||The Firing Line 10
August 12, 2003 Brett Todd
Summary: Brett Todd on The Firing Line:
Why sheer wretchedness is a good thing in gaming
Brett has a fetish for bad games. In fact, he figures we all do. Considering the reaction to bad movies or bad music, he tries to explain why gamers receive bad games so differently. We don't know why he bothers, we just wish he'd lay on more Daikatana jokes.
| Tears of Rage, Tears of Grief||Page:: ( 1 / 5 )|
Brett Todd on The Firing Line:
Why sheer wretchedness is a good thing in gaming
I broke down and cried this week. After suffering for a good forty hours through Mistmare and Valhalla Chronicles, I erupted in a teary, my-dog-was-just-hit-by-a-car-and-the-bastard-didnít-even-bother-to-stop explosion of anger and grief. You see, games like these sort of make death seem like cotton candy. Especially when experienced back to back, while the sun is shining and the rest of the world is blissfully going about making love, picking flowers, and watching television shows about lawyers and doctors making love and picking flowers.
But Iím paid to suffer this crap, and even though Iím not paid particularly well, I canít complain too much. Even if my job sometimes makes me feel that special kind of nausea only felt when your penis is trundled through one of those old-fashioned washtub thingies they used to use on The Waltons. Okay, Iím guessing on that last one, but if it made you squirm, you have some idea of what it was like for me to wade through the quarter-million words that make up Mistmare and the countless ten-minute fights in Valhalla Chronicles.
And Iím probably more upset with myself for what I was thinking while these games had me stretched on the rack of their sheer awfulness. You see, all I could think of while my spinal column was popping was how great it would be to be playing a game. A better game, mind you, but a game nonetheless. I went directly from five weekdays of torture at the hands of developers Arxel Tribe and Paradox Entertainment to a weekend where I replayed Thief Gold almost to its completion.
How sick is that? The only consolation is that Iíve got a lot of company in my mental illness. Everyone reading this column is in the same leaky boat, considering that weíve all played many horrible, stinky bombs and still salivated for more. Has anyone left shooters because of the jack-in-the-box Nazis in Mortyr? Walked away from real-time strategy forever due to the or the way those stupid cavemen grunted in Empire Earth? Dumped roleplaying because Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor was packed with corridors that connected to other corridors like some digitzed version of an M.C. Escher print? Chucked sports games because the wide receivers in Madden 2000 could guide the ball into their hands with telekinetic powers?
SIDEBAR: According to a completely inaccurate survey taken by me, the average Ďsnippetí of dialogue in Mistmare is at least 300 words in length. Umberto Eco novels are less wordy than this game.
Computer and video gaming is probably the only pastime on the planet where sheer wretchedness is one of the main drawing cards. Whenever we play something thatís terrible, we immediately want to go back for more, to get it right. No other form of recreation engenders this sort of feeling, which is closer to religion than loyalty. Moviegoers donít wash down Gigli with Swimming Pool; they stay the hell out of the cineplex for a couple of weeks while their gorge subsides. Fantasy fiction fans donít throw Robert Jordanís latest doorstop across the room and immediately pick up Ursula K. LeGuin; they pick up TV Guide. Fine diners donít react to finding somebodyís well-masticated chewing tobacco in their linguini by ordering the clam chowder.
| Gigle||Page:: ( 2 / 5 )|
Even drug addicts donít have it this bad, as least a good number of them want to stop at some point. Two decades go by on black tar heroin, and youíre generally at the point where stopping seems like a pretty good idea. Or mercifully dead. Two decades go by on gaming, and youíre posting on message boards about your never-ending love affair with Dig Dug and the cool lesbian subplot in Knights of the Old Republic. Youíre certainly not dead, unless your arteries have clogged from too many late nights where you made do with chocolate milk and quickie bologna sandwiches because you needed to hang out with your tenth-level elven friend from Sheboygan in EverQuest.
Bad experiences define this hobby. As much as we all enjoy sharing love stories about great moments in gaming, we tend to play up the bad stuff even more. Even though Iíll always have fond memories about racking up 400,000 points in Donkey Kong (actually, it was Crazy Kong, a thinly disguised bootleg of the Nintendo original by Jeutel) while a crowd cheered me on (actually, the crowd consisted of the fat guy in the wifebeater who gave out quarters and an old buddy of mine who could mimic the voices on Gorf to perfection), the time that Daikatana taught me the true meaning of sorrow will somehow always be more powerful.
SIDEBAR: Thanks to the wonders of MAME, I can revisit the past and play Crazy Kong once more. Iíve always preferred it to the real Donkey Kong.
