Pittsburgh's profile rising in video games
This screenshot of what seems to be Pittsburgh under attack appeared on The OXM Report, a biweekly video game show on the Xbox console.
In "The Pitt," players wage war in a post-apocalyptic Pittsburgh and fight among what's left of several city landmarks.
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Pittsburgh has survived zombie attacks and hosting the G-20. But what's with the mutant monsters?
Welcome to "The Pitt," a harrowing vision of our city's future that exists online via the digital wonders of Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and computers.
"We hear from people who say 'Oh yeah, I recognize that building,' or 'I know that bridge.' It's one of those things that creates some sort of loose ties to reality," said Pete Hines, product manager for Bethesda Software's highly successful "Fallout 3" video game.
One of several installments of additional content for "Fallout 3," "The Pitt" has been available for some gaming platforms since March. It rolled out Oct. 1 for PS3.
But Pittsburgh -- a city long ignored in the gaming universe -- could be in for an even higher-profile video smackdown when "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" is released Nov. 10.
"It's THE big game coming out," said Andrew Reiner, executive editor of Game Informer magazine, said of the sequel to the best-selling first-person action game of all time.
More than 35 million games from the "Call of Duty" combat series have been sold worldwide. For weeks, fans have been ramping up for the release of "Modern Warfare 2," using the Internet and Twitter for shared countdowns and speculation fueled by the kind of fervid devotion that rivals March Madness or a tween girl's worship of the Jonas Brothers.
At least one local store will be open late to sell "Modern Warfare 2" when it becomes available at midnight on Nov. 10. Over the years, the Best Buy branch in Bethel Park has planned game-release "events," keeping doors open to accommodate those who began lining up in the afternoon to buy sure-hit installments of "Halo" and "Guitar Hero."
Until "The Pitt's" release, Pittsburgh had not been featured in a major video game, Mr. Reiner said.
"The Pitt" is unabashedly set in the 'Burgh gone wild. But representatives from "Modern Warfare 2" developer Infinity Ward and publisher Activision won't comment on a screen shot making the rounds on the Internet.
In it, military helicopters race toward what looks very much like Pittsburgh. The Golden Triangle has taken on an unfortunate brighter glow, with buildings ablaze.
No one in the know, however, will confirm the increasingly heated conjecture of gamers who've been pondering and circulating that screen shot in the hope that Pittsburgh is part of the next wave of "Call of Duty" mayhem.
"I'm afraid we don't provide comment on rumor/speculation," was the reply to an e-mail inquiry about that screen shot sent to Activision marketing representatives.
It certainly looks the part, however.
"When I saw [the "Call of Duty" screen shots], I said 'That's Washington, D.C., that's Pittsburgh,' " said Mr. Reiner.
Although Mr. Reiner's magazine is headquartered in Minneapolis, he said he and his wife spent part of their honeymoon in Pittsburgh and he remembers the city well. He believes Pittsburgh will make the jump to "Call of Duty" next month.
"I think it's going to be part of the game. I don't know if players will be in Pittsburgh, but I think it's part of 'America under attack' from a bunch of angles."
"Concept art" abounds in the world of video gaming. Images are created by artists and graphic designers who are working on projects, but unofficial concept art also can be created by fans and posted online.
What ends up in the actual game generally is teased first through commercials, such as the one for "Modern Warfare 2" that debuted Oct. 4 during the nationally televised Sunday-night football game between the Steelers and San Diego.
That two-minute trailer, which can be found on YouTube and a variety of gaming sites, does not contain images of Pittsburgh. Other trailers released since then feature landscapes with palm trees.
But in "Fallout 3 -- one of the best-selling games of 2008 -- it is most definitely Pittsburgh shining through the post-apocalyptic haze.
"The Pitt" is based on an alternate-reality premise in which Pittsburgh still exists, possibly without the Steelers ever having won a Super Bowl -- a scary premise, indeed.
The city has become "an industrial raider town," however, and humans and mutants alike are enslaved by other humans.
Gamers must decide if the slavers have good reason for their actions. If not, they gear up as freedom fighters in clashes that are sort of "Mad Max: Thunderdome" meets Mellon Arena.
Visual elements resembling the Cathedral of Learning and the 10th Street Bridge pop up in this world where strange, chained creatures howl. The ruins of what might be PPG Plaza are piled in smoldering heaps. Pretty, it ain't.
"The Pitt" is an add-on, or sequel, to "Fallout 3," which takes place mostly around the wasteland that was once Washington, D.C. Unlike "Fallout 3," which was sold as software, "The Pitt" is what's known as DLC, or downloadable content obtained online. It costs around $10.
"We have a number of folks on the team who either studied in Pittsburgh or are from there," Mr. Hines said.
Husband-and-wife artists Grant and Clara Struthers are 2003 graduates of the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. Designer Fred Zeleny, artist Megan Sawyer and programmer Jay Woodward are Carnegie Mellon University alums.
Don't expect the geography of this Pittsburgh to make much sense, although it's arguably not as bad as scenes in the film "Flashdance," in which Jennifer Beals boards the incline on Mount Washington and winds up on the North Side.
"We took a lot of artistic license," Mr. Hines said, describing the city landscape as "wacky, googly architectural style."
Mr. Reiner said that, in a "weird" way, gamers consider it to be an honor for their hometown to be chosen for movie or video destruction. We've all seen New York, Los Angeles and Washington blown up or attacked by aliens ad nauseum, he said, and it's nice to give the middle markets their shot. Literally.
"New York hit by a tidal wave? How many times have we seen that?" he said.
Some day, he said wistfully, perhaps Minneapolis, too, will get its doomsday.
First Published October 18, 2009 12:00 am