IGN First Look has been periodically posting delicious gameplay nuggets of the hotly anticipated No Man’s Sky, and while many have been wary to embrace the excitement for a procedurally generated, galaxy-scale open world exploration game (by the makers of cute little stuntman series Joe Danger), these gameplay trailers remove most doubts. At one point during the demo, the playtester lands his ship on a planet’s surface, but falls a few feet as he gets out. He turns around to see the ship has awkwardly landed directly on top of a small structure. Laughing awkwardly, game director Sean Murray says “That’s never happened before.”
Unexpected possibilities? Hype confirmed.
Due to their addictive nature and the growing magnitude and reach of the industry, video game releases are characterized by massive fan-hype, even more-so than in film. Gamers always look forward with great excitement to the next big thing. In some cases, gamers can be as responsible for a given hype wagon as the developers are guilty of embellishing the product. And publishers fuel that excitement with unfulfilled promises -- Aliens: Colonial Marines is a recent example. Touted features turn out to be pedantic, flawed, or simply absent. I think people have been disappointed by hype enough times that they must always question the implications of the so-called “gameplay trailer”, which more often than not are simply cinematic sequences shot to look as if they were taking place from the player’s point of view. We've essentially been trained to activate our 'bullshit detector' and question any hint of excitement for a very real possibility of betrayal. Due to the immersion and interactivity; videogames are experienced using a whole gamut of devices, the hype-cycle is fundamentally different from other forms of media. Reading a preview chapter of the next book in a series could never really be called hype, because it tends to be a literal, direct sample of the upcoming product. Movie trailers are cherry-picked, concentrated doses of the film to convey the attitude, actors, and themes to look forward to in the upcoming film. They can exaggerate or downplay parts of the full-length feature and even downright spoil the plot - but as a general rule a trailer shows us what we will eventually see.
Game-hype seems to be completely different. In this modern age of early access, public beta, season passes, and DLC, game trailers usually depict something only vaguely related to what ultimately ships. But gamers are beginning to catch on. A prime example, as most of us know, was the reveal trailer of Watchdogs all those years ago at E3. More disappointing than the graphical comparisons were the minute details that made the game seemingly next-gen. Ducking behind a car door and opening it to let out the innocent bystander caught in a crossfire was a fantastic idea. There was even an audible "get out, stay low" heard by the games 'protagonist.' Car tires popped and other civilians would help each other out of wrecked cars asking "are you ok? are you hurt...talk to me!?" When the game was released our expectations were erased completely. A new lesson began permeating, finally, into our conscious minds. 'Don't get excited for anything anymore...become an adult, get cynical about anything promised by any entertainment company. This is the way of things, I understand what it is to be an adult now." This was the beginning of Evadegismos ban on all pre-sale activities and the epitaph of our personal hype train.
A lie could also be disguised as a lush cinematic, the worst offender being the first Dead Island game. The trailer is in itself, such a work of art, so emotionally compelling, so inspired, that the run-of-the-mill zombie slaughterfest that ensued in the game itself seemed much, much worse by contrast. I think when games marketing takes its cues from other media, namely film, it tends to flop. What you are hyping when you’re selling a movie is drama and spectacle and quips and climactic moments. I don’t think these aesthetics are at the forefront of most gameplay experience. Of course narrative is important in any form of storytelling but game trailers should focus on the user interface, the gameplay mechanics, customization options, and character designs. Story-driven games should be held up more fully by the product itself than by all the window-dressings that are fluffed up on top to make it sale-able.
Anyway, so far in its pre-existent… existence, No Man’s Sky has graduated from hype for the idea, to hype for the real, hands-on gameplay. While this holds promise, it has raised my expectations high enough that I stand to be enormously disappointed. I want this game to push the boundaries of what games can be. I want it to redefine the concept of a shared, open world. If nothing else, this particular thread of hype has shown me what it is that I went in new and exciting video games. Perhaps hype can be used as a metric of gamer values.
Elsewhere on Evadegismos current hype list sits The Division, in the conceptual vein of Last of Us but with a greater emphasis on tactics than resource management. Early gameplay demos look a little too polished, with their sexy-sparse interface and incredible environment details, like intractable car doors, poppable car tires (yet again), and dynamic weather patterns. But one thing that Division’s hype campaign shares with No Man’s Sky is a certain emphasis on the development process. As first world culture gradually gravitates towards a preferences for artisanal, handcrafted quality in food, clothing, and decor, we become connoisseurs not only of fine products, but of production processes. We like to brag about where things come from and how they’re made, and this sensitivity seems to have reached the gaming industry as well. Sean Murray describes his perception of gameplay footage -- he sees the procedurally generated terrain for what it really is: a sprawling math equation. Meanwhile the second chunk of the Division trailer boasts the power of their custom-designed Snowdrop engine, and the loose corporate structure of the production company.
Games nowadays are made by people. Sometimes just a handful of exceptionally talented ones; they’re crafted. Maybe this new emphasis on design could prevent future hype trains from crashing so gruesomely. Despite a history of disappointment there is a faint hope always purring away in our imaginations. We all want to buy a train ticket heading for paradise with all of our friends on board, hopefully we get there in one piece.