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Gun & the Two Minute Rule

January 5, 2006 By Glenn Turner

"Economy of storytelling, too, is crucial in both. In screenplays and movies, you're always whittling scenes down to their essence. The same is true for games -- only more so. Cutscenes, I was forewarned, could be no longer than two minutes (about half as long as a crucial movie scene.)

"Early on, Neversoft President Joel Jewett pointed to the "X" button on a controller and said to me, "That's the enemy." When you're writing these scenes, he continued, always remember there's a player sitting on that button just waiting for an excuse to punch it."

- Randall Johnson on writing Gun

Similarly, there are folks out there that fast-forward through films until they see a gunfight. Or some nudity. Or are just skimming through a flick waiting for a scene with some sizable gore. Should films be whittled down to two minute vignettes, containing only the barest of plot elements, all moving forward for an overly wrought shoot-out?

Neversoft, developers of the Wild, Wild West-oriented Gun seem to think so. Our hero, Colton White is out hunting with his pa, Ned (voiced by the gruff Kris Kristofferson, and if you didn't know it by his voice you'd certainly realize it from the character model) when a bear attacks! After dispatching the bear, Ned and you take off for the harbor to sell the dead carcass to the locals when the boat is attacked by banditos! Then oh no Ned dies in the attack! And surprise! The boat blows up! But not before Ned admits that he is not your real father! To get to the root of the banditos and your past, you head to town, a scant two minute horse ride away! But you need a horse first! Oh look, there just happens to be a guy with a horse right here! But you need to race him for his extra horse first. But you easily win! But now he and his bandito friends are going to rob and kill you instead! But you easily shoot him down! But oh no, the local brothel that has the information you need for whatever reason is under attack! By banditos!

I'm sure you get the general picture. From varmit-hunting with Ned to being ambushed by Indians the absolute moment you exit the town boundaries, Gun is a halting, stop/start experience. There's no build-up, no tension, no excitement, just scenes where you're shooting and scenes where you're on the cusp of being shot at. Sure, you can take your own downtime by running aimlessly around the sparsely populated town or saddle on up to a Wanted poster for an unfulfilling side mission but that's devoid of drama and unsatisfying. Instead of the majesty of the epic Western, we get the cheap shoot 'em up.

There are no substantial lone treks across desolate, untamed wilderness, just tiny swathes of land that your horse can transverse before you can say 'tarnation'. The world is compressed, tiny but also hollow, insubstantial, seemingly to prevent the player from boredom and consequently smashing the "skip scene" X button. You're never out of bullets (at least in your pistol), your opponents are numerous and disposable and thanks to an overly generous continue system, death merely results in maybe losing five minutes of game progress. Tops. Easily surmountable obstacles never get boring!

Neversoft needs to worry less about constantly engaging the gamer and more about creating an engrossing world. The "X" button isn't the developer or writer's enemy, it's the impetus behind pressing the "X" button that they want to avoid: frustration. A sense of scope and presence of atmosphere drive the genre, not just the conflict between the cowboys and the indians. It may be unfair for me to judge Gun based solely on its adherence to a more action-driven and familiar formula (as well as the two hours I let myself absorb of it), but the shoot 'em up Western is nothing unique from your prototypical shoot 'em up aerial combat game, or shoot 'em up first-person shooter. While a hail of bullets will keep most users glued to their controller, what's the point of a Western motif for your game if it fails to include uniquely or optimally Western devices? Gun is pared down to the barest of narrative essentials simply to progress the action, and while that's great for those that are easily distracted or have a low tolerance for sitting still, it leaves us with two minute long cut scenes that feel hindered and emotionally vacant, comprised of simple strings of violence. There's a lot to fight for in the West, but sadly it's all glossed over in favor of making sure the audience is stimulated beyond thought. There's another button Joel Jewett should have pointed out to Gun's writer: the power button.

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#1 Cypher Jan 5, 2006 03:25am

Sigh, and I was looking forward to this game at one point, then of course I heard it lasted merely 8 hours.

Who produces a game that short? Better question, who buys it?

#2 Dublyner Jan 5, 2006 03:33am

How disappointing, I was looking forward to an epic.

No lie, I used to play the snow-capped valley map in 1080 Snowboarding over and over again, just to enjoy the scenery.

#3 DrJones Jan 5, 2006 09:16am

Cypher wrote:
Better question, who buys it?

Shut up...

