Snake? SNAAAAKE!

So, last night I went to a student stage production of Metal Gear Solid.

I say again: Last night, I saw a stage production of the original Metal Gear Solid.

Like, in a theatre.

I went (gobbling beer enroute) with the twin objectives of fulfilling curiosity and writing something funny about it for this blog.  Something like Charlie Anders’ review of the second Transformers movie, except not as good, because I’m not sure anything will ever be as good as that review.

I mean, how could this play not be the worst thing? The plot of MGS is a jangling gymnast that rolls back and forth and only makes sense on your 2nd playthrough. It’s also part tedious speeches and part bombastic action that wouldn’t work on a stage. The reason it works as a game plot is because the characters run over with personality, and you spend so long talking (or at least listening) to them that they claw their way off the script and into your head where they will squat for all time.

Now this play, it was bad. The actors weren’t projecting and any clever production (like Snake fighting a Hind-D that appeared on a projector) was way outweighed by scenes where costumed actors did nothing but act out cutscenes.

But I can’t write mad copy when the madness isn’t there. The audience were all familiar with the game in some respect and totally got into the show. The actors knew the game was camp and gave camp performances, peaking with an exceptional Psycho Mantis, not seen here. Here you’ll see a slightly less exceptional Revolver Ocelot. He loves to reload during a battle.

I’d gone to this show planning to write about how the actor playing Snake was beating my childhood to death with a rock, but it wasn’t that bad. Instead I got bored, and began thinking about how I’d produce MGS as a play.

Here’s what I’ve got so far:

If you’re creating a stage adaptation of MGS you can’t just recreate the game on stage, because MGS is not just a story. It’s a videogame, an experience that you personally live through.

My vision of an MGS theatre production opens with Snake infiltrating the docks as normal, except Snake gets shot and killed. You then bring a spotlight up on the right side of the stage where sits Simon, a lanky 14 year-old nerd done up in a hoody and glasses, sat on his bed and clutching a pad. The way I see this play working involves perhaps 60% scenes from the game and 40% scenes from the suburban household where it’s being played.

Simon is the awkward teen who’s bought MGS on release day. He’s got his 2 litres of fanta and a microwave pizza. He’s fucking excited. Following Snake’s death in the docks Simon grunts, the lights go down on him and back up on Snake as the two of them attempt the dock infiltration again.

The moment Snake is through the docks and changes into his sneaking suit, Steve’s doorbell rings. It’s his best friend Iarla and Iarla’s girlfriend Sarah, who Simon has a crush on. Iarla and Sarah have a shitload of cider and want to get drunk. Gradually Simon wins them over to the idea of playing this game while they all drink, and that’s your set-up. As the trio progress through the game in one sleepless night, you get both the game and their commentary.

Except Iarla does go to sleep. He gets wasted and has a nap. The plot then becomes Simon and Sarah having this shared experience, and you get to do something with all that rhetoric and sexuality that chokes MGS’s second half. As you’re watching Snake’s pep talk to Meryl in the ladies’ toilets or Otacon lamenting his love of Sniper Wolf, you’re thinking about how this would effect Simon and Sarah.

Simon, whose teen mind knows no bounds in its adoration for Solid Snake, begins taking the legendary soldier’s advice and working up to making a move on Sarah. Sarah, previously having no respect for games or Simon, begins seeing Simon differently as he lives through Solid Snake. She watches him wordlessly overcome tension to sneak through room after room, figure out how to escape the prison cell and become genuinely scared to protect Meryl. She sees a new side to him.

The game ends as dawn comes up in the real world. As Snake and Meryl share a skimobile out of there, Simon and Sarah look at each other. A moment passes. You’re praying for Simon to say something, anything. This is where Iarla wakes up and takes Sarah home. The audience get the hint that a seed’s been planted, but no more than that. The audience have already had their ending, with Metal Gear Rex and the death of Liquid and Gray Fox.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder if it could work. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll get to find out.

R.I.P. State

Not sure how useful this is to anyone. Gonna post it anyway.

I mentioned in that last post that I started off as part of a community of gamers called State. Some of you might know about it.

Now, this was just a forum of 60 or 70 relatively bright gamers with no platform bias who dumped out a poncy eZine once in a while (containing such treats as current editor of PC Gamer Tim Edwards writing about going down on his girlfriend while she played on a GBA). State wasn’t hugely interesting in itself, but what is interesting is how and why State shut down.

