Friday 26 February 2010

Events occur in real time

The TV series 24 was fresh, bold and different when it first aired; shown in (more or less) real time, there were more plot twists than you could shake a particularly twisty stick at, dramatic revelations all over the place and it wasn’t afraid to break genre conventions by killing off major characters. From the second series on, though, the unexpected twists and broken conventions started to become something of a convention themselves; if a seemingly trusted agent was actually a mole in the first series, next time around if a seemingly trusted agent was acting suspiciously and it looked like they might be a mole it would actually turn out they were a trusted agent working under particularly deep cover to infiltrate an enemy group. Fast forward another few series and a seemingly trusted agent acting suspiciously isn’t a mole they’re just in deep cover, only that in itself is a cover for the fact that they’re working for a second terrorist organisation, except really they’re in even deeper cover for a group of ex-government agents who’ve gone outside the law because highly placed members of the government are in on the conspiracy, except that’s really cover for the fact that they’re a member of a group of ex-ex-government agents who were disillusioned by their abandonment by different members of the government and are out for revenge, and then it turns out they’re not human at all but a robot sent from the future to stop other robots who’ve been sent back from a different future where they were built by the monkeys who took over the world except the monkeys are ghosts and they’re all clones and he’s his own brother.

When the eighth series started in UK recently I watched the first episode, but despite the requisite excitement, chases and exploding helicopters I couldn’t really get into it. I think that’s partly to do with the character of Jack Bauer, who started out as a believably magnificent bastard (within the bounds of “TV ex-Delta Force hero” believability), struggling with his wife and family life but able to saw somebody’s head off with a fish slice when push comes to shove. Since then over the course of seven really tough days he’s been kidnapped, captured, tortured, shot, imprisoned, released, fired, re-hired, disowned, put on trial, fired again, exiled, infected, irradiated, killed and resurrected more times than he’s had hot dinners (which isn’t terribly tricky as I don’t think he’s managed so much as a sandwich, let alone a full dinner, on screen). He’s ascended to the status of cut-n-paste replacement in Chuck Norris facts, and is slightly unreal as a character as a result.

That got me thinking about MMOGs updates and expansions. You get your character up to level 30/40/50 (in DIKU-land), and have progressed from being a rookie barely able to punch out a marmot into a fearsome hero able to take down the biggest monster/villain out there (or at least watch a YouTube video of a bunch of other people doing so), and then an update or expansion is released and it turns out there’s something even bigger out there, and you gain another five or ten levels, and an even bigger set of shoulder pads and sword to hit stuff with. How long can one game be extended that way and still make sense as a coherent world with the character you started out with (in as much as MMOGs ever make sense as coherent worlds)? With games like Everquest still going, and viewing figures of 24 holding up, I guess it’s not a universal worry by any means. In the meantime I’ve had a great idea for a 24/WoW crossover, in which Jack Bauer has to hunt down Arthas before he can assassinate the president, and Warcraft’s Cataclysm is caused by a nuclear device planted by a group of Forsaken militants who are really being controlled by a privately-funded corporation who are actually a front for a shadowy cabal of Alliance politicians…

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