Friday, May 16, 2008

Escape Escape Escape

Let's start at the beginning of the game.

Where they throw up all those Production Company Title Credits, one after another, each one its own little thirty-second animated text thingie where a robot uses a flashlight to spell out the words, and then a fish spells out the name of a company in bubbles, and on and on and on, instead of the way good movies do it, quickly and quietly, so as not to be too much of a distraction to the movie.

Sometimes the Production Company Titles are even flavored to the theme of the particular movie, in a really "good" movie (Matrix and the Warner Bros logo, for example), which just emphasizes how much more important the movie is than the production company.

And a thing like that also emphasizes how much effort was put into every little detail of the movie.

And its the little things like that, those little clues and cues and tricks, that tell the audience that a movie wasn't "rushed," too, y'know, so they're more willing to invest their attention into it and think that "maybe this is gonna be something of quality," instead of preparing themselves to forgive you for sucking so much.

But that's not how games do it.

Games are almost completely oblivious to all those subtle details (and training their audience to be, as well, because their audience is constantly required to forgive them for those failures).

And so we're already being trained to hit the escape key and the spacebar and enter at that point, before we've even gotten into the game, to skip some pointless distractions to our entertainment and a bunch of time wasting.

*escape escape escape spacebar spacebar spacebar enter enter enter* shit.

And then some CGI movie plays when you first log into a MMO, but its an ad for the MMO, and not a movie that has anything to do with your character, showing a bunch of characters doing a bunch of cool stuff that you can't even do in the game, like shoot anybody in the eye with an arrow.

*escape escape escape spacebar spacebar spacebar enter enter enter* goddammit I wish I COULD shoot somebody in the eye with an arrow.

And then, after all that "excitement," you are dumped at the Character Creation Screen, oh joy of joys, its MATH TIME, YAY, and your choices here are going to count on your Permanent Record, so you'll need to choose carefully, drawing on whatever wisdom you've obtained from the vast amount of information we've provided you with so far!

And sometimes they've got some movies you can watch about the different kinds of characters you can make in the game, and sometimes they don't, but all the oldbies know that they'll probably be totally out of date anyways after all the nerfs that happened in beta.

And then, once you are done making a character, there's a little cinematic bit like they have in WoW (and that's one of the best ones, its actually the only one I can think of that actually does it), but it turns out to be a crane shot with some narrator dude rambling on in a general way about the background of your race, which doesn't make any sense to you if you ain't already familiar with all the names he's dropping.

*escape escape escape spacebar spacebar spacebar enter enter enter* man why the hell should I care about the dark armies of princess yubbadubba? I don't even have any pants!

So far, you've done your best to train people to expect that you are gonna try to waste their time with a bunch of stuff that doesn't make any sense and doesn't matter to them.

You've trained them to think that your game is an idiot.

On one level, you could say that that war is what these games are all about.

So its really no wonder that we don't read the quest boxes, they're even worse than the movies, y'know?

That whole introduction to the game could be a lot different.

And I don't think you need to get rid of any of the parts, you just need to do them better.

Think about the movies and TV shows that have really good beginnings, even though they have to play a lot of credits or they'll get sued by the Union or whatever.

Think about how serious Kubrick took that shit in 2001 with all that music he made you listen to in the dark of the theatre to "clean your brain out" before it started, like a salad is supposed to clean your tastebuds before a meal.

Or Lucas actually preferring to get sued and be threatened to be shut down in order to be able to open his movies up exactly the way he wanted.

You know all of that was to protect the first couple minutes of his movie, right?

Or how about the horror movies that splash a bunch of creepy "clues" to the mystery ahead.

Or the ones that give you background on how the world got so fucked up with the zombies, with fake news footage and stuff, and some badass song playing in the background, which builds up the tension to lethal and frenetic levels, and then usually dumps you straight into some place where "its quiet, too quiet" so you know the rollercoaster is just getting started for you heh.

Actually, the "badly shot" news footage thing is a trick, its passive entertainment adding another layer of passive entertainment on to itself to make the experiences in the movie seem more "real" to you, that's that "illusion of an interactive experience" stuff right there, y'know?

And now that I think about it, the Fallout games were always pretty kickass with the "lead in" bits.

And its important to think about, just like the first page of a novel is important to think about, y'know?

Its sorta do or die, and its sets precedents and expectations and stuff.

What would really catch your attention is some passive background shit about your specific character, something that was actually interesting and useful to you.

And in a game (as compared to a movie), it could actually be a (sorta) randomly different collection of things for every guy, or something, y'know?

I'm not saying it needs to be all that or anything, I'm just throwing out examples of things that could be different, y'know, so that maybe you'll think of all sorts of other stuff that could be different.

And I don't think you need (or would want to) to use every trick in the bag no matter what kind of game you are making either, y'know, there's some that go good with certain things, and not so well with others.

And there's always gonna be people that like certain things and don't like certain other things, so you gotta know how to take the crabbing with a grain of salt, I mean, if you made me and a couple guys go "ugh" for a second but you made all the newbies happy for an hour, I think you did good, even though I was one of the guys that had to go "ugh" heh.

But the WoW craneshot thingie was no good to me, 'cause both me and Ex-B skipped through that as soon as we got lost in the narration about the "dark armies of Princess Yubbadubba" and whatever ahaha.

Because games are an interactive combination of all media, they can also be passive entertainment, anytime they want to, and switch back and forth between interactive and passive modes anytime they want to, y'know, like what we call "cutscenes" and stuff.

And so that's another thing you gotta think about.

And I think its good to start out with what people are familiar with, passive entertainment, and then use that to zoom into the world and dump them off at the first scene they get to screw with in the movie.

But you gotta do it well.

Like some badly shot news footage that zooms into some passive movie thingie that zooms into an interactive experience, that could be good heh.

And you can't screw up the first page of the novel before we even get anywhere, like with all those stupidly done production company credits, or you will have already trained us to skip the cutscenes and expect the worst.

Really the only thing you gotta do to do that well is think about why exactly you started mashing the escape key to break out of something, and not do whatever it was that made you do that heh.

And the "character sheet" for character creation is actually a pretty crappy place to dump players off first, instead of throwing them into the game as a "generic" guy that defines himself better through the action in the story (sorta like how Oblivion did it, hey, at least they were thinking about it heh).

Even the "avatar customization" type crap could done in the mirrior of the office bathroom (right after a bunch of daydream flashback imagery that gives you some background on your guy or something) before he or she goes back to his or her seat in the sea of cubicles right before the power goes out and the zombies attack the building or whatever.

Well, whatever, its definitely another thingie to think about, if you really wanna make something that's gonna be considered art in the end.

And there is a rule about the suspension of disbelief where the audience agrees to put up with the problems of your medium, but games tend to screw up pretty bad right in the beginning and totally mess up their end of the bargain there, those things aren't "problems with the medium," they're the fault of the artists, to the point where you aren't even an artist anymore, yer just a guy that made another "monster-whacking-loot-dispenser dollhouse clothes game," y'know?

And don't be mad at me if you try to do it and you mess it all up, nobody picks up a guitar and starts wailing away on it like Eddie Van Halen right out of the gates, but that don't mean that nobody should practice playing guitar heh.

And I'm sure everybody is all like, pfft, I know all this stuff, 'cause I know you losers already know all this stuff.

But why is it always so fucked up then?

Are you just forgetful or something?

Haha man I'm such a dick.

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