It’s a bit Bioshock, really. See, the promised land of State ended up destroyed against the will of its users by one very angry outsider with his own ideology. I know this, because I was that outsider’s only confidante.

CUE THE MUSIC.

A few years before State was shut down in 2005 a mysterious user called Super Foul Egg created a State IRC channel. Its purpose? To help organise multiplayer games of Operation Flashpoint. The channel drew a lot of interest, but after a chaotic first few weeks as State regulars drifted in and out of its revolving doors the channel became made up of some 15 regulars, myself included. We were #state.

Egg cut an… interesting figure. We knew nothing about him except that he lived in some tiny Northern Hellhole of a village, gave off the impression of being the sourest man alive and knew more about games than anyone we’d ever met. The years I spent sat in the #state channel absorbing his teachings were inarguably my most formative. Together the 15 of us played the most obscure and unmarketable mods and multiplayer games we could get our hands on. We spent a year plumbing the depths of ThieveryUT, and I spent just as long playing the dumbest stuff to ever come out for the SNES and PSX with Egg via the achy-breaky netplay of emulators.

Egg’s knowledge combined with his knack for clipped, razor-sharp witticisms meant no-one ever, ever won a debate with him. It became a running joke. It’s worth mentioning here that every time someone tries to goad Egg into games journalism, he replies that he’ll start writing about games when he’s played them all. Eventually the State forum and Egg’s channel became more and more distinct.

But that wasn’t quite enough for Egg.

The State forum was a place for people to talk about games. It always had been. Egg had ended up there because it was the smartest, most open-minded games community he knew about. But now he had his own community, with the key difference that this was a place where people not only talked about games but played them.

As the years ticked on the people on the forum began playing games less. They got older. They left school for university, or left university for full-time jobs, or found wives or kids or Eve Online, or sometimes didn’t find anything at all; content with what they had, they stopped playing new games. Yet what a lot of them kept was this habit of talking about games as if they knew what they were saying.

You have to understand this hurt Egg and myself because we were working so hard at playing not only everything that came out but blowing the dust of older releases we’d missed. And we knew how much we hadn’t played, too- I knew the Amiga was a vast gap in my knowledge, but the emulation of it was (and still is) a staggering bastard.

This disconnect between us and the forum culminated in 2005 when Egg and I were busy wading through the PS2’s endless release schedule. On the forum a thread was started by a forumite named Bobsy (a year too late) that called itself a review of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Once you opened it, the text of Bobsy’s thread simply read “Half-Life, too.”

Somebody asked him what he was talking about. It might have been me. Bobsy then carefully pointed out for us uncomprehending reptiles all the similarities between Prince of Persia and the original Half-Life; you were spending the whole game exploring a single environment while slowly unfurling a story.

…yeah.

CUE THE OTHER MUSIC.

What turned things like this from an annoyance into a dilemma was that the founder of State, a Swede called Oskar, no longer held the keys to the servers. He’d given them up a long time ago, and those keys (along with the server bills) had been passed from forumite to forumite until finally a Dutch woman named Pat who’d lost all interest in games gave them to her trusted friend… Egg.

You must imagine Egg going for a walk in the bleak country surrounding his home, torn apart by this responsibility foisted upon him. Could he let these people continue to discuss games so arrogantly, these people who didn’t play many games anymore and were no longer earning their tone of superiority?

Worse, word was starting to get around that joining State was some kind of fast-track to games journalism. This changed most of the fresh meat we were getting from people who saw the level of conversation and decided they wanted to be part of that to people who simply wanted to get into the games industry. As Egg said, “People who couldn’t quite pull it off.”

Compared to the rest of the gaming forums on the internet State was still perhaps the smartest place we knew about. But this wasn’t about it decaying or slowing down- this was about State continuing to have its reputation as an intelligent outpost of cutting edge discussion while its inhabitants talked shit.

STOP THE MUSIC. No, seriously, go back up to that YouTube video and stop it.

One day Egg came to a decision. State’s regulars logged in the next day to find their forum’s homepage replaced with this animation that Egg drew himself. Kieron Gillen called it “going out in style”, but then I don’t think he realised we hadn’t told the forumites we were closing their community down at all.

The last job was to rename #state to something else, which Egg did with all the cool grace of Codename 47 hoisting a body into a dumpster.

CUE THE LAST MUSIC.

