As gamers, playing games is our second-most favorite hobby. Our most favorite is, of course, complaining about games.
But here are five much bitched-about things that we might as well retire from the complaint list, because as you'll see, they're not getting fixed. Ever.
#5. Movie Tie-In Games
Hey, guys, Jim Cameron showed up at E3! And to announce a game, no less! It's the tie-in for his upcoming film Avatar, and he says they're sparing no expense to make sure the game is every bit the revolutionary experience the film will be! Holy shit, finally we've got a top-notch film maker to show gaming how it's fucking done.
Oh, hey, they've released screen shots!
Huh. That... sure is an armored space marine. Shooting a machine gun. Alongside a mech.
You know what? Fuck this. We've been burned too many times. It's our fault for getting all worked up when the trailer for that Terminator: Salvation game hit, thinking it looked like a cooler Gears of War. Then we find out the finished game is so short that it's over in less time than it takes to watch the last two movies, yet still costs the full $60.
"You're the only hope for manki--oh, wait. The war's over. Let's go get some lunch."
They've Been Trying Since...
The first movie-licensed game was pooped onto shelves almost exactly 27 years ago, when Raiders of the Lost Ark for the Atari 2600 emerged in May of 1982. And man, did it ever set the tone.
It had no connection to the film other than that the main character seemed to have some hat-shaped pixels on his head. Raiders was almost impossible to beat thanks to a series of utterly illogical and random puzzles. And if you did beat it, the game seemed to get confused, displaying a victory screen that showed Indy standing on a scissor lift under a levitating ark.
Did we mention this is the same thing you saw if you lost?
Steven Spielberg was so impressed he actually got the same designer working on the infamous ET game later that year. And when we say "infamous" we mean "the game that almost single-handedly killed the game industry."
Why we're losing hope:
As bad as you think these games are, trust us, they're worse. Here's Metacritic's list of all XBox 360 games, listed from best to worst-reviewed. In the top 100 games, you find exactly one movie or TV licensed game: Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena. And it's all the way down at #90.
Now scroll to the veeeery bottom of the list, to the tormented seventh circle of video game Hell. In the bottom 100 shittiest games, you find 16 movie or TV licenses.
So the situation ain't getting any better. And that's insane, because they've seen that a good game can not only make money, but can in fact make more freaking money than the movie. The same year the shitty Indiana Jones game came out, they made an arcade game tie-in for the movie Tron. It out-grossed the film, and it did it one freaking quarter at a time.
The N64 game version of Goldeneye sold 8 million copies. That's around $300 million in revenue, triple what the film grossed in the US.
The secret is dick shots
Will Never Get Fixed Because...
Look at the exceptions for a moment. Goldeneye was one of the best games ever made. The first Godfather game was excellent, and there are rumors that the upcoming Ghostbusters game isn't terrible. So what do all of those games have in common?
Easy: They weren't released alongside the movie.
Goldeneye came out about two years after the film. The others came decades later. Unlike the shit games, these weren't released as tie-in merchandise meant to ride the coattails the film. These games were made knowing they would have to stand on their own. Why not make every game with that mindset? Why put a multi-million dollar game in the same category as this:
That's what happened with the ET game, they only gave the development team six weeks to make it, because in their eyes it was just an interactive ad for the movie. An understandable mistake in 1982. But 27 years later?
It's almost like studios and film makers both have a dismissive, almost spiteful attitude toward games. Even today, when revenues of that industry rival their own. It's almost like they've got a high school "jocks vs nerds" mindset. Why?
Well, we think we have a theory...
#4. Blowing Shit Up
On the same stage where James Cameron unveiled Avatar, Microsoft unveiled actual gameplay of Modern Warfare 2. The one level they chose to show off takes place on a military air base, full of grounded fighter jets that explode beautifully every time they're hit with a stray round.
Why did they pick that one level? Why did the guys showing off Splinter Cell: Conviction promise "fully destructible" buildings? Because blowing shit up is cool. Simple fact. World War 2 veterans will tell you that there is nothing more ball-quakingly exciting than dropping bombs onto an enemy factory and watching the entire thing erupt in a cloud of smoke, rubble and dismembered Nazis. This is like 90% of why we still have wars.
Gamers, too, love blowing things up, as everyone who has spent half an afternoon parking 30 cop cars next to each other in GTA IV, before taking careful aim with a rocket launcher, will attest to.
But no matter how many megatons of explosives you detonate, the glass windows on the surrounding buildings remain curiously, and irritatingly, intact.
