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Vanquish was recently re-released on PC to the delight of the cult following it has developed since 2010. Whilst the experience has remained largely unchanged, however, as a whole it meant something very different to me now than it did back then; all because of the new context under which I was playing it.
This also got me thinking about games whose themes rely on context to convey meaning. Spec Ops: The Line turns five in June, and yet the industry it was furiously reacting against has changed dramatically since then. In this episode of Writing on Games then, I want to explore just how much a shift in context can have on the meaning of a game, and what this means for the future of our medium.
Nier Automata & How We Define Meaning in Video Games (SPOILERS) - [game array] - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNjJ8skeG1g
Why Sledgehammer's founders wanted to take Call of Duty back to World War 2 (VentureBeat) - https://venturebeat.com/2017/04/26/why-sledgehammers-founders-wanted-to-take-call-of-duty-back-to-world-war-ii/
EA turns horrors of WWI into tone-deaf Battlefield 1 memes, quickly deletes them (Polygon) - https://www.polygon.com/2016/10/31/13478344/battlefield-1-ea-deleted-tweets-marketing
Call of Duty WW2/Infinite Warfare footage from Activision
Battlefield One/Army of Two footage from EA
Far Cry 5/Rainbow Six Siege footage from Ubisoft
Gears of War footage from Microsoft
Bayonetta footage from Sega
Devil May Cry 4 footage from Thunder Kat - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2CcQEW8bjlk
50 Cent Blood on the Sand footage from gamesoverdose - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qADNFcVQ4c
Thank you all SO much for your continued support. Whether you support the Patreon, subscribed or just watch the video, I just want to say thank you—people like you are changing my life for the better every day.
--- Additional production work by Nico Bleackley
I think Spec Ops: The Line was also a victim of its own sleeper hit status. It's meant as a very intimate calling out of the player, but a lot of people only ever bought and played it because it was a deconstruction of the shooter genre, making the final monologue ring somewhat hollow. Not sure how to approach that differently to proof against tonal spoilers.
9:04 - I think yes, because that interpretation of spec-ops might be a gross oversimplification. The game is nuanced and subtle enough that you can find multiple layers of meaning, like any other work of art. It's a critique on gaming at the time, and American imperialism. It's also a character study, and an exploration of very human, very timeless things, like heroism, revenge, rationalization, acceptance, motivations, and morality.
Consider that the *central theme of the story of spec ops is not imperialism, or violent games, it's the tragedy of violence itself and the ambiguity of motivations* (Not saying that's what it is, that's one interpretation of it): What's truly harrowing about Spec Ops is that *every character in that story did horrible things because they thought it was the right thing to do* , and _it arguably was, _ under their perspective:
The 33rd went into Dubai to help evacuate the least powerful, and refused to abandon them to their fate, placing more value in people's lives than following orders. Which ended with them killing the people they were trying to keep alive. Or maybe they were just as arrogant as Walker and kept lying to themselves as they executed and tortured the people of Dubai as well as their own comrades that rebelled and staged a mutiny.
Konrad wanted to keep people alive and safe, so he risked an evacuation, and when that didn't work he had to maintain order with the tools and methods he could. And he ultimately felt so guilty that he shot himself. Or maybe he shot himself because he realized he didn't live up to his own exacting standards and he wasn't the hero he made himself up to be in his mind.
The insurgents felt they were being oppressed by a foreign, brutal and repressive self appointed ruler that ruled with an iron fist. Which led them to help the CIA destroy their own water supply and doom the city to die of thirst. Or maybe they were just poor, desperate, ignorant pawns of the CIA.
Riggs and co. thought killing Dubai would have saved more lives by preventing a long series of middle eastern wars that would make the "War on terror" look like the invasion of Grenada (it was short and relatively bloodless, google it). See above. Or maybe their means are so evil that they simply fail to justify their ends.
The survivors of Dubai killed Lugo to protect Konrad and the 33rd, because they were heroes to them. They came to their aid and stood with them as everyone else abandoned them and left them to die. Or maybe it was just revenge for destroying their water supply.
