09 July 2010

Found: Poems/Flowery Language In Activision's Singularity

Despite what you may have heard, the Raven-made, Activision-published Singularity is not, I repeat not, a bad game.

Not at all.

It's a pretty good game. Damn good, in fact. I've enjoyed it as much as I've enjoyed anything in 2010. It's got issues, sure, but right now it's got good a shot at making my top 10 list this year. No, I'm not kidding.

Speaking of those problems, the most egregious error--and this one is a real game-killer for most people, including critics--is that it gets off to a rotten, shit-ass start. I nearly quit playing in the game's opening frames, out of frustration and boredom.

But once I acquired a magic, glowing glove that allowed me to age certain objects in the game world, including my enemies--just like the song, the poor bastards literally turn to dust in the wind--things really started to get cooking.

The game borrows liberally from other, better games--BioShock, Metroid Prime, Modern Warfare, etc. Which isn't a knock against Singularity. It simply means that the wise people at Raven, located way up there in Wisconsin, of all places, did their homework.

One of many aspects of BioShock that the game co-opts is the whole old-fashioned tape recorder thing. You find an old reel-to-reel machine, hit the X button, and suddenly a recorded voice is telling you something meaningless in a faux Russian accent. (I would hit the X button, then move forward, just in case an Achievement of some sort finally revealed itself later on in the game. One never knows, so it's always better to be safe than sorry.)

The tape recorders feel positively space age relative to the old school--and when I say old school, I mean very old school--notes that are also scattered about the game. These notes are utterly useless and pointless to read. Raven added the notes in the name of fleshing out the plot, and giving Katorga-12--the WWII-era Russian island commune/science experiement where the game is set--a sense of place.

Reading notes and pressing play on antique tape recorders? Man, I haven't wasted this much time since I collected all of those fucking thermoses in Alan Wake.

Yet, I kept reading, kept pressing the X button/play, in the name of hearing the familiar BLUP sound effect followed by an onscreen graphic letting me know that MY GAMING SCORE HAS INCREASED BY 10 WHOLE POINTS and that THIS ENTIRE EVENING SITTING ON MY COUCH HAS NOT BEEN A WASTE.

Then, yesterday, something odd happened. I found two notes that were so strange, so spare, and frankly, so surprisingly beautiful that they could be passed off as the early scratchings of William Carlos Williams or e. e. cummings.

The first one--above at the start of the post--is a screen shot taken from the game.

Here's a second note from the game, word for word:

February 28, 1953
I wish Dr. Demichev would let me
go home.
I am not feeling very well today.
Where's my bucket?

Don't look for this "poem" in next month's issue of The New Yorker. My point is that this kind of spare, suggestive writing--where what's on the page has far greater implications, implications that suggest a far larger world--is a long, (long) way from the old "All your base are belong to us" days.

Progress = Made.


  1. The notes serve as a link to our humanity. A game is a world onto itself which you enter by playing it. You lose who you are by playing it. You become it. These gems, if you will, remind us of what we really are.

    I am conflicted as to whether this is a good or a bad thing. On one hand I enjoy the experience of games but I recognize the potential for escapism to the detriment of one's own life. You see it all the time in MMORPG addicts who lose their identities and adopt others.

    There is danger in making a game too life like. I expect it will become more of a problem in the future. The movie existenz comes to mind.

    Something to ponder. Sorry for the tangent.

  2. I love little disjointed tidbits from other worlds, notes from characters who partially exist. I think it's exhilarating coming across something that causes ideas to take flight in your own mind. Escapism is part of the groundwork for reality.

  3. I've been enjoying Singularity quite a bit. Well, I mean to say that I was until I was ensnared by the thoroughly mediocre Crackdown 2. For some reason I'm hooked on that game, though it's inferior to most of my other gaming options right now.

    Anyway, I enjoyed the slow start to Singularity. It helped setup the place and got me interested in what was going on.