Monday, 27 July 2009

An Open Letter To Nels Anderson; or, Morality Needs to F*** Right Off

Note from the author: I recently read a post by Nels Anderson on ‘Moral Development’ which has some comments on how different conceptions of morality can apply to games. I was distracted the first time I started reading it, and ended up deviating away to the Wikipedia page to read about ‘Kohlberg’s stages of moral development’. I finally went back to read the rest of the post weeks later and it got me so fired up in the passionate sense that I started writing a comment before realising that it would benefit from being posted here as an open letter instead. So here’s my response to Nel’s post:

…plumbing the depths… ‘who the fuck are these people?’… Neo-Nazi’s of the Fourth Reich… deep in the Kalahari… the Continued Survival of The American Dream…

Dear Nels,

I started writing this because I wanted to say to you that I thought your post about moral development in games was a fascinating read and I wanted to thank you for bringing it to our collective attention.

My fingers were rattling with a heat and fury, and I greatly desired to fire-off a vitriolic screed about very, very many games in some kind of Press Release from ‘The Institute of Freak Power Gaming’ saying how positively Neolithic it is that any game feature an incarnation of the dreaded good<–>evil slider system. But that wasn’t going to be enough. No, my friend, the situation calls for going much, much, deeper.

If a game is a conversation between the player and the developer, who the fuck are these people to tell me that I’m “evil” or “good” based upon… what? Their own standards for good behaviour… or maybe some arbitrary guidelines about proper conduct? In the immortal words of the pissed-off, progressively liberal Oz hip-hop collective know to the police as ‘The Herd’; “Fuck that!”

We know better than them, Nels. We know that in the real world there are no rules like this – the rules are what we write them to be, and doubly so for a made up simulation running on a computer! I don’t mean this in a neo-Nazi, Fourth Reich kind of way, but in a passionate anarchistic, newly enlightened devotee of ‘Kohlberg and his stages’ sense. Count me among the greats in my newly acquired desire to reach Kohlbergian enlightenment.

It takes some seriously sick and twisted fishhead logic to try and apply contemporary morality as reflected in our western legal system to a post-nuclear-winter future; a future that has been blown back to the stone ages, yet remains conveniently modern in it’s application of morality.

Have these people never seen The Gods Must Be Crazy? Even the idea of theft as crime or some kind of associated ‘negative action’ is contemporary! When your community has got shit-all to live on and you’re eating the scum that grows on the walls of your cave, you don’t really have anything worth stealing. Morality? What the fuck is that – they’re too busy trying to stay alive to give a damn about some ‘Karma points’ bullshit.

When that kid got hit on the head by the coke-bottle in the middle of the Kalahari, he had no idea he was about to witness the birth of theft in his tribe. When some crunched-on by middle-management Bethsoft code-monkey programmed in the bits that say a coke bottle can be ‘owned’ by a Non Player Character, some Deity higher up the food chain knew that they were inventing the concept of theft on a global scale. Did they even consider the idea that theft in this society would be different from our own? “Possession is 9/10ths of the Law” is the old saying, and I consider the Wasteland the perfect place to institute that final 1/10th. Theft is abstract and Bethesda codified it in ones and zeroes.

I haven’t actually played Zeno Clash, but it sounds like the antidote to this kind of straight-faced craziness – at least it wears it’s weirdness openly. I wager it’s one of the few sensible and serious games to say “Morality means whatever you want it to”. One of the others is Far Cry 2. Does Zeno Clash give you ‘negative Karma’ for kneeing people in the face? Does Far Cry 2 slap us on the wrist when we’re defoliating swaths of the jungle for personal gain and a return on investment that includes safe-house upgrades? Hocking know’s we’re no fools – we are no babes in swaddling cloth to be told “bad boy!” and given a slap on the wrist for being caught with our hands in the proverbial cookie jar. And we are well able to tell that we are doing some seriously weird things and unnatural things in the name of Continued Survival and The American Dream.