And Walker thought he could save everyone, including a man he deeply respected and admired. A belief he clung on to despite increasingly making things worse for everyone around him and killing (at least) 47 innocent people in one of the most painful and horrifying ways to do it in modern history.
The confluence of an eagerness to solve problems with violence, (justified) mistrust, a terrible situation, and failures to communicate led to pretty much every character in the game killing and dying in brutal, painful, agonizing ways. And then lying to themselves to rationalize their own atrocities.
Vanquish was supersceded by Titanfall.
As much as Vanquish is a good game, Titanfall took those concepts of fast moving, sliding and more with jetpacks and applied them to a game which also included giant pilotable robots.
I guess the question begs, what would be the Spec Ops: The Line of this or the next generation? A bold statement, a "protest" game if you can call it, towards the current state of quality and cliches of games on the mainstream...
...and I'd opine that a game made today with a premise, message, and moral lessons of SOTL (while not necessarily matching if not surpassing its brutality) could still work—this time when the narrative is on a retrospective standpoint; that is, in the sense that makes us reflect upon, rectify, and reconsider on the messages delivered by the popular older games that we cherished and grew up with (say, Chrono Trigger or FFVII), whether those messages and tropes, when analyzed and deconstructed with a more mature and serious (and possibly childhood-ruining) standpoint, still make sense or something to still brag about today... or just reek of being naive and ridiculously cliched or at worst, morally messed up.
i personally think spec ops will always hold up. We may not be in the same vacuum anymore but the record of that vacuum will preserve its meaning as long as we are aware of it.
Vanquish however I don't think holds the same power. Vanquish created its contrast by offering something different in terms of mechanics which while we can record the context of, can be replicated and dare I say Will be replicated enough times that the mechanics will blend into a crowd.
Both games are statements, but only one will ever carry its message regardless of its vacuum.
I loved Vanquish. I first played it in late 2012 after it came out and after I played through a slog of Call of Duty, the Gears of War series, Warhammer Space Marine(which was quite good if you are a fan of Games Workshop's IP), Binary Domain, Dark Souls, and even Fallout 3 and New Vegas. Vanquish was such a breath of fresh air.
I still have it for my 360 and even though I have newer titles for newer systems, Vanquish is still one of my favorites for one reason, the same one that drew me to it. It was and still is fun. In spite of the quality of games these days, it is still one of the most fun games I have played, and actually feels like one of the hardest that I have got my hands on(probably because of a wonderful mix of fantastically over the top boss fights and the fact that the small number of QTEs were all fantastic moments. I will always have the one where you are countering sword swipes with energized punches engraved in my memory.) Newer games are good, but Vanquish just beats them out because it delivers that dose of adrenaline that make me love games.
I know my logic isn't much more than 'I like it because it's fun' but video games don't need to be more. They can be and are welcome to be, but Vanquish is still one of the best at delivering the classic arcade action feel that seems to be lost in at least the shooter genre these days.
Something I've thought about in passing recently is how The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is going to be "referenced" in the future. It's a fantastic game with some rather astounding polish and potential for organic experiences, revolutionizing the entire series "back to its roots". So... what comes next?
Will the series try to emulate the explorative magic caught with BotW? If it does, will it succeed in providing new unique experiences that stand on its own, or will players only be able to compare it to BotW and possibly doom one to be "inferior"? Would new environments and polish to compare it to make BotW into a monument of the mentality of fans at the time, or would it be seen as a forerunner for lasting changes? Will the series still make games with the old "go clear out a few dungeons" format, something I still rather enjoyed and would like to continue to see, even if only occasionally? Would the more "formulaic" games in the series even be WANTED anymore by fans? Or would the series build a new "formula" focused strictly on the exploration BotW pioneered? Would THAT lose its charm overtime, until a new "renovation" would be needed?
With age I've been realizing that I'm never really going to be "in this time" of my life again; there is NO rewind on age or progress. That's been carrying over a lot into how I've been viewing games and prospects for the future recently. Things like comparing Persona 5 to 3, how impactful Nier: Automata's various meanings are to me personally, and even what long-standing beloved series like TLoZ might mean for me in the future. I'm undoubtedly thinking too hard about things far beyond my control, but I can't help but contemplate what the future might hold sometimes.
