As I've mentioned before, I recently started work towards a degree in Game Design and Development. I just finished and handed in my first paper for the major, an analysis of three authentic game proposals from Activision. In all honesty they were all pretty bad, and so it ended up being somewhat of a rant (and I'm very good at writing rants). I normally wouldn't do this, but I'm fairly proud and happy with the way it turned out (and I'd like to show anyone who's considering going to school for this what the work is like), so I've opted to share it with all you fine folks. It's a tad lengthy, but I hope that you all enjoy it.
Three Indecent Proposals
or "Don't Blame Me, I'm Slovakian"
by Erik Nelson
On the evening of April 21, 2005, I had the extreme displeasure of viewing 3 video game proposals from the brilliant people at Activision. Specifically, I saw games that were being developed by the single greatest studio in the history of Slovakia - Cauldron Studios. This, of course, isn’t saying much. I thought it would be nice to have at least one nice thing to say about Cauldron Studios, though, because I don’t really foresee it happening again over the course of this writing. The games detailed were “Gene Troopers”, “Knights of the Temple 2” and “World Racing 2”, which I will now discuss in detail.
Let’s face it - every good game idea has been used up multiple times already: “Wolfenstein 3D” became “Doom“, which then became “Quake”, which then became “Elmo’s Letter Adventure”, and so on. It’s because of this lack of ideas that we now have “Gene Troopers”, a game that I can easily describe in one word: platitudinous . So much so, in fact, that I found myself often forgetting if I was looking at “Gene Troopers” or if I was looking at every other game ever made. What was especially frustrating about the game’s proposal was its incredible over use of the word “sci-fi” (which might or might not actually be a word in the first place). I don’t remember exactly how it was described, but I’m fairly certain it was something like this:
Play the role of “Sci-fi Joe“, a man who leaves his job at a Sci-Fi burger joint to rescue and protect this daughter Sci-Fi Jane from the Gene Troopers. The Gene Troopers are Sci-Fi creatures that violently prey on the Sci-Fi Electro-Rain Forest in order to stop all the Sci-Fi butterflies from doing whatever it is that butterflies do. For some reason they’re joined by a totally cool robotic Sci-Fi black man who inaccurately fires Sci-Fi bullets from a poorly drawn gun on his shoulder. Some hot chick joins in too.
The game did have one somewhat original idea, but unfortunately it was also completely pointless. One of the characters (I honestly don’t know or care which one) has to constantly protect himself from sunlight. This seems like an interesting idea at first, but then one has to realize that this means that this game REQUIRES you to not be able to see where you’re going. That’s right - this is the first game that works just as well when your TV isn’t even on. It’s a gaming experience identical to not playing a game at all! I could go outside right now and say “Hey, I’m playing Gene Troopers”, and in a way that would be completely accurate. I guess it really is innovative after all.
If there’s one thing that will always be true, it’s that guys with swords are always cool. This has been scientifically proven time and time again . As such, guys with swords are the third most common trend in games, right behind vaguely evil robot clowns at number one, and the Olsen Twins at number two. Because of this, there’s no surprise that “Knights of the Temple 2” is in development. For those who aren’t aware, KoTT2 (as the cool kids call it) is the sequel to the highly disregarded “Knights of the Temple”. And from the looks of it, the sequel is primed to follow in its predecessors’ footsteps.
Truth be told, the technical aspects of this game were somewhat promising. The sky and water looked rather authentic and the city/building designs were rather impressive . If the game does in fact run smoothly, it will probably be an above average game from a graphical standpoint. However, there were other, more intangible aspects that bothered me to the point that I honestly could not get past them.
The first of these problems was that the entire proposal was full of obvious and inexcusable spelling errors. It may look like I’m nitpicking here, but I feel that it is a serious problem. This is a GAME PROPOSAL. If you can’t spell check your proposal right, I simply can’t expect better results from the game itself. I feel it’s nothing short of a miracle that this game isn’t called “Knites of teh Tempull Too" or something to that effect. Maybe it's just me, but I'd rather not send my knite on a misticle kwest to save a prinsess from a dagron. Maybe if it had a vaguely evil robot clown I would...but definitely not the way it is now.
I also found it rather unsettling that in the game proposal there were no temples. At all. It's hard to be a knight of something that isn't there. In fact, it's totally pointless. If I'm a knight, I at least want to be a knight of something that exists. They really should call this game "Knights of the Kind-of-Good-Looking Cityscapes". Not only would that be a more accurate (and subsequently better) title, it's also spelled correctly. If there's a more perfect combination, I'd like to see it.
The last but definitely least of the bunch was "World Racing 2". Much like its bastard step-brother "KoTT2", this game is also a sequel. Sequels are the worst example of the "this has already been done but let's do it again anyway" mentality that plagues the gaming industry. And as fate would have it, the second worst example of this mentality is games that involve racing around the world. I'm no game expert or anything, but I have a hunch that "World Racing 2" involves both of those unfortunate aspects.
Aside from its ho-hum graphical and gameplay features, what bothered me most about this game proposal was that they talked about all the reasons why the first "World Racing" was bad. Reasons like:
- There weren't enough cars and tracks
- It didn't offer a wide enough variety of gameplay options
- It took a team of scientists to navigate the complex menus
- It sucked
All of these things should've been warning signs to NOT MAKE A SEQUEL. And yet for some reason they still did. I can't even begin to describe how much this confuses and angers me. If you make a bad game, I can understand why you would want to have a second chance at getting it right. But why give it the same name as the crappy game you made first? Why liken it to your previous failures? You never saw a "White Men Can't Jump 2" or "Kris Kross: Make My Video 2" for a reason - and this is it.
My other issue with this proposal is that a good amount of it wasn't even written in English. I know it's "World Racing" and all, but when I'm adjusting various aspects of my car, I don't want the parts to be labeled in German. Is my Ubernostrum too low? Could I modify my Blugenflugen just a bit? I honestly don't know, because those words have no meaning to me .
The feeling I have that encompasses all these games is this: You only get one shot at a first impression, and every single one of these completely dropped the ball. I'm not a game designer, and I don't even play one on TV, but I know that if you're presenting a game to a company you should never under any circumstances do any of the following:
- Come up with something incredibly generic
- Spell everything wrong
- Have the proposal in more than one language
- Be drunk at the presentation
I will concede the possibility that in the end one or more of these games could end up actually being good. However, because of the terrible nature of these presentations, I really, really doubt this is actually the case. So in all likelihood, yet another batch of sub par games are soon to be on their way to retailers around the world - a fact that honestly leaves me both bothered and saddened.
This of course, begs the question: who's to blame for all this? My initial reaction is to blame Cauldron Studios, but being the non-English speaking Slovakians that they are, I don't think they can fully be responsible. No, I think that the blame falls on the company that actually greenlit these games and allowed the trend of mediocrity to continue unabated. Of course, I'm talking about Activision. Up yours, Activision. Thanks for making crappy games for me to write a crappy paper about. Jerks.