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Not Hype-notized.

October 24th, 2006 by Troy Goodfellow · 5 Comments · Uncategorized

I am probably one of the only strategy gamers on Earth not the least bit excited about Supreme Commander. It’s not far off, and the media blitz is in full swing. Interviews, previews, new screenshots…there is every expectation by the media and the fanbase that the early 2007 release is going to be huge.

I don’t care. And I know perfectly well why I don’t care.

First, as I’ve said before, science fiction settings aren’t my cup of tea. Though there are lots of good games in the sci-fi setting (GalCiv 2 and the first two Master of Orion games), I’ve always been more of a History Channel/PBS guy. Even settings that I know and love, like Star Wars or Star Trek, don’t have the appeal to me that a ragged line of redcoats does.

Second, the game world’s enthusiasm seems to be heavily correlated with Chris Taylor’s first big RTS smash hit Total Annihilation. Which I have never played. I keep meaning to, but it’s never crept to the top of my list. When Bioware makes a role playing game, I know why I am supposed to be excited. When Ensemble announces a new real time, I have a framework for the hype. When Will Wright speaks, I am on the edge of my seat. Chris Taylor, to me, is just a guy who made a very famous RTS and also a very lame action RPG (Dungeon Siege).

Anticipation is the stock and trade of the entertainment media. You see more stories about a game or movie before it is released than you do afterward. As shady as it sounds, the entertainment press is organized to lay the groundwork for a product before it gets into the hands of the public. Because as far as they are concerned, the story stops with the review or the opening weekend box office.

Once it’s out there, the conversation moves between viewers or players and the media steps back. I talk more about games I am playing than I do ones I am looking forward to. Consumers always find stuff to discuss in the games they are playing now or the movie they saw two weeks ago.

The trouble with anticipatory journalism is that the hype can become the story itself. The media becomes more interested in people being excited than in telling them what they have to look forward to. Then, if the product turns out to be a dud (Snakes on a Plane), it makes it hard to trust people who assure you that people really are genuinely anticipating something.

The recent gaming example that gives me pause is the new Sam & Max game. It is the standard industry good news/bad news tale. Ever since the success of the amusing LucasArts original, there has been a lot of perceived interest in a Sam & Max game. The project stopped and started. Every rumor about the game surviving is breathlessly reported. Then TellTale Games is given the go-ahead and we now have the return of a dog and rabbit detective team.

In an adventure game. In 2006.

TellTale is smart enough to know better than to overestimate the audience. They have moved to an episodic pricing scheme so you can try the game and not pay for the whole thing. But magazine covers, interviews and serious previews were devoted to a adventure game based largely on nostalgia fueled hype. Far be it for me to tell people smarter than me how to do their jobs, or that adventure games are not as worthy of note as the latest blockbuster MMO, but it’s not clear to me why the Sam & Max saga has stayed a perennial story in gaming.

I don’t get that same odd feeling from the Supreme Commander coverage. There is still a sense that nostalgia is fuelling a lot of the excitement, but from what I’ve seen, SupCom looks big and professional and full of strategery. I do wonder if Taylor has learned any lessons from the development of the genre. I wonder if the extreme map zoom is useful or just eye-candy. I wonder if he can make me care about giant robots, because mostly I don’t.

Well, maybe a giant robot Ivan the Terrible.


5 Comments so far ↓

  • Rob Funk

    You sir are a godless communist. Supreme Commander is the only RTS I am looking forward to. RTS games mostly piss me off but I will put up with it for a follow up to TA.

  • Michael A.

    Supreme what…? I guess it just goes to show I haven’t been reading the gaming media very much for quite a while now (well – other than here).

  • Ken Wootton

    It hurts to hear you speak of the original Sam & Max as simply amusing. Don’t get me wrong; it is. But it remains one of the best example of old school adventure gaming in existence. For those of us who loved adventure games. Sam & Max sits on the top of the pile or, at the very least, has found a position close enough to the top to see all the Sierra adventure games below.

    People are excited because they see the new game as renaissance of the genre or, if you are like me, a return of some good friends from the past.

    By the way, if you dig that sort of gaming, the new one is quite good.

    Also, I’ve got to agree with Rob’s comments. I’m unsure of views on capitalism, but your comments on SupCom make me wonder. :)

  • Troy

    I guess my subliminal message here is that hype is just weird to an outsider. I’m all jazzed about stuff like Europa Universalis III, and instead people are talking about an adventure game (which I am glad to hear is good) and a seminal strategy game that has eluded my attention.

    Based on game video and interviews, SupCom sounds amazing. But I think I’d be more excited if I had a grounding in the original TA.

    BTW, CGW’s Sam and Max cover was the first adventure game cover since The Colonel’s Bequest.

  • jason bergman (2K)

    I’m surprisingly unexcited about this too (which is really weird, since I loved Total Annihilation). But then I wasn’t at all hyped about Company of Heroes either, and that’s just fantastic.

    What I’ve seen looks very impressive, but I can’t help but think strategy is going to boil down to the guy who makes the biggest army the quickest. There’s no max unit count, which means armies are going to be *huge*, but I don’t know if I’m crazy about that.

    I’m sure I’ll still get it eventually.