Welcome back to Bitmob’s Hit or Miss Weekend Recap, where I’ll take an opinionated look at a few of the biggest stories of the week. Or the silliest. Or the stories that I just happen to have something to say about. It’s a surprise every weekend!
This week: Activision acknowledges reality and accepts that Brütal Legend is not a Guitar Hero clone; Activision bewilders reality and announces a port of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare for the Wii; a surprisingly dexterous kid figures out the only possible thing more impressive than Spock playing 3D chess; and at least one humble argument for why Atomic Game’s Six Days in Fallujah deserves to be made.
If you haven’t kept up with this insane story, here’s a quick recap:
First, Activision sued Double Fine earlier this year in an attempt to claim that Activision still had the rights to publish Brütal Legend (already pretty crazy). Then Double Fine showed exactly why they’re the type of developer to make a game as metal as Brütal Legend by countersuing, claiming Activision was really trying to delay the game’s release to protect their Guitar Hero franchise (which is pretty damn crazy). And after a judge recently stated he was leaning toward ruling in favor of Double Fine, Activision (surprise!) quickly settled out of court.
You don’t often get to see a monolithic corporation forced to meekly back out of a frivolous lawsuit, and I’m surprised to report that observing this fills my soul with a vague yet familiar delight. It’s the same sort of Pavlovian joy I get when, say, I watch my favorite movie or eat a delicious piece of pie.
I guess that I can’t be too happy, though. Rumor has it that Activision only settled this lawsuit so they could free their lawyers to go on to their next lawsuit: Suing every manufacturer of real skateboards to protect their impending release of Tony Hawk: Ride.
You know how in movies whenever the hero succeeds in the end at whatever they’re trying to accomplish in front of a large crowd, one person in the crowd begins a slow clap that builds to a standing ovation? Well, here’s how I imagined the decision to develop a Wii port of 2007’s Call of Duty 4 in the year 2009 went down:
Activision-Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick: OK, people, we have the COD franchise securely encased in a yearly turnover. Now here’s the hard part: How do we make it even more yearlier?
Nameless Executive No. 1: “Uh…we could maybe split each new installment into two pieces and release them separately?”
Kotick: “I like it, but our Blizzard half is already doing that with StarCraft 2.”
Nameless Executive No. 2: “Maybe we could make a separate new game specifically for the Wii, so we have two different franchises going every year?”
Kotick: “…Hmm, that’s close. But can you think of a way to make it more dickish?”
Nameless Executive No. 3: “Well, we could just port whatever COD we released 2 years ago to the Wii, creating a downward spiraling vortex of yearly regurgitation the likes of which could destroy the universe completely. Ha ha ha ha.”
Kotick: [slow clap that builds to full-fledged standing ovation]
Nameless Executive No. 3: “Uh…I was joking.”
Here we have a classic case of escalation. It’s no longer enough to beat Guitar Hero’s hardest songs on Expert be to be cool on YouTube. These days, you have to do it while performing another seemingly impossible and ridiculous feat, like simultaneously solving not one, but two frickin’ Rubik’s Cubes.
I believe that in time we’ll regard this as a momentous occasion, like when Tony Hawk first pulled off a 900 or extreme sports star Travis Pastrana first landed a double backflip. This will force other YouTube freaks to innovate even further, until one person accomplishes the truly impossible: Beating the hardest song in Guitar Hero on Expert while solving three Rubik’s Cubes, walking on stilts, riding on a unicycle with stilts, performing a public reading of Atlas Shrugged, and negotiating a hostage release in a hostile country.
And then a week later, someone else will replicate all of that while also getting hit repeatedly in the nuts, and the Internet will explode.
It used to be that when something was controversial, it at least had a chance to be created and judged first. But it’s looking like Six Days in Fallujah may not get that opportunity.
To be sure, the concept behind the game was always risky. “For us, the challenge was how do you present the horrors of war in a game that is also entertaining but also gives people insight into a historical situation in a way that only a video game can provide,” said Peter Tamte, president of developer Atomic Games, at the time of the game’s announcement. “Our goal is to give people that insight of what it’s like to be a Marine during that event, what it’s like to be a civilian in the city, and what it’s like to be an insurgent.”
Yes, some family members of soldiers who lost their lives in Fallujah objected to this game, and I respect that. But defenders of the gaming industry often like to say that games can handle any difficult subject matter just as well as any other medium can. So if something as controversial as the Iraq War can serve as the base for masterpieces like Generation Kill and The Hurt Locker — a miniseries and a film that honor the soldiers who risked their lives in these battles by portraying them honestly and respectfully — then why can’t a video game potentially do the same thing?
With Six Days in Fallujah, one small developer tried (if we’re to take them at their word, which is all we have) to make a war game that was about something, and not just another franchise that could be regurgitated yearly. The result was a publisher pulling their funding at the first site of trouble with no other publisher stepping in, and now the developer may shut down entirely.
I submit that if we as an industry are serious about our claims that video games can be just as important as any other medium, then we need to have the balls to hold to that belief when it actually matters.