Humans are irrational, in a variety of ways. There are obvious examples of this all around – for instance your average gamer leveraging haughty complaints about the dearth of innovation in the industry, sounding quite impressive to the GameStop clerk, while purchasing a game ending in a number greater than three. I could dissert on such things, but I have never been one for the obvious as evidenced by the fact that I have yet to do a “Top ten breasts in gaming” column. Perhaps I have dashed your hopes for this week’s subject? There is always next week, dear reader.
A teaser. I expect you back next week.
But I digress. Today’s irrationality is based around relativistic perception. This is the age old adage, ’Art is in the frame.’ Sometimes presentation can mean more to our appreciation of a work of art than the work itself. Take your average girl. Put her in a Gap (or is that put her in a The Gap? An The Gap? Proper nouns should not start with articles), fawning over a new purse and most of you folks wouldn’t bat one eyelash. Stick a controller in her hand, a headset on her head, and serious shotgun skills in her brain, and suddenly she has become a thing both beautiful and rare, the stuff of which nerd beat poets shout to the winds on secluded, dramatic precipices. You know, if they were to go outside.
Other, more common instances occur. People frequently enjoy a drink more when it comes out of a fancier looking bottle. A frame and a tasteful light can transform a poster for The Wizard from pathetic to kitsch. And, in one of the most intriguing social experiments I’ve read in the past few years, the lack of a traditional opera house can turn violin virtuoso Joshua Bell into your average busker, to be hastily shuffled past while pretending to not have any spare change.
I’m not here to argue that it should or shouldn’t happen; only that it absolutely does.
While it may not seem it at times, those of us conceited enough to consider ourselves part of this trendy new games journalism thing can be humans too, from time to time. This subjects us to all your usual frailties, and perhaps a few extra of the physical sort. As it turns out, typing at 4am and transcribing interviews for hours doesn’t grant one the upper body strength it seems it should.
GYYYEARH I GOTTA BE BUFF TO CARRY ALL MY PULITZERS HRRRGH
Negative reviews abound for Onechanbara, a game involving zombies, katanas, and gratuitous shower scenes. Our review will be up for the game soon (wouldn’t you know it, also written by me), so I won’t get in to any judgments about the game as a whole. Furthermore, I’m not here to call out other writers on the internet. We all work hard and everyone’s entitled to their opinion. That, and calling out someone on the internet just seems so cowardly. It’s sort of like getting into an argument with a stuffed animal; you can reason out every word and nobody’s there to challenge you.
Regardless, what fascinates me about the reviews so far is how face-value they are. I certainly can’t blame them; Onechanbara does a fantastic job of trying to obscure as much fun from the player as it possibly can. This, combined with a front end and level of polish consistent with PSX games, does a very thorough job of convincing the player that there’s nothing in the game of merit (aside from undulating digital breasts, natch).
And yet, the game has a surprisingly deep combat system that can provide some real tactile gaming thrills. I’m not saying the reviews were wrong, because they reflect a real flaw in the game – the presentation is just plain awful. It will turn off players before they even learn about some of the game’s better aspects. Is this unfortunate? Sure. Are the players wrong for not being able to look past the wrist track marks and tracheotomy scars to see the hooker with a heart of gold? Not necessarily.
Presentation in a game can be just as important to a player’s enjoyment as the game’s actual content. Aside from the given example where this isn’t the case, there are several in which it is. The Persona games (3 and 4 at least) make up for a lack of real graphical prowess with a flashy and stylistic UI. The menus, colors, and character art give a sharp, stylish impression that easily supplants HD resolutions or super high-resolution textures. In the end, does it matter how the effect is gained as long as it is? The player is happy.
Sweet UI – the new gamer’s placebo
Beatmania IIDX is a music game from Konami that has been largely unchanged since its first edition in 1999. That’s ten years of releasing the exact same game over and over again with little more than new music and tweaking options. How can they get away with that? How do players not get tired of the same old same old? This series utilizes presentation in such a way to make each style seem new and distinct.
By merely using thematic unity, color schemes, and different menu design, they completely dodge the issue of needing innovation, and keep their user base happy and loyal. What’s the cheaper option in terms of development – coming up with a new-looking interface or developing an actually new play mode? Playing online would be great, as would some sort of create-a-character option. Yet I’m still just as satisfied to play the next game because it feels new and fresh, even though it’s really not.
The point here isn’t that games need to have cool-looking menus and no gameplay at all, only that designers should fully acknowledge the power of presentation on the perception of their audience. In an ideal world, a fun game will be fun no matter how you tell the player to press start. Unfortunately, the intangibles in a game can unconsciously convince a player that a game is quality or not before they even set to killing zombies, Nazis, zombie Nazis, or whatever politically safe fodder happens to be the order of the day. This is a powerful notion that, when harnessed, can dramatically alter a game’s reception and enjoyment.