Footsteps resounded in the halls and recesses of the Sinistry of Games as Oo_HPxHG4life_oO hurried along the corridor, the flickering images of pre-rendered “in-game” trailers playing on the surrounding screens dancing on his face. Clutched in his hands was a tome, the result of a long study by videomancers in the field.
His hands trembled, and for good reason: this tome would shake the very foundations of game development going forward. It would prove even more impactful than It’s DLC All the Way Down: Methods for Content Compartmentalisation, greater even than The Real Winner is Guns: Lessons for Makers of Cute Indie Platformers from E3.
Pausing only briefly in the antechamber to his masters’ audience room to catch his breath, he strode in. As always the chamber was lightless, save for the illuminated podium in the centre. He thought he caught the glint of light glistening off something long and prehensile, wetly retracting itself into the darkness as he mounted the platform.
“Sires,” he said, bowing deeply. “Baron EA. Lady Ubisoft. Daemon Sony. Bobby Kotick.” As Oo_HPxHG4life_oO proceeded through the names — as is required by the Nine Rites — a listless slithering could be heard in the distance. “I come with great tidings.”
“At last: you have uncovered the Order of the Phoenix!” gurgled a voice, exultant, from many mouths.
“We’re only parodying those books, so no, my liege, but a fine guess. We finally know… The Five Features Gamers Totally Actually Want.”
There was an excited murmuring from the assembled host. Then Sony spoke. “Have you cribbed this from Chris Kemp again? Writers get shirty when you copy their content. Azathoth knows our treasury is stretched thin as it is, paying every blogger and two-bit journalist for positive pre—”
“No, my lord,” interjected Oo_HPxHG4life_oO. “This is legitimate – collated from every forum post, article comment, Facebook Like and online petition made by Real Gamers™.” The Sinistry of Games, of course, read every one of these earnestly and in detail; the prayers of the faithful, where every typo and offensive tirade was as ambrosia.
“Very well,” hissed Kotick, oldest of the Sinistry, who Oo_HPxHG4life_oO knew wore the bodily vestment of an overgrown Hobbit but whose eyes glittered with the light of dead stars. “What are these features?”
Oo_HPxHG4life_oO inhaled deeply, steadying himself, then snapped open the lock on the tome, quickly flicking to the section entitled Executive Precis. “The first is…”
1080p/720p, 60 frames per second
“That’s it,” said Oo_HPxHG4life_oO. “At least, for the first feature. The game must display natively at either 1080p or 720p, and must run at precisely 60 frames per second.”
“Can gamers discern these differences at a glance?” asked Microsoft curiously, whose eyes were the finest in the land and had, until recently, been everywhere.
“We don’t believe so, save for the videomancers of the Digital Foundry and the Master Race,” conceded Oo_HPxHG4life_oO. “Our recommendation would be to have some sort of counter running in the corner — possibly tallying the different coloured pixels in individual categories – or making it part of the HUD. The only thing gamers love more than knowing it’s running at 1080p/720p and exactly 60 frames per second, is talking about when it isn’t.”
“Does the game matter?”
“That’s truly the beauty of it! In fact,” he said, skimming quickly through the contents of the Precis to confirm, “None of these features really hinge on the gameplay at all. Like this one:”
Clone, Sequelise, Copy, Remaster
“What!?” exclaimed Ubisoft. Born from the seething emotions of the French Revolution as the first and only female in that century, and as one of the younger (and sexier) demons of the Sinistry, she was prone to sudden outbursts. “Simply copy? But what of whimsical rhyming RPGs? Of deeply empathic stories set during the first of humanity’s great World Wars? Everybody loves Rayman!”
“Of course, that’s what they SAY they want, my… peeress,” soothed Oo_HPxHG4life_oO, beginning to run out of synonyms. Ubisoft’s artistic eccentricities were well-known. “At least publicly. But if the sales figures for sequels and HD remakes are anything to go by, well… Your most successful works have been about a certain… assassin?”
She sniffed sullenly. “Each of those had unique qualities. Did you play the last one with the pirate ships? Rather good, really. ‘Swashbuckling’, IGN called it.”
“Was that the one set in New Orleans?” drawled a voice, “Or the one with the prostitutes?”
“No, no, that’s most of them. It’s the one where the protagonist wears a cowl and stabs people. There’s sharks in it,” said another from the throng.
“Sharks? I thought that was Far Cry 3.”
There was a polite but menacing cough from Ubisoft. A dangerous silence fell upon the assemblage.
“It’s our duty to heed this call, regardless,” intervened Kotick. “What else?”
“Well,” said Oo_HPxHG4life_oO, scanning the tome. “Next is–”
“Don’t we have this already?” Rockstar asked, yawning audibly. “Pretty sure we just mentioned the prostitutes. Besides, developers are modelling breasts in everything from Dead or Alive to The Forest. I don’t understand this bit at all.”
There was a shuffling from the outer rim, as the other members of the Sinistry distanced themselves ever so slightly from Rockstar. Elder beings of unsavoury, malefic, and grossly offensive humours, even they knew when something was in poor taste.
“Whoops, sorry,” said Oo_HPxHG4life_oO, abashed. “I misread that, you see the research videomancers crossed that out. That’s NOT what they want. It’s ‘Fun’ they want. Apparently, the two are mutually exclusive.”
“I thought they wanted games to be art?” said Ubisoft. “You know, like Citizen Kane: The Last of Us? When Ellie called out ‘Rosebud’ at the very end…“
“As long as it doesn’t tackle serious issues, obviously. Fun art is fine.”
“‘Farts’, if you will,” said Rockstar, a master of the genre.
“Moving along,” said Oo_HPxHG4life_oO. “The last is:”
There were exasperated sighs from the audience now; in spite of their best efforts, the Sinistry had failed to make diplomatic headway in the Platform Wars. They’d made a real breakthrough by simply discarding the literal definition of exclusivity altogether, applying it as broadly as possible to everything from staggered platform launches and pre-order incentives that were later repackaged as DLC.
“Absurd. Surely, you don’t wish us to reduce our market share?” asked EA, insectile mandibles clicking rapidly in agitation. The Baron’s games could be found on anything with a microprocessor and a display; Oo_HPxHG4life_oO had come home one day to find his microwave loaded with a complimentary version of Leftover Heater and needed to wait several hours to warm his ready meals unless he paid 600 Bachelor Bucks.
“No, Baron. What they really mean is ports. They make for great listicle bait. It’s even better if you have exclusive content in each version, but keep the core of the game the same, and make a point of saying you just couldn’t have done this on any other platform. The Sinistry’s PR office suggests using big green ticks.”
EA was the first to cotton on, grinning in the shadows. “Are you saying that gamers don’t actually care if it’s exclusive…?”
“As long as they can say why it would have been better on their own platform alone, yes,” completed Oo_HPxHG4life_oO. “Fortunately, if we follow the first and second guidelines, there should be enough similarities to draw comparisons to.”
Season Pass content
He snapped the tome shut, bowed, and turned to leave.
“Hold, Wormtai– I mean, OhOhUnderscoreHPeeExHGeeFourLifeUnderscoreOhOh,” commanded Kotick. “That’s only four. Did you not announce five features at the start?“
Oo_HPxHG4life_oO turned. He could feel the congregation’s anticipation.
“Indeed. But the videomancers decided it was good enough, so they released it anyway. You can’t criticise it, though.” He paused. “It’s Early Access, after all.”
He could still hear the applause and congratulatory slapping of appendages as he, respectfully and with relish, closed the chamber doors on both the Sinistry and a horrendous article.