Spec Ops: The line is totally modern. In wich world videogames are less maniqueist nowadays? We still burn germans and arabs to death without a drop of guilt while fight to "liberate" the US against evel imaginary invaders.
Is there meaning in trying to maintain in ones mind the historical context of a piece of media when viewing it? We either respond to this question with a loud resounding "yes", or we admit that the vast majority of cultural works over the course of history are no longer of value.
I spent hours with vanquish, and it just felt awful to me. I don't get it. It was soooo awkward and clunky, it just felt like flailing around, getting stuck on every tiny little lip in the battle ground. The speed felt pointless because you couldn't hardly use it any entertaining or exciting way. Spec Ops: The Line is not really a comparable game. It's good in a vacuum.
About Spec Ops, I think that the message still holds to this day because the theme of entertainment being used to trivialize violence (the main critique presente by the game itself) is timeless, and is something that resonates with other cultural mediums as well.
About Vanquish, I agree with the video's opinion. In a time where games are either focused on being large open world full of stuff to do or catch, or being experienced "as a service" and give priority to competitive multiplayer or co-op (and in some cases, they are both things), Vanquish feels like a throwback to a time when games were focused on being linear, single-player experiences. Its gameplay was quite frantic for its time, and it's still quite fast and chaotic (which is good) but compared to other first and third person shooters released later, Vanquish can feel quite slow sometimes. However, for a 7 year old game, its gameplay has aged extremely well.
There is nothing wrong with a game being open-world or focused on multiplayer/co-op, but I do believe that the gaming world needs more linear, single-player experiences like Vanquish and Spec Ops. However, for the foreseeable future, those will likely come not from the traditional AAA developers, but from mid-tier indie studios.
Interesting video, but your whole argument rests on determining a video game's quality based on how revolutionary it is, and that simply isn't a good way to judge any piece of art or entertainment. Some of the greatest video games of all time either stick to certain tropes or plot formulas, and that's ok. A game doesn't HAVE to be completely unique in every way in order to be good.
Additionally, when judging any form of art, you should also be factoring in the context of said art. That's the whole point. When analyzing All Quiet on the Western Front, 1984, etc., you have to look at the context those pieces of art were created in
I disagree. Games like Spec Ops: The Line were destined to seem dated from release day. It doesn't take a genius to predict "walking simulators" and other navel gazing nonsense is likewise going to seem dated in 10 years. They are bad games, but they are given a free pass for various reasons. Be it discussing a topical political point, having an "important message", or some other reason. Whatever the case, the game has little to offer outside of that.
I don't think Spec Ops: The Line can lose its meaning anymore than Apocalypse Now can lose its meaning. it's message isn't necessarily constricted just to modern war games, or even games in general. It's a criticism of the glorification of warfare and conflict in the face of the human tragedy that it causes. It serves as a reminder that in a game about modern conflicts or past ones that there is no good and evil.
A lot of what you touch on here is a widely discussed topic in literary analysis in general. It's essentially the conflict between analyzing a literary work's meaning in the context it was first published and how the author intended, and analysing it according to the context in which any given reader engages with it. As you imply, the two aren't actually really at conflict, rather, the differences between them give us valuable insight into how society has changed in the interim. Take how someone would be reading 1984 in the 50s versus how they would read it now.
But stuff like vanquish/dmc 4/bayonetta are not really games you play to have some big experience, you can have those yes but the point of those game is replailabity, playing levels all over again doing them better, faster, with higher scores, with better combos, without taking damage, without dying once, these are what vanquish, dmc 4, and mostly all action games are and all they want to be.
I came into this video expecting something different, but that's because I had recently read an article on prosocial context to violence in video games, but eh.
In my opinion, many titles, if not most titles, aren't effected by real world context. Many game's themes, stories, and take-aways remain the same over the years and decades. Many classic titles fall into this category: Earthbound and Chrono Trigger as two quick and easy examples.
