So there's this shopping mall full of zombies and the game is not in any way endorsed by George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead". I suppose this statement is on the front of the box, right there, white text floating over the box art, for legal purposes. Though I don't know; George Romero's got a real rock-and-roll heart about him, and I think he'd appreciate the homage. There was that thing, though, where he was supposed to direct the "Resident Evil" movie, and it's kind of a shame he didn't, though it's also probably for the best -- it would have been like getting Steven Spielberg to direct the "Tomb Raider" film, or having a computer-animated Bruce Lee cameo as Fei Long in Street Fighter The Movie. It'd be too many up-stacking valleys of awkwardness is what it'd be. Maybe the legal precautions were made on Dead Rising's box because Capcom feared George Romero might be mad at them for whatever happened (a black coffee on a sunny morning?) to make him throw up his hands and walk away from directing the "Resident Evil" film. What happened, I don't know. Either way, I for one think it doesn't matter that it's not affiliated with the film. I mean, narrative-wise and structure-wise, Dead Rising does things that "Dawn of the Dead" did not even try to do -- and prudently, because it was incapable of doing them. Dead Rising, as a videogame, plays a lot like a videogame; it has a high-grade-cheese story that resembles a film on paper; it has gameplay hooks that have existed in many games of genres as varied as fighters, RPGs, or Grand Theft Auto; however, by the time the player has finished playing it, he will either be wrong or of the opinion that it is a strikingly new form of entertainment altogether.
The player inhabits the body of Frank West, a photo/journalist who, at one early stage in the story, as if to prove his journalistic integrity, points at his chest, camera in hand, and shouts at one of the few survivors in a Colorado shopping mall teeming with the reeking, slumping, walking dead, "I've covered wars before!" The player might burst into laughter at the ridiculousness of this moment, or else the player might be a twelve-year-old playing on his big brother's Xbox. As far as videogame humor goes, it's top-notch. It might just be the single greatest line of dialogue ever captured in a game. The voice-acting (not very great) and the utter serious tone of the declaration is what clinches it. We have come a long, long way from the dialogue of, say, Resident Evil ("If you, the master of unlocking" et cetera), which was accidentally bad, and reverberated so fakely. After playing Dead Rising, with its boisterous, moronic, witty, off-the-wall scenario that sees fit to include lines of dialogue as amazing in their deadpan delivery as "The zombies were a message from Carlito -- he wanted people to know", Resident Evil seems so mopey. Just a look around at the name of a few of the stores will immediately impress the game's tone on you: they're hilarious, yet they're not funny. At all. It's the most curious thing. "McHandy's" is a hardware store; "Flexin" is the name of a gym, "Colombian Roastmasters" is the token franchise cafe; "Tunemakers" is a guitar shop; "Jill's Sandwiches" is a sandwich shop (and also a reference to a horrible line of dialogue from Resident Evil). Not only are they all vaguely strange names -- they all seem like they could really exist. Obviously, Capcom had known that a game about zombies, by Capcom, set in an American shopping mall would no doubt capture the hearts of Americans everywhere, so they employed an excellent on-board localization team. According to Capcom's Ben Judd, they had to look up the names of the stores on the internet to make sure they didn't actually exist -- in other words, the names were that good, and that funny: they didn't take the easy way out, and just call the shops ridiculous, over-the-top names. (like, in Saint's Row, the fast food joint is called "Freckle Bitch's". Like, what the fuck?) This speaks volumes for the attention to detail with which the game's scenario and setting were crafted.
Essentially, the scenario is at the heart of this game. There's a shopping mall full of zombies, and you're Frank West, a photojournalist in his thirties who has apparently covered wars before. You're in this shopping mall full of zombies because you told a helicopter pilot to drop you off there. A Mexican man named Carlito told you, on the roof, that you're the only journalist to show up out of all the journalists he called. The pilot is supposed to come back for you in precisely three days. You enter the mall through the security room. Eventually, you arrive at the main entrance of the mall, and an incident results in zombies flooding into the building. A tough man with a breasty female companion beckons you to follow him. It turns out they're with the "DHS". "The Department of Homeland Security?!" Frank yells, a winning exclamation for a myriad of reasons. For starters, it's hilarious (to a white man that lives in Japan, anyway) that anyone would immediately make the distinction, because the "DHS" is not a widely used acronym. Also, this would mark the first time the Department of Homeland Security is referenced in a videogame (if you don't count The Life of that Gizmodo Executive), so bravo. And lastly because, really, the "Department of Homeland Security" is just such a ridiculous sounding name for an organization devoted to such a gravely important task. I mean, "Homeland" -- it's just such a pretentious-sounding word. And since the organization's founding, its name has been so closely connected to "terrorism" that we can't help finding it hilarious in a story about, you know, zombies. That zombies could be an act of terrorism sounds silly as all hell; that the game manages to make it all feasible (biochemical weapons research, et cetera) doesn't mean that it's literature. Not, it just means that it's up there with the best of B-movies. However, it's because it is not a movie -- it is a videogame -- that it is able to be so much more. Evolution in previous zombie games resulted in making the zombies look better, or into making them into actually not zombies at all (like in Resident Evil 4). The "story" in these zombie games could never quite sit still, because if it did, the game would basically boil down to a guy in a house full of zombies. Without some sort of secret giant laboratory beneath the mansion, the mansion isn't interesting in a videogame context. If there's not going to be a secret laboratory in the basement, there might as well be a city outside, and one of those things is harder to incorporate (impossible, if you lack the inspiration) than the other. In the case of George Romero's zombie flicks -- well, they all had character. They had real, live people (portrayed by actors) struggling against zombie situations. They didn't need to tack on science-fiction nonsense to appeal to the heart and nerves of viewers. Ironic, though, that the ultimate evolution of Romero's "of the Dead" series ("Land of the Dead") happened to fuse the zombie flick genre with science-fiction. For what it's worth, the fusion was as seamless as it was essential, and the film ends up saying a hell of a lot about society.
