Fear and Loathing in Las Trailers

So let’s talk about anticipation today.  For my entire life, I’ve been one who always eagerly anticipates upcoming events with great glee, sometimes to the point where I spend far too much time thinking about them.  When I was a kid, I used to plan our family vacations in my head — what I’d pack, what I’d do on what days, etc., — extensively.  I’d even look forward to going back to school and start obsessing over classes and new gear and whatnot.

Through all of this, I’ve learned one overriding fact: When you’re anticipating something heavily, what actually will happen will always be different in some way than how you imagine it.  It doesn’t mean it’ll be worse (or better), just different.  Like my wedding day — no matter how I imagined it would be, the reality of it was far different (and insanely quick).  Great day, but there’s no way that what I imagined, even with a lot of advance knowledge and planning, would be reflected in real life.

See where I’m going with this on a MMO blog?  We anticipate upcoming titles, we take what information devs feed us, and we imagine a lot.  It’s not a bad thing — it’s even part of the fun.  It’s just that when we see the game in actuality and get our hands on it, it can be a jarring transition between what we envisioned and what actually is.  This is why some caution you not to buy into the hype, or to keep your expectations in check, and so on.  It’s not to say that you shouldn’t anticipate something, just that you should resist building it up into the be-all, end-all experience in your head.

So when a company releases first-look gameplay, I’m used to seeing a lot of disgruntled folks who are feeling the bumps of this transition.  Heck, I’ve felt it myself, especially when I finally got into the WAR beta after anticipating it for so long.

We were talking in chat last night about the released footage someone took of the GW2 demo.  Not the best quality of video, to be sure, but it’s already caused a lot of discussion ranging from “DOOOOM!” to “AWESOME!” in those awaiting ArenaNet’s next title.

Me?  Generally I liked it.  I agree that the outlines are a bit distracting, but it looks and sounds great overall.  But I was talking to a friend who was just dismayed by it — she’d been following and combing over all of the GW2 preview info with an unmatched fervor, and this video did not stack up to expectations.  The damage numbers were too big, the UI not minimalistic enough, and the notification of events happening nearby was “immersion-breaking”.  There’s just a ton of buildup behind this game, and perhaps it’s better that ArenaNet start showing off the actual game before people start thinking of it as perfect and all things to all gamers.  Still, that transition between the imagination/PR and actuality can be a rough ride.

On a bit of a different tack, there’s the recently-released space combat trailer for TOR (this is more of a trailer that uses gameplay snippets rather than uninterrupted play).  This stirred up a lot of controversy as well.  For the longest time, nobody knew if BioWare was even thinking of a space part of the game, nevermind space combat.  Then word came out that it would happen, and people instantly brought to bear a crapton of expectations before BioWare could even lay out the details.  Then BioWare tells them it’s going to be an instanced “tunnel shooter” that takes place at hotspots in the game, and people flip their lids.

This I get less than the GW2 thing.  First of all, BioWare never promised space combat of the SWG/X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter free-form variety.  People just assumed, mostly because we want everything.  It’s not a case where they can get mad at BioWare for going back on their promises, but instead getting mad that BioWare wasn’t creating the exact game features they imagined.  I think that puts BioWare in an impossible position to please.

And I also don’t get why this is a horrible way to handle this part of the game.  Remember, we didn’t even know if there was going to be space combat, so I thought that however we got it was better than not getting it at all, but apparently I’m a fool for thinking so according to some comments I’ve read (“I’d rather be dead and buried than BioWare release anything other than a full-fledge flight simulator!”).  Okay, maybe you just don’t like on-the-rails/tunnel shooters — if you don’t, that’s your preference, and that’s fine.  But I get the feeling that people are more mad what BioWare didn’t do than how they’re doing it, if that makes sense.

It’s like a spoiled kid at Christmas — give him an unexpected gift, and he just stomps his feet and tells you that you could’ve spent more, you could’ve done better.  There’s no pleasing that kid.  You kind of want to slap that kid around with a fish, even.

Anyway, there’s a lot to analyze in these trailers, if one is so inclined, just be careful to acknowledge that this marks one of the points where imagination and reality merge.  It’s better to yield to traffic than get in a wreck over it.

13 thoughts on “Fear and Loathing in Las Trailers

  1. Ryver August 18, 2010 / 10:07 am

    I finally clicked over to see the GW2 footage. I had been trying to wait until a official video was released instead of looking at a ‘bad’ recording. Personally, I like the interface. I don’t even find the outlines. It is very similar to the ‘standard’ circles at the bottom of mobs. If we can accept circles in our games, I think accepting the outlines for the same reason is not far fetched.

    Hopefully more videos of actual game play come out 🙂

  2. The Alien August 18, 2010 / 10:38 am

    I disagree with the spoiled child analogy. To my mind, a better analogy is amusement parks. A new amusement park is coming and people are excited, because they used to like one of the other amusement parks in town until it started sucking and the new one promises to have a similar theme.

    But some people were saying, “This sounds good, but I really liked the bumper cars at the old amusement park. That was awesome. I would totally go to the new one if it had bumper cars.”

    Some time later, one of the developers of the park gives a speech in which he says “And, for those of you who like cars, we’ll have that too!”

    “Yay!” say the above people.

