Wednesday, April 26, 2006

I Didn't Expect a Kind of Spanish Inquisition

I awoke
in a dank, finished basement. A tattered Thundercats poster clung pathetically to the wall on one rusty thumbtack.

I was tied, hands behind my back, to an Official Spider-Man Folding Chair (tm).

My nostrils sucked in fetid air. Fetid air and . . . Ecto Cooler? "The Insufferable," I whispered to myself.

A halogen lamp clicked on, blinding me. "I see you're awake." Heavy mouth-breathing. The crunch of Tostitos.

"Where am I?" I asked.

"I'm asking the questions!" the voice snapped. It was masculine yet soft.

"Oh," I said. "It's just that you opened with more of an observation. I assumed it was rhetorical, not a question, per se . . . "

"Shut up!"

I heard a door open from somewhere behind and above me. "Phillip! I need you to unload the dishwasher!"

"Dammit." The voice, now properly identified as Phillip, shouted back. "Mom! I told you not to disturb me! I'm working on very serious stuff down here! And I told you to call me Darth Sipid!"

I started laughing.

"What? What's so fucking funny?" Phillip demanded.

"Oh." I shrugged. "The whole Darth name thing. Y'know, Vader means IN-vader, Sidious means IN-sidious. So Sipid means . . . well, I'm sure you'll put it together. One of these days."

"Look, just shut up, I'm serious here. You work for a videogame company, correct?"

"Yeah, sure."

"And you recently did QA for a major role-playing game, not that I should use that genre term, since it didn't fit the remarkably narrow-minded vision I have of what exactly that term entails?"

"Woah, shit. There was a question there, somewhere. Yes, I did QA for that game. That one. That unspecified game."

"So now the company is releasing a whole bunch of downloadable stuff, right? And they're doing it because they're soulless, greedy, money-grubbing bastards without a lick of sense. They just want to exploit their fans, man, the ones who have followed them for years and bitched as each title ended up being different from the one preceding it. They hate us, they mock us with their content."

"It's like, what, two fucking dollars? I've probably got two fucking dollars in change nestled against my taint right now."

"They're nickle-and-diming us, just so they can drive home in their ferraris and have sex with Natalie Portman clones and buy mansions in Ibiza where they will store the filthy lucre earned from their downloadable excretions in a giant Scrooge McDuck money bin, where they will dive through the money like a porpoise, and burrow through it like a gopher, and toss it up and let it hit them on the head."

"Christ, you don't have to buy it. Ever heard of free will?"

"But they obviously held it back just so they could sell it to us. I'm sure they stripped out half the game. I thought it seemed a little short. If you're hardcore like me, you can complete every quest in only forty-eight straight hours."

"Do you have any idea how games are made? At all? Let me drop a few hints. The game is locked down at an early enough stage that proper QA may be done. That means no more content. Bugs get fixed and regressed, code gets optimized - basic playable functionality is the main requirement. Which means that stuff could get cut, and that stuff will go into an unfinished pile. Most companies will ignore this pile and move on to something else, or go out of business, which is a pretty common coda, even for major releases. If you want to invent Warren Commission fucking conspiracy theories about the MJ-12 holding back content just to gouge you . . . then make a tinfoil hat and start documenting chemtrails. Do you really think this downloadable shit is where the money's at? After you factor in the artists, designers, programmers and then the voluminous amount of QA testing which will guarantee a certain level of quality, which, if it isn't perfection then it won't be good enough for you no matter what, then you add in fees to the middlemen, your profit margin's probably two things: jack and shit, and jack left town."

"But you're charging way too much for some new art. Or maybe fifteen minutes of content. You're robber barons!"

"You spent how much on your computer? What about that new console? And then you add in your sound system, and your HD adapter and whatever other fancy extras you cobbled together. You're probably the type of guy who'll pay fifty bucks for a fansubbed copy of Teenage Tentacle Rape University imported from an opium den in Pattaya Beach. Then you drop maybe seventy bucks for a few hundred hours of content, and you pitch a major bitch fit over shelling out a couple bucks?"

"But it's not worth what you're charging." Phillip's breathing was getting heavier, more labored. Maybe he was having a heart attack. I hoped that was the reason.

"Face it," I said. "You're making up reasons to be outraged. Like I said, businesses need to cover costs. Tell you what, next time we'll base the price of the game on a standard content unit. Every estimated hour of gameplay is worth five bucks. A matinee at the movie theater will cost you about ten bucks now, for somewhere between 90 minutes and over two hours, so five bucks per hour seems fair. That way, you can just complain all at once when a game costs 1000 dollars. It'll be like the Neo-Geo all over again!" Spittle trickled down my lips. I was raving like Renfield.

"Liar! You just don't understand! We've been betrayed. Content should always be free. Or sell player-made mods."

"I agree, free content sounds great. When you figure out a good business model, let the entire fucking world know, because your miracle-working skills will be sorely needed. Sell player-made mods that would usually be free downloads on fansites? Yeah, I'm sure that'll solve your gripe. Id Software made bank with wave after wave of shoddy map packs with five good levels and forty filler levels that you could've gotten even on AOL."

"You aren't fulfilling my needs." Was that sobbing?

I nodded. "I know. I get it. You know why? Because I play games, too. All the goddamn time, not just at work. I get pissed off when I run across a bug. I get really pissed when a game crashes on me. But I have something you don't. I have perspective. You pin all your hopes on the next shiny new thing, hyping it up into the Second Coming, and when the released game doesn't match the Ideal Game in your head you explode with rage. And then you pin your hopes on some other white knight. Don't like our game? Then fuck us, right? Gothic III will be out soon enough, and it will be a million times better, and it will fulfill everything you desire. Sure it will. I'm all for a little righteous anger now and then, but why not refocus it into something positive? Hell, write up everything about the game that disappointed you. But don't waste your time speculating on the nefarious schemes of the evil videogame syndicates and their plot to snatch two whole dollars from you as if they were twirling their mustaches, planning to steal the grant money from the local orphanage. We aren't here to fuck anyone over."

There was no answer. I blinked into the light.

Phillip sighed. "Then why hasn't there been a patch yet?"

"Oh no." My eyes must've grown as large as dinner plates. "I know who you are. You're VentruYoshiDanteKillzU54. Please. Be swift, and merciful."


Again, not directed at anything in particular. Seriously. Complete work of fiction.


Corvus said...


Nice summation.

Dan said...

You see, that's why I keep reading.

Patrick Dugan said...

You should go indie and become a writer/designer (I'm presuming the latter is your job at Bethesda), seriously man, this and you Hakim Bey post, great stuff.

And if you're going to point fingers at Oblivion, point at the flaws in social interaction, the lack of any ambitious social simulation, and the debilitating bugs that make some quests unplayable. Only the latter is QA's fault, but I'm sure that was someone elses slip-up.