galaxynextdoor:

Silent Hill Shattered Memories and Origins coming to Vita
Konami has announced that soon Vita owners will be able to get a little bit of horror on the go. Available for £7.99 each, although it isn’t clear whether the two games are simply ports of the existing PSP versions or enhanced versions specifically created for PS Vita; we’ll find out soon enough. 

I’m still kind of mad that SCEE messed this up. And Castlevania. And Gradius.

galaxynextdoor:

Silent Hill Shattered Memories and Origins coming to Vita

Konami has announced that soon Vita owners will be able to get a little bit of horror on the go. Available for £7.99 each, although it isn’t clear whether the two games are simply ports of the existing PSP versions or enhanced versions specifically created for PS Vita; we’ll find out soon enough. 

I’m still kind of mad that SCEE messed this up. And Castlevania. And Gradius.




MGSV: Ground Zeroes - Story (Xbox 360)

If Ground Zeroes’ gameplay is an incomplete metamorphosis with a few outstanding design issues, its storytelling is accomplished but acts service of a tale that’s a bit AWOL. It also has a howlingly misjudged sequence in the middle of some already-problematic subject matter, but I would like to tiptoe around the edge of that particular smouldering volcano for the moment.

Ground Zeroes modernises the series’ esoteric approach to storytelling. Long cut-scenes and CODECs overloaded with redundant information are out in favour of pacey, show-don’t-tell bookend sequences chronicling Snake’s arrival to his mission and his eventual exfiltration, with a couple of short, narratively-essential dialogue scenes in the middle of the mission. This lean new Metal Gear is more naturally written, if still somewhat cartoonish, and maintains pace and mood much more gracefully than earlier instalments.

This core narrative is the only mandatory storytelling in the game, but it’s built upon through optional storytelling techniques. There’s still a radio to call in background information, but this no longer interrupts the game; tapping the L button triggers a call from home base with information appropriate to the situation you’re in or whatever you’re looking at. Enemies can be eaves-dropped on to develop a sense of the situation around the enemy base, while cassette tapes hidden around the base contain chapters of a recording telling the tale of Paz and Chico’s interrogation. These techniques are not new in gaming at large, but it’s a pleasure to see them finally arrive in a series that already rewards exploration and was crying out for fewer interruptions.

As for the story itself, it’s enjoyable enough on a superficial level, and improved as so many open-world games are by the sense of participation, but suffers from being wilfully opaque. When Mother Base succumbs to its “trojan horse” attack in the finale, it’s dramatic, but it would be more meaningful if there was any sense as to why it was happening. Attempting to unpick this by reaping background information - tapes, enemy chatter, the daringly quasi-canonical side missions - just leads to a morass of contradictions and dead ends. There are so many cool-looking and bewildering questions thrown up that it’s rather like playing an extended interactive version of one of Kojima’s trailers, which is not meant as a complement. I rather hope this is an artefact of Ground Zeroes’ “missing link” status, because taken in isolation, it feels like the awful “lots of speculation from everyone” storytelling style of hacks like Roberto Orci.

Lying right slap bang in the middle of this is one of the most teeth-curlingly bad attempts to deal with a serious topic that I have yet seen in a videogame. I’m referring to Chico’s Tape 4, and the moment Hideo Kojima takes a narrative about torture and makes it one about sexual assault. Those particular themes with that director should be reason enough for alarm - I was troubled by Kojima’s insistence that MGSV would attempt to deal with taboo topics, given his shaky track record with basic storytelling. The actual result in Ground Zeroes is downright abominable and deeply misguided, from its basic narrative purpose to the detail of the dialogue.

It’s hard to tell what, exactly, Kojima was hoping to accomplish in this sequence beyond using a deeply problematic bit of subject matter as a crude way of emphasising that Skull Face - a man with a face that looks like a skull - is evil. If that is the objective, it’s a resounding failure, because it’s very hard to look past the content of that tape to the characters when you keep asking yourself how a large entertainment consortium could allow something like this to happen. It’s a child’s idea of how these sorts of themes should be approached, sophomoric in the extreme, and executed with all the subtlety of Kojima’s worst output.

This is a pity, because there’s something that almost works in the tapes overall, subtle reveals that force you to view the characters in the original narrative in a new light, as all good optional storytelling should/ Trying to get to those bits of writing is like trying to peek at a sungrazing comet; it’s obscured by the blazing sphere of awfulness that it finds itself orbiting. That the sequence hasn’t merited further comment in the press in general and reviews in particular is arguably because it’s so utterly divorced from the tone and content of the rest of the game that it’s hard to get any analytic grasp on it. It’s singular, mind-stopping in its crassness.

So I really don’t know where MGSV is going to go from here. The tools for telling the Metal Gear story have arguably never been better. However there are the strongest signs ever that Kojima is in need of an editor - a “no” man to force him to justify his decisions creatively. I’m a little worried, given the quietness of the reaction around Ground Zeroes, that the press is no longer providing that function.



Context sensitive controls before they were a thing, in Extermination for PS2 from Edge #98. Imagine Resi 4, half a decade early, but with little of the refinement. Early gen games are always intriguing in retrospect.