#4 quazz4life Jan 5, 2006 11:07am

I was eagerly anticipating this game, until someone likend it to the GTA series.
Now, don't get me wrong, I like the GTA series, to a point. but open-ended gameplay does not make up for a great story with deep character development. I'd rather have a linear game, with well thought out story and character development, than a game that's lets me do everything under the sun.
Obviously, with the astronomical sales of the GTA series, i'm in the minority, but I wonder if others are starting to realize that "open-ended" means "lack of story."

#5 DrJones Jan 5, 2006 11:17am

quazz4life wrote:
I was eagerly anticipating this game, until someone likend it to the GTA series.
Now, don't get me wrong, I like the GTA series, to a point. but open-ended gameplay does not make up for a great story with deep character development. I'd rather have a linear game, with well thought out story and character development, than a game that's lets me do everything under the sun.
Obviously, with the astronomical sales of the GTA series, i'm in the minority, but I wonder if others are starting to realize that "open-ended" means "lack of story."

You were apparently misinformed. The simliarities with the GTA series are few, namely, that you're free to do side missions between story-advancing missions. The story itself is linear, it's just too short and monotonous.

#6 hobbie Jan 7, 2006 03:23am

I think Outlaws was the best Western FPS ever. Discuss.

#7 KillerTeddy Jan 7, 2006 08:36pm

Boner killer.

#8 Omega Jan 8, 2006 07:28pm

Cypher wrote:
Sigh, and I was looking forward to this game at one point, then of course I heard it lasted merely 8 hours.

Who produces a game that short? Better question, who buys it?

since when does game length make a good game?

there are heaps of games that are very short that are fantastic to play!

#9 R. LeFeuvre Jan 8, 2006 07:44pm

I would argue that any game that is said to be too short, if it was said because it ended while the game was still fun, was actually just the right length.

#10 Cypher Jan 9, 2006 06:22pm

Omega wrote:
Cypher wrote:
Sigh, and I was looking forward to this game at one point, then of course I heard it lasted merely 8 hours.

Who produces a game that short? Better question, who buys it?

since when does game length make a good game?

there are heaps of games that are very short that are fantastic to play!

Sure, it makes for a good rental, but why spend $60 on a game that lasts 8 hours?! It's just not worth my money.

#11 R. LeFeuvre Jan 9, 2006 06:25pm

Who spends $60 on any game.

DOWN WITH NEXT GEN!

I can, and will, take this statement back when I have a next gen console.

#12 Cypher Jan 9, 2006 07:06pm

R. LeFeuvre wrote:
Who spends $60 on any game.

Canadians =\

#13 DeadParrot Jan 10, 2006 12:43am

That's Canadian money though. We use that when we play Monopoly.

#14 Max Walrus Jan 10, 2006 01:31am

R. LeFeuvre wrote:
I would argue that any game that is said to be too short, if it was said because it ended while the game was still fun, was actually just the right length.

This is a great point. Before games are to be viewed as art on any level, people need to come to the understanding that designers are simply trying to give us the story and experience that they saw in their minds. It may be incredibly short, or it may be incredibly long, just as movies are. It is not their responsibility that the publishers give their customers good bang for their buck.

It's the reality of gaming as a capitalist industry that people are going to be disappointed with short games. I admit that I am. But all games do not cost $60 dollars (very few do... actually. I'm not sure why that number was brought up). You can always wait until the game has dropped in price. Sure, that doesn't encourage creative short games as much, but it takes away the excuse to complain.

On the note of games costing $60, I predict that this will fail. It is too soon. $50 dollars is still a lot of money to people. I will never spend more than that on a game until I have to.

Remember when they were trying to charge $70 for SNES games? I think Goldeneye was $70 too when it first came out. Fuckers.

#15 Dublyner Jan 10, 2006 01:51am

I paid $70 for GoldenEye and MarioKart :?

#16 Max Walrus Jan 10, 2006 01:53am

Dublyner wrote:
I paid $70 for GoldenEye and MarioKart :?

I think I paid $70 for Goldeneye too. I had waited for the price to go down, but the popularity of the game kept it at $70 for too long for me to wait. I think I bought it at least a full 6 months after it was out.

#17 hobbie Jan 10, 2006 01:58am

Look at how long Halo stayed at $50 when other games came out afterwards and dropped in price sooner.

#18 DeadParrot Jan 10, 2006 02:20am

I paid $80 for NBA Hangtime at EB when it first came out.

