Saturday, June 28, 2008

Death by Glow

Embarrassing. :)
In a race for who’s going to find the next coolest fluorescent colour to stick on your combat gear, and be sure to get shot within 0.158 seconds on the battlefield, I put an option on the pink, with, if possible, a heart shape gouged in the chest plate.

The problem, if there’s one – I think there is one – is that apparently, at some point, character designers forget about the people they’re creating, their purpose, and suddenly focus on the aspect to meet certain criteria and demand. Well, they’re asked to do so, and their stuff is greenlighted.

In some cases, it’s just for the worse. Wearing luminous beacons is not what I’d call a thoughtful moment of military design.

Most of them are well trained no-bullshit soldiers supposed to infiltrate epic enemy hideouts, or the most heavily guarded hives.
Monsters, aliens, spies, commies, whatever.

I’m not trying to badmouth those games. They are great pieces of actionware, and Dead Space looks absolutely promising.
But you know, in the army, shooting first is not an opportunity you’d turn down. Not being shot is even better, if you’d ask me. Making sure everybody can spot you in the dark is probably the last thing you’d actually put down on your wish list. I mean, why bother with camouflage and seamless colours then?

There are mitigating factors though. In Gears of War for example, the heroes are brutes with guns and chainsaws, they’re as sturdy as buffalos (I’m sure they couldn’t poke their noses with those fingers), and don’t wear any helmets, despite the presence of ranged weapons among the opposite army. So much for suspension of disbelief. But the game is about fun mindless high octane action, it’s not really meant to be that serious (though it does try in some ways), so this problem is not really one.

Another puzzling case is Haze. OK, it’s not true glow per se (even if promo shots have the gears literally puke yellow glow), but the spirit remains. Large patches of glaring yellow are featured on the combat suits, and they stick out so much that you still face a daring issue of nonsensical contrast which the super villain army doesn’t seem to care about. Why bother with high tech stuff and nectar biochemicals, when you give your men some equipment which dramatically reduces life survival on the terrain?
We understand nectar is yellow and is a big part of Haze, but you don’t see US troops wear red shirts with white stripes just because they may drink Coke.
Bee impression.

Now check out the Snakes, they’re given real stuff, gears which make a bit more sense.
On the good note, you also have the soldiers from Crysis (you know, the demo tech), or even Master Chief from the Halo series, thankfully spared the edgy glow. The Chief’s dark golden visor is reflective, but not shiny, if that’s what you want to know.

What really bugged me for all these years was how the much revered Tom Clancy would have games series, about tactical espionage and infiltration, rely on an action hero who wears goggles with three green torchlights in lieu of discrete hi-tech lenses. The Splinter Cell series take the crown here. The guy’s advantage is supposed to be his ability to slip through shadows, become the darkness, reach out from unexpected corners and ceilings, kill silently and return into the void. That’s without counting on the three stupid dots of light, which for some reason, seem to escape the sight of Sam Fisher’s targets. The game is cool, but I can’t help chuckle at this stuff.

In those dire times of design, where we keep hearing that games have to be more involving and have to rely on better storytelling, which means get infused an hefty does of credibility, even if the milieu is about fantasy or SF, you have to smile at the idea that those pleas for better immersion have to cope with credibility-depleted bullet-patterns of pure coolness blasting fist sized holes through the much precious faith.

Of course, games couldn’t be blamed for being alone there. In a large portion of futuristic TV shows, you’ll often see military men, humans or aliens, carry those gears or weapons with some glow on it, because glow is just so much better and, well, futuristic. If you have some glow, chances are that you’re advanced. In what? I don’t know, but you’re advanced nonetheless.
Somehow, this makes Old Snake’s sober gear even more primitive, coherently supporting the overall grandpa aura of the last volume.

At least, if you want to wear glow, do it right!

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