Thursday, January 31, 2008

I'm number one.

Or, rather, this post is. I've never had a blog before. Nor have I ever liked that term... blog. It sounds so.. indigestatory (no, that isn't a word). But that's okay. Hopefully this will turn into something beautiful, or...something. I'd settle for simply "worth passing by." At any rate, I'd like it to be something done well. Well-written, even. But then again, what I may consider to be well-written could be drastically, startlingly different from what you do. And while I'd like to sit here and say something overly humane, like, "and that's okay, we all can have different opinions," I find myself that really okay?

Well certainly it is, in a purely classic sense. We're all entitled to our opinions. Writing styles are embraced by some but most certainly not all. Some of us type "you" as a single letter, for example. Then again, some of us play Crysis for the story. Crazy, I know. All of this leaves me to wonder, much does writing really matter? Or, more specifically, how much does our opinion of writing matter?

Running with the Crysis situation, I knew something was awry with that game when I flipped over the box and read "confront an ancient alien terror to save mankind from destruction" as one of the game's three descriptors. That's right, folks...not just an alien terror (no, we've never seen that before), but an ancient one. And this was supposed to be the game that set the next standard for all future FPS's. Is this really what appeals to us? A game, that for months, nay, years, has been acclaimed as a marvel in human technical achievement is marketed on its own box as a total science fiction stereotype. And to make matters worse, the gameplay reflects that very box description. That isn't to say it's not fun. It's tons of fun, and you should all go play it if you can find a computer capable of doing so. But don't expect to be blown in any direction because of the story, something the game definitely lacks.

Bioshock has one of the best stories in games as of late. Granted the ending really sucked a fat one (and if you don't agree with me, you never finished it), but the core plot was solid, presented well, and just plain cool. Thankfully, the game sold marvelously, and not because of its extreme violence, over-the-top-holy-shit-graphics (though they are nice), or "wow that's inventive" gameplay. No, it sold because it had good writing.

Call of Duty 4, despite selling mainly for the multiplayer and being shunned because of its short story, has one of the most engaging single player experiences I've ever had. Anyone who's played that can agree, and though I heard all about the multiplayer extravaganza well before I got the game, I knew from past experience that the guys at Infinity Ward knew how to present fantastic war stories, if not the best ones in gaming--and that's why I wanted it.

So with these (and I'm sure many other) games in mind, think about all the games that are created with absolutely no story at all. Or the ones with plots so bad, so cliché, they you know when you see them on the store shelf, they should never exist. Yet, there they are. And then you notice that said bad game's stack isn't as tall or thick as the one next to it, and the horror sets in--someone actually bought the thing. Stupid grandmothers and clueless parents aside, people still buy those games. How is that possible?

Well, I think it has something to do with flash advertising. Maybe this is why Crysis has what it has on the box. Because the people (no, sorry, Lords) at EA might know how to market stuff. The general population enjoys gimmicks (just look at Wii sales). They enjoy things that seem to be exciting, and they're generally going to make those decisions on 20 words or less. Sure, they could read a three-page review on the intense war experience of Call of Duty 4, or the mind-blowingly creative world of Bioshock, but they would much rather have fast, easy facts. CoD4's box reads, "One of the deepest online shooters of all time" as the only testament to its gameplay at all, for another example. This makes me quite...sad.

Crysis had the ability to trump the videogame world in every possible way--it has amazing gameplay, an immersive world, photo-realitic graphics, etc. But it has no story. Elite military group? Been there. Evil country/corporation that's found an (evil) power it can't possibly know how to contain? Seen it many times. And a superhuman main character? Not even going to go there. Granted, those staples can definitely be used well, but in a game like Crysis I find myself saying "oh come on" entirely too much.

All of this leaves room for improvement, though. Someone will make a Crysis that has a rich, wonderful story that pulls gamers to their knees and changes lives. Well maybe not that, but it'll be a lot better than what's there now (Bioshock included). And maybe on that game's box the back will be void of all stupid descriptions and simply read "buy this game." Wouldn't that be cool? I can dream.

Writing matters, then. Obviously. But I don't think it matters enough. It's good to know that games can still sell because of their great story-content. And yeah, there are games that have come close to being downright perfect (Half-Life 2). But when you have every aspect of your game down (graphics, style, gameplay), and you know that's all going to be accepted as fantastic, how can you, as a game company, afford to botch the story? Why would you want to do that? Or, conversely, if you have a perfect story, why would you surround it with shoddy game dynamics? The world may never know. Money might have something to do with it. Or time. Or both (gasp). Keep an eye out for that perfect game, though.

Hopefully my writing here will be well done, and not just in a flashy, neon sign kind of way. I'd like you all to stick with me because I'm interesting and thoughtful, just like the games you play should be. But if you aren't that kind of person: "This will be the internet's RIDE OF THE CENTURY!" - Maxim. (kidding).