How do you up the ante in a zombie videogame? How might one go about grabbing it by the shoulders and pointing it gingerly so it shambles toward the sheer cliff of evolution? Why zombies became popular in the first place, who the hell knows? George Romero's film "Night of the Living Dead" allowed us to scream at on-screen protagonists, telling them to "Go that way!" or "Don't open that door!" The movie succeeded precisely because the people did not listen to us, and any grisly death on the screen evoked in us first a feeling of catharsis (a fellow human being, however fictional, has died in a way we ourselves would not like to die) and second a feeling of self-assuredness: why, if that were me in that situation, I'd'a done better! Resident Evil was producer Shinji Mikami's attempt to recreate the catharsis of such zombie fictions. He stated in interviews a decade ago that he wanted to make something that "felt like" a zombie film, and it only ended up having actual zombies in it because he found himself in too creative a mood to think of something else. So be it; the game was a worldwide commercial success because it allowed us to test, for the first time, if, really, we would do any better than the protagonist of a horror movie. However, as it is also a videogame, it needs to entertain us, and it needs to allow us to attain some level of skill at it. We can get very good at aiming at zombies and shooting them in the head, or, if we're playing the harder scenario, to run away from the zombies. So it was that Resident Evil broke a few videogame rules in the best interest of the medium, and devoted entire sequences to cheap thrills: dogs jumping through windows, for example. The first time you played the game, you'd have no idea that undead dog was about to jump out of the window. It was a hell of a thrill, that first time. Every time you entered a new room, and there was a window, you'd feel the goosebumps on your arms. When a dog didn't come crashing through, you felt relieved; when a dog did come crashing through, you jumped in your seat. Yet you would likely die somewhere else, and the next time, you would not be afraid. Even in its infant stage, the "survival horror "genre was about replaying; not only did you learn the patterns and the positions of the enemies, as you would in, say, a Megaman game: you were also learning not to be afraid of them.
Once everyone had endured three games that taught them how to not be afraid of television screens, Resident Evil 4 would eventually arrive and reboot the series in the name of pure action. Why did the game's genre change shock so many people? Apparently they had all expected a game that found its way into living rooms by shocking the hell out of one guy so much he just had to take his PlayStation to his friends' houses to witness his friends' reactions to go on doing the exact same thing over and over again. Yet Resident Evil 4, a wholly entertaining videogame, was more like a charity effort on Capcom's part than anything else: they were giving the people -- players and developers -- a solid model for what a perfectly synergized, kept-together, entertaining action game could play like.
Dead Rising is attacking the same goal -- of an action game as "entertainment" rather than as a "videogame" -- from a slightly different angle. It takes elements of Grand Theft Auto, Zelda: Majora's Mask, Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter, and Capcom's Biohazard: Outbreak, promises players a shopping mall full of zombies, and comes off jaw-droppingly successful about it.
Biohazard: Outbreak is probably the most interesting inspiration for Dead Rising. Like Dead Rising, it was a game that many bought, and many complained about afterward. To put it into the simplest terms, Biohazard: Outbreak was an online multiplayer singleplayer cinematic adventure. As far as game concepts go, it might be the most drop-dead intriguing of all time. Alas, in its finished state, it was not perfect. I will speak of it as if it had been perfect: it is a game that emphasizes and forces the player to play theatrically. The main story scenario is made up of numerous short chapters in which a small group of survivors try to escape from a town filling with zombies. There are a couple characters with guns, a helpless girl character who can only unlock doors, and a helpless character who can only heal. Maybe there's a strong character who can only push boxes, and moves very slowly. When you log in to the game, you choose which character you're going to be, and then you're locked in. No one else can pick that character. You help the other characters in an attempt to progress through the short scenario.
The most crucial hook in this game -- and the one the complainers hated the most -- is that you can't chat with the other players. Rather, you can only activate your character's voice in order to make him or her say one of three things. Help me, wait here, or fight. Each character has his or her own unique voice.
The other main hook is that, if you die, you become a zombie, and you are now free to try to kill your former teammates.
Why is this a nearly perfect game concept?
First of all, not being able to chat with the other players assures that, at least, you will not hate them. It also assures that you will not like them. It assures that you will assess them completely on the characters themselves. Never -- in any medium -- has encouraging the beholders' stereotypes been more well-thought-out. If a player can't play well -- if he's a gun-wielder and he couldn't hit the broad side of a barn -- you're ideally going to just think it's the character's fault. After all, there have been YOU COMPLETE MORON!! SHOOT!! characters in horror movies before, yes?
And when you die, and you become a hungry zombie, as you do not hate the other characters, nor do you like them, you will merely attempt to do what it is your goal to do. In execution, the game has already made something of a zombie out of every player with regard to morals. The other players can't hate you when you kill them. You're just playing your role as a zombie, and they're just playing their role as the character in a horror film who had no clue he was about to get killed.
Either way, the only thing that's set in stone is that, from the moment any session of Biohazard: Outbreak begins, every moving object on the screen is aspiring to bring about its ending. Pristine game concepts are always about the tiny reversals like this -- recall Pac-Man, where the enemies chase the hero until he picks up an item that instantly makes the enemies begin running away from him, encouraging him to suddenly change his agenda and play behavior and begin chasing the enemies. Only Biohazard: Outbreak pulls off such a high concept with actual cinematic, storytelling flair. It puts fictional men and women's lives in the balance.
It'd be really nice if they'd make another game like this, sometime soon.
For the most part, Dead Rising is a funny little game in which any way it ends is an ending. From the second it starts, every living being contained in the walls of its story has an agenda that, from moment to moment, demands they either die right now, or not die right now. It can be said, then, that Dead Rising is like a huge Biohazard: Outbreak scenario meant for only one player.
As bears repeating, the game is about a shopping mall full of zombies. You are a photojournalist who has 72 hours to get to the bottom of the story and perhaps earn yourself a Pulitzer Prize for the effort. When this "journalism" element of the gameplay was revealed to the mouth-breathing journalists of the world, there were many who immediately snapped at this with hands clasped to their chests and stars in their eyes. "It's a sandbox game! It's a sandbox game!" It's not a sandbox game. Or, rather, if it is a sandbox game, it's a whole new type of sandbox game. That is to say, it's the correct type of sandbox game.
There, I believe we've used the term "sandbox game" enough to qualify this as significant text.
The thing about Grand Theft Auto, the great pioneer of sandbox games, is that it works on too large a scale. And I daresay it knows it's working on too large a scale. There will be streets and entire neighborhoods of towns in a Grand Theft Auto game that look barren and lonely as a cardboard box by the side of the highway. (Then again, in the real world, there do exist barren and lonely places. The side of a highway, for example.) In Grand Theft Auto, where the idea of life is so pronounced -- and exclaimed, when you, say, kick a random pedestrian to death and then spin around in place to pick up the fallen, shiny, floating, rotating money -- where the biggest hook of the game is that you're able to approach a collection of polygons that resembles a person the likes of which you see hundreds or thousands of every day, a person who moves and/or breathes semi-realistically, and then end that person's life, make red blood come out of them, and cause them to lie flat and unmoving -- well. That sentence was going on too long. (I write like I'm playing a sandbox game, and I apologize like I'm playing a sandbox game as well.) Grand Theft Auto games are polished in the position of violence. The physics are crafted so that they are only amazing when something is exploding or dying. If the games are a sandbox, they are a sandbox where entire handguns are buried about three inches deep. If Dead Rising is a sandbox, on the other hand, it is a sandbox where pieces of handguns are buried three inches deep. And this is why it's a far more interesting type of game: find all the pieces, put together the handgun, leave the sandbox, and save the world.
