The People vs. Saints Row: The Third

The Schlock and Awe of Saints Row: The Third

Warning: Contains Spoilers

Saints Row: The Third is a chaotic mess.

Fuelled by bad jokes, misogyny, clichés,  and puerile humour. The game is fugly, with character models that look like a 360 launch title, pop-up at every stage, clipping, characters getting stuck in walls, frequent game-breaking crashes. It’s almost as if the game never made it through THQ quality assurance. It’s hard to gauge what the dev team were thinking …

Who is the target audience? We can only presume its adolescent Middle American kids amped up on Mountain Dew.

Its schlock and horror all the way. Surely the Dev Team (all of whom are grown men) are ashamed of themselves? Saints Row: The Third is a symptom of a global entertainment industry that has spent three decades emptying the pockets of men aged 18-35. Never before has an industry pursued a section of the core demographic with such vampiric zeal. Its proven very lucrative, resulting in a multi billion dollar honey pot.

Saints Row: The Third is the epitome of Give The People What They Want™.  Henry Louis Mencken called it in the line “No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.” (The Chicago Tribune , September 19, 1926)  Switch American for Western, and its equally valid.

As an Intelligent Gamer™ its hard to reconcile finding pleasure in a cookie cutter open world, that steals from GTA and Crackdown so shamelessly. The GTA comparison is lazy and hackneyed, Saints Row: The Third is a bombastic theft of Crackdown’s pace and core mechanics augmented with gaudy outfits and dildos.

This is the game that asks you to attack an Airliner, fall out the back in a tank, engage in a mid-air tank battle, crash land in a chemical plant thereby releasing toxic fumes which results in the inevitable Zombie infestation. A call to Mayors office results in being asked to wipe out the infected by Burt Reynolds, Burt-fucking-Reynolds. Wait a minute. Did this game just become genius?

Burt-fucking-Reynolds

This is the game, that in the mission ‘http://deckers.die’ pitches the protagonist as a hopping toilet in a game world ripped from Tron, flipping to text adventure, a pastiche of the tank battle from the Atari 2600 game ‘Combat’, punctuated by a fake error screen and a final battle that evokes Japanese mecha titles. In a single mission Volition has created a knowing intelligent polished collage of video game culture, supremely playable and exceptionally clever. It’s at this point if you wonder if there were two competing Dev. teams. Are they really the same team who created the Gimp Pony race segment?

Saints Row: The Third is a video game made for the Daily Mail, to demonize, deride and promote. It’s a game aimed at the increasingly entrenched core gamer (most likely in his room at his moms house), it’s the reaction to the earnest nature of Rockstar’s output, an attempt to recreate WarioWare for the post pubescent. It’s a game made by a schizophrenic dev team who were so keen to shock that they diluted the core pillars of the game to a frameless shopping list in a hollow game world without life or verve. Saints Row: The Third is also a highly accomplished third person shooter, with robust key mechanics, responsive vehicle controls and some astonishing set pieces, sadly populated by characters who are loveless and unsympathetic. Its morality is highly questionable, and in places unnecessary.

Volition cast their net of references so wide, with  a hope of hitting the buttons of the target, they frequently miss the mark. On rare occasions they nail it. They would do well to focus on these moments. Alcoholics call them ‘moments of clarity’. Volition have the potential to make an exceptional Saints Row, underpinned by intelligence and surreal humour, the puerile media baiting tactics are holding them back. Only then can the franchise step out of the shadows of its peers.

If Volition follow the current path, it’s simply a race to the bottom

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How GameLine foreshadowed Xbox LIVE [by Twenty Years]

Meet the GameLine

In 1983, the prospect of downloads to consoles was unthinkable to many.

Bjorn  Borg had just retired from Tennis, the last episode of M*A*S*H had just aired and most importantly the NES launched. In hindsight it feels like the dark ages.  In 1983 GameLine appeared. GameLine looked like an oversized Atari 2600 cartridge, and was a dial-up modem that could download games to your console. In 1983 the Atari 2600 was six years old, only a  year earlier the ‘Darth Vader‘ iteration had come to market. For the record, this was a nickname.

"Xbox LIVE, I am your father!"

The prospect of downloading games at that point was effectively ‘science fiction’. The English nation was still wrestling with loading games onto the ZX Spectrum from cassette, downloading may as well have been alien technology, and effectively was. Alien tech it appeared was everywhere, as in 1979, Kane Kramer invented the first digital music player, in 1981 he filed his UK patent application. The early 80s was clearly tin foil hats and Mel Gibson all the way. However it wasn’t until 1996 that Audio Highway made the first commercially available MP3 player in 1996. Apple wouldn’t crash the party until 2001. Xbox LIVE wouldn’t be launched until 2002.

