Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
11 May 2006
What the MGS4 and Halo 3 trailers get right
At E3 2006, neither the Metal Gear Solid 4 trailer nor the teaser for Halo 3 show a single second of how either game is played. Is that a weakness? No, it is precisely why you should watch these trailers and be interested in these games. Eschewing game mechanics and graphics, these two trailers are free to focus on plots and themes.

As Cortana flashes in and out of view, the Master Chief walks across a blasted plain, past smoking wreckage, and gazes out over a huge crater. As the music swells, the Halo 3 trailer ends ominously:
This is how the world ends.
I'm no Halo fan, but even I can put aside my prejudice and admit they've set the stage beautifully. Just this teaser is evocative enough to draw in the average player while also driving fans wild with anticipation.

I am a confessed fan of the Metal Gear Solid series, and the MGS4 trailer was a must-see. Consider this monologue:
War has changed.
It's not about nations, or ideologies.
It's not even about profit, resources, or ethnicity.
It's an endless series of proxy battles,
fought by mercenaries and machines.
War, and its vast consumption of human life,
has become a rational, well-oiled business transaction.
War has changed.
ID-tagged soldiers carry ID-tagged weapons, use ID-tagged gear.
Nanomachines inside their bodies enhance and regulate their actions.
Genetic control.. Information control..
Emotion control.. Battlefield control..
Everything is monitored and kept under control.
The age of deterrance is now the age of control,
averting catastrophe from weapons of mass destruction.
And he who controls the battlefield, controls history.
War has changed.
As the speaker finishes, dozens of soldiers pour out of a truck and are mown down, wholesale, by sniper fire. It's a chilling sequence.

And later, there is this:
The [private military companies] and soldiers are
installed with a state-of-the-art control system.
As long as the nanomachines remain inside of a soldier,
he won't be able to point his gun anywhere near a client.
Not only does this raise interesting possibilities for how the game will be played, but more importantly focuses, as Kojima has in the past, on the effects that technology has on people and on society.

The creators of these games, Halo 3 and Metal Gear Solid 4, feel they have important stories to tell. To attract players, they are putting those stories forward now, confident that they can deliver on a fun game later. I am pleased to see the emphasis move away from minutiae of game mechanics and graphics and toward storytelling.

Why are most other game trailers just snippets of game mechanics and flashy graphics? Could it be that that's all they have to show?
--Matt Matthews at 15:00
Comment [ 12 ]

Comments on this post:

Ah, well stated.

While I think a game's mechanics are most important, since that is what makes it actually a game, it's impressive when a gae also has a thoughtful story.

Games, with a handful of exceptions, never have thoughtful stories. Final Fantasy stories are jokes. Anything involving a space marine blasting demons is unlikely to make you think about the real world. This, ultimately, is why I'm quite interested in Metal Gear Solid 4. It is obviously in an entirely different league from other games' stories.

Games don't need a great story to be interesting, but if you're going to have one, it helps if the player isn't losing sight of the screen because he's rolling his eyes every three minutes.

By Blogger JohnH, at 11 May, 2006 15:26  

My experience with Metal Gear Solid's stories (admittedly constrained since I don't like the games) was that it was a bunch of ridiculous masturbatory fantasies--sometimes about weapons (Ocelot), sometimes about women (what's her name). Nothing different from the usual stuff in games.

I wish more game designers would get away from story, which they obviously can't do well, and get back to the 'minutae of game mechanics'. Maybe then MGS' aiming system wouldn've have been so terrible.

m.

