Editorial by Jestin Jund
Circa January 7th, 1989- I awaken to sound of the song bird reminding me that today is a special day. The essence of birthday cake fills my lungs, and boxes addressed to me litter the living room table. After wasting precious time with the family, and gathering envious children to the house, I reach the moment of truth. That crucial moment when you can only hope that for once in your life, your parents have listened to your crying pleas, and have delivered that special gift. My palms moisten, and my fingers twitch....” YES! A NINTENDO!” It is obvious to me that my surrounding friends are envious but cannot even fathom this selfish moment of joy.
Although I will not further bore you with NES nostalgia, I will tell you why I am reminded of this moment. Taped to that very futuristic box was one copy of “Bad Street Brawler”. Of course you don't remember it, and let me explain why. Reading the game manual, I discovered that this game's story is based around “Duke Davis, former punk rocker, and the world's most famous martial arts vigilante”. I pop the game into my system, and realize that what I am playing is complete trash. Vibrant in neon colors, and horrible gameplay, “BSB” epitomizes a rushed and incomplete game, even a star crossed six year old such as myself at the time could see. Enter current day, where I ask myself, “ Have we really taken a step forward?”
More often than not, I see major developers pushing out games that they know will appease the public. Kill this, destroy that, throw that football. What happened to innovation? Most people agree that certain games stand out above the rest, but history proves that the only way to to make a difference, is to be different. Companies who take the biggest risks take the biggest acclaim. Failure plays a major probability when companies try to innovate, but when they connect the community takes notice. Who would have ever thought that the ill jams of Parappa the Rapper would spark a dance dance revolution? Or killing the Nazis of Wolfenstein from a first person perspective would evolve into the madness that is Counter-strike?
Gamers in this day and age have been force fed the same re-hashed ideas time and time again, yet we continue to shell out the money for them. Most recently, the less than enthusiastic reviews of the highly anticipated Driv3r, have proved that the hype, licensing, and financial backing of Atari cannot save developer, Reflection games, from a bad game experience. The Driver series once recognized as a precursor to the third person joy that is Grand Theft Auto, has taken a step backwards, yet the gaming community, like moths to a light bulb, will not hesitate to spend money on “that game I saw on Tv”. Atari is well aware of this notion, and have banked in the past with such games as Dragon Ball z: budokai, and Terminator 3 War of the Machines which proves that people are attracted to the license, not the game. We don't need another “Getaway from my true crime grand theft payne auto” and after a few hours of frustration, the game will warm the pawn shop shelf next to “Stake: fortune fighters”.
A great example of this Pavlovian relationship lies within the E3 game expo each year. E3 gives the press a controlled glimpse of a product and the immediate response is salivation for more. When Enter the Matrix debuted at E3, much buzz was generated, finally a game based on a movie that actually looked good. We all know how the final product turned out, and in turn, Warner Brothers clearly stated that if a future game doesn't receive positive reviews, the developers will receive less money. This unorthodox method may seem harsh, but should act as guideline for all publisher and developer relations. I want the hard earned 50 dollars I am about to spend to go to companies who deserve it.
I would also like to address another issue in which I am concerned. Gaming and video games have become a corporate zeitgeist in which industry leaders are putting their money and their mouths into. Juicing at the seems with opportunity, advertisers are having their way too. Advertisers will pay great amounts of money to have their name subliminally thrown into the product (ie: Tony Hawk and pretty much any other extreme sports game). I do not want to have the urge to drink a can of Mountain Dew during the middle of my skate session, nor do I want to buy Snoop dog's jumpsuit when I am depleting the true crime of Los Angeles. The line between television commercials and video games is beginning to blur, but the true gamer can clearly see what is happening to their experience.
Over the years, video gaming has changed immensely. The popularity of games have fluctuated numerous times, but never before have we seen an idolization of this nature. The recent merger of Techtv and G4, along with corporate sponsored frag fests prove that gamers no longer live in a world of ambiguity and geekdom, but rather a world where the dork is celebrated. Who would have thought 10 years ago that someone would actually be paid thousands of dollars for displaying their skills in Unreal Tournament? Some consider this to be a triumph, but others like myself feel this is a step in the wrong direction.
Not unlike the dot com blowout, I see the video game market heading down the wrong path. As press and investors pour time and money into the industry (a defining moment for me came about whilst watching CNN this last May, and seeing hourly coverage of E3 being reported on) less time is spent considering the end user. Money does not create a great game and business mentality tends to block out this information. . Business men and women will continue to jump on the bandwagon until they realize that gamers are looking for quality, not quantity.
In conclusion, I have to ask myself if we have really evolved out of the age of neon pixelated, punk rockin, circus midget fighting vigilantes and into something better. The birthday cake is becoming stale, and the glory of video games is losing it's edge. Maybe I am just a jaded gamer, but I invite you to my party to taste the cake for yourself.