If there's anything to admire about Grand Theft Auto games -- and believe you me, there is tons to admire about them -- it's their nature as checklists. The producers, at the earliest stage of the evolution of "3D videogames", took a laundry list of big questions to ask the gods within themselves. Whether they were doing this other-consciously or whether they were just planning to make big currency units on games that let you steal any car and kill anybody, who knows. Though in the end, they put some serious testicles on the table. In the first Grand Theft Auto, you're stealing cars, and it looks like a videogame. By Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, you're stealing cars, and it looks kind of like real life. There are even buildings you can go into now. You can stand on the top of a building and snipe pedestrians, which is something you could do in real life, if you wanted to lose your job at the bowling alley and/or at least go to prison. Grand Theft Auto has made leaps and bounds toward creating entire cities (also known as "huge environments") filled with people and vehicles (and yes, the traffic light positioning and AI driving habits are pretty inexplicably terrible, though hey, I can see what they're striving for), and populating their universes with subtle touches like radio stations with lively, talking DJs. There are amazing directions such games can go(For example, I dare to muse here that, hey, maybe Grand Theft Auto IV for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 could feature an actual live radio station (at least one)), and I've no doubt that the team is pondering those, possibly even in their sleep, right this moment.
To put is most simply, the Grand Theft Auto games are the 1960s; they are rock and roll. They are about freedom and experimentation. They are about testing the limits, pissing people off. They're agents of chaos and simultaneously agents of solidarity. They're about creating huge experiences that also feel pretty tight. And though I reckon San Andreas was loose as all hell at points, it shat brilliance so many times that it's almost a capital crime. The "turf war" element, for example, was the weirdest thing. You'd control "turf" all around the city. You'd walk up to guys wearing your gang's colors on the street, and press a directional button to recruit them. You'd go to a turf that wasn't yours and start shooting up the rival gang. A "turf war" would start, during which the rival gang members would storm in. You'd shoot them, and if you held your ground for long enough, the turf would change to your color on the map. If the area was already adjacent to a turf you already controlled, the chances of its being invaded would be lower than they would be if you'd just picked a square in the middle of nowhere. While I personally find the whole turf war concept idiotic and juvenile in real life (I mean, seriously kids, you don't really own that land, and shooting someone isn't going to bring you closer to the realtor that does), as a videogame, coated in a "real life" skin, it's about a hundred times more compelling than the spreadsheetastic gameplay of any MMORPG.
Then there's the dating sim element -- go out on dates with girls, pick out the right clothes, go to the right restaurant to suit the girl's personality, take her home, maybe make out, maybe have sex. This little diversion was the tiniest afterthought of the developers, and enduring a true-life bad date is probably more psychologically enriching, though hey! Thanks for putting that in there, Rockstar. Thanks for saying there's more to simulated worlds than capping sons of bitches, than blasting motherfuckers. Though I kind of groaned when the first girl you earn the opportunity to date, after talking about how she needs a man who can respect women, immediately says "Let's do a drive-by [shooting]" when she gets in your car after dinner, I appreciated how everything was so quantified. I appreciate how Grand Theft Auto always can and always does remain a videogame. And I understand full well that Grand Theft Auto is dropping these mini-pseudo-genres at every STOP sign on the road to heaven out of generosity, not out of disregard for littering laws. The developers of GTA are basically saying, "Hey guys -- try this."
During that ridiculously great moment of my life (I ask my Magic 8-ball different questions about it every day) wherein I somehow got to talk to Metal Gear Solid producer Hideo Kojima for an entire day, we spent about a half an hour talking about Grand Theft Auto III. The game had just been released in Japan, and Kojima was thoroughly entertained whenever he stopped by a certain co-worker's desk to witness the game being played. He said he couldn't play it himself because 3D games made him motion-sick (he has since gotten over the motion sickness, thanks to Dragon Quest VIII and a refusal to give up), though he thoroughly understood what the games were trying to do. He snapped his fingers when I said they're like checklists of "Things Developers Can Do in Videogames".
Yet Kojima's big issue with Grand Theft Auto was not that it was loose and slippery and unfinished -- it was that the player had too much freedom. Kojima said, speaking on Japan's eventual first attempt at a "sandbox" game, that he reckoned it would more prominently feature "Liberty" than "freedom". He cited his own Metal Gear Solid as an example. At the end of the game, while a certain character delivers a dying soliloquy, the hero, Snake, who has a deep emotional connection to the story being told, is able to aim a rocket launcher: his target is a giant robot, and if he shoots, he will accomplish his mission, though he will also kill the person who is talking. What it boils down to is that the rocket launcher aiming screen is, really, just a skin for the cut-scene. And most remarkably, if you press the "fire" button while aiming, you'll hear the main character's voice, choked up, internal-monologue-style, saying "No -- I can't!!" Press the button many times in a row to make the main character think about firing, well, many times in a row. "No -- I can't! I -- can't." This is liberty, not freedom.
What would "liberty" mean in a "sandbox" game? According to Kojima, it would mean "a whole new genre of entertainment, basically." What if, in Grand Theft Auto, your main character had an actual personality, as opposed to a fake one? CJ from San Andreas, for example, comes back to his hometown to attend his mother's funeral, and then kill the bastard motherfuckers who killed her. (They killed her, I suppose, to get him to come back and thirst for vengeance?) On his road to being a mother-loving, motheravenging young man, he'll also ice many hookers and shoot up many fast food clerks because the player wants to show his buddy how fucking hilarious this game is, like, it lets you kill people and shit. This kind of game is like a match throw in the direction of explosive barrels in a country like America, where people are always showing up at your house and popping into your living room with your jug of Sunny Delight from your refrigerator already in their hand, asking you, "Shit dog, what you playing?"
