Trig­ger Happy

Shoot first, ask ques­tions later

EDGE - - CONTENTS - STEVEN POOLE Steven Poole’s Trig­ger Happy 2.o is now avail­able from Ama­zon. Visit him on­line at www.steven­poole.net

Steven Poole on the dan­ger of promis­ing, well, any­thing

Afriendly man is point­ing out things to me on the screen, and then says: “I don’t know why I’m point­ing, you can’t see.” The rea­son I can’t see is be­cause I’m in space, where, of course, you can­not see friendly men point­ing at flatscreen mon­i­tors in a mu­seum just out­side Cam­bridge on Earth. Nat­u­rally, I am so amazed at be­ing in space that I spend more time look­ing around the cock­pit – wow, that planet over there! – than wor­ry­ing about ex­actly where the other space­craft is that is try­ing to shoot me. And so, in short or­der, I get blown up. In space.

Need­less to say, my be­lated first ex­pe­ri­ence of an Ocu­lus Rift at the Elite:

Dan­ger­ous premiere left me pretty im­pressed. But much of the talk at the event, as peo­ple propped up bars or hud­dled un­der fighter jets in the Im­pe­rial War Mu­seum’s vast air­craft hangar, was about a class of Elite fans (and back­ers of the Kick­s­tarter) who had be­come de­cid­edly, vo­cally unim­pressed after the re­cent an­nounce­ment that the game would no longer fea­ture an off­line sin­gle­player mode. You could un­der­stand their point of view: they gave money for de­vel­op­ment on the un­der­stand­ing that the game was to be a cer­tain way, and it wasn’t go­ing to be ex­actly that way. So they wanted their money back.

From a more dis­in­ter­ested stand­point, this story il­lus­trates the quan­daries of crowd­funded de­vel­op­ment in gen­eral. The whole point of de­vel­op­ment — whether in videogames, TV, or even book pub­lish­ing — is that the fi­nal prod­uct is never go­ing to be ex­actly as de­scribed in the ini­tial pitch ma­te­rial. (A book con­tract, for ex­am­ple, will say that the fin­ished man­u­script must ful­fil the ini­tial prom­ise to a ‘rea­son­able’ stan­dard, which leaves a lot of room for change and ar­gu­ment.) In the vast majority of cases, changes dur­ing de­vel­op­ment and pro­duc­tion will re­sult in the fin­ished prod­uct be­ing much bet­ter than what was at first en­vis­aged. Feel­ing obliged to stick too closely to one’s first ideas, then, is likely to sti­fle cre­ative instincts. But if fu­ture de­vel­op­ers, wary of the Elite case, choose in­stead to make only very vague prom­ises, they are less likely to get funded in the first place. It would be a shame for such a prece­dent to be set.

All this, as another re­cent videogame imbroglio shows, is the op­po­site of the risk of tra­di­tional com­mer­cial fund­ing, which is that if you don’t con­duct your de­vel­op­ment in pub­lic, a botched ini­tial re­lease will gen­er­ate a tsunami of bad feel­ing. “Ubisoft apol­o­gises for As­sas­sin’s Creed”, read one head­line, which ini­tially caused me to won­der whether Ubisoft was be­lat­edly ex­press­ing re­gret for mak­ing games that en­dorsed the creed of an as­sas­sin: that it’s all right to mur­der peo­ple. But no, it was just apol­o­gis­ing for the bug-rid­den mess of a game it sold to the pub­lic.

More se­ri­ous crit­i­cisms of the game, how­ever, were be­ing made in a coun­try that, un­der­stand­ably, took it per­son­ally: France. Left­ist politi­cian Jean-Luc Mé­len­chon said he was “dis­gusted by the pro­pa­ganda” im­plicit in the game’s at­ti­tude to the French Revo­lu­tion. “This den­i­gra­tion of the great Revo­lu­tion is a dirty job that in­stils in the French peo­ple yet more self-dis­gust and belief in na­tional de­cline.” His com­rade in the Left Party, Alexis Cor­bière, said that Unity rep­re­sented the Revo­lu­tion as an “in­com­pre­hen­si­ble blood­bath, con­ducted by beasts”.

Other French com­men­ta­tors pointed out, with no lit­tle glee, a raft of his­tor­i­cal er­rors in the game. In the part set in 1791, we see the Bastille still stand­ing, even though it had been razed to the ground in 1789. Mean­while in 1898, Arno can climb the Statue Of Lib­erty, even though it had al­ready been sent to Amer­ica 13 years pre­vi­ously. And so on. Quizzed about such anachro­nisms, the game’s as­so­ciate pro­ducer, An­toine Vi­mal Du Mon­teil, pleaded that it wasn’t sup­posed to be a “his­tory les­son”. The French Revo­lu­tion was merely a “back­drop” to a story of love and moral dilem­mas.

But this re­sponse is sim­ply not good enough. A se­ri­ous his­tor­i­cal novel or film would rightly be crit­i­cised for such mis­takes. Videogames don’t get to be sloppy with the source ma­te­rial if they want to sell them­selves on the cul­tural ku­dos of fac­tual authenticity, ei­ther. Nat­u­rally, if

As­sas­sin’s Creed Unity had been Kick­started on the prom­ise to de­liver an au­then­tic recre­ation of rev­o­lu­tion­ary Paris, its back­ers would also now be de­mand­ing their money back. At least Elite: Dan­ger­ous is avoid­ing that par­tic­u­lar pit­fall by be­ing set in the fu­ture, and in space.

Games don’t get to be sloppy with the source ma­te­rial if they want to sell them­selves on the ku­dos of fac­tual authenticity

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