World War I In Video Games

For most of the last decade, the European or South Pacific Theaters of World War II were used as the setting for most First-Person-Shooter games. It was where the now famous Call of Duty and Battlefield franchises got their start and where longtime veteran Medal of Honor ran around until they were unable to compete against the playing experiences the two new kids brought to the table. Despite dominating the setting, the sheer number of horrible cash-ins, as well as the desire to see a modern world rendered in all the lovely shades of brown and gray that current generations graphics were triumphantly boasting.

Five years since Call of Duty: Modern Warfare abandoned the World War II setting, we’ve now in the midst of doing the same thing with the modern setting, running it straight into the ground. With Activision proudly releasing yearly map packs, the modern warfare setting has been done to death in just five-years, what it took the World War II setting to do in about 8-9 years. Companies are largely unwilling to explore more recent wars like the Vietnam War because of the unconventional style of fighting as well as the ambiguities and atrocities committed during that war. The recent modern games all take place in fictional countries with fictional leaders and motives that hover somewhere just above a James Bond film. There is one setting that hasn’t been explored at all by any major video game developer, or even really any indie publisher, and that’s World War I.

It’s not exactly hard to see why it’s been ignored. It gets glossed over during most American high school history classes because of the United States’ committed mentality towards isolationism. All of the veterans are now dead, and the starting date is quickly approaching its 100th anniversary. Besides all that though, the ambiguity of the war is even more prevalent than in other wars, with no clear “good vs. bad” like with World War II. It was a war was largely brought on by the linger effects of 19th century colonialism, empiricism, arms race, and the shells left over from former monarchies.

As for the not so obvious reasons, the war was largely a defensive one, which turned into a massive blood-letting after the German’s failure to take Paris in 1914. Trenches were set up and fortified with barbed wire, mines, shells, and machine guns. The shells made it possible to laud highly destructive explosives as the enemy to psychologically break soldiers, and machine guns made it possible to mow down entire platoons, suicidally sent by commanders still using techniques imposed by Napoleon. Most offensive weaponry like aeroplanes and tanks were still in their infancy and in most cases never really proved to be effective. Blood-letting is the only way to really describe it, four long years of sending wave after wave of young men to their death for reasons that nobody really understood.

All of these reasons showcase why we’ve never seen a World War I video game, however ironically also showcase why we need a World War I video game. Video games are really the only entertainment medium that never fully implants the message of the horrors of war, because in reality war isn’t fun, but a video game is a game, and games are fun. It’s a hard line to walk, because it can give kids the wrong impression of what war is all about. Especially as newer games try so hard to create a realistic atmosphere, while still staying within the realm of video game logic. It’s the reason why you’ll never see a video game where you get shot once and die, or get dragged off the battlefield to spend months recovering in a hospital. That being said, most recent games have always coyly skirted around the true horrors that accompany war.

It would be absolutely impossible to create a game about World War I and not include every single horrible blight against humanity that accompanied the war. It’s the game that, if done right, would shake the FPS genre to its very core, and perhaps even force publishers and developers to give more thought into the messages they wish to part with the gamer. Imagine a scenario where you’re controlling your character, and the unmistakable sound of a shell coming is heard, however this shell is full of mustard gas. Your character fumbles for their gas mask and just as the gas begins to seep out, the screams of soldiers closer to impact is heard. The shrieks as the gas enters their lungs, turning into hoarse coughs as it poisons and kills the cells, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do. Or perhaps doing a mad suicidal charge against machine gun fire, where whenever your avatar dies you quantum leap into the body of another soldier only to be cut down. This would easily illustrate the sheer perversion of sending those waves against machine gun fire. There could also be air combat sections, where your plan’s engine is held to the frame with string.

There’s no mistaking that it would be an absolutely brutal game and probably impossible to beat, but there’s also no denying that it would leave a profound impact on the players. If done correctly, it could be considered a classic in the same way as Silent Hill 2, for delivering an emotionally impacting story that leaves the player drained in a way that passive media rarely do.

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Deltron 3030 – Deltron Event II

On May 23, 2000, hip hop truly entered the 21st century with the release of Deltron 3030, a collaborative effort between West Coast hip hop artist Del the Funky Homosapien, Dan the Automator, and Kid Koala. Each individual, all widely talented in their respective fields came together to leave a mark on alternative hip hop which is still felt to this day.

Deltron 3030 was at heart a concept album about a cyberpunk future and the importance of music in such a setting. Besides the lyrical content, the album was applauded for its use of sampling, guest spots, and high polish production. It was an album that was the perfect entry point for people turned off by the content of the mainstream, which still largely consisted of gangsta rap, although Eminem gave suburban youth a skintone they could relate with. Overall it was what really propelled Del into the alternative spotlight, which only grew in the ensuing year with his collaboration with former Blur front man Damon Albarn, who would go on to form the animated collective Gorillaz.

Despite it’s legendary status, it has been twelve years since Deltron 3030 was released fans are eagerly awaiting the sophomore album, Deltron Event II. While talk of the album has been floating around the internet for much of the previous decade, the album has yet to be set for an official release. In October 2011, Kid Koala commented on Twitter that he had finished his contribution, and while Dan the Automator has been quiet on the subject, Del repeatedly told his fans that the album was in its final process towards late 2011.

