Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Character Fail: Griffin Spade

This will be another feature of the Gaming Journalist Gazette where I will only be talking about specific video game characters, past and present. I will be talking about how they made their debuts in video games, what went right or what went wrong for these characters, and what could be done to properly expand these characters. In the case of characters who no longer exist in the video game world, it would be essential to point out the positives of these characters and to discuss how they could be brought back into the fold.

For my very first edition of "Character Success" or "Character Fail", I would like to talk about a war hero who proves himself to be worthy of being called a master in the art of war. In the days of the Nintendo 64, creativity was starting to run wild simply because of the new concept of 3D gaming. Game development as a whole expanded once 3D gaming was ventured into and the Nintendo 64 had a hand in giving us some of the most creative interpretations of 3D gaming during a time span when people were getting acquainted with the novelty.

I remember the old commercials 3DO had for their breakout game called Battletanx, a game in where you operate a tank and shoot anything at any foe of your choosing, and I gotta say that I found these commercials to be flat out hilarious. Anyone who is familiar with the cute and friendly Snuggles commercials would know what I'm talking about. A commercial for Battletanx features a cuddly bear that's a ripoff of Snuggles who pretty much acts the part of Snuggles, and everything appears to be hunky dory until a sudden explosion occurs. The commercial pokes fun at the Snuggles character and one can't help but laugh along with it.

Once we get into the game itself, we find out that our main protagonist is a guy named Griffin Spade who is trying to have a normal life with his love Madison. The setting of this game is in the year 2001 (the game was released in 1999 so it tried to present a futuristic feel) and it's supposed to have a post-apocalyptic tone that presents a plot of depopulation through viruses. Many men and many more women have been hit by viruses and many have been subject to stay in quarantine zones. One quarantine zone in particular calls San Francisco home. Because of everything unraveling and grinding to a halt, Madison opts to turn herself in to the government to be protected by these viruses and war quickly breaks out because of an explosion that catches so many off guard, including Griffin Spade, which is made visible in the opening scene.

Once Griffin realizes that Madison is gone, he starts a bold and dangerous campaign to get her back. The only thing is that he has to survive numerous tests on the battlefield which used to be called the United States of America. Griffin's campaign spans from New York City and Chicago to Las Vegas and San Francisco and he encounters much resistance along the way, taking on gangs that have Battletanx of their own. In truth, the gangs in this game came across as off the wall and a bit looney, but I definitely saw the comedy in most of the gang themes. One gang to note as an example, the Nuclear Knights, consisted of super soldiers who got their hands on too much nuclear content. I probably found the most comedy in that gang for whatever reason.

Throughout the game's scenes, we pretty much view Griffin Spade through the scope of the dreams that he has. Griffin dreams of one day saving Madison and restoring what they had going together before everything spiraled out of control, but his dreams get clouded by nightmares that feature his oppressors staring him down. As far as character development goes, we are clearly given the message that Griffin sincerely cares about Madison and that no matter what gets in his way, he will find Madison. Perhaps some people may see this as a cheesy love story of sorts, but if you're going to have an element of romance in a story then applying warfare of some sort to amplify the environment is a wise route to take.

We are also given the message that Griffin Spade is a true leader concerning his army. Griffin's Army is by far the most influential gang of the entire Battletanx series and as a unit they receive character depth for their loyalty to their families and their desire to get back with their loved ones. Griffin and his army follow a moral code that is respectable and admirable. The more you progress through the story, the more you want to see Griffin and company succeed in rescuing Queenlords and blazing a trail through their opposition.

What Went Wrong?

It's not hard to find where everything went wrong for the character of Griffin Spade. The original Battletanx game was a solid foundation for 3DO to build on. If 3DO had stayed the course that was set by the first Battletanx game then I truly believe we would have seen third and fourth installments of the Battletanx franchise at the very least. However, in my opinion the problem that ultimately made Griffin Spade as a character fail was the act of 3DO completely mishandling the foundation of Battletanx. The game development team didn't build on the foundation of the first Battletanx game, but rather they obliterated it and replaced it with unnecessary gimmicks that just didn't fit. Battletanx: Global Assault as a game is not bad, but the story of the second Battletanx game is something that I find completely dreadful. I really didn't like Battletanx: Global Assault's story at all.

