Sunday, February 22, 2009

Where Credit Is Due

I've noticed something lately in video games -- most recently after beating Tomb Raider: Underworld. (A fantastic game, by the way. PC Gamer is right to call it the best action game of 2008. Moderate bugs aside, it's a captivating adventure.) Actually, by "lately" I think I mean since roughly the dawn of the CD-ROM era. For some reason, as far as production values have come in the industry, it seems most game makers still cannot grasp the ability to transition gracefully from the ending of a game to whatever happens next. The final cutscene will occur, or the final line of dialogue will be spoken, or the final music cue will play, and then...

Often, it is at this point that the game abruptly cuts off everything that was just happening -- music, sound, video, interface -- and starts showing some credits. Or, worse, it may even just dump you right back to the menu. And usually, if there is a credits sequence, it's the same credits sequence you can access by clicking "Credits" on the menu. Sometimes a fadeout will be attempted, but it will wind up getting cut off anyway.

I don't get it; is this really so hard? In this day and age? It can't be, but I feel like developers are neglecting the importance of this particular part of the game. All I ask for is a decent fadeout. There are other ways to make credits interesting, and I encourage developers to explore them. But let's just start with the basics; the least they can do is try not to make the ending sequence so jarring and generally unpleasant.

The truly great developers still get this right, for the most part. But a lot of good developers of good games don't. Bioshock is one example. For a while Lucasarts games were excellent at this, but things started to slip around the same time their production values in general became a bit less cohesive. By that, I mean when they started patching soundtracks together with pieces of the existing Star Wars film scores, and fell prey to the usual pitfalls of early polygonal rendering, and started incorporating FMVs and CGI cutscenes. All impressive technology to be sure, but compared to the classic Lucasarts games with hand-drawn cutscenes to match the hand-drawn graphics, things were starting to feel a bit more jumbled. Specifically, if you compare the endings of Dark Forces and Jedi Knight, I think you'll find that DF's goes quite a bit more smoothly.

That's about it. See ya next ti--