This time we're talking about game delays, and how they affect our perception of said game. Does absence make the heart grow fonder? We've rounded up beard expert, and one of my favourite games journalists, Adam Mathew (Associate Editor on both the Official PlayStation Magazine and Game Informer) to aid and assist the discussion.
MARK: Alright Adam Mathew, legend tells that prodigious beard growth equals wisdom, so I have a question for you - does absence make the heart grow fonder? People have been waiting for Gran Turismo for six years, does that hurt or strengthen the game's chances of success?
ADAM: You're a kind man, but honestly, this beard has imbued me with itchiness and disinterest from the opposite sex. Nothing more. On the plus side, I can confidently speak to you as an expert in the field of waiting, wanting for things for an unhealthy amount of time (and the hand-based activities that supplement those urges).
In the context of this article, recently my colleagues bemoaned the six-year gestation period of GT5, I staunchly championed the game. My reasoning - surely 'three Forza's-worth' of development time would make this something special. Needless to say, the first three hours of the game didn't tighten my pants like I expected it would (which is odd in itself, because nowadays a breeze rolling in through the window is enough to set me off). It was beautiful, but not the graphical quantum leap I was promised. Also, issues from six-years ago - like the ability to bumper-car to victory, sans penalty - left me scratching my head.
Even still, another three hours passed and I found I was overcome with nineties-era nostalgia; I had made the effort to rip Ash's 'Lose Control' and Feeder's 'Just A Day' onto a custom playlist and I was gliding my GTO '95 Twin Turbo around some heart-warmingly familiar tracks. So yeah, I think waiting too long for something will always come with that initial shock when it finally arrives. It's up to the individual to get over their expectations and to either find a silver lining, or create their own one.
MARK: I think there's something psychological going on there. It's a self-perpetuating cycle of self loathing and lust. If you spend five years waiting for a game, you need that game to be awesome; otherwise your psyche will crumble, and you'll be rocking mindlessly in the corner swimming in your own saliva. I've waited years for games and, on some dark, sub-conscious level, been disappointed, but plastered a terrifying fake smile on my chops regardless. "I'm having the best time," I'd tell myself, with a weird robotic expression on my face. Just bury the pain deep.
For me, personally, Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was a good example of that. I needed to love that game. I wanted to love it so much that I sort of managed to lie to myself about the quality of the game. I think on some level I knew it wasn't the experience it should've been, but I convinced myself it was GOTY material.
ADAM: Yeah, Twilight Princess always had an uphill battle - but you get that, being a part of a franchise that spawned one of the greatest games of all time. We'd be both kidding ourselves if we said Skyward Sword isn't going to be compared against the same bepedestaled, rose-tinted memories of Ocarnia of Time.
Speaking of comparisons and having to wait, I've noticed a disturbing trend of spite towards exclusive games that have 'finally' jumped across from one console to another. The original Bioshock springs to mind here. Personally, I knew a lot of PS3-only buddies who were downright hostile towards this GOTY when it eventually debuted on their system a year later. I honestly couldn't understand the anger. It was a great game then, surely it's just as amazing now? No. Not according to them. One mate even avoided playing the game in some sort of single-person, non-televised, poo-pants protest (it wasn't all over the news, you might not have read about it). Absence, in this case, can harden a heart completely, if not unfairly.
This gives me concerns about the forthcoming reception to the PS3 version of Mass Effect 2. Fine, I get that it's a tardy release and minus the benefit of Mass Effect 1 context and save file continuation. But I started it up for the third time the other day after seeing L.A. Noire (purely to do a facial animation comparison), and even though I was only there to quickly check something I woke from a trance some five hours later, with a galaxy to save and a hot crew member in my bunk. In my mind it would be a crime for any player to not experience a game like that just because of some time-based bitterness.
MARK: When it comes to the bedraggled, twisted inner workings of the rorted human psyche, the ‘console fanboy’ makes for a fascinating case study. It is the ‘exclusive’ that brings out the worst in people, the ‘exclusive’ that makes rain the bitter, bitter tears of insecurity.
But when it comes to delayed exclusives, I can understand the instinct to ignore games like Bioshock and Mass Effect 2. There’s always a slight whiff of Grandma around delayed ports. For one, they’re very rarely handled by the core team that made the original – which means the game is usually of a slightly lower standard than the original – and secondly, you don’t feel like you’re on the cutting edge of gaming when you play a game that has already been out for a year on another platform.
Bioshock is a good example – PS3 owners waited a whole year for a lower res, sloppy version of the game 360 owners had already played to death. Why bother?
The feeling usually is, when waiting for a Gran Turismo or a Metal Gear Solid, that we’re waiting for a game because it is so cutting edge, so next level, that it takes time to polish and perfect. Waiting because ‘Microsoft said so’ tends to elicit a whole variety of bile-filled responses.
ADAM: Fair call, from memory you played much more of that Bioshock port than I did. But just moving back to the AAA titles on the horizon; now that the six-year GT5 baby is born (and isn't scoring elevens across the board), you have to wonder how this bodes for the other ludicrously long-lead titles. Will L.A. Noire (being made since 2xxx) and Duke Nukem Forever (announced in the cretaceous period sometime) be unfairly nit-picked because their creators took so long to gather all their balls in a sack?
As a reviewer I would put the developmental timeframe out of my mind completely and judge these games on their individual merits and within the context of their current-day contemporaries. I fully imagine the sensation of playing Duke Nukem again will be a somewhat 'Back To The Future' experience. I won't appreciate it if the gameplay feels like it's stranded in 1955, but I'm sensible and grounded enough to not expect hoverboards and flying cars to shoot out of it. I've made the mistake of expecting those things before (in real-life) and I'm still velcroed to this planet, like a boob. Realistically, all I - and any other gamer - can do is judge those games when they come out, with our minds and expectations set firmly in the present.
What's your take? Does absence make the heart grow fonder? Or do delays do nothing but harden your the cold, black tendrils of your bitter heart? Let us know in the comments below.