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A Massacre of a Pilot

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This is the beginning of what I hope will be a series of articles wherein I discuss various distasteful topics that have been explored and as-yet unexplored in video games across the late-last and early-current centuries.

WARNING: I will be discussing topics that are potentially offensive in nature. Being borderline taboo, this article may contain ideas and concepts that offend or trigger. Please keep that in mind.

Without further ado, please enjoy the following product of raw unrestricted opinion.

 


 

 

Because of the recent rash of shootings and other gun-related incidents in the U.S.A., political and social movements have once again taken to advocating for stricter gun laws and more thorough background checks. Insane or violent people are able to cause the massacres and commit the murders that they do in-part because of the ease with which firearms and ammunition can be LEGALLY purchased. Thus, making it harder for insane or violent people to legally purchase firearms is a reasonable start to prevent massacres and murders.

So, where do video games fit into this rather political post thus far?

Imagine, if you will, that it is not taboo to make video games where the player perpetrates massacres and murders. However gruesome it may be to fathom where and how far video game developers could take such a premise with next-gen consoles, please stay with me here and mull this over for a few seconds (or however long you want).

Do you take offense to such ideas? Would you act on that discontent by contacting the developer(s) or by not even buying such a game? Do you know a relative, or friend, or relative of a friend, or anyone else that was a victim of a massacre or murder, or knew someone that was?

Hold that thought and let’s pause for a second: do you remember the great controversy over the airport massacre level in 2009’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2? Y’know, the one where you go around a Russian airport as part of Makarov’s inner-circle and shoot innocent civilians and security as an act of terrorism.

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Remember it (or know about it now)? Maybe you also remember that Infinity Ward, Modern Warfare 2’s developer, made it an optional level instead of forcing players to shoot the people in the airport, and even made it so that the player doesn’t have to shoot anyone innocent if he/she does choose to go through it?

With that background info that you may or may not have already known, do you remember the 2011 Norway attacks by 32-year-old Norwegian right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik? Responsible for the deaths of 77 innocent people, Breivik said he trained for the attacks using Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 in addition to target practice at firing ranges.

The actions of a paranoid schizophrenic who used a video game to prepare for the massacres he perpetrated seems to justify the taboo against massacres and murders in video games, and yet there are many, many more forms of media that toss that taboo aside. Books, movies, anime, manga, cartoons… at least one product that is classified as one of these contains some form of violence or other inappropriate and socially-unacceptable action.

So why aren’t these other forms of media also attacked and ridiculed as much as video games? Perhaps the reason why is the interactivity and level of involvement that sets video games apart from these other art forms.

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Being able to actively choose the actions that are played out on a screen, rather than being a passive spectator is, and, unless television or anime becomes more interactive, always will be more “fun” than other forms of entertainment in terms of having control over the visual and auditory inputs we receive (although The Avengers was still one heck of an amazing movie, can’t deny that). However, doing so is also conducive to less-than-tasteful uses, as Breivik has so fatally proven.

Speaking without a claim to expertise on the subject, the problem is not the themes presented in video games. It is rather in my opinion biological factors that predispose someone to mental issues. The next step (or sole problem, in some cases) is sociability, specifically that people are, either by misfortune or biological reasons, left feeling alienated and unequal among peers, friends, and even family.

A seed of instability, if left untreated or unknown, may then sprout into a full-blown belief that mass killing or the murder of another person or people is justified, permissible, and the right or only course of action.

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Several research studies trying to find a correlation between violent video games and violent tendencies and/or aggression are discussed in this BBC News article, including one that found that violent tendencies are linked to task incompetence. In this particular study, researchers used a nonviolent version of Half-Life 2 where players tag enemies to make them evaporate instead of the original shooter version. The true variable in the experiment was whether or not players were given a tutorial before starting the game.

Those players who did not get a tutorial felt less competent and, as a result, displayed a higher level of aggression than those who did have a tutorial. In the article, Dr. Andrew Przybylski from the Oxford Internet Institute stated that these feelings of incompetence violate a basic human psychological need to feel dominant.

The aggression that this can generate is not, however, the main motivation to play violent video games. That is, according to these results, people do not play violent video games just to feel or vent aggression. University of Rochester Professor Richard Ryan, who co-authored the study paper, further stated that the findings of this study does not mean that violent content does not still have some sort of effect on players.

I would like to emphasize that, although playing video games is correlated with short-term aggression, there is no direct causal link found as yet between playing violent games and acting out violence.

It seems as though there are just as many studies indicating that there is no link as those that indicate there is. The only constant among the relatively-few studies done concerning violence and video games is their lack of consistency in terms of research methods. You truly won’t lack for differences among them, ranging from how they measure aggressiveness and mood to if and how they controlled possible variables.

For more studies and research into the link between violence and playing video games, these articles from Time and The Guardian are a good place to start.

