Monday, 29 March 2010

Only the good die young...

Bad things bring me joy. It is a strange admission, but one I’m comfortable with. I don’t mean bad awful things, not stamping on puppies or feeding octogenarian faith-healers to sharks, as attractive a prospect as it can sometimes be on a slow Sunday afternoon. It’s just that I’ve come to appreciate a fundamental truth: bad entertainment is an art form, and one I can really get behind.

Yes I say, art form. Godzilla may have just been a small rotund man in a rubber suit, paid to stamp energetically on a prized model railway layout of Tokyo while battling another little rotund man in another rubber suit, but inside that demented image lay the seeds of genius.

It isn’t just the special effects, although anyone familiar with such greats as “It came from beneath the sea” knows the thrills of a budgetary-constrained , six armed, stop-animation octopus (or “Hexapus” as Ray Harryhausen dubbed it) can rarely be beaten by all the CGI known to man. No. It isn’t the campy acting either, although I’d have to admit this is where the lions share of my pleasure originates, fostered one rainy autumn in the 90s when I was stuck alone with a only a pile of Shaw brothers Hong Kong films to sustain me. It’s the cats ass, Jackie.

Sometimes, just sometimes, you get a perfect storm, where everything goes utterly boobs to the sky and bang, it happens. Utter abysmal perfection. The “Plan 9” moment.

Until recently this has been mostly the purview of film, the fast pace and audio/visual juxtaposition a perfect canvas for the paints and ink of sub-greatness, a medium capable of such sublime crassness that it can effectively ironically parody a piss-take. “Lobster man from Mars” and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” being a case in point, the former being possibly the best film to feature the late, great, Patrick McNee in a crustacean related role.
But games are not wasting any time catching up. The problem we face is that while bad game mechanics can be laughable for a short while they also function as a barrier to the real meat and potatoes of the game which leads to frustration, and the death of puppies (see above).
Nevertheless bad dialogue and awful acting is as integral to games as a mouse and keyboard interface. Often translated games feature the finest examples of this, all of your grammar indeed does belong to us, however it is when the whole package comes together in just the right way it transmogrifies to something special.

My current favourite came when revisiting the Witcher the other day. Having had the game since release but only playing an hour of it in total I was prompted by the recent revelation of the sequel to go reinstall and play it again. After waking the young, attractive and leather-strainingly pert young witch from her coma in our tower, I (or rather Gerault) has his wicked Witchery way with her*, and then gets send out to some backwater village to find out unspecified “things” from people. All good stuff so far.

A cut scene sets the tone with a conversation between a boy and a woman who seem to have SUDDEN SHOUTING SYNDROME. They walk home, through the dark, monster infested wilds. Arguing loudly. The boy has to be cajoled to go anywhere, as he is presumably eager to hang about in the dark and get eaten. Sheesh. The youth of today. I just whined about getting a skateboard.

Predictably, giant green death dogs show up and the little sod is off like a hare, abandoning his sister/mother/guardian to her fate. The guards slam the town gate, behind the boy , but right in her face and we segue to the best cut-scene in the game so far: The camera flicks quickly between portraits of several characters who utter a variety of profundities like: “What is it?” “Oh no!” “They are coming!” “You can’t go out there alone, they will kill you!” “Hmm, monster attacks are getting more common these days.” “here they come!” .

Then you get dumped into combat.

It feels utterly incoherent in the same way that a story told by a gibberingly intoxicated person can be. You know there is some intention of purpose but no amount of contemplation seems to unlock the secrets therein. A later conversation with an innkeeper is equally jarring as it bounced about between sulky irritation, threats ,and business as usual. As for the barmaid... one innocent remark later and she won’t talk to me except to call me a pervert.

All of this has won me over to the whole Witcher experience. I’ve been told that there is an enhanced version that cleans up the dialogue, sorts out the random volume problems and is better translated but I’m worried now that it may ruin my fun: a clear cut case where improvement is not always the best choice.

Why be averagely bad when you can be completely, utterly, gloriously, awful?


*Presumably with his wicked witchery willy in a wilful and wanton way.

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