A Farewell to Hayter – Metal Gear Solid Gets a New Voice

 A few hours ago, Kiefer Sutherland was announced as the voice actor the Big Boss in the latest installment of the Metal Gear Solid franchise. Many fans of the series have already begun to voice their own displeasure with the exclusion of the man who voiced Snake for fifteen years from the project, David Hayter. Kojima has addressed his decision during Konami’s pre-E3 showcase:

“…we’re taking on some very heavy subjects such as race and revenge. This makes the tone much darker. As a result, I wanted Snake to have a more subdued performance expressed through subtle facial movements and tone of voice, rather than words.”

Kojima appears to want to abandon the exposition laden and sometimes needlessly circuitous dialogue that the previous games are notorious for in favor of a more understated and nuanced performance. Rather than the gravely monotone that Hayter has become well-known for, the new voice will have to be able to convey a range of emotions. Whether or not Sutherland is the actor for that job is entirely up for debate, but one thing is for certain: the new direction the series is taking means that Snake’s traditional voice has to go.

Snake and Big Boss have always been, under Hayter’s voice, cool, unshakable badasses. Seldom has Hayter altered his modes of speech during his performance (read: Snake and louder Snake). While this has done a great deal in the way of establishing Snake and Big Boss as iconic action heroes (or villains), it does not leave much room for character development or exploration. Kojima has famously expressed his discontent with the way Solid Snake was portrayed throughout the Metal Gear Solid series and the lack of a distinguishable character arc. There was simply not much Kojima could do with a character who created to be more action hero than human.

Besides, fifteen is around the age where most people's voice start to change.

Besides, fifteen is around the age where most people’s voice start to change.

During the pre-E3 video, Sutherland puts forward his own views on what Kojima expects from his lead character in Metal Gear Solid V: “…what does Snake want for the future and how does the past weigh on him? There is a characters hope for a future, and that rounds out what I term as the human experience.” Kojima is not looking for the gruff machismo that many have come to expect of Metal Gear Solid franchise, but a more human-like, vulnerable character. Snake and Big Boss have not quite been portrayed as human characters in the previous installments. They have been touted as legendary super-soldiers, and while they may claim to be nothing more than hired killers, they continually accomplish increasingly fantastic, world-saving feats.

Kojima does not appear to want to serve the fans as much as he wants to serve the story he wants to tell, which is an incredibly bold move to take especially considering how well received Hayter was, not to mention the image that Snake has established over the course of the last fifteen years. Yes, a lot of people will be upset, and the end product may not entirely resemble the story that most people expect, but that’s not to say it won’t be entertaining or thought provoking. Very few franchises are willing to welcome drastic change. To avoid stagnating, becoming too stale and predictable, developers need to attempt something new, maybe even something that might not seem in the best interest of profit. As someone who grew up with the franchise, I can honestly say that I have never been as excited for any game as I am for Metal Gear Solid V, even if it does have an unfamiliar new voice.

Nostalgia Critic comments on Art in Video Games

Though I do not care much for Doug Walker’s “Nostalgia Critic” videos, I was drawn to his recent take on art in video games and the medium’s potential for artistic merit. While he avoids talking about specific examples of games that are worthy of the distinction because of his passive level of engagement with games, Walker makes a handful of valid points on what passes for high art as well as drawing a few comparisons to art in cinema. It is definitely worth a watch, so I’ve included a link below.

http://thatguywiththeglasses.com/videolinks/thatguywiththeglasses/nostalgia-critic/39451-nostalgia-critic-are-video-games-art

Raining Blood – Realistic Violence in Video Games

For a great deal of modern games, highly detailed violence is a major selling point. The latest installment in the Max Payne series, for instance, allows players to slow down time at certain points during gunfights so they can watch as their bullets tear through enemies bodies. Sniper Elite v2, a highly detailed WW2 sniping simulator, boasts impressive realistic ballistics and features a similarly gruesome feature – the x-ray kill cam. The feature is precisely what its name implies: an x-ray reveal of the player’s victim and a slow-motion playback of the damage the bullet wreaks on his organs and bones. This kind of fantastic display of gore tends to worry people because it does not condemn the actions of the player as “wrong” and in many instances, the gameplay appears to celebrate violence by rewarding violent actions.