You an me Nels, we need to show these Neanderthal’s that these “Karmic” games are the truly strange and the people who make them are more twisted than Richard Nixon’s underpants on August 9, 1979. We need to start our version of Fight Club. Rather than fighting in basements and parking lots we’re fighting on the blogs and the podcasts. Hit me Nels – hard as you can! Let us fish-punch the good & the bad out the glass windows on the thirty-third floor of whatever building these atavistic bastards call Their Office. If they want to keep making games for the man-children with neck-beards and mushroom kingdom tattoos then We Are Going To Have Something To Say about it.

Yours Sincerely As Always,


P.S. I am coming to Vancouver one day. Get the beers ready – we are going hunting.

Permanent Death, Interstitial - Music on Mute

While chatting to some of my blogger friends the other day, some happened to mention that they liked to play Far Cry 2 without the music – either for added realism or some other reason. Since I’m experimenting already with permanent death, I thought I’d give it a shot and see how it changes the experience. I can now confirm that it is… different.

I had always enjoyed the music for Far Cry 2, but even I must admit that after hundreds of hours of exposure to it my ear had grown weary and stopped noticing it. However, as soon as I turned it off the lack was entirely apparent and I realised just how much I had relied on the music to provide much of the game’s pacing.

When you get close to enemies, even if you don’t know they are there, the music often adds a layer of tension to the mix and if you’re experienced at playing the game you will probably pick up on this subtle change and prepare yourself. With the music gone, being ambushed can become truly a surprise…

The first time this happened to me, it was indeed a surprise - but it was also less tense than it would have been with the addition of music. I was unconsciously waiting for it to ramp up and provide me with an emotional guide as to how I should be acting and responding. Lacking this musical signpost, I spent a lot of the early time in an emotional plateau – never feeling particularly bothered by the enemy soldiers.

I became more brazen – I found myself charging through the middle of a series of checkpoints in pursuit of a weapons convoy and was hit by a sudden fear. I was apprehended by a feeling that I had dangerously over-stretched myself and that I could be only seconds from death.

I came away from the encounter unscathed, but the tempo of the Far Cry 2 experience had changed. I started ramping my concentration levels up and down much faster– snapping from the baseline ‘pseudo-boredom’ of driving through beautiful scenery, to full-on attention which would then be paid to the effort of staying alive. Or perhaps that was what I was already doing when I had the music on and it just became more transparent without the music.

I suspect not – for without music to tell me that the fight wasn’t over, I had to judge for myself. and it subsequently felt like I entered a great many more discreet conflicts. In one instance I had just finished clearing a camp of soldiers and was searching around for some diamonds, when more turned up and I had to break off the search, bare seconds passing between the first and second encounter. If the music was there, it might well have stayed at that same level across the whole period because it often takes a reasonable period of time to 'calm down'.

Whatever the case may be, I’m still convinced that the people responsible for the music of Far Cry 2 have done a singularly excellent job in creating a score, and implementing a system, that has held up for a hundred hours or more, in my case. If I keep it off for a little bit longer I hope Jeff Wesevich won’t take it personally.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Permanent Death, Episode 6 - Return of the Dead

Qurbani Sing slouched onto the camp bed with a groan. Turning his face toward his companion, he paused before sighing. “How in the hell did I end up here, friend?” he asked.

The friend was Hakim Echebbi, a thirty-something Algerian man who looked like he could more than handle himself in a scrap – just so long as he doesn’t have to do too much running. A stint in the Navy as a naval counter-terrorist expert gave Echebbi a hardness of spirit that it seemed his body was fighting not to betray, the first signs being a slight paunchiness around the middle.

“I have no idea how you came to this place, Sikh,” he says drily, before continuing in a more light-hearted tone, “But here I am minding my own business – running a nice little operation in fact – when all of a sudden I hear everything has blow up in the north.” He turns to face Sigh and says with a wry smile. “And now it’s all ballsed up. I guess I really do have nothing better to do than save your sorry behind.” Standing up and crossing the room he leans on a weapons crate. “So why don’t you tell me how you got from… wherever you were before here, I suppose.”

