Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Anticipated Disappointment

2009 is passing by at an extremely fast rate. E3 has just passed giving us a look at what we will be playing later in the year (and beyond) while gamers around the world are currently playing games like inFamous and Prototype. Others again are playing older games such as Resident Evil 5, Halo Wars and even Flower. I'm in this latter category, playing games in my collection that either come from the holiday rush of last year, or, from years previous that the industry has quickly forgotten. We move on fast in this industry and before we know it, we'll be in the holiday season once more where, despite caution to prioritise games this year, I still expect to be overwhelmed with the amount to play. This industry loves seeing the next big thing and while the future is bright, the past is colourful so it's disappointing that we don't spend more time focusing on it. But, we move on this way because we're habitual creatures and can't resist the hype. The discussion stemming from E3 alone proves this, and will continue to do so each and every year.

This is a good thing, though. The convention's insight into the future brought surprises, spectacle and excitement, and information on games we were already anticipating. For me, three games in particular cannot come soon enough: Assassin's Creed 2, Mass Effect 2 and, of course, BioShock 2. I loved the original games and can't wait to see their stories continued in the sequels. Like any fan would be, I'm eagerly awaiting the release of these games and jump at any piece of information I can find referencing them. I can't help it, it's how I've been brought up by the industry.

But it's the other occupants of this industry, the other fans of various franchises, that have been on my mind recently and whom are the subject of this post. These people are following the exact same trend I am and are anticipating whatever upcoming titles take their fancy. There is nothing wrong with it and I am glad they have something to look forward to. I see a problem, however, with the audience's anticipation for certain games and what their reaction to them will be. It just so happens that these particular games also happen to be the ones I've mentioned above.

All three franchises are pretty big names these days, but none more so than the inspiration for this blog's name, BioShock. The original game set in the underwater city of Rapture was both critically and commercially acclaimed, with fans enjoying multiple aspects including the experimentation with Plasmids and weapons; the exploration of the city; the implied history and the narrative. Naturally anticipation for BioShock 2 is high with everyone eager to return to Rapture, to see what is new while revisiting the familiar; as a fanboy of the game I too share this desire to get my hands on the sequel. But what I think separates me from a lot of these other people is that I'm looking forward to it realistically.

Speculation is rife about what will happen in the game, with people discussing how what has already been revealed will relate to what was experienced in the original. This discussion is fostering an excitement and level of expectation for BioShock 2 that, I think, will eventually end up in massive disappointment and perhaps as a result, backlash and maybe even hatred towards the game. This is an unfortunate, yet expected by-product of the insane hype that surrounds big-name titles before release. So why am I writing about it? Well, I think people are expecting BioShock 2 to be as impactful and effective as the original was by providing a story that continues on with the brilliance of the first game, giving new locations within Rapture to explore and fall in love with as well as new Plasmids, weapons, enemies and unexpected surprises around every corner. Arguably this is an understandable expectation, but to me this will only lead to disappointment for those who have such high expecations.

To be blunt, unless 2k Marin end up pulling something special off, BioShock 2 will be a disappointment. I'm not saying it won't be a great game because I'm sure it will be, but it won't be what everyone wants it to be and it's this that will unfortunately see BioShock 2's reputation be mixed, resulting in what will essentially be a love/hate game. I am, on the other hand, anticipating BioShock 2 with more realistic expectations. Sure, I want the game to be everything it can be and as good as the first game, if not better, but I have set myself up so that if this is not the case, then I won't be as disappointed as others will be. To put it simply, all I want from BioShock 2 is for it to engage and immerse me in the same way the original did; for me to be drawn right back into the allure of Rapture, to be entertained with the continuation of the story regardless of how much it relies on predictable, or not-so predictable plot twists and for me to still enjoy the experimental gameplay the series is (or should be) known for. If it can achieve this, then I do not care if it doesn't contain the "OMG" moments, or whether it's as successful as the original in terms of advancing the medium or whatever.

Basically, I want to return to Rapture and revisit a place that feels like home, a place that feels part of me and one I've missed ever since leaving in late 2007. What's the harm in that?

On a side note: it'll be interesting to revisit this post once BioShock 2 is released in late October.


ThrawnOmega said...

You've got a very Senican philosophy here.

All I want is for Bioshock 2 to have a story of the calibur of the first. I actually don't care about gameplay advances. It's good story or bust. For me, Bioshock's gamplay was far from revolutionary. In fact, the shooting was somewhat below par for a first person shooter.

What made Bioshock so incredible was how well realized Rapture was, how fleshed out the story was. Bioshock had the balls to tackle some heavy moral and philosophical themes in a SHOOTER, the genre known for leaving you brain at the door during gameplay. That is how it showed the world games can be art.

If Bioshock 2 lacks the philosphical drive that defined the first, then it will forever be in my mind a sell-out to the game industry's need for sequels. I don't need gameplay tweaks. I don't WANT the multiplayer... just give me a compelling story. That's all I ask.

CrashTranslation said...

Curiously I was getting a distinctly different impression of the general response to BioShock 2. From looking at the comments on places like Shacknews and Rock Paper Shotgun and listening to media coverage, especially from 1Up, it seems most people have low expectations of BioShock 2. The overwhelming sense I get is that it’s a game that didn’t need a sequel and that whatever they are doing is sure to turn out badly. I've started to wonder if the extremely careful manner in which 2K are revealing information has been designed to try and lower expectations. Very little of substance is known about BioShock 2 and the showing at E3 was minimal at best.

