In an age of 24 hour news coverage, it’s nearly impossible to pull a surprise game announcement off anymore, as leaks happen everywhere and many people have become jaded to the point of trying to actively guess surprises, lest they be accused of being caught off guard.
So when Hideo Kojima revealed that the mysterious upcoming release “The Phantom Pain” is in fact “Metal Gear Solid 5,” he pulled of one of the few genuinely surprising game announcements of recent memory, even though there will be a vocal contingent that suggests otherwise.
While seemingly of good spirits about the decision, when questioned if he was even asked to do the role, Hayter responded simply “nope.”
Now there are some possibilities of why this is. Without trying to break down the entire convoluted “Metal Gear” story to this point, there is a possibility that the Snake in this game does not chronologically sync with the Solid Snake Hayter famously portrayed (he could be younger). The only thing is, another character that is almost definitely in the game, Hayter also voiced in the series around the appropriate chronological time, adding some more “Huh?” to the confounding announcement.
Also the, possibly temporary, new Snake actor sounds kind of like a young gravely Christian Bale “Batman”, as opposed to the undisputed bad ass you get from Hayter.
Admittedly I was upset when I first heard this news. Traditionally video game voice actors do not upstage the characters they play, but Hayter became one of the few exceptions. His work is instantly iconic, and completely inseparable from the character to the point of becoming a large factor in many gamers preferring the English audio of the series to the original Japanese, which is a rare occurrence.
Ideally, animation (or computer programming) would give you the advantage of maintaining an iconic actor and not having to worry about the years ruining the physical attributes of the character they play. For instance James Bond needs new actors, while Homer Simpson does not.
Then again this may all be another Kojima ruse to rile the fanbase (if so, mission accomplished). Somehow though, it doesn’t feel like that, and instead sounds like a true goodbye to one of video gaming’s most important voices. Hayter’s work helped not only build one of gaming’s biggest franchises, but also helped show that cinematic video gaming was not only possible, it could excel.
While we’ll have to wait for the initial sales figures, considering how much of a critical hit it has been already, “Halo 4” is looking to become another runaway successes for the famous franchise. Having now played it, I’m thrilled at how the game truly does invoke that feeling of the original titles while not coming across as the cash-in of a well established formula that it so easily could have been. While it’s not quite so simple, we can thank this in large part to the efforts of the series new developer, 343 Industries, who have admirably taken over from the great Bungie.
When I first heard that there was to be a “Halo” game not made by Bungie, I got worried. Now that I step away from it though, I see that it really was the only way that “Halo” was ever really going to flourish again. In fact, the more I think about it, if we’re being honest, there are a lot of classic franchises that have gone stagnant and could use a fresh start courtesy of a new developer. Here’s five of the biggest examples.
The “Castlevania” series was forever altered with the release of “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night”. Gone were the days of the incredibly challenging and linear, classic 2D side scroller, and in came a new “Castlevania” game that emphasized exploration and advancement, similar to the “Metroid” series (coining the term “Metroidvania”). It was such a success in nearly every respect that it changed the outlook and direction of the series for years to come.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the problem is that was way back in 1997, and the series entries ever since have mostly fallen into the realm of knock offs of “Symphony of the Night” or misguided 3D action romps that are at best average, and at worst “Castlevania 64”. As all time great a developer as Konami is, they don’t seem able or willing to make a truly noteworthy entrant to the franchise anymore. It’s just impossible to believe that with the series rich timeline and incredible gothic atmosphere there isn’t a significant amount of fuel left in the tank. Whether it be a glorious and long overdue return to the series roots, or something else entirely, it’s time that one of the greatest series of all time reminded everyone why it is just that.
Who should develop: From Software, the makers of “Demon’s Souls” and “Dark Souls”. I salivate at the thought honestly, as both “Demon’s Souls” and “Dark Souls” feel like the direction the “Castlevania” series should have gone in long ago. They feature larger than life bosses, a variety of spooky enemies, and a “make you regret that you can’t stop coming back” level of difficulty. The series would fit the developer like a glove.
The James Bond franchise has seen more developers than the role itself has actors, which may help to explain why we still haven’t gotten a significant game from 007 and crew since the legendary “Goldeneye”.
That’s not to say that every entry has been as bad as the recent “007 Legends”, some like “Blood Stone” and “Everything or Nothing” are actually decent, but rather that the it is in dire need of a rejuvenation that no developer has been able to conjure since Rare. Even when they are not great, when we are treated to a Bond movie every 4 years or so, it always feels like an event, and consistently entertains in one way or another. Considering the wealth of material that the James Bond franchise has, and how much of that can easily translate to games, there is no reason that a competent developer shouldn’t be able to produce that same effect for Bond video games.
Who should develop: There’s a ton of candidates I would love to see take a stab at this, but the one that keeps coming to mind is Remedy (“Max Payne”, “Alan Wake”). They’re a developer that exceeds at creating atmosphere in their games, and when making a good Bond game, your first job is to perfectly capture that iconic James Bond atmosphere, without messing up the gameplay too bad. They’re not a huge developer, exactly, but the impossible level of polish and charm they put in their titles would be very welcome for a Bond game.
At times the “Star Fox” series feels like the Buffalo Bills of the early 90’s. Always so close, and never quite there. The original “Star Fox” was revolutionary for its graphical style, while 1997’s “Star Fox 64” had everyone believe that Nintendo had the next great franchise on their hands. From there, though, 2002’s head scratching “Star Fox Adventures” threatened to take the series into an ill-advised and unwanted new action-adventure direction, while every other release has been either a rehash or re-make of the originals, which in all fairness have been good enough to remind us of the series potential, but not great enough to put it over the top.