In 2012 Del released a video where he commented on the status of the album, saying that it was done and would be out soon (try and count the number of times Del says “know what I’m saying”). Recently an article from beer brewery Dogfish Head stated that the album will be out sometime in the spring and that a new beer called “Positive Contact” would be released to celebrate the album. While it seems an odd paring, the information seems solid enough and Dogfish Head is a decent brewery in and of itself so I may have to try this new beer.

While I should feel elated that an album I’ve been anticipating for quite a while is nearing completion, I can’t help but feel like I’ve been here before with other media that has had a long wait with a lot of anticipation. Last year saw the release of Duke Nukem Forever, a video game that was in development for fourteen years, saw multiple engine changes, and even the original developers file for bankruptcy because of their inability to deliver their product in a reasonable time. While I never played the game, everything I heard on the matter was that it was a terrible rushed out game and that the only way to enjoy it would be to think back to what life was like ten years ago. To me that sounds a little too much of making excuses, which is because it is. After fourteen years, the idea of something we’ve been eagerly anticipating not living up to our expectations is just not easy to swallow for most people. My worry is that Deltron Event II may follow suit.

Hip hop has changed so much in the last decade and while Del has been releasing a steady stream of albums throughout the last decade, by 2009 I found myself fishing for the same excuses that Duke Nukem Forever fans were delivering when the large majority of people were condemning the game for its poor quality. My main fear is that the album will be less about leaving a mark on modern hip hop and more about trying to ride the coat tails of its predecessor, which came out at the perfect time, a time when alternative hip hop was at its peak and even getting mainstream attention. Perhaps these fears are unfounded as I have yet to hear anything from the album, and I do dislike forming opinions on things I have yet to actually experience myself, the fears stay in the back of my head, prodding at me anytime I start to get hopeful.

This is more about my own insecurities and defenses I have set up over the years to protect myself from disappointment, and while they do have their uses, they do tend to make me not enjoy things as much as I would if I was more of an optimist.

One of the main reasons so many people condemned Duke Nukem Forever was its embracing of the modern day trappings of first-person shooters, like limited weapons slots, regenerating health, turrent sections, and dull gray/brown environments that are so indicative of modern gaming graphics quality. While this is more of a video game problem, with the Duke Nukem series being more about running and gunning multiple enemies with increasingly exotic weapons, I do think it’s important for music to keep up with the times while retaining its own sense of identity and integrity. British post-punk band Killing Joke are the masters of this, evolving their sound to embody a new decade while still retaining their soul, but it’s all too common for musicians to attempt to modernize themselves and only result in alienating their fanbase. David Bowie seems to be the exception to this, but I have some pretty convincing evidence that he’s a time lord so that may disqualify him from such claims.

I do think there is a way to circumvent such comparisons from becoming a more common complaint and that’s in the marketing. I think the best way for Deltron Event II to be released is via a silent digital release through sites like Bandcamp at a fixed price. Once one person finds the album it’s all but inevitable that it will wind up on a pirate website, however those are the risks in releasing music in the digital age. Regardless of how much money an initial silent release will garnish, what it will do is get people talking. The forums will light up with people discussing the album, showing it off to everyone else, and everyone running out to find their own copy (be it through a legal or illegal method).

From there the blogging communities will be rushing to get their own reviews up and overnight its Google ranking will grow exponentially. Fan run sites like Last.fm and RateYourMusic will be flooded with fan reviews, fan scores, or just comments, all of which will help build the album’s reputation. Even if the album isn’t very good, the very fact that people will be talking about it is enough to overlook many flaws, bringing back that old saying of “any publicity is good publicity”.

Last year, famous alternative act Radiohead followed a very similar model for the release of their 8th studio album King of Limbs, with very little media exposure. January and February are often quiet months for releases, as people are still trying to catch up on what they missed from the previous year, so for a band with as big a follow as Radiohead to release an album with very little notice is absolutely ludicrous, and risky, and it paid off. While the album was fairly mediocre in my opinion, it was one that was still talked about on a very regular basis and found its way onto several “best of” lists for 2011. While one could argue that a band with as large a following as Radiohead could get away with this I say this, it’s been 12 years since Deltron 3030 was released, and we’re still talking about it to this day. People new to hip hop continually use this album as their starting point into the misunderstood world of hip hop and love nothing more than reminding people of what a good album it is. The only other person in the same general genre that could do this as well would probably be Lauryn Hill.

Overall I will definitely be first “in line” to pick up a copy of Deltron Event II as the first album was a huge influence on getting me into hip hop and I will do my best to enjoy it for what it is, despite how it turns out. Del is still one of my favourite emcees, and I have yet to hear something bad that involves Dan the Automator. While the wait may be a little too much for some people, I highly doubt it will go the same route as Chinese Democracy.

LoathsomePete is just as the name sounds, a man who’s mad as hell and isn’t going to take it. You can follow him on Twitter @avengedpie, or on Tumblr