In the Brainholes: Call of Duty, Works In Progress

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I’ve been playing an inordinate amount of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 for the last week, both for reviews (I worked on reviews for both the Xbox 360 version and the PC version) and for various other reasons, like helping out Game Front’s video team as they try to make walkthrough videos.

The game is definitely not lacking for weirdness. Its story jumps back and forth between the Cold War and the near future, in which a revenge-driven Nicaraguan drug lord takes out his grudges on America and specific American soldiers alike. The villain, Raul Menendez, excels in being super-powered and apparently capable of seeing the future, and while the story isn’t always great, it gets kudos for going to some really dark places.

Still, the morality of the game and its message don’t really sync, as is nicely put in this article from Kill Screen, although it feels like it mixes its metaphors a bit toward the end. And of course, it’s a Call of Duty title, which means it joins the ranks of several games that have been universally terrible at telling stories. Black Ops 2 does something of a better job, but it’s constricted by the weight of the games that came before — the developers want to mix things up by giving us orders and information that aren’t necessarily true, but we never quite realize that we dont have to kill that key bad guy or take the path set out before us, because in every game of the preceding seven years, we’ve been forced to do those things.

It’s fascinating, though, that the game attempts the innovation it does. The Call of Duty situation is, itself, an anomaly — each year, a new version of the franchise comes out, with the odd years seeing entries from Infinity Ward, the creator of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the game responsible for all this craziness, and the even years carried by Treyarch. The games on those “off-years,” the Treyarch games, have become the Black Ops franchise, and include other weird elements like the developer’s signature (and popular) Zombies mode.

Clearly, however, Treyarch is trying to make something that belongs to the developer in the Black Ops franchise, and isn’t just a case of following instructions and building something with someone else’s Legos. Black Ops 2 sees Treyarch differentiating the game in meaningful ways, while still being sure to color inside the lines of the Call of Duty franchise as dictated by publisher Activision. In a way, it’s an interesting allegory for what it must be like to work on these games; surely the developers at Treyarch want to distinguish themselves. Their small innovations to the formula are meant to do that, just as they’re meant to distinguish their off-year games and legitimize them when they’re compared to the Modern Warfare titles.

On Stuff I’m Doing

I got a question about what I’m working on right now, and it’s a difficult question to answer. Finishing with Black Ops 2 marks the last major release of the year on my coverage list, which I’m hoping will mean more time for things like interviews and fiction.

I’m happy to report that there’s some preliminary work being done on a proposal that would be the follow-up project to So You Created a Wormhole. More details on that as they become available and I’m able to talk about them.

And despite being told by numerous people about how “over” zombies are as a horror genre, I still find myself drawn to the stories that could be told in that realm. I think the next step is to create a new genre, or a new zombie-free world-end scenario, in which those stories are functional while still being less cliche. This is really upsetting, because as a huge zombie fan I feel very qualified to write in the genre, and yet it’s difficult to make headway because of the oversaturation of the market.

That said, I started a new zombie short story. Actually, it’s not a zombie story, it’s something else. But it started as a zombie story.

And there’s that damn script I need to finish, onto which I bludgeoned an ending. It needs serious work before I tie anyone down and force them to read it. I also have other horror ideas — namely, a take on the Slenderman mythos that, I think, will make an intense horror story (probably a script). Hoping to get on that soon.

Oh, and I have a handful of short stories that were originally meant to make up a coming-of-age novel, which I haven’t touched in two years. I also have a lot less than I remember — around 30,000 words. That suggests there’s a lot of work to be done yet.

All of this stuff, of course, is dependent on my financial situation at any given time. But I intend to get to all of it. The short of it is that there’s work to be done, hopefully, but many or most of these stories need further thought before I can talk about them in any kind of depth. Still, I’ll hopefully be able to share their progress (and any tips I derive from them) in the coming weeks.

Meantime, a desperately needed break is coming this weekend and next week. I’m excited for it.

Published by Phil

He's like, you know, the guy.

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