Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Photojournalism: The Game

I just started playing Beyond Good & Evil, Ubisoft's cult favorite from 2003. So far, I have to say I'm impressed. It's a great example of how games can start to focus on mechanics that don't center around combat. Sure, BG&E has fighting (simple stick-beating-type fighting), but most missions seem to revolve around taking pictures. In a lot of ways, the photography interface is like a first person shooter; you point and shoot. On the other hand, the power of the mental shift from firing a gun to snapping a photo is such that it feels like a totally new and fresh mechanic.

One ongoing way of earning money in the game is to take pictures of local flora and fauna for a scientific archive. I've found that even as I approach a battle, I try to take pictures of the creatures I'm about to fight, some small part of me hoping that I can preserve them even as I destroy them. That's a pretty impressive achievement in terms of complex emotional reaction to the game. I find it extremely hopeful for games in general that such a simple re-imagnining of a standard game mechanic can make such a huge difference in the emotional impact of the game.

BG&E doesn't just stop there, either. With a (sometimes heavy-handed) story centered around government corruption, issues like freedom of the press and the importance of free information are tackled as the main themes of the game. This is a game that is about revolution through photojournalism, and even though it's set in a science fiction world, this theme seems far more culturally relevant to today's world than most shooters, even those set in historical periods. In a world where a government tries to keep photos of dead soldiers or snapshots of prison abuses under wraps, a game about exposing the truth through pictures hits close to home.

And in addition, we get a new kind of action hero, the journalist.


At 5:45 PM, Blogger Saralah said...

You forgot the other revolutionary piece of the game design here - BG&E was I think the first and only game I've played with a female lead that is not hyper-sexualized. Jade, while attractive, mainly displays the characteristics of bravery and kindness in the game. There is nothing sexual about her beyond her just being herself.

And on that note, combining the character design, art style (cartoony), simple game mechanics (one button to fight), and lack of gratuitous violence, it's a wonder and a pity that this game didn't sell better. I think if it had gotten the same attention as a franchise title, this one really could have grabbed much more of the ever-elusive girl gamer audience.

Beyond Good & Evil is definitely in my top 5.

At 5:59 PM, Blogger Clubberjack said...

It's interesting. I think BG&E came out around the same time as PoP:Sands of Time, which also had pretty woeful marketing. But somehow PoP got a sequel with lots of marketing behind it.

Judging by what they did to PoP with the "grittier, more adult" prince, I'm not sure I want to see what Ubisoft would do with a BG&E sequel. Would they keep the things that made it revolutionary or would they throw that stuff away in an attempt at capturing somebody's misguided notion of the mainstream market?

At 6:05 PM, Blogger Clubberjack said...

Also, Michel Ancel, the designer of BG&E, is leading the team doing the King Kong game. Sounds like it could be cool...

At 12:00 PM, Blogger OrangeDeca said...

I also hear the Peter Jackson (after getting sick of working with EA) specifically requested to work with Ancel on Kong. Its an interesting sign of progress in the industry when designers/producers have enough of a style to be "requested" by outside contributors. Lets just hope it doesnt go too Hollywood...


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