But the enemies in these games clearly deserve what’s happening to them, don’t they? The main antagonists in the aforementioned games are kidnappers and Nazis, respectively. Games seldom ask the player to slay the innocent en masse (with the exception of the infamous “No Russian” mission in Modern Warfare 2), only those who unquestionably deserve to die. The motivations behind most enemies actions are so clearly evil that the decision to kill them feels neither cruel or gratuitous, but necessary. At the same time, the gore and slow-motion features in Max Payne and Sniper Elite v2 seem to serve no other purpose than to reward the player for a kill well-done. The violence in these games is no more than an obstacle for the player to overcome, with little to no impact reflected in his or her actions; the gore is not meant to horrify us, but to entertain us.

There's a very dark catharsis one feels when pulling off a good shot in Sniper Elite V2.

There’s a very dark catharsis one feels when pulling off a good shot in Sniper Elite V2.

A short digression. At last year’s E3, a gameplay trailer for the now soon to be released The Last of Us was showcased. It featured the game’s two main protagonists, Joel and Ellie, traveling through the ruins of a city overtaken by all manner of flora. The post-apocalyptic setting is eerily serene, and the duo appear to be the only living creatures for miles in any direction. They travel at a plodding pace, allowing the audience to take in the environment. Rather suddenly, the tone changes when Joel overhears a group of survivors (presumably hostile) from inside a nearby building. Joel sneaks into the building and stealthily takes down one scavenger before being discovered. An intense gunfight / melee breaks out ending in a rather gruesome encounter; Joel wrestles a survivor to the ground, picks up a nearby shotgun and cracks the stock of the gun against his foe’s head. The survivor begins to plead with Joel as he holds the gun up to his face but can only speak a few word before Joel blows his head off. The trailer then smash-cuts to the game title: The Last of Us. It is met with applause.

The question on more than a few people’s minds after seeing the trailer and the reaction to it was whether or not that final act of violence was meant to be entertaining or horrific. Certainly, this degree of violence is not unique to The Last of Us, but there is definitely something unsettling about the last moments of this trailer. Perhaps it’s the desperation in the final survivor’s voice as he pleads for Joel not to shoot; this behavior is so unusual of an NPC “enemy” that it might perturb the player. But perhaps the word “enemy” is misused in this context, as far as we know, these NPCs are survivors just like Ellie and Joel. Granted they appear to act hostile toward survivors outside their own faction, these other survivors do not appear to be much different than Joel or Ellie. Whatever the reason may be, the violence against other survivors and the reasons for killing them seem far less noble and much more revolting than typical shooters.

The Last of Us is not the first to try and appall players with disturbing scenes of violence. A few scenes from the new Tomb Raider shows violent actions as a cruel necessity for Lara Croft’s survival. The first few kills are disturbing not only for Lara, but for the player. Though the victim of Lara’s first gun kill is not very ambiguous in his motivations, his last few moments and the death rattle adds a level of carnage that draws the line between violence for entertainment and violence meant to create a stir. Unfortunately for that first guy, his death is undermined by the game’s quick adoption of the typical third-person shoot-em-up format: Lara quickly puts her qualms with killing aside and starts blasting away at enemies left and right without any hint of the remorse present in that previous scene.

Believe it or not - she was apologizing to a deer she shot earlier in the day.

Believe it or not – earlier in the day she was apologizing to a deer she shot.

It is problematic when games attempt to conflate disturbing violence and entertaining violence. When a character is remorseful of a violent action against and enemy in one scene and later goes on to lay waste to dozens mores without coping with the earlier actions it creates a narrative dissonance, which usually undermines the brutality of the earlier action as well as the game’s entire presentation of violence. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater took an interesting step in the way of retroactively attempting to fill the player with guilt over violent actions by including a section of the story where Snake must face the ghosts of all the enemies he has dispatched who bemoan the way in which player killed them; it served as a grim reminder to the player of the magnitude of his bloodlust (though this section could be significantly shortened if the player employed non-lethal methods). Only about an hour later, however, the game throws a massive chase scene in which Snake is pursued by a larger group of enemies than the non-lethal M9 can reasonably handle, so it’s difficult to say how the game wants the player to feel about killing.

Video games are slowly trending towards more chilling violence, as demonstrated by games like Spec Ops: The Line and (with any luck) The Last of Us. Until now, few, if any, games tend to deal with violence and gore in a mature and consistent manner. Until then, feel free to revel in wanton, empty