But where, exactly, is the mystery or the intrigue in AvP or Doom 3? Rather than answering the player's unspoken questions, the audio logs in these games are just asking questions that the player could have answered yonks ago. "What the hell is going on here?" asks a nameless marine from AvP. "It's aliens," I could immediately reply. "Presumably some evil stupid dipshit is trying to farm them again for evil stupid reasons. I guess you didn't see the fucking cover art." In Doom 3, again, we know what's going on: it's demons from hell. There's pentagrams all over the place and part of the station seems to be transforming into an endoscopic view of somebody's colon. Is the mystery supposed to be that the station director guy is actually evil? Because I figured that out when he looked, spoke and acted exactly like Hannibal Lecter.
All of this has been leading up to what I believe to be the best use of audio logs: not using them at all. You don't need to whack players over the head all the time. A story, especially an interactive one, is considerably enriched by letting me fill in a few blanks by myself. This is something my serial bum chums Valve have always demonstrated very well. The scene-setting opening sequences of Half-Life 1 and 2, for a start, and the way the plot is carefully tied into the level design in such a way that it osmoses into one's mind without needing much expository midwifery. Left 4 Dead does that too, especially noticeable in the graffiti on the walls of the safe rooms. And then there's that moment in Portal where you stumble across the makeshift living quarters of a prisoner who's been trapped in the walls. A lot of the effect would have been lost if you'd found a tape recorder on the floor going OH BUM I'M TRAPPED IN A WALL.
"I wonder why they made the least interesting characters' campaign the longest? Doesn't seem like a very good design choice to me."
- reg42, referring to Aliens vs. Predator
Well, this is the thing, isn't it. The Marine campaign in AvP is not only the longest, but I suspect the template around which the rest of the game was built. I can't think of any other reason that the Alien and Predator campaign would both be first person, when their respective mechanics both emphasized awareness of one's surroundings that a third person viewpoint would have vastly improved (a third-person viewpoint is much closer to standard human visual range than a first-person one, which is more like the viewpoint of a man with one eye missing, or wearing a pair of VCRs as ear muffs).
If it weren't already obvious, there are a lot of purse string controllers in the entertainment industries who think that you're a retard. And a neurotic racist retard at that. They seem to think that any game that doesn't have someone you can relate to (read: a white-ass pretty boy) will fill you with disgust, and that any new setting or idea beyond what you've grown used to from a thousand identikit shooters will cause you to dive under the bedclothes and moan like a fearful camel. No-one wants to take risks, despite the fact that there are plenty of weird ideas out there that someone took a risk on and which did perfectly well, like BioShock.
This is an inevitable consequence of the games industry becoming wealthy enough to matter. No-one wants to go back to the technology and pay packets of the Commodore 64 era, but at least developers were free to indulge their weird ideas. I'd like to see a mainstream game these days about a man in a top hat jumping down a toilet.
Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.