Sing sat up in the canvas stretcher bed and tried to recall how he came to be in this house, on the side of a cliff in the middle of a jungle.

“It was sunny and hot when I left Sefapane – Greaves paid me to go meet some guy and help him get a boat-load of the Jackal’s guns into town. The idea was that we didn’t wan the APR and UFLL boys to stop killing each other long enough to turn on the rest of us.”

“Smart plan,” Hakim added.

“I know, right? What kind of stupid idea is that?” He laughed. “Anyway, I got to the boat and you’ll never guess who the captain is – Andre Hipolite!”

“No fuckin’ way!” Hakim interjects, astonished, “I thought that guy was dead!”

“Me too”, Qurbani replies before continuing. “So there we are, just the two of us and enough guns for, well, more than enough to ensure this war keeps on for years. And we’ve barely gone 100 metres when soldiers appear from out of nowhere – I didn’t even figure out whose side they were on. Then all of a sudden I’m seeing mortar smoke on the roof of the barge and all around there this whistling, rushing noise.

“I look up and I’m staring at a rocket heading right for me –so I’m pretty certain I’m dead, right? I mean, there’s no way the barge can survive more than a couple of rounds from a mortar and this rocket. But it does, yet each time we're hit the engine blows and I’ve got to stop shooting at these bastards swarming around us in attack boats to grab a wrench and some tape and patch the bloody thing up.

“I’ve eaten enough lead to make a paperweight by now, but at least the engine’s running so I try and get to the front of the ship to see if I can’t take out the rocketeer. I didn’t see the incoming rocket until the last second so I barely had time to duck out of the way, but in the process I hurt myself pretty bad.

“I scrambled up to the top of the deck and crouched around behind the bridge – I was barely hanging on by a thread. I think something must have landed on my hand in the explosion because the little finger on my left hand was at this weird angle and I had to snap it back into place.

“I managed to pop a syrette with my good hand and that made me feel a little better. Somehow we managed to fight the rest off and got the barge into the port. My left hand is never going to be the same again. In town I talked to Doctor Obua – you were there, remember?”

“Yeah, I remember, but what’d he tell you? I was too busy watching the street – you should have seen the soldiers move when they heard they were all getting new AK’s and PKM’s! It was like those civilians when the aid workers were handing out travel passes.” Hakim chuckled to himself at the irony of the reversal.

Singh continued. “Ostensibly I was there to warn him about the weapons, but when he sees that I’ve got malaria the Doctor says to me, in his thick accent, ‘You must know that medicine is in short supply, but there are other altruists like yourself. If you return here when it is calm I would be happy to introduce you.’ I nearly laughed – me, an altruist?!”

“Hahaha, that’s pretty crazy,” Hakim adds, “was he serious, do you think? Didn’t he hear about what you did to that priest up north, bailing on him like that?”

“I don’t know – shit all news came out of the north after all.” Qurbani shrugged. “Anyway, I didn’t have time to ask because that was just as the fight was breaking out and you were pushing me out the back door.”

“Yeah, again, sorry about that mate. Couldn’t be helped – if they found you in there with us we were all dead.”

For a moment no one spoke and the silence stretched awkwardly.

“It’s okay.” Qurbani offered. “I would have done the same. Good thing I heard about that shortcut over the north wall though – if I had to run through the middle of town I don’t think I would have made it.”

“Yeah I stacked those crates up against that low roof just for this kind of situation. Glad you made use of them.” Hakim relaxed.

“Me too. I made it out to the river just north of Soleo, so who do you think just then decides to ring me up and tell me he's in trouble?”

“I think I can guess.” Hakim suggests.