    But then, a bit later, it is revealed that instead of bumper cars the attraction at the new park will be one of those where your car is on rails going around in a circle while you shoot at targets with a light gun. Not a bad ride, but not all what some people wanted.

    If I say “Star Wars space combat game”, what would your first reaction be? If you said, “Oooh! A collectible card game. I want a foil Millenium Falcon!”, then we probably just expect different things.

    Similarly, if you say your game will have “instanced dungeons” then for better or worse, most people are going to think of WoW-style instanced dungeons. When you later reveal you mean it will be like Darkness Falls from Dark Age of Camelot, except with the public area zoning ala City of Heroes, some people are bound to be disappointed.

    (I liked both CoH and DAoC. I’m not sure whether I want that particular chocolate to get in that particular peanut butter, however.)

  3. The Alien August 18, 2010 / 10:43 am

    Oh. And in case it wasn’t obvious enough, a key feature of the amusement park analogy is that, like MMOs, they tend to want a lot of money from you. Of course, an MMO subscription for a year is less than half the price of a Disneyland annual pass…and let’s not get started on the Disneyland “cash shop” for “food items”.

  4. PeterD August 18, 2010 / 12:03 pm

    Just because a feature wasn’t promised doesn’t mean it’s unfair for people to be unhappy when what is delivered is not to their liking.

    Most people who play MMOs like the freedom to explore and move their characters where and when they like. That’s part of the game being a “virtual world”. Thus, the average MMO gamer, when you tell them a game is going to have space combat, is naturally going to assume the space combat will have the same style of freedom as the ground combat — full control and the ability to move where and when you like. TOR space combat won’t have that, and so a great many people are unhappy.

    If you pay $50 for a box of random fresh produce and get told at the last minute, “hey, we’re throwing in a pie as well!” Because it’s produce you expect maybe an apple pie, which you love. Then you open it and find a cheesecake (which is technically a pie) you’re likely to be disappointed even thought the pie was “free”, and you might even like cheesecake under other circumstances. But man, you really wanted that apple pie.

  5. Yogi August 18, 2010 / 12:26 pm

    Great post Syp. I agree. I think a lot of gamers are “kids that should be hit with a fish.” Myself included sometimes 😀

    Why people ignore all the cool stuff in these trailers is beyond me. Im still excited.

  6. Yogi August 18, 2010 / 12:32 pm

    @peterD Your pie analogy demonstrates the problem perfectly. Its not the companies fault but the individuals own expectations of what they are getting. They set themselves up for the disappointment. Company is handing over bonus stuff and people are bumming because it isn’t the apple pie they assumed they would get. Sure everyone has the right to feel bummed. However, who wants to listen to someone complain cause their free pie wasn’t apple? Food for thought. haha.

  7. PeterD August 18, 2010 / 7:30 pm

    @Yogi — true enough. I think the disappointment is legitimate, but the ridiculous amount of whining and doom-calling is not.

    I personally don’t like the on-rails space combat. I am disappointed. I’m still looking forward to TOR more than any other MMO than GW2 (and maybe even more than that). Clearly the space combat is an “extra” rather than a core system, and I’m ok with that.

  8. Klepsacovic August 18, 2010 / 7:40 pm

    I wish it was more free form, but I’d have been far more disappointed if it wasn’t there at all. Maybe it’s better this way anyway, I imagine free form space combat would have been a major turn off for a lot of people since it can be so disorienting.

  9. Dblade August 18, 2010 / 8:04 pm

    Maybe if devs and fanboys wouldn’t constantly herald Bioware and Arenanet as the developers that will solve the problems of the current MMO generation you’d see less backlash.

    I don’t mind a rail shooter at all. If anything I wish they made a full star wars game based on it: I loved the Jedi Starfighter games back in the day, and I even enjoyed the Gummi segments in Kingdom Hearts 2. I don’t see much interaction with this in an MMO though.

    Arenanet-eh. I said my peace on the massively thread, and got rated into oblivion by the fanboys. Trailer sucked imo, very basic.

  10. Cedia August 19, 2010 / 7:32 am

    Great post. Yeah, I’m trying hard not to really buy into the hype about any of these big games that are in development, but I am keeping my eye on them.

    I also always root for the underdogs, though, which is why I’m really watching Rift: Planes of Telara.

    Learning to release all expectations in life is very hard, but a lot more necessary than most people think it is.

  11. Llokki August 19, 2010 / 8:42 am

    Looks like Bioware are doing a much prettier, 3D version of the flier missions they had in Jade Empire. Personally I’m fine with that. The gameplay video looked nice enough. For those that want free-form, there is always the chance they will release an expanded space combat experience in the form of an expansion pack, much like SWG did. Not sure why people are expecting TOR to launch with full free-form space combat, when the game they are comparing it to did not launch with space combat at all.

  12. Lukane August 19, 2010 / 10:48 am

    Great post Syp. Totally agree.

    The space combat topic is amusing. What is the difference between combat on rails and say, the barrens in WoW. I’ve leveled through that area numerous times and no matter how much I try to differ from the defined path that blizzard has laid out for me, I can’t without seriously hampering my leveling.

    Not to mention the fact that Bioware is giving us the “next big thing” and, oh by the way, they are throwing in a whole space combat zone for free! Definitely won’t see me crying about it. If I had a penny for every internut that says he is going to boycott the game, and then buys it on release day, I would go retire on an island (with SWTOR).

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