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Some musings on Ground Zeroes (SPOILERS) - Printable Version

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Some musings on Ground Zeroes (SPOILERS) - Doctor Namewit - 04-15-2014 05:28 PM

Ground Zeroes is an interesting thing to pick apart. It is indeed an excellent game, and has gotten me very excited for The Phantom Pain as a whole, but there have certainly been some rather unusual choices during it’s production that undermine it’s rather earnest and admirable intentions.

I can certainly understand why Kojima decided to release the “Ground Zeroes” mission individually. At the time of it’s release it had been almost 4 years since Peace Walker and 6 years since the last numbered Metal Gear Solid, we all knew it was coming and had been waiting a long time for it, so perhaps he wanted to justify why it was taking so long. And Konami wanted money, so there you go. However, a lot of time seems to have been devoted to justifying GZ as an individual product gameplay-wise, but during this time the story itself did not get re-evaluated to make sense in the context of a stand-alone product. A bizarre decision considering Kojima’s goal with MGSV is to push story-telling in video games.

Now, before I get into this, I will say that I actually like the story of the Ground Zeroes mission itself. I personally loved the dark tone of it, as it felt appropriate for a game in which you are essentially infiltrating Guantanamo bay, beginning the first act of a story in which a (in my opinion) anti-hero becomes an all-out bonkers villain. It oddly reminded me somewhat of the tone of MGS1; that kind of creepy, tense, claustrophobic feeling hasn’t been as prevalent in the series since then, so it’s nice to see it back in a modern context. I also think it’s great to tackle such unpleasant subjects (such as the treatment of prisoners in these environments) through a medium which typically glamourizes militarism and violence.

However, the narrative structure of Ground Zeroes itself inevitably becomes very messy when re-contextualised as an individual story, as it was originally intended to be the first part of a much greater whole. In spite of a very well-directed opening scene introducing the plot (and of course, Big Boss) with some additional attempts to introduce backstory through both written text and some briefing tapes, the player’s engagement with the story is significantly dependent on whether or not they played Peace Walker.

It could be said that Ground Zeroes serves as a better epilogue to Peace Walker than a prologue to a new game, but then, having played Peace Walker prior to this game probably makes Ground Zeroes seem more jarring as PW is GZ’s tonal opposite. As has been mentioned before, Peace Walker is light and full of humour throughout; a completely over the top game that ends with you battling a melodramatic villain disguised as a schoolgirl who stole your robot while you were shooting soldiers attached to balloons out of the air. Ground Zeroes begins with you infiltrating a Guantanamo bay copy to rescue the same villain after she and a teenage boy have suffered extreme forms of torture and even sexual assault.

But regardless of how familiar you are with the characters or story, Ground Zeroes feels a bit like you’ve been sharing the game with someone who is further advanced in the story than you and have accidentally loaded their save file, but decide to play it anyway. The content is great but it suffers from a lack of context, which ultimately makes the narrative a bit overwhelming to take on board with it’s extremes and difficult to truly invest in.

For example, when they made the decision to go darker for “The Empire Strikes Back” than they did for “A New Hope” they did so gradually. They re-introduce the characters, letting them have humorous interactions where they trade weird space insults. Then the story kicks in and they go on the run, the film becoming darker and darker as they face their challenges before eventually leading to a shocking but earned ending of them being tortured, dismembered and, well, frozen in carbonite.

There is none of this tone management with GZ. Instead, you are thrust into the middle of a day from hell for Big Boss, then everything blows up and it ends.

Except it doesn’t.

This is where the game really baffles me. In order to beef up the game to justify it as a standalone product, there are “Side ops” that we unlock after playing through Ground Zeroes. These take place before the Ground Zeroes mission, and generally revolve around unravelling the mystery surrounding Camp Omega, as well as providing tapes that (as well as providing some graphic insight into the horrors Chico and Paz faced) provide information about the main villain: Skull face. The missions themselves are also slightly lighter in tone than the main GZ mission, with one mission devoted to saving an Intel operative who turns out to be Hideo Kojima. It’s debatable whether they are canon, but they attempt to tie into the main story.

These are great but when you view the structure as the game as a whole it seems backwards. The game begins with the end chronologically, which is relentlessly dark and edgy, then we jump back to a much lighter toned beginning, set months before, and we start uncovering more of the mystery behind what we already know will become a black site.

