Postcards From The Clipping Plane
Conveniently ignoring the serious side of videogame development
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