And here's the big thing, in my eyes. Games, like everything else, grow, change, are built upon and *evolve*. If you view game industry standards and developmental capabilities and tropes as a biological process of evolution, of course something from previous generations will not perform in the same way that it did at the time. If you somehow were able to resurrect a creature from 1000 years ago, and had it compete against its modern day equivalent, it would likely not survive as well in this current environment.
And ironically, when you said "so many super long games coming out of late" I looked at my tv, which had persona 5 on, on my NG+ file.. 200 hours and still going strong.
I bought Vanquish the week my ps3 dies, so I never got to play it properly. When I heard it was gonna be on pc I was so stoked. I told all my friends about it, those that didnt have a ps3 back then and a console now, that this is THE console port everyone has to play!
Then it released and I bought Player Unknown's Battleground instead >_<
you know, after finishing Spec Ops: the line, I thought about how the enemies weren't the usual european/middle eastern terrorists, but american soldiers that would've been allies had this been any other shooter games. Also the game had no evil baddie that we need to stop. No other game had put me into that much contemplation just saying.
I really dislike the current videogame audience expectation that every game has to be subversive rather than an expertly crafted, fun gameplay experience. Vanquish was never good because it was divergent but because it was simply really good at what it set out to do.
I think the time or era a game is released is what it's context should be. We have the option to analyze an old game in context of today's environment or yesterday's, but I think it's important to recognize the fact that it was released in yesterday's.
I really dont see this change in landscape you are talking about yeah there was a short jetpack mode for a year or two but it's already over and none of those integrated it into there core gameplay like vanquish and those that did like the first titanfall backpeddled and we are back to the same old military shooters as before
That bit at the end about how game preservation is no longer just about technology but also about context, that was really strong. I've had many discussions with people about that, specifically with respect to ratings. Understanding the environment in which I game was released is a crucial step in establishing the context in which is should be received.
But yeah, that bit about presentation was a strong closing. I was a bit confused as to where you were going with this peace until then.
Dango soggie keep it up jimmie
I will have to reevaluate how I view rereleased games. I would think about it with OLDER games but I didn't think about how much ten years can change the context of the game itself or what the game itself was trying to say at THAT period of time. I sorta just wrote off Vanquish as a product of its time (which it was but) but I didn't think about how and why it was a product of its time as it was more then just another 3rd person shooter trying to make a quick buck (I think). I might be putting too much thought into it but I still have much to learn about game writing/critique it seems like.
Yes, this is nothing new. Although at the time I thought Vanquish was a damn good 3rd person shooter and nothing revolutionary. Ocarina of Time on the other hand was. It introduced so many concepts needed for 3D action adventure games, and now you have games like Skyrim, Dark Souls, Dragon's Dogma, etc, all take huge cues from it. Without knowing that going back to play OoT would feel fairly bland I think, which is why you need to understand the history of a game's genre to really know what it did well.
You're conflating mechanics with story and theme, and only one of them really works for the argument you've posited. Were story and theme subject to the same issue you'd have people getting sour on Harry Potter given the surge of Young Adult fantasy adventure films and books that came out as a result of them, or people getting thinking less of Ready Player One, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Undertale given the current trend towards metafiction.
I don't get what he's saying. You read Moby Dick and you can easily look up the art and cultural context of the work to understand what it meant at that time. Vanquish and Spec aren't that old. Most gamers playing them are a lot older than 9. They remember that context. In the future you'd just do your research out of interest like every other medium with work of some age.
Too much overthinking in this video. Vanguish was fun in the past with 30fps and now it's more fun than ever with upgraded graphics and glorious 60fps. That's it and that's my whole experiences of it. And I will gladly welcome it if Platinum make a sequel out of this somehow especially judging from how well its receptions on PC market.
This happens with every kind of art. A piece of media will never be seen the same way as time goes on. But that's not even necessary. The meaning they had at the time must just be remembered and considered when ever judging them. You really wouldn't go to a museum to see a renaissance painting and say that It isn't art anymore because it's meaning doesn't hold up anymore.Sadly we will never be able to enjoy forever art the same way as it was meant to be. But we can remember and register, making it part of our history.