What if your character didn't want to kill innocent people? What if he didn't want to steal cars? Seriously, stealing cars is too easy in Grand Theft Auto (so spake Kojima). You almost never come across one that isn't drivable within two seconds. Does the main character have a skeleton key or something? Obviously, the cars are easy to steal because the game wants players to feel free to go nuts, go wild, enjoy themselves. Does this work? On a pick-up-and-play basis, yeah. Says Kojima, a game with similar structure yet deeper rules would be intense and amazing. In Grand Theft Auto, where cars flow like wine, you don't ever feel any attachment to the car you're driving. You can jump it off a bridge just for the hell of it, and then get out and swim to shore. You can crash it head-on into another car and then get out and run away and watch both cars explode from a safe distance. I understand that this is part of the game's schtick, though really, once you buckle down, decide to quit fucking around, and start going about clearing the missions, the game starts to feel ethereally untrue to itself. What if, say, the player only had one car, and would have to buy other cars? On the one hand, he'd be scared to drive it too fast, like in real life. However, also like in real life, the thrill of driving it fast -- as would be necessary, at many, many points in the game -- would be exhilarating. If the game were designed so that seriously insane, beyond-real stuff were possible if the player played just beyond recklessly, you'd be creating something brand new. Kojima, of course, is the man who wants to make a videogame that disintegrates when you lose; he wants the player to invest a certain something, and not merely mess around and play with blatant disregard to common sense. He wanted to make Metal Gear Solid 3 a game in which the player can't continue (only save and resume), and ended up changing it at the last minute. So naturally one of his complaints about Grand Theft Auto III was that the cops are too lenient and that death is too temporary. Intoned Kojima, when you do something wrong, hiding from it should require incredibly shrewd action; when you crash your car, it should require large amounts of money to fix; when you die, you should be forced to start the entire game over. "If you're going to set a game in a real-like world, you should ideally design it with real-like rules." According to Kojima, this would create, yes, a very new experience.
Of course, Kojima was quick to note, these ideas weren't his alone. He'd discussed such theories for hours on end with his friends Atsushi Inaba and Keiji Inafune of Capcom.
When, on a web forum, I once mentioned Kojima's ideas for using sandbox scope and scale on a game of stronger narrative foundational aspirations, I received quite a hateful, angry response. A good enough summary: "Let's see Kojima make a good game (like not just a sequence of cutscenes LOL) before he can say jack shit about GTA motherfucker YEAH! YEAH! Holla!" Most specifically, it was the opinion of many people that a game set in a vividly realized world would be, well, wasting time, effort, and budget to not also motivate the player "go anywhere" and/or "do anything". The people who agree with this would probably also say there's no reason for ice cream to exist if you don't eat it before your mashed potatoes: in so saying, they'd be indicating that they liked mashed potatoes less than ice cream, among many other things. The biggest and saddest of the other things they'd be saying is that they are simply not wired to understand the creative principle that states the creator should know more about his work than the experiencer. The writer seldom spills all details about the characters in a novel, for example; were game developers to follow suit, we would see games set in three-dimensional cities where it is not possible to destroy entire city blocks. Those who say Grand Theft Auto III is the best of the series are both right and wrong: it is the best because it is the most focused, though certainly the focus comes from cautiousness, because the producers clearly had in mind a game where you can pilot fighter jets in addition to station wagons, and implementing such a wide range of excitement would have no doubt required more research, development, and budget than they had to work with at the time.
At any rate, Dead Rising. It's a game that places you in a shopping mall full of zombies, and gives you 72 simulated hours to get to the bottom of why the hell the zombies are there. All in all, the 72 hours take about four real-world hours to pass. If you'd talk about this game before it was released, people would say things like "Four hours! What the fuck! That's a fuckin' short game, dude!" And thinking about this in light of what the game is is actually kind of mysterious. When a game costs around $50 -- five times the price of a movie at date-time -- people expect, at the very least, five times the length. This, yes, illustrates that people today are indeed wired to know before purchasing a game that the chances are they're either going to play through it once, or not at all. It's going to take a whole long era of games with Dead Rising's artistic conscience (use of the word "art" is allowed here because it's part of a compound, yes) to turn around the way people think about these things.
When it was further revealed that the game had a tight schedule of events you needed to complete in sequence, and that you'd fall off track and become unable to witness the game's ending if you missed a single one of the deadlines, the flame of fury was lit all around the internet. I recall a comment on the (now defunct by choice) insertcredit.com forums, in which a young man said "What if I just want to kill some zombies?" He, of course, is no doubt the type of young man to stand up and say "Dude, the funnest part about a Grand Theft Auto game is just ignoring the missions and going crazy and killing people!" At some point in his early thirties, he might find himself getting into bed next to his bamboozled wife and saying, "Honey, I just took a shit -- and I didn't even eat anything today!" You fool! It takes 22 hours for the body to produce feces from food! How many times do I have to say this!!
And when it was further revealed that the game was very, very strict about saving -- that is, that it only really let you save the game in five locations in the entire game world -- the revolting citizens revolted. I recall one among a group of self-made educated men who said "Halo lets you save, like, every five seconds! You'd assume they'd have figured out how to incorporate a convenient save structure by now!" Beyond merely assuming that auto-saving your game data is a development milestone and a technological birthright, this man was also missing the Big Picture -- that being that this game right here, Dead Rising, is in fact maximizing your enjoyment by forcing you to play correctly.
The fact is that the zombies in Dead Rising are a roadblock. They get in the way of you and your goal. Whether your goal is on the story agenda or something on the side, there will be hundreds of zombies between you and wherever you're trying to go. If you want to try to kill all of them, it's cool. You can go ahead and do that. It might make you late for your appointment, or it might make you get to your appointment just as the time limit for it is running out, making the time limit for your next appointment very short. This is called playing within a schedule. Every zombie you kill on an excursion from one side of the mall to another is killed prudently. Every kill is performed while weighing numerous decisions: Do I have enough time to just be standing around here? Do I have enough bullets in my gun / durability in my baseball bat to be wasting resources on this zombie? Can I not just step around him or jump over him?
Of course, yes, killing the zombies is fun. You can heat up a frying pan and burn the zombies with it. You can slash them in half with a katana, or aim at them with a shotgun. You can push them over with a shopping cart. And all of these weapons have their own sub-genre control schemes, changing the rules of the game with a flick of the wrist. Yet, of course, they never change the rules completely.