It’s time then for some new blood that can realize that the lack of games in the rail shooter genre, and the name power “Starfox” still has, and make it all come together for a glorious return to form. The last couple of “Star Fox” installments have produced quality with little to no effort, so it would be interesting to see what the result of an honest new full effort push would be.
Who should develop: This one is tough, but I’ll go with Ubisoft Montpellier. The development team behind the brilliant “Rayman Origins” can pull off that difficult mix of cartoon looks and intense gameplay that “Starfox” needs to succeed.
Ever since then, a few different developers have attempted to re-imagine the franchise and, with only a few very specific successes as exceptions, have all failed in providing any of the quality of the originals. “Silent Hill” was originally defined by its dread filled atmosphere and psychologically challenging scares. In shying away from an action first mentality, it provided a gaming experience that you almost regretted playing, but couldn’t help but be captivated by. The mystique and intrigue the series maintains is as thick as the fog that made the town itself famous, and there is still a lot it has to contribute in the right hands.
Who should develop: There were talks recently of Hideo Kojima taking over the series (which might actually happen), and while that would be fun, while I’m dreaming I’ve got to go with Frictional Games, the developers of “Amnesia: The Dark Descent” and the “Penumbra” series. They’ve been quietly making revolutionary and truly terrifying titles for years now, and a shot at more mainstream, big time success with the next “Silent Hill” game would be incredible.
The WWE Series
Along with titles like “Goldeneye” and “Mario Kart 64”, wrestling titles such as “WWF No Mercy” helped to make the N64 the system for multiplayer gaming. Of course that was in the heyday of wrestling, and of developer AKI who had a great feel for how to make a wrestling title sing with its gameplay. Since then the series has been passed off to Yuke’s, and while 2003’s “Smackdown: Here Comes the Pain” is one of the best wrestling titles ever, even the most hardcore of wrestling fans have been left feeling cheated by their most recent offerings.
Much like the “Madden” series the complacency of recent WWE titles has removed a real sense of urgency from the games that have taken the competitive spirit a title like that needs to thrive. Respectable attempts to keep the series fresh have been made, but attempt doesn’t mean success, and Yuke’s is sadly failing, even if their intentions are for the best. This game needs a new story mode, a new engine, and a fresh perspective. In short, a complete overhaul.
Who should develop: It’d be fun to see AKI, now Syn Sophia, do it, we don’t know how much of their team from the original is still in tact, plus this is about fresh starts. Instead, why not Team Ninja? The “Dead or Alive” fighting series has always been over the top and incredibly fluid with a variety of unique personalities, which are a few of the most important elements you need for a good wrestling game. Not to mention a Team Ninja developed WWE game would be original to say the least.
In 1954, director François Truffaut wrote a piece called “A Certain Tendency in French Cinema.” It was there he posed the ground-breaking theory that a film director could become an auteur. Essentially, Truffaut was trying to tell people that a true director created a film with complete artistic control, much in the same way that an author creates their stories. If this doesn’t sound mind blowing, you must remember that the film industry at this point was still largely under the thumb of the studio system. It was still strictly show business, and there was little mention regarding the higher idea of the art of filmmaking. Truffant openly challenged this idea with an essay, and then spent a career backing it up with works like the film “Breathless,” a movie so dynamic in its presentation and style, that those who “got” it, didn’t hesitate to call it art.
Of course, Truffaut wasn’t the first director to create auteur works of film. Instead, he was just the one to really stand back and look at this ability that a director had over his work, and lend a name to it. Jean Renoir, for example, had been creating “ahead of their time” works of auteur filmmaking all throughout the ’30s. Furthermore, Truffaut certainly wasn’t the last auteur as men like Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, and countless others since proved that a good director really does craft a film, and is able to transcend the idea of movies as mere industry in doing so.
I mention this because the truth is that up until this point, there are very few people who openly use the word auteur when talking about game developers. Fortunately, for anyone truly interested in the gaming industry, filmmaker David Grabias does use that word. Specifically, he says, “There are plenty of people who are known, but they aren’t necessarily known as auteurs. Within every studio there’s always one or two people who are really visionaries.”
Even more fortunate is that David is currently working on a series that looks to express and exhibit that very belief called “Critical///Path.”
Details are slowly emerging about the project, which has apparently been in the works for two years and is a culmination of over 30 hours worth of interviews with some of the leading minds in the gaming industry. Produced by Artifact Studios, “Critical///Path” will feature interviews with gaming developers that include Cliff Bleszinski, John Carmack, Hideo Kojima, Sid Meir, Will Wright and more. Each installment will showcase individual developers covering topics that range from industry specific subjects such as “First-Person vs Third-Person” to broader ideas like “Bonding Through Adversity.” Style-wise, the series is being compared by some to “Inside the Actor’s Studio.”
I love this concept, and the roll call of talent on hand so far is pretty incredible. What I especially love is that, unlike other video game documentaries and similar works, this isn’t a defense of the industry as much as it’s a celebration and exploration of it. When people like the developers mentioned are approached to defend the gaming industry (which happens far too often), they are naturally going to let their passion overwhelm them and come out with closed fists and defensive minds. An open forum like this instead allows them to take that same passion and come out with open arms, allowing anyone with a true interest into the artistic side of gaming, an unprecedented chance to gain an honest look at the processes and ideas that fuel it.
Besides, of course, providing these developers their deserved levels of exposure, that’s the other function I hope this series will ultimately serve. Because much like the film industry at the time of “A Certain Tendency in French Cinema,” the seeds for a true artistic evolution in gaming are well sewn. Really all we need is for everyone in the industry, from developers to fans, to enter the mindset that such a revolution is possible, because it’s already happening.