[Ramblings is a weekly column by The G on subjects pertaining to video games, gaming culture and real life.]
So, it's been several weeks since I've written an entry for this column. I could say real life got in the way; I could say I was lazy (that one's probably the right answer). Regardless of the reasons, you - the expectant reader - are a bit miffed, aren't you? You thought you'd have something nice to read every Saturday but, instead, you had over a month of nothingness. Makes you mad when something you got all hyped up about isn't being delivered, doesn't it?
Let's talk about that, shall we?
In 2003, a little game called Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy ("Attack of the Colons") was released on PC and Xbox by developer Raven Software. The game promised to let you create your own Jedi knight, develop your force powers and make critical choices to either walk the path of light or fall to the dark side. With these greatly-hyped features fresh in my mind, I played the game and found myself faced with a direct choice near the end: attack a character to go dark side, or put away my saber to stay on the light side.
Not joking: it literally said "do X to be good, do Y to be bad." No matter which you chose, the following boss battle was fought the same way (with different plot undertones, of course), the final mission simply had you fight Jedi as well as fighting Sith, and instead of killing off the game's main antagonist, you fought Kyle Katarn. Even the ending cutscene was partly copied from one to the other.
So they cut corners at the end of the game, you think, so what? Well, you can be a total dick throughout the game, killing innocents and amassing every Dark Side force power there is, and still choose to walk the path of light at the end with the simple push of a button. What was that, Star Wars Yom Kippur?
Games get hyped before release: we know this and accept it as part of the production process. The designers want to make something cool, the programmers don't want to do a whole lot of work to make it happen, the publisher wants it done as cheaply as possible, and whoever they pop in front of the TV camera to talk about it wants to make it all sound like the most awesome, innovative and world-ending stuff you will ever experience. The lesson here has been learned through constant repetition: "Don't Believe the Hype".
Case in point: Dynasty Warriors: GUNDAM - which I picked up on GameFly this past week, played for an hour and promptly shipped back - states in its description: "Multiple playable characters give you different perspectives on the same epic story!" You might think "Hey, multiple characters, that's always good!" What it means is you can play the exact same story over a dozen times with different characters swapped in, making for a mind-numbing tedium should you ever think to yourself that completing the game with every character sounds like fun.
Well, I suppose it could be fun, in the same way deciding to use a hammer to break your own arm, allowing it to heal, breaking it again in a different location on your arm, and repeating this process, oh, 10 times in one year could be fun.
Granted, DW:GUNDAM is a slight change on a series of more than a dozen games with the same mechanics and the same story played with the same characters, so the fact that it doesn't change anything is to be expected. Other games have made some changes to the gaming world: Mass Effect, Bioshock, even Grand Theft Auto IV. Yet each game that brings "change" isn't changing much on its own. What they bring is a new example of how things can be done right in game design and the execution of said design. Still, for every new game that comes out, there's a talking head trying to tell us how much it will "change everything".
No one game can change "everything", and even those which did change everything did so in the days of gaming's infancy, when there was nothing but change. Today, when we have the first real signs of the games industry leaving its infancy stages to become something accepted by society proper, changing "everything" seems not only impossible but most likely a very bad idea.
You know the adage "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". Well, games are not broken. On the contrary, games are now starting to become widely accepted by "mainstream" society as a form of entertainment rather than a childish or counterculture obsession. I'm not saying innovation is a bad thing when it comes to game narrative, gameplay mechanics and AI; just that what we're doing now seems to be fun and seems to be working.
But wait, wasn't this article supposed to be about the hype factor? About how stupid it is to promise that something has or does something that it really doesn't just to get you to pay into it? I made it sound like that was the subject of this article while, in reality, the meat of it talked about something completely different-
...Oh, I got you good, didn't I?