Inside Pulse 12

Playing the Lame Vol. 4

Hey everybody, welcome to Playing the Lame, the content-free edition! Basically, I’m working on a project that’s taking up all of my site-writing time (it’s for IP, so don’t think I’m wasting my writing time having a life or something, that’ll never happen), but I figured I’d give y’all something to mess around with. I’m sure you’d just love love LOVE to read about my personal life or something like that, but… nah. Instead I’m going to rattle on for a bit about something a little low impact: bad games. Wow, what a concept. Seriously though, I’d like to talk about what, exactly, makes bad games bad, and why so many ARE so bad. And, more importantly, why so many bad games are available to someone like me… and, more importantly, people like you, who most likely DON’T enjoy big steaming piles of crap. And last, but not least, we’ll talk about something that’ll probably help a lot of you out: how to spot a bad game right out of the gate.

You’ll thank me later, I promise.

LINKAGE:

Once again, Tom P. talks about the Revolution. Also, he takes a dump in Dan Hsu’s (shoes?) hat. I’d have a lot more respect for the guy if his nickname wasn’t so stupid. Dan, not Tom. I already have plenty of respect for Tom.

James Hatton and Tim Stevens discuss Marvel and DC, respectively. I have no appreciation for DC, except for Batman, but the column is good. And Hatton always rocks, so there ya go.

Eric talks golf, wrestling, and politics. Oh, and The Emperor’s New School. If it’s not apparent why I love this column, then you’re just not paying attention.

Kennedy… I… that it… THE NET 2.0? What? I just… I can’t fathom such a thing. That’s like making a sequel to Starship Troopers for Christ Sa- wait, they did? Oh.

I’m going to go hit the bottle. See you in five.

WHAT MAKES A BAD GAME BAD:

You’d think this would be obvious, and it kind of is, but it kind of isn’t.

The first thing that needs to be understood is that, while personal tastes dictate what games you like and don’t like, they don’t dictate what makes a game good or bad. You might, for example, hate any and all sports games, but this hatred doesn’t inherently make Madden 2K6 a “bad game”, it just makes it something you’d dislike. Now, I know this seems like a “duh” statement, but it’s really not. If you go and look on forums dedicated to video gaming in any form or fashion, you’ll see statements that people actively defend as out and out facts, like “Resident Evil sucks” or “Pokemon is for girls/little kids”. Remember “Celda”? Same thing.

The thing that needs to be expressed here is that games you THINK are bad, by and large, may not be the same thing as games that are GENUINELY bad. This is why (after much consideration) Final Fantasy 7, despite my incredibly low opinion of it, will never be featured here. I know other people like it, and I’m okay with that, even though I think it’s a steaming pile of crap, so I can’t in good conscience induct it into the Hall of Shame.

On the other hand, if you think it’s the best RPG ever made, you can of course feel free to drink some drain cleaner. I can only understand so much, don’t expect me to understand that.

So, now that we’ve established that, what, exactly, makes a game bad? Well, that’s largely relative, but the simplest way I can describe it is as follows: to be a bad game, a game must be broken in some form or fashion. To clarify: there’s a difference between bland gameplay and broken gameplay. There’s a difference between a bland story and a broken one. Uninteresting graphics are worlds away from ugly ones. You get the idea. It’s easier to condemn Batman: Dark Tomorrow as a bad game than, say, Batman: Rise of Sin Zu, because B:RoSZ, bad as it might be, doesn’t even hold a candle to B:DT. You will find fewer people willing to defend Countdown: Vampires than, say, Resident Evil 3. The point being this: disagreements are largely subjective, but pure unrefined crapola is pretty much universally reviled.

For example, if I turned around and wrote ten pages badmouthing Shining Force 3… I’d probably get a lot more of a disagreement than if I were to lay into Beyond the Beyond (which is coming, believe me, it is). SF3 will obviously have its fans and its detractors, but if someone can honestly tell you they LIKED BTB… they’re lying or a masochist.

One also has to place a certain amount of priority on what is most important in their bad games, so that one can say “this is bad because X”.

