Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Would You Play A First Person Game With No Shooting? I Would. - Warco

There's been a whole lot of to-do these last few years over whether or not video games can be properly classified as works of artistic merit. One of the things making the debate more difficult for those of us who believe that games can be art is the fact that so many games are the same. Imagine this scenario: crouched in a war zone, the soldier in front of you motions that there are insurgents ahead. You crouch, as someone to your left throws a grenade and you can see bursts from assault rifles through the smoke ahead as the firefight erupts. What I've just described could have taken place in any number of mostly interchangable first person shooters on the market now. Now, change one key thing. The character you control doesn't have a gun, or any other weapon. What you have is a high-quality digital video camera, because you are a reporter in the middle of a war zone. This is the concept for Warco, short for "War Correspondent," a game in development that advances the sort of thinking we need in game design for the medium to be taken seriously as art in the long run.
The idea might be a hard sell to major studios, but that thinking is why most
of my gaming today is from the indie scene.

In addition to running around and shooting with a camera instead of a rifle, Warco – The News Game promises to feature a different sort of player control. You don't influence the battles you are there to report on, but you do choose what to film, how to present what you've filmed and some difficult real-life decisions need to be made. What will your story say about your bias concerning the conflict you cover? Where does the line between freedom of the press and the safety or even morale of troops doing a hard job in a foreign land get drawn? When a soldier dies, do you film a dramatic moment for the sake of the impact of the piece, or do you refrain out of respect for the soldier's sacrifice and the well-being of his or her family? Getting to see the finished product of your recorded footage combined with a thrust to the piece based on your decisions on a fictional cable news station is something that is more exciting to me than killing another enemy soldier whose death is presented for entertainment.

This game is being worked on by Australian Indie development studio Defiant Development, and they hope to find a publisher capable of and willing to distribute the finished product to a wide audience. A first-person game in a warzone with no combat that the player participates in by shooting may be a hard sell, but if they can do it right, they've got something potentially amazing on their hands. The possibility for telling a different sort of story about military conflicts, ideally one suited to player perspective, free of default anti-war or pro-military bias, showing both sides and letting the player decide how to feel about them... I'd play that in a heartbeat. The idea of different players covering the same event and producing radically different newscasts by the end of a chapter or level intrigues me.

There are a lot of ways this could go wrong, however. Quality of the animations, good writing of dialogue of soldiers and others encountered in a warzone and overall polish are important to maintaining an appropriate mood. If a soldier is poorly voice-acted, moves stiffly and unnaturally or glitches through a piece of cover, the immersion is broken, and the experience ruined. Unlike more traditional games, I wouldn't be happy when encountering graphical oddities or other bugs to just complete the encounter and move on. Experiencing the visuals of a realistic battlefield, of interviewing humans who move, speak and behave like real people isn't a large part of the game, it is pretty much the whole game in this instance. It is worth mentioning that these are exactly the sorts of flaws we are normally expected to cut independent game developers a little slack on, and there isn't room for it here.

The proof of playable concept prototype has some rough spots, mostly in animation of individual soldiers, but showing the reporter in vehicles, dodging bullets and occasionally getting hit, panning and zooming in on particular bits is intriguing. Film Studios have funded further development of the game, and the work they've done so far has won "Best Art" at the 2011 Freeplay Awards at an Australian independent games festival. The game appears to be based around multiple objectives in a series of conflicts developing in the fictional nation of Benouja in Africa, with inspiration for the specific scenes taken from real-world conflicts across Africa and the Middle East. This one will be on my radar as it gets closer to completion, though at the moment there is no projected release date.
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Jay said...

definitely a step up from fps of today. just needs more camera shake; either that or the cameras have some awesome 20 stop image stabilizer technology.

Alpha said...

Very interesting concept, I'll give them that.

neatfit said...

I played this already, and I played it (pokemon snap). It's a nice cool concept, some people would enjoy this way more than shooting itself, especially since the shooters are getting worse and worse with every release.

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