The eternal and ironic dilemma faced by any much-loved vendor of entertainment media is how to tackle longevity. If you’re good enough to have stuck around for a long time, the percentage likelihood of you still deserving your prominent position drops further with every passing day.
Sometimes, greed kicks in, and you start banging out increasingly stale material year after year, long after your creative prime has passed. Sometimes you make a flailing attempt to spice things up with a direction change, and find yourself flying high through the sky, as the just-jumped shark becomes a mere dot below you. And sometimes, sometimes you get bought by Microsoft, have all your games turn out crap or misunderstoood, then get saddled with a load of casual old crap for a high-tech motion controller that your hardcore fanbase doesn't want anything to do with.
Hey Rare, how are you doing?
It’s no secret that Rare’s output since joining the world of HD hasn’t matched that of its Nintendo days. It’s not that the house of Banjo has strictly been putting out bad games, in fact between the under-rated Kameo and the more-hardcore-than-most-would-believe Viva Pinata, there have been a few absolute gems. But the constant stream of magic we became accustomed to during the 64-bit days has certainly been lacking.
But now, after a few years of arguably troubled attempts to fit into Xbox culture, Rare as we knew and loved it seems to have completely ceased to exist. With the company-founding Stamper brothers now departed, it seems Rare’s future is in avatar accessories and Kinect games, and neither so far has produced a jot of the humour, wit and personality we loved it for. We are ensadnessed. And so is everyone else. The most damning indictment of Rare's soulless change of direction came earlier this year, when longtime hardcore fansite Mundo Rare chose to close down rather than support the company any further in its current direction. Utterly depressing, but utterly understandable.
An online cops and robbers game? From the original creator of Grand Theft Auto? Amazing? No. Rarely has something so full of promise turned out to be such a disaster. Not since the Star Wars prequels. Not since Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Following the lengthy hype period, the excitable talk of hitherto unimagined character customisation, and the promise to overhaul the MMO formula, removing grind-advantage in favour of real skills, what we actually got was something exactly as crap as it should have been good.
The concept was great, but the execution? The crap shooting mechanics and crap driving mechanics were bad enough, but the crap lack of a cover system turned the already crap combat into a crappily blunt affair. The mission structure also frustrated, frequently having such a lack of respect for the player's location within the geography of its city as to make turning up to a skirmish and finding anyone left to kill a depressing rarity. So while the social play structure built into APB was an absolute gem, the game itself just never let it fly.
Above: Okay, APB, you pretty much deserved death, but did you have to take RTW with you?
Worse than the disappointing game though, was what it led to. After 22 years of knocking out innovative, stellar games such as Lemmings, GTA and Crackdown, Realtime Worlds boss David Jones had finally produced an astronomical clunker, and alas, its five-year development cycle and who-knows-how-high budget sank his company
Following a mass keelhauling in the press, APB bombed, and Realtime Worlds rapidly went into administration. The game has since been picked up for relaunch by Californian online games company K2 Network, and will reappear in 2011 as a free-to-play title. But as for Realtime’s many employees, we can only hope they’re finding employment elsewhere in the industry. If only RTW had instead made Crackdown 2 for Microsoft, as everyone expected them too, then things could have been completely different. Crackdown 2 maybe wouldn't have been a simple uninspired remake, and Realtime Worlds would probably still exist. All in all, worst decision ever.
Was it as bad as Sony in 2006? Probably not, but only in the same way that being punched in the balls isn’t as bad as being shivved in the eye.
It started well, almost like an apology for the night before. Microsoft had, in case you’ve blocked it out of your memory the way a 'Nam-vet suppresses the hallucinogenic existential horror and regular risk of stabbing, initially greeted E3 with a dayglow Lynchian nightmare, a glorified photo opportunity masquerading as a press conference, which hurled the world’s unsuspecting journos into a Cirque du Soleil-sponsored maelstrom of nonsensical imagery, pompous performance-art metaphor, and ponchos.
Above: With an opening line-up like those three, it couldn't go wrong, right?
Right from the start of the press conference proper, we got Gears 3, Halo: Reach and Fable III. No surprises, but it was a decent start. Then we got Black Ops and Metal Gear Rising. Hmmm, good, but not exclusive. MS couldn’t have been padding things out already, could it? But we rapidly stopped worrying, because then we got the announcement of Codename: Kingdoms, a platform exclusive from motherhuggin’ Crytek! Yeah, the most unapologetically hardware-spec-pimpin’ bastards in the industry were doing a 360 game! Good times! But then we got a tiny trailer with no details, and the game was hurriedly shuffled off stage like a senile gran who’d absent-mindedly invaded a pantomime looking for the toilet and pissed herself.
Then we realised that all the hardcore stuff had been rattled through a little bit too quickly for comfort, and the returns, boy they were beginning to diminish. Hmmm, MS couldn’t have been hammering all the good stuff out as quickly as possible to make way for a show full of Kinect, could it?
HELL YES IT COULD.
Above: Oh right
It hit us, and it hit us hard. The reason Peter Molyneux had only been given 14.37 nanoseconds to talk about one of the 360’s richest and most innovative exclusives of the year had been to make way for the shallowest and most derivative shit we could possibly imagine. Lots of it.
Tigers were tickled. Men danced awkwardly. Women and men kept fit for what seemed like longer than the reign of the Roman Empire lasted. Idiots cackled over well-rehearsed ‘live’ video chat conversations, accurately evoking the way no real people speak in the real world whatsoever.
Imagine the most trite thing you can. Now wrap it in cheese. Now grill it so that the cheese melts right into it. Then sprinkle it with parmesan, , dip it in fondue, smother it in Tabasco and rub it in your eyes. That is how cheesy and irritating Microsoft’s E3 2010 press conference was.