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Bullshots: How Video Game Creators Deceive Their Customers


False advertisement is not as strong as before, but you can still find instances of it. Unfortunately, one of the places where this problem is greatly at large is the gaming industry. Countless times we saw trailers, gameplay footages or even live demos that promised so much, but in the end, did not deliver.

Why does this keep happening?

Well, the reason for why the developers do this is obvious – to make people more excited for the game. But the real question is why are they allowed to keep doing this? More often than not, there were no penalties when something like this happened. Let’s look at a recent example when there actually were some consequences – No Man’s Sky. Hello Games – the developers – kept talking about such great features as multiplayer, a nearly infinite number of randomly-generated planets with different climates, flora, and fauna. In the end, we got some of the things they promised, but not much. Graphically the game was good, but everything else was not. Not much to do, boring grinding, no multiplayer – people were disappointed. All this lead to terrible reviews and eventually, investigation for false advertisement. So why has No Man’s Sky bombed, but other titles didn’t? Simply because it was an indie game? Not really, as Mighty No.9, a Kickstarter project, got mixed reactions to say the least but never got into that much trouble. Then what was it?

Watch Dogs E3 downgrade graphics

It’s all about crossing the line

The reason Hello Games suffered such a blow was probably due to the fact that they simply overdid it. In every interview, every convention and showcase they talked about how great the game will be and all the features it will include, that by the time they presented their product the whiplash was too much. Something similar happened when we first saw trailers of project Natal, later known as Xbox Kinect. I remember my jaw dropping when I watched that video, it looked like Microsoft made a leap in time and brought some next-generation technology with them. But it turned out that unfortunately, all that footage did not depict the ending product at all. The camera quality was worse, the sensors less responsive and the overall experience did not match up. But they did tone it down with the boasting when it came to real live demonstrations of the software, so people had a better idea of what they were actually buying. So, usually when other developers – be it AAA giants or other independent folks – do some embellishing, they are much more discreet. For example, one of such important aspects is the appearance of the “in-game footage” disclaimer on any trailer that shows off gameplay, since its absence almost guarantees, that the game will not look as good, if even similar at all. It was a huge uproar when after promising a survival-horror Alien game, SEGA released the plain and uninventive Colonial Marines. Developers also often save themselves by promising DLCs and patches if something goes badly like studio DICE did with Battlefield 4. But No Man’s Sky had no excuses, nothing to redeem themselves with. Even if they were a big company, something like this could not be overlooked by an over-hyped crowd. This goes to show that, fortunately, we live in the time when consumers’ opinion matters.


So, will this ever change?

Probably no, not really. No matter how strict the rules get, people always find a way to sprinkle lies in order to make their product look better. So what we need to do is stay vigilant, not let ourselves be fooled by pretty words and work on improving the gaming community. One of the ways to do it is by becoming a member of GameTree. We thoroughly analyze all the information for our database to make sure that every game that we recommend to our customers will satisfy their personal tastes so that both their money and their time will not be wasted.

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Kishotenketsu vs. Western storytelling in videogames. What is the difference?

mountains clouds forest fog

One goal, many paths.

-B. Üke

The question had been biting at the back of my neck for some time, so I decided to ask several online boards of proclaimed experts:
“What the differences were between Eastern and Western computer games? Why are the stories so different?”
After numerous posts making jokes about tentacles I decided then that their minds were like soup at a dodgy restaurant: better left unstirred for everyone’s health. I decided to solve the problem myself.

Fallout4 dog RPG

Is it only aesthetics?

Western RPGs like Fallout tend to be drab and dull, almost monochromatic when Japanese RPGs such as Earthbound are lavishly colorful, even surreal.
Maybe it was Character design? Western game developers try for gritty hyper-realism, drawing on their backgrounds of movies and TV and over-engineered to the smallest pore on their gravel-encrusted noses. Meanwhile, the Japanese creators brought up on the ornate, bright, swirling colors of anime and manga, have been known to have a minimalist design in using simple lines to convey the maximum effect for the minimum effort.
The surface aesthetics are fairly easy to expound away, all artists have their preferences.

EarthBound RPG

But what about the story?

The truth of the matter is that many of the story arcs in Asian culture vary significantly from their western counterparts.
In the west, the plot is thought to revolve around confrontations between two or more elements, where one side is dominating the other, like with the critically acclaimed game Bioshock. What you see there is a typical three to five-act structure with a single conflict. A chosen setback appears near the end of the first act (Jack’s plane crash, his arriving in rapture unsure of what’s going on), and then the character gets drawn into it (getting contacted by Atlas who asks to ‘save’ everyone).
On the other hand, in the Asian storytelling tradition, the plot structure does not have a central conflict. Rather, it relies on exposition and contrast to generate interest.