Qurbani nods and continues, “So Andre says he’s now being chased in the barge. The idiot probably planned to keep it and re-sell it rather than scuttle it in the lake like he damn well should have. So now he’s being chased all the way down to the Marina and he decides that I’m the person to go to for help. Well, I figured I might as well try despite the fact that he might be dead by the time I get there.

“But when I did, the tough guy was still alive and putting up a bit of a fight. There were about 15 guys trying to get onto that bridge, but Andre kept firing out through the front window. He couldn’t have had many rounds left though – he was chewing through them like candy.

“So I took some of them out from afar and cleaned up his mess. He was grateful and told me he was just going to scuttle the barge after all so it was all a bit of a waste, in the end. Still, the man was grateful and he owes me now.”

“That could be useful – supposedly he’s got a lot of contacts, Andre.” Hakim suggested. “Maybe he’ll be able to give you a lead on the Jackal?”

“Maybe. I left the Marina pretty much straight away after that and headed up here. I needed somewhere safe to rest and recover. Which reminds me – how did you even find me out here?” Qurbani asked, intrigued.

“It was pretty easy, man – I went to Mike’s at the Marina and they said you’d just left. From there, I followed the sounds of gunfire and the trail of bodies. Hell - you’re not that hard to find y’know.”

Qurbani laughed. “Right you are, friend. I should be more careful in future.”

“Don’t worry about it. I got your back for now – you rest up.” Hakim paced over to the door. “I’ll be around if you get into any trouble, ok?”

“Thanks, Echebbi. Here’s to never having to see each other - ever again.” Qurbani took a swig from a nearby water bottle as Hakim departed the safe house, whistling as he went.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Permanent Death, Episode 5 - This Idiotic War

I woke up in a safe house and went outside, heading west to Pala. I passed a guard post along the way and got into to bit of a scrap, losing my vehicle to enough stray weapons fire to put it out of action. I picked up a new one at a safehouse, also picking up some more diamonds and a tape recording of Reuben’s interview with the Jackal before I make my way back to Pala.

In town, I go to pick up the only mission available to me. It’s for the UFLL, as apparently the APR has given up on me. Gakumba meets with me alone – which is strange considering he’s always had some other mercenary there as a witness before. It’s unsettling, but his diamonds are good and I’ve still got no other leads on The Jackal.

His mission is a dangerous one as the UFLL leader wants me to assassinate his counterpart in the APR and further destabilize the conflict. It would appear that he is feeling the strain from my work for the UFLL and is retreating to a house above the Goka falls. If I take him out then the other side can consolidate power here in the north and maybe I can finally make a start on tracking down the Jackal once and for all. As it is now I can’t hardly drive 100 metres up the road without some mob of trigger-happy yahoo’s deciding to shoot first and ask questions later. Maybe if the UFLL actually gains control I will be able to more around a bit more freely. The guard on the way out looks at me with shifty eyes. I know something is up.

Before I head out of town, however, I visit Father Maliya for a third time. I’m running a little bit low on pills, but I’m not quite dry yet. I accept the fake passports he gives me, figuring if I get a chance I’ll drop them off in exchange for some malaria meds. But I’m not going to go out of my way – not unless I get desperate. I check my map on the way out. Unfortunately for these civilians, it doesn’t look like they’re exactly on the way. I’ll probably wait till I’m out in the desert somewhere and toss the papers.

Arriving at the north-eastern most bus-station, I get in a car and, eschewing the roads for fear of running into a patrol, drive through the fringes of the desert until I reach the fort, where I rejoin the road. Passing through a checkpoint with a minimum of fuss, I reach the small foot-track leading to Goka falls. There is a sign in the middle of the scrub. An odd spot for it, to say the least.

I started up the track, crouching low and staying underneath the waist-high palm fronds to stay out of view. I had no idea how well many guards would be protecting Tambossa so I kept my silenced MP5 at the ready. Reaching the point where the track doubled back, I could hear a guard whistling as he stood overlooking the path I’d just come up. I cut short his whistling and the body rolled away, becoming hidden in the long grass. I continued on and, pausing at the crest of the hill, noticed just how bright an evening it was. The full moon was bright enough to be casting shadows from the trees overhead and in this light I wouldn’t be able to remain hidden for long.

