Just read a little column over at GamerNode by Eddie Inzauto:
Eddie brings up some interesting points. Firstly about the original limitations of technology - basically how voice overs and such were simply too big to fit on the cartridges (hell I remember when games came on floppy disks); so everything was text based. Which coincidentally meant that a lot of people who had previously embarked upon playing the paper-based RPG books felt somewhat more at home in what was then the brave new world of games. I admit that his technological point is true; however, he argues that now in our age of games in the format of DVDs and now BluRay disks that voice overs can and possibly should be used everywhere possible; which I don’t agree with.
Secondly he comments about the game’s perspective making a difference to “fusion of identity”.
I’m going to look into both of these as they are very much intertwined.
To start; one thing that I think a lot of people forget when discussing this issue is that not having a voice gives infinite room for imagination. Which so many people seem to lack and just replace with laziness; like watching a movie - where everything is done for them - they just have to sit back, munch popcorn and guzzle down horribly flat and watered down softdrinks. Which is also why I feel is why any movie that makes an audience actually have to think is what tends to in awards - Inception for example, and the first Matrix (at least the first one more so than the sequels).
I remember when I first played Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Like so many other games at the time; the cartridges or CDs didn’t have the storage capacity for everyone to have a voice. Any games that did venture there had multiple disks; in particular Shenmue and the Final Fantasies. Hell even now with games like Star Ocean and Blue Dragon on the 360 still need multiple DVD disks to have enough room for everything. In the past the most games really had was “action sounds”; namely all the groans and yells etc that characters let out in pain, exhaustion etc. Thinking back to LoZ:OoT; the most the NPCs had were incoherent babblings, Link’s exertions when swinging a sword and dying; and Zelda’s screams when she got kidnapped. Again. The Sims is another great example of this - even now they “speak” incoherently.
I imagined Link speaking in a similar voice to his action sounds - but the lack of him actually speaking means my mind could do it all in my own internal voice. To me this makes it far more real. You hear older people talk about how they could “live” inside books - well this is precisely how they did that - interpretation of a character through their own internal voice. Say a voice stated that someone spoke with a gruff Welsh accent; you brain modifies your voice so you can get an interpretation of what it would sound like. It is part of how we identify and describe people in the real world.
I’m not entirely sure whether the game’s perspective really makes that much of a difference. Like Eddie says in his article, Chrono Trigger and Legend of Zelda are both 3rd person cameras, and as Eddie and others argue this is to keep you seperate from the character; Link is Link; whereas I am me. Lets not get bogged down in the existential arguments here; this is about connecting to and with the character; especially on an emotional level. Using LoZ and CT as examples. I remember playing Twilight Princess, and when you get to Kakariko Village; some of the mounted guys come flying round the corner and take off with the kids. I was dumbstruck and angry - I was feeling what Link felt. *Spoiler Alert* In CT when Chrono dies - I felt heart broken and lost. That was before any of the characters said a single word - which they went on to say what I felt. So the whole “fusion of identities” issue is somewhat irrelevant in terms of the perspective. I think it relies more on an person’s ability to empathise in a given situation.
I don’t know; maybe I have disassociated emotional attachment with first person games and attached it to 3rd person instead.
However, when I say “First Person” games what’s the first kind of game that comes to mind? Action Shooters? Games like Halo, Call of Duty and Medal of Honour? My guess is yes. Can you honestly associate any strong feelings with Master Chief? Honestly I couldn’t. I felt more towards the Arbiter because he had been betrayed and lied to his whole life. And yes I have read the Halo books so I do know Master Chief’s story. Hell even with Halo’s latest two games ODST and Reach; I felt far more for the new characters compared to Halo3. Like look at the whole Cortana story. It should have been compelling and involving; but it just wasn’t. To me it was Master Chief’s probable insanity and missing the voice in his head and the “fight” to get it back. Adding to this the importance of Cortana for the human race in terms of Halo’s overall arcing storyline - then Master Chief is little more than a glorified transport system.
However, there is the question and problem of Fable 1/2 and 3. In the first two instalments of this series; the Hero lacked a voice. Interestingly I feel that the Hero spoke through actions rather than through the spoken word. In 3 however, our Hero is given a voice. Which is very crucial to the story; as you make promises to the citizens of Albion - which you then get the chance to follow through or not during the second part of the game. In both cases it works very well. Ironically enough, the character Sabine states early on in F3, that to the “Dweller people” actions speak louder than words. Just after you assure him of your willingness to help him. However, considering the choice system in the Fable series; which leads to very visible physical appearance changes; it does not make sense to give a character a voice; considering that it will change, like your appearance depending on what you do. Can you honestly imagine your Prince/Princess at the start of the game having the same voice that he or she has by the conclusion? Even though the character does still sound the same…But I’ll put that down to Peter Molyneux being an ass.
I just recently completed TimeShift on the 360, which has insanely obvious ripoffs from Half Life; in particular the main protagonist is an unspoken physicist with a special suit. Forgive me for ignoring the majority of the storyline here; but it isn’t really mention worthy. Right, when it comes to the protagonist communicating with his allies; there are at least two instances when the commander you help is communicating with you over the radio and asks a question - to which of course you don’t respond. The first time he is asking you who you are and are you on their side or not - to which nothing is said and the only reason he probably doesn’t kill you just to be on the safe side is that the air ship you are on gets attacked. Saved by the bell as it were. The second instance is near the finale of the game when you are stuck on a rooftop while artillery shells are getting launched at you; after which he asks are you ok - as in still alive. You respond with nothing, he asks again saying to reply with just a “click or something”; which you do. Ok I realise we have to take into consideration the whole time-space continuum thing here; so not talking could be a beneficial thing in terms of maintaining the continuum; but the fact of the matter is that once your task is complete; everything returns to the way it was before so the commander could potentially never have existed at all so you interactions would be of exactly squat relevance and would not impact the continuum at all.
Maybe at the end of the day it just comes down to scripting more than anything else. Some games are scripted very well; others - most - are not. Sadly it seems to be at the stage where a game isn’t graded on it’s scripting or single player; but more its online features - namely where the money is. A quick google/wiki search shows the evidence as plain as day:
Halo 3 tops the list of course; hell even I have bought two copies for myself and a third for a friend. But really its online functionality far outweighs it’s single player/co-op campaign. Halo: Reach, Left4Dead2 and now Gears of War 3 all now have online multiplayer betas as their Demos as we used to know them.
In conclusion; I think the old days of games are gone and it is all getting replaced by muddy graphics; “gritty” space marine types. That and casual games.