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Squeezing successful sequels out of lemons

posted on March 1st, 2007 by the marketeer

Every generation a handful of tepid titles are chosen as poster children for innovative yet tragically ignored games. If these games were innovative in a way that actual consumers want, they would not just review well, but sell. As it is, these titles range from boring to unplayable. Luckily for developers, the underground hype these games have built up can be harnessed. Couple word of mouth with severely modified design approaches, and these series may yet have some profit potential.

The weak original: Beyond Good and Evil
Ubisoft made many grievous judgment errors with this one. Adventuring and taking pictures of endangered species may be fun for environmentalists, but not American men. To make matters worse, players are given a female lead character to control. This was done because it would be wholly unbelievable that any man would waste his time taking National Geographic photographs. However noble their motives, Ubisoft’s game bombed. This is a clear case of the market not just telling designers that women should only be taking pictures of their hair, clothes, horses and boyfriends, but demanding exciting male leads in their games.

The strong sequel: Beyond Evel Knievel

Replace Jade with history’s most famous daredevil and her camera with a motorcycle and you may just have a hit on your hands. Shift the focus from discovering the truth behind a government conspiracy to winning blazing fast races against exotic aliens and a Greatest Hits label can’t be far behind. Pey’j already looks and speaks like (and is) a mechanic, so very little plot editing would be required.

The original snoozefest: Eternal Darkness
Silicone Knights knew the pitfalls of making a game with a female lead and so they gave us a figurehead in order to keep the feminists happy, but slyly also give us control of men for the majority of the game. Little did they know, they had a female who could handle the limelight. Eternal Darkness’ Alex character works because she is from the Lara Croft school of women — damned sexy. Had Silicone Knights been willing to exploit this by giving her more time on camera and less clothes on body, their game could’ve been big.

The gripping follow up: Eternal Topless

Picture Dead or Alive Xtreme, but instead of volleyball and water skiis, there are zombies and ancient ruins. Everything else, though, remains the same, or is kicked up a notch. Photoshoots, clothes to win and try on (the more attractive zombies drop different bikini bits) but here’s the twist — Alex never wears a shirt. For the ladies, the male leads go topless, too, just not Maximillian Roivas because those powdered wigs look really strange on a fat guy not wearing a shirt.

The artsy first: Psychonauts
This is a game designed for snobby college kids and children, neither of which have significant spending power. The characters and plot line seem to be taken from a Saturday morning cartoon – there is no blood or sex to appeal to the majority of gamers. To make things worse, the level designs range from odd to bizarre to just fruity. Maybe indie rock college boys find velvet enticing, but heterosexual men do not. If the two audiences this game appeals to could somehow be averaged together to yield teenagers, success wouldn’t be far behind but as it is, Psychonauts is a dud.

The exciting second: Psychonauts 2: Fire and Ice

How Double Fine managed to not think of designing levels around these elements is beyond me. It just goes to show that “artists” are often so high up in their ivory towers they can’t see the forest for the trees. Imagine taking Raz on an exciting adventure through the volcanic ash of Fire Island or making his way through the treacherous edges of Ice Island. The plotline could be pure heaven for teenagers – The evil wizard Xyrcharx has taken over the land of Mystarova and only Raz can stop him by traversing through fire and ice to retrieve the Ring of Fire, which will defeat Xyrcharx, and the Ice Crystal, which will forever seal him away.

The childish prequel: Ico
Ico was perhaps the most boring game of the last generation. Despite claims by a few virgins that the game is art, it is not. And art does not sell so the entire debate is a waste of time. Ico boiled down to some inept fighting and a handful of Zelda puzzles, all while holding the hand of a young girl. The latter bit wouldn’t be so bad if your character weren’t prepubescent.

The manly sequel: Ico Xtreme

The only way to save this catastrophe is to turn it into a Tony Hawk clone, but with even more street edginess and xtreme tricks. Throw in photo-realistic graphics and an awesome soundtrack of songs you hear on the radio a thousand times a day and this title’s sold over a million copies.

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2 Comments

  1. pat said on March 6, 2007:

    does it mean something that these probably make up four of my top ten favorite games of their generation?  is there some cosmic force to the universe that hates me? could it actually be god, and this is his way of punishing me for my apostasy and subsequent heresy?

  2. Bruce said on March 11, 2009:

    Oh my god you’re so spot on with this it’s scary.

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