I love me a good narrative. I can discuss storylines for hours. Intense debate on character motivation? I’m in. Sometimes my “passion” for such things make it seem like I’m threatening physical harm upon the person I’m “talking” with. There have been a couple of discussions where I simply state the FACT that Fellowship of the Ring is badly written that have nearly ended in blood. (Not a bad story, an indisputable classic, but not the best example of the craft of writing a novel. Comment as you will, but the full argument should be in another post).
Storylines, plot, character. I’m a fan of them all and this applies to video games as well as movies, TV, and books. Half-life 2 is a beautifully crafted story, beautifully unfolded. The Godfather game plot managed to brilliantly fold itself into the fabric of the movie’s script. A good story can even overcome some clunky gameplay (I’m talking to you, GTA).
So why, you may ask, do I place what is perhaps the most un-storied First Person Shooter (a genre not known for complex narrative, summarized in all cases with the words “point, shoot”) as my number one love?
The key here is Valve’s ability to create some of the most distinctly archetypal characters ever seen. Nine of them, in fact. And they did it with design, animation, and one-liners. An amazing feat that stole my heart and keeps my brain spinning. I fall in love every time I hit the class select screen and choose which of the nine murderous rapscallions I’m going to play as for the round. The Sniper’s flick of his hat brim, the Soldier’s snap to attention, the Engineer’s slouchy nonchalance belying his easy confidence and competence. These simple animations convey reams of information about each character. Watching the avatars walk, run, and fight reveals even more about them. The Heavy’s trundling walk, the deadly grace of the Spy’s movements tell us who they are.
And let’s not forget the design. The Looney Toon-y, pre-war, hyperbolic look and feel of the game’s characters, environments, and equipment make it a feast for the eyes. The Pyro’s flamethrower alone is so cunningly crafted that it makes me believe it could actually be built.
Then they backed up all this silent cleverness with a series (not even completed yet) of “Meet the…” videos that even seen cold, without any pre-knowledge of the game (or even the genre), are high-freakin’-larious. Whenever I watch one, I am gripped by a need to play that character in-game and I enjoy it more each time.
I suppose I should also mention that TF2 is one of the most balanced FPS games on the boards. A stunning accomplishment when you’re dealing with nine distinct character classes. But Valve’s ability to create such a worry-free set of game mechanics only serves to highlight the subtle aspects of character and narrative that they’ve built into it.
It is fun, it is addicting, it is love. And not just in retrospect, without the amber-hued glow of nostalgia. I play it now, I’ll play it tomorrow, and we will always be happy.