Mar 04

Is it just me, or are trailers for video games nowadays getting a bit heavy on the music? I don’t know what first brought this to mind, but when I looked back at the trailer videos for a few games that had caught my eye recently I noticed that they all followed a similar pattern: lots of frenetic action, overlaid with a song. No (or very little) sound from the game, nothing to really set the mood, get interest in the story…just visuals and an (occasionally piss-poor) track playing along.

Take, for example, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations:

Or, the upcoming Aliens: Colonial Marines game, which I keep trying to tell my inner eight-year old self will be alright to play (he doesn’t believe me):

Gears of War 3 even managed two! First one:

Second one:

Even giant robots get into the swing of things, with the recent Fall of Cybertron trailer giving it the full “Merriman Weir” treatment:

All of which isn’t a massive problem – game makers can, of course, present their games however they like without referring them to a balding misanthrope in central Scotland for final approval on the marketing front. What strikes me as odd about the whole thing, though, is the fact that almost all games nowadays are far more involved than the relatively simple things that I believe most people think of when you say the words “video games”, where one pushes buttons to make a rotund Italian plumber jump up and down. They are stories, they build up narratives, they let the player make choices, become immersed in the world, familiar with the characters and, I would argue, the end result is that the player cares about the characters and situations they are playing through on screen. I can’t help but think that this process might be helped if the trailers let some of that come across, instead of bludgeoning us with some fairly intrusive music while allowing tiny little bits of sound from the game peep through in the background occasionally.

To defend my point, compare the Fall of Cybertron trailer above with the trailer for the first game – War for Cybertron – below:

Look at that. More importantly, listen to that. The two main characters in the game get dialogue. They set out, very quickly, the differences between the good guys and the bad guys. They set a tone, you get an interesting hook into the story, you see that underneath the whole giant-robots-fighting malarkey there might be the core of a decent sci-fi story in there, one that you might get to take part in if you hand over the ready cash*. It gives the voice artists a chance to shine, and builds a far more complete picture of what sort of game you might be buying in a few weeks / months. Compare that to the trailer for the second game – what do you get from that? The yellow thing looks hurt because its eyes look a bit flickery, and the sudden urge to buy some real ale. That’s about it.

I’m not saying that music shouldn’t play a part in game trailers – it should – but to me the trailer for a game should make me want to buy the game instead of making me want to nip onto Google and find out what was the name of that track playing all through the bloody thing.


* Plus, one of the characters BACKHANDS A MISSILE. Even for a giant robot, that’s fucking hardcore and should function as a selling point for anyone.

Feb 14

Xbox 360 controller

Too many times I think a conversation like this one happens when people are developing computer games:

Person 1: “Right, so as they go from level to level, things get gradually tougher. Harder puzzles, stronger enemies, that kind of thing. Right?”

Person 2: “Right. Except for this point right here, where we’re just going to jack it right up to ‘impossible’ and see what happens.”

Person 1: “What, with no warning? No gradient? Just a sudden leap from manageable to impossible? What do you call that?”

Person 2: “Ah, you see, we call that a challenge. The users will love it.”

Now it would be very easy to assume that this is sour grapes because I am playing a video game and can’t get past a particular section* but I have played enough games, and experienced this phenomenon enough times, to think that such a conversation might well take place during the game development process. A game builds up an enjoyable level of challenge, gets gradually tougher to match your increasing level of comfort, and then BOOM – unkillable enemy / neverending swarm of enemies / puzzle that fucking Einstein would have to have looked up on YouTube to get a walkthrough. Or, even worse, a game that is unbeatable at level 10 if you make the wrong decision on level 7. Didn’t save at the right point? Upgraded the wrong thing? Didn’t buy that ammo / map / health pack when you had the chance? Well that’s you bucko, might as well go back to the start.

Or, even worse, a maze. I always think that a maze is a game developer’s way of telling the player that he/she would much rather get to the pub and have a drink. Need to extend the game a bit? Whack in a maze. Because nothing makes dropping 40 quid on a game feel worth it than wandering around a fucking maze. If I wanted to do that, do you know what I would do? PUT OFF THE CONSOLE AND GO TO A MAZE. Then there’s the selective agility issue – I’ve lost count of how many times in a game I have controlled a character who has beaten up bad guys, leapt from roofs, pulled off all sorts of superhuman stunts and then can’t climb a waist-high wall to get to an objective. Why? Because the game developer wants you to go over there and fight a bad guy. Never mind that the thing you are looking for is two feet away over a garden fence and your character has so many muscles on him that from a distance he would just look like a particularly threatening penis, you can’t get it. Go do what you’re told.

All of which tells me that it’s time to get out a book and read for a while. Feel free to laugh and point.

* Easy, perhaps, because that’s pretty close to what it is. I never claimed to be a saint. But I will say this: FUCK YOU, DEAD SPACE 2. FUCK YOU.