Tag Archives: Saints Row IV

When Music Makes the Game

Yesterday I started playing Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. I’ve never played a Far Cry game, but heard good things about this one so I wanted to give it a go. I get through the cinematic intro and the gameplay starts. I’m in a helicopter, with a laser gun, and Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally is playing. Boom, I’m instantly hooked. And I’ve never even seen Predator. A good song automatically gets me excited to play.

It got me thinking about how a good licensed soundtrack can really enhance a game. One series that uses music exceptionally well is Saints Row. Popular music is used enhance set pieces – in SR3, Kanye’s Power plays as you take over a rival gang’s penthouse apartment, and Holding Out for a Hero is the track when you race to rescue your crew near the end of the game; in SR4 Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing plays as you’re selflessly risking life and limb to diffuse a nuke and save the United States from an attack.

Music is also used to help you bond with your homies on their loyalty missions. Pierce’s mission is always a highlight in the games for me, with SR3 having him and The Boss sing along to What I Got, while it’s Opposites Attract that offers a bonding moment in SR4. It’s the music that gets me into the game, and performances of the voice actors that make the characters come to life.

Another game that uses licensed music in a spectacular way is Spec Ops: The Line. Vietnam era rock is a mainstay of the war shooter, even those set in present or future days. While The Line does deliver a few of these classics, such as songs by Hendrix, Deep Purple, or the lyrically relevant Nowhere to Run by Martha & the Vandellas, it also delivers some more diverse, though ultimately very fitting songs. Rather than stick to the 60s and 70s catalogues for the soundtrack, it ventures into more recent music that plays homage to the sounds and messages of the era, such as the Canadian rock band Black Mountain’s Stormy High, or The Black Angels’ The First Vietnamese War. More unexpected are the addition of Mogwai’s quiet RU Still In 2 It or Björk’s Storm. However, though they are unexpected, they fit the tone of the game perfectly. Spec Ops: The Line is a game that subverts expectations in many ways, not just musically but narratively. I highly recommend listening to the soundtrack, preferably as you play the game.

Good music can also be used to great effect in trailers, often making me interested in a game that would otherwise fly right under my radar. My feelings on the Call of Duty franchise are quite ambivalent. Advanced Warfare was the first game I played (and reviewed) in the series, and while I thought it was a solid shooter, it didn’t send me running out to pick up any of the other 700 games in the franchise. When the Black Ops III trailer released a few weeks ago, I thought it looked great. However, after thinking about it for a while, it occurred to me that the use of The Rolling Stones’ Paint it Black was responsible for 99% of my excitement. The actual gameplay doesn’t look much different than AW. This is not the first CoD trailer to make use The Rolling Stones either.

Original soundtracks also often make a game for me, with Bastion being the soundtrack I always think of first, but that’s a topic for another post.


Is there any particular use of licensed music in a game that sticks out for you?

Under the Covers

I’ve been playing the remaster of Saints Row 4 on XBox One and thoroughly enjoying it. Besides engaging gameplay, zany antics, and ridiculously juvenile yet hilarious jokes, Saints Row boasts one of the best character creators I’ve seen in a game. When you create The Boss you have a ton of options. Aside from choosing your sex, you can choose your race and your skin colour. You can choose from multiple different voice actors with different accents to voice your character, and further customize the pitch of your voice. You can make your character appear young or old, and choose a body build that you like. Then there are a thousand different clothing options. And if you ever want to change things up, you can do so at any point in the game.

My character is what I’d like to look like in a video game. She has purple hair, some meat on her bones, and some major eyeliner and brow game. She’s voiced by the wonderful Laura Bailey who I wish I sounded like. But every time I load up the game, I’m greeted with this guy.

Saints Row 4 cover and loading screen art

Who the fuck is this guy?

He’s certainly not me. He’s not in my crew. I’ve never seen him in my game.

I love playing the game but every time I’m met with this image, which is also the art on the game box, there’s a moment of cognitive dissonance. The canon protagonist (at least in marketing materials) has nothing to do with my experience of playing the game. It seems so incongruous to offer up this great character creator that lets people create the kind of protagonist they want to play, but then show us a design that’s likely completely different anytime there’s a chance.

Saints Row is obviously not the only game that has done this.

Covers for Dragon Age 2, Fable 3, Sunset Overdrive all showing a white male main character

Dragon Age 2, Fable 3, and Sunset Overdrive also all portray the protagonist as a white male despite offering other options to the player.

The Mass Effect series boasts a decent character creator (though it’s not as robust as Saints Row’s), but all of the artwork around the first 2 games still features a default white male Shepard. Incidentally, he kind of looks like the guy from the Saints Row cover with a buzz cut.

Mass Effect 1 and 2 cover art

For Mass Effect 3 Bioware’s marketing department realized some people had recognized the superiority of Jennifer Hale’s Shepard (I refuse to use the term femShep, because she. is. Shepard.) In a puzzling move (or not so puzzling if you want to absolve yourself of all responsibility), Bioware put the decision on how she would look to a fan vote. Blue-eyed, blonde-haired, Caucasian Shepard won the popular vote in what could be boiled down to a beauty contest. Then there was a second vote to decide her hair colour. Yep, hard-ass, space Commander, first human Spectre Shepard had her skin colour, features, and hair style voted on by the public. Now that there was a canon design for both the male and female Shepard, Mass Effect 3 had a reversible box cover (of which maleShep was still the default).