#19 Max Walrus Jan 10, 2006 02:25am

DeadParrot wrote:
I paid $80 for NBA Hangtime at EB when it first came out.

You win.

Or lose, I guess.

#20 DeadParrot Jan 10, 2006 02:27am

MY E-COCK IS THE BIGGEST

OR SMALLEST

DAMMIT

#21 DrJones Jan 10, 2006 08:05am

DeadParrot wrote:
MY E-COCK IS THE BIGGEST

OR SMALLEST

DAMMIT

I bought Steel Battalion, retail.

Owned.

#22 quazz4life Jan 10, 2006 08:12am

I payed $70 when Chrono Trigger first came out. =/

#23 hobbie Jan 10, 2006 08:12am

I came >.< that close. I wonder how much it costs on Ebay now.

/goes to check

#24 Kamikaze Jan 10, 2006 10:05am

A friend of mine paid £50 for Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero.

That'd probably equal around $100.

#25 KillerTeddy Jan 10, 2006 02:26pm

hobbie wrote:
Look at how long Halo stayed at $50 when other games came out afterwards and dropped in price sooner.

Halo 1 was at 50 until jan 2005, then it went down to 29.99....

Then back in september they finally put it out as a platnium hit.

#26 Max Walrus Jan 10, 2006 02:35pm

DrJones wrote:
DeadParrot wrote:
MY E-COCK IS THE BIGGEST

OR SMALLEST

DAMMIT

I bought Steel Battalion, retail.

Owned.

That doesn't count.

#27 breakbread Jan 10, 2006 02:51pm

I would much rather have a game 6 hours long that absolutely floored me, than some game that's 20 hours long only because they used filler crap to drag the game out. I used to crave longer games, but now I realize that most games that reach that golden 20 hour mark only get there through rehash.

I didn't like Gun all that much.

#28 D. Riley Jan 10, 2006 02:51pm

I had Steel Batallion shipped to me.

The shipping cost more than the tax.

#29 Dublyner Jan 10, 2006 04:00pm

breakbread wrote:
I would much rather have a game 6 hours long that absolutely floored me, than some game that's 20 hours long only because they used filler crap to drag the game out.

Like HL2...

Haha, I GIS'ed that smiley from what appears to be a gay hentai site.

#30 Omega Jan 11, 2006 03:53am

currently new games in australia retail for $99.

most places that aren't EB (including where i work), will have the games at $76, $86 or $92 within a week of release. I've noticed some xbox 360 games on our system (which isnt out here until march 2nd) at $110. Now, that's a motherfucking fuckload for a game.

If this new price point sticks, there is no way in hell that i'll be buying an xbox360 any time soon. for starters there's no game (EVER) worth 110 dollars.

but, yea.. gun looks cool.

#31 breakbread Jan 11, 2006 10:13am

Dublyner wrote:
breakbread wrote:
I would much rather have a game 6 hours long that absolutely floored me, than some game that's 20 hours long only because they used filler crap to drag the game out.

Like HL2...

Haha, I GIS'ed that smiley from what appears to be a gay hentai site.

yeah, don't even get me started on HL2.

#32 Dublyner Jan 11, 2006 11:53am

Wait, don't get you started in which way?

I was using HL2 as an example of a game that was short, but extremely enjoyable throughout. I think most people get through it in about 8 hours. When I realized I was near the end, I just kept trying to WILL the game into going on longer.

#33 DrJones Jan 11, 2006 12:38pm

Dublyner wrote:
When I realized I was near the end, I just kept trying to WILL the game into going on longer.

Yeah? And how'd that work out?

Also, I didn't really like the ending.

#34 Kamikaze Jan 11, 2006 12:41pm

When you say "the ending", do you mean the last 30 minutes or so of play, or the bit after that, the final "cutscene" if you will?

#35 DrJones Jan 11, 2006 12:55pm

Kamikaze wrote:
When you say "the ending", do you mean the last 30 minutes or so of play, or the bit after that, the final "cutscene" if you will?

Both, I guess.

It doesn't really conclude. It just stops. There's no explaination as to the fate of the other characters of if all that destruction even made an impact on the Combine operations.

Stupid G-man.

#36 Dublyner Jan 11, 2006 01:34pm

I think we can all agree, G-Man is kind of a dick.

#37 Kamikaze Jan 11, 2006 01:37pm

DrJones wrote:
Kamikaze wrote:
When you say "the ending", do you mean the last 30 minutes or so of play, or the bit after that, the final "cutscene" if you will?

