“Bzzt…Sssshkk…Crackle…listen up, hero. Get to the frmrcomfrtre ASAP. There isn’t much time…ksssshhhh.”
Thanks, mysterious stranger! I have no idea what you just said but I don’t really care. I’ll just move towards the dot on the map that magically appeared.
Does this sound familiar? If you play big-budget shooting video games, it should.
Radio communication has been used as a plot device in video games for a long time, and in most settings, it makes sense. You’re a lone soldier/space marine or whatever in an alien environment with no one to turn to for help. But without guidance, who will teach you how to play the game? The instruction manual? Ha! That’s where Mr. or Mrs. Radio Voice comes in.
People tend to nitpick about little things in video games that aren’t realistic; they say it “takes the immersion away” if something just isn’t quite right. Well, radio communication should certainly not be one of those things. When you hear people talking on the radio in a game, you better believe it sounds like radio chatter in real life! Well, that’s great! Er…wait, no.
Talking on radios sucks. Or rather, listening to others on radios sucks. Cell phones suck too, for that matter. Do we really need to bring the burden of unintelligible conversation over to the realm of video games just to satisfy the legions of anal retentive nerds (hereafter referred to as “nerds”)? This is a video game; you can make it whatever you want. Hell, most of these games take place hundreds of years in the future and STILL their communications technology is broke as shit.
I’m not against the idea of radios. Like I said, they make sense. But you don’t have to make it sound like the person is talking through their ass attached to a long piece of string attached to another ass. If someone is talking to me and I don’t see them, I can make a simple conclusion. No biggie.
Besides hearing from your off-screen companion, you may also come across collectible items called audio logs (see Bioshock, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Dead Space, etc). They’re always tape-recorded—the lowest of low-def audio formats—and always end up sounding even more muffled than your radio friend. I only collect them because they’re shiny and I love collecting shiny shit (stay tuned for possible future article on collecting shit). Seriously though, the only thing they’re good for in Dead Space is using Telekinesis and throwing them at the land mine creatures.
Hearing is believing
So does anybody get it right? There are a couple of examples that stand out. First, let’s observe the genius Codifying Satellite Communication System, or Codec from the beloved Metal Gear Solid series.
“It functions by directly manipulating the small bones in the ears, such as the stapes, so it appears as if a user is talking to himself or herself. During the 2005 Shadow Moses Incident, the Codec was described as a cochlear-implant radio…the Codec was primarily nanomachine based, and people wired with nanomachines will also engage in nanotech-based speech while outwardly appearing silent.” – http://metalgear.wikia.com/wiki/Codec
That’s some next-level shit right there. Codec conversations are clear and precise. The device’s signature “ringtone” lets you know where the incoming voice is coming from, and it never gets annoying the more you hear it. It’s one of the things that makes Metal Gear, well, Metal Gear. Of course, Kojima had to invent the Codec in order for it to make sense, and I’m not so sure it does (it transmits a perfectly framed video of my face while it is implanted in my brain or flowing through my veins via nanomachines or something?). It doesn’t matter to me, as long as it works.
Finally, we come to one franchise that just doesn’t fuck around. No radios, no cochlear implants, no bullshit. If you need to be told something, this game will straight-up tell you not just to your face, but directly to your cerebral cortex.
Crackdown‘s “Voice of the Agency” (played by Michael McConnohie) never introduces himself, never shows himself; he just is. His authoritative voice will ring loud and clear through your speakers pretty much whenever the hell he pleases. You don’t question the voice. You can’t. Granted, this is a game that obviously doesn’t take itself seriously, so you can bet that it can afford to not give reasonable explanations for, well, anything at all.
I suppose I could turn on the subtitles if I really wanted to know what people were saying. Problem is, I don’t care. Then why did I write this article? I guess this is a note to developers: be more like Crackdown. Crackdown is awesome.
You got that, soldier? Over and out.