A Heavy Rain Upon Interactive Storytelling, Part 2

A spoon full of sugar…

…I care so little about the characters of Heavy Rain, that I fail to recall their names.

So, do I care that I have to cut the father’s finger off in order to progress? No, I’m not stupid, I know that he isn’t real. Nor do I see much moral dilemma in directing a virtual fictional character in blowing another away with a shotgun – that character presumably being a drug dealer has nothing to do with my decision.

Perhaps if we had the technology to create true artificial intelligence capable to feeling simulated pain, then maybe I would care – but, don’t count on it, as one power-button push or reload of a save, and he’ll have forgotten the torment I’ve inflicted upon him for my own depraved amusement.

The point I’m trying to make here, is that trying to make me care and emphasis with these characters via extreme situations, some bordering on the absurd, is kinda pointless.

I must admit however, I did enjoy the voyeuristic shower scene. I bet that many a teenage boy came to realise just how hard it is to use a controller with one hand. And there was something about the early family-life scenes that I found intriguing – perhaps to do with my age and not having a family of my own yet.

But as a work of interactive storytelling, it is fundamentally flawed. As a game, it is almost non-existent.

However, Heavy Rain is or has been released as a Move title. In some way, I can see how this might help to overcome the hurdle of “interactive” storytelling, even if the storytelling is still abhorrently fundamentally flawed. In that at least the interactivity has a chance of moving in a more immersive direction beyond pressing buttons in the right sequence.

Potentially, creating a real engagement with the game world and therefore, story.

Of course, that’s if these new controllers can actually deliver on their hype, unlike the Wii, that at best, delivers depth of interaction at the cost of breadth of interaction styles. The result is actually a rather shallow interactive experience – but then again, I don’t actually own a Wii…

Regardless, if game developers are going to persist at wanting to be filmmakers, then at the least, they can try learning how to craft and tell a decent story.

The way I see it, there are three interwoven plots:

  • The Killer’s: a journey into the mind of a killer and his formative past.
  • The Detective / Reporter’s: the need to uncover the truth of the events of the present.
  • The Father’s: his redemptive need to not lose his family’s last chance at a future.

Out of all of them, I’d say that the Killer’s is the most important and “fresh” in way of subject mater as far as gaming is concerned.

However, as it stands, this character comes across as a bit of a cliché due to awkward story telling. Of course, it’s only really a cliché if you don’t realise that he is the killer to begin with. If you learn from almost the very start, that he is the killer. That you ARE the killer. You’re playing as him, in his shoes as he cleans up loose threads and cover’s his own tracks. Then that changes things considerably – sure, it’s lacking the twist of Surveillance (2008), but maybe, it provides a radical insight into the “evil” motives of broken man, like Breaking Bad (2008-10) does for a drug dealer.

Many a film chooses not to hide the killer’s identity to the audience, why not for an “interactive” story; should it be any different?

Doing this, makes the game become less about a father’s love for his son, and more about, what motivates this man to do the things he does to others. Why is he kidnapping these kids and putting these fathers through hell? What makes this guy tick, makes him capable of it. Is it a case of nurture or nature? I don’t think any game has strived to do that in any intelligent way, by letting you, step into a serial killer’s shoes, and having the “father,” act as proxy and metaphor for the culpability and redemption of society in helping to create this modern-day monster.

Cries of a broken sense of morality aside, don’t you think a lot of people would consider that worth the price of admission to experience? I do, especially if it paints a striking image of our killer. That he is very much human and not not some pop-culture bogeyman. With the plethora of crime shows popular these days, like Dexter (2006-10), I think that many would buy into this ride.

Of course, there would be a lot of flak for making a game like that. For letting people through a dark door. Sure it’s nothing new to film – The Killer Inside Me (2010) is a good example – but since it’s “interactive” and all games are only played by children. Well, we can’t corrupt the children?! Please, think of the children.

