6 Reasons a Great Game Developer Just Went Bankrupt
A giant has fallen. Video game developer and publisher THQ filed for Chapter 11, and like the death of any loved one, it seemed to come out of an impossible nowhere. Right now, video games have bigger budgets than NASA and use more advanced technology. THQ was a billion-dollar company. It had the exclusive license to Disney, Pixar, and WWE games. Selling fake fights to wrestling fans is how you switch your target market to easy mode.
It's also the Konami Code of dick jokes.
THQ wasn't some dot-com disaster or a fartbubble in the filthy shared bathwater of social network gaming. No one's surprised that Zynga is now hemorrhaging money and employees. Zynga's core strategy was "Find the most easily distracted people in the world, then try to hold their attention for several years."
The average FarmVille player can't even pronounce "Zynga."
THQ lost money so quickly and impossibly that Donald Trump thought he was CEO and declared bankruptcy again. I've spent more time with products of THQ than some products of my own family tree, so I'd like to say a few words.
The first thing people ask after any death is what the cause was, and for THQ, the answer was more embarrassing than being found tied to David Carradine.
The most humiliating hara-kiri in history.
The original uDraw was an art accessory for the Wii. This made sense, because by definition Wii owners will buy extremely limited hardware for the sake of some simple fun. But that's because Nintendo has three guaranteed top-notch franchises. (It used to have four, but it gave Metroid to Team NINJA, a company that thinks women need concealed-carry permits to cover their breasts. Metroid: Other M robbed Samus Aran of so much dignity, she was lucky she didn't end up in transparent armor.)
Samus idly remembering when her gender was a non-skintight surprise.
The uDraw still managed to make a few dollars. Then THQ went completely insane by releasing it for the Xbox 360 and PS3. There hasn't been such suicidal marketing since the Alamo's "New Year 1836 Half-Price Ammunition for Mexicans" sale. THQ claimed that market research indicated a "strong demand" for these products, which only proved that THQ shouldn't have slept with market research's wife. That year's top-selling Xbox games were Modern Warfare 3, Skyrim, and Battlefield 3. The only color that console's players wanted to paint was red, with close-range shotgun blasts and an enemy corpse.
Marketing a cheap coloring tool to the PS3 crowd was like offering magnetic poetry to stick on the side of a nuclear reactor: Anyone who wants to use such expensive hardware like that isn't allowed near it. They might as well have offered HAL 9000 a Speak & Spell. Over a million unsold units contributed to a company-wide loss of $56 million for the quarter. They would have lost less money if they'd told their CEO to wipe his ass with thousand-dollar bills and locked him in an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet. It would have been a more dignified suicide if they'd performed seppuku with a banana and a kazoo soundtrack.
THQ tried to get into the shooter market with Homefront, and you'll only find worse opening moves in a Hellraiser movie. Shooting games are automatically racist. The basic mechanic has to be "anybody on the other side needs to be shot in the face." That's not necessarily a problem. Some games make up harmless imaginary aliens, while other games, like Call of Duty, teach players that anyone with a skin tone or second language has only two hobbies: atrocities and stupidly sticking their heads out of cover. This is the one and only subject in which Duke Nukem is progressive.
That bleeding heart liberal, with his bleeding head enemies.
Homefront turned this automatic racism dial up to 75 million filthy Koreans. It's so ludicrously gung-ho, it would make Red Dawn cheer for the minority characters. The Koreans in Homefront were responsible for more bloody agony than the Koreans in M*A*S*H, and were less sympathetically represented. The cities make City 17 look like Disney World. Koreans contravene the Geneva Conventions like there's an achievement for 100 percent completion. They violated more clauses than a horny reindeer. In the intro, you watch them breaking up families, beating innocent civilians, executing prisoners, and starting a work camp, all through a window both liberally and literally spattered with the blood of patriots.
Subtlety is for communists.
The only reason the video game Koreans don't bite the heads off puppies is because they put too much work into cutting their puppy eyelids off and making them stare at salt. The worst part is that the game clearly thinks it's serious. This could have been the ultimate parody -- Hot Shots: The Shooting unAmericans Game -- but it acts like God personally bled the red into the white and blue to defend America from filthy foreigners. Which is weird, because if he'd wanted to defend America from foreigners, he could have done it much easier with a few hurricanes around 1492. The game was so insanely violent, Rambo would have dropped his guns to give it a hug.
Pit Fighter was a Violence Fight-style game. Violence Fight was and will forever remain a Greatest-Name-Ever-style game.
That tagline remains the most passionate thing anyone has ever said to me.
Pit Fighter was one of the first games to realize that you could use digitized graphics instead of gameplay, and THQ's SNES conversion forgot the graphics. The arcade game was a revolution in graphics back when that meant "someone knows how to use a camera." Its only selling point was massive digitized graphics, and THQ released it with tiny sprites. The only thing less fun when shrunk while still screwing people so badly is an actual penis.
The arcade game is accurate, because two men grappling while dressed like that does usually involve joysticks.
Even worse than regular midget pit fights.
The cartridge is a violent attack on the concept of entertainment, and that was its only successful blow. It was so poorly programmed that one character had a Flash-like advantage over the others simply because he had fewer animation frames. It was direct proof that the programmers destroyed everything they touched: He had the upper hand specifically because they spent less time working on him.
The entire soundtrack was a single sample shorter and less melodic than the average ringtone. In 1992. The game had worse collision detection than a ghost, and was less responsive to control than that ghost's original body. If anything should have killed THQ, it was this. Pit Fighter was a worse use of $50 than hiring a sex worker to screw your kid, because at least then one person involved in the disaster would know what they were doing.
So why should we mourn their passing?
