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Edge Magazine #163 June 2006

Dear God

Edge #163, June 2006

This isn't meant to be a letter to, y'know, 'God' and that (that would be madness). The 'dear god' was merely an exclamation. Or, rather, an edited version of an exclamation I uttered aloud not two minutes before setting pen to paper. What I actually said was: 'Dear god - you have got to be ruddy kidding' (not to be confused with Rudyard Kipling).

I said this upon completing the game FEAR. Yes, I know it's been out a while. I bought it on the day of release, being - as I was at that point - starved of my beloved firstperson shooters. Unfortunately, both the PCs I owned were incapable of running it. One apparently wasn't powerful enough, and the other didn't have the right sound drivers. When I tried to update them it buggered up the sound card.

So, anyway. I've just bought a new PC, which runs it fine. Alas, it wasn't worth the wait. Indeed, it was one of the biggest prick-teasers I've ever played. Throughout, you're drip-fed portentous dialogue and doom-laden set-pieces, waiting the whole time for hell to be unleashed. Only in the game's closing moments - where (look away now, spoilerphobes) you briefly witness a nuclear explosion - does the game genuinely impress. And in that moment of being impressed you think: "Wahey! Here we go! All that tedious, sixth-form, sub-ghost train nonsense is finally going to pay off!"

Except it doesn't. You get your explosion, and then you get some dreadful epilogue in a helicopter; "How did you survive the explosion?!" - and then a thump on the helicopter roof - "What was that?" - and then the end credits. Like, hello? I mean, what?

I'm too enraged to discuss it further. Instead I shall discuss my current bete noir, EA's The Godfather: The Game. If ever there's been a game which highlighted the gulf of sophistication between videogame and cinema, this is it. Where to start? In terms of being a hilariously misguided licence, it's up there with the Game Boy version of Kramer Vs Kramer.

Who thought they could make a game out of The Godfather? Why even try? Do these people force their sons to wear dresses and press flowers? The Godfather and videogames are wholly incompatible. It's like trying to make a vulture live in a dog basket. To even think about attempting it underscores the naïvety that still exists within the games industry. To actually attempt it is nothing short of egomania.

Even bad films are about something. Let's take the example of Aliens; it's a classic sci-fi film, and has probably influenced more games than any other. But what's it about on a thematic level? Is it about space marines shooting monsters? No. It's about motherhood.

At its heart you've got two mothers looking to protect her offspring: Ripley, protecting her surrogate daughter, Newt, and the Alien Queen, protecting her saliva-dripping spawn. Mercifully, as far as the various game interpretations of the Alien franchise go, it's also a kick-ass action film. But show me a single game which approaches it for thematic depth.

The Godfather was about family, and power, and the interaction of its characters. To try and turn it into a GTA clone is beyond madness. It's like turning Cold Mountain into a football management sim.

The Godfather: The Game isn't an awful videogame. But it's an awful, painful interpretation of its source material. It doesn't understand the complexity. Playing it is like watching a bunch of primary school kids performing The Passion Of The Christ. It's embarrassing and makes videogames look stupid. Why? Because - once again - it's a videogame that thinks it's a film. Or, rather, it's a videogame that thinks it has the emotional, thematic and narrative complexity of a film, when in reality it's the same old guff with the same poorly-acted, weakly-scripted cutscenes.

Speaking as someone who has dabbled in writing scripts for videogames, I say this: stop now. That's enough. Games don't need a story. They don't need a theme. They don't need a narrative. They're just games, and that's enough.

If it's a shoot 'em up, give us new and interesting ways to shoot things. We don't need semi-interactive cutscenes featuring stupid, scary girls, and vague plots that are never explained. We don't want heroes who break off from the action to bemoan their amnesia, or flirt with their co-workers. If it's a platformer, I don't want the comedy monkey character's backstory. I want him to jump and collect stuff.

Game designers: focus your efforts on what you do best. Give us new worlds to explore, and new things to do, and let us come up with the stories in our heads. We can fill in the thematic and dramatic gaps if we want to, but if you're doing your jobs we won't care about any of that. We'll be involved and immersed, because we should feel like we're there, in the game.

You can spend all you want on licences to pretend you're Martin Scorcese, but unless what you're creating is honest and true the end result is going to be as hollow as, I dunno, paying someone to pretend they love you: it isn't real.

Mr Biffo co-founded Digitiser, Channel 4's Teletext-based videogames section, and now writes mainly for television

Do you know of any important moments from the annals of Digi history that have been omitted? If so, then mail me ( right now, man. Credit will be duly given for anything that gets put up.

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