Okay… upon re-reading that, it’s kind of vague, so lemme clear it up: we here at IP work off of a ten category rating system, under which all categories carry equal weight, so “Gameplay” is worth as much as “Originality”, etc. When working with BAD games, however, you really have to weigh certain categories over others. That might seem odd, but it’s not hard to understand: put the original Super Mario Brothers side by side with almost any terrible game made in the past year… let’s say 50 Cent: Bulletproof for simplicity’s sake. Now, it’s not hard to see that (2D love be damned) Bulletproof is a better LOOKING game, a better SOUNDING game, and is just generally technologically superior. HOWEVER… it’s also easy to see that SMB is far superior as an actual GAME than Bulletproof could ever hope to be.

So, when evaluating if a game is pure crap, it’s usually best to look at things through a different sort of perspective. In other words: when I go into this, I usually look at a game’s failing points in the order of Control/Gameplay, Originality, Presentation (one neat catch-all that includes Story, Graphics, Balance and Sound), and Misc (personal opinion), in that order. Replayability and Addictiveness are largely ignored, and Appeal is usually negligible no matter how you look at it (unless the game has a license; that’s usually a strike against it). The basic reasoning behind this view is simple: It doesn’t matter how good your game looks and sounds, if it plays like shit, it’s a terrible game, period. It doesn’t matter how your game looks and sounds, if it’s ripping everything it does off of other games without doing ANYTHING interesting original, it’s a mediocre game, period. And my opinion of the game matters almost not at all; I liked Oni and disliked Ico, so I’m about as dysfunctional as they come, all right?

This also helps to distinguish between “mediocre” games and “terrible” games. For example, Tao Feng is a “terrible” game, because it plays like crap, does just shy of nothing original, and has a generally poor presentation (no shock there, I know). Kakuto Chojin, on the other hand, is only really a “mediocre” game, because while it plays like crap, it has some mildly original ideas in it, and has badass presentation (say what you will, but having your fighters speak in their native languages is something I find great appreciation for).

Also, for refference, I ignore Replay and Addictiveness because most of the time, these are games you’re going to find you can’t even get through once, let alone multiple times, so we can usually assume these scores to be zero.

I also try to avoid niche games whenever possible. Franchises like Kings Field and games like Metal Dungeon, while hated by the majority, have loyal fans that love the games to death for doing exactly what it is that they do. Not everyone is going to like what Choro Q does, but it’s goofy and inoffensive, so I can’t really slag it. Besides, high-profile games tend to be far worse than goofy niche games, so there’s far more enjoyment to be had making fun of a Spawn title than there is in cracking on Thousand Arms.

And finally, I’m trying to avoid actively taking a proverbial dump on games other members of the IP Staff might ramrod me for later, like Hey You, Pikachu as an example. No matter how much I might want to Photoshop a middle finger into the cover art and change the title (no points for figuring out how)… if someone else around here likes it, I’d rather not take it to task.

Besides, beaning Pokemon in Pokemon Snap is still hilarious, thus proving that even the most inane title can bring the goods.

So, there you go. That should help explain why things are the way they are, at least in part. You can all take comfort in the fact that, if I decide I’m going to stick a game up here, chances are that it’s absolutely horrendous on most, if not all, possible levels. Or I was really drunk. One of those.

Now let us address the question that comes to mind when such gaming atrocities rear their ugly heads:

WHY ARE SO MANY GAMES SO BAD?

The simple answer is “Because companies are greedy and lazy”. But it’s kind of hard to actively assume that a company would make a game suck so bad on purpose… doing so would imply that the creators of said game have nothing but contempt for the target audience. While I can believe that some companies have contempt for their employees, game magazines, and other companies, I can’t fathom that they would hate their own AUDIENCE enough to make terrible games, just to do it. Call me crazy, but it’s kind of unrealistic.

Fear not, though. There ARE reasons why bad games exist. In fact, I’ve managed, through extensive scientific testing using methods like “making shit up” and “being really bored”, to come up with six reasons WHY bad games exist. They are as follows.