As for the detective, isn’t he just the mirror image of his partner? Both strike me as “flawed” people. Both have their “troubled” pasts. Both have “anger” issues. Perhaps both are thought of as “unstable” – our killer was merely further down the track and the first to “retire.” Both at the heart of them, are killers. Both are on the same spectrum of personality. It’s like the character’s Al Pacino and Robert De Niro play in Heat (1995). Pacino a cop, and Niro as a criminal. They sit across from one another at a café. They have a conversation even though they are both on the opposite side of the fence. They can have one, because at the heart of them, they are both the same animal.

It’s the same with the detective and killer. One has crossed the line, the other, could very well end up doing so – deciding to shoot a criminal rather than go through the trouble of arresting him and seeing him walk on a technicality, for instance.

Having the detective in place of the FBI agent as a playable main character, also makes for an interesting if clichéd twist. In that this potentially offers some kind of dramatic-link to the killer, in that it could easily be stated or suggested that they used to be partners – might make for an interesting show-down at the end, or, highlight another aspect of the subject nature – that is until his drunk unstable partner, was forced into an early retirement as a private detective by the department.

At least that’s your partner claims. In reality, the guy is too much of a mess to make it it as a private-eye.

The Wonder Years…

Speaking of our drunken killer, there is no “trigger” for his behaviour. And speaking of “links,” there is no link to the sophisticated nature of the killings and a means of finally putting the final “piece” together that leads to him. That “trigger, link and piece” is the first death. And I mean death as opposed to killing.

A solution that comes to mind, is to have someone known to the killer die. A boy that is older than those that he elaborately sets up to die. A boy that like he was, is being neglected (and abused) by his father, his family. An introvert that is shy, awkward but gifted. Whose only friend if you can call him that, is, our killer – he may have even seen something in the kid that he recognises but doesn’t quite comprehend, perhaps, they were both to each other surrogate father and son.

The boy sets up his own death, a cry for help suicide. He uses his technical gifts to set up a situation to test his father’s love, and, to punish him with his death if he fails. Fails he does.

This triggers our killer, as it mirrors aspects of his “developmental” past. He’s the one that finally finds the kid’s body – he’s a private-eye, maybe they asked him to help since he used to be a cop (not that far-fetched is it?). He’s the one that investigates the “gadgets” the kid’s used, by asking “experts” (RadioShack geeks) as to how to go about doing it – maybe he learns that it’s not that hard to do once you’ve been shown how; just gotta follow the steps, you don’t need to know why the steps work.

Perhaps he even removes some of these gadgets, some of these pieces of evidence. Which he then uses in the future in some twisted deep-rooted need to fill a hole within himself that was left by his brother’s passing, which he blames and hates his father for but ultimately feels guilty about – like the misplaced quilt he feels for this boy’s passing.

He funnels this along with a disenchantment with humankind – stemming from years working in the police force and seeing the rotten depraved underbelly of society, erasing all empathic links to his fellow man – creating a deranged search for redemption, a search for a father-figure, triggered by this neglected child’s needless death forcing buried memories to the surface.

Anyway, enough with the pesudo-psychology. Quite simply, this is how the Origami Killer is born, and, how he is finally identified – by a tragic death, not, murder.

The cops don’t link this death because the boy was too old and all the details didn’t quite match – he could have removed technical evidence, as I suggest. Hell, the killer is a detective after all, he knows how they work a scene, he has some idea of how to stay one or two steps ahead of them; so, it’s not like he’s going to make the job easy for them, and, the last thing there gonna think is that it’s the work of one of their own.

But, with some “detective” work – perhaps the kid’s mother is adamant that her son’s death was the work of the Origami Killer, not willing to face the truth – our detective finds this piece of the puzzle, then, checks to see where this boy lived. Well what do you know, he lives just a stone throw away from where you’re old psycho-cop partner lives.

Isn’t that interesting, I wonder where this reasoning will lead us… ?