The secret of Dead Rising is that it is actually more of a sandbox than Grand Theft Auto, because it takes place in a relatively close environment. I don't know what kind of sandbox the people who originally called Grand Theft Auto a "sandbox" were playing in. Maybe a sandbox with a TV and a PlayStation 2 in it? Dead Rising's sandbox has a few shovels and a few buckets; with a little fortitude, you can grasp the concept and make a pretty awesome sand castle: this is because the designers have chosen the shapes of the buckets with great care and cleverness. Kojima spoke of creating a "go anywhere, do anything" world, and then constricting the players' freedom by way of a protagonist with an actual personality. Dead Rising, as a kind of stylistic template for Kojima's proposed genre, goes one further, and places a protagonist with character (a journalist with a kind of soft spot for the fellow man, wanting his story -- he will be pissed and possibly out of a job if he does not get his story) in the restricted environment of a shopping mall in the middle of a town that a genius fly-over intro indicates has been sealed off by the military and is crawling with the groaning, living dead. The child's rules of playing with GI Joes comes to mind -- we used to think up some wacky scenarios. "Duke shot Cobra Commander!" "Well, he's got a forcefield!" "Duke presses . . . this button on his chest and deactivates Cobra Commander's forcefield!" "Uhhh . . . Cobra Commander has jet boots, so he flies through the hole in the ceiling!" "Duke uses his remote control to summon THIS DINOSAUR." There is to be no locating of a rocket launcher with which to blow a hole open in the mall's ceiling in Dead Rising. The game is so airtight in its composition that it never once makes the player feel like he might feel at points in Phoenix Wright -- "If I were a real lawyer, I could just describe why this piece of evidence is the right one instead of having to present all this stuff first!"
In Dead Rising, thanks to an opening cut-scene ("interactive" in a way that exhibits understanding of "Kojima's Liberty" -- that is, the point of view is a camera viewfinder, and we're in control, and we can take pictures of humans in perilous situations, about to get killed by zombies), a pact with the helicopter pilot (he promises to come back in exactly three days) and then a short introduction (during which survivors die in the zombies' initial penetration of the mall), the rules of the game are set in stone, and we'd be fools to argue with them. The hero meets people who indicate they know a lot more about the case than anyone else, and at the same time acknowledges that they're facing grim circumstances, so he agrees to help them out. They're trying to arrest a man. Why? The hero must follow them to find out why. And the rabbit hole gets deeper and deeper. Eventually missions will have you defusing bombs, or fetching medicine for a wounded DHS agent. If he dies, the truth is sealed away forever.
To make matters more compelling, all throughout the game, a character in the security room is informing you about survivors trapped in the mall. Certain survivors appear at certain points during the game's three-day schedule. As they appear, you're informed of where they are (via an extremely frustrating walkie-talkie interface wherein you're unable to fight zombies while text scrolls by at the bottom of the screen while the hero holds the walkie-talkie to his ear, which, really, isn't how you use a walkie-talkie), and you can go rescue them if you want to. The thing is, they might be on the opposite side of the mall from your next appointment. Depending on how well you're playing the game, you might or might not have time to save that survivor. Furthermore, some survivors are wounded; some have psychological hang-ups and won't be mentally stable enough to handle a weapon; some will even commit suicide if you give them a gun; some of them, on the other hand, might be tough as nails and handy with a pistol. You can only give them two commands: Come this way, or Go over there. The first command ensures that they stick with you. The second ensures that they stay wherever you pointed. (In the case of there being more than one survivor, they will all bang and blast into one another, intensely trying to all simultaneously inhabit the precise point you indicated. Which is as amusing as it is fuckin' infuriating.)
The top of the top of Dead Rising is that, at its best, "ignoring the mission" and "goin' nuts" constitutes saving peoples' lives. In Dead Rising, you get a supreme feeling of topping the game when you somehow manage to have seven katana-or-shotgun-packing survivors trailing along behind you, slaying zombies as you dash through the mall. I tell you, if their scores got added to your score, it'd be like a whole different game. Either way, that feeling you got in Grand Theft Auto the first couple of times you stood in the middle of the street and fired a pistol at a moving car until it exploded? Yeah, in Dead Rising, you can get mostly the same feeling from helping people survive. Even though your so doing might give the guys who know the truth a bad opportunity to die, and thus bury the true truth of the game, in which case, really, does it matter? How many horror movies that explain everything also end up satisfying anyone? Dead Rising is a curious narrative exercise, the more you think about its curious structure. You feel like you're breaking the game -- the way you have to feel when you're winning any battle in Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter -- slowly, over your knee, yet, at the same time, you're playing the part of the hero in a horror movie. You're playing the part of the guy who's going to live.
(Though yeah, you might be dressed up like a jackass. Yes, the game lets you dress up like a jackass. I guess that's part of the freedom thing. It also lets you dress up as a badass if you want, though I think most players figured if they had to be some kind of anythingass, they were going to be a jackass.)
And in the most clever structural quirk, the bosses are neither zombies nor monsters -- they are people. People, crazed. Driven to the edge at the sight of zombies -- driven to the point where they're willing to harm anything in their sight, zombie, human, or what. The Vietnam war veteran stalking zombies with a machete, calling them "Charlie" in the hardware store, is an especially intriguing example. The fat lesbian police officer who suddenly sees fit to kidnap young girls for wearing "inappropriate" clothing during the time of the zombie invasion is an even better example. My favorite, in principle, is probably the father and his two sons, sniping zombies and people alike -- one of the sons, see, feels guilty. No matter how ridiculous they are, they're also perfectly understandable. It's been said that you can write anything about mental illness and it can never be ridiculous. In the same way, in Dead Rising, if you lash out and kill a survivor, you're -- surprise -- still playing the part of a character in the story. That is to say -- all these other people went nuts and lost the ability to tell the difference between zombie and human, why couldn't Frank West, photojournalist who has covered wars before? (I mean, especially when he's wearing a "MegaMan: The Movie" officially licensed helmet on his head.)
Yet -- and this is the big marvel -- even if you have played a Grand Theft Auto game to completion, you probably won't want to kill a fellow innocent human, for the most dastardly of reasons. For one thing, all of the survivors have names. Even if you haven't met them even once, if a survivor whose name you don't know is killed by zombies (that is, if the internal clock passes the time when they are scheduled to die), giant red text appears on the screen, stating that survivor's first and last name, and the fact that they are dead. Even if you kill them yourself, there's that text. It's pretty profound. And if you hit someone, chances are they might "defect" -- that is, acknowledge you as an enemy. Hit someone enough times for it to not be an accident, and you might have a whole group of survivors defected, and lost, to you. And so the points you'll earn when you arrive back at the security room are diminished greatly.
Of course, the game is awash with touches of Kojima. (In fact, players seeing the true ending of the game, if they have played through Metal Gear Solid, they will no doubt know that the ending is a tribute to Kojima.) For example, one survivor only agrees to join you if you bring him food. And then, after you bring him back to the security room and some time passes, you'll get a call saying that the hungry man wants more food, and unless you bring some to him, he's going to take other survivors out into the mall to look for food. Another survivor -- a girl -- has been bitten by a zombie, and fears she might soon turn into one. You'll get a call later, saying she wants to talk in private. And then she'll ask you for a gun -- just in case she feels herself starting to turn. These people's requests might cut in to your mission schedule, though you really can't get angry about it, in the end -- it just endears the player to them even more.