1. ON THE CHEAP:

Also known as, “Making something for the least amount of money possible”. This usually applies to licensed titles. Basically, the developer decides to make a game, but instead of using the latest and greatest development tools and the best hardware available, they use slave labor and 286’s to program everything. Games like Dinotopia and Aquaman are a primary example of this technique in action. The theory behind this is that people will buy the games based solely on the name attached, so the publisher tries to make the game as cheaply as possible, figuring the name brand will sell the game regardless of quality. Acclaim practically had a monopoly on this practice in the 90’s, but even today it’s a surprisingly common tactic, largely because it tends to work.

2. ME TOO! ME TOO!:

Quick: What do Rise of the Triad, Cold Fear, Street Racers, and Time Killers all have in common? Answer: They’re all rip-offs of more established and successful games (Doom, Resident Evil 4, Mario Kart, and Mortal Kombat, FYI) made solely for the purpose of cashing in. This is a highly common tactic: wait for someone to release a GOOD game, then copy it in hopes gamers will want more of the same, only not as good. It tends to be fairly successful as well, but only for a short period of time; eventually, the memory of the original game fades as more games are released, and so too does the appeal of the knockoff.

3. DEVELOPMENT HELL:

This is one of the more depressing reasons games go bad. Basically, a game will be announced, then will spend years in development, being retooled, reworked, shopped around to publishers, and so on, until whatever appeal the game might have had is long since gone. Games like Run Like Hell and Malice are perfect examples of Development Hell badness: no matter how good the games MIGHT have been when they were announced, they spent SO LONG being developed that by the time they came out, they were pitiful and uninspired. Not that the two games I mentioned would have been Game of the Year candidates or anything… but eventually, the developers just say “screw it, get it out there” and off it goes to store shelves, warts and all. The idea, of course, is to try and make any money they possibly can off of what has effectively become a money pit. Thankfully, this rarely happens, but it’s common enough that I thought I should mention it here.

4. IF IT AIN’T BROKE:

AKA Tomb Raider/Resident Evil syndrome. The idea is simple: if people will pay for Game X, they’ll pay for Game X2, which is the exact same game. If they’ll pay for Game X2, they’ll pay for Game X3, which is the exact same game. And so this goes down the line until people, shockingly, stop buying the exact same game. Capcom far and away is the progenitor of this line of thinking (count how many Mega Man games there were on the NES), but several companies adopt this mentality when making games. It’s slightly understandable, though… the idea behind this line of thinking is that if the game series radically departs from what made it popular, people will stop buying it. This is mitigated somewhat by the fact that if the game series makes NO changes, people will stop buying it just the same, but when people are concerned with their pocket book, conservative thinking tends to win out. Generally, if you’re looking at the sixth or seventh sequel in a series, and it looks/sounds/plays like the first game in the series you can be assured it’s a pile of crap.

5. BAD IDEA:

Perfect example: Dark Summit. You’re fighting generic corporate evil… ON A SNOWBOARD.

I think that about sums that up.

So yeah. Anything that, simply by description sounds like a bad idea, falls under Bad Idea. BMX XXX (extreme sports and nudity!). Shining Tears (Shining Soul, with more load time and story, and less chances to actually PLAY). Phantasy Star Online 3 (online card battling instead of, y’know, Phantasy Star Online). You get the point.

6. YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE DOING, DO YOU?:

Does the name Appaloosa mean anything to you? What about Color Dreams? Or, perhaps, Studio Gigante? All of these names have one thing in common: They belong to development houses that, through their short and messy lives, never managed to make ONE SINGLE SOLITARY GAME that didn’t suck. Not one. Ever. If you ever see such names on games you want to buy, put them down and walk away.

Anyone who wants to argue the above: Yes, Appaloosa made Tiny Tank and Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future. If you want to argue to me that these were GOOD games, feel free to try; I’ve got all week.

It’s hard to imagine how several hundred people could go to college, get a degree in programming or what have you, and make money to produce games for years upon years, yet never manage to turn out anything of quality. Of course, Uwe Boll keeps making movies, so it’s not like there isn’t precedent. But yeah, this category really speaks for itself.

Now, there ARE other reasons bad games come into existence, but these are far and away the most common ones. Sure, sometimes a game will simply be badly implemented. Sometimes the project will simply lose focus. Sometimes the CEO will spend all the development money on hookers. You know, whatever. But most of the time, if a game sucks, you can run your finger down the above list and most likely find at least ONE answer for why the game you’re holding is a choad on a disc.