So why did it take so long from inception to marketplace success? In simplest terms the infrastructure simply wasn’t there, from a technological and cultural perspective. Dial up connections in 1983 were the preserve of scientists, nerds and maths teachers. The rudimentary wonders of the 2600 were enough visual shock and awe  for a generation. The high street was still king and the internet was ‘never going to take off’. GameLine typifies an inherently disruptive technology that would pave the way for those following it. The challenges GameLine faced are still evident for services like Onlive today, publishers were inherently suspicious of GameLine meaning that many top-tier game never appeared on the service, none of the key third parties at the time supported the service (such as Atari, Activision, Coleco, Mattel, and Parker Brothers).

GameLine went bust in 1983, but key members of the team became integral to the success of AOL. Whilst it didn’t have the connected gameplay features of LIVE, that honour would fall to the Dreamcast in 2001, it did introduce online leaderboards. Almost two decades later Xbox LIVE supported by a global corporation finally nailed the proposition and infrastructure. Relatively speaking, the global Xbox LIVE remains small (35 Million current members), but indicates that the experiments made thirty years ago were entirely on target. R.I.P GameLine.

 

 

The Billion Dollar Roll: How Tenpin changed the direction of video gaming forever

The rapid advancement of technology is often characterized by a simple theme. The desire to  communicate gave birth to the fax, mobile phones and the Internet. Video gaming has also had a common theme that has unified families, driven innovation in the arcades and ushered in the greatest step change of the current console generation: The widespread adoption of motion control. The unlikely lightning rod for this continual and unabated drive towards innovation has been the desire to replicate (as closely as possible) Ten Pin Bowling.

Video Game bowling is one of the most played video games genres in the history of the industry. This fact alone is astonishing. And also raises the question why? How is this even possible?

Bowling is cited as having its roots in Germany in 300 AD, with the first formalised rules coming into place in New York in 1895. Bowling for the Atari 2600 was released in 1978. A year later Midway released 4 Player Bowling Alley into the Arcades with a table-top cabinet that had two trackballs that looked and felt like bowling balls, the cabinet evoked the feel of the bowling halls with its wood effect veneers. In the years that followed there was a constant stream of Arcade and Home console iterations of the sport.

Ten Pin Deluxe (Bally Midway) hit the arcades in 1984 and was a shuffleboard bowling game integrating a puck and a monitor. It was also one of the greatest cabinets ever conceived with a faux wood lane and again attempted to replicate the motion of bowling in the best way possible at the time. These crude iterations were paving the way for intuitive motion based controls driven by the fact that bowling was hugely popular as a mainstream leisure activity that has an intuitive and familiar mechanic and a robust and enduring appeal. The formula was attempted over and over. The continued migration away from gimmick to video game simulation culminated in Alley Master (Cinematronics) which hit the arcades in 1986, complete with improved graphics but an ill-considered choice of stick input.

A decade later the next major innovation happened in the handheld space when Virtual Bowling made it on to the ill-fated Virtual Boy in 1995. Nester’s Funky Bowling followed it up in 1996. Through the 1990s iterations hit the PC, Playstation, Gameboy, Nintendo 64, SNES and Xbox in the 2000’s Bowling came onto mobile and iOS in the form of Midnight Bowling and PC browser-based oddities like Polar Bowling and Elf Bowling bemused rather than amused. Konami brought Simpsons bowling into the arcades in 2000, and rather than make a bold attempt to deliver the depth of lane found on the Virtual Boy Konami made the interaction more visceral by utilising a trackball.  Michael Jackson was such a fan he owned cabinet number 42145. Silver Strike Bowling revolutionised out of home trackball ten pin in 2004 and 2010 changed the game with a connected LIVE experience throughout the United States. Trackball Ten Pin had reached a high watermark that it looked impossible to surpass.

The definitive moment in the evolution of video game bowling came in 2006, 28 years after the release of bowling on the Atari 2600. Wii Bowling shipped with every Wii outside Japan. Globally the mainstream fell back in love with Video Game bowling. Wii Sports is the best-selling video game of all time which (at time of writing) had shipped around 76 million copies. 85-year-old John Bates is currently the Worlds Greatest Wii Bowling Player having bowled in excess of 2,850 perfect games. He pwns on Wii Bowling.

Kinect perfected the formula further, to a point where the experience delivered by Kinect Sports is rewarding, intuitive and great fun. The Nintendo Touch Generations dream had finally become a reality, sadly not on a Nintendo platform. Pwned. Finally it seems as if the abolition of the prop has defined the genre. This memo was clearly not received by CTA digital who smelt gold in them thar video gaming bowling hills and created peripherals across all three current gen machines.

Microsoft went all in with a marketing budget for Kinect of half a billion dollars. I can’t help but think this is because they knew they had the video game bowling crown in the bag.

Let’s hammer the pocket.

News Just In!

Cory Archangel has an installation called Beat The Champ running at the Barbican, London until 22nd May 2011. I can’t wait to see it. It’s an installation based on the sounds of Video Game Bowling

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