And for another thing: the zombies themselves. What is a zombie? Why, an immorally resurrected person. A person reanimated through dark means. Beyond their own will. They had been resting peacefully; now they walk, desiring only the death-by-assimilation of anyone in their path, disturbing the peace of the yet-living. In more ways than one, zombies represent the past of civilization, walking again, trying (without trying) to exact some form of emotional response in the current generation. As something for dozens upon dozens of videogames with terrible plots to obsess over, zombies are a pretty telling and depressing motif; as roadblocks to steer AI companions around in Dead Rising, they're ingenious. Rendered realistically, with popping heads and plopping limbs, they are physically pleasing to destroy for fans of videogames who might, on another day, complain on the internet that the graphics in such-and-such first-person shooting game aren't "real enough", because, of course, they don't feel like destroying something simulated unless it looks precisely like a living, breathing human being. What I mean is, in Dead Rising, any passive-aggression you have for the world should logically be dealt with easily by slaughtering a few of the hundreds of real-enough, human-shaped enemies lining the corridors of the game's setting. If you find the rot in your heart to actually want to kill any or all of the survivors because it's "cool", then you don't understand the purpose of facsimiles, you are lying to yourself, or you should probably read a book or get some fresh air. On facsimiles: see, even the killable people in Grand Theft Auto are only similar to people. They're not actual people. All you're craving, young man, is the desire to try something immediately and know it's done. Try chopping some lettuce, making a salad, or eating udon noodles, then. Noodles, there's a game for you. If the soup is thick, you can't see the noodles when they dip beneath the liquid. Using chopsticks, grip a kinked edge sticking out above the surface of the soup, and pull up. Now reach out and grip another edge. Pull again. Maybe you've got two parts of the same noodle. The Japanese say udon noodles should be eaten one complete noodle at a time, and that the near-obscene length of the individual noodles signifies long life. You can bite a little bit of the noodle and eat it, though really, why not try to collect the entire noodle before eating it? Doing so feels like a test; it feels like success, and when you collect the whole noodle and toss it into your mouth, though you don't get multiplied points or anything of the sort, you do get quite a pleasant teeth-reflex. It's satisfying to chew. See, learn to appreciate things like this, and maybe you won't need videogames for, you know. Certain purposes.
What I'm alluding to is the purpose of immediate satisfaction. The preemptive reaction of gamers to the news regarding Dead Rising's data saving system pointed out huge deficits in, well, the morals encouraged by most games. Surely, in Halo, if you die, chances are the game has auto-saved from just a second before the fateful firefight. And so playing those games makes us feel comfortable, because we realize that we can try whatever crazy tactics we want, and if we die, it's okay, because we can start the whole battle all over again. In other words, like Grand Theft Auto, in which cars are so abundantly available that we feel no pride for cars, and don't mind driving them off bridges, in a game like Halo, life is so abundant that we don't feel any pride when we conduct our firefights. Dead Rising, meanwhile, only lets you save in a few key locations, each one separated by a sea of dangerous ground. This structure is undeniably incorporated in order to encourage dramatic performance of game segments. To lend the player a level of dramatic motivation and manufactured emotion: desperation.
Furthermore -- and most significantly -- the game world is very small. Even so, it's also extraordinarily complex. About as complex as, say, a new neighborhood. It takes you a couple of weeks to get into it -- to learn which vegetable shop has the best carrots, or which supermarket has the cheapest eggs. When you die, you face a choice of reloading the last save point or starting the game completely over with all of the experience points and status levels you've gained. Many of the players who complained about save points didn't realize the benefits of starting the game completely over -- every time you start over, you're stronger. The hero can carry more items (weapons and healing items), take more hits before you die, kill enemies in fewer hits, and -- and! -- you, the person playing the game, will possess the more knowledge about where things are in the mall, how things work, and/or which events happen when, and where. You're learning the game's schedule as well as its structure. And when the time comes to finally power through the game, a friend might be able to sit on the sofa next to you and say that you're pretty badass at playing this game. (A different friend might have been present days earlier, when you were gaining levels, during the free-form, experimental, controller passing, beer-drinking first "period" of your "career" with this game.) In other words, there you were, from the beginning, controlling Frank West, photojournalist extraordinaire, who has covered wars before, and there you are, bumbling around like an idoit and trying to put masks on zombies because it was hilarious. And here you are now, acting like you actually have covered wars before. Your first sequence of botched playthroughs, then, were like outtakes -- or rehearsals. And now, you're starring. As what it is, it's pretty great.
When I talked to Keiji Inafune about the game at Tokyo Game Show in 2005, where myself and Brandon Sheffield had both selected it as "game of the show", he told me that the structure wasn't yet in place. The game we'd played had starred a Frank West with five life bars and five inventory slots; eating one piece of food recovered one life bar, and most weapons broke and disappeared after five or six uses. In its primitive stages, it was like Ghouls 'n' Ghosts in a way; it had the same kind of edge-of-your-seat / this-could-be-over-at-any-second vibe. All that Inafune was sure of, as he said at the time, was that the story would be a big deal, and that the game would try its best to encourage the players to take risks and make decisions. Might the game have worked without the status upgrade system? Absolutely. There's more than enough good feeling to go around: beat the game after rescuing ten survivors and you feel better than you did when you beat it rescuing three. Try and rescue forty-seven survivors and muse with your friends about how it might be possible to beat it rescuing everyone. The game definitely would have worked just as well if the player didn't retain status upgrades at the time of each restart. To be certain, Frank is way too strong on level 50 (the highest level) for the game to continue to be fun; the game is overcompensating for the unwillingness of the players who don't want to play along. That is to say, it has money on its mind, and I guess I couldn't fault it for that, unless I tried.
The feeling I got from Inafune's words was that he was planning to make the game much like Kojima's original vision of Metal Gear Solid 3: that is, you can save the game -- you just can't continue if you die. The save, then, would purely function to allow you to take a break and turn the game off for a few hours, or days. The status system was no doubt added to the game to enforce a kind of "downward difficulty curve" -- that is, to encourage players to not give up, as a game that tells a story is a failure unless the player experiences all of that story.
