Friday, January 18, 2013

Anarchy Reigns: To be damned by optimism

at 3:22 PM
Before I get any further, let me clarify that I have NOT played Anarchy Reigns. It merely represents the latest in an unfortunate trend of games: those with good ideas reliant on community support.

Let me give you the ice cream on Anarchy Reigns, since no one has heard of it. You should have, since it's the pseudo-sequel to MadWorld, one of the best action games of this generation, and since that of course means it's developed by Platinum Games, developers responsible (sometimes by different names) for everything from Devil May Cry to Okami to Bayonetta. MadWorld was basically a modernized Streets of Rage - sizable open-ended stages without linear guidance were stocked with respawning goons, mid-bosses, death-traps, and mini-games. Anarchy Reigns expands this into a giant continuous open-world brawl. Since it's just a big city full of hostile brawlers, why not fill it with human combatants? Because, after all, the Internet is a place of magic and wonder.
This is a pretty good idea. It's less ambitious (i.e. more reasonable) in scope than an MMO, but still dense enough to offer a repeatably unique challenge. You just can't replicate human behavior and unpredictability, even with today's high-tech technological advances in technology. This comes with an inherent risk: every role needs an actor, and they need to be present at all times for the show to go on. Without players fully populating matches, all you're left with is an idea on a drawing board. A great idea, but gamers can't play an idea. Only ghosts can do that.

That's a risk that any multiplayer-centric game takes, but it's a much smaller barrier to overcome in, for instance, a 1v1 fighting game that only requires you to have one friend and allows you to sit in the same room and share a copy of the game. Tatsunoko vs. Capcom had no reason to be successful, but since I could always find at least one person online, or just get a friend to swing by, all was well. Hinging your entire concept on the notion that there will always be like hundreds of people playing requires A.) a giant budget and marketing campaign (Call of Duty, WoW) or B.) a heart full of hopes, dreams, butterflies, and optimism. Sometimes someone strikes gold. Other times it's Anarchy Reigns.

The thing that bugs me is that Sega, Platinum, and everyone involved had to know that the game wasn't going to be popular enough to sustain an online community. MadWorld sold like 35 copies. It's full of weird subject matter, super-mature content, poor graphics, and was launched at a terrible time for this type of title, against the likes of Capcom's gargantuan Devil may Cry and Platinum's own (for a different publisher of course) Metal Gear Rising: Revengreances. That's not a recipe for success. So is this a case where we can say the game is genuinely bad for hedging a bet that definitely wasn't going to pay off? Platinum knew there wasn't going to be community support, but they propped up the game with it anyway. Isn't that the same as developing an offline single-player platformer where there's a 95% chance the game will crash after stage 1? Even if stages 2 and on are the most brilliantly designed levels in history, it doesn't matter if you don't get to play them.
Americans completely eat up weird shit like this, right? Wait, I forgot my "not a completely moronic thing to say" hat this morning.
Yeah, Anarchy Reigns has the token single-player mode, and I guess that ought to be fun. It's almost enough to get me to buy the game, just because I can't get enough Platinum combat. But that's clearly a patch on the giant gaping damned-from-the-start black hole of the would-be multiplayer beat-'em-up. In the analogy above, the single-player is the equivalent of a stage 1.

Anarchy Reigns is far from the only offender. Look at Castlevania: Harmony of Despair or the thankfully canceled Mega Man Universe. It's good to experiment, but sticking a power-drill into your pupil isn't an experiment. As a gamer I just shake my head - this is Sega's mistake and their loss, not mine. As to an alternative solution, how we could make that great idea actually come to life... well that would take the genuine commitment of a company with a genuine budget. That discussion is the territory of marketing, not game design, and one that seems could use a heaping dose of common sense.

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