The announcement of Quantum Break at E3 2013 raised a good number of eyebrows. Not just because it was a new AAA action game exclusive to Microsoft’s console and that it was being made by the venerable Remedy but because it promised to not only deliver a top notch gaming experience but also a top notch television experience. At the time Microsoft was heavily pushing Xbox Entertainment Studios, which held audacious and ambitious plans for high quality film and television content to go along with its lineup of video games. So Quantum Break’s “TV Show” made sense in the context of Microsoft’s plans and it made sense in the evolution of Remedy as storytellers, from Max Payne’s comic panel style cut scenes, to Alan Wake’s in game “Twilight Zone” style TV Show and voice over to now, a full fledged high production value episodic “TV Show” tied into the main game.
But Xbox Entertainment Studios was shut down just as quickly as it was hyped up and as any gamer or even casual observer of games, movies or TV can tell you, entertainment properties based off or tied into Video Games have rarely, if ever, been anything other than laughably bad. So while most were excited for the game Quantum Break, and rightly so given Remedy’s track record, the “TV Show” portion was met with a much more reserved even apprehensive reaction.
Adding to the “let’s wait and see” attitude was the lack of information surrounding the show. How would it work? How long would it be? Was it a part of the game or a separate package? Additionally the news was that your actions in the game affected what happened in the show. How would that play out? So while most were willing to give remedy to the benefit of the doubt, few were willing to fully jump on board with the “TV Show” idea.
But now, with Quantum Break just a few weeks away from being released and a deluge of previews and gameplay being published daily, hype and excitement for the game is at an all time high. For the game, not necessarily the show. The questions surrounding the show have been answered, all but one that is:
- Each of the 4 episodes is roughly 22 minutes long (about the length of a standard network TV Show minus the commercials)
- An episode plays at the end of each gameplay chapter, after you make some sort of choice as the villain of the game
- The episodes focus primarily on the Villain side of the story.
- You can skip the episode but are of course encouraged not to, as what happens in the episode with impact the world of the game.
- The cast includes many recognizable hollywood actors from Shawn Ashmore (X-men, The Following) to Aiden Gillan (The Wire, Game of Thrones) and Lance Reddick (The Wire, Fringe) and Dominic Monaghan (Lord of the Rings, Lost)
The question that still surrounds the Quantum Break “TV Show” is “will it be any good?” Only time will tell but for now I would say the answer is that it doesn’t matter.
What’s important about Quantum Break’s “TV Show”, isn’t so much whether it succeeds or fails at being “good” but that it exists at all. That it takes a huge risk and aims to further the level of narrative storytelling in blockbuster games is the real benefit of Quantum Break’s “TV Show”.
Quantum Break certainly isn’t the first game to try it’s hand at live action cutscenes (Hello, Command and Conquer) and it definitely isn’t the first to employ well known actors (Call of Duty, Metal Gear Solid, Halo and many more have all utilized hollywood actors for voice and likeness) but QB’s approach, trying to combine the gaming and “TV Show” into a single AAA package is what makes it unique, and in some ways important.
Storytelling in gaming has had a slow, plodding, often random and convoluted evolution. The earliest games were of course limited drastically by the new burgeoning technology and telling a story really wasn’t the point of the medium. As the technology grew and the video game world expand there was an arms race in terms of graphics, 64bits vs 32bits, Nintendo vs Playstation vs Sega. Graphics and gameplay were the focus for much of video gamings adolescence and teenage years. But as we approach the second half of modern video gamings life and reach a sort of apex with graphical fidelity, gamers are looking more and more for meaningful and well crafted stories. That isn’t of course to say that a story is paramount to a game’s success or enjoyability, Rocket League certainly doesn’t need a story to be wildly popular. But if you look at some of the backlash to games like Destiny, or the constant Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed releases you can see clearly that gamers value a good, well written story.
While games like The Witcher 3, Rise of the Tomb Raider and The Last of Us have shown that big budget AAA games can tell well written, acted and thought out stories, (and there are of course a good deal of indie games focused on story, Life is Strange, the Telltale games, etc) the majority of big release games are content to go the 1990’s blockbuster movie route, big on action and spectacle, short on substance.
That’s why it is so refreshing that a studio like Remedy would develop a big budget action game with, not just a heavy emphasis on story, Remedy has always been known for that, but a new, risky, unique way of telling that story.
Again, whether Quantum Break’s attempts at crafting a network TV worthy television show succeed or fail remains to be seen but the fact that they have even attempted to do so is a positive sign, would that will hopefully be noticed by other game developers and players alike and put even more emphasis on the importance of storytelling in video games. Who knows, if the Quantum Break show turns out well, and the upcoming Assassin’s Creed and Tomb Raider movies do too, we may be entering a new and exciting time, where games are elevated to the higher standards that their cousins in TV, Books and Movies reach.