As the "72 game hours" structure was apparently not set in stone at the time of Tokyo Game Show 2005, apparently it was undecided how exactly to pace the story. In the end, though it expands over the space of three days, it could have very well just been three real-time hours. Either way, as a game that tries and succeeds in making correct-minded players master long game scenes and then proceed to play them dramatically, it stands as the newest form of entertainment since those vibrating movie theaters that show only movies about cars flying into computer-animated volcanoes while encouraging you to leave if you start to feel sick. What we have here is a stylistic template of sorts for the first true generation of interactive cinema. It is, as such, shareware of the mind. Shrewd developers should treat it gently, by emulating it, ripping off its good parts, and ironing out its uneven patches for years to come. During the course of Dead Rising, literally dozens upon dozens of ideas for games came to me, and I'm hardly a game designer: a man has fifteen minutes to get from Akihabara Station to Ueno Station to meet his girlfriend for a date, and the trains have stopped running, meaning he'll have to dodge pedestrians on his run up the street; in precisely thirty minutes, a meteorite will fall (a psychic kid in the bathroom of a large store tells you that the world will end if you and your girlfriend do not meet reasonably on time, get married, and give birth to a son, and your girl's email says that if you're late again, she will break up with you); everywhere you stray from the path, something profoundly bizarre happens; there are literally hundreds of endings, the best one resulting when you're precisely three minutes late; getting in a taxi takes you somewhere else. Or how about a game set during the last twenty minutes of the existence of a medieval town about to be attacked by a giant dragon? Think of all the possibilities for design. Say you, a knight, enter a certain house that happens to belong to your mistress. All control falls out of your hands as he embraces her and she cries on his shoulder and the camera pans to show them standing in front of a window that looks out on the burning city until eventually everything fades to black.
Or, more to the task -- why not make a game that is precisely one real-time hour long, and stars two main characters? Give it half the depth of Dead Rising, the same "anything becomes a weapon" hook, and a tighter setting, and you've got dynamite. Maybe an airport full of werewolves? How fucked up would that be? Maybe you have to guide all of the survivors to the last airplane. You could play the game over and over and over again, over Xbox Live, even. Two-player co-op -- both characters could have headset walkie-talkies. Like, real world Xbox Live headsets! Scores could be calculated based on a huge range of factors. This game could, essentially, deliver on the promise of such "cinematic" scenario-heavy games like Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, which have so many missions, though none of them ever feel like anything more than a videogame. Add a little of Dead Rising's scheduling elements, pacing, and motivation to rise above the call of the story duty, and then craft just one intricate scenario lovingly enough, and the results should shine. We could see a serious boom in games like this. Big budget, bold games that are simple in scope and incredibly deep (and difficult), which do not frustrate the player with their intricacies because they don't take thirty hours to complete. Call it "Werewolves in an Airport" if you have to. Or "Vampires in an Airport." Man, there could be a whole series of different horror movie monsters in an airport. Eventually there would be kind of a boss-rush version, called "Monsters in an Airport".
This is, hopefully, the direction that game design may be heading, all thanks to Dead Rising.
Of course, the game is not absolutely perfect. The survivors can be really stupid sometimes. As I might have said above, watching them all push and scramble and scream at one another as they try to all simultaneously occupy the precise point you told them to convene at is apocalyptically amusing . . . the first one or two times it happens. The weapon inventory is a little too big, by the end of the game, and switching weapons feels really cheesy, because the weapons are just popping in and out of your hands. For a game so hardcore-harsh about schedules and missed connections, it's weird to have a character who can carry a dozen heavy things at once.
Most obnoxiously is the walkie-talkie I discussed above. When Otis, in the security room, calls Frank with a tip on survivors stranded in the mall, Frank holds the god damned walkie-talkie to his ear and listens intently. This means that, for the duration of the slow text scroll, you can't attack any zombies who might be approaching. And Otis calls hundreds of times. And if you cut him off, he calls back again instantly to force you to listen to the whole message. And if you ignore him, the walkie-talkie keeps ringing. Pick it up the second time, and he says "Don't cut me off -- it's rude." Yeah, maybe this is some kind of commentary on the short attention spans of videogamers, yeah, though I personally couldn't be bothered to give a fuck because it annoyed half the shit out of me! Mostly for logical reasons -- for example, walkie-talkies don't ring and they don't need to be held up to the ear. Furthermore, why do they have to call everything a "SCOOP CHANCE"? Why put game jargon on it? Why not just let the information sit where it is -- "There's a woman in the jewelry store" -- and then leave it to the player to put two and two together? Adding an arbitrary name to distinguish the types of information is kind of like that moment in Saint's Row where you realize an in-game character actually spoke the words "Unlock more missions". It's jarring as shit, and weird, and phony.
The walkie-talkie situation could have been repaired completely, simply by making the messages voice-acted as opposed to text. Of course, this was a budget issue. As explained, Otis has a lot of lines. Probably several hours' worth of recording and programming. And you'd have to pay the actor's salary. It's for similar reasons, I assume, that the survivors don't speak, either. If you start putting voices into some parts, you make the parts that don't have voices come off as really cheap. And once everyone is speaking, you have to get clever about the design. Once Otis isn't as annoying, he might start giving you the same call four or five times. "Frank, that woman is still in the jewelry store." This would pop in while you're thrashing zombies, and you'd think, oh, yeah, he's right.
I get the feeling, though, that if this were, say, a Resident Evil game, everyone would speak.
In other words, I'm insinuating that Capcom was a little bit cautious with the game. Such insinuations are most likely not out of bounds! For starters, the game is brand-new. It does not belong to a series. It has no number in its title. It predominantly features zombies, and wears the logo of a company that has made so many other games with zombies in them. And most importantly, it is by a Japanese developer, and for a console that has had no success at all in Japan. Certainly, in its released form minus a few textures, it could have been a PS2 game. How and why Keiji Inafune managed to convince Capcom executives to let him plow forward with this game is a heck of a mystery.
Still, the risks paid off, and the finished game, though far from perfect, is a risk-taking piece of mastery and a compelling hint at the possible future of entertainment. And more importantly than that, from the perspective of the Capcom executives who might have imposed the budget restraints that resulted in the game not having enough voice acting (among other things), is that it sold a million copies. This is a huge deal -- it is the first Japanese-made game for either Xbox hardware to sell more than a million copies worldwide. Why, precisely, it sold a million copies, I'm not sure, much as I find the game brilliant. All of the reviews I've looked at seemed to call it "decent" -- and one of them even called it a "noble yet ultimately failed effort to revive the beat-em-up". Like Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter, Dead Rising plays with the conventions of the genre or genres it inhabits, and ends up confusing the critics. (They called Dragon Quarter "too short" and "too drab".) Only in the case of Dead Rising, the people bought it anyway. There must have been more than a little mathematics involved in Inafune's producer role -- it's a Capcom game with zombies, which might look a little embarrassing at this point, though heck if American Xbox 360 owners have any other Capcom game with zombies on their next-generation videogame console. Luckily, the short-sightedness of the Japanese executive works in two weird parasitic ways: they will vote no confidence in a game without a number in its title as quickly as they will commission a sequel of a new game based purely on sales. One would think that a little studying up (and/or less drinking in business school) would endow the Japanese business world with the spark of an idea that thorough-as-possible product potential quality assessment on the conceptual level might cut down on the superfluous and ridiculous numbers being attached to game titles while simultaneously actually raising overall profits in the end, though what the hell do I know? I'm just a guy on the internet, and I've never worked a day in the business division of a large Japanese company in my life. Going on two years now, actually. Hell.
