Video Game Violence: The Sad, Limiting Standard
“It took two designers probably a year-plus working on that, to get that right.” -Todd Papy, director of God of War: Ascension, talking about the game’s opening set piece
Modern action-heavy games are expensive because they contain complicated set pieces that take a long time to create and polish. Heavy Rain, on the other hand, had no set pieces, but was still built on highly advanced tech. The tech itself is not what is causing budgets to balloon. Twisting that tech into insanely complex animated sequences is.
Here’s what it boils down to: Heavy Rain has high production values, it’s not a murder simulator, it is critically acclaimed (87 Metacritic), it sold enough to make the publisher think another game like it with better voice talent would be a good idea, and a higher-than-normal percentage of players finished the story.
Why, then, are other major developers not rushing to build similar experiences? Why doesn’t an EA look at the success of Heavy Rain and try to have one of its numerous studios try to replicate it, considering the investment will be smaller than it would be to make yet another AAA shooter?
It turns out that people do want different experiences. Heavy Rain was a success. Folks talked about Telltale’s The Walking Dead nonstop for the last eight months of 2012. Beyond: Two Souls is one of the most anticipated gaming experiences of 2013. Thatgamecompany never stops getting accolades for its work. The Portal series is beloved by all.
But here we are, with a marketplace full of violent experiences that aren’t selling as well as the publishers are expecting based on past successes. Sure, Call of Duty and Battlefield are doing just fine, but those are the exceptions. Look at Gears of War: Judgment and God of War: Ascension. Look at Tomb Raider and Hitman Absolution.
Maybe Ken Levine is right. Maybe video games can’t tell every story. But I am entirely certain that this medium can tell many more types of stories than he thinks it can. If you believe that the core gameplay of every AAA title should be violence, then so shall it be. But I know that the very intelligent people who build our games have more imagination than that.
We’re about to begin the eighth generation of video game hardware, and the cost of building an AAA experience is about to jump, if you believe Activision CEO Bobby Kotick. If there was ever a right time for “big-budget” experimentation, it is now. Yes, trying something new will be “a real headscratcher,” but all innovation is. Just because it’s harder doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.
Phil Owen is a freelance journalist who contributes to Game Front along with Kotaku, VG247 and Gameranx. Follow him on Twitter: @philrowen