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What's killing AAA gaming? Goddamn turtles

Never in gaming's history have there been 34 more pointless words than "The Caribbean basin provides an excellent climate for both land and sea turtles. Turtles are reptiles with a hard, protective upper shell called a carapace. All turtles breathe air and lay eggs on land." That paragraph shows up in Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag, a game where you surf through the digitized DNA of 16th Century pirate assassin Edward Kenway. To access it, you need to hit the Start button, scroll down to the Database, then go to the Animus Database, then scroll down all the way to Fauna, and then go to the Turtle entry.

It's buried under about seven layers of menus and options, nestled between an equally inane entries for ocelots and wild pigs, and it's a description of a goddamn turtle.

The game industry is in a strange place in 2013, and it's leading to a problem where AAA games with AAA budgets aren't able to sustain themselves with AAA sales. Crystal Dynamic's Tomb Raider (which was incidentally one of the best titles of 2013) sold over four million copies in its first few months on the shelves, but that just wasn't enough for publisher Square-Enix. The Final Fantasy publisher failed to hit its projections for the first half of 2013, and blamed Tomb Raider, Sleeping Dogs, and Hitman: Absolution (all of which sold a few million copies). Four million copies was "far weaker than we ever imagined," according to Square Enix president Yoichi Wada.

Thing is, games have gotten so big that making $160 million in the first few months (Source: me multiplying $40 and four million in an attempt to figure out how much Tomb Raider made because that kind of information isn't actually available) simply isn't enough. We've stumbled into a strange territory, where expectations for sales are so colossal that every game needs to make all of the money in order for anyone to be happy--but all of the games can't make all of the money. A great game doing extremely well isn't enough, and the reason is starting to become clear: games are too full of descriptions of goddamn turtles.

Let's think of it from a budgeting point-of-view. Ubisoft already needs to pay a concept artist to sketch the goddamn turtle, a 3D artist to model the goddamn turtle, a texture artist to paint colors onto the goddamn turtle, a texture mapper to put that texture on the goddamn turtle, an animator to make the goddamn turtle move, a sound engineer to record audio of a real goddamn turtle, and a coder to implement the goddamn behavior of the goddamn turtle. And then, after all is said and done, someone was paid to write "The Caribbean basin provides an excellent climate for both land and sea turtles. Turtles are reptiles with a hard, protective upper shell called a carapace. All turtles breathe air and lay eggs on land." Ubisoft's enjoying a yearly ride with Assassin's Creed, and each is apparently doing well enough to justify sliding wrist-mounted knives into the necks of conspiring Europeans on an annual basis, but still, is this really necessary?

Don't get me wrong, I'm genuinely delighted there are turtles in the game. Scrambling onto a Caribbean beach and seeing a sea turtle--with its hard, protective upper shell--provides me with a definite sense of immersion. And it's a really good turtle as far as turtles go, totally top-notch; AAA work from a developer known for it's AAA products. But, seriously, does anyone need to know about how land and sea turtles thrive in the Caribbean climate? The fact that all turtles breathe air and lay eggs on the land isn't going to enhance my experience in the least, and yet, it added to the budget. Someone had to research this, write this, edit this, and put it in the game. And then QA testers had to make sure it didn't run off the page or anything. This turtle's description was serious business.

It's one thing to have attention to detail; I don't think anyone is going to complain about that. Finding out that someone researched the exact color of smoke that should come off of that specific torch is a commitment to realism that will help games become more respected as an art form.

But there's a difference between attention to detail and a culture of excess, and this sort of thing is as good an example of excess as any. Gamers want good games, and they want big games, and they want big, good games, but there are definitely some areas that could have the fat trimmed off. I'm thinking I know where to start: goddamn turtles.

You know that kid at parties who talks too much? Drink in hand, way too enthusiastic, ponderously well-educated in topics no one in their right mind should know about? Loud? Well, that kid’s occasionally us. GR Editorials is a semi-regular feature where we share our informed insights on the news at hand. Sharp, funny, and finger-on-the-pulse, it’s the information you need to know even when you don’t know you need it.

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31 comments

  • gdawg94 - October 31, 2013 6:02 p.m.

    Okay, all humor aside (it was funny), let's be honest. Implementing this kind of stuff probably doesn't really cost all that much in terms of budget. In fact, this would probably even be something an engineer did while they were taking a break from solving a more serious problem. Code-wise, the programming behind it isn't that difficult once one creature is made. Most AI behavior is rehashes of other AI behavior. Especially because I bet that the turtle AI isn't going to be presented at a TED talk anytime soon on how it perfectly mimics the intelligence of which is a goddamn turtle. Most of the code is probably copy-pasta from other pieces of code. As for graphics, you have much longer to work on graphics. Code requires recompilation and retesting over and over. Graphics can be added as you go and improved as you go without recompilation and retesting. There is allocated time for just testing code for months. That's months that you could either be A) drawing more graphics or improving animations or B) start working on DLC. So there's a good chance either the code for the turtle was done before the programming was or vice versa. And as for writing the entry...seriously? Do I even have to say how pathetically minuscule that task is? It probably took as long as a copy and paste takes from a science article. I bet any programmer or artist working on a triple A game would be delighted to copy and paste a few descriptions in to the code for a break from working on actual tasks. So, all in all, do I feel like having a goddamn turtle is what ruins AAA games by inflating their budget? No. No I do not blame the innocent goddamn turtle.
  • GOD - October 30, 2013 12:21 p.m.

    So what your saying is that this turtle description was excessive because it didn't enhance your experience?.... So then they need to further implement these details into the very essence of the turtle creating a deeper, more natural turtle AI to the point where if two turtles are to encounter each other they would lead to eggs, and then these eggs would be buried, hatch, and you'd be able to watch the baby turtles grow both in AI intelligence and size in real time for however long you watch them due to them each having an internal clock that directs their new, truly immersive turtle AI. ...Or did you mean something else?
  • Eightboll812 - October 30, 2013 1:10 p.m.