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Video games are, first and foremost, a form of entertainment. As such, the simulations of both real life and fantasy they portray ought to be “fun.”  While violence and killing in video games should not be considered fun, such themes in video games have arguably become an outlet for stress-borne bloodlust. I myself love the Assassin’s Creed series, and it is chock full of stabbing, shooting, and causing general mayhem.

And yet, the silver lining amongst the violence and killing that permeates most, if not all, video games is the other themes and moral lessons they attempt to impart on players.

Journey, for example, depicted how the outbreak of war among cloth people, for lack of an explicitly-stated name, destroyed the great progress and prosperity that they once enjoyed, nearly exterminating the species entirely in the process. The cryptic and mystical ending of Journey showed how thatgamecompany tried to emphasize that despite the great loss, there is and always should be hope to pick up the pieces and rebuild.

Lastly, even the recent installments of the Call of Duty franchise (Modern Warfare 2 and 3, Black Ops, Ghosts) try to glorify, beyond the satisfaction of outsmarting the AI, the value of brotherhood, loyalty, vengeance (albeit an iffy subject morally), and nationalism. The latter theme, however, both alone and in combination with religion and/or greed, has been the motive behind terrorism and war-making for millennia (The Crusades and the World Wars, to name a few).

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While nearly all video games contain some form of violence and/or killing, they should not be considered a source of the violent tendencies or fuel for mental issues that are often the motivation(s) behind massacres and murders.

After all, where’s the fun in just playing a simulation of something you can do (legally) in real life?

Features

The Maker of 2019’s Must-Have Interstellar RPG Within the Cosmos Talks Gameplay, Lore, and the Future

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Within the Cosmos

Some indie games look impressive enough to match anything coming out of the AAA studios. Within the Cosmos fits that bill to a tee. Every screenshot from the project shines with ethereal beauty, and the description makes it sound like a marvellous mash-up of Deus Ex, Mass Effect, and Halo

This RPG casts players as a would-be colonist intended to seed human life away from what seems to be an apocalyptic interstellar war.

To find out more about the promising project, OnlySP reached out to developer Francis Debois, who went into great depth about the gameplay, structure, and the processes involved in production across the last five years. 

OnlySP: I wanted to start by asking about the gameplay. In the marketing you’ve mentioned that objectives can be completed through stealth, combat, or diplomacy, which is always a plus for an RPG. Is that multi-path approach available for every mission, and how free-form are the player’s options?

Debois: The missions in the game generally give you multiple ways to affect how the mission unfolds, whether it’s through dialogue or how the player approaches the mission. Also, the options available to you are governed by the type of character you create. If you have a character that’s high in Intelligence, you might be able to hack a control panel that opens a door to a room that you’d otherwise have to fight through to get to, or if your Charisma isn’t high enough, and you try to convince them to leave the area, they might not listen to what you have to say, and they’ll become hostile, or you can simply avoid all of that and find a way to sneak inside!

OnlySP: From what I understand, the RPG levelling mechanics are tied to modules on the character’s suit. Can you tell us more about how this system works and maybe provide examples of some of those modules and upgrades?

Debois: Modules are essentially “perk points” that you can use to upgrade your character. Every time you level up your character, you will get a module you can use to enhance/alter your character. The perks available to you are tied to your attribute points. So, if your Agility is high enough, you can “spend” a module and get the “Light Steps” perk, which makes your footsteps much lighter, therefore harder for the enemies to hear.

OnlySP: The game also has a stat system, which sounds a little like S.P.E.C.I.A.L. from Fallout. Is that an apt comparison? Will players be able to improve and modify those stats through gameplay and, if so, how?

Debois: Yeah, it’s a similar idea to how S.P.E.C.I.A.L. works in Fallout or similar games. When the player starts the game, they will be given a fixed amount of points that they can assign to their attributes. So, if you decide to max out your Constitution and Agility, you’ll have a character who’s agile, sneaky, and strong, but that would come at the cost of not having much Intelligence, Charisma, or Perception. So, you’re really gonna have to think about what attributes you favour, or you could put a roughly equal amount into all of them and have a character that can do a little bit of everything but not a master of everything. It’s up to you. I feel like that system will really create the desire for players to have multiple playthroughs of the game, and still have each playthrough feel like a different experience.

As far as improving and modifying those stats… I’m still trying to get the balance right. There might be one or two instances where you can upgrade them, or get temporary boosts to them, but whether you can improve or modify them beyond that is still being determined.

OnlySP: While upgrading, will players be able to respec their character’s abilities at all or are they locked into the upgrades they use?

Debois: No, they won’t be able to respec. Once you select an upgrade/perk, that’s what you’re locked into.

OnlySP: If I recall correctly, I’ve read somewhere that Within the Cosmos has a linear structure. Does that mean players won’t be able to revisit previous locations? 