Both, I guess.

It doesn't really conclude. It just stops. There's no explaination as to the fate of the other characters of if all that destruction even made an impact on the Combine operations.

Stupid G-man.

I thought the final section of play was badass beyond words, but G-Man onwards was one of the biggest cop-outs I've seen in years.

#38 DrJones Jan 11, 2006 01:55pm

Kamikaze wrote:
I thought the final section of play was badass beyond words, but G-Man onwards was one of the biggest cop-outs I've seen in years.

Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoted running throught he Citadel blasting mofos with the super grav gun, but I'm really not a fan of platform jumping and stuff (hardcore fear of heights) and yeah, the final cutscene was crap. I mean, just because you plan on making a sequal, doesn't mean the current game shouldn't have a real ending (*cough*Halo2*cough*).

#39 R. LeFeuvre Jan 11, 2006 02:43pm

It's basically setup so they could do Aftermath.

I realize that having to wait (and pay) to see more resolution is a quite lame, but also, you have to understand Gordon Freeman's role in this:
Spoilers!
Freeman is this object used by the G-Man. Just a device. You get unfrozen from your dark little cocoon and sent off to save humanity, and right when you finish and people can uncork champaign in your name, he freezes time and sticks you back in your slumber chamber. He doesn't care if you know who you saved. He doesn't care if you are happy. The ending, while abrupt, is fitting.

And really... there's Aftermath in April. It's the aftermath. It's just what you guys want :D

#40 D. Riley Jan 11, 2006 02:49pm

It's also sort of the exact same ending Half-Life 1 had. Nobody cried then. :?

#41 Kamikaze Jan 11, 2006 03:27pm

D. Riley wrote:
It's also sort of the exact same ending Half-Life 1 had. Nobody cried then. :?

Yeah, but they already did it! Now it's not cool, they should have thought of something totally new and craaazy!

#42 Duffman Jan 11, 2006 07:32pm

Dublyner wrote:
I think we can all agree, G-Man is kind of a dick.

No, he's the coolest.

#43 Soup Jan 11, 2006 07:38pm

Duffman wrote:
No, he's the coolest.

Because he can make a living by being such a dick.

#44 Duffman Jan 11, 2006 07:43pm

Soup wrote:
Because he can make a living by being such a dick.

It's not like Freeman would've been able to have TONS O' FUN if he had stayed there. I mean, even if the explosion wasn't going to kill him (which is very possible), it's not like he's trapped in some windowless room for eternity. It would just be a couple seconds later and he'd be back.

Also, I like his voice.

#45 Soup Jan 11, 2006 07:54pm

Duffman wrote:
It's not like Freeman would've been able to have TONS O' FUN if he had stayed there. I mean, even if the explosion wasn't going to kill him (which is very possible), it's not like he's trapped in some windowless room for eternity. It would just be a couple seconds later and he'd be back.

Supposedly we'll see just how much fun Gordon'll have in Aftermath. One question will be if G-Man only freezes Freeman out when his services are hired, who, exactly is doing the hiring, and why would want Freeman back in City 17 so quickly after his last... dispatch.

I too like G-Man, i just know he's a humongous meat tube, it's part of why i think he's awesome.

#46 Kamikaze Jan 11, 2006 08:20pm

Duffman wrote:
Also, I like his voice.

Oh, God no. G-Man sounds ridiculous as hell. Hel-lo Mister.... Freeman. Wel-come to the... disa-bili-ty ward... The pauses come out of nowhere and lead NOWHERE. I'm sure he's a stroke victim.

#47 D. Riley Jan 11, 2006 08:25pm

Could it be that he doesn't speak English well because he's NOT FROM OUR PLANET?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

OMG REVELATIONS!!!

#48 Kamikaze Jan 11, 2006 08:26pm

Yeah, I considered that. Then I realised that someone WHO CAN MANIPULATE THE VERY FLOW OF TIME SURELY MUST BE ABLE TO TAKE COMMAND OF SPEECH

#49 R. LeFeuvre Jan 11, 2006 08:51pm

You know, people with speech impediments are still people. Bunch of savages.

#50 Duffman Jan 11, 2006 10:15pm

Kamikaze wrote:
Yeah, I considered that. Then I realised that someone WHO CAN MANIPULATE THE VERY FLOW OF TIME SURELY MUST BE ABLE TO TAKE COMMAND OF SPEECH

Why?