Fallout 3 begins in Vault 101, an underground nuclear shelter that s been sealed away from the outside world for well over a century. When the player character reaches the age of sixteen, they tussle with a group of obnoxious delinquents calling themselves the Tunnel Snakes. They re greasers in the classic mould, with leather jackets, slicked quiffs, and bad attitudes.
This is Fallout s thing, of course. Its world is a kitschy retro-future, as predicted on the pages of pulpy 1950s science fiction. But replaying the game recently, it struck me just how little sense the Tunnel Snakes make, even in this fantastical, stylised universe.
Think about it. They re greasers—a subculture that emerged around a passion for motorcycles, hot rods, and kustoms—in a closed-off bunker of narrow tunnels, where where there are no roads or vehicles to speak of. Then there s those matching leather jackets they all wear with the intricate snake emblems on the back. Where did they get them? How did they make them?
According to Fallout lore, Vault dwellers wear matching blue-and-yellow jumpsuits with the number of whichever one they happen to live in printed on them. So why are the Tunnel Snakes wearing these jackets, and where do you get a biker-style leather jacket in a place that, presumably, has limited raw materials and no means to produce them? Where did they get the leather?
Jesus, who cares? you re probably thinking to yourself. They put greasers in because it s a 50s thing, and Fallout is a riff on 50s American culture, and they needed some kind of antagonist for the player during the Vault sequence. Yeah, sure, I could suspend my disbelief—and they are pretty funny, I suppose—but, to me, they re indicative of a larger problem in game design: style over function.
Stanley Kubrick was a filmmaker known for his obsessive attention to detail. In the documentary Stanley Kubrick s Boxes , journalist Jon Ronson digs through crates of archive material from the production of the late director s films, revealing the meticulous, fastidious research that went into their creation.
Mind-bending sci-fi epic 2001: A Space Odyssey demonstrates this perfectly. Everything in the film—from those great, spinning space stations to the infamous zero-gravity toilet on Heywood Floyd s shuttle—was designed with its function in mind. Kubrick and his team thought about how these things would actually work, and their designs were informed by science and astronautics, not by what looked cool.
It looks cool" is, unfortunately, the only thought that goes into a lot of video game designs—the costumes in Assassin s Creed being a prime example. The hood is an elegant, recognisable visual link between the games, but can you imagine sprinting and climbing around the Caribbean in Kenway s elaborate pirate get-up? Or hopping across the sun-battered rooftops of Constantinople in Ezio s frilly layers?
Alta r s white robes made more sense in the first game. There were fewer layers, increasing his mobility and keeping the Middle-Eastern heat at bay, and he could blend in with those groups of robe-wearing scholars. But with every game, more bits have been added to the costumes, and now they just look over-designed. They re supposedly a secretive, underground order of hired killers, yet they all wear matching hooded uniforms and elaborate belt buckles in the shape of their logo.
There s a bit in Aliens: Colonial Marines where you discover that Weyland-Yutani have—surprise, surprise—been conducting sinister, top secret experiments in the famous derelict ship. Except all the equipment and storage crates littered around the place bear their logo. Not to mention the fact that the crashed ship would have been destroyed by the explosion at the end of Aliens along with Hadley s Hope. Gearbox tried to retcon this in some follow-up DLC, but I m not buying it. They just thought, hey, wouldn't it be cool if you got to visit the derelict? And that s where their thought process ended.
To a lot of you, this will sound like nitpicking insanity. Just play the game, idiot! Who cares about all these dumb little details? you re screaming at your monitor, red in the face. Well, I do, obviously. But beyond my own tedious appreciation for practical, considered design, it ultimately makes games better.
Ridley Scott s Alien is one of the most remarkable feats of production design in film, and still stands up to this day. Have you seen the Blu-ray? It looks beautiful, and hasn t aged a bit, despite the chunky late 70s tech and flickering CRT monitors. This is thanks not only to the directing eye of Scott and the horrifying psychosexual art of H.R. Giger, but also concept artists Chris Foss and Ron Cobb s contributions.
I resent films that are so shallow they rely entirely on their visual effects, and of course science fiction films are notorious for this, said Cobb in 1979 s The Book of Alien. I've always felt that there's another way to do it: a lot of effort should be expended toward rendering the environment of the spaceship—or whatever the fantastic setting of your story should be—as convincingly as possible, but always in the background. That way the story and the characters emerge and they become more real.
This is why 2001 and Alien still look amazing, despite being, respectively, 45 and 35 years old. The interior of the Nostromo was so believable, Giger said in Famous Monsters magazine. I hate these new-looking spacecraft. You feel like they re just built for the movie you re seeing. They don t look real. Cobb, Foss, and Scott, like Kubrick before them, thought about the practicalities of the things they were creating, and they ve become timeless as a result—something I hope to see more of in games as they slowly leave their adolescence and become a more confident, refined artform.
