Keyboard GeniusesKeyboard Geniuses is our occasional glance at a few intriguing, witty, or otherwise notable posts from the community’s discussion threads. Comments have been excerpted and edited here for grammar, length, and/or clarity.  

The Voice Of A Generation

After 70 hours of tactical espionage action, Joe Keiser returned to Gameological Mother Base to deliver his review of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. At one point, he turned his attention to the casting of Kiefer Sutherland in the starring role—notably chosen over David Hayter, a 17-year veteran of the series. It was a decision Joe found odd considering Sutherland’s Big Boss is quiet and subdued to the point that he’s lost among the scenery chewing supporting cast. The Sutherland factor was a divisive one down in the comments. Skull Kid argued in the change’s defense:

I see it this way: David Hayter was the perfect Solid Snake. He got to play Solid Snake to the end, giving him what a lot of people (myself included) considered a pretty perfect emotional send-off in Metal Gear Solid 4. Sure, he came back for Peace Walker, but Big Boss had already been played by a different actor in MGS4.

Hayter would have had to change the way he played the character for this game; his Saturday-morning-cartoon voice wouldn’t have fit the tone at all. And if he changed his Snake voice, fans would be mad. Sutherland’s natural voice does naturally what Hayter has to strain his voice to do.

It’s just a James Bond thing for me. Connery will always be Bond, but god damn it if we haven’t had some other great Bonds over the years.

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And Hat Of Raylan Givens followed up with an even deeper dive into what makes Sutherland perfect for the Snake of this particular game:

Am I the only one who actually prefers Kiefer’s understated performance?

I am a big fan of the series (though not blind to its many weaknesses and baffling quirks), but I always had a bit of a problem with Hayter, in that his voice work emphasized one of Kojima’s biggest weaknesses. Hideo just can’t write good dialogue and the series’ main character suffers the worst from this. In theory, Snake is the ultimate archetypical American badass. He’s inspired by figures like Rambo, Snake Plissken, and Eastwood, and he embodies it in his looks, but once he opens his mouth, he just comes off like a witless doof. Most of Hayter’s voicework throughout the series consists of dialogue like:

“Huh?” “What the hell?” “What do you mean?” “What’s going on?” “This can’t be!” “That’s impossible!” “Who are You?” “A Hind…D?” “Metal…Gear?” “Genes?” “Nanomachines?” “A Ninja?”

Someone could argue that this isn’t Hayter’s fault but Kojima’s, and while that’s true, the voice work definitely doesn’t help. You can tell that the “grit” isn’t Hayter’s natural tone. He tries to overcompensate and ends up being too theatrical and forced. If I knew nothing about Snake and all I had to go off was Hayter’s performance, I would imagine him as this baffled bro, walking around with his mouth constantly agape.

That’s where Kiefer enters. Even though he is much less talkative this time around, it’s not like he doesn’t have a bit of Kojima’s melodrama to sell, and unlike Hayter, he makes it work. He sells it by going completely the other way. When Boss has his first conversation with Miller in the helicopter, right after he springs him from Afghanistan, Miller jumps into Kojima’s typical theatricality, dropping heavy lines as if he were talking about the end of the world. In return, Kiefer offers only a: “I am already a demon. Heaven is no place for me,” and he says it so matter-of-factly that he makes the line work. If it were Hayter saying it, we would be subjected to two characters trying to out-growl and out-hyperventilate each other with pseudo-philosophical melodrama. Yes, his performance is a bit out-of-place when compared to other characters, but I think I prefer his palate-cleansing naturalism amid all the theatricality.

Plus one could argue the out-of-place voice work emphasizes the feeling of isolation and loneliness that very much fits this older, disillusioned version of Big Boss. Gone is the boyish, earnest “Jack” from the Snake Eater era. This Snake is already one foot into becoming the grizzled old villian from the 8-bit Metal Gear games, and he is tired of other people’s bullshit. I loved that Snake is almost mute during the missions and emotes mostly through looks and reserved motion. It added a certain sad dignity to him, especially when surrounded by people who apparently can’t shut up and stop themselves from voicing their opinion on everything. I remember my first encounter with Quiet and the subsequent missions with her at my side. There was a feeling of mutual understanding between them—two soldiers who went through hell and left certain things unsaid, while everybody around kept on babbling. Some of these things might not be by Kojima’s design, and I might be reading too much into it, but hell, it works for me, so I’ll take it.