Super Mario Game

The word for this is kishōtenketsu

It is organized into four parts:
Ki: A scene is set.
Shou: Elaboration on the scene, flushing out the characters and their relationships
Ten: Climax, an unforeseen event that doesn’t have to do with ki and shou directly, things become more complex.
Ketsu: Resolution, focuses on how the third act interacts with the previous ones.

A more literal example from every level of Mario 3-D
Ki: Mario has to learn how to use a gameplay mechanic.
Shou: the stage will offer you a slightly more complicated scenario in which you have to use it.
Ten: something crazy happens that makes you think about it in a way you weren’t expecting and how to use the game mechanic to deal with this situation.
Ketsu: you get to demonstrate; finally, what sort of mastery you’ve gained over it.

This doesn’t mean that the conflict is not present within the plot, just that isn’t the main focus for the drama. Look at the world of Dark Souls; major events and their significance are often implicit and left for the player to interpret rather than fully exposed or explained. Namco, the publisher, even had a $10,000 offer to anybody who could explain the Dark Souls story. The same people who put countless hours into making the game did not think that a storyline was an important feature.
The best way to see the difference is in looking at RPGs. Sure, some of the basics are the same, flat characters exist to be the guides for the plot. But there are slight differences with the round characters; while they change and develop as the story unfolds there is a noticeable scale of personalization.

Dark Souls RPG

Let’s compare

Japanese RPGs follow a classic formula that was started by Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. Both are linear role playing games that set you on a specific course to tell a powerful story of epic proportions. You would get a specific character whose role you are assigned to and act out. You get the opportunity to play as the soldier Solid-Snake. Sure, the player can control the individual actions of Snake, but the narrative is still in the control of the designer. This is a reason  behind a lot of the original games having a third-person perspective paired with a slew of cinematic sequences.
On the contrary, RPGs in the West usually focus on roaming freely through the vast world and developing your character to take on unknown challenges like in Skyrim. The character’s personality is determined by the freedom of choice a player has over it. Thanks to this all the decisions made during the game become an avatar for the player’s actions. First person perspective is American invention for a reason, you do not play as a hero you are the hero.
Or the villain.
Or the guy who tries to put all the NPCs in comical bucket hats named Chumley.
Ok, we’ve clearly figured out there are some differences, but what made them?

Pixel Art Game campfire chill

One word: history

Given that I’m describing thousands of years of culture, bear that this observation is a bit roughshod. Besides, if people were so simple we could understand them easily, we’d be so simple we couldn’t.
The west can trace its storytelling back to ancient Greek dramatists whose stories may be chanted or sung, along with musical accompaniment on a certain instrument. Therefore some who would be called folk musicians, starting with Homer and his Iliad and going all the way to the medieval Troubadours, you would tell your story from memory over a few hours and move along. The romantic figure of the blind traveling minstrel accompanying his tales of past heroes can be seen throughout Europe, there are even accounts of highly-respected blind Guslar (Serbian story-singers) as recent as 1918.
Meanwhile many Asian cultures did traveling storytellers, but Confucian ethics made sure they were the lowest form of humanity imaginable, even below merchants. They were portrayed as disloyal mercenaries who contaminated everything they laid their eyes upon. The respected storytellers of this civilization were kept in-house, forming guilds to give members an official status, regulate other performers in their territory and exert control over fees and conditions in regional story houses. The Chinese guilds would even have annual multi-day gatherings, called hui-shu or shu-hui, at which a number of storytellers told their best episodes.

Skyrim Dog RPG Quest

Time is the father of contrast

Time is the father of contrast. The nomadic lifestyle of the western storytellers means they have an economy of time to tell their stories. They have to distil the style down to its most bare and high-impact form. In computer game terms: the first Halo game, in a single story arc of saving the universe and the villain, Guilty-spark, escapes for the next game. Bam! Story done. Audience-impressed –hopefully enough to get paid-, there’s a plot so you can come back for a sequel, time to move on to the next village.
Meanwhile, their Asian storytellers were mostly townsmen, they need to take the same beloved characters and use them across multiple stories and scenarios, the entertainment comes from the context and their interaction; the backgrounds are always being changed so the storyteller will spend less time crafting something that they’re going to change in the next few weeks. The gaming example: Final-Fantasy, you follow the war-ravaged cast of heroes who are in a struggle against all odds to defeat some ancient evil. The worlds are usually large and packed with interesting but constantly changing backgrounds.
These differences go on to influence the perspectives used by the game developers. Games with a complex narrative often involve many characters becoming a group. Such multiple embodiments separate a player into multiple bodies. The player is an outside force influencing the interaction between people rather than the experience by any one character. In contrast, the first-person narrative often has a powerful elegance in its simplicity; the player is immersed into the role of the protagonist.

Japanese painting two guys walking

So, what can we say in the end?

Ultimately there are many paths to making a good storyline. Be they the kishōtenketsu writing style builds on itself and lets the game focus on the mechanics, meanwhile the western epic-conflict takes away from them by focusing on the grand epic storyline.