Mass Effect 3 covers

I’m afraid that marketing departments just can’t win with me. Though I can (and have) flipped the cover of my Mass Effect 3 box for 360 to show the version of Shepard that’s closer to my own, it’s still not my Shepard. My Shepard is an N7 Marine and she sure as hell would never have a haircut that allowed bangs to obstruct her eyes. That’s really not safe for combat. While having an option for female box art is something, it still doesn’t take into account how people have created their own version of Shepard. Why does she have to be white? Why does she need to have delicate, conventionally attractive features? Why does she have a design that you can’t really even replicate in-game while box art maleShep and in-game maleShep can look pretty much identical? These are the great mysteries of the Mass Effect world.

I think the best way to market games that allow you to customize your character is to not show the protagonist in the artwork. It’s the only way to avoid that sense of dissonance and the feeling that if you’re not playing as scruffy white male #42, you’re not playing the character as it was designed. A number of games have done this, and I don’t think any have suffered from not putting a face on the box art.

Dragon Age Inquisition box art

The box art for Dragon Age: Inquisition has an enticing design that shows something of the story, without committing to a specific character design. This should work for most characters. Unless you play a dwarf, then you’re out of luck.

Dragon Age Origins box cover

Dragon Age: Origins has artwork that doesn’t give any indication of a canon Warden, while still being quite effective.

Fallout 3 and New Vegas box art

The newer Fallout games both feature heavily armored figures which don’t give away sex, race, or appearance, but tell you a lot about the game world. Though I’m sad to admit I always assumed the figure on the cover of New Vegas was male just because of lack of sculpted boob plate. But when I force that stereotype out of my head, it could really be a man or a woman.

Why spend so much time and effort giving players robust character customization only to default to the standard scruffy white male protagonist in all the marketing materials?

 

Too Much Time to Blog

It’s been a bit quiet here of late. The reason is that I’m currently out of a job. I tend to do most of my writing (and reading of other blogs) at work while I’m strapped to a computer and have downtime. When I’m at home I tend to avoid the computer outside of using it to play games. So I’m not particularly up on the news at the moment or inspired to write anything.

On the bright side, I’ve had a lot of time to play games and I’ve been making videos a bit more frequently. I’m still working on finding my voice and getting comfortable with editing and talking to a camera, but I think I’ve improved since my first one. Lately I’ve been doing recommendations for great short games that can be completed in a couple of hours and also replaying and reviewing my favorite games from a long, long time ago. If you’re into videos and haven’t already, please check them out. Subscribes, likes, comments, and constructive criticism are always appreciated.

Also, the first episode of the new Contains Moderate Peril podcast that I’m now a co-host on went up this week. I think it went well and will only get better as we all get more used to working together. On this episode we talked about cheating in video games, spoilers, celebrity voice acting, and dlc & microtransactions. I really enjoy that the podcast features voices from both sides of the Atlantic (and it also makes our voices all really easy to tell apart), and I had a lot of fun recording the first episode. You can grab the podcast from the CMP website, iTunes, or Stitcher.

In terms of what I’ve been playing, there’s a lot! I’m really into Saints Row IV right now. Sometimes I forget how great it is when I spend a lot of time on mini-games, then I do a loyalty or story quest and am reminded about what a ridiculously fun and funny game it is. Highlight so far (other than the killer opening) – singing Opposites Attract with Pierce.

I’ve also been replaying Mass Effect 3. Unfortunately I lost my save from a few months ago, so I had to load up my original game and I’ve been doing all the DLC for the first time. I finally did The Citadel which was a blatant and wonderful bit of fan service. Unfortunately, though I was looking forward to the Vega romance this DLC introduced, they did it in the most creepy and inappropriate way possible and made my Shepard feel like a sexual predator. So I’m just going to block that out of my memory of the DLC.

I played through Dungeons of Dredmor, an amusing dungeon crawler. It was fun for a bit though it got old pretty quickly. It’s a roguelike, which I’m really not into, but I was able to turn off permadeath so I at least got some enjoyment out of it.

I’ve been slowly making my way through Grim Fandango. I issued a challenge to myself a while back that I’d go through adventure games without walkthroughs. That went okay in the first year of the game, but I got stuck pretty soon after and had to give up on that challenge. Adventure games were always one of my favourite genres, by oh my god, the puzzle solutions are so stupid and out of left field. I think with most of my favourites I only still enjoy playing them now because I remember all the solutions so I never feel like an idiot, because playing Grim Fandango for the first time sure makes me feel dumb. I think the game has a lot of things going for it – the concept is great, the writing and characters are funny – but those puzzles. Also, for the remaster I really wish they had highlighted objects that could be picked up and hidden entrances to new screens a bit more.

Fantasia: Music Evolved is a rhythm game that uses the Kinect on the XBoxOne. I played this for the first time with KaleriSara, and a number of alcoholic beverages and it was hilarious. The game has you waving your arms around like a conductor to create and remix music, and though going through menus and such with the Kinect can be a bit janky, doing the songs is great fun. I’ve been slowly making my way through the single player game when I feel like doing some more active gaming.

I also played through Bionic Heart, which is a visual novel dating sim thing, and it was really not for me.

That’s it for now. Hopefully I’ll figure out a way to be more active here (or get a job) soon.