"Fully destructible?" Bullshit. We've been promised that before.
They've Been Trying Since...
Gun Fight, in 1975. You controlled a Stetsoned cowboy and took potshots at a similarly stereotypical cowboy on the other side of the screen. It had these little cacti in the middle of the screen which your bullets could merrily dismember.
Hey, it's Indiana Jones
Why We're Losing Hope:
You ever watch an action-packed trailer for a movie, then buy a ticket only to find out that the only action in the movie was the two minutes you saw in the trailer? (see: Jarhead) Well game makers have started doing that with destructible environments. Games like Black and Killzone 2 gave us jaw-dropping trailers that made it look like you could fuck shit up with every squeeze of the trigger...
And then you buy the game and realize that it rations out specific points you're allowed to destroy, while the amount of damage you do to other scenery is about what a small child could do with a rubber mallet.
They know we want it--that's why they make sure we see it in the preview materials (as Microsoft did up there). But a game that builds destructibility into every surface has joined world peace on the list of mankind's noble yet unattainable dreams.
Will never get fixed because...
When we were 10 and dreamed about how badass the future generations of consoles would be, we all kind of assumed that some day they'd reach a point where the hardware was so mind-bogglingly powerful it could handle anything. A racing game where you can drive across the USA, a shooter where all of the bodies of your enemies stay behind and you can pile them 500-high, buildings where every single brick can be individually separated from its brothers.
It doesn't work that way. As the hardware gets more powerful they always think of other things they'd rather do with it. And of course we're not really asking them to program any possible piece of scenery to destruct, but all of it, at the same time. Because that's what we're going to do; forget about the fucking zombies and just destroy the entire goddamned town with grenades.
Wait I think there's still an unbroken window in the capitol
Hardware will always be a limitation; even when games are running off a sentient cloud network that can render Jurassic Park-quality graphics in a microsecond, they'll still only give us enough destructibility to make the trailer look awesome.
#3. Cut Scenes
Pac-Man just had to eat those dots, and that was that.
No explanation. If you needed to fill in a backstory, you could use your imagination. We personally liked to think that Pac-Man was a sentient, partially-eaten lemon meringue pie. The four ghosts were the four elemental spirits of Air, Earth, Fire and Water. The white dots were obviously globs of semen.
Back in those days, games were content to just be games, not a storytelling medium.
But no longer. Today pretty much every game feels the need to make you stop playing every few minutes so you can watch the characters give you stilted plot exposition.
"...and when I woke up, I was wearing this."
We don't have anything against storytelling, mind you. But there are two big problems with cut scenes: there are too many of them and the quality tends to fall somewhere between Sci-Fi original movies and elementary school plays.
They've been trying since...
1987's Maniac Mansion was the first game to actually stop gameplay to advance the plot with a "cut scene"--a term that was coined by that game's developers. That was actually a Lucasfilm game, so we blame George Lucas for every terrible cut scene we've ever watched since.
If the dialog is retarded, George Lucas will make it.
Why We're Losing Hope:
We're looking at you Konami, and your Metal Gear Solids. The series was already something of a joke when it came to cut scenes--the second installment featured one weighing in at around half an hour. So what did Konami decide to do with Metal Gear Solid 4? Make us sit through nine and a half hours of cut scenes.
"And now I shall explain the master plan behind the virus. I hope you made a pot of fucking coffee."
Will Never Get Fixed Because...
The thing is, games like Bioshock and most Valve titles have shown you can do scripted scenes without stopping the game and yanking control away from the player. So why in the hell are they taking this wonderful new art form (video games) and trying to evolve it into an art form we already had (movies)? Why do game makers want to be film makers?
Fine, so that explains the quantity of cutscenes. But what about the quality?
Well, they either can't or won't spend money on actors. Grand Theft Auto IV had decent cut scenes, but that game cost $100 million motherfucking dollars to make. And even then, their voice talent complained to anyone who would listen that they were basically paid fast food wages. The game made around half a billion dollars in revenue, and not a penny of residuals went to the voice actors. And keep in mind, GTA IV had probably more voice work than any game in history.
Games will forever be choosing between bargain basement talent, or stars giving begrudging, drunken performances. Or you can get Billy Dee Williams in Command and Conquer 3, which falls somewhere in the sweet spot of that Venn diagram.
"I am going to act the FUCK out of this cut scene! THE FUUUUUUUCK!!!"