Dan Houser: “Fuck all this stuff about casual gaming”

6 05 2008

Boom Blox

Rockstar North have always been very culturally switched on, but now not only are they expressing that in their games, but in the people they talk to publicly as well. Manhunt 2 seemed to signal a big change in the way Rockstar dealt with PR and controversy. They’re out in force to support GTA IV and are doing really well at hitting it home as a cultural event.

It’s easy to take Houser’s words out of context with everyone in the games press using those ones as the headline, but here’s the full quote:

Yeah, fuck all this stuff about casual gaming. I think people still want games that are groundbreaking. The Wii is doing something totally different, which is fantastic. We’re hopefully going to prove that there’s also a very big audience for people who want entertainment in another form, who think of games as being a narrative device that can challenge movies. We always said: We’re not going release a large number of games. They’re going to have the production values of movies. They’re gonna be about themes that interest us whatever the medium, instead of the weird, special video game–only themes that too many people make — orcs and elves, or monsters, or space. We felt you could make a good game and have it be about something we could actually relate to. Or aspire to.

Naturally, a lot of games are staying well away from release dates in the week after GTA IV landed, but interestingly, not Wii title Boom Blox, which is released on May the 9th in Europe. GTA IV will probably have little impact on it, given that the Wii is such a different market.

Together, Houser’s words and Boom Blox are quite a challenge to the shovelware that’s been inundating it (I like the idea of the Wii, but nothing has convinced me to get one yet. I live in hope).

The limits on the craft of games are mainly technical and financial. While it can be difficult and risky to push cultural limits outward by trying new things, the Wii and casual markets seem to have been catastrophically conservative so far.

Grand Theft Auto IV

30 04 2008

Grand Theft Auto hit retail on Tuesday, and is expected to eclipse the launch of Halo 3 last year. GamesIndustry.biz reports that play.com was receiving 80 orders per minute on launch day (though it doesn’t specify how long for), and Jason Kingsley of Rebellion has spoken up for Britsoft:

“This is world’s biggest launch in the games market and the intellectual property is actually British made, he explained. “I think that’s fantastic. It should be celebrated.”

Mainstream press coverage has been surprisingly positive, if quite formulaic, with much of it devoting a lot of time to “Other forms of entertainment have sex and violence too”. This is old hat for game developers, but nonetheless a vital part of pushing this conceptual framework out into culture. Plenty of editors and writers, along with their audiences, could still do with having this point hammered home.

NPR have said many of the same things, but it’s by far the most thoughtful piece I’ve seen in this vein.

Edit: Richard Bartle has written a fairly crowing but pragmatically brutal piece for the Guardian:

They’re no more concerned about “moral decay” or “aggressive tendencies” or any of the other euphemisms for “ohmygod I don’t understand this” than you are about soap operas.

We’ve definitely hit a turning point in the cultural dialogue, with so many more things emerging that we can point to as “games”. Fears over videogame violence are soon going to seem as irrelevant and niche as the same fears over comics.

GTA IV Delayed… Suddenly

9 08 2007

News has been percolating for a nearly a week that GTA IV is delayed. It was going to be released in just a few months, yet now apparently needs an extra six months of development time:

“Certain elements of development proved to be more time-intensive than expected, especially given the commitment for a simultaneous release on two very different platforms.

Source: 1up

It seems very fishy that development could hit such a huge issue with no precursors until such a late stage. So what else could it be? Fallout with Sony over the exclusive XBox 360 content? Checking every last texture to make sure it there are no Hot-Coffee style incidents?

Rockstar Respond to BBFC

20 06 2007

Rockstar have issued some rather restrained objections to the BBFC’s decision to refuse Manhunt 2 a rating:

“We believe all products should be rated to allow the public to make informed choices about the media and art they wish to consume. The stories in modern video games are as diverse as the stories in books, film and television. The adult consumers who would play this game fully understand that it is fictional interactive entertainment and nothing more.”