In the last issue of Weekly Famitsu rolled out in 2006, Keiji Inafune and Hironobu Sakaguchi were pictured together -- the latter relaxed, the former in a leather jacket, both with triumphant grins on their faces -- in a four-page interview on the subject of "Why we're making games for Xbox 360." They talked about there being more of a chance for "creative initiative" on Xbox 360 than on PlayStation 3. I sighed a deep sigh of "Aha" at this. In other words, Inafune was saying he didn't want to make sequels to Onimusha forever. He didn't want to make Onimusha Twelve someday, because that would sound god damned ridiculous. So he went to Microsoft and said he'd make them a game -- a Capcom game, and one with zombies in it -- with a new title. And Microsoft said yes because -- because, why? Because they're "encouraging creative initiative"? No -- because they're taking what they can get, from Japanese publishers. They're as eager for a Capcom Zombie game as Inafune is eager to make a game that doesn't have a number in its title. And then you get people writing comments on blog sites that should really fucking disable reader comments, about how Capcom is throwing "scraps" to Microsoft because "teh $0NY" owns exclusive deals to all of the "real games". Fuck you, you circle-jerking fucks! You brainfisters! You oxygen vandalizers! You chumpsacks! You're the ones who bemoan the lack of innovation in videogames. Make up your fucking minds or just shut the fuck up. Capcom isn't throwing scraps -- they're making something they want to make, as opposed to something that the bosses at the ranch strongly believe will move units. The same exact people who love Clover Studio and appreciate their willingness to make one-shot games of radically differing concepts would also raise their hands and say that, yes, they oppose to the idea of a developer making a game as "The makers of Dead Rising" because that would be "arrogant". That they consider a "new franchise" from qualified developers of huge-selling software a "scrap" is evidence of the weird closed-minded train of thought we have running rampant in "the videogame industry" these days. You people think like a fucking kinked garden hose, sometimes.
This may be Capcom's last chance, anyway; it figures that once a big game like Dead Rising or Lost Planet is out of the gates and has sold well enough, Microsoft wants sequels, same as Sony would have. So there will be future Dead Rising games, which isn't so bad, I guess, because the hero is kind of likable and there are plenty of other awesomely exploitable situations. (Though I reckon that now that the story has been completely explained in the first game, even though the future installments are all set up, there won't be much of a "mystery" element. That's not, however, ruling out the potential for awesome stories.) Lost Planet, though. Man. Why bother making a sequel to Lost Planet? Why not just make "another shooting action adventure game from the makers of Lost Planet"? Is the next one going to be about alien bugs in snow, too? How many games about alien bugs in snow do we need, anyway? Can't we have alien bats in a volcanic wasteland?
Well, whatever happens to this series, or any of Keiji Inafune's future endeavors, let it be said that this game right here, the original Dead Rising, is the official insertcredit.com GAME OF THE YEAR, 2006. We hope that's enough. Also, because the game is so much fun and made me feel like a kid with an NES again, discovering Megaman 3 for the first time, I made this image to celebrate my love for the game. Okay, so a guy named Brady Hartel from Hardcore Gamer magazine made it, though hey, it was my idea: it's supposed to look just like those Capcom advertisements that ran in Marvel comic books in the early 1990s.
If you're going to hire anyone to do your advertising Capcom, it would have to be me. I work only freelance and refuse to move. Call me!
Among the more bizarre food for thought bits about Dead Rising is the controversy surrounding its Japanese release. Shortly before Dead Rising's release, CERO (Computer Entertainment Rating Organization) changed their ratings system from numbers -- ALL, 12, 15, 17, 18 -- to letters -- A, B, C, D, Z -- for "reasons of clarity". The previous rating system's numbers indicated the recommended age of the user. The current system's letters indicate the degree of the bitching extremity of the content. Apparently, under the previous system, a "17"-rated game required supervision of a parent or guardian to purchase, and an "18"-rated game was simply not sellable to minors. The way retailers seemed to be handling this was interesting: they were selling the "17"s to anyone, and checking ID on the "18"s. I really wonder about ratings systems that draw a line between seventeen and eighteen -- really, what's supposed to happen in that one year? Have things changed in America that much since I graduated from high school? Do they now slip a pistol, a couple of clips, a bag of cocaine, five hundred dollars and a hooker's business card into the pockets of every graduation gown handed out prior to the ceremony? The current Japanese ratings system indicates the vast rift between the "17" and the "18" content by renaming them "D" and "Z". Whether or not the message will get through here, in a country where the primary use of the English alphabet involves an "S" rank being more valuable than an "A" or a "B", remains to be seen. Though right from the outset, the ridiculousness is thick and bubbling: basically, distancing the "Z" in such a way, and putting the "Z" games on a shelf of their own at most major retailers -- naming "violent" games as a "genre" -- is like saying "These other three content ratings are just suggestions -- we really mean this one." In other words, they're softly declaring that the ratings system is bullshit. Perhaps lacking confidence in the ratings system, Capcom took their bloody, zombie-chopping simulation Dead Rising, destined to earn an "18" while it was still in pre-production (something about zombies not being funny according to this culture where the dead are highly and gravely honored -- or maybe something about horror / mutilation), and willingly and unnecessarily censored the gore, much to the disappointment of, well, nearly everyone here who wanted to buy it (if the Japanese Internet tells no lies). They made dismemberments and beheadings -- of zombies, yes -- impossible. Rather than see a zombie's head pop off, riding a geyser of blood, you'll slash him in the neck and he just falls over. They toned the game down, is what they did. Why? Most likely because they knew that under-eighteen players who really wanted it would find a way to get it anyway. They did the same thing to Resident Evil 4. I suppose that's called "social responsiblility". Hell of a remarkable thing for a videogame company to have, now that you think about it. Really, though. Kids under eighteen don't own Xboxes. They're too . . . heavy.
[next: something delicious]