So maybe it doesn t matter where the Tunnel Snakes got those leather biker jackets, or if they do indeed rule. But if video games are ever going to create worlds as enduring and convincing as the films mentioned here, and countless other examples I could list, they re going to have to start thinking about their designs beyond just aesthetics and the shallow concept of cool.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - email@example.com (Alice O'Connor)
As Sega and Gearbox scrap over liability in the class action lawsuit from folks who bought Aliens: Colonial Marines and felt more than a mite deceived, it’s getting a bit messy. Sega have dug out a big bag of internal e-mails to establish who exactly is responsible for some of the misleading marketing, including the E3 2011 demo that looked better than the finished game. Naturally they’re saying Gearbox were complicit, and that at times Gearbox president Randy Pitchford was “doing whatever the fuck he likes”. Oof.
The Aliens: Colonial Marines legal battle between Gearbox Software and Sega of America has become a little bit uglier, as Sega has filed documents claiming that not only was Gearbox an equal partner in the game's marketing, it sometimes took matters into its own hands and made promotional promises without the publisher's approval. The allegations directly contradict statements made by Gearbox in July, when it said that it was just a contractor on the game and had absolutely nothing to do with the game's marketing.
Gearbox made the claims as part of an effort to extricate itself from the class action suit over Aliens: Colonial Marines, brought over the vast differences between what was promised in "actual gameplay" demos at E3, and what was ultimately delivered. Its position is that it had no influence over the game's marketing and thus shouldn't be targeted by the suit at all; Sega, however, presented an entirely different perspective in a response filed on September 2.
Sega claims that Gearbox was an equal participant in the marketing campaign, and that while Sega had "absolute discretion" over marketing decisions, the contract between the two companies required that it consult with Gearbox on "all marketing activities along with sales pricing and forecasts," and "all other aspects of marketing, distribution and/or other such exploitation" of the property. Furthermore, the developer agreement stated that Sega and Gearbox would "jointly develop both a marketing strategy and a list of marketing assets," and listed Gearbox as the "sole creative directors" responsible for the majority of the Aliens: Colonial Marines marketing assets.
It seems that Sega at first intended to take advantage of Pitchford's high profile as a marketing tool, as a proposition document described him as a "respected development celebrity... guaranteed to be headline material in worldwide press coverage" and noted that Gearbox "must be given a certain amount of free reign to generate PR hits." But he had a habit of going off script, according to the filing, which culminated in an October 2012 conversation between Matt Eyre of Sega and Gearbox Marketing Vice President Steve Gibson, and ultimately a recommendation against using him for future promotions.
"I spoke face to face to Gibson about their persistent panel leaking," Eyre wrote in an internal email. "Effectively it's Randy doing whatever the fuck he likes. Apparently he did it twice on also, again, against all plans and despite the fact they asked him not to. I think our best result here is that we have no more panel sessions..."
The filing also specifically addresses the infamous demo that spurred the lawsuit in the first place. "The 2011 E3 demo plaintiffs complain about was created entirely by Gearbox, who then represented to Sega that 'the E3 demo is indeed the bar that we should use to determine where the game engine will be. That is Gearbox's plan and what they believe in'," the filing states. "Gearbox cannot simply disassociate itself from these statements and actions."
Sega agreed in August to settle the Colonial Marines lawsuit for $1.25 million but Gearbox refused to take part, leaving it exposed to future litigation. The studio is thus trying to have the settlement thrown out, but the Sega filing asks the court to reject Gearbox's opposition, noting that the studio was not "excluded from the settlement negotiations" but was in fact invited to participate and refused to do so.
The next hearing is scheduled for October 29.
The Aliens: Colonial Marines legal saga may be stumbling toward at least a partial conclusion, as Sega has tentatively agreed to pay more than $1 million to settle the lawsuit against it. The publisher hasn't admitted to actually doing anything wrong, of course, but the expense of litigation and the uncertainty of the outcome has left both sides anxious to grab what they can and split without a fuss.
The terms of the agreement, dug up by Polygon, state that Sega will pay $1.25 million for a "full release of all claims related to Aliens: Colonial Marines." Of that money, $312,500 will cover the plaintiff's attorneys' fees, a maximum of $200,000 will go to KCC Class Action Services for administration fees, the actual plaintiff in the case will get $2500 and eligible members of the class that is, people who bought the game on or before February 12, 2013 and fill out a three-question claim form will divide up the rest, with payments to individuals not to exceed the purchase price of the game.
