According to pretty much anyone you ask, Valve recently made one boneheaded move and one reasonable and understandable move. The question is which one came first and which one came second, and that speaks to something interesting going on underneath.
Not oh-so-long ago, Steam opened up the option for paid mods via the Steam Workshop. There were two camps involved – one that was convinced this was utter brilliance and another that was certain it was the worst thing ever. It didn’t matter in the long run, of course, as not even a full week later Valve announced that it was pulling the test program, offering refunds to those who paid, and so forth.
By itself I find this all kind of uninteresting. I don’t have a horse in this race. What fascinates me is the fact that both sides in this particular tempest in a teapot have very firm ideas about which side of the debate is the side of the angels, and the very idea that there is an opposite side seems laughable to them.
Anyone who has talked to me for a little while knows that I love Super Metroid. And I genuinely love it, have loved it for years, will not and, I feel, should not stop loving it. It’s a magnificent game, setting a standard for an entire genre that has frequently approached it and danced around what it accomplished without ever surpassing it – in a method that’s neither a disservice to the original nor a mark of shame for its numerous spiritual and literal successors.
Environmental Station Alpha is not Super Metroid. I don’t know if it can be Super Metroid, for that matter; that’s a high bar to aim for. What I do know is that I cannot in good conscience call it a bad game, but at the same time I can’t really say it’s a good one. It understands the formula, but it never feels like it’s actually transcending that formula, just twisting a new riff on it with minimal inventiveness.
Every time someone starts in on another rant about how terrible cutscenes are in video games, I think of two games. I think of Half-Life 2, and I think of Final Fantasy VI.
When I played Final Fantasy VI, it was early in my career of playing console RPGs, and I would be lying if I claimed it didn’t have a profound effect upon me as a person. Sure, the cutscenes contained therein were not the elaborate CGI sequences that would come in later games, but for the first time in my life I found myself feeling affection for the characters on the screen in ways I hadn’t thought possible. I remember feeling Celes’ pain in a musical sequence speaking of a love that she hadn’t ever experienced, Terra’s fear at being nothing more than a weapon, the slow pan into the town of Narshe for the first time.
I also remember Half-Life 2‘s complete lack of cutscenes, and how they made the game feel at once less interactive and less narratively linked. Sure, I could move Gordon around during the not-technically-cutscenes, but I couldn’t interact with anything. I couldn’t affect change. I was talked at, not to, and in response I was a mute. And it strikes me, not for the first time, that when we talk about these things we’re only really internalizing the worst parts, not the whole thing.
It’s kind of hard to cut through the web of what’s actually going on with Hideo Kojima and Konami at this point, because it’s filled with statements, counter-statements, and at one point I think a press conference was held that turned into an unskippable 40-minute cutscene that lost narrative coherency five minutes in. It seems likely that the man himself is no longer with the company, but maybe he is, but maybe he isn’t; who knows, and does it matter?
The answer to that one is both yes and not really at the same time, because we can be sure that new Metal Gear games will still be coming out and we can be sure that they will be a mixed bag at best. But if we’re being honest with ourselves, that was always going to be the case. Making a new game in that franchise is a hard project for a variety of reasons, and it’s only going to get harder.