On deciding to release the game as a stand-alone title, and deciding to add additional missions, wouldn’t it have made much more sense to properly canonize these missions and open with them? That way, there is less of a tonal jump between PW and GZ (Hell, you could even open with the Hideo rescue mission) and the tone could naturally become darker as you start uncovering the plan for the island to become a black site for the imprisonment and torture of terrorist suspects. The map could even have been slightly modified to resemble less of a prison, and as you keep returning to the place (If it seems too coincidental, maybe some missions could feature a variety of different MSF soldiers like in PW?), it begins to resemble more and more the camp omega we now know. This could also provide a bit more variety map-wise without creating a massive amount of work. During this time, you could have briefing tapes and maybe even cut-scenes fleshing out the relationships between the characters and prepare the player for the unpleasant things to come. Gradually, as we uncover more intel about Camp Omega and find cassette tapes of Skull Face’s torture sessions, we could eventually hear the voice of the person he is torturing: Paz. This would then naturally lead into the Ground Zeroes mission as a dark ending, as the tone has gradually readjusted itself, ready for TPP.

Obviously, this wouldn’t have solved all of the issues with GZ, and it would have been better to create new maps, missions and cut-scenes from scratch, with the events of GZ being the ending to the mini-narrative. However, that would have diverted resources from TPP. So, considering all of this work went into creating the extra missions that tied into the main GZ mission anyway, why not utilise them to create a context in which the actual content of GZ could stretch itself out properly? It would have also hushed those people who claim it is a 7 minute game or whatever that is now, as you would work your way through a structured narrative with a cliff-hanger ending through a variety of missions. I appreciate that Kojima was perhaps trying to experiment with non-linear storytelling a bit more, but for this game it didn’t seem appropriate, and actually detracted from it.


Anyhow, that’s it for the first part of my ironically-also-badly-structured-psuedo-review. I’ll give some more thoughts on it later after you’ve had a chance to catch up reading this long Kerouacian scroll of nonsense that I have spread here, and give me your thoughts on it.


RE: Some musings on Ground Zeroes (SPOILERS) - Nike Schneider - 04-16-2014 02:54 PM

Ground Zeroes: The speedrun review:

Story was meh. Game is fun.


RE: Some musings on Ground Zeroes (SPOILERS) - DarthCaligula - 04-16-2014 09:53 PM

You raised a point that I'm still not sure on. Are all these side mission supposed to be part of the story, or just "what if" scenarios? In one of them, we see the place get blown up, so that seems to suggest that it didn't happen, unless it was later rebuilt and taken over by Skull Face's guys. Maybe I'm just missing something here.
Also, as someone who's never played Peace Walker, I didn't have much trouble getting into this after reading the backstory. The first time I played, I was actually pretty shocked by what they showed with Chico and Paz, that they would actually go as far as they did with this in a video game. Listening to the tapes later though, instead makes it feel more like a video game. I admit I don't know all that much about torture, but do they really record all this stuff? And Skull Face's "Let me tell you about my life" thing just felt too much like the sort of thing you see in games, and brought back to mind Volgin's hilarious torturing of Big Boss where he told his captive everything and got nothing in return.
About the gameplay though, I think it's a lot of fun. The soldiers going back to See You=Instant Alert is pretty dumb, but everything else works very nicely I think.


RE: Some musings on Ground Zeroes (SPOILERS) - Punished Pastry - 04-17-2014 07:33 AM

I basicly saw them as "Snake Tales" except they were actually fun/funded Tongue


RE: Some musings on Ground Zeroes (SPOILERS) - Old Gross - 04-17-2014 10:22 AM

(04-16-2014 09:53 PM)DarthCaligula Wrote:  About the gameplay though, I think it's a lot of fun. The soldiers going back to See You=Instant Alert is pretty dumb, but everything else works very nicely I think.
Agreed. Makes me think of the Afghanistan portion of the game. Let's say you're in a certain area of the stage. You get caught by two Soviet patrols, and there is only two there, many others being a mile away across some mountainous terrain. Anyway, they catch you, it triggers the combat phase, but you manage to knock them out and they don't call their CP. What then? Is combat phase still in effect? Will it last for who-knows-how-long? That seems unrealistic that the whole area is on alert because two patrols caught you, just two out of like, what, the whole OKSVA, all of whom are on the other side of a mountain or something. Now, had they managed to call CP, the whole army being on alert would be understandable because information about an enemy force was relayed to everybody (via radio, I think).

I just hope that my advice about re-working the triggering of alert-phase doesn't make me sound like a coward afraid of a challenge. I'm not. I just think it's unrealistic, unless there was some proper explanation for it ("Nanomachines, son.").

EDIT/UPDATE
I forgot to reference The Phantom Pain when talking about "the Afghanistan portion of the game". I mean, there will be people who will think "OMG afghanstinant is in gz??!?!??!". Uh, no?