You could also add an additional element, in that maybe our retired asthmatic has a hobby, that being dabbling in electronics – or amateur bomb and drunken threat-making, if that makes more sense. Maybe that’s how he “knows” this initial kid who’s death triggers a spat of deranged daddy-issues murders. They know each other from the local RadioShack.

This starts to add some credibility to our man being the Origami Killer, as long as you tone down some of the high-tech setups. They’re a poor substitute for a good story and gameplay, anyhow, and should focus on being clever yet simple – Ted Bundy wore a fake arm-cast, luring women to help him load stuff into his car, when they bent down, he’d knock them out cold with the cast; cunning yet low-tech.

Anyway, it’s not perfect – and there are still a few plot holes to fill in – but, it’s not any worse than some of the dubious films that I’ve watched where within 5 minutes I’ve immediately identified the culprit and yawned at the unrealistic premise for a plot. But, it did only take me a short stay on the toilet to cook it up.

Surely, an experienced development studio with an actual budget to spend, could come up with something far better…

Just remember, that if you want people to go along for a ride, and, willingly suspend their disbelief with that experience’s story. Then at least give them a Shutter Island (2010), please, and not this messy trite – at least it had its fair share of borderline suspense and willful violence.

Everything a growing (imaginative-loner) boy needs!

Make sure to read: A Heavy Rain Upon Interactive Storytelling, Part 1!

Out of all of them, I’d say that the Killer’s is the most important and “fresh” in way of subject mater as far as gaming is concerned.

 

However, as it stands, this character comes across as a bit of a cliché due to awkward story telling. Of course, it’s only really a cliché if you don’t realise that he is the killer to begin with. If you learn from almost the very start, that he is the killer. That you ARE the killer. You’re playing as him, in his shoes as he cleans up loose threads and cover’s his own tracks. Then that changes things considerably – sure, it’s lacking the twist of Surveillance (2008), but maybe, it provides a radical insight into the “evil” motives of broken man, like Breaking Bad (2008-10) does for a drug dealer.

 

Many a film chooses not to hide the killer’s identity to the audience, why not for an “interactive” story; should it be any different?

 

Doing this, makes the game become less about a father’s love for his son, and more about, what motivates this man to do the things he does to others. Why is he kidnapping these kids and putting these fathers through hell? What makes this guy tick, makes him capable of it. Is it a case of nurture or nature? I don’t think any game has strived to do that in any intelligent way, by letting you, step into a serial killer’s shoes, and having the “father,” act as proxy and metaphor for the culpability and redemption of society in helping to create this modern-day monster.

 

Cries of a broken sense of morality aside, don’t you think a lot of people would consider that worth the price of admission to experience? I do, especially if it paints a striking image of our killer. That he is very much human and not not some pop-culture bogeyman. With the plethora of crime shows popular these days, like Dexter (2006-10), I think that many would buy into this ride.

 

Of course, there would be a lot of flak for making a game like that. For letting people through a dark door. Sure it’s nothing new to film – The Killer Inside Me (2010) is a good example – but since it’s “interactive” and all games are only played by children. Well, we can’t corrupt the children?! Please, think of the children.

 

As for the detective, isn’t he just the mirror image of his partner? Both strike me as “flawed” people. Both have their “troubled” pasts. Both have “anger” issues. Perhaps both are thought of as “unstable” – our killer was merely further down the track and the first to “retire.” Both at the heart of them, are killers. Both are on the same spectrum of personality. It’s like the character’s Al Pacino and Robert De Niro play in Heat (1995). Pacino a cop, and Niro as a criminal. They sit across from one another at a café. They have a conversation even though they are both on the opposite side of the fence. They can have one, because at the heart of them, they are both the same animal.

 

It’s the same with the detective and killer. One has crossed the line, the other, could very well end up doing so – deciding to shoot a criminal rather than go through the trouble of arresting him and seeing him walk on a technicality, for instance.

 

Having the detective in place of the FBI agent as a playable main character, also makes for an interesting if clichéd twist.

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