I had gone all of 10 metres when I had to make a mad dive for cover off to one side - a guard was walking up the path towards me and had I been a second slower would have spotted me instantly. Thankfully, he wasn’t paying much attention and his body dropped to the ground with a dull thud, laying smack-bang in the middle of the path with no cover between it and my position. I ground my teeth and skirted off the right, taking up position behind a large moss covered rock.

I could now see both the dead guard on the path and what I presumed to be the building that contained Tambossa inside it. The chatter of the guards increased, betraying a note of tension and I surmised that the body on the path had been discovered. Ignoring it for the moment, I whipped out my monocle and peered towards the hut. To my great surprise, I spotted Tambossa staring back out at me from an open window! It was too great an opportunity to pass up and, with his guards rushing about in a panic now, I took aim and fired.

Suddenly, soldiers were all around me shouting and firing in my direction. Shards of the rock I was crouched behind sprayed my face and chest. The sound of weapons fire behind meant that, with a sinking feeling like a punch in the gut, the penny dropped. My attack was just meant to be a feint – the spearhead of the major UFLL push – and I was now caught in the middle between the APR in front and the UFLL behind. I turned and ran, desperate to punch a hole through the advancing UFLL troops.

I took out three of four soldiers in quick succession, abandoning my stealthy MP5 for my PKM machine gun with its reassuring weight. Somewhat miraculously, I managed to take out most of the UFLL soldiers with my desperate attack. Behind their lines now, I spied a lone soldier guarding the track from behind and eliminated him.

I made it back to the Goka falls signpost, my mind still reeling from the betrayal. It took me a second to realise that it was my phone ringing that was causing my pockets to vibrate and I answered to hear Reuben the reporter’s voice on the other end. He said he needed to meet with me right away. Lacking a better plan, I agreed.

When I got to the lumber mill, Reuben told me that the UFLL was making their push and consolidating power in the north, just as I’d suspected. They were also, however, rounding up all the civilians and foreign nationals for goodness knows what reason. Reuben seemed to think that it wasn’t anything good, and I was inclined to agree. He gave me a choice – to meet with Michelle and Warren at Mike’s Bar and try to hold out there, or to hot-foot it to the church in Pala and help the civilians (including Father Maliya) escape. Pala sounded like a death-trap to me, knowing how many soldiers would be in the town already and if the APR was truly coming apart in the north, then I’ll bet they could count on a whole lot of defections.

In hindsight, the choice was an easy one to make. When I’d tossed out the civilian papers I’d already written them off in my mind as a lost cause, but I pretended to consider the other option. When I got to Mikes and heard the gunfire I wasted no time in attacking them from behind. As the last one went down from a long range shot he pulled out a flare gun and launched a flare high into the air above the bar.

Inside the bar, Michelle was visibly distressed and Warren and Nasreen had already taken up positions at boarded up windows around the bar. I helped Michelle push a heavy, 1950’s style Icebox in front of the door. No sooner had we done so than all the windows in the bar blew open as the soldiers now surrounding the bar opened fire. The withering force of the opening volley took down Michelle and Warren, but dust obscured Nasreen. I couldn’t tell how much longer she survived for but it couldn’t have been long. I crouched in a corner next to the bar. I tried valiantly to take some of them with us, throwing grenade after grenade and emptying a plethora of slugs and then shells out the open windows.

I don’t remember what it was that eventually brought me down, but the next thing I knew I was on the back of a truck, having been mistaken for dead. The next thing I remember after that was the pavement rushing up at me as I fell off the back of the truck, reopening fresh wounds. The sand and wind was howling and the best I could do was turn my back to the brunt of it and try to get off the road and die in peace. I blacked out again.

