Guilty Pleasures

Guilty Pleasures
The Cellar of Shame

Ronald Meeus | 16 Dec 2008 12:59
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What exactly went wrong here? What are the fundamental mechanics behind a shameful excuse for a videogame? Why do projects stay greenlit, even if the budget, the early test versions and the scheduled development time all point to the obvious conclusion that a release would merely provoke the disgust and ridicule of an eager army of reviewers? I got no answers from the developers behind these games, several of whom I fruitlessly contacted. I could only surmise that the pain of being savaged by the critics and the public runs very, very deep. "Do you kick people when they fall over?" replied Matt Falcus of Atomic Planet Entertainment, the development studio behind the Miami Vice game, to a kind and diplomatic e-mail.

It's often impossible to point out a single element behind the failure of a game. Instead, it's typically a combination of reasons, and most of them are intertwined. Lack of budget means shorter time-to-market and less talented people on the development team. Bad ideas forced upon a reluctant team create unmotivated developers, rushing the production in the hopes of a more sensible follow up. No one makes bad games on purpose.

But some developers seem to try. I'd wager the American studio Stellar Stone made an intentional effort toward this end in 2003 when it released its PC game Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing through a budget subsidiary of Activision. It succeeded in becoming the worst videogame since Metacritic's inception in 1999, with a score of eight percent. The developers of the game failed to incorporate the single most basic element in any videogame since the days of Spacewar! and Pong: collision detection. You can drive your truck through any object in the scenery without encountering any resistance. You can even drive your truck up a mountain!

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Big Rigs has a prominent place in my videogame collection and is now my primary stop for some serious cringe gaming. You should try it for yourself: It's hilariously miserable. It's the videogame equivalent of cringe classics in other media like The Simple Life or Caddyshack II. And there's more on the way: Stellar Stone notes on its website that it's working on an online multiplayer version of Big Rigs, along with E.T. Online 2, a sequel to a failed MMOG based on the de facto worst game of all time: the Atari 2600 game E.T. If it's good enough to fill a New Mexico landfill, it should provide a lifetime's worth of cringeworthy moments.

Ronald Meeus (ronald.meeus@skynet.be) has no taste whatsoever in videogames.

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