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BioshockFar Cry

Although it may invoke nostalgia, a well-crafted pastiche should never be given the same worth as an original work. Most of the elements required for the pastiche already exist, they’ve already been conceived in the mind of an artist or designer. To be recycled for another project, these elements need only to be tweaked and melded into position. Although there’s certainly skill involved in splicing these parts together to create a new whole, it doesn’t hold up compared to the creativity that goes into coming up with something that didn’t previously exist.

“A well-crafted pastiche should never be given the same worth as an original work”Games such as Shadow Warrior (2013) and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon are fine examples of lovingly-created pastiches but they are overshadowed by behemoths of artistic originality like BioShock and Dishonored. This is not a matter of the personal enjoyment players derive from any of these games, but more an analysis of some of the elements that make up the games’ distinct fabrics.

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Taking the cities of Rapture and Dunwall as a precedent, these are stimulating feats of design that you want to explore, existing as prominent characters besides being key to the games’ narratives. In comparison, the worlds of Blood Dragon and Shadow Warrior are largely flat, uninspiring places that you move through swiftly without stopping to admire.

“The underwater metropolis Rapture is an immense feat of conceptual engineering”Looking in greater detail, the underwater metropolis Rapture is an immense feat of conceptual engineering – creeping through it feels like you’re in a sub-aquatic fallen paradise. The Art Deco design is a perfect choice given Andrew Ryan’s ethos. Dunwall was influenced by the architecture of Victorian London and Edinburgh, and this was capped with contrasting technological elements to make it an intriguing hybrid of old and new (although the Steampunk label is rejected by the designers). Compared to the bland terrain and industrial complexes of Blood Dragon and the generic temples and urban locations of Shadow Warrior, the gap in design pedigree is massive.

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But, how else were the worlds of Blood Dragon and Shadow Warrior supposed to appear? Their terrain suits them perfectly – it’s exactly what you expect to see. That’s the crux – you expect to see it because you’ve seen it already, in the films, television shows and comics that influenced Blood Dragon and Shadow Warrior’s design. Anything that broke the mould would serve to counteract the intended nostalgia.

“To be original is to take a risk”Looking briefly at another element – basic enemy troops, due to their design, the splicers feel like they were genuine people, burdened with grief, anger and pathos. Ostensibly brutish and without personality, Dunwall’s City Watch guards are revealed to be brimming with thoughts and feelings once Corvo points The Heart at them. Contrasting with this depth are the bland demonic forms of Shadow Warrior and the identical droids of Omega Force. The latter enemies are meant to be blown away without hesitation whereas the splicer’s pain serves to humanise them and further frighten you whilst the City Watch guards’ characters are there to test Corvo’s moral fibre.

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Further to this, looking at narrative depth, main characters and gameplay, similar conclusions are reached in every instance. These pastiches are bound by the texts they’re influenced by whereas works of originality are not.

In itself though – a lack of boundaries doesn’t mean creative success will ensue – it actually gives greater scope for failure. The rules the pastiches adhere to have been tried and tested, they have a proven appeal, whereas something original doesn’t have the same bearing. Proposing a game set in a 1960s underwater Art Deco metropolis where the population has torn their habitat and themselves apart, may sound exciting on paper, but that doesn’t mean it’ll work. There is always a place for pastiches, and although it’s not always called for, the point is certain – to be original is to take a risk. This fact should always be given the respect it deserves, not just in videogames but in all creativity.

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in November 2009. Get in touch on Twitter @p_etew.

  1. Sean

    12th February 2014

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    While I agree that the value of original ideas does breed more interesting settings and fiction, I think using Shadow Warrior and Blood Dragon makes for a pair of easy targets. They do revel in their worn pastiche, but they also don’t aspire to be anything more than vehicles for first-person carnage. BioShock and Dishonored are both games about choice, probably even before they are games about heady fiction.

    How does Deus Ex: HR or even BioShock Infinite fit into this thread, since they are not original ideas, but sequels to them.

  2. Pete

    15th February 2014

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    They were selected due to them being relatively recent examples of pastiche. They don’t aspire to be anything other than a standard FPS because they’re bound by the formulas on which they’re based. If they deviated from this considerably, I imagine this fact would draw negative criticism.

    As for Deus Ex: HR and Infinite, they’d certainly make for interesting cases for discussion, especially as this was such a brief piece. Thanks, Sean.

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