    I think he is just saying that all the work that went into the turtle costs money, and that the turtle isn't important. Therefore, a AAA budget could have cut the cost of the turtle and still released a product that was just fine.
  • TechnoAnimeGamer - October 31, 2013 11:51 a.m.

    When you play a game like Assassins Creed IV, your first instinct isn't going to be "omg I can't wait to read the animus data on turtles!" I'm pretty sure nobody is thinking that...ever...so it's just unnecessary to have. He doesn't want more from it, he's just saying that all the money put into making turtles, could have been put into something that actually enhances our experience with the game, like making a new weapon or NPC instead.
  • t_skwerl - October 30, 2013 10:42 a.m.

    Padding. I really hate padding. No, not pudding. Padding. I own every Batman: Arkham game and I enjoyed all three of them. But, how much more time have I spent running around trying to collect goddamn trophies? Don't get me wrong, I love The Riddler as a character and I think that the games are more fun with his presence and some riddles. But, did I want to run around tearing my hair out trying to get 200 datapacks? No. And that's just Origins. Nevermind the ******* challenges. For an alternate outfit. Woopie. Yeah. Padding needs to go.
  • udUbdaWgz - October 30, 2013 11:18 a.m.

    that's why playing organically is the way to get the most out of your gameplay. go back LATER to get all the riddles and collectibles if it ruins your gameplay enjoyment at that particular time. frustration due to the outfit "reward?" enjoy the moment. gameplay doesn't need to have a reward. the "padding" of arkham city is what made the game so great. i hate combo fighting games due to their ridiculousness, boredom and faulty combo gameplay (camera, d-pad, etc.), yet, ark city is a great game because of the extra immersive gameplay.
  • udUbdaWgz - October 30, 2013 7:51 a.m.

    what's killing gaming? it's simple: a lack of difficult, immersive, complex, customizable and innovative gameplay. obviously, this means developers are wasting our time by concentrating on peripheral fluff and meaningless game components. gta and tlou are perfect examples of games that succumb to this issue and, therefore, fail.
  • Kleer - November 13, 2013 11:15 p.m.

    This has to be a Troll, GTA and The Last of Us are no where near failures as games...
  • udUbdaWgz - November 14, 2013 6:30 a.m.

    i see you are another person who fails to understand what a "troll" is. i make my point very simple and clear and not to cause controversy or spark a fight. as well, the gameplay of tlou is very mediocre and the "stealth" is a joke. gta4 and 5 have some of the most redundant and repetitive been there, done that gameplay in gaming. btw, learn to think critically and comprehend text: i gave you my specific list and and, therefore, my actual definition of fail and your attempt of defining my use of fail is a failure.
  • winner2 - October 30, 2013 5:40 a.m.

    Why'd you kill that turtle? Why? You're a horrible person Coop, even if it was a goddamn turtle.
  • the-odore-valenzuela-abaga - October 30, 2013 2:11 a.m.

    What does the turtle says??!
  • larkan - October 29, 2013 11:54 p.m.

    Turtles>Spiders Spiderman>Turtles Peter Parker=Spiderman Hollander Cooper=Horrible Peter Parker lookalike Goddamn Turtles
  • dangomushi - October 29, 2013 10:16 p.m.

    i like turtles
  • arianabiscuit - October 29, 2013 10:03 p.m.

    About to write an exam and all I can think of is "Goddamn turtle."
  • LordZarlon - October 29, 2013 5:40 p.m.

    At the end of the day gaming isn't going anywhere. Publishers need to realize that you have to expect realistic sales for your products. If 4 million units sold isn't good enough then what is? Only Call of Duty and few Nintendo titles sell in to the tens of millions on a consistent basis. Even Halo doesn't sell as much as these.
  • brickman409 - October 29, 2013 5:30 p.m.

    *In Sean Connery voice* That's for blasphemy.
  • Eightboll812 - October 29, 2013 3:09 p.m.

    Along with some of the comments below, it is the corporate nature of the gaming industry. Back in the good old days, you made a business plan for how the game would make a profit, and then you made the game. Now you have publicly traded companies that have to show profit AND growth, and they you quickly see how it can spin out of control. Instead of simple games, you have franchises. And you have to keep adding franchises, and they have to keep making larger and larger profits. If you don't do both, wallstreet considers you a failure and you are punished with lower stock prices. And the thing I've noticed is that I'm not just budget limited on what I can spend on gaming, I'm also time limited. The latter is more of a new phenomenon for me. As games have gotten larger and larger (e.g. Fallout 3), they take me longer to complete, and so I don't buy as many games because I'm backlogged as it is. It takes something like TLoU where it has rave reviews to get my interest. Otherwise, I don't have time, much less money to go get Tomb Raider. So you get bigger, longer lasting games, and you have more of them on a AAA budget. No wonder some companies are finding they can't justify the budget for the game and call 160 million in revenue a "failure". There really needs to be a shakedown on the gaming industry, and I think that is actually already happening. Expectations and budgets need to be reset. Expecting gamers to come up with even MORE money to spend when gaming is already bigger than the movie industry would be patently absurd.
  • Slayer11496 - October 29, 2013 2:49 p.m.

    This article is that great mix of comedy and a valid point.
  • ParagonT - October 29, 2013 2:35 p.m.

    I had to log in just to say this: Goddamn turtles.
  • masterjoe123 - October 29, 2013 1:44 p.m.

    The problem is that there are too many AAA games. The market simply isn't big enough for everything.

Showing 1-20 of 31 comments

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