Bullestorm As Evolution

As we've seen in the last few months, I have a strange obsession with issues of originality and media. That obsession exists because we progeeks work in media, we consume media, we experiment and play with media in the form of fan fiction fan art and mods, and we improve by manipulating media. As originality is part of media and questions about the value of media, thus I obsess over it.

Also, people complain about unoriginality all the time, so by addressing it I hope to explore issues about originality, media, and consumption. Also I'm just a curious guy that will analyze anything; come on you know that by now.

One last subjects are talked about was that originality seem to be most useful to creating media sales and interest was part of the gradual evolution of a game concept, literary concept, genre, and so on. I may have just found the perfect example of a successful implementation of originality–and-gradual-evolution in the form of the game "Bulletstorm."

"Bulletstorm", for our dwelling-under-a-rock audience, is a First-Person shooter (FPS) in the vein of damn near every third game that comes out for every console and computer.  The FPS genre has pretty much turned into A) get weapons, B) travel through environments and to encounters, often in linear manners, C) fight, D) proceed.  I had all but ignored FPSes for a good decade until "Borderlands", an RPG/FPS fusion that I enjoyed immensely.

"Bulletstorm" in many ways is a very un-innovative game that's just done well.  You travel to locations as off-kilter Space Pirate Grayson Hunt (who kicks off most of the plot's shenanigans because he's drunk and angry).  You fight people with a variety of weapons and so on.  On the surface pretty standard, though the environments are nice and you get some wacky weapons, making it a kind of bloody "Ratchet And Clank."

The game also does some of the "usual FPS" schtick well.  First,that the acting and dialogue is good and hilarious; the plot and characters at times border on parody, and the profanity-laden script often mocks profanity-laden scripts.  Second there are some very nice and beautiful set pieces that get the adrenaline going.  Nice, but nothing that seems to push the envelope.

Now, let's get to what makes the game unusual and evolutionary; the return to a scoring system, something rarely seen in video games that aren't directly derived from arcade ancestors.

What Bulletstorm does (and this is part of the plot) is give people points for creative kills. Shooting somebody yields few points; shooting them in the head yields more. Then of course there are the joys of setting people on fire and then shooting them, dragging them into giant cacti, and so. Every unique kill of your mutated opponents has a given nickname, and these "Skillshots" are kept in a database you can aspire to more creative mayhem.

These points allow you to both evaluate your performance and purchase more equipment for the implementation of more said mayhem. That it; you get a simple plot wittily executed, some great pieces and scenery – and a scoring system based on unique mayhem to unlock more mayhem.  There's one really original thing; the scoring system.

This simple if amusing scoring system completely changes how the normal FPS gameplay works. No longer do you go in guns a-blazing, but instead try to line up creative kills and maximize your score, because those unique weapons and their reloads aren't going to purchase themselves. The game goes from a slightly demented standard FPS to a crazy kind of puzzle game with heavy firepower.

One relatively simple change and some clever implementation in the physics engine, and "Bulletstorm" becomes evolutionary to the point of being revolutionary. If you pay any attention to video games, you've probably heard about it to the point where either you want to play about it, or never ever want to hear about it again. Well you're going to keep hearing about it again, so suck it down, because this changes FPS games.

I have the game. As noted I'm not exactly an FPS player, but I am having an absolute ball with this. I'm laughing at the dialogue, enjoying the quick pickup “Echo" modes that let you play specific levels for scores, and having fun with the multiplayer – which is all about cooperative point scoring. The game is very much like other games, yet one simple addition has altered it into something new – it is both new and old.

Judging by the reviews of seeing? Everyone else is having a ball as well–after all what other game can you get extra points for setting someone on fire and then kicking them into a giant cactus? You're not going to see that in Call of Duty.

I feel that this is living proof of my theory that one simple addition, one bit of evolution to an otherwise formulaic gamer piece of media, can make a real difference. There's enough of “the same” to get the attention of people who want, well things that are similar to what they liked and past, and enough "difference" to get attention and evolve the genre. This is something for us people in media production to pay attention to.

Oh, I'm sure that now everybody and their brother will be sticking scoring systems and other various FPS games as well as other day. In time will become sick of this mechanic. But in the larger picture, this is a perfect example of that alchemical mixture of original and expected.

Also, may I recommend mixing the Screamer charge to set people on fire, then Bola Grenade to entangle them, and THEN detonating the grenade to get a boatload of points.

Steven Savage