All of sudden Griffin, Madison and their young boy Brandon were given a superpower called "The Edge" and were treated like members of the X-Men and it's impossible for me to find any logic in that whatsoever. The story was pretty much based around "The Edge" superpower and that ruined it for me because it became something that directly impacted Griffin and Madison, and not in a good way. Griffin Spade was supposed to be an everyman kind of war hero that the Average Joe or Jane gamer could relate to, which is what he was in the first game. In the second game, though, he became overpowered with the use of a "gaming steroid" and it contradicted what he previously was. Boom! There goes the missile to destroy Griffin Spade's character!

How I Would Rebuild Griffin Spade

Re-introducing a video game character can be a very hard task to pull off and it's not likely that we'll ever see Griffin Spade in a new tank-themed game again, but let's play the game of What If? here. If you bring in a character to the fold you have to have a vision for that character. Let me show a list of things I would do first and then run down that list.

1) I would completely ignore the existence of Battletanx: Global Assault's story

2) I would rebuild the foundation of the first Battletanx game

3) I would tweak the timeline of Griffin's world to fit the current day

4)  I would give Griffin more opportunities to interact

Now to run down the list, I would first and foremost ignore the existence of Battletanx: Global Assault's story. That story was terrible and it didn't have any redeeming quality for any gaming development team to build on in the long run. I would intentionally make Battletanx: Global Assault non-canon and treat it like it was an alternate reality spin-off. I would, however, keep most of the gameplay features of Global Assault because I admit that they were good. The options you had in what kind of tank you wanted to bring into battle were great and I would bring that along for my hypothetical new installment. Tank Bucks are fine and they do add depth to the dynamics of gameplay. I would tweak Global Assault's feature of warfare on the sea as it was showcased in San Francisco's Airport. Cassandra, the evil Queenlord, would never exist in my installment. I would never even mention her. "The Edge" wouldn't exist in my installment as well. It's an unnecessary gimmick. 

I would stay true to the first game's roots and I would highlight the thoughtful personality of Griffin Spade, even though he would otherwise be a ruthless battle assassin. In cutscenes I would feature Griffin interacting with his army, telling war stories, joking around, having intriguing conversations or explaining battle plans. When he's around his wife Madison of his son Brandon I would have Griffin be the family man that he always wanted to be. I would put emphasis on the fact that Griffin is only a man and not a machine and that he does have feelings that gamers can totally understand. Witty one-liners in Griffin's dialogue may be in order, or we could have some sort of hidden humor that can be picked up after the fact. Griffin needs opportunities to interact in scenes. Game development has long progressed since the days of Battletanx and the voice acting element can now be in play for a new Battletanx game.

What are the roots of the first Battletanx game? It's simple. Run the gauntlet. Griffin started his campaign in New York City and ended it in San Francisco in the original game, so why shouldn't he do something similar in this new installment? For my vision, I would start Griffin's new campaign in San Francisco and he would travel up north to Seattle for his second stop. From there, I would take Griffin up north again into Canada and have him take on a Canadian-themed gang, most likely in Vancouver.

I would then take Griffin's Army out east to Toronto and finish off the power plays of the Canadian forces and I would have Griffin return to the United States afterwards. I'd be interested in putting Griffin's Army in the Steel City of Pittsburgh next since we could play off the theme of steel being a very valuable resource and the villains could go after the steel supplies. Perhaps we could head down to Atlanta and/or San Antonio and start clashing with Mexican-themed gangs. Then we go to Mexico City and take a final detour into Hawaii, the place where a specially made bomb calls home and a bomb that everyone is looking for.

As for the timeline of Griffin's post-apocalyptic world, this could become an interesting topic because everything supposedly spiraled out of control in 2000/2001. How do we explain the world of Griffin Spade now in the 2010's? Has it been post-apocalyptic for over a decade now? How do we get around this? Although I don't think this is always the most viable option, I wouldn't mind implementing a small time travel element in the storytelling. I could use time travel to explain Griffin's world becoming more chaotic after an accident that sends Griffin and his army, Madison and Brandon slightly further into the future. It would be tricky to handle but time travel in stories is flexible, and here we could explain that since Griffin and company left the 2000's and reappeared in the 2020's, things have gotten worse with their absence.

So is Griffin Spade as a character a total failure? No. It's not Griffin Spade's fault that he failed. It was the poor handling of his character by 3DO that made him fail, and knowing that, why wouldn't any gaming company out there now consider trying to revive a franchise like this? Battletanx can be marketable in this day and age and with the right elements and with the right foundation back in place, war heroes like Griffin Spade can wave their flags with honor once again.

No comments:

Post a Comment