Trig­ger Happy

Shoot first, ask ques­tions later

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

Fin­ish­ing The Last Guardian would be folly, says Steven Poole

It might mean more to many of us if The Last Guardian re­mained the eter­nal Crys­tal Palace of videogames

One hun­dred years from now, thanks to ad­vances in hu­man re­ju­ve­na­tion science, the artist Fu­mito Ueda will still be alive, and will shock au­di­ences at the 2115 E3 trade show by ap­pear­ing in public for the first time in 73 years, sport­ing an enor­mous beard. The mas­sive re­veal will be that he’s still de­vel­op­ing The Last Guardian, hav­ing had to port the code to dozens of new plat­forms in suc­ces­sion with­out ever quite fin­ish­ing it be­cause none could ful­fil his vi­sion. Un­til now. At last, to­tally im­mer­sive di­rect-brain-stim­u­la­tion tech­nol­ogy will al­low play­ers to smell the pow­er­fully musty odours of the gi­ant feath­ers on their help­ful cat-bird an­i­mal, and The Last Guardian will def­i­nitely be out some time in the fol­low­ing year, or per­haps decade.

For all of our sakes, I hope this is what ac­tu­ally hap­pens. And I say this as some­one who be­lieves that Ueda’s most re­cent fin­ished work, Shadow Of The Colos­sus, is one of the great­est videogames ever made. When I spoke about it at a con­fer­ence in Vi­enna way back around the time The Last Guardian was an­nounced, I also played a clip of the then-cur­rent demo – so as­ton­ish­ing it was back then! – by way of sham­ing ba­si­cally ev­ery­thing else that was go­ing on in the medium. I’ve been want­ing to play The Last

Guardian ever since. And yet I also hope it will never be re­leased.

Not, mind you, be­cause there was any­thing wrong with the new demo at this year’s E3. It looked as beau­ti­ful and mov­ing as ever be­fore, and still years ahead, in terms of af­fec­tive aes­thet­ics, of any­thing else. Some archly unim­pressed com­menters, of course, im­me­di­ately laid into it, com­plain­ing that the hu­man-an­i­mal in­ter­ac­tions were ob­vi­ously scripted. It is rather odd how ‘scripted’ has come to be a term of abuse in videogame com­men­tary. We don’t com­plain that in­ter­minable scenes of FMV di­a­logue are scripted, but heaven help a game that de­cides a par­tic­u­lar ac­tion beat should hap­pen in a par­tic­u­lar way for dra­matic ef­fect. In us­ing ‘scripted’ neg­a­tively in this way, we im­ply that we want al­ways to be in con­trol and able to af­fect the ac­tion in any way we please. Yet we can­not af­fect all the man­i­fold rules, as­sump­tions, and mise-en-scène that frame the game’s ac­tion and con­sti­tute its un­der­ly­ing laws of na­ture. Taken to­gether, those el­e­ments are a much more con­stric­tive over­ar­ch­ing ‘script’ in them­selves.

The script of The Last Guardian, in this wider sense, is ev­i­dently a thing of beauty. But maybe it is too good for this world. If the game is ever re­leased, there are bound to be slight de­fects – fid­dly po­si­tion­ing, cam­era is­sues – of the kind we for­give in lesser videogames, but that it would be hard to for­give in this one, pre­cisely be­cause it prom­ises to be so ethe­re­ally per­fect.

The Last Guardian, then, will ar­guably do the game in­dus­try as a whole im­mea­sur­ably more ser­vice if it re­mains in the quasi-Pla­tonic realm of end­less de­vel­op­ment, and so can re­main for­ever un­blem­ished in our heads, a model that merely com­pleted games must al­ways humbly ac­knowl­edge. It ought to con­tinue play­ing the role, for play­ers and de­vel­op­ers alike, of an un­re­al­is­tic as­pi­ra­tion, much like the Crys­tal Palace in Dos­toyevsky’s novel Notes From Un­der­ground.

In that novel, the Crys­tal Palace rep­re­sents a so­cial utopia. “The palace of crys­tal may be an idle dream,” the nar­ra­tor says. “It may be that it is in­con­sis­tent with the laws of na­ture and that I have in­vented it only through my own stu­pid­ity, through the old-fash­ioned ir­ra­tional habits of my gen­er­a­tion. But what does it mat­ter to me that it is in­con­sis­tent? That makes no dif­fer­ence since it ex­ists in my de­sires, or rather ex­ists as long as my de­sires ex­ist.” Any at­tempt to ac­tu­ally build the Crys­tal Palace, how­ever, would be­tray its ideals and be­come an ugly, all-too-solid thing at which Dos­toyevsky’s anti-hero would prob­a­bly feel com­pelled to stick out his tongue. Its pur­pose is to re­main for­ever con­cep­tual.

I can­not pre­tend to know whether such con­sid­er­a­tions have some­times oc­curred to Fu­mito Ueda him­self as he has wres­tled for the bet­ter part of a decade with his glo­ri­ous vi­sion. And for the sake of hu­man sym­pa­thy, we must also hope that he does com­plete his work, and that it earns the suc­cess that he de­serves. Even so, it might mean even more to many of us if The Last Guardian re­mained the eter­nal Crys­tal Palace of videogames, ges­tur­ing in the most haunting way at an un­re­al­is­able vi­sion, sus­tain­ing noth­ing less than all our de­sires.

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