Editorial: Scheming For Control

Played the game? Notice no pictures of Percy Propa? I will explain in the other pics. I think...I think something may be going on...
Compensation jokes aside, I want whatever drug allows them to defy physics and effectively wield those weapons.

Last week I mentioned how Freedom Wars has yet to actually vacate one of the cartridge slots in my PS Vita, and that claim still rings true as I write this. While the actual gameplay being offered by this collaboritive effort between Shift and Dimps is certainly part of the draw for me, the game’s atmosphere and plot served to awaken some long dormant interests from the days when I thought being a forensics psychologist was probably my thing. It actually bothers me a little that the notion and implications of the Panopticon are not explored in greater detail, despite the fact that, in game, the player is literally living in one. I will get to all that shortly, but first up, I would like to offer my thoughts on this worthy budget investment on the Vita system.

Freedom Wars is not without its issues. Normally I would employ the ‘compliment sandwich’ method when talking about a game, but I want to be upfront in this case because it is a rather big deal when it comes to sitting down fresh and enjoying the game. The control schemes impose a considerable learning curve, which may have turned many players off to giving it a go, and I really can not blame them. I nearly did the same thing myself.

In other games that give one the freedom to customize controls, something is sometimes lost. There is no tactile difference between playing the classes being offered because one uses the same buttons to do any given action as they please regardless of character type. In the case of Freedom Wars, after wrestling with the restrictive feelings of each default scheme, I ended up finding much to be gained. Choosing the “thorn user” scheme means that the player will primarily be conducting acrobatic assaults with an edged or blunt weapon by throwing a thorn (basically a big whip) about. In this case, a large gun would probably be unwieldy and clumsy, and the controls support exactly this notion by making it difficult to aim freely while firing unless one has some serious thumb dexterity. Conversely, the “marksman” scheme offers the player a chance to comfortably run and gun while hobbling easy, split-second thorn use which means they are staying on the ground for the most part. It was these two schemes that I found myself deciding between, depending on the mission and how I intended to play through it, and this is something I found interesting giving that I have encountered the need to do such a thing so rarely. There were moments that had me nodding while muttering “yes, I see why they did this,” and eventually I ignored my desire to want to customize a scheme altogether.

It is oddly hard to find a picture of Percy Propa, voice of the Panopticon, without a watermark on it, as though Percy is the most important secret in the game even though it's one of the first things you see as it reminds you that your sole purpose is to contribute to the Greater Good by risking your life against giant robots.
Talking to one of these guys adds years on your sentence. Worth it, though. Great muffin recipes.

While it sounds silly to discuss the difficulty of the controls, there is a sense of reward I felt when I had finally mastered them enough to feel confident about how I was to approach each mission. This, I feel, plays off the over-arching theme of the game in that the player feels constantly confined, yet effort is rewarded. The game takes this to some extremes. To explain, one must first know that the player is a prisoner within a Panopticon, which is at war with other Panopticons over resources. Prisoners are, naturally, the conscripted soldiers of these battles, and constantly under the watchful accompaniment of a babysitter known as an Accessory. The goal is to work off a million year sentence by contributing to one’s Panopticon through missions and donations of crafted goods, as a sort of reverse points system. As one decreases in points, one ascends in ranking, earning more and more privileges each time through the spending of Entitlement Points. This is extremely similar to the methods outlined in the LusipurrCorp training VHS tapes, as I am about to demonstrate.

Entering the game, I was blissfully unaware of the restrictions. They wasted no time in becoming apparent. Right off the bat, I was informed that I did not have the right to run for more than five seconds, recline when resting, or stray more than twenty meters from my Accessory. This information came by way of additional years added to my sentence without hesitation or chance of appeal. Honestly, I found this wonderful. The game’s designers pushed the right buttons at the right times with this, and I immediately changed my behavior in the game since those little added punishments started to add up (and later, there are some that are unavoidable, so the less the better). I can not help but imagine what it would be like if this game was a true MMO, and how interesting it would be to watch the newbie areas as players walked slowly from cell to cell, taking absurd amounts of time to reach the end of a hallway because they had not earned the right to fast travel, yet.

