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Beat Your Game to Death

Ray Huling | 30 Dec 2008 13:21
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The Meaning of Schwag
The first run of Devil May Cry 4 included a small hardcover art book. A couple of months ago, Tecmo released a documentary on the making of Ninja Gaiden II. You cannot produce promotional items like this for Bejeweled. This schwag is meant to show us that these games have real depth.

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The NGII documentary is largely embarrassing. It shows scenes of Itagaki and the boys of Team Ninja, Tecmo's crack commandos of programming, swilling beer in a bar lined with Iron Maiden posters and arguing over which enemies to include in the game. Alert readers of this publication know that many members of Team Ninja, including Itagaki, recently resigned from Tecmo over bonus and overtime pay disputes. In the film, we see Itagaki earning his money: Slouched in a chair, looking through sunglasses at an alpha build of NGII, he says, "It would be cool to have bats up there."

The Art of Devil May Cry 4 consists mainly of screenshots from the game, some taken from early in its development. But it also offers watercolor concept illustrations of the game's two protagonists, Nero and Dante, along with mechanical breakdown drawings of Nero's weapons. Nero's sword, the Red Queen, has a motorcycle-like throttle on its hilt and a hand guard shaped like a brake lever. You can actually rev up the sword in the game, a feature that elicited many a cry of "bitchin'!" from Devil May Cry fans. In this book, we learn that revving the sword actually jets some terrible inflammable liquid all over Nero's opponents. Totally bitchin'!

But is it really informative?

Maybe. The description of Nero's sword as a sort of flamethrower in its revved attacks may give us a glimpse into the collision detection of certain moves in the game. After reading the book, I can go back to DMC4 and see if the Red Queen sends out a wave of damage when throttled, extending my reach.

Similarly, Itagaki's thoughts on enemy placement can also inform my play. Memorizing enemy positioning becomes increasingly important as you progress through Ninja Gaiden II's difficulty levels. It may help me to beat Master Ninja mode if I understand Itagaki's notion of game design coolness.

This schwag helps us play, which is not what it ought to do. Schwag ought to seduce us into buying the game. The stuff above, like Mission Mode, actually caters to people already obsessed with these games. The industry needs to learn how to leverage these people, not merely give them junk or squeeze their billfolds. Here's the lesson: Hardcore players make the greatest schwag of all.

The Seduction of Obsession
No marketing effort by Capcom turned me on to Devil May Cry. That distinction belongs to The Hand Vs Eye, a game video site maintained by the immensely talented and somewhat mysterious "Gemasis Sydawn."

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