The opening cutscene for SOCOM 4, Sony’s upcoming military shooter, introduces you to Lead Character McMainDude on his way to get a briefing from the commander. He waits outside the commander’s tent while an argument plays out inside. A feisty Korean woman is upset that her recon team isn’t being sent into the action. She’s furious. She’s seething. She mouths off to the commander, like you do in videogames. They exchange words over a map table and then the commander dismisses her. As she leaves the tent, she passes by Lead Character McMainDude and presses a pen into his hand.
“This is his pen,” she hisses. “Make sure you stab him with it.”
Then you get your briefing. Some stuff about Korea and a terrorist group. It’s mercifully brief, since everyone knows you want to get into the game proper. Naturally, you don’t stab the commander with a pen. Instead, as the scene winds down, the commander absently pats his pockets, looking for his pen. Nothing more is said about the pen, because nothing more needs to be said about the pen.
It’s a sad state of affairs in videogaming that I noticed this detail, not necessarily because it was memorable — the Korean woman is actually pretty cool, and she’ll figure prominently in the story — but because it meant the writers and animators collaborated on a gag. The writers wrote the pen gag, and the animators animated it. Normally, writers just write dialog and animators make characters that gesticulate generically. Then someone sticks them together and, voila!, cutscene.
I recently saw a demo of Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, the upcoming co-op action game. Composer Michael Bross, known for the Oddworld games, was announced during the demo. At the end of the level, the players kill a big sort of squid/crayfish. As the creature chokes and coughs its last, Bross’ playful score slows and halts in tempo with the creature’s dying gasps. Here was an example of the animators and the score interacting specifically.
We can start talking about how games have reached the level of other entertainment when I stop noticing this sort of thing and I start taking it for granted.