This is same issue that happens with all media from literature to music to movies. If youve grown in culture with all the things like Song of Ice and Fire and other huge fantasy works and then read LoTR, you probably won't understand how revolutionary Tolkiens work is. You might actually say its bit meh and then someone comes and tells you how that when the stories came out nobody had done that and how it was huge. Same with for example The Beatles seminal classic Sgt Pepper. At the time it was out of this world, nobody had done anything like it but to someone who doesnt have the historical context and has grown with modern music probably won't understand that because much of what they have done is constantly done these days. Or someone won't probably understand the influence of French New Wave on cinema and how they broke all the rules because everything they did back then is so common these days that what was once a rebellion, a revolution against the mainstream cinema is now mainstream cinema.
This is just how things go. Things develope. Things change. Those things that once were revolutionary become common when new media is influenced by them and takes cues from them. Future is always built on past and as such, always makes the past common and somewhat obsolete.
So, I think with games, just like with movies, books, etc., a title's historical impact is a great reason for archiving and continuing to study it. It's important to remember the impact a game like Vanquish or Spec Ops had on the industry or in the cultural moment. Recording and remembering those moments is the way we will construct the history of gaming. We take the importance of historic value for granted when studying film and literature. For example, students of English literature continue to read and study Samuel Richardson's Pamela because of how influential it was in the history of the development of the novel (Could Jane Eyre have existed without Pamela?) despite its questionable literary merit. Just like with literature or film, we need to have an eye for preserving the historical moment in which games emerge as part of the context in which they are meaningful--even as different interpretations of their content become possible over time.
I know there are other comments that reflect this same notion, but I don't think there's ever a point where these sorts of self-critical 'anti-meta' games will ever become properly 'irrelevant' simply because the gaming landscape has moved past them. In the same way that classic works of literature such as To Kill a Mockingbird and The Scarlet Letter remain relevant by virtue of giving the audience the context that made their counter-cultural message so important in the first place, these games (as long as they're well-made) will be capable of putting the players in the shoes of the gaming landscape at the time to show what message they meant to convey to the contemporaneous industry, and how they meant to deliver that message.
Using 'To Kill a Mockingbird' as reference (since that's the one I remember most clearly), there is no modern context for the sort of extreme racism that book decries, and a modern reader would have no use for the story if it weren't so well-crafted as to give such a strong sense of time and place that allows the audience to understand what culture was like at the time of its writing, and thereby give weight to the message it carries.
Of course, those literary examples are a bit more universal as they speak to broader culture, as opposed to their own medum. In a more meta sense, books like House of Leaves and Slaughterhouse Five are perhaps a bit more analogous to something like Vanquish or Spec Ops, as they are making a particular point of bucking conventions, both in structure and genre, that have (or had) become not only commonplace, but expected of the medium. House of Leaves is, admittedly, a niche title with a small cult following, and Slaughterhouse Five is a bit more niche than something like To Kill a Mockingbird, but I think It's safe to say they can be pointed to as touchstones of the medium, important for the growth and progression of creative writing, and important to know about for anyone who cares to gain a greater understanding of the literary arts.
Does that make sense? does this analogy hold up through its entire duration? I can't even tell, I'm pretty sure I'm just rambling at this point.
I feel like these "timely" games might go into history as turning points.
Once upon a time in the West is still a classic for that matter.
However, because games aren't (necessarily) about storytelling this becomes a lot more complicated.
7 years later nothing comes close to Vanquish when it comes to Third person shooters.
Learn to play Vanquish at a master level. Comparing the movement mechanics in AW to Vanquish is an insult to Vanquish.
Throttle Kitty this is rich for someone who says they got worked on hard difficulty. get that souls babyshit outta here, vanquish had <200 people ever beat it on god hard, you wouldnt even get past the tutorial. people have beaten babymode souls games with goddamn guitar hero controllers. get good kid
"Get Good" ... Hilarious. Wait, is this game little kid Dark Souls or something? .... I mean really? You are actually impressed with yourself for playing this piss--easy mess where the enemies are basically no threat. "get good" is for games that require skill, not CoD on skates where the biggest threat is a slight incline.
