Big Pic­ture Mode

In­dus­try is­sues given the widescreen treat­ment

EDGE - - CONTENTS - NATHAN BROWN Nathan Brown is Edge’s edi­tor, and re­alises this month’s in­tro isn’t quite as strong as it re­ally could be, so shush

Nathan Brown laments the dy­ing art of the in­tro in videogames

You need to start with a bang. As an edi­tor, a thing I im­press on writ­ers is the im­por­tance of the hum­ble in­tro. We can talk about tone, an­gle and flow later on, but if your first line doesn’t grab me then it’s not go­ing to grab the reader, and we might as well all pack up and go home. It’s a dy­ing art, the in­tro, es­pe­cially on­line, thanks to Google’s tacit in­sis­tence that open­ing para­graphs should be tai­lored to search al­go­rithms first, and reader en­gage­ment sec­ond. The opener is one of print’s few re­main­ing lux­u­ries. It’s vi­tal we get it right.

This is a universal prin­ci­ple across all forms of en­ter­tain­ment. There is a rea­son, for in­stance, that Bond flicks start with an ac­tion se­quence. It’s crit­i­cal that games get it right, too, or so you’d think. But even at the cut­ting edge of in­ter­ac­tive en­ter­tain­ment, a strong open­ing is less com­mon than it re­ally ought to be. The first cou­ple of hours of

Marvel’s Spi­der-Man, which we re­viewed last month, seem to be set­ting the stage for an ab­so­lute stinker, sug­gest­ing a generic open­world game ter­ri­fied to stray from the genre tem­plate and hop­ing the star power of the chap on the box will carry it over the line re­gard­less. It is Spidey, yes, but a Spidey con­fined to open-world busy­work, Pipe

Ma­nia puz­zles and Arkham fisticuffs. This month I made it per­haps ten min­utes into Shadow Of The Tomb Raider be­fore switch­ing it off for the night and, most likely, for good, af­ter push­ing up on the stick for a bit and mash­ing out a few QTEs be­fore be­ing told to walk very slowly through a mar­ket­place. As­sas­sin’s Creed Ori­gins took an aeon to get into gear, God Of War needs a good few hours be­fore it shows its true colours… on and on it goes. When was the last time a game grabbed you in the first five min­utes, and re­fused to let you go?

There are ben­e­fits to bury­ing the lede, cer­tainly. Grand Theft Auto V quite pur­pose­fully set its open­ing in a very dif­fer­ent place to the sun-parched Los An­ge­les re­make that ev­ery­one bought the game to do mur­ders in. This month’s cover star pulls a sim­i­lar trick, too. But there’s a pur­pose to that, a sub­ver­sion of player ex­pec­ta­tions that only builds an­tic­i­pa­tion for the magic mo­ment where the de­vel­oper pulls back the cur­tain to re­veal the game proper. I don’t think Tomb Raider, with its stodgy mar­ket­place stroll, or Spi­der-Man, with its cur­ren­cies and starchy lab coat, can pre­tend to be do­ing that. God Of War re­mains near the top of my pile of shame, but the con­stant cries of ‘it re­ally opens up af­ter five or six hours’ mean the disc never quite finds its way into the tray. Can’t it do that straight off?

The only plau­si­ble an­swer for why this is such a re­cur­ring theme is that games are just too big. In the era of games as ser­vices where every­thing is an RPG – the new As­sas­sin’s

Creed’s 100-hour run­time is sup­posed to be an in­cen­tive, I think, rather than a de­ter­rent – maybe it’s un­der­stand­able that in­tros have taken a back seat. Devel­op­ers are think­ing about what we’ll be do­ing in hour 90, and as a re­sult have per­haps taken their eyes off the ball when it comes to hour one. But there has to be a balance: the prob­lem with play­ing for ex­tra time and penal­ties is that you might con­cede a goal in the first five min­utes. Per­haps your game is bril­liant af­ter 50 hours, but if it’s rub­bish af­ter 15 min­utes all your good work has been for nought, be­cause I’m play­ing Des­tiny again in­stead.

This, ad­mit­tedly, comes from some­one with the lux­ury of not need­ing a re­turn on my in­vest­ment, be­cause I get most of my games for free. If you’ve ponied up £50 for a 100-hour game, you’re more than likely to be pre­pared to push on through a poor be­gin­ning. But I was struck by the ini­tial re­cep­tion to Spi­der-Man on the fo­rums I fre­quent; for the first day or so af­ter launch all I saw was com­plaints about how bog­stan­dard the whole thing felt. That changed af­ter a cou­ple of days, but how many po­ten­tial day-one pur­chasers were put off?

For once, I’m not en­tirely sure what the an­swer is, and I think it may just be a re­flec­tion of where the medium as a whole – or at least the big-bud­get end of it – is at right now. If your fo­cus as a de­vel­oper is on giv­ing the player a means to ex­press them­selves freely in a vast, non-lin­ear game, you are by def­i­ni­tion aban­don­ing the con­cept of pac­ing. But the one area devel­op­ers re­tain ab­so­lute con­trol over is the very start of the game, where ev­ery player is at a com­mon ground zero. I hope things im­prove soon. If things con­tinue as they are, I’m afraid we’re go­ing to have to start talk­ing about a kill fee.

When was the last time a game grabbed you in the first five min­utes, and re­fused to let you go?

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