Manhunt 2 Denied UK Distribution

19 06 2007

It’s been almost a decade since a game was rejected by the BBFC, but Manhunt 2 has earned the “honour”. Every time I’ve seen people from the BBFC speak, they’ve been very switched on and interested in safeguarding media rather than censoring it, defending games and criticising negative newspaper coverage.

It seems Manhunt 2 has no such merit though:

“Rejecting a work is a very serious action and one which we do not take lightly,” BBFC director David Cooke stated. “Where possible we try to consider cuts or, in the case of games, modifications which remove the material which contravenes the Board’s published Guidelines.

In the case of Manhunt 2 this has not been possible. Manhunt 2 is distinguishable from recent high-end video games by its unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone in an overall game context which constantly encourages visceral killing with exceptionally little alleviation or distancing.

There is sustained and cumulative casual sadism in the way in which these killings are committed, and encouraged, in the game.

Although the difference should not be exaggerated the fact of the game’s unrelenting focus on stalking and brutal slaying and the sheer lack of alternative pleasures on offer to the gamer, together with the different overall narrative context, contribute towards differentiating this submission from the original Manhunt game.”

I feel quite sad that Take 2 and Rockstar have kept on pushing at that boundary and image, especially after some of the smart things they did with Bully (Canis Canem Edit). They may be big, but this wasn’t clever.

The Three R’s – Rockstar, Responsibility, and Ruin(?)

4 04 2007

Wired writes on Rockstar’s Road to Ruin, and an astute short bit of commentary on it by Simon Carless on GameSetWatch.

Responsibility isn’t something that’s assigned to you It’s something you TAKE.
Ok, so maybe Rockstar doesn’t want to take larger social responsibility to make games with arguably more redeeming social values. Alright, fine – in any medium there’s always a place for pure entertainment sans meaning (far too big a place, unfortunately). Still, you’d figure they’d at least take some responsibility for the games they do make.
Now why would it be advantageous for them to take that sort of responsibility? Well, if they don’t defend their own games, there’s no guarantee anybody else will. Well, ok, that’s not exactly true. Somebody will do it eventually (Doug Lowenstein did), the question is what does that lack of responsibility & delay cost Rockstar? You’d figure they’d realize if they backed up their work a little more, they would probably have to withstand fewer lawsuits, for one.

That’s what makes them the worst sort of cowards – it’s not just that they’re not interested in saying anything of much socially redeeming value with their games, it’s that they don’t even have the balls to stand up for the content they make. They can’t even take responsibility for their own actions enough to say, yeah we made these games, we have a right to make ’em, they don’t make people kill each other, so fuck off. I guess they’re too busy finding thickly accented voice acting talent for GTA IV.

Borut Pfeifer

Usually that kind of spineless behavior meets its own just reward in the end, I think, over a long enough time period. But that’s the sad part, that’s just as likely to not happen (even with activist investors). The Housers are, admittedly, masters of their chosen form. They execute on their vision, and they are rewarded for it – so I don’t really see the ruin prophesied by the Wired article. The biggest chance for it to come about is not because they’re media shut-ins have torrents of lawsuits, that’s always been the case.

You may note that the new T2 CEO is the former CEO of BMG entertainment, where the Housers worked before being bought by T2 and getting turned into Rockstar. So I don’t think that Rockstar has any chance of getting axed, necessarily, in the near future 😉


2 04 2007

Shots from the forthcoming ‘Grand Theft Auto IV’ game. See the Koyaanisqatsi-inspired trailer here. Its good to see them actually take on New York, after the New York-inspired Liberty City of ‘GTA III‘. Hints at the possibility of Rockstar et al moving into the city simulation business (LA/San Francisco, Miami, NY), rather than games/movies as such. The people-trafficking story seems suitably Rockstar, It would be lovely to move around, and listen to, this New York.












Rockstar: Grand Theft Auto IV