Where’s Naughty Dog When You Need Them
Although Nick Wanserski found himself enjoying the sights and stunts of Avalanche Studios’ Mad Max, he struggled with the game’s inherent incongruity. Avalanche’s Max is just as misanthropic as his filmic counterpart, Nick argued, but the chore-filled open-world nature of the game forces him to constantly, willingly insert himself into the lives of struggling wastelanders. In a rare Gameological Level 2 appearance, HobbesMkii agreed and explained why a more straightforward action game with a focused story would be a better fit for Max:
It seems like a Mad Max game is crying out to be more of a set-piece-driven narrative than an open world. We have a really good open-world Mad Max adaptation already: it’s called Fallout, and it’s sort of a big deal.
With a series of set pieces, you could tell a real Max narrative, where survival is the imperative, as well as being able to set up the sort of grandiose action the Miller films are famous for: leaping between moving vehicles, gun-play, brutal fights, etc.
There was a commentary a while back that argued, outside of the first movie, Max has always been a side character in his own stories. Road Warrior, Thunderdome, and Fury Road all tell stories about communities and their citizens that Max happens to help. Max himself is a static character. He is permanently scarred by his family’s death, his only humanity found in his reluctant altruism.
But while that would seem good for an open world, it doesn’t actually make sense in the Max mythos to give Max a level of agency he doesn’t ever possess. At no point in Road Warrior, Thunderdome, or Fury Road does Max pause in his adventure to go off and do the sort of thing we see in open-world games—hoarding currency, finding a new gun, etc. Instead, Max gets carried along by events—he gets chased by the War Boyz, he gets captured, he’s made into Nux’s blood bag, he escapes but is forced to exchange his help for Furiosa’s, etc. Same thing in the other two films, where he has no intention of helping anyone until he’s forced into it by circumstance, leading to a massive adventure. Max’s adventures always railroad him into a course of action. An open-world game tacitly requires you to be able to stop, go out, dick around, and come back to a community that hasn’t moved forward in your absence because you, the player, are the driver of all action. But the movies are about how much Max doesn’t really drive the action. The most he can do is steer it toward justice.
Have It Your Way
Yesterday, Patrick Lee delivered his review of Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, a spinoff of Nintendo’s series of life-in-a-town-with-anthropomorphic-animals simulators that focuses strictly on creation and interior decoration. Pat was particularly struck by the game’s lack of judgment, which he found to be an open invitation for unadulterated, playful creativity. For ItsTheShadsy, this gutting of Animal Crossing’s menial tasks make Happy Home Designer sound far more appealing:
Having never been interested in Animal Crossing, because of its seemingly Farmville-like chores, and having loved the decorating and design part of The Sims, this is extremely appealing to me.
Personalization has always been my favorite aspect of simulation games. There’s certainly lots of fun in tinkering with an ecosystem or model, but I always found the most enjoyment in being given reign to put a personal stamp on a simulation. Take Capitalism Plus. It’s an exceptional, rewarding simulation, but it plays like being an accountant for a large business. You can choose products and locations and names and such, but it never feels like you have much freedom to make it your own. There’s so much focus on the systems that it never lets you have the fun part.
So it sounds like this has all of the creativity portions and none of the pressure to produce something functional! Hooray. I also like that you get to design schools and public areas. There’s few games that let you take that level of control beyond personal spaces.
The game’s lax ruleset reminded SirExal of another, though oft-overlooked, design-minded Nintendo game:
The “as long as you satisfy two bullet points, you can’t fail” attitude reminds me of a similar system in the Style Savvy series of clothes-boutique simulators. As long as you get the article and/or brand and/or color and/or price the customer wants, she tends to be happy with whatever clothes or outfit you sell her. At one point, this resulted in one of my customers wearing an awful lime-green zigzag blouse and a clashing dress over it. “No, don’t wear it out!” I yelled.
The only taste that matters in either Style Savvy or Happy Home Designer is yours. This concept that you are the sole arbiter of what looks good has two major results. First, there’s the phenomenon mentioned in the review, where you can surprise yourself with what ends up looking good, especially when you get nothing but chirps of support from your computerized clients. But second, it lays a burden of responsibility on you: I can send Julia out in some sort of fusion nightmare of clashing patterns and pink bows, but there’s no reason to. There’s not even the troll-like satisfaction of an angry response. These people have trusted you to make something that looks good, and you feel that trust. These games make you do the best you can, by doing nothing but standing back and letting you.
(Style Savvy does have some restrictions. The first outfit I made in the game resulted in a polite refusal to the tune of, “Sneakers with a headpiece? Are you strange?!”)
What Happened, Mr. Hedgehog?
After many months of mostly painful research, Patrick Lee provided us with a retrospective on Sonic The Hedgehog’s six animated incarnations. As Pat sees it, they run the gamut from surprisingly watchable to downright awful, but even when they lean toward the latter, Sonic’s cartoons are at least notably weird. The games have brought plenty of oddness to the table too, especially after they moved away from the Sega Genesis. Don Marz tried to pinpoint the moment things really cratered out for Sega’s Blue Blur:
In Sonic Adventure 2, they forced you to play as Knuckles and the soundtrack was a short rap track with lyrics about the goal of Knuckles in the level, looped endlessly as you slowly climbed things. This was when the series ended for everyone except the dark things that crawl below. The games now pander to the exact audience that wants to hear the steps in a video game task chanted over and over every 70 seconds as they perform it.
It’s true. For every level the game has you play as Knuckles, Sonic Adventure 2 forces you to listen to a rap song about what Knuckles is seeing and doing in that level. In all fairness, the beats are pretty good—nothing but laidback, reverb-heavy hip-hop—but the lyrics? Well, let’s just say they lean on lines like, “It probably seems crazy, crazy, a graveyard theory/A ghost tried to approach me, he got leery.”
That’s all for this week, folks. As always, thank you for reading and commenting. We’ll see you next week!