Post­cards From The Clip­ping Plane

Con­ve­niently ig­nor­ing the se­ri­ous side of videogame devel­op­ment

EDGE - - GAMES SECTIONS - James Leach is a BAFTA Award-win­ning free­lance writer whose work fea­tures in games and on tele­vi­sion and ra­dio JAMES LEACH

James Leach on the end­less smoke and mir­rors of game ads on TV

Have you ever no­ticed how TV ad­verts for videogames never fea­ture any di­a­logue from the games them­selves? What? Oh, of course, you don’t watch TV. No­body does th­ese days. But any­way, you’d think that if some vaguely fa­mous peo­ple have wanted to pay for their di­vorces by do­ing voiceover work for the videogame in­dus­try, you’d surely want them in the ads? But you don’t, be­cause it costs far too much. The mo­ment their voice is broad­cast on the telly or ra­dio or, ba­si­cally, any­where out­side of the game, the terms and con­di­tions of their con­tract change and they can le­git­i­mately charge the Earth.

Next time you see a game ad on the TV you pre­tend never to watch, it’s likely to have pump­ing mu­sic cov­er­ing the 30 sec­onds of may­hem. Mu­sic which is highly un­likely to fea­ture in the game it­self, might I say. And it could well have a line of text say­ing ‘Not Ac­tual Game Footage’ or some­such. It turns out that you can show pretty much any­thing if you don’t try too hard to pass it off as your ac­tual game with your ac­tual voices. In ef­fect, it’s an ad­ver­tise­ment for some­thing en­tirely dif­fer­ent to what you’ll get. Now, call me old­fash­ioned, but this ain’t right.

Sell­ing big games is a weird busi­ness. They’re very easy things to ad­ver­tise su­per­fi­cially, es­pe­cially if you’re do­ing all the above. But even if you’re hon­est about the ac­tual graph­ics and what your game is about, all of that, I’m fool­ishly about to ar­gue, is sec­ondary to how the game feels. I haven’t been im­pressed by great graph­ics for a long time, be­cause to be hon­est I ex­pect a big, block­bust­ing game to have great graph­ics as a mat­ter of course. And al­though I do have favourite gen­res, I don’t even think I’m wor­ried about those when I choose some­thing to play. Ba­si­cally, I’m set­ting out to de­feat ever-trick­ier foes, but luck­ily, as my skills and ex­pe­ri­ence mount up, I’ll be is­sued with more ef­fec­tive ways of do­ing so. Got it.

You can’t show some­one how a game feels. You can’t de­scribe it, ei­ther. You sim­ply have to get them to play it. Only then can they de­cide if it’s right for them. As an ex­am­ple, I bought a sniper game for my con­sole a while ago. Can’t re­mem­ber which game it was pre­cisely – if you want to know, take a look in that big pile of not-put-away discs un­der my telly. I yield to no one in my af­fec­tion for snipers, and of course I was ea­ger to slot some fools in the face in a se­ries of beau­ti­fully re­alised for­eign coun­tries. But the game just didn’t feel right.

It wasn’t too dif­fi­cult, so it’s not that. There were no ob­vi­ous bugs, glitches or mis­takes. It was surely de­tailed well enough, and watching my snipey dude ly­ing silently in a river wait­ing for a con­voy was good enough to ac­tu­ally make me feel cold in real life. Some­thing about it just didn’t work.

But I per­se­vered. I sniped away for days, stop­ping two wars, knock­ing out a fort of id­iots hell-bent on in­de­pen­dence, and even de­stroy­ing a boat fer­ry­ing trucks full of Bad­lyNamedium des­tined for the nu­clear in­dus­try. It sim­ply got an­noy­ing. I hated the way my lad’s shoul­ders heaved up and down when he ran any­where. How the gun had no weight to it, and how get­ting in and out of build­ings seemed to in­volve my fella stand­ing next to a door­jamb and pirou­et­ting like a bal­le­rina un­til he even­tu­ally popped through like a cam­ou­flaged zit.

None of this would have seemed too ir­ri­tat­ing in an ad­vert for the game, of course. In fact, it wouldn’t have been ap­par­ent if I’d watched some­one else play it, es­pe­cially if they were nine and play­ing videogames was sec­ond na­ture to them. I ac­cept some of it is my fault, es­pe­cially the door thing, but the mo­ment a game starts to feel like hard work – not to beat but to ac­tu­ally play – I find my­self start­ing to look for other things in it to be snarky about. I mean, there’s noth­ing wrong with the way the heli­copter at­tacked me, but there is if it did so while I’m ro­tat­ing point­lessly and swear­ing by a door.

Un­less you try them out first, games will al­ways be a punt in the dark. They’ve al­ways been a big fi­nan­cial in­vest­ment for most peo­ple, and those buy­ing them have al­ways been will­ing to give up a lot of time to play them. In the same way that you can only ad­ver­tise cars by show­ing them driv­ing along a beach or through an eerily de­serted city, per­haps game ads are truly do­ing all they can. But un­der­neath the bit say­ing ‘Not Ac­tual Game Footage’, I de­mand there be an­other line that says ‘Your Mate Has Got This. Go Round His House And Play It For At Least An Hour First’.

You can’t show some­one how a game feels. You can’t de­scribe it, ei­ther. You sim­ply have to get them to play it

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