10 April 2009

We Are All of Us Living in the Shadow of the Colossus.

It's rather strange, the timing of the Shadow of the Colossus movie announcement. I had just rented and finished the game a week prior - you know, because it's FREAKIN' IMPOSSIBLE TO FIND, EVEN IN RETAIL STORES THAT STILL HAVE MORE SHELF SPACE DEVOTED TO PS2 THAN THE WII AND XBOX 360 COMBINED AND RIP-OFF MERCHANTS ARE STILL FLOGGING OFF USED PAL COPIES OF THE GAME FOR $90+ ON eBAY - when I saw it sitting on the shelf at my local Video Ezy as a weekly rental, I thought to myself, of course! The answer's so obvious, right under my nose all this time!

Shadow of the Colossus: bankrupting nerds since 2005.

I was under the pump, though, from the moment I rented it. I had only one week to suck the marrow out of an experience that has been upheld as one of two examples of 'videogames as art' in response to Roger Ebert's highly flammable assertions to the contrary last year. (And while we're still here, I agree with the game's 'art' status.) And I had to borrow my girlfriend's pink Playstation 2 [playing games on a pink Playstation can lend them a special kind of irony, especially if they're loaded with machismo like God of War]. If I can make a recommendation to those who have not yet travelled this road: for the full Shadow of the Colossus experience, try renting it for two or three weeks if you can. I only *just* made it on a 9 to 5, with a sick day, and I regret having to rush through the game just to finish it before return time.

(At first I tried to pace myself, trying to defeat two or three colossi per night, under the false assumption that there would be twelve colossi - like the number of signs in the zodiac, or the number of months in a year, or the number of disciples in Christ's flock - it's just a number that makes sense. But once I found out there were sixteen, I had to ramp up my efforts to four per night. It's from that point of view that they probably could have culled a further few colossi from the thirty they reportedly started with. Having said that, you don't want the game to end when it does, meaning that it hasn't overstayed its welcome, and it's just long enough to make you want more.)

(That's why I take serious issue with the whiney 13 year olds that complain about 10 to 14 hour videogames being too short, and videogame critics marking games down for it - 10 to 14 hours is the perfect length for a videogame. Those of us with day jobs don't have 40 to 60 hours to burn on one videogame; we're premium players. We want 40 to 60 hours brought to the boil and distilled into 10 to 14 hours of AWESOME.)

And that's the first cool thing I want to mention about the game: the core experience can be completed in around 10 to 14 hours, but you can lose yourself in its world for heaps longer if you choose. And if it was more than a weekly rental, I would choose. But given I had only the one week, I'll try to stick to discussing the core experience.

It's as if Team ICO went down to the pub (that same pub at the end of all worlds that Platinum Games went to when they came up with MadWorld), and their leader clasps his hands together and he says, "right, let's make a game that combines all the coolest things about videogames: platforming and end-of-level bosses. Except, instead of end-of-level bosses, let's make level bosses." Then everyone stares blankly at their boldest and brightest. "Oh, don't make me bang you over the head with it. The bosses are the levels. They're giants - colossi, if you will - and you must climb them to bring them down." And then they went back to the office and made it.

GTA-radar, eat your heart out.

I won't gloss it over for you, though - the development process wasn't without its hurdles. They wanted to make an overworld that was expansive and ancient - that seemed full of ancient stories, with footprints of heroes and beasts that came before, and they wanted the colossi to feel like an ancient part of that landscape - but they didn't want the players to get lost. So they wanted a radar system, but they didn't want to use a radar per se because radars aren't ancient. So the brightest and boldest of them spoke up again and he said, "let's not needlessly overencumber (he used that word because he plays too many RPGs) our character with too many items; let's build the function into the most important item - the sword. It shall be a sword of ancient power, inextricably linked to the colossi. It shall shine forth a beam of light, leading the wielder to the colossi, and illuminating their weaknesses." So then Team ICO punched in a few ones and zeroes and made it a reality. Genius.

The strength circle is genius too. Shadow of the Colossus is a cinematic game, but Team ICO didn't shy away from game-like elements when it served the experience. The strength circle (or 'bar', if you will) lends the game a sense of urgency. You don't have all the time in the world to climb up a giant's back, you can only do what you can do.

You're the speck at the bottom.

Shadow of the Colossus is the answer to the question, what would it be like if you were a flea on a dog's back? It's pretty safe to say that nobody thought to ask this question prior to the game's release, but now I can't imagine life not knowing. The game has a feel; an epic feel. You are so small, and yet the colossus is so, well, colossal. It lumbers towards you and the ground shakes. You are frozen in your tracks; half by fear and half in awe of the beauty of the beast. You stab it in the heel like Achilles' weakness or a thorn in a giant lion's paw. The colossus roars in mighty pain, stooping down on one knee for a short while. You mount your noble steed, kick your heels in, and gallop towards the living structure. You leap from the horse's back, clinging to a blade of the creature's grassy fur. You climb up its thigh and onto its back. As you reach its shoulders, the hulking mass threshes angrily about to buck you off. Your strength fading quickly, you unsheathe your glimmering blade. Ah, a weakness! You plunge the blade deep into its skull and hang on for grim death as the mammoth melts face-first into the ground. A sting of remorse pierces your chest for having just killed such a beautiful thing, like pulling the petals off a daffodil, or the wings from a butterfly. Am I doing the right thing? You ask yourself. But I must, if I am to bring my lady-love back from the brink of death.

Poor thing.

That's the experience of Shadow of the Colossus in a nutshell. The game is epic and cinematic, yes, but what I'm trying to convey here is how integral interactivity is to its experience. Watching it is not the same. You have to be the flea on the dog's back, you have to feel the remorse as you plunge the blade into the beast's head, you have to ride your noble steed for 10 to 14 hours to feel that connection with your horse [no, not THAT kind of connection with your horse, sicko]. It's like Watchmen: you can't adapt it for the people who can't be bothered reading a graphic novel or playing a videogame, and hope to convey the fullness of its essence to a broader audience. It's already visual; it's already cinematic - you just have to play it. That's why videogame-to-movie adaptations don't work wholesale, and often the reverse as well. I see no reason why a gamer should be excited about this at all. You've already seen it; you were it - you played the leading role - watching it would just be a disconnected, out-of-body experience. All you'd want to do is press the 'Start' button and live it your way.

That is what makes Shadow of the Colossus great, both as a game and as a work of art, and that is why it won't work as a film! Let me wind that back for you...That is what makes Shadow of the Colossus great, both as a game and as a work of art, AND THAT IS WHY IT WON'T WORK AS A FILM! DAMN, I'M GOOD!!!
If Roger Ebert played it, I'm sure he would be all too pleased to concede pwnage. Now I just have to track down ICO and make him play that too.

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