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine
In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war. Awesome, awesome war. Warhammer 40,000 is a world where people realized that you couldn't tackle the bleak horror of an uncaring universe with a chainsaw, so they invented chainaxes and chainfists, too. It's a universe where warriors sail planet-killing warpships to alien worlds, fly turbolaser-equipped gunships down to the surface, drive volcano-cannon tanks to the front, then get out and run at the enemy with big swords. And if you think I was taking the piss, you've missed the point.
The chainsword has five points on the hilt alone.
The Dawn of War games were fine real-time strategy titles, but Space Marine was where 40K explained that the "Gears of War" were actually the little hinges on a pink handbag. Gears of War is a whack-a-mole simulator with fewer colors. You learn someone's true nature in the moments before their death, and in Gears of War, that nature is "cower." The regenerative health system in cover shooters means that the smartest move is huddling where no one can see you and not doing anything until you feel better. That's not a battle strategy, that's hibernation. That crisis response tactic is one couch and a pint of ice cream away from both watching and being Ally McBeal.
"We're not coming out to play until you stop being so mean!"
The Space Marines don't have a cover button, for the same reason they carry guns instead of white flags made of frilly lace panties. Health recovery is via execution -- if you take a second to kill an enemy with a particularly brutal move, you recover health. That's badassery as a core gameplay mechanic. When you're about to die, your impulse reaction becomes "diving at the enemy to destroy as many as possible" and "wondering why that's not always the case." It's made very clear that if you ever have full health, you're not doing it right. You're not playing endless shooting galleries; you're an engine of war powered by enemy blood.
"And THIS is what I think of your waist-high walls!"
Evil Dead: Regeneration
The Necronomicon Ex Mortis is an evil text that can raise the dead, possess the living, and curse the most guaranteed action hero in history with an eternity of terrible games. Ashley J. Williams has a chainsaw for one hand, carries a shotgun in the other, and is sustained by sheer kickass to avoid the lethal risk of ever unzipping his pants. He's the only action hero who could kill enemies with a high-five, but most of his games have been worse shambling wrecks than his own Deadite enemies.
A game so bad that Ash's own right thigh is attempting to escape through a hole in his pants.
In A Fistful of Boomstick, it was possible to run out of gasoline and be left clutching a useless power tool. Meaning that at least one programmer thought a video game about a zombie-shredding chainsaw was the place to work through his impotence issues. THQ apologized with Evil Dead: Regeneration. The game is an alternate sequel to Evil Dead II, where instead of traveling back in time, Ash has traveled to a criminal asylum, because that's what happens when the police find you connected to a chainsaw in a shack full of girlfriend parts. In this game, Ash can replace his chainsaw with a harpoon launcher, flamethrower, and grenade launcher, providing an omnipotent trinity of answers to the previously unanswerable question, "Why would you ever replace your chainsaw hand?"
It also understood gamers by giving you an annoying sidekick character and then letting you immediately repeatedly murder him. One of the first things you can do is punt him into a wood chipper. Note: I want this team working on Duck Hunt: Regeneration. Picking up pages of the Necronomicon in the game unlocked DVD extras of interviews with Bruce Campbell, proving that they understood Evil Dead fans, because anyone still buying Evil Dead games in 2005 has reached a point where it's medically impossible to get enough Bruce Campbell.
Saints Row: The Third
One of THQ's last works was Saints Row: The Third, in the same way that one of Jesus' last works was the salvation of mankind. Saints Row 3 wasn't a game; it was apotheosis. That THQ could go bankrupt after making this is proof that there is no justice in the world. They took Grand Theft Auto and turned it into something you'd actually play for fun, instead of a sense of duty to impressive technical achievement.
"No, sure, a cutscene and escort mission sounds way more fun than playing a game."
The game escalated like oral sex in a launching space shuttle and featured more burning fuel. The first mission airlifts a bank vault, the second flying-kicks right through a (now exploding) jumbo jet, and after only three levels of driving cars, your character says, "Screw this, get me the tank." No grinding, no game-long unlocks -- the game gives you everything it can think of as soon as it can, then gives you jetbikes and a TRON cannon, too. This game even achieves the impossible by making escort missions fun, because your driving style is affected by whether your passenger is receiving oral sex or being a goddamn tiger.
Also featured: The greatest energy bars ever.
Saints Row 3 knows it's a game and loves it. If you're within 10 square meters of a car and press "steal," you immediately leap headfirst through the windscreen to take it, because fuck moving around to get into the right position. Just like a lack of tigers or grinding boringly until you're done, their design document was "If you don't want it during sex, you don't want it during this game." If you're in the water for longer than a second, you can teleport to shore. Getting within half a block of a mission objective triggers it. It's almost like the developers actually played the game and got rid of all the problems. Saints Row 3 should be a compulsory part of beta testing. ALL beta testing. Every other developer should be made to finish their work, play Saints Row 3, then go back and fix their game.
For example, any lack of this exact situation is a terminal error.
Saints Row shouldn't just have made money. Saints Row should have made everyone connected with the game immortal. Like the Holy Grail, it simply cured the ills of anything it was exposed to. THQ's studio Volition Inc. shouldn't be bought by another company; they should be granted executive freedom to remake every other game on the planet. They'd make Final Fantasy role-playing games where you actually play a role again, instead of wearing improbable clothes down endless straight paths like the world's worst and longest catwalk. They'd make an Assassin's Creed where you spend most of your time actually killing people. Hell, they could probably make a new Madden game that was actually worth another $60.
Luke explains why Arnold Schwarzenegger Must Be Stopped, and is almost killed by Apple when he actually reads the Terms of Service, but is saved by drinking five antidotes to the winter. Luke also tumbles and responds to every single tweet.
Behold more video game history with 6 Video Games That Just Didn't Get It and The 10 Most Insulting Things Video Games Charged Money For.