Can you believe it? It’s 2011. That’s four years after Portal; seven years since Half-Life 2; fifteen years before the release of Episode Three.
Among other things, this means that I am old. Uncontrollably old. So old that, not only do I remember Half-Life 2, but also Half-Life 1. I’m starting to understand how Phillip feels. He’s like, seventy-eight? Or something? I don’t remember — I know he substitutes as Santa Claus at Christmas. Meanwhile, William insists on growing and sculpting the pitiful fuzz on his face to give the illusion of being that old.
With my age comes being able to appreciate the more pedantic things in games. Take Portal 2 for example, I loved this game so much. It’s the first thing I’ve loved since Panda Express opened four streets down. Portal 2 had a phenomenal writing staff, and yet, they insisted on going beyond that and hired Stephen Merchant — not only a brilliant actor and writer, but also the perfect person for the role of Wheatley. Even the name Wheatley was funny.
Portal 2 had a perfect storm of gameplay, writing, and acting. For me, the story was the most important part of Portal 2. Yes, Portal is a puzzle game at heart; yes, video games are not vessels for stories; and yes, if anything, story is more like the condiments on the delicious meat tube that is the hot dog of video gaming. But for me, sometimes that processed barrel of crushed animal carcass is just an excuse to plop some mustard and ketchup on it, because damn, do I love relish.
This brings up an interesting point: why don’t more mods focus on story? Granted, the best mod of all time (for any game), Research and Development, had the emotional depth of Sasha Grey, but it still romped the faces of every other single player mod in the world. Why is that? It was lighthearted, tediously designed, and plain fun. But it could have been so much more. All it needed was that little extra story or voice acting and I feel it could have put triple-a games to shame.
And this is a problem. Story, dialogue – these are the cheapest, easiest things to do for a mod developer. It takes hundreds, sometimes thousands of working hours to perfect a level or a character model. Yet, it takes a few minutes in a word processor to drum up some fairly viable dialogue for a voice actor to say. Granted, the voice acting is where you win or lose. They could have given Stephen Merchant the dialogue from Birdemic, and he still would have found a way to make it hilarious and noteworthy — but finding voice actors is even easier than writing the dialogue. There are literally billions of starving voice actor artists out there who I’m sure wouldn’t mind the opportunity to brush up on their skills for a few hours for the fee of free.
Inexplicably, I’m becoming so angry I could punch a kitten, so I will cease this atavistic hacking away at my keyboard for the moment and resign this topic to next week’s column, when I’ve had more time to think about how to approach this problem with my vastly ignorant knowledge of the modding community. This will also give me some time to think of more quips about William’s facial hair and Phillip’s age.