When I woke up it was because the pain was so intense, manifesting as a crimson sheen over my vision. I heard a voice say something like “stop squirming” and with a wrench the pain flared once more and subdued. To my intense surprise it was the Jackal to whom I now owed my continued survival. He sat next to me for a few minutes and gave me an update on the situation with the UFLL but at the sound of some jeeps pulling up outside he took off out a window.

Greeves came inside and told me the same stuff as the Jackal, the UFLL was consolidating its hold and everyone was getting out and heading south. He said he’d leave me a jeep if I promised to go back up north and murder the bastard that turned on me and my merc friends. He said Tambossa would be easy to find as he was giving a speech somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Weird place to hold a speech. I wonder if Greeves had anything to do with it.

Either way, it was only too easy to spot him when I reached a hill to the west of the convoy. It looked like they’d stopped on the road because of a broken down car or truck or something. It gave me an opportunity I was only too happy to take advantage of.

After spotting him with my monocle I only needed one shot.

And that was it – I was done with this whole mess and it was time to move on. The Jackal was obviously also heading south and I now felt a strange pull towards him - it wasn’t the same as before where I just wanted to find him and kill him. Now when I next met him it wouldn’t be enough to just end his life I wanted something more. I wanted to get understand – to get inside his head and see the world through his eyes. On the way south I passed the hut he had dragged me into and saved my life.

I had to fight my way south, as Greeves had told me to meet him in the small town of Sefapane once I’d sorted out Tambossa. As I drove into the town I couldn’t shake a slight feeling of déjà vu. Another crummy town and another shaky attempt at peace.

As I walked into the room to meet Greaves he was on the phone. I overhear him say something like “problem solved” as he sees me and hangs up. He then proceeds to explain what he wants me to do – help someone sail a ship of guns into Port Soleo under a UFLL flag and basically drop the match into the gas tank that is this conflict. “We’ll be back fighting this idiotic war in no time”, he tells me.

I believe him.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Permanent Death, Episode 4 - Chekhov's Diamonds

If you are just tuning in, I’m currently in the middle of an attempt to complete the 2008 game Far Cry 2 without getting killed and examining how the new found permanence of my characters death changes the experience.

Last we saw our intrepid hero, Qurbani Singh was somewhere in the deep, deep south where he had just avenged the death of his good friend Andre Hipolite (who wasn’t actually dead in his own universe so much as in Nels’ Anderson’s).

Since then, on his way to an assassinate mission Qurbani unlocked a safe house at dawn; ran over his first zebra and picked up a briefcase full of diamonds on the side of a cliff next to a burnt out car.

I must admit that the fear of dying has more or less completely disappeared by this point. The worry and hesitancy with which I approached the earlier missions has atrophied to the point where I am confident enough to take out an assassination target head on, using explosives. I’m regularly flirting with danger now, and it remains to be seen whether I will get burnt.

I was in a bit of an exploratory mood, so after swimming around and under a submerged house in the middle of the lake I wandered off down river and, passing through a checkpoint, spied a bridge overhead. I realised that in all the times I’d played the game, in quite possibly every game I had played, I’d seen the bridge but never actually visited it.

I went up and explored the bride as well as three other checkpoints along the ridge, all of which I had never even seen before. At one of these checkpoints a jeep charged through the jungle at me and ended up having a car accident. You just can’t scrip for the surreal.

Under the bridge I spotted some diamonds and in the process of their retrieval got myself stuck half-way up a cliff with no immediately visible safe route down. Escaping any real ill effects by sliding down the space between two walls, I pretended that Qurbani Singh had lost the seat of his pants in his daring escapade and therefore had to put up with the shame until he reached the next safe house and was able to change his pants. The safe house was conveniently located near another scenic water fall and it amazed me that I’d been able to spend so much time with this game and still not ever have traversed this particular, admittedly quite large, patch of jungle. I thought I’d been everywhere.

On my way back to Pala I spotted a hang-glider and wondered whether I could get all the way to Pala in one flight. It didn’t look that far on the map…

…but my short lived trip was ended by this tree branch and I ditched into the river.

