180: The Cellar of Shame

The Cellar of Shame

Film, music and television all have their entries in the "so bad it's good" hall of fame. Why not videogames? Ronald Meeus chronicles his descent into the Worst Games of All Time.

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Why not videogames?

Cost - in my view - means that "cringe games" aren't "so bad it's good" but more like "so bad it's cost me £40".

When I was a kid buying a game was a few and fair between thing, often being results of munch hinted at christmas and birthday presents - when you finally get to the day, the games hype is built up so much more by the anticipation and when it turns out to be a dud it's simply dis-heartning.

Movies, music and tv shows don't have that price tag, a bad tv show doesn't cost you any more than the time you put into it (and the leccy bill) - music and movies are relatively low cost at around a week or so's pocket money (again, when i was a young un) so although it'd be annoying (imaging the crisps and sweets you could've had instead) it wouldn't be the crushing blow that a game that sucks was.

I suppose it's mellowed a bit with age - when I picked up my PS3+GTA IV combo the guy in the shop said I got Burn-out Paradise free, which was nice as I hadn't noticed, and that is a game so bad it's fun - though might be more because it was a bonus, if I'd've spent the £30 (imagine the booze and fags you could've had instead) I think I still would've felt more burned by it.

And it's not just the cost in dollars; time is a much more valuable commodity. A bad movie can be burned through in 90 minutes; a bad game will take at least 4 times that, and probably a lot more if you're determined to finish it.

One factor that needs to be taken into account: bad movies are enjoyed when you have others to share the pain with. Same goes for bad games. One of the best experiences I had was playing the piece-of-crap "Kings Quest 5" with my roommates back in college. Sure, it had high production values for the time - fancy graphics and well-produced music. But the horrible, idiotic, nonsensical puzzles and deeply flawed gameplay (having to sllllllooowwwwly navigate your dude across screen after screen as you backtracked your way around to try stuff out) made it infuriating. Having your friends around to hurl insults at the screen with you made it a legitimate pleasure.

We never did finish it, though.

All I know is, I want this game.

i played ninjabread man a little while ago and i really disagree that the levels are 'abominably hard.' there were a few tricky patches but nothing serious and once i realized the power of the shurikens increased the more enemies you killed with it, i could kill most enemies before they realized i was there. i completed it in about an hour and a half, it was a bad game and i doubt very much i'll play it again.i borrowed it off a friend so, luckily, i didn't waste £30-odd on a naff game. perhaps the bigest let down was that on the front cover he;s there brandishing two katana swords. in the game, he only has one. it could have been soo much better, as in, actually good.

The best thing about terrible games? For me, it's the reviews. I laugh uproariously every time I read a review of the latest complete dud. Reviewers take to these games on purpose, I think, to be able to fully stretch their literary muscles. A good review lambasting a bad game isn't very long as entertainment goes, but is often worth quite a few chuckles. Best part is, if you're reading it online, it costs next to nothing.

I think it's funny you mentioned Big Rigs being your favorite cringe game -- GameSpots review of it continues to be my favorite 'great review of a bad game'.

The reasons behind this are many fold:

Definition

Bad games are bad in the same sense a scratch CD or DVD would be on a film or soundtrack.

In other mediums, bad simply refers to a bad plot, bad story telling, poor acting unbelievable characters etc. The enjoyment comes from the programmes cringe worthy nature of what the user is experiencing.

In video games bad usually has a direct negative impact on the user to enjoy a given title. This doesn't make a game cringe worthy, it makes it frustrating and often difficult to play.

So the major obstacle is often the inability to experience the whole game. Other mediums do not stop you experiencing all of the content.

User Experience

Bad programmes can be enjoyed by almost anyone, bad games on the other hand are rarely something that you can enjoy with your whole family or even a large number of friends. You can't talk about them in idle chit chat with 'regular' people.

Expectations

Most films are about people or stories that are rarely completely out of the realms of possibility. Games are expected to be this way. You look at a films where someone shots one hundred rounds from a six shooter and it's just ridiculous but funny. Whereas in a game we just expect it. We expect there to be crates of ammo, health kits etc to just be lying around, it's the norm and often required for a games' longevity.

Take Commando; a film where the protagonist has the same sort of attributes as your average action video game character. Here, in a film, it is seen as ridiculous but funny because of it, in a game it would just be accepted as normal.

So bad that they're good

We do have games that are so bad that they're good. However, they're not necessarily bad in terms of gameplay. Yahtzee has almost made a career of pointing out ideas in games that are so bad that they're good.

Games like Ghost Squad and the Time Crisis series etc. They all have bad plots, unbelievable characters and more than cringe worthy dialogue, poor plots that don't really make sense but they are still enjoyable in their own way.

Development

Developing games is a difficult, expensive and time consuming business.

Shows like Deal or No Deal, Pop Idol etc cost very little; they often shoot multiple shows in a day, require almost no script and can be pumped out ready to air in about a day from the start of filming.

So film companies don't have to invest much in lots of these cheap shows until they find a hit. Games companies don't have that luxury, if you don't have a very skilled team or a decent budget you game will likely be quite bad. You have to pay significant amount to the console owners to have your game approved and you have to have the marketing power to push the units. It's often not worth the risk.

Conclusion

This medium does have games that are so bad that they're good but nowhere near as much as the other mediums. This is mostly down to the risk and costs involved in making games. Other factors that hinder the 'so bad it's good' effect are that both the user experience and expectations are completely different form other forms of media.

I don't think that much rationalization is necessary.