Debois: You WILL be able to revisit previous locations. It’s linear in the sense that you can’t visit a new region, or planet that you have no narrative reason to visit yet. For example, the first planet you go to in the game is Alios, the second planet you visit is Berith II. If you’re right in the beginning of the game and you just got to Alios, you won’t be able to just go straight to Berith II until you’ve reached the point in the story where it makes sense to go there, but once you go there, you can go back and forth between those planets as often as you’d like. Also, I used the term “linear” as a way to get the point across that it’s not a huge open sandbox or anything. The game is very story-driven.

OnlySP: Speaking of locations, the game has the character visiting a number of planets. How many planets are there, and how have you differentiated each of them?

Debois: There are three planets in the game. Each one is aesthetically different, with different fauna, different factions, and the architecture of each planet reflects the dominant faction or factions on that planet. Aside from those locations, there are other places you’ll visit for a mission or a series of missions.

OnlySP: Looking at the Steam Greenlight page, there’s mention of vehicles and survival mechanics, but those seem not to have made it to the final version. Can you maybe explain how the development process has resulted in changes from the game you initially set out to make?

Debois: The direction the game was headed when I created the Greenlight page was completely different to what it ended up being! Initially, I intended to make an FPS with survival mechanics, but as the game progressed, and I started writing more of the story, I realised that survival mechanics didn’t really make sense, and it negatively impacted the experience. There were many things that were added and cut out in the end, so vehicles, and the survival mechanics were just two of the many things that simply didn’t end up feeling right as the game really began to take shape. As I wrote more and more, I felt like an RPG would be the best way for players to experience the game and the story.

OnlySP: You’ve mentioned that the game should take between eight and ten hours to complete. Does that factor in all the content available in the game or just the main missions?

Debois: 8-10 hours is a rough estimate of what I would say an “average” playthrough would be. Which is someone who has completed the main story, and did a few side missions. If you decide to do everything possible in the game, it will certainly take longer than that, but if you decide to strictly follow the main story, it will be shorter than that.

OnlySP: As I’ve been following Within the Cosmos, I’ve felt that it looks a bit like Halo and sounds a lot like Deus Ex. It’s got me wondering what you feel as though it’s most similar to and what sort of inspirations have shaped the look, feel, and overall tone?

Debois: Oh, there have been so many inspirations! I love the FPS RPG genre, so Deus Ex was a massive inspiration, as was Fallout: New Vegas. Those are two top tier FPS RPG games that I absolutely love. Space-based games have had an influence as well, such as Halo and Mass Effect. They helped shape the game in one way or another. I’d say the biggest inspiration behind it all has been Star Trek, I think the story and lore will reflect that to some degree.

OnlySP: Within the Cosmos is set against the backdrop of an interstellar war. How much of that background lore will players be privy to as the experience goes on?

Debois: The interstellar war is the reason that the player, and the factions are there in the first place. You will be exposed to the history of the war by reading some of the logs in the game, and through some characters you meet, etc. The war is what ties everything together. As you play through the game, you will see that even though you’ve escaped to this region of space, which is far away from the war itself, you still feel the effects of it. What you decide to do can really influence how the war plays out.

OnlySP: Meanwhile, the main story follows an individual sent to safety to preserve the human race. We’ve seen similar ideas of species protection and propagation in the likes of Fallout and Mass Effect: Andromeda. How is Within the Cosmos distinct from those earlier games?

Debois: Well, I really don’t like to compare Within the Cosmos to other games, but Fallout is more of a sandbox, and Mass Effect is more of a story-driven action RPG. Within the Cosmos falls somewhere in the middle of that.

OnlySP: As I understand it, Within the Cosmos, is entirely self-funded, self-developed, and self-published. Did you ever consider crowdfunding or partnering with a publisher to help get the game across the line sooner? Why or why not?

Debois: Not really, no. Some people suggested that I should try crowdfunding but that was something I was never interested in for Within the Cosmos. This was really a game that I wanted to make myself, so funding it and publishing it myself felt the most natural to me.

OnlySP: I know there’s still a little while before Within the Cosmos launches, but what’s next for debdev?

Debois: Once Within the Cosmos is out, I’m going to listen to the feedback from the community, and just work on updating the game with more content as time goes on. I really want to give this game all the support I can give it. Anything after that, we’ll have to see what happens! I would love to work on some of the other ideas I have, some more RPGs. There are other games that I really want to make, but after dedicating nearly five years of my life to this game, I’m not sure I will have the financial means to be able to do this again! 

OnlySP: Finally, do you have any final comments that you’d like to leave with our readers?

Debois: I’d really like to thank those who have been giving the game compliments, and those who have been providing feedback! It all really means a lot to me, and proves that all the years of hard work that I have inputted into the game, has been all worth it!

Thank you all for reading this, and for having an interest in Within the Cosmos! I really hope you check it out on Steam, wishlist it, and play it when it releases on 1 August!


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