After slogging back to Pala, I stumbled into the hotel, purely out of curiosity. Nothing much had changed and no one had yet bothered to clean up any of the mess. Admittedly, they all probably have better things to do than rebuilt a hotel while there’s a war raging. On the upside, my one time room has a lovely new skylight now.

I got patted down by a guard with a huge scar on his lip and headed upstairs to a meeting with the UFLL and Carbonell. This time I’m sent off to locate some buried treasure and send an SMS with its location. I take my diamond filled dossier and go.

Barely out the door, I stop for a second having noticed the green flashing light indicating a nearby briefcase of diamonds. On second thoughts, notice is not entirely accurate; perhaps ‘comprehend the possibility of its acquisition’ is a better description. I’ve known that particular briefcase has been there since my first play-through of the game as it shows up clearly on your diamond detector any time you are near the UFLL building, however given my new found brazen attitude I was suddenly very aware of how much more obtainable they now seemed.

Thinking back over it later, it made me consider the difficult time developers have in employing traditional narrative tricks and techniques to game narratives. Specifically, in all of my previous games I had for various reasons never once picked up this particular briefcase before. Why is that important? Well, in drama there is an axiom known as Chekhov’s Gun which says that "One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it." (A suitably violent axiom for a game like Far Cry 2, wouldn’t you say?) In all of my previous games on varying difficulties, I had never even considered taking the diamonds because I didn’t want to break the peace treaty. 1-3 diamonds just never seemed worth the risk of getting shot to pieces before.

Why then, in all those earlier games, did the Diamonds exist? Chekhov’s Gun says that if no one is ever going to fire it, don’t put it ‘on stage’ since it is not necessary for the narrative. It’s clear, however, that a game designer has absolutely no way of knowing if a certain player is going to want to take the diamonds or not and so has no choice but to place them in the world and let whatever happens happen. If they were to remove the diamonds, then the player would be denied even the possibility of taking them.

I should also add that after I decided for the first time that I didn’t want to collect those diamonds in my very first game (having been effectively deterred by warnings from soldiers, etc) that until this most recent game I didn’t even consider taking the diamonds. I didn’t even decide each time to deliberately not collect them; I just didn’t even consider it as an option. According to Chekhov’s Gun, those diamonds should not even exist!

If all of the previous games where I ignored the diamonds were written as a story similar to the one you are now reading, the diamonds wouldn’t get a mention and you, the reader, would have no way of know they even existed – even though they clearly existed in the game each time.

So obviously games have a distinct disadvantage in storytelling when it comes to the ‘Chekhov’s Gun’ rule. The game, by having to show/render/populate the world with this diamond case, was resisting my own attempts to organise and tell a good story and obey the rule of Chekhov’s Gun.

Perhaps Chekhov’s gun simply doesn’t apply to games, I will freely acknowledge that I have no practical solution to this problem, and indeed, you might disagree with me that it even is a problem.

I think that, were Chekhov still around today, he would either be an obsessive, completionist player or he would stop believing his own rule. I can just imagine him saying about all 200+ briefcases that, “If they put it in the game, it needs to be collected!” But the problem as I see it is that when we as the player are forced into acting in a specific way like this (or face compromising the narrative integrity) then we are dominated by ‘the story’ and must obey it – even if it that ‘story’ makes for a really, really boring narrative! (Who after all really wants to read about a guy collecting 200-odd briefcases of diamonds? Where’s the story in that?)

Moving right along – Qurbani went to go meet Michelle at someplace called ‘lakeside’ which didn’t seem upon arrival to be in close proximity to any lakes. Taking a boat, I reached my stop (don’t worry – the soldier is just sleeping).

