Stilwater, the games industry

Volition seem to have done well for themselves. After the success of Saints Row 2 and Red Faction Guerrilla, they now have access to great resources for making top quality games. They are in the much longed for position to be able to build incredible, broadly-scoped experiences and shining, polished works of art.

Instead, they are making Saints Row: The Third, a game where you suck pedestrians into a giant cannon and shoot them across a lavishly rendered city for giggles.

Fittingly, the story of Saints Row: The Third seems to be about a gang known as the Third Street Saints, who are incredibly rich and have earned control and authority over the city of Stilwater after the events of the previous games. With this power comes great responsibility. You would imagine that they should be working towards building and maintaining a better city.

Instead, they dress up in purple space suits and call atrociously expensive air-strikes down on civilians, destroying parts of the city’s infrastructure in the process. They mess about, performing burnouts in sports cars in front of us while we cheer them on– before they promptly run us over. For giggles.

Much in the way that Portal 2 is an allegory for Valve itself, it seems that Saints Row: The Third is one for Volition. The game is the result of the successes had in the previous games, for both Volition and The Third Street Saints. In this case, they have both responded by being huge trolls.

Saints Row 2 encouraged psychopathic behaviour and Volition built their game around it. The sequel looks like it continues to move firmly in that direction.

Conversely, many people criticised Grand Theft Auto IV for having a main character with completely different personalities in the cutscenes to when the player was in control. How can one be sympathetic to Niko Bellic when the game requires him to be a mass murderer?

Generally, as people who speak the language of games, we forgive this. Our excuse is simply: video games. It makes no sense that we can quicksave and reload games, or that we are unable to interact with certain objects in the world, or that our characters move around the world with the constraints of a gamepad or WASD. But: video games.

To frame a game with a story, developers can either completely ignore these things, or they can create a narrative and a setting that suits the play. And the shining example of the latter choice?

Team Fortress 2 has the only game setting in which the structure of a multiplayer shooter makes sense. This genre of game is hugely illogical. Both teams have set up headquarters right next to each other, there can be multiple instances of the same person at once, and people respawn. Yet this is just as normal to the characters within the game world as it is to us players.

Although we haven’t seen much of the story of Saints Row 3, I’m hoping that it can be for sandbox games what Team Fortress 2 is for multiplayer shooters.

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