Now I'm not one to put too much stock into what I read in gaming magazines or on websites but there is only so much ignorance and stupidity I can absorb before I need to vent (lucky you). In the February 2005 issue of EGM (Electronic Gaming Monthly for the gaming mag non-savvy) members of Bungie's Halo 2 development team gave an interview for the mag's Afterthoughts feature (an article in which game developers discuss their feelings on the final product, what they could have done differently, and to respond to gamers' complaints). What wound up being printed went just beyond the realm of the typical developer fluff piece and became a one sided rectal sucking match which EGM won hands down. Amid the various "softball" questions EGM pitched at the Bungie guys, one stood out. It was a question about what Bungie felt were "legitimate complaints" about Halo 2. One of the guys mentioned that some gamers were disappointed that they (Bungie) had advertised the game as Master Chief saves the earth, while delivering a game in which Earth occupies only two levels of gameplay and fans are quickly introduced to an outcast Covenant trooper who becomes the default protagonist. Keep in mind we're talking about "legitimate complaints" here because no more than two sentences later another guy states "a lot of people have been bitching and saying, 'Why am I not fighting on Earth? I thought I got to defend Earth. Why can't I defend Earth?" Now, what part of the term "legitimate complaint" does the word "bitching" apply to? Call me anal retentive but how can one be "bitching" if they are expressing a "legitimate complaint"? Especially one that was recognized by the developer not two sentences before. Now some of you are rolling your eyes at me right now because either you don't give a shit about gaming or you think I'm simply overreacting, and to both I say "kiss my ass" because what we are dealing with here is an example of a growing trend in videogame development these days that's breeding even larger problems.
That growing trend is a sense of entitlement, the feeling that you are larger than life, bigger than a breadbox, and everyone should just line up for the giving of oral pleasure. The fact that the guys at Bungie resort to calling "legitimate complaints" from fans about their game "bitching", demonstrates such a sense of entitlement. Everyone from the gaming mags and websites has fallen all over themselves to be the next in line to fellate Bungie over Halo 2. In the same issue of EGM, they add that Halo was the only reason to buy an Xbox, at least prior to the release of Halo 2 (*snicker* *snort* *bullet in my head*). There are now far too many gaming companies that seem to feel like everyone should just love them all the time and never send a negative message their way. Of course why should they feel any different? Gaming publications are now routinely giving out stellar review scores to games with major problems, glossing over the glaring errors with statements like "it may be a little buggy, but who cares, it's just so damn cool." But the blame doesn't solely rest with gaming publications, because we continue to go out and buy buggy-ass games in droves. This cycle of the celebration of mediocrity has started to eliminate any sense of humility that gaming companies once had. How dare someone complain about Halo 2, it's only the bestest game evaaar. Never mind that Bungie left a collision glitch in Capture the Flag that lets players pass the flag through solid fucking walls, I mean it's only in the multiplayer mode, not in the single player campai….oh wait, that's what they promoted the game as, Halo online, it could ruin online CTF matches, maybe leaving that in wasn't such a hot idea. Yet they knew about it well ahead of time (in March of 2003!) and left it in, which they openly admit to in that very Afterthoughts article. Maybe they were thinking "oh well, it's good enough for the little fuckers." And apparently it is, as Halo 2 has sold some 4 bajillion copies in the USA alone.
Lest you peg me as just a Halo hater, I'd like to point out that it's not just Bungie that's guilty of this sense of entitlement. Recently Ken Kutaragi, the president of Sony Computer Entertainment addressed complaints about a design flaw in the soon to be US bound PSP. It seems that the square button is too close to the screen, which makes the button stick and squeak, potentially ruining fighting games on the platform, and just generally causing havoc for Japanese gamers as I write this. Mr. Kutaragi's response was to say there was no design flaw, merely a manufacturing problem, and that gamers were "pressing the buttons left and right". Damn, and here I was under the impression that that's how one plays videogames…by pressing buttons. I mean are you serious! Exactly how many different ways can I press down a button you fucktard? He went on to say that any inherent problems were of his design. So because you're the father of the Playstation, you can create a faulty piece of hardware and declare it "the most beautiful thing in the world"? I mean where the hell is the humility? Probably long since devoured by all the hype surrounding said portable device and the ridiculous amount of PS2s that have been sold since its introduction just over four years ago. It just boggles the mind to know that the PSP, potential design flaw and all will be gobbled up like crack by consumers in a few months, most likely without any remedy for this square button problem. Don't we appreciate quality control anymore? What the hell happened? When did glaring errors become O.K. just as long as it looks pretty or the story's good?