In the Safehouse, Michelle tells me to go and kill the king who’s gold the UFLL are after and to collect his signet ring so that the King’s son can skip the country and get access to the swiss bank accounts. I decide to take a slightly subtle approach to the fort where the king is hiding and slink up under the cover of darkness. I scout some snipers on the ramparts and take them out first, continuing my journey up to the fort along a track that brings my up to a back entrance to the fort.

On my way, I alert the guards and it’s on for young and old. Crouching at the corner of a wall, I wait for a soldier to appear, hearing his footsteps approaching. Even though I knew he was coming my reaction time was not quick enough to prevent him getting off a shotgun blast, the brunt of which slammed into the wall beside my head.

Inside the walls of the fort I made a dash for the tower in which the King was residing. Upon reaching him, I finished him off with a shot from my flare gun – leaving a trail of burnt corpses is becoming a bit of a trademark of mine.

I also noticed that he is a very fair skinned King compared to his son, a fact that I noticed when I gave his son the ring. Maybe his mother had a darker complexion? Or maybe he wasn’t really the king’s son! We may never know. I handed the ring over anyway.

Then it was time to go save Michelle and find the buried treasure. I took the sturdier of the two Jeeps the son-formerly-known-as-Prince left as a gift for me. I ended up parking it next to the hole down which I had to climb to reach the treasure to use as cover.

It came quite in handy and I had to revive Michelle after the fight. Tempting, so very, very tempting…

Back to Pala I went to start the second last mission for the UFLL, continuing my inexorably march to the scary part of the game where I would be without a buddy – the inter chapter section. For this mission, Greeves sent me into the jungle to blow up some pumps on a farm the APR were protecting so some multinational corporation could “mess with the ecosystem” as he put it.

When I caught up with Michelle, she sent me into a chemical plant and retrieve some super-defoliant. I started a lot of fires to get it.

I dropped the big canister off with Michelle at the airport – she had some harebrained scheme where she was going to spray the stuff all over the farm to deny the soldiers their cover. I couldn’t see how this could possibly work. I took a circuitous route from the airport in the south up to the farm in the central-east section of the map, stopping off to see this crashed Cesna 150.

I also had another minor car accident…

Followed by another…

I picked up some silenced weaponry at the armoury on the way and crept into the farm with a silenced MP5, Flare Gun and RPG. In hindsight, not exactly a super sensible load out but I wanted to try and destroy the pump from far, far away with an RPG. Unfortunately I had to get rather close to the pump before I landed a direct hit enough to disable it, just in time to hear Michelle’s light aircraft go flying overhead, defoliant streaming out the back.

I could practically taste the carcinogens and I wanted to hold my breath. The stuff must have been super-strong because it worked fast. As Michelle’s plane disappeared into the distance I heard the sound of far off anti-aircraft fire and hoped she was okay.

I quickly ran out of ammunition, my weapon load out coming back to bite me in the butt. I couldn’t find any loose on the ground even as the guards kept coming, so I swapped my MP5 for a rusty old Homeland shotgun (as you can see above). Thankfully, the thing was practically unstoppable.

Michelle called to let me know she had been shot down and that soldiers were closing in. I hurried to her and came upon her crashed plane first, with the sound of machine gun fire coming from a small depression to the south-west.

There looked to be just one soldier nearby and he had her in his sights. I fired a flare gun hoping to either distract him or perhaps score a lucky direct hit. I misjudged my aim and it bounced off the trunk of a fallen tree and landed in the grass, starting a fire perilously close to Michelle. I swapped to my grimy, mud-encrusted shotgun and prayed the slugs would fire. They did, and he went down.

Tired of being the Knight in Shining armour for the N-th time, I headed off to a safehouse for a nap.

That was Episode 4 of Permanent Death – thanks for sticking with it. I should mention that in the space between my last episode and this one another blogger has started a Perma-Death game and reached it’s conclusion. Elliott Richard’s tale can be read here. Also, if you somehow missed it, Far Cry 2’s lead creative director Clint Hocking wrote some lovely things about Permanent Death and you should absolutely go read it – that man is the future of gaming or I’ll eat my hat.