I got in touch with Egg for the purposes of writing this post and thought I’d ask him whether he regretted closing down such a well-respected gaming forum so cruelly.

Quinns: Do you ever regret closing down such a well-respected gaming forum so cruelly?

Egg: No.

Quinns: Thanks for your time.

So there you have it.

The issue of professionals within this industry having not played enough is still a touchy subject with me, and I feel it’s something we let slide far too often. Nevermind. If I’m right and it is as big as failing as I think it is, that’ll reveal itself in time.

My Secret Origin

Someone in the comments of that last post asked how I ended up writing about games for a living. More accurately, they asked for my origin story.

Well!

I’m writing this with another heartless, damp Irish night outside. My med student flatmates have decided in their gross intelligence to leave the central heating on until the whole house feels like the inside of a lightbulb.

But I am feeling RESTED and IN CHARGE of my life right now, and if someone wants to know how I became a games journalist I’m going to tell it to you guys hard and heavy like a rock standard.

Four years ago I was 19 and looked like THIS:

Or, more regrettably, like THIS:

Or sometimes like this:

I was a university dropout and traveller, and busied myself exchanging shit jobs in England for shit places anywhere else. Janitor, Kampala, kitchen assistant, Dallas, shoe salesman, Shanghai, builder, Tehran, traffic director, Van.

I was a bum, but good at it. I was also already a games journalist and had been for 2 years. I think I’d even already written for Edge.

HOW?

Okay. When I was 14 I joined a (now long gone) online gaming forum called State. To this day I have never encountered a smarter, smarmier community of gamers. After lurking for six months I began creating accounts and posting, then deleting those accounts the moment someone made fun of me, or I revealed my ignorance or told a joke that fell flat. Swapping these personas once a month, I was the Untalented Mr Ripley.

One day I created an account called Quinns and managed to not come across as a jerk. I then started posting these big, pretty news threads on the forum with lots of screenshots as a kind of service, and one night even recorded myself doing impressions of 20 videogames and created a thread where people had to identify where the quotes were from. That went down well.

“Quinns” was the iteration of me that got popular, and State became my life. I can’t overstate the importance of spending several hours of every day reading how these smart people would analyse the industry, break apart games to laugh at ther gooey liquid centres. Not to mention the huge investment of time and energy I sank into sharpening my own sentences, or the hundreds of obscure titles I learned about / from.

State would put out an eZine once in a while, sMag, which could well be the most pretentious games publication ever to see the light of day. Sometimes it was pretty good, and I wrote for it a few times. No correlation there. One day one of the staff writers of PC Gamer magazine came into State’s IRC channel and asked if anyone wanted to do a week of work experience. I was the only guy who said yes.

If I were more of a prick, I could say “That’s right! They came to me!”

Instead, I say this: “They came to me! Because they needed someone who knew their shit yet would travel to their city to work hard for no money!”

When I first arrived at the PCG office I was starstruck. Suddenly all those headshots in the magazine had bodies! Just, really small bodies! I was the tallest guy there!

You know what they got me to do first? They had this big, three foot wide filing cabinet that was heaped full of old CDs containing back issues of the magazine. On my knees, I had to spend several hours sorting them and putting them into labelled CD spindles. Next, the editor came and asked if I had anything I wanted to write for the magazine. I said I wanted to write about the staggering, unsung UT mod Thievery. He said okay. I wrote it. He printed it out, covered the sheet with red pen that said just about everything except “This is shit”, then they gave me the Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events Official Videogame to review. I played the game and wrote the review over two days. It came back with more red pen.

Anyone in any kind of desirable career will have a story like this. Models, ice-cream tasters, actors, all of them will explain how their first experience as the whipping boy of their dream job was awful and that they bravely soldiered on to become the respected professional they are today. Fuck that! I don’t care how tough your dream job is to begin with, it’s still your dream job. If you have a lick of sense and you’ve tasted the dusty floor that is zero-qualification, minimum wage labour, you do not look back. Ever. If you do it’s because you’re running and want to see if it’s gaining on you.

I loved that week of work experience. Of course I did. I was 16 years old and sat in the PC Gamer office, filing CDs! I was 16 and already getting my work rejected! I was sat at a desk, playing a terrible videogame! It was awesome. I went drinking with the PCG staff after work, and was energetic and young and kept rapt by their stories.