By Blogger Michael, at 11 May, 2006 16:54  

Ironically enough, I've felt that the storytelling in MGS hampers my enjoyment of the games. Don't get me wrong, I sometimes want to experience a good story in a game, and MGS4 does sound like it could be a compelling story about what happens when soldiers' abilities are bought and sold instead of them fighting for what they truly believe in. Is this a statement on America's use of its military power? Perhaps. Back to the point, however, MGS has a ~serious~ reputation for a tendency towards exposition that I know has driven many people away, myself included. I don't want to sit through minute after minute of dialog displayed on a mostly static communicator screen, generally overwrought with personal philosophy. Write more concisely please! I'd like to play my game again at some point. The trick, of course, is to design the game so that the character behind the polygons is fleshed out as a natural consequence of what happens in the game. But that's a very difficult trick to pull off.

So I agree with your sentiment that big, important stories have a place in games, but I don't think we're ~anywhere~ near exploring the possibilities that interactivity brings to the storytelling process beyond just pressing a button to see the next line of text.

By Blogger BruceC, at 11 May, 2006 20:09  

I love the MG(S) story :|

By Anonymous zachary, at 11 May, 2006 22:07  

I've been a bungie fan since back in their Mac only days. They've always had a knack for shoving a story into their games that live on longer than the game itself.

By Anonymous James, at 11 May, 2006 23:10  

I think it's worth pointing out that the two most compelling 'story-trailers' that were mentioned are both from series that players are well familiar with, and expect reasonably good stories from.

A brand new title that no one's heard of is probably going to get more attention with action than with story in a short trailer. At least these days. Imagine, if you will, making a trailer for Planescape: Torment today. You can dress up the graphics to be more current-gen if you wish. Now sit this trailer next to, say, the Too Human trailer, or the Heavenly Sword trailer, and tell me which one today's average gamer is going to plunk down his hard earned cash on.

By Blogger Dan-o, at 12 May, 2006 03:47  

I think the opposite. Games are *not* films after all. We need to see what a typical gameplay experience will look like.

I'm all for cutscenes and epic intros when the game is a good one, but would rather leave the viewing of them until I buy the game to enjoy the full experience. Conversely actual gameplay footage is far more valuable in judging a game's possible merits.

I'm in a minority and I know it, but to me games = gameplay before they = stories/movie like delusions. :)

By Anonymous Sharpfish, at 12 May, 2006 08:35  

Well,

I think this is not a normal case. Most games aren't in the position that these two games are. Let's be honest, if there was nothing known about either of these games, they would sell tons of copies on day one (heck, no matter how much bad press they get, many people will still try the games).

So, these games are under no pressure at this point to release any game footage. Since the games are a ways from coming out, why risk showing anything that might change between now and the release date. The only point of these videos is to get the fans of the series salivating for the games. Both these clips complete that need.

Now, let's be honest, your excited for these games. But, if a brand new game series was coming out with one of these clips, and no game footage shown, it wouldn't be a blip on anyone's radar. It's only because we mentally have an expectation of what these games could be, and their companies (Konami and Bungie) are just letting your imagination fill in the blanks.

By Blogger lordxixor101, at 12 May, 2006 11:14  

There's always been a divide (to varying degrees) between those interested in the story and those interested in the mechanics.

I tend to lean more towards the story end of the spectrum. But I would like to think that I can understand and appreciate the focus of those who are more interested in mechanics.

The truth is, if the gameplay is awful, no amount of story is going to make the game enjoyable.

The story can be intriguing, have tons of depth, and suck people in like a black hole. If however, they are forced to deal with a horrible control-scheme, bad physics, or other issues that interfere with playability, the player is going to be bouncing back and forth between being immersed in the game and being on their couch screaming at the controls. That's not enjoyable.

Likewise, any game that is technically advanced and very playable, but has no story? Well it might as well be labeled "this weeks pro gamers game". It will be replaced next week with another game that gets a higher framerate, more polys, the latest engine, or whatever. To me (only my opinion and based on my love of storytelling) such games have no "soul" and are typically for gamers who are more into competition, not immersion.

There's nothing wrong with gaming for that type of enjoyment, nothing at all. There are millions of gamers who completely ignore single-player mode, stories, or campaigns and just want to use the game to play against others or against the technology of the game itself.