Bad games (and I mean Big Rigs bad) are out there, simply because there is a market for them. We have a guy here in Hungary (calling himself 'freddyD'), who makes videos about him playing horrible games, ranting and ridiculing them to ash. He has a blog called Rossz PC Játékok (Bad PC Games) at 'rosszpcjatekok.blog.hu'. He scavenges the bargain bins and dusty, hidden shelves of big stores for horribly awful games, and makes funny videos about them.

Guess what...thousands of viewers watch his videos day by day. He has his own fan club. Much like Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw, James "Angry Video Game Nerd" Rolfe, that Irrate Gamer guy and many others. The answer is simple: Hating on games became a trend. reviewers like hating on games, readers like to read gaming rants...what's not to like?

People like it, the reviewers like it, and the publishers like it, because after watching those awesome videos, some of the fans actually want to play those "shitty games".

It's not too far fetched, that some publishers and developers got around thinking "well, we couldn't finish the game, we have no more money/time/devotion/sanity left...so, we might as well aim for the "shitty games market", and at least get some cash back..."

And there are the others, who are going straight for the "well... if they like shitty games THAT much... let's give them some". Why, it's the perfect deal: you can, as a designer, ignore any and all errors you made during development, hell, you can even make intentional ones. As a publisher, you can churn out these "wastes of packagings" for about $3 a title, and you get marketing for free, you don't even have to do anything. The crap sells itself! HA!

Just my $0.02...

Bad games and bad movies do not have a 1 to 1 ratio. Bad movies only require that you watch them and evaluate what you see; bad games enlist you, demanding you do something - often frustrating - to progress. A few seconds of hilariously bad voice acting doesn't excuse the annoyance of horrible gameplay.

Don't see the point of this article tbh. We've all heard of Big Rigs and Ninjabread Man. We can all read Metacritic.

I've actually very rarely picked up a game that's considered to be bad, and when I do, it's completely deliberate, and it will be the worst of the lot - E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial for the Atari 2600 is the most prominent one of these.

There's a very good reason for this - I'm very selective when it comes to my games. It started for me when I played about ten minutes of a Tomb Raider 2 demo when I was a child. I found the experience so abominable that I swore then and there that I'd never pick up another Tomb Raider game again. My tastes have becoming even more selective since then, leading to the point where I've only bought two games which I thought were bad out of the dozens that I've purchased over the years, and I didn't consider these cases of "so bad, they're good" either.

Recently, I've even managed to avoid expensive mistakes with the likes of Spore and Mirror's Edge with a strong realisation upon seeing the near-complete game that I would not enjoy them. I quite simply do not buy bad games as a matter of course.

The downside to the popularity of "gaming rants" is that while it's okay to hate popular things (in fact, it's the Next Big Thing in terms of the "I'm going to be individual by doing the exact same thing every other "individual" person is doing" phenomenon), it's no longer okay to like unpopular things.

I think part of the problem with trying to enjoy bad games is that games, unlike movies or music, are interactive.

Any truly bad game is usually fundamentally *mechanically* broken in some sense: dodgy controls, glitchy graphics, collision issues, broken game mechanics, bad camera angles, you name it.

These things get in the way not of just achieving whatever the 'goal' of the game is, but in any proper analysis of the game itself. It would be like deconstructing a novel where the pages are blurry, listening to music interspersed with high levels of static, watching a movie where the lighting hurts the eyes and the movie is probably incomplete.

These things make attempting to play those games for any lengthy period of time an exercise in frustration, a test of your patience, and a general feeling that the system you are interacting with is broken. I suppose they can be playable for ironic amusement value for an hour, but this is a low standard indeed.

I liked the article, except for the part about Huey Lewis and The News. In an era of Casio keyboard pounding bozos, Huey Lewis was one of the few acts who still played real instruments. They had great saxophone, harmonica, jazz organ and guitar parts to their songs. Most of their songs were upbeat and positive which was a nice break from all of the social angst and hand wringing over the Cold War that was going on. They also had some serious songs that had a good message to them. Plus, Huey could actually sing. There wasn't any of that gutteral screaming nonsense like the heavy metal bands were doing them.

Hate on the bad games and movies mentioned in this article all you want, but leave The News alone. They were (and still are) great.

When I first saw the ads for elf bowling in Nintendo Power, I thought they were literally a joke. I thought it was a fake ad that NP had put in as a holiday thing. A while later I saw the games at EBgames and was blown away.

I was surprised to see how charitable the metacritic score for my 'cringe-worthy' gaming folly was. (64%)

Martian Gothic: Unification(PS) is one of the most ridiculously bad games I have played, occupying that magical overlapping zone of 'games that are awful' and 'games I will play'. I don't know why, but every now and again I come back to this game knowing full well how bad it is for another dose of its bizarre medicine.

... Just thought I would expose my secret shame of the digital realm.

i am amazed there were no sonic games on this list, but i think that a sonic game is 999999999999999999999999999999 times better than any other of those games. it would be so funny to see yahtzee review one of these games!!!

The choice is obvious. Diehard Trilogy for PSone. The one liners like YEA EAT THIS!!... AND WHAT NOT TURKEY!! as you "accidently" frag and gun down hostages is classic. Or the windshield wiping of bloodstains of your taxi in part 3. with the sam L. impersonations gone terribly wrong. "wut chu aimin fo does people!" Oh and dont forget the screaming burning people you scan through to enter your initials into the high score chart. And the designated victims for each letter that doesn't get picked incinerate b4 ur very eyes. Epic. epic. game. played that nonstop with a buddy of mine for like 4 hours straight. NEVER laughed so hard in my life.

 

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