If approved, the settlement will extricate Sega from the lawsuit, but not Gearbox. The filing states that following a failed mediation session in January, the parties involved "later reached the principal terms of a compromise settlement agreement that would have resolved all claims against Sega and Gearbox in exchanged for the creation of a $2 million settlement fund with a partial reverter of $750,000." That agreement ran into trouble, however, when the court "expressed certain concerns with some of the terms," specifically regarding the "reversionary aspect" of the settlement, which would have allowed part of the money to go back to Sega or Gearbox if certain conditions were (or were not) met.
Following that, the plaintiff was able to negotiate the current settlement with Sega, which explicitly states that "no amount of the fund will revert" to it, but not with Gearbox. Thus, "litigation will continue as to that defendant with the prospect of further recovery." If any money is left over from the Sega settlement, it will be donated to the National Consumer Law Center and Consumers Union.
The lawsuit was filed in 2013 not because Aliens: Colonial Marines was so bad, but because the actual game did not live up to what was promised in pre-release promotional trailers. Unlike Sega, Gearbox appears more inclined to fight the suit rather than settle it: In July, it filed a motion seeking to be removed from the action, stating that it neither published nor sold the game and thus "never belonged in this lawsuit" in the first place.
Gearbox Software was slapped with a lawsuit last year over the hot mess that was Aliens: Colonial Marines, and specifically that the final product was a far cry from what was promised in "actual gameplay" demos displayed at E3. Gearbox quickly dismissed the action as "frivolous" but otherwise remained quiet on the matter until yesterday, when lawyers for the studio filed multiple motions seeking to have it removed from the action.
The crux of Gearbox's argument is that it made the game under contract, and that the publisher, Sega, called all the shots and was responsible for all the marketing. Thus, any legal action should be aimed at Sega and in fact, according to the claim, Sega asked Gearbox to keep quiet about the suit so it could handle the situation itself.
"Gearbox never belonged in this lawsuit. Gearbox is a videogame software developer. It was neither the publisher nor seller of the videogame at issue," the suit states, as reported by Polygon. "For more than a year, Gearbox has quietly abided the plaintiffs' claims so that Sega, the game's publisher and the party responsible for the game's marketing and sale, could assume the defense of this lawsuit. Gearbox has honored its publisher's request in spite of plaintiffs' highly-publicized-and highly-misplaced-claims against Gearbox. At this point, however, Gearbox is obligated to pursue its rightful departure from this case."
In a deposition filed separately, Gearbox Marketing Vice President Steve Gibson denied claims that Gearbox used a separate engine to create pre-release demos, saying Epic's Unreal Engine "was the only game engine Gearbox used in the design and development of the game." He also said that Gearbox lost a lot of money on the project.
"During the development process, Gearbox supplemented Sega's development budget with its own money to help Sega finish its game; Gearbox's contribution to A:CM totaled millions, none of which was ever repaid," he said in the filing. "Gearbox never received money from Sega's A:CM purchasers, nor has Gearbox received a single royalty from any such sales by Sega."
Gearbox also filed motions to have the suit's class status removed, while attorneys for the plaintiffs filed a request to remove the original plaintiff, Damion Perrine, from the suit without prejudice or costs because he is currently incarcerated on an unrelated matter and thus "unable to continue his service as class representative."
Announcement - Valve
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - firstname.lastname@example.org (Brendan Caldwell)
We sent Brendan to Creative Assembly to meet the star xenomorph of their new first-person survival horror, Alien: Isolation. While he was able to file yesterday’s extensive hands-on report from the field, he has not been seen since. But a crack team of RPS androids infiltrated the facility and recovered a sticky voice recorder with his name on it, containing an interview with Al Hope, Creative Lead on the project and Jon McKellan, Lead UI Art & Design. Here is a transcript of that interview, in which they discuss why this is true to Alien, who else players may encounter, how they think they can keep a single foe scary throughout, hiding in lockers for ten minutes and how and why Ripley’s daughter is the protagonist. (more…)
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - email@example.com (Brendan Caldwell)
We have all been burned by past Alien games and I would like us to maintain a healthy scepticism about Creative Assembly s recently unveiled Alien: Isolation, which I went to see and play just before the turn of the year. With this in mind, I believe it an obligation, before we begin discussing this new threat, to observe a moment of silence in which we can all remember the brave souls we lost to the Colonial Marines disaster.
*an eerie hush envelopes the world as billions of people solemnly mute Spotify>*
The good news is that, despite keeping that scepticism intact, my recent hands-on with Isolation has given me cause for hope. With luck (and no small amount of effort from the development team) we are a little closer to having an Alien game that actually captures the feel of the original movie. (more…)
Aug 30, 2013
Announcement - Valve