I don't think the context around Spec Ops is as different now as you're making it seem. The way I see it, there are a lot of big AAA shooters that still have some morally questionable aspects to them relevant to what Spec Ops criticises. I suppose the differences is that those problems are slightly different. They've shifted perspective, but still come from the same root cause. I also think they are presented in a more subtle, even insidious way. While Spec Ops may was a response to the open militaristic jingoism of a lot of shooters of the time, those were games that were more openly imperialistic too. often featuring conflicts between different nations. These days games seem to less rely on explicitly imperialistic kinds of cross-country conflicts, yet still maintain a jingoistic military fetishism. To a point of commodification too. I would say plenty of the works of Ubisoft in recent years is an example of this, while the older style is more along the lines of CoD and Battlefield. Although those games have shifted over to this newer style as well to some degree.
1:00-2:00 wasn't Vanquish released in between a Gears of War and COD game, like the same week but literally in between them?
There's also the fact that like Anarchy Reigns Sega never really advertised it.
I think this is an example of sienfield's not funny, the idea that a media property that was innovative and revolutionary at the time is now so common place that it appears bland in comparison to more contemporary works. I experienced this with half life playing many years after release it felt competent but generic, same with legend of Zelda link to the past. The mechanics were innovative and made what Zelda is to a lot of people but now is somewhat bland. The same could be said for vanquish still good and ahead of its time but now very similar to other games. Same with spec ops the line only in a narrative capacity.
The bit about Vanguish seems to drag on for too long. I get it you feel like games do what this game did years ago and for that you feel like Vanguish feels not as unique. most of the video seems very repetitive. sorry if I came off as mean spirited, just constructive criticism.
Hey kuddo for beeing on the "oldschool veteran 360/PS3 players who originaly noticed the game and praised it" ;) my 360 copy is still here ! and i was like you "dammit !! it's only NOW they notice it's a great game and an hiddem gem ??" :p the same effect it was for me when i already known System of a Down here in France with their first album and music-videos, but when Toxicity was out EVERYONE was listening to SOAD !! i was pissed of :p
Fun fact: Initially, _Romeo and Juliet_ was probably intended as a tragic parody/deconstruction of a type of romance popular at the time. Yet as theater changed, and as Shakespeare himself changed theater, R&J remained relevant because it was still a good play.
I don't think the likes of Vanquish or Spec Ops: The Line are today's Shakespeare. (Maybe they are, but who can claim to know?) My point is much simpler; if a work subverting a genre continues to stand out as that genre vanishes, it can often stand on its own merits. We're still talking about these games, after all; if they've left us something to talk about, surely they still have some value in today's culture and market.
I really love your content so much that it has influenced me on the way I look at games and appreciate the work put into them by the creators. Although I'm nowhere near as you at analyzing games I wish to see you continue to create such amazing content.
Kind of more on the subject of game preservation, but do you think that the cross platform remakes of a game changes to a game bring different contexts with them? And more specifically how do you think that the game would be affected over time?
Like how Vanquished's controls being initially made for consoles have to change with the shift to PC. Or say Kerbal Space Program having to use a game pad for its console versions.
Surely the goal of all parody and satire is to make us think about tropes and assumptions that went previously unchallenged. That's something that can only really happen once, although potentially there's still room for detailed examination and nuanced review. I'd say that ironically for satire becoming redundant is the highest possible praise and remaining relevant is actually a failure to achieve what it set out to manage.
I'm even more surprised you didn't bring up RE4 which would have been a perfect comparison to what you are feeling. RE4 "started" trends and mechanics that have been in the gaming industry for years and coming back to RE4 , it feels exactly like you said : "A popcorn action flick"
I never really understood the hype behind Vanquish. The level design got progressively linear and enclosed and the core gameplay really never evolved or got interesting again. The highlight were the boss battles and even then the final boss was anti climatic and the game reused bosses multiple times. I found the entire experience to be meh
Your whole bit around 4:45, I'm gonna have to seriously disagree. Consoles still push more copies of popular games than PC and there are still countless "a thing did this successfully so now we all have to copy it wholesale" games cranked out every year.
Things really have not changed much, only the cost of development has gone up.
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