This is a good thing. Sort of. While the whole ďenduring visceral painĒ thing isnít a whole lot of fun, it does give us a reason to move on, to finally find the game that gets it all right. That might lead to a lot of heartbreak in the end, as no game will ever be able to be all things. Even Half-Life II, which the preview coverage tells us will revolutionize society quicker than Jesus on a Segway. Yes, the game will probably be some kind of landmark achievement, the best thing about an alien invasion of Earth since H.G. Wells wrote that book about the Martians and measles. But you just know that some twit in his basement is going to crank out newsgroup screeds about the absence of headcrabs. Or Tom Chick is going to give it the Deus Ex treatment.
| Vengeance||Page:: ( 3 / 5 )|
Thereís something about the chase thatís entertaining all in itself. Iíll never be fully satisfied with any game. Even Thief, which I still replay at least twice a year and plan to preserve forever, has really dumb guards and labyrinthine level design. Or Jedi Knight, another classic that gets hauled off the shelf a couple of times a year despite the full-motion-video cutscenes starring a guy with a spray-on beard. Or even Ms. Pac Man, since the pink map at the end remains too hard for me two decades after the fact, thanks to those damned closed-off sections with the power pills.
You could even say that these bad qualities, and the bad games in general, make us able to really appreciate the good points in the good games. But I wonít. I wonít kid anyone. Iíll never go so far as to forgive the people who made Mistmare and Valhalla Chronicles. Iím already working on plans for revenge, although the developers probably shouldnít worry too much because theyíre at the back of the line behind a couple of ex-girlfriends, an ex-fiancee, the fat tyrant who ran the newspaper I worked at in 1988, and at least two former members of Deep Purple.
Still, thereís little room in me for real regret. That crying jag got the angst out of me for a little while, and besides, Iím sure that Iíll review another ďworst game everĒ at some distant point in the future. Like maybe Labor Day.
SIDEBAR: While mayors everywhere were giving Deus Ex the keys to their cities, Tom was calling it Ďa clichť-riddled game with horrid AI that uses the one of the worst possible engines to tell an uninteresting story in unimaginative settings.í Other than that, though, he said it was Ďokay.í
Ads in gaming, huh? To tell you the truth, Iíve never really considered their impact at all, except to take note of blatantly obvious product placement in big-money licensed dealies. The only recent game that I can remember having such ubiquitous advertising is Enter the Matrix, and it was only so obvious because the rest of the game was so beige you couldnít miss the big green ďPowerAdeĒ machines.
| Return Fire||Page:: ( 4 / 5 )|
But I suppose if Iím forced to consider the advertising issue I have to conclude that itís a bad thing for gaming, overall. My biggest concern is that itís potentially too intrusive, that it will take me out of the game world just long enough to realize that I havenít moved anything but my mouse hand for six hours. The sort of in-your-face stuff Tom talked about, like wildly out of context movie posters and magazine ads, would make me feel the same way I do when Iím forced to sit through seven commercials after paying to get into the movie theater. Seeing ďPepsiĒ and ďSonyĒ and ďGeneral MotorsĒ all over the place is also just too jarring when youíre supposed to be in a fantasy land with giant robots and superheroes.
The only games that I think will benefit from greater advertising are ones with strong ties to the real world. Sports games, for instance, would seem more realistic when using real billboards in stadiums and arenas. Racing games have always tried to get event sponsors on board, so people at home can drive Dale Earnhardt, Jr.ís fabled #3 with the AC Delco logo all over it. Oddly enough, traditional sports games have been slower off the mark, to the point where modders have had to step into the gap. EA Sportsí NHL series, for instance, has never featured accurate rink board ads. A cottage industry has sprung up involving the creation of authentic boards for places like the Air Canada Centre and Madison Square Garden.
So what the hell do I know? People complain about product placement in movies all the time, yet as soon as they get a game without any advertising they immediately go online to put Built Ram Tough! back in its rightful place. With the way that people practically fetishize commercials and company logos these days, itís not too surprising that theyíre uncomfortable without the real thing hanging around, even in a game.
SIDEBAR: Advertising annoys me so much now that I rarely watch network television. But I still hate the way that the Canadian censors flip feeds so that we only get homegrown commercials, as the American ones always feature more loud music and boobs.
| Shot of the Week||Page:: ( 5 / 5 )|
I canít spend so much time slagging a game without at least giving you a peek at what it looks like. So, hereís a screenshot of Isador, the monkish hero of Mistmare who defies both traditional church teachings and a frame rate that slows to filmstrip speeds to save us all. Even though the world as we know it ended in the 1300s, he feels fine. You wonít be able to say the same about yourself if you play this game.
So, Brettís quite bitter about his latest gaming experience. Heís also got quite a few good points about advertising in general, not just in games. Do you agree? Disagree? Want to tell Mr. Todd to get himself a real surname instead of two first names? Then Sound Off! in the news comments.
SIDEBAR: Not that it matters in the end, but Mistmare actually features a cool story about the Christian church discovering magic in the 14th century and somehow screwing up Europe in the process.