Kill Screen on a new Spaghetti Western-Inspired Videogame “Secret Ponchos”

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Zach Budgor at Kill Screen has written an interesting piece on a new Spaghetti western inspired videogame “Secret Ponchos”: SECRET PONCHOS TURNS THE DESOLATE SPAGHETTI WESTERN INTO CHAOTIC MULTIPLAYER

The piece start off invoking imagery from Sergio Leone’s films:

“They’re so cool to watch, but not so much fun to play,” says Yousuf Mapara of the western standoff. You know the type: Eastwood’s standing against a long flat horizon, eyes permanently squinted against the frontier sun. The camera’s tight against those eyes, searching. They give nothing away. Cut to his hand on a revolver grip.

His opponent’s eyes are wild, nervous. Eastwood again, grimacing. The other man pulls but Eastwood’s pistol is already up, up and firing, and the sadsack falls to the ground in dust and blood. Probably a lot of blood.

So maybe it’s fun to write, too. But Mapara’s not shooting a film, or writing an action scene; he’s developing Secret Ponchos, an isometric multiplayer shooter that pulls deep from the spaghetti western bottle.

And the author shows he knows a thing or two about the better known Spaghetti westerns:

Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy is the most recognizable of these films: A Fistful of Dollars (1964),For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good the Bad and the Ugly (1966). A close second isDjango (1966), which is a little stranger: Django lugs around a coffin with a gatling gun inside. The final shootout sees him fanning a pistol with crushed fingers. The film spawned innumerable sequels, most of them completely unrelated. From there it’s a crapshoot, directors feeding off each other and themselves: The Beyond legend Lucio Fulci’s Four of the Apocalypse (1975) ups the brutality quotient considerably, as you’d expect.

 The concept behind the game sounds cool, especially the bounty system:

Take the standoff: in a spaghetti western, the standoff is the climax. Mapara says there’s “not a lot of action” in the typical spaghetti western, but “a lot of buildup.” But a multiplayer shooter doesn’t have a specific climax.

”We realized the standoff in the game has to happen differently,” Mapara says. “Really what a standoff is about is that moment in the film when the two characters have everything on the line and then they meet. And we thought, okay, well that we can do. So we started playing with the idea of heavy consequences when two people meet.”

This translated into a bounty system, where a player’s bounty rises or falls based on the arc of the match—but the loser’s bounty goes down, while the winner’s rises. Doing well makes you a more desirable target.

To Mapara, the key to the multiplayer is “understanding your opponent.” Every outlaw has specific moves that are executed fighting game-style with a combination of directions and buttons. Each of these moves has a recognizable tell, and can be countered by another character’s moves—“controlling range and timing,” as Mapara describes it.

However, this game seems to suffer from the same misunderstanding of Italian westerns that most American filmmakers have in the past when they try and incorporate elements of the Spaghetti western into their work:

To Mapara, the spaghetti western is darker than the traditional western (such as the black hat/white hat morality of 1953’s Shane), with a “certain style” that the Secret Ponchos team is looking to evoke. Crucial to that style was the music of prolific composer Ennio Morricone, whose western scores Mapara describes as “eerie instrumentals complemented with tragic trumpets” that lent beauty and gravity to the films. This rush of films from the late 60s were more violent and auteur-led than most previous Westerns; the gaggle of them were called “spaghetti” westerns because of the surplus of Italian filmmakers working on them.

Throughout the piece, the game designer and author focus on superficial aspects of the genre, such as the visuals and the music. And that is cool. The style of the classic Italian western is great and an essential part of the experience of one of these movies. They are the aesthetic hooks that draw the audience in.

But when it comes to the issue of what these movies are about, these two completely miss the mark. They imply that the movies are cynical and have a “darker’ outlook than the “traditional” Hollywood western. I don’t buy this at all. If this were the case, why does the hero usually end up saving society in the end? Think about Fistful of Dollars (1964). Sure The Man With No Name rides into town to make a profit, playing warring gangs against each other. But after he is beaten and nearly killed, he returns to town to save some of the townspeople that he has befriended. In effect, he purges the town of the evil, violent men that had been destroying it. That sounds . . . an awful lot like the outcome of the traditional western.

In fact, take a step back from the bounty killing and bank robbing and you will see that most Spaghetti westerns play out like traditional westerns in one way or another. Why have these movies struck generations of Americans as being so ammoral when they clearly are not? These are not American movies. These are Italian movies. What made Sergio Leone such a genius was his ability to translate the American western into an Italian cultural idiom. The characters are motivated differently. They view the world differently. They dramatize conflicts faced by Italian and not American audiences. But even if the bounty killers in For A Few Dollars More (1965) are motivated primarily by profit, they still perform the same service to their fictional world that a John Wayne or Roy Rogers did to theirs.

This is the genre that produced the populist revolutionary rhetoric of the Zapata westerns like A Bullet For The General (1966). This is not a genre defined by ammoral cynicism. It is not even that dark, though it is violent. Spaghetti westerns are strangely optimistic.

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