Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Containment Protocols

There are few game concepts as disgusting as alternate-reality, and I dread the spreading infection from this self-congratulatory fad through computer games. "Alternate" reality? That's a game. Polluting that alternate reality with real-world tangents is not alternate. This imbecilic doublethink deserves no recognition or consideration, should be given no mercy or quarter and should be eliminated from the game industry. But let me backtrack a bit.

A game should always be self-contained. Ideally, all a player should be allowed to input is personal intellectual (and to a lesser extent physical) ability. I will not bother explaining or justifying this demand, except with one word: fairness.
By the same token, the external world should not impact the game. One does not play a rousing samba during a tennis match. Your little brother knocking over the chess board cannot be said to be participating in the game. The Ace of Base song playing over the radio is not a part of the poker game. Computer games are games. They are activities in themselves, worlds in themselves, separate from the disgusting pile of trash commonly called "reality." To purposely allow meatspace to invade such escapist fantasies is sacrilege. Making a virtue of such sacrilege is just plain stupid.

I got started on The Secret World's latest batch of content. They must've read my last post, because these are in essence exactly what I demanded: more single-player adventure-game styled story missions, more of what TSW actually does well. The "Sidestories" content so far, though low-budget, seems decent in terms of writing. Unfortunately it moves even further from game content into mere social interaction. Clues are buried so nonsensically deep that they are obviously intended to be solved, once again, via herd mentality and not individual perspicacity. Having you count your character's footsteps is a nice gimmick and would have been entertaining for say, ten or twenty steps. But hundreds of steps? This is blatant cheat-sheet fodder.

However, the most aggravating and worrisome development is the expansion of TSW's reliance on external sources. From the start, the game forced you to search for various tidbits online, occasionally sending you to fake websites which contained mission clues. This is the sort of narrow-minded fad gimmickry which makes old movies like The Invisible Man so painful to watch. Kids today likes them that "internets" thang, right? Well, then, let's make it clear we're one with the spirit of the age. Let's keep reinforcing the fact that this is an Internets game. Keep sending them out to the internets to look at internets stuff. Make them use that edgy new technology.

It's cheap. It's gratuitous. It's ridiculous. There is no information which you convey through a fake website which could not have been included in the game itself. The game is the world and all information pertaining to that world should be contained within it. I simply cannot fathom the mentality which drools at the idea of being forced to watch last night's news to get a clue for an in-game mission. If you want meatspace content, stay in meatspace. If you want to interact with "real" people, go to the park.

The very first mission chain in Sidestories began throwing the player into so-called alternate reality content. It gives you a phone number to call. A real phone number with a voicemail message giving you the mission clue. This is not clever. It is idiotic to ask me to make a transatlantic call when you could have recorded the same message in-game. Another clue is contained in a bar code. You have to scan it yourself. Very nice idea, but then you have to give me bar code scanners as in-game items, not make me have to print the damn thing or however else I was expected to have it read. There is no excuse for making me leave your product to play your product.
Even at its most basic, this alternate reality concept is utter tripe. If I have to take notes in your game, then my character should have a notebook. If I have to make phone calls, then give my character a cellphone, don't ask me to run up my phone bill calling England.

You know what? Forget specifics. There are endless examples of such cretinous need to feel "connected" while playing a game. Voice chat is a prime example. Publicly posted achievements are another. But it is inexcusably moronic. It is sick. To force the player back into the world he seeks to escape through your game is sick. The human world is a disgusting ape-infested pile of shit and games exist to provide activity external to that pile. Once you jack in, the outer world should not exist until you decide to jack out again.
That is all. No compromise. No excuses. Provide a full product, an immersive, all-consuming stand-alone experience, not a browser extension.
And knock it off with your idiotic Orwellian newspeak. This-reality is not alternate-reality. It is in fact, quite the opposite. Show some damn imagination and abandon the human world. Separate yourself from yourself.

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