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Progress Quest

In the latest entry in our ongoing Special Topics In Gameology series on commerce in games, Samantha Nelson took a look at how World Of Warcraft’s complex economy has changed since the introduction of WOW Tokens—a digital embodiment of a one month subscription you can buy with real money or in-game gold—earlier this year. Down in the comments, Cirion started a conversation about how game itself has changed over its 11-year existence:

What about how the game has changed drastically in a fundamental way over the past 10 years to support what Blizzard thinks are the demands of today’s player? It has become, at least in my opinion, only a shallow and boring copy of its former self, a lobby MMO devoid of almost all the social interactions and feeling of exploration and living in a vast fantasy world. I have a direct comparison because I also play the classic game on a big private server, and the difference is mind blowing. They are two completely different games. And yes, vanilla WOW had quite some faults and weird design decisions, but it had a great sensation of playing the game and interacting with other players.

Blizzard’s focus on shiny surface content without any depth or longevity seems to have finally bit them in the ass, because even with the release of a big content patch, the game lost almost 3 million subscribers in three months, and there’s nothing new lined up until the next expansion to smooth that loss.

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Sleverin thinks Final Fantasy XIV faces a similar problem:

As an FF14 player, I have to agree with Cirion on this. That game suffers from a chunk of story being thrown at you that can be completed in about two or three hours, and then forcing you to wait 3 months for another chunk of story. In between, it’s a whole lot of grind sessions to hit weekly caps to get gear so you can fight the high-level content over and over…to get gear. Yeah, there’s some story in the high-level content. Once you get a decent group through the fights, which some people get good enough to do in an hour or two the first day of the week, it just stops being fun to play. I was really hoping that with the jump from 1 to 2.0 that we would have a bunch of dynamic content where players grapple with the forces of the Garlean army for territory and resources. Instead, I’m smashing through the same dungeons for hours at a time. I love exploring new areas, seeing the sights of new dungeons (and their challenges) and meeting new characters, but that fades when I’m just running through the same content over and over.

That said, I really enjoy most of FF14‘s story. The Garlean Empire is a great foe (although the game tries to make the Ascians the bigger bad guys, but I find them to be generic anime “super bad guys” that we’re supposed to hate because they look evil and have done a couple of bad things), and I look forward to more stories focused around them coming back as main villains. I do miss the old world of 1.0, though. It was darker and grittier. It felt a lot more like what living a life of adventure would be like: fearfully dangerous, full of grog and sexy ladies, and everyone out for a bit of coin and waiting to kill each other for it. They had to tone it way down for the revamp, but it’s still there. It’s just been kind of hidden in the background.

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Spurred on by Drinking_with_Skeletons assertion that the MMO black markets Samantha talked about might not pop up if the game were a little more fun to play, Venerable Monk recalled an example of players paying to level up, even when it hardly mattered:

I haven’t played WOW specifically, but I can certainly attest to the feeling of clicking through an Excel spreadsheet when playing MMOs. (And I happen to like making Excel spreadsheets!) Drinking_with_Skeletons hit the nail on the head when he said the game’s mechanics need to be engaging. If folks are having all kinds of crazy fun just playing the game as it was intended, the number of people that are compelled to skip the majority of it (leveling, resource gathering, etc.) is going to be much smaller.

Of course, there are always folks who simply will not be bothered to level up their own character, even when that leveling is largely meaningless. Back when Halo 3 was still huge, I learned that folks would buy an Xbox live account where the seller had maxed out the multiplayer rank. This rank didn’t give you any benefits beyond matching you with the best players, and it would drop you in rank if you started losing matches. But because it was an increasing number with a maximum possible value, folks would still buy an account and completely bypass a system designed to set up the most competitive matches.

On the other hand, if your game largely consists of clicking a box, waiting to see what happens, and then clicking another box, folks are absolutely going to want ways to skip that rote exercise. The one area that skipping content makes sense to me is when you want to rebuild a character. Instead of starting a new character from scratch (and maybe buying a second subscription), you drop a little gold or use a consumable item that lets you retool the character you already have. In this case, we’re talking about folks who regret some of their choices from back when they were young and naive, but don’t want to play the whole game over again to try out a different character build.

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That’s it for this week, Gameologiganders. As always, thank you for reading and commenting. We’ll see you next week!