And now, as a public service, from me to you, I present:

MARK B’S HANDY GUIDE FOR AVOIDING CRAPPY GAMES:

So, you’re in the local EB Games or what have you, shopping at random, when you see a title that perhaps you know nothing about. Maybe it looks amusing. Maybe it looks fun. Hell, maybe it’s cheap. Whatever the reason, you don’t know anything about it, but you’re intrigued.

But suddenly, you realize: you have no idea if this game sucks or not. What can be done? You don’t want to walk home with a terrible game, do you? That’d break your little heart!

Well, unless you’re me. Then it’s an entirely different kind of fun.

So, how do you avoid terrible games strictly on the fly? Well, luckily, I’m here to help. Here’s a couple simple tips that should save you a lot of time and tear-filled nights.

FIRST: Check the publisher. If the publisher is:

THQ (unless it says “Smackdown” on the front), ACCLAIM, ELECTRONIC ARTS (unless it’s a sports game or says Maxis somewhere on it), TDK, OR 3DO: Put it down and walk away. You’re most likely holding crap in plastic form. Save yourself the trouble.

SEGA: Unless it says Panzer Dragoon, Jet Set Radio, House of the Dead, or Virtua Fighter on it, put it down. It’s not Sega anymore, and it’s most likely not any good.

NAMCO: Unless it’s a fighting game, Katamari anything, or it says “Ace Combat” somewhere on it, you have a low chance for quality. Probably best to keep walking.

EIDOS: Hitman, Deus Ex, Thief, and anything from the Fresh Games label is safe. Otherwise, you’re most likely rolling Snake Eyes.

SONY: If it’s not a 3D platformer or a Gran Turismo game, flip a coin. Heads says mediocre; tails says crap.

ROCKSTAR: Does it say Grand Theft Auto on the box? No? Is it Red Dead Revolver or Max Payne? No? Then put it back. And wash your hands before you leave the mall.

KEMCO: Run far, run fast, and don’t look back. Seriously. I don’t care HOW cool it looks; Kemco is Japanese for “feces from a diseased elephant”. I swear. Okay, except for Dai Senryaku Tactics. That was kind of neat.

Okay. Still stumped? Here’s some more help.

SECOND: Check the rating. If it’s “M”, read the back for why. If it indicates there’s swearing and/or violent death, that’s most likely the only reason it exists. Put it back.

THIRD: Check the year of release. If the year of release is two years older than the present year or more (IE it’s 2006 now, so if the game says 2004 or lower), and you haven’t heard ANYTHING about it, there’s probably a reason.

FOURTH: If it’s a licensed title, it probably sucks. If it’s a BUDGET licensed title, it almost definitely sucks.

FIFTH: Look over and see how many used copies are on the wall. If you count more than three, put it back.

SIXTH: If it looks “just like” another really popular game, or a game that used to be popular, put it back.

And finally, SEVENTH: Bring it to the guy at the counter and ask him what he thinks about it. If he has to think for more than four seconds, put it back. If he says he has no idea, put it back. If he says it sucks, buy it and mail it to me. Or put it back, one of those.

Will these rules disqualify titles that might (key word here, MIGHT) be good? Sure. The Punisher, for example, is a THQ game, looks like Max Payne, is licensed, and has an “M” rating for violence, and yet it’s surprisingly good. But if you somehow managed to miss any info on The Punisher in the past couple years, I don’t know what to tell you.

On the other hand, this list will absolutely keep you from accidentally buying games like Shadow Man: 2nd Coming, which is made by Acclaim, has an “M” for violence, looks like half of the 3rd person action games on the market, and is licensed. And, for the record, SM:2C sucks reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally bad. So if I can save you from accidentally buying drek like that, then my job here is done.

IN CONCLUSION:

So today we learned where bad games come from. Hopefully this has been as fun and educational for you as it was for me. In any case, remember, I’m Mark B, and you’re not.

Oh, and remember also, it’s not slumming if you turn in eight pages. That’s important too.

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