While a game as a psychological experiment is an interesting idea, it is this notion of the Panopticon that hit home with me. The concept of the physical Panopticon found parentage in the Bentham brothers, Jeremy and Samuel in the late 18th century, roughly around the time Lusipurr.com was born. Be that by coincidence or conspiracy, the Panopticon itself is, roughly speaking, a circular prison with a central watch tower, allowing a single observer to peer into any given cell at any given time. Prisoners would have no idea when they were being watched, and thus it was safer to assume that they were being watched all the time and act accordingly. This vaguely rings of Pascal’s Wager, alongside the almost hesitant familiarity between the metaphorical idea of the Panopticon and religious beliefs or the modern police state. In short, it is a Behavioral Psychologist’s wet dream and deeply interesting subject that reveals much about the human mind.

No, really. I could not find one usable shot of Percy Propa. It's like everyone was terrified of what might happen if they took a screenshot during one of it's segments. With that front camera on the Vita, I am not surprised. WELCOME TO THE PANOPTICON, SHEEPLE!
Presidio Modelo in Cuba, rocking the Panopticon model since 1928. Lusipurr.com still wins.

I am not at end game, yet, but so far Freedom Wars falls too short for my tastes when it comes to exploring the deeper psychological affects this would have on people, though that is not to say there are no hints in the game. Occasionally, in a building filled with rather cavalier prisoner soldiers, the player might find one huddled in a corner, mumbling something or other, the same way I do when my Lusipurr.com deadline looms near. It is also entirely possible that the player character is batshit crazy, since some ethereal raver chick shows up now and then while they sleep, but I have a feeling that is not where this part of the plot is headed.

I think the last game to give me the opportunity as a player to really consider the implications of not only my actions, but the environment in which I was performing them, was Bioshock Infinite. As the power of both technology and development in gaming grow, so does the potential to explore the murky quagmires of the human heart. Of course, this is not a new thing to gaming, so on that dissonant note, I turn to you, freedom reader, and ask what game had some concepts that really made you think beyond the game itself, or perhaps just made you go ‘hmm…’

I shall earn the right to respond to your comments promptly!

2 comments

  1. In other games that give one the freedom to customize controls, something is sometimes lost. There is no tactile difference between playing the classes being offered because one uses the same buttons to do any given action as they please regardless of character type.

    Hmm. But, generalising outwards, aren’t all gamse that use ‘a’ to ‘jump’ in essence the same, then? I’m not sure I follow the logic that because the same general action takes place when a button is pressed, then something is lost. After all, in a fighting game the punch button throws a punch, the jump button jumps, the kick button kicks–the only things that differ across characters are combo moves and telegraphy/delays/damage (i.e. BBA does X move for one character, whereas it does nothing for another).

    That bottom picture looks like our staff Game Enjoyment Lounge.

  2. Ahh, I really should have went with my gut and just reworked that whole part. I find it terribly difficult to put into words.

    This example might help. Back when I played WoW, with all it’s flexibility with keybindings and the benefits of a full keyboard, I would set up one control scheme for everything. Regardless of what character I played (usually priest or rogue), they felt identical on the control end, hitting the same few keys over and over again. In game, of course, the results of the keystrokes were different, but I personally was going through a lot of the same motions.

    In Freedom Wars, I encountered an actual need to learn different patters, and give up certain things when I would change my play style depending on the mission. As a thorn user, my thorn became the right bumper on the Vita, and my weapon would drop to the square button, making it really hard to aim and shoot something without standing still for a moment. The Marksman scheme swaps them back out, making it difficult to use your thorn as anything other than an assist on drag downs, or maybe grabbing some higher ground when you are not being fired at.

    All poor wording on my part, but I still am having trouble explaining it. The focus was supposed to be the need for swapping schemes due to intentional design, as opposed to having that “good for everything” control setup.

Comments are closed.