Context sensitive controls before they were a thing, in Extermination for PS2 from Edge #98. Imagine Resi 4, half a decade early, but with little of the refinement. Early gen games are always intriguing in retrospect.



MGSV: Ground Zeroes - Gameplay (Xbox 360)

In the last few posts about the Metal Gear games I’ve drawn an arc of increasing “gaminess” and player involvement, wherein the series’ standard toys were given more breathing space or more interesting context by adding new and interesting large-scale systems beyond the room that the player immediately finds themselves in. It’s a trend that finds its apotheosis, in principle, by transforming MGS into an open-world game. Ground Zeroes is the first step in that direction, and while not totally successful, its main failings can be ascribed directly to tentativeness, a situation which looks to be thoroughly resolved by the upcoming The Phantom Pain.

The essential gameplay of Ground Zeroes comes straight out of MGS: Peace Walker. Its streamlined controls and responsive combat will therefore be both a pleasant surprise to the majority of gamers who overlooked the PSP instalment and a homecoming for the remainder. However rather than exploring a series of interconnected and frequently re-used rooms as in that title, the interaction has been transplanted to a single large and varied environment.

By and large this is a transition that works well. Enemy patrol routes and the threat of pursuit are now not constrained by between-room loading points, while the opportunity to interfere with the enemies and set up distractions is similarly expanded over a broader scale. It’s empowering and challenging at the same time. Where the open world transition stumbles, it’s frequently due to technical limitations. Crowding unconscious bodies into an area will lead to some of them disappearing temporarily, for example, while scouting over long distances leads to some distracting pop-in.

Open worlds imply new approaches to storytelling and missions, and Ground Zeroes’ scripting and AI prove themselves sufficiently flexible to handle a variety of mission types, which with one exception are free-form in nature. Targets may need elimination, or informants tracked down, with a little vague intelligence pointing in the right direction. It’s then up to the player to come up with a course of action. Of course, there’s some level design nudging towards particularly fruitful approaches, but it’s possible to deviate in response to mistakes or go off piste entirely to wonderful effect.

To permit this, the series’ traditionally systematic guards, ripe for exploitation, are given newly realistic behaviours that can catch one off guard. Mission targets will try to flee to vehicles to make a getaway, or guards will investigate strange noises while another sentry watches them from safety. In a state of heightened alert, patrol teams become convincingly paranoid, changing the pace while opening up new vulnerabilities. I’ve greatly enjoyed triggering an alert to get the enemies on edge, only to start setting off distant C4 to lure them away from my position.

Likewise the game’s scripting is newly responsive to player course-changes. A mission involving tracking down tapes offers the possibility of bumping into a particular soldier earlier than you’re meant to, and not only does he have the tape you are meant to retrieve later in the intended sequence, you can take it from him, and the story then adjusts responsively. Side objectives present themselves in a branching fashion off the main goal, which I look forward to experiencing in The Phantom Pain.

Kojima Productions will have to think carefully about how they handle saving the game state and player progress, however. Checkpoints exist as unmarked boundaries between particular base regions. The player will be returned to a particular checkpoint’s corresponding respawn position on failure, but with their mission progress in place, alerts cancelled, and most problematically of all, with the clock for scripted events reset to its large major increment. To give an example, it’s possible to ride a truck into a facility activating that checkpoint. Die and you then respawn inside the base before the truck itself arrives, but in relative safety with some objectives completed.

It’s an issue that rather limits the ability to set up long-term plans and be stuck with the long-term consequences of failures, and often makes the game a little too easy and vulnerable to brute force. It’s something that might make a little more sense when we’re talking about a country-spanning mission rather than a cramped little military base, but it’s the one area that needs some serious fundamental design work.

Ground Zeroes’ remaining issues arise from a lack of larger-scale systems to play with. The loss of Mother Base is most strongly felt; while enemies can be extracted by helicopter, it’s simply an alternative way of taking enemies out of action. Similarly, there are no enemy ammo dumps to sabotage, or weapon plans to steal. It’s clear that the side missions would function rather well as parts of a bigger system, in which destroying some anti-air guns makes it easier for your larger campaign, but here they’re all executed in isolation.

Ground Zeroes is not a wholly successful game, nor a wholly representative sample of the kind of gameplay I’d expect to see from The Phantom Pain. It’s a somewhat dismembered vertical slice and a test bed for new technologies and new approaches, one that also costs money. However it’s a thrillingly engaging peek into the new possibilities of an open-world MGS, with its own voice in the open-world genre. A poor product, but an essential experience for anyone who aspires to have their ear on the ground about developments in game design.

You’ll notice that I’ve not touched on story and storytelling here, except gameplay scripting. I feel like that deserves its own post, in particular about some particularly troubling areas. I’ve been gathering my thoughts on that subject over the past few months, and I look forward to writing about that shortly.


Edge predicts the big trends in gaming for 2000-2010, in 2000’s Hardware Special.

Edge predicts the big trends in gaming for 2000-2010, in 2000’s Hardware Special.


Some surprisingly spot-on futurism in Edge’s year 2000 “Hardware Special”.

Some surprisingly spot-on futurism in Edge’s year 2000 “Hardware Special”.