Nor is there anything bad about those who want to forget for a while that they are on a couch in front of a screen. To go somewhere new and see something they have never dreamed of before. The quality of the story, not the mechanics are what gets and keeps those gamers attention.

I'm an old gamer (41 years old) and my first really immersive game that had a story that grabbed me by the imagination was Bungie's Marathon. I was 30 when I first played it, and I still play it today. Not for the graphics, physics, framerate or anything like that. I enjoyed it then and still do because those things didn't interfere with the telling of an enjoyable and fascinating story.

Looking around the floor at E3 these past few days, I have seen a few games where the story is the focus. It is my hope that those stories are able to be enjoyed because the technology and mechanics are as seamless and intuitive as possible. Other games were clearly about tech and performance. They had huge crowds and wide eyes all around. I can only hope that those games have enough story to keep gamers interested in the game when the next round of games comes along.

By Anonymous Recon Number 54, at 12 May, 2006 12:39  

I must honestly say that MGS stories are more than good. This should be the same case for MGS4. I must add that Mr Kojima never shows gameplay at E3. He will probably show elements at Tokyo Game Show.
As far as Halo is concerned, I didn't especially like the game, but I really loved the Halo 3 trailer music.

By Blogger Fivos, at 15 May, 2006 15:47  

What I would like to see is the right balance between story and gameplay. What do I mean? Personally, as a gamer, I play primarily for story. But then I live for story. I go to the movies for a good story- if it is an action film with a shallow plot I am very disappointed. The same goes for books or whatever type of entertainment you might mention, including games. What matters is striking the right balance. Of course I get bored if the gameplay is not up to par with the story as well, but I just don't get why some people even skip all cutscenes the first time through. A friend of mine beat resident evil 4 in 3 days by skipping cutscenes and he has no idea what it was all about. To me, the gameplay experience itself must make sense. And a story gives it sense. I am a huge metal gear solid fan. But I have been so only for a month! Snake eater has been sitting there for a year. I gave it a chance at last and got hooked. It is a game which inspires originality in story and gameplay with an epic touch. There are also too many under-rated games with great stories and original gameplays who are not given a chance because they are not commercial enough. They become underground hits. A minority of fans adore them while the rest of the world remains indifferent. This is a manifistation of not striking the right balance. Story by itself in games cannot hold out but why ignore it totally?

By Anonymous Nevill, at 21 June, 2006 05:37  

What I would like to see is the right balance between story and gameplay. What do I mean? Personally, as a gamer, I play primarily for story. But I like gameplay so that the story can hold out..immerse me..feel real..I live for story. I go to the movies for a good story- if it is an action film with a shallow plot I am very disappointed. The same goes for books or whatever type of entertainment you might mention, including games. What matters is striking the right balance.
Of course I get bored if the gameplay is not up to par with the story as well, but I just don't get why some people even skip all cutscenes the first time through. A friend of mine beat resident evil 4 in 3 days by skipping cutscenes and he has no idea what it was all about.
To me, the gameplay experience itself must make sense. And a story gives it sense.
I am a huge metal gear solid fan. But I have been so only for a month! Snake eater has been sitting there for a year. I gave it a chance at last and got hooked. It is a game which inspires originality in story and gameplay with an epic touch.

There are also too many under-rated games with great stories and original gameplay elements who are not given a chance because they are not commercial enough. They become underground hits. A minority of fans adore them while the rest of the world remains indifferent.A great example is the Legacy of Kain series, a currently five game series with a great solid plot and an interesting gameplay experience, but which sadly are very underrated and are being neglected. This is a manifistation of not striking the right balance as a gamers. People just want to shoot stuff and see stuff explode on screen, or defeat other gamers. Games who lean on story use gameplay merely as an extension to recount that story. Story by itself in games cannot hold out but why ignore it totally?

By Anonymous Neville, at 21 June, 2006 05:45  

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