RE: Some musings on Ground Zeroes (SPOILERS) - Neo Heaven - 04-17-2014 10:56 AM

(04-15-2014 05:28 PM)Doctor Namewit Wrote:  On deciding to release the game as a stand-alone title, and deciding to add additional missions, wouldn’t it have made much more sense to properly canonize these missions and open with them? That way, there is less of a tonal jump between PW and GZ (Hell, you could even open with the Hideo rescue mission) and the tone could naturally become darker as you start uncovering the plan for the island to become a black site for the imprisonment and torture of terrorist suspects. The map could even have been slightly modified to resemble less of a prison, and as you keep returning to the place (If it seems too coincidental, maybe some missions could feature a variety of different MSF soldiers like in PW?), it begins to resemble more and more the camp omega we now know. This could also provide a bit more variety map-wise without creating a massive amount of work. During this time, you could have briefing tapes and maybe even cut-scenes fleshing out the relationships between the characters and prepare the player for the unpleasant things to come. Gradually, as we uncover more intel about Camp Omega and find cassette tapes of Skull Face’s torture sessions, we could eventually hear the voice of the person he is torturing: Paz. This would then naturally lead into the Ground Zeroes mission as a dark ending, as the tone has gradually readjusted itself, ready for TPP.

Obviously, this wouldn’t have solved all of the issues with GZ, and it would have been better to create new maps, missions and cut-scenes from scratch, with the events of GZ being the ending to the mini-narrative. However, that would have diverted resources from TPP. So, considering all of this work went into creating the extra missions that tied into the main GZ mission anyway, why not utilise them to create a context in which the actual content of GZ could stretch itself out properly? It would have also hushed those people who claim it is a 7 minute game or whatever that is now, as you would work your way through a structured narrative with a cliff-hanger ending through a variety of missions. I appreciate that Kojima was perhaps trying to experiment with non-linear storytelling a bit more, but for this game it didn’t seem appropriate, and actually detracted from it.

This would've actually been really great. I'm not confident that they need to be canonized in order to basically say that the game is more than 2 hours (which it is), but having to unlock the story mission would've greatly served with that tonal distinction between PW and GZ that ends up coming across as more jarring than anything else.

It would've been unconventional to have (possibly) non-canon side-ops, and then to finally unlock the story mission, but it would've solved some problems regarding linearity. Maybe they could've made it so that you couldn't play the story mission till after getting all the tapes, but if they end up being canon, then criticism might arise as to why Big Boss isn't aware of the two bombs. I think there's something there to consider.


RE: Some musings on Ground Zeroes (SPOILERS) - Repugnance - 04-17-2014 08:36 PM

I don't really see how any of the side-ops fit in with the main story mission. Maybe I'm missing something here but in the GZ opening Miller's talking about where Chico/Paz are and Snake goes "A black site, nice." like it's a new development and not "the base we've been investigating for the past few months"


RE: Some musings on Ground Zeroes (SPOILERS) - Old Gross - 04-17-2014 10:24 PM

(04-17-2014 08:36 PM)Repugnance Wrote:  I don't really see how any of the side-ops fit in with the main story mission. Maybe I'm missing something here but in the GZ opening Miller's talking about where Chico/Paz are and Snake goes "A black site, nice." like it's a new development and not "the base we've been investigating for the past few months"
Oh yeah; that...

...but then again, they didn't confirm it to be a black site until Side Op 3 or 4, right?


RE: Some musings on Ground Zeroes (SPOILERS) - DarthCaligula - 04-18-2014 09:18 PM

Also, I can't remember if Doctor Namewit mentioned this, but I know that Ravi's been talking about this, but I really was expecting to fight at Mother Base and defend the place. I really think it would have worked better if maybe Miller was pinned down somewhere, so Big Boss has to fight his way there with all his guys dying around him, and we escort Miller to the helicopter. As someone who's never played Peace Walker, it was pretty cool seeing Big Boss really be in charge, with soldiers treating him as their CO, and it would have been cool fighting alongside them.


RE: Some musings on Ground Zeroes (SPOILERS) - Snake_Plissken - 04-22-2014 01:07 PM

allot of missed opportunities on Motherbase... I just wanted to shoot out of the chopper till the copter landed or a cutscene started. you know Metal Gear Solid used to be famous for the interactive escape scene...jeep excape in MGS1, double teaming the badguys with Snake in MGS2, and the bike chase in MGS3, the bike chase in MGS4 don't count that shit was as gay as Big Boss