puzzles and we just appreciate that or should be perhaps evolve the gameplay to allow for more player authorship and/or other progressive features? It's not only about player authorship. This is simply one thing that I focused on in my blog post for brevity, but progress takes many shapes and forms.

I don't know what they can do to make Portal 2. In fact, I don't think Portal 2 should be made. As you pointed out, there is not much to do in Portal 2 other than have more maps and that would just be a map-pack dressed up as a full game. As it stands, Portal works because it was a one off.

As for UC2, I feel there are elements of Portal in it - but that is at a basic level. There are so many other gametypes in UC2 (eg. Metal Gear), as well as many new features such as the first true Machinema mode, that I even consider UC2 as a title
separate from Uncharted 1. Putting aside its characters, it has pulled some basic functions from its first predecessor but really is a totally new game.

As such, I feel that your argument for a lack of innovation in UC2 would be best saved for a hypothetical UC3 which is just UC2 with one or two changes. In fact, I don't know what they will do to improve the UC franchise. I don't know that they can. ND will undoubtedly make a third UC game, and I will probably buy it and hopefully like it. But I really can't wait to see what they could do with a new IP.

Chi Kong Lui wrote:

UC2 is far from the first Indiana Jones-inspired adventure game so this goes back to Matt's point about Norman Rockwell (thanks Matt for the reference). Yes, we can celebrate every single Rockwell painting as a masterpiece in crafting, but there's not a whole lot to talk about intellectually and historically. This is a generalization and I would not equate UC2 to Rockwell's 4000th painting. UC2 does bring some new elements to video games, but those accomplishments should be put in its proper historical and critical perspective. I don't think we're seeing that from the industry and even from the "brainy" critical community, who have been overly ecstatic about a level of storytelling/writing that largely equates to a mediocre action-movie and game design that is mostly derivative (I'm address Alex's point about attention to detail and having player control during cinematic sequences later).

Whilst I followed the Rockwell/Pollock analogy Matthew K and you have made, and whilst I think it is quite interesting, I don't feel the need to comment on it with regards to UC2 in depth. You guys are doing a much better job of that. I would add, though, that the hierarchies of art you have both used are very interesting. They remind me of a great deal of 'authenticity' analysis that contemporary music writing (both media and academic) employs. In fact, I thoroughly recommend you check out Paul Morley's Words and Music: A History of Pop in the Shape of a City (2003). Together with the soundtrack to the book by DJ Food (called Raiding the 20th Century), it has had a big impact on how I view texts in popular culture.

Unfortunately I am off overseas for 5 weeks of work. I wish I could contribute more to this thread, but maybe I've spent all I have without sounding like a broken record. I will certainly pop in to see if it keeps going, as it has been good to view UC2 from other peoples' points of view. And then there is the rest of the site to read and enjoy.

Cheers, peeps!

D

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