God-Given Talent


Thor and Baldur


Plunging back into the realm of Too Human this week, it began to become a persistent thought that perhaps videogames are butchering and manipulating mythology to serve as a basis for their own universes. Sometimes it’s a lack of narrative-based creativity on the behalf of the scriptwriters, and sometimes simply a studio of Viking-obsessed developers determined to bring that beer and horned helmets feeling to our living rooms.

It begs the question; why are developers substituting original storytelling for the same tired old myths we’d prefer to keep in the museum in their true format, and warping them into game-worthy versions of their original incarnations? I don’t know about you, but I sure as hell don’t remember Thor ever being more than fifty percent machine in any of the tomes of Norse mythology I read. I don’t really remember Jormungand being a huge battleship instead of a big sea monster, either.

With games such as Rise of the Argonauts being released recently, and their subsequent poor reviews across the board, I wonder if they might have been better received had the developers simply created a gaming experience based directly on the text and nothing else. Adultery, cyclopean titans, witches; it’s Oblivion with a boat, so why butcher it? Shadow of the Colossus is an amazing title, and yet no one ever thought that Hercules has taken out monsters twice that size without the horse?

Admittedly, the protagonists in mythological texts, be it Greek, Norse, Egyptian, or otherwise, are usually very predictable and generic. But taking this into account, could we not simply remove the avatar offered to us by the text, and replace him or her instead with someone completely different? I’d be interested in playing as Jason’s second-in-command, or perhaps one of the lesser Norse gods. The fantastic Paper Mario series used this to great effect, with Luigi relaying tales of his own adventures to Mario every time you visited. You got the impression that he was simply a bystander to Mario’s greatness, but still played a significant part in the orchestration of plot events.

Mythology has always been the inspiration for a lot of effective character stereotypes and genres of narrative, from horror to your title-a-month action shooter. The overcoming of great obstacles, the epic journey across harsh and unforgiving terrain; these are all staple-marks of the legends that came before us. Even the recent industry obsession with the "coming Apocalypse" derives from the Norse end-of-the-world tale, Ragnarok.

Hercules vs Hydra

Let’s take a closer look at Too Human to explore this further, as I think it’s currently the best example of current gen mythology-based videogame titles on the market at present. With Too Human, Silicon Knights stipulated from the concept stage onwards that the game would be closely based on events, worlds, and characters in Norse mythology. Baldur being our protagonist of choice, we are thrust into a war between gods, the start of an epic trilogy set in a futuristic Valhalla where cybernetics and force fields are a thing of everyday use, and horses and thunder a thing of the past.

The gods here are defined from humanity, not by their absence from it, but by their varying degrees of upgrades to their bodies via the use of machinery and cybernetic arms, legs, and in some cases, reading glasses. However, when they walk amongst the lesser mortals at what could be designated as your home base, they don’t seem majorly thrilled to see a son of Odin stalk past them in plate armour, wielding a hammer the size of a small tree. In fact, they seem nonchalant, borderline condescending, and this doesn’t feel right.

Yet, when I walk past a row of guards, they all drop to one knee and I really do feel like a god, to the point I’ll walk past them several times and chuckle to see them repeatedly throw themselves into this display of fastidious worship. Odin is no longer the king of the castle, simply an overseer; an artificial intelligence program represented by a small blue robotic raven that makes occasional appearances at events of great magnitude. This absence isn’t what you’d expect, if you’re a fan of Norse mythology. You’d expect angry tirades from a titanic cyborg hundreds of stories tall, not a small bird cocking its head sideways.

The issue with Too Human and other games that have tried to test the same shortcut to a saleable game narrative is this; the balance between the necessity of certain factors such as a workable gameplay aspect, and staying true to the source text, is never an easy task. How do you make Baldur, the grumpy little brother of the hammer-wielding, drunk, manically laughing Thor, look heroic and intimidating without slapping a ton of futuristic armour on him and giving him a laser cannon? How can you make Jason and his Argonauts look intriguing and strong without slipping in some lightning-based attacks?

The reason mythology has been popular for thousands of years is because of the sheer unbelievable scale of events that take place. Titans as big as skyscrapers with the power to detonate volcanoes at will, warriors made immortal to anything but an arrow to the heel; this is all solid, epic storytelling at work, so much so that it still exists in Disney movies, videogames, and comic books. Marvel had the right idea in Civil War when they stated a cloned robotic Thor was nothing compared to the real god himself, and I’d have to side with the comic book lords over Silicon Knights on this one.

I’d like to see a Hercules game that has had no tweaks, no changes to the story for more gameplay, and no cuts to make the campaign shorter. Give me a two hundred hour campaign detailing all the events of his ascension to godhood. Give me nothing but a sword and a small shield and tell me to take on Medusa, the Hydra, the Titans, and the Nemean Lion. No new armor, just the same gear until the end, with the same power from the start; the power of a story millennia old that still manages to capture the heart of every man, woman, and child willing to sit by a fireside and listen to an epic tale.


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Author: Christos Reid View all posts by

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