By Dan Saipher | Think Pieces | February 3, 2011 |
By Dan Saipher | Think Pieces | February 3, 2011 |
Video games used to be ostracized by the mass marketing landscape. If you were really trying to keep up, you had to dole out a subscription to Electronic Gaming Monthly, maybe even slice open the plastic packaging to five-finger discount the demo discs from PCWorld while no one was looking. And if you were the local king of the video games nerds, you might still have a small burning recess, back behind your occipital lobe, unable to comprehend Famitsu’s inability to give Super Mario 64 a perfect rating.
Video game movies? The depth of their collective suck can be best summarized by an average Tomatometer rating of 11%.
Double Dragon: 0%
Resident Evil: Apocalypse : 21%
Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li : 4%
Resident Evil: Extinction : 22%
Mortal Kombat: Annihilation : 7%
Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life : 24%
Postal : 8%
Resident Evil: Afterlife : 25%
Wing Commander : 11%
Silent Hill : 29%
Street Fighter : 13%
Resident Evil : 34%
Super Mario Bros. : 14%
DOA: Dead or Alive : 34%
Hitman : 14%
Mortal Kombat : 35%
Max Payne : 16%
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time : 36%
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider : 19%
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within : 44%
Doom : 19%
Average Rating 11%
Commercials advertising games, across all platforms, were largely non-existent moments of novelty for kids. If you take a peak over at http://gameads.gamepressure.com/, their timeline only has footage from 60 video game advertisements in 2002, escalating to about 1,500 submissions for 2010. The internet is, predictably, the catalyst for this growth. Providing for not just forums and online magazines, the web is a river for the industry’s Poseidon-like machinations to course a flow of information and teasers and trailers and game details. Just as no movie trailer is going to show you the weakest lines and the jokes that fall flat, video game developers tease us with high-quality clips from cinematics, which in no way represent in-game footage. The industry boomed as Microsoft released the Xbox on us, and ever since we’ve been living in the post-Halo era. “Shooters” are what Americans go for, and even if you haven’t played the games you know the ads for Call of Duty, Halo, and the like.
A game like Dead Space 2 should stand entirely on the previous iteration’s merits. The first game’s Metacritic (Tomatometer for video games) rating is in the upper 80%, and it has broken 2 million total sales. It was a nerve-racking exercise of survival-horror in space, with a damn creepy and grim atmosphere that would make Ellen Ripley shudder. If you start off describing the game as “Resident Evil on a spaceship,” you could further foil out the individual factors to the following film slices: one part Aliens, a few parts The Thing, dash of Event Horizon, and maybe a little Outland if you’re not yet full.
The mini-revolution we’re seeing with the build-up to Dead Space 2 (and similar games) is the flooding of various types of social and static media. Oddly, for a game of serious tone and adult nature, the marketing campaign is quite tongue-in-cheek; different cuts of middle to late aged women disgusted and united in disproval from the bloody frights of the game. The website you are directed to is the aptly named “YOURMOMHATESTHISGAME.COM.” But what is this saying about the expected quality of the game? There’s no mention of tight mechanics or outstanding visuals, let alone the award winning atmosphere and design of the first game. Your interest is predicated on shock value rather than established critical success. Even the recent ads for The Rite point out that Anthony Hopkins is an Oscar-winning actor. Why does the game itself matter so little? Why does the concept of parental disgust outweigh quality?
Dead Space is a game which suffers because it doesn’t pander to the most influential gameplay mechanic of this generation, and this is multiplayer. Where games used to be all flash and graphics, it’s now about how many people you can keep parked in front of the screen shooting other people’s avatars in the face. Smart, fresh games often fall by the wayside when they don’t incorporate an online, mass-player element. While many are certainly successes (everyone knows what Grand Theft Auto is), more inventive fare like Valkyria Chronicles and Okami struggled to break the most modest of sales number. Without a strong multiplayer element, it’s almost like trying to imagine a football team without a home stadium, or a high school class educated through a television screen. Is it because of this lack of multiplayer the producers felt the need to connect to consumers on such a base and reactive concept (gore)? Is this the only way to sell a game that can’t park four friends on Xbox Live for 6 hours at a time?
So, despite high anticipated sales, Dead Space 2 seeks to penetrate as many different markets as possible. Two animated films, two comic series, and a science fiction novel have expanded the game universe without having to spend the first act of the aforementioned sequel in explanation. Not two days ago I downloaded the iPad app, a fully-fleshed out game that serves as a prequel for Dead Space 2 (as well as a catalyst for my damn nightmares…). Video games can do this because of the customers that they are relying on; highly internet mobile and dedicated individuals, the next generation of “nerds” and “geeks.” They are not the type of people who will follow a movie or a television show with previews in Entertainment Weekly. No, but they’ll fill up a shelf under the television with DVDs and comic compilations, posters on the wall and collectible figures next to the computer monitor. Look around your own place; what sorts of merchandised items have you bought in connection with a game, movie, or TV show?
You might tuck away those commercials for Dead Space 2 as nothing of note, but this won’t be the last time you’ll see the visage of main character Isaac Clarke. The next leap for a franchise such as this, already considered a possible “tent pole franchise,” is a move onto the big screen. Where video games were once muddled messes of cartoonish characters and anthropomorphic vegetables getting bounced on, Dead Space already comes with an extensive portfolio of artwork, set illustrations, and historical background. Camera angles and cinematography can be parallel to what has already been done in-game, and you have a built in audience that can be quickly translated into cinematic success. If one movie tickets costs ten dollars, and the two million people who bought the first game turn out for the movie, you are starting at around $20 million dollars in ticket sales. Not a bad start.
And besides, Sam Worthington’s always kicking around for new projects.
Dan Saipher is cocky enough to think he can get out of any situation with psycho killers wielding rudimentary cutting tools, but still doesn’t like watching Aliens alone at night