I don't expect BioShock 2 to have the impact the original did but there are a number of reasons, specifically related to the people known to be working on it, that lead me to suspect it will be far more "interesting" title we might have been led to expect. I’ll admit I’ve not been keeping up with posts around here recently, so if you’re mentioned him previously I apologise, but I recommend taking some time to look into the past work of the Creative Director of BioShock 2 Jordan Thomas. It should be clear than anything coming from the mind of the man who brought the world the Shalebridge Cradle is going to be something very different from a “sell-out sequel”.

Steven O'Dell said...

@ThrawnOmega -- I agree with you. BioShock was all about Rapture for me and the things that come with it: the main story about Ryan versus Fontaine, the beginnings and foundations of the city, its history, the insight into other citizens of the city via the audio logs, the design of the actual city, the whole objectivism thing -- All of it combined to make an enthralling experience that, in my view at least, cannot be found anywhere else.

I might not have suggested as much in the post however, as I was trying to cover all aspects of the game for the varying players out there who enjoyed it for various reasons, which does indeed include the experimental gameplay.

If BioShock 2 can immerse me into the world of Rapture like the first game did, using all the assets I mention above and plenty more, then it'll be a successful game in my eyes.

@CrashTranslation (Justin) -- It's been weird actually, talk (and thus anticipation) about the game has been quiet, yet at the same time people are starting to get excited about it. On the quiet front, it has (like the other two games I mentioned, actually -- maybe not AC2) kind of gone under the radar while everyone focuses on games like Uncharted 2 and even Scribblenauts. I wonder if this is for what you mentioned, that 2K Marin have been keeping the majority of information on the game close to their chests, as well as the fact that it was the multiplayer that was shown at E3 rather than anything single player related. I'm also curious to know if 2K are keeping quiet on it not to lower our expectations, but because they know they've got something special and would like us as a community to respond once we've finally had the chance to play it and see for ourselves.

Regardless of what 2K are doing, and what we know or find out in the lead up to release, I focused on the game because of the popularity of the first; it was the most talked about game of 2007 alongside Portal and there were many different subjects that people got excited (or disappointed) with. Because of that, it's easy to assume the sequel is going to be highly anticipated by everyone who enjoyed the first and because of how acclaimed the original was, I can't help but see people be disappointed with the final product come October.

As for Jordan Thomas, I've only just started finding out about his work (I believe he worked on Fort Frolic in the original game, my favourite level) so I'll admit I don't know too much about him, but if he and a few other key people are working on it then I agree with you, it will be more interesting than we've been led to expect so far. As I said at the bottom of my post, I think it will be interesting to see how people react to the sequel once it is released. Here's hoping it's a positive reaction and not a negative one...

By the way, thanks for stopping by Justin.

Michelle said...

I must firstly say that I haven't actually played Bioshock yet (still... I know I know..)

But I can add this much.

Game hype will only affect your opinion of a game if you let it. If I am really anticipating a game I will read or watch nothing about it, and try to keep the information I do here to an absolute minimum, I like to play games I know that I would otherwise enjoy completely blind.

You know you're going to enjoy certain games, so why spoil it for yourself by combing over every unique detail that gets teased out?

Steven O'Dell said...

Michelle, I see your point but it's such a complicated (or at least, it is for me) thing to judge.

Hype is both a good and bad thing for this industry, on one hand we have games we know we are interested in and all the pre-release information, screenshots and trailers are appetizers (if you will) before the main course, teasing our excitement until we can release it. This can, as I outline (though with a slight tangent) in my post, lead to disappointment because expectations are set too high. On the other hand however, hype can get one excited about a game that might not otherwise be on the radar, due to some positive impressions in a preview or something along those lines.

For me specifically, I would like to impose a media blackout on myself for certain games, the three mentioned in my post in particular, but everytime I attempt such an idea I eventually give in to the temptation and read/watch whatever I can about the incoming title. That's a choice on my part and one I'm responsible for, but at the same time it feels like I have in some ways been trained to be 'that' way, in the sense that the industry relies on the news/previews/reviews structure so much that to consider or use anything else will only hinder personal gain until the industry comes around a bit more. It's starting too, I believe, with blogs becoming popular and etc, but we've still got a long way to go yet.

At least thankfully for me I can be weary of my expectations due to the observations I've had of other people. Whether it benefits me in the end remains to be seen.

Matthew Kaplan said...

Again, you've captured my thoughts exactly. I think Bioshock 2 will be a dud, and the most telling sign of this is that it has taken four studios to get the project to launch.
It stinks of rush-job, and Hollywood-style cash-in.

Doesn't mean I won't still play it...

Steven O'Dell said...

Matthew, the four studios thing is rather odd though I don't think it will be too relevant to the game's success or failure. 2K Australia worked on the original game so they would know what they're doing, while 2K Marin has quite a lot of people (including Jordan Thomas, creator of the Fort Frolic level among other things) who worked on the original game. While it's debatable as to whether BioShock is a game that needs to have multiplayer or not (personally I don't think it does, but I'm interested in what they do with it anyway), I do think having a separate studio working on it is a good idea. It hopefully means the single player is given the time that it needs to hopefully continue the quality of the first game, and the fact the developers behind the multiplayer portion are reasonably experienced with multiplayer games is something that also will hopefully mean it will end up being a fairly competent addition to the game/franchise.

That said, the keyword in all of this is hope -- right now as a (admittedly biased) fan of the original game, I (we?) can only hope that BioShock 2 (I wish they kept the Sea Of Dreams subtitle) is at the very least as enjoyable as the first game. In the meantime, it's sad to see people setting far too high an expectation upon the game, as I outlined in the post. Thanks for stopping by. :)