My review of Lemony Snicket’s An Unfortunate etc. got published in the end, several drafts later. Someone on the mag’s forum who didn’t know me commented it was one of the best reviews in the issue.

At the end of the week the guys at PCG offered me a freelance contract and I said yes. Every so often for the next six months they’d throw me a 1/2 page review of some trashy game like this and I would literally end up sending these pieces off at 8am, trying to block out the dawn chorus and ripped to the tits on guarana and caffeine having agonised over my work for 12 hours straight. I would then go to bed instead of going to my prohibitively expensive private school and spasm so much in my sleep that I’d wake up on the floor.

Eventually the 1/2 pages became full pages and my details got forwarded to other editors, and that was that. I had a career. Nothing I wouldn’t give up for the travelling, mind, but then that’s just it. The games, the really good ones, let me travel.

Just so you guys know I’m actually saving up for another spell of backpacking right now. Should be leaving in just over a couple of months, at which point I’m turning this into a travel blog.

I think it’ll be pretty good, though. You should totally stick around.

Armored Core 4: A Secret

Now, time was secrets was the blood of videogames. This was before the internet ruined it all, and Gamefaqs.com let you look up the skirt of any game you pleased, games that deserved better. I can remember coming into school, knapsack in hand, so excited about talkin’ videogames with the other boys that I felt fit to burst. Why, I remember one day when Pretty Joe Moses told me his wizard had come back from the dead in Nethack, and I wet myself! No shame in it.

These days, I tell it true that there ain’t no secrets. I don’t know how these kids today do it, but it seems a game ain’t been out for 10 minutes before some freak from Taiwan or France has uploaded a video of the hidden ending to YouTube. You seen that chart someone made of all the weapon damages from Left4Dead2? That’s stuff’ll make your kidneys rotate 180 degrees, I tell you what.

I saw that chart, I said to myself “Oh my God,” is what I said. I said “Hell!”

You still listening?

Well, I got a secret. I got a secret no-one else knows. Oh yes, mmm, the old dog got a tooth and some spit to lose yet.

You ever play that Armored Core 4? Or the upgraded version they released after, Armored Core: For Answer?

Listen good now. These games, they got short levels, real short. They’re short so you can play ’em again and again for the good rankings, see. I’m talking maybe 2 minutes start to finish, sometimes 4 minutes tops.

Something else this game has is the worst music I’ve ever heard! This stuff is like soul poison. I got no idea which graveyard they raided for the guy that did these songs. Or more likely, this being Japan, more likely they made the guy who did the gun sound effects to do the music too.

So I’m thinking to myself, maybe I can play my own music when I’m playing Armored Core 4. Each level is about as long as a song, right? That ain’t no trouble. So I turn on my stereo and I does just that.

Best decision I ever fuckin’ made.


The game is transformed! Best fucking game I’ve played all year! I’m telling you!

See, not only have you got these astonishing graphics of robots dashing this way and that, firing bags of misiles and spittin’ bullets and lasers, now you have audio that can match up. You put on one of the more dramatic Justice or Queens of the Stone Age tracks, or some Gui Boratto, Hell, some Ladyhawke or Calexico or Mstrkrft, whatever you like, and suddenly you got something spectacular. The most dramatic, ass-kickin’ game you can imagine.

And the thing is, the real Holy thing is, this is a hardcore game, right? That’s why it reviewed so badly. It’s all closed-off and about fine-tuning your robot like you would a racecar. Well, when the missions themselves become this exciting, suddenly you’re given the incentive you need to get into the game proper!

And shit! There’s a whole sub-game in there about finding the perfect track to go with each level as you try them again and again. There’s this one missionwhere you defend a bridge from dozens of flying robots, then leap off the bridge to blow up a speeding train? I tell no word of a lie, Tangled Up In Plaid by Queens of the Stone Age matches it perfect. Just as you leap off the bridge and go blasting sideways to strafe alongside the train, the solo kicks in. And this guy’s wailing on this guitar like it was his cheatin’ wife, and you’re shooting rockets and lasers and whatever else at this train, just fillin’ it with hurt, and let me say that if you don’t get a hard-on at that particular moment then you LESS than a boy!

Phew, I’m done tired out. You shouldn’t have got me worked up like that.

I think a nap’s what’s in order. Yeah, you just close the door behind you on your way out. And you play that game! You play Armored Core 4. It’s really kinda pretty good. You should play it. You really… you really should…

…zzzz…