Mark Twain has been noted as saying, there are three type of lies. Lies, damned lies, and statistics. If Twain played videogames, the quote would probably be ‘There are lies, damned lies, and game trailers’. Since the earliest days of videogame consoles, developers have used a slew of different ways to entice gamers to make a purchase. And none of them involved being truthful to players.
When videogames first hit the market there was almost no way for the underpowered hardware to portray anything meaningful to the player via the screen. Gamers were told they were looking at a biplane, or a tank, or even a dragon protecting a castle. But not really. Instead they were staring at a grouping of odd shapes and listening to different variations of white noise masquerading as sound effects. The box art for these games promised incredible worlds filled with action and adventure. These painted covers attempted to tell the story via artwork that the console couldn’t with pixels.
Those box covers were lies. But at the time, everyone understood that we were complicit in the fraud. The Atari 2600 would create as complex a picture as it could muster, and we’d fill in the missing pieces with a healthy dollop of imagination. It worked. I can still remember the thrill of stealing gold trinkets while dodging balls of searing flame in DragonFire, or narrowly avoiding a cannon shot in Combat.
As games grew more sophisticated, the hardware they were played on became more varied and diverse. Home gaming consoles gave way to home computers and the myriad of options that came with them. A ‘PC’ could mean anything from a monochrome TRS-80 to a Commodore Amiga boasting millions of colors. With only a handful of game magazines available, one of the most important factors in deciding whether or not to buy a game was the screenshots displayed on the back of the box.
This screenshot was a damned lie. While it may have been an image from the game, it was rarely from a version of the game that ran on the lowly Atari 400, Commodore 64, or CGA equipped PC that millions of people owned. Instead the picture shown on the box was from the one of the rarefied graphical powerhouses like the Atari 1040ST or Amiga 1200. You would stare longingly at the vibrant colors and detailed images on the back of those game boxes, only to watch in disappointment as your 4mhz computer with 64k of memory failed to live up to promises that were made with a $2000 piece of hardware. But still, those screenshot were from actual games on actual, if mostly unattainable computers. And if you looked hard enough, you could make out the small print that admitted ‘images from Amiga Version’.
Today videogame systems are orders of magnitude more powerful than the consoles and home PCs of yesteryear. Games have become so complex that it can take dozens of people, millions of dollars to produce a top selling title. Developers have tools at their beck and call that coders from prior generations only dreamed of. And instead of fanciful cover art or misleading screenshots on the back of game boxes, consumers are wooed with the latest type of lie, the game trailer.
For some reason, publishers aren’t content with enticing gamers with the incredible graphics and immersive sounds that modern consoles are capable of. Maybe they don’t believe that people would be intrigued by what the Xbox One or PS4 could produce with their multiple core chipsets and gigabytes of storage. Instead, time and time again gamers are outright lied to in form of a gametrailer that is at best misleading or at worst a complete fabrication.
NetherRealm’s Mortal Kombat X was announced with a trailer that showed a pair of intricate CGI warriors locked in a brutal battle in the middle of a frost bound forest. The gaming community rejoiced at the return of the legendary fighting game that seemed to actually use the power that had been missing from the next generation of consoles. But it wasn’t long before that trailer proved to be nothing more than fantasy. MKX was released to much fanfare, but without a trace of the graphic wizardry from the announcement teaser. What happened? The game that was released seems to be a enhanced incarnation of the game engine used for Injustice, and while it’s still a top notch fighter, it’s a far cry from what was first paraded in front of the public.
The Madden Series is another offender of the game trailer showing you something patently different from what you’ll actually be playing. The low camera angles highlighting the spinning, jumping acrobatics of the player is far removed from the three quarter overhead view that you’ll be using for the vast majority of the game.That slow motion shot of the dirt being thrown up by cleats will only be seen on the youtube trailer, and never make an appearance in your online scrimmages.
EA premiered the trailer for the long awaited Star Wars Battlefront to a convention hall full of diehard Star Wars fans that breathed in every frame of the spectacular looking game. Even though the words ‘Game Engine Footage’ are emblazoned on the screen, it’s hard to imagine a control scheme that would allow for the multiple camera angles and character motions shown. While some form of the game engine may have been used to create the cinematic trailer, you can be sure that those arent the scenes that gamers will be interacting with. Instead the audience was shown what amounted to a barrage of cut scenes.
It’s a trend so prevalent that we’ve become used to it. No single company is more or less to blame. It’s practically the industry standard. More and more, games are being sold with a bill of goods that bear no resemblance to reality. Instead of being shown what we’ll actually be playing, we’re shown what a 3d artist was able to dream up and render out. And now that game demos have all but disappeared, gamers have less information to go on when purchasing a game than in years past. Pre-orders are pushed heavily with discounts and bonuses as developers are asking customers to put down money for a game before its released, based on footage that most likely doesn’t portray any aspect of what they’ll actually be playing. And that’s sad because games today can truly be breathtaking. The next gen consoles that grace today’s living room are capable of astounding visuals. The actual gameplay and interactivity has progressed to a point never before possible. That’s more than enough to sell a game. They don’t need an artists rendition on a box cover. They don’t need misleading screenshots from an overspecced super computer. And they don’t need a gametrailer devoid of real gameplay. All games need to sell themselves are the games themselves. There’s no need to lie about it. And yet, the lies remain.