I don’t think there’s much more that needs to be said about Aliens: Colonial Marines. I mean, that was sort of the case even before my ZP went up. My review schedule being a couple of weeks behind usually works fine when I’m talking about games whose quality can be debated for a few weeks, but it tends to make me look silly when everyone immediately realizes that a given game is a fucking trainwreck the day it comes out. We live in an age of low attention spans and instant information, so when we get an undeniable and universally accepted bomb, it will bomb fast, and bomb hard.
Even without playing the game you could get an indication of its quality just by the way its many developers all started busily blaming each other after the first week or so, and in many ways, that was the most disappointing thing about the whole affair. I’m trying to champion games as an art form over here, and desperately passing around responsibility for any game, shit or otherwise, is not helping our case. Films were once dismissed as having no artistic value, just as games are today, because so many people worked on them. Eventually some film journalists managed to convince the world that a film is the product of the director’s single artistic vision. Which is still only debatably true, but it did the job.
I’m not naïve. Everyone knows that triple-A games are massive corporate enterprises developed by an average of twelve studios each, and a minimum of around ten individuals in positions to claim some kind of artistic ownership. But even bearing that in mind, indulging in a bit of blame-slinging right after the game has finally been pinched out is not a classy thing to do. In my day, you plastered on a false smile and stood by your product at the time. You take all the criticism gracefully and you let it inform your next project, and it’s only at that point when you can start badmouthing. You do this because (a) there’s nothing to be gained from burning bridges and (b) because there are always going to be seven or eight complete freaks who for some reason really enjoy your horrible game, and the last thing you want to do is tell them they’re wrong.
Abdicating from responsibility does have a bit of a Nuremberg Trials feel to it. It doesn’t matter that someone told you to set someone else on fire, what matters is that you were the one who lit the match and hid all the water buckets. And it doesn’t matter that someone else working on the same project shat the bed, what matters is that you didn’t notice that a bed had been shat in, or take the necessary steps to educate the culprit in non-bed-shitting and sheet laundering.
It’s in everyone’s best interests for videogames to adopt the notion that one auteur is in charge. In that case, if shit rockets bedwards, we know who to blame, and since that person knows that would be the case, they’re motivated to do everything they can to ensure the game’s quality. In theory, of course. Issues with the game that were beyond their control may still exist – as is often the case with the directors of films, too – but the perception of ownership is all that matters. When you start pointing fingers you give away that responsibility was divided, and therefore, there were loads of people who could have raised a hand and done something about the game’s obvious poor quality, but none of them could be arsed. And no-one comes out of that looking good.
Digressing for a moment, speaking of Aliens and ownership, this is a question that occurred to me in the wake of the Colonial Marines shitshow: who, exactly, could be said to “own” Aliens? In the same way George Lucas “owned” Star Wars and Gene Roddenberry “owned” Star Trek? Because I can just about narrow it down to Ridley Scott, James Cameron, Dan O’Bannon or H.R. Giger. Maybe this is the root of why Aliens as a property keeps getting misused. There’s no firm, fatherly voice telling it to stop slutting it about in every crossover it can get its spindly hands on.
For an industry that routinely demonizes both communist and former communist countries, videogame publishers certainly seem to be fond of communist thinking. You are not entitled to the sweat of your brow, after all, it belongs to the state. Or to the company, in this case. But it’s not enough for them to inflict filthy socialism over their employees, they’re trying to do it to us, the customers, too. It’s only been getting worse with the growth of multiplayer gaming and it shows no sign of slowing down with the next generation of consoles.
I know I teased last week that I wanted to get my rant on about the PlayStation 4, and specifically the concept of a dedicated Share button, but again it seems I’ve gotten to near the end of a column before getting around to bringing it up. It’s worth dedicating a bigger space to it (a video, say, once the Xbox 720 or whatever is announced and I can do Console Rundown 2: Emphasis on Run Down).
For now, suffice to say I continue to despise this notion of marrying gaming and social networking, because not only do I not care what games my friends are playing, I also do not expect them to give a tinker’s cuss about mine, and it’s tedious enough when Facebook walls get covered in Farmville updates while I’m trying to find the post about what bar we’re meeting at tonight. Do you know how many friends I have on the PSN? After having had the console almost since it came out? Two. One of which I added just last week when I found out they were playing Colonial Marines, and thought the experience might be easier if shared. For the most part there are very few people I know who are playing games on release and of those, none are playing during work hours, which I do, because it’s my work.
Oh but Yahtzee, you might say. You can use the “Share” button to post videos of your gameplay. That’s pretty much the same as those Let’s Play videos you love so much, and indeed occasionally create for your Youtube channel. Perhaps, but the vital aspect of an LP is that the creator has no vested interest in making the game look good. LPs are, at heart, a point-by-point criticism, ideally, and all Sony want this feature to be is free marketing.
Most baffling of all is the feature that lets your friends watch you play in real time, and even take control to play for you. That’s just perfect. I thought the same thing when Dead Space 3 let you use real money to buy upgrades – you remember games are supposed to be about challenge, right? I don’t feel like I achieved something if I needed to buy my way out. Or seek help from the fucking collective.
Your game progress is the property of the people, comrade. Now queue up for your loaf of bread.
Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn’t talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.