I don't want to outright call it laziness on the part of the developer, but a sense of "good enough." If a game studio can put out a bug-ridden game with a compelling story and sell a ton of copies why would they ever want to fix, what in the long run, becomes "not broken." Just look at Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic. I love the game, it was the reason that Lunchbox and I bought our Xboxes. The story was ridiculously well-crafted and gameplay was quite good, there was just that little problem of the half-dozen or so game file destroying glitches that remained in the retail build, not to mention the dozens of other quirky hiccups and the abysmal framerate drops it suffered from. Still it received stellar reviews despite being compromised by a lack of care in play-testing. You might be thinking, "they fixed all that for the sequel right?" Not quite, original creator Bioware handed the reins over to Obsidian who ultimately released an equally buggy game. Not only did they fail to fix the terrible slow-down problems and nasty glitches (like disappearing/reappearing party members) but they actually found a way to tax the game engine even more by adding prettier force power effects. With Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords, Obsidian was working with a second generation game engine and they still produced a lemon (that the overall game can still be enjoyed is not the point here).
Now you might find yourself saying, "Well, games are becoming bigger business and therefore more expensive to produce, after all, the game industry is pulling down more money each year than the Hollywood box office." To that I say "try throwing some of that cash the testers' way then." If the budgets for these monstrosities are getting so huge then they can afford to drop some more dough into the "postproduction" phase of development. Or if that's not financially feasible, why not make the game a tad less pretty so that it's…maybe…fucking complete. I'll admit that Halo 2 is a damn pretty game, it's just too bad I can't see part of it because they spent so much time and money making it so jizz-spillingly beautiful that they couldn't get all of the imagery on the screen when it needs to be. A good portion of the time Master Chief appears to stand around talking to himself…that is until the soldier he was conversing with finally pops up next to him. It's this kind of "good enough" attitude and backwards priorities that we are buying our way into at $50 a pop. If you're happy to throw your $50 at a buggy/nearly complete game now, will you continue to do so when the average game goes to $60, there's talk of that happening. With more powerful systems come pricier development issues, because games are a cash grab and competition is tight.
Now isn't competition a good thing that ultimately assures that at least someone is putting out decent games? That's the theory, but unfortunately that sense of entitlement and "good enough" attitude is only getting worse, and may bring their weight to bear even on the reliability of competition. With their signing of an exclusive deal with the NFL and it's players' association, EA has ensured a complete lock-out of competition on the virtual pigskin front for the next five years. If you've read anything about this situation you've heard the arguments that this can only lead to further stagnation of the Madden franchise, a theory I have no choice but to completely agree with. Feeling the burn from Sega's successful ESPN NFL 2k5 in it's pocketbook (which they deny) and hearing once completely faithful EA sports gamers pick at the lack of innovation in it's offerings, EA found the easy way to alleviate such quality issues in Madden, they tossed around some cash to ensure they simply wouldn't have to. You no longer get the choice of who's brand of NFL football you'll be playing next year, you'll only have Madden. EA could stun me and many others by getting their shit together and putting out a bang-up innovative football title for next year but I doubt it will happen and I don't think I'm being unfair in saying so. Recently it was reveled that EA has resigned John Madden, following talk that they would let his contract lapse and start anew. This would have been the perfect opportunity for them to prove their dedication to football fans and gamers alike by making some changes, innovating in the face of guaranteed money…sounds almost noble doesn't it? By resigning Madden, EA appears to have assured that the fears that their game will once again be a reproduction are sound. They admit a fatal weakness, that even they feel without the Madden name they may not be able to fill their coffers. If I'm wrong here, then thank Jeebus, if not, Madden fans can once again count on popping woodies beating the computer 100 to 0 on the hardest difficulty level, or playing perpetually tied games with their equally Madden savvy friends, because the game will be the same, all the money plays will still be intact, never failing. It makes me wonder if they'll notice, when they open the box, that the number 6 is scotch-taped onto the disk.
I don't like doing this, forecasting the gloom and doom on my beloved pastime, but all signs point to the console gaming industry rocket-packing its way down the crapper at an alarming rate. When the big exclusive titles that are waited for with baited breath come out chock full of problems what can you do? Some say you can talk back with your wallet, but can you really? The hype-machine will roll on anyway and the less-informed almost always outnumber those that know their ass from a hole in the ground. So the developers' money is relatively safe as long as game reviewers continue to expect buggy releases and keep up the flow of glowing praise in the face of mediocrity. It's all cyclical, each component leads to the next, which keeps the money flowing and ensures a continual stream of low-grade and "good enough" software that "sells." It's not all dark though, I started playing Resident Evil 4 and I feel like we all owe Capcom a cookie. So fantastic games are still getting released, just few and far between (and unfortunately scoring lower than the buggified CTF mode that is Halo 2…no, I'm not a fanboy, just a fan…of "not crap.")