Alice: The Madness Returns, Returns, and Returns...Look, there it is again!

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Matt Barton's picture

It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.Let me start by saying I haven't played Alice: Madness Returns and will probably never play it. After all, avoiding games like this is why I read reviews, such as this one, this one, and this one. If you don't want to read all those, let me sum it up for you: The baby has turned into a pig.

It's funny how so many quotes from Lewis Carroll's work seem appropriate here. Consider:

March Hare: Have some wine.
(Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea.)
Alice: I don't see any wine.
March Hare: There isn't any.
Alice: Then it wasn't very civil of you to offer it.
March Hare: It wasn't very civil of you to sit down without being invited.

Truth be told, this game probably wouldn't even be on my gamedar if it weren't for the high profile of American McGee's Alice, which I've read about for years but failed to actually get my hands on. You see, unlike those stupid "collectors' editions" of every piece of shovelware pumped out by the majors these days, American McGee's Alice actually is a collector's item. Why? Well, for the same reasons that a lot of things end up that way; limited productions, popularity after-the-fact (through word of mouth). Of course it helps to have a wildly original gameworld and premise (see yesterday's post). However, to be fair, the reviewers back then were saying pretty much the same thing about that game. Here's Gamespot: "While you'll undoubtedly enjoy the imaginative artwork, you might end up disappointed with just how straightforward the underlying game really is." Hm.

Now, I'm not going to say that gameplay is king. It's really more like the Queen of Hearts, and by that I mean a foaming-mouthed bitch queen with a big fat crown on her head, eager to chop off your head at the slightest whim. I think that's a great metaphor for gameplay, actually, since we all know how fickle we can be with games. One minute we're in love with a game, the next we're so bored we'd rather paint roses.

But back to the point. I think what these games might be striving for (at least, I'd like to think) were some kind of artsy fartsy aesthetic value. I can imagine the designers saying, "The gameplay isn't the point. This is something beautiful to behold." I guess it's kinda like pottery must have been back in the day. I'd always be saying, "What do you mean I can't put my beer in that pot? You mean it's just a pretty thing to be looked at?" I know plenty of artists whose very definition of art is something that can possibly serve no practical value. If we consider gameplay to be the practical value of a game, then it all makes sense.

I was reminded of this a few days ago at a wedding party. The couple had a registry, and on it they had placed some Waterford crystal drinking goblets of some sort. I won't get into details, but these were what I'd consider very expensive. Now, they were fantastic and beautiful. But I have to say, given the choice I'd rather have a Styrofoam cup and spend my money on, I don't know, a new TV? I mean, how often are you going to break out those glasses; maybe once a year? A TV is something I'd watch everyday, at least until my legs atrophied. Oh, wait, then I'd watch it more.

I need a TV, see, because like so many other games, this is a console-to-PC port, and the control scheme shows it. The mouselook will drive you maaaaaad. Oh, and if you want to get a free copy of the original game, you'd better buy a console version (which include an option to download it). Oh, wait, got a PC? Then you'd better act fast: If you download the Complete Collection, only available until June 17th, you PC idiots can also get the original. Not the retail box, mind you. Just the download.

Off with their heads!

So, the lesson for today isn't that style should come before substance, or after it, or under it. Rather, style can be substance, as long as you make it clear that this is game intended to be looked at rather than played. And that's the reason they're called lessons, because they lesson from day to day.

One of my favorite Lewis Carroll quotes is that "sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." Here's my six for this morning:

1. Game designers will stop focusing on graphics and start focusing on gameplay.
2. Game developers will base their development on the high-end platform (ahem, the PC) and port to boondoggles. Oops, I meant to say consoles.
3. Game publishers will stop forcing developers to make sequels, remakes, and suck-pods just because game X has an established fanbase.
4. EA will give a free download code to PC gamers who buy this at the store.
5. Developers will stop thinking "DLC" and go back to putting all those extras into the original games like they used to...
6. Publishers will realize that DRM is a stupid idea and never use it again.

Comments

clok1966
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Joined: 01/21/2009
matt are you turning grumpy

matt are you turning grumpy like me? I quite enjoyed the original Alice game.. as reviews say.... its nothing more thant any other FPS clothed in Carrols book characters.. but, what else can they do.

Now I wont be getting it as the DIGITAL wars first real shots have been fired. its not on STEAM, and as LIVE GAMES for windows has shown to me.. If you dont follow a strict (make it EASY!!!!) formula like STEAM its CRAP!!!! MS Digital service is annoying as heck. My auto login never works.. hardly.. and i currntly own -2- titles that use it.. EA is trying the heavy handed tactic.. us or nobody with there Digital (steam doenst care if you have it on GOG, IMPULSE, D2D, put it where you want) service. Just recently CRYSIS 2 (which I did purchase on STEAM) was pulled off STEAM and now sport (only ON EA) so ....

I wont run 2-4-6 game services to play my games... Im going to JOIN MATT and want boxed copies if its not on STEAM... EA might have enough clout to pull this off, im just not sure..

Compatition is good.. but in the case I dont like it.. I already have way to much crap running in the background of my PC, having STEAM auto update games qwhen Im not playing is nice.. but if IM in a game on STEAM and EA start dragging me down updating.. just not good..

GOG is clearly the best solution for the end user.. but DRM free will never go over with teh big boys...

Junkmale (not verified)
Ummmm........

I must confess that i was one of the few that did purchase the original 'Alice' when it was released back in the day.
I hated it.
It's a perfect example of why 3rd person, 3D platform games just don't work.
Fiddly controls, terrible camera angles, it commits every sin the move into 3D brought with it.
I stuck with it for quite awhile, right up until an impossible 'boss' battle against the Mad Hatter brought the frustration levels into the red zone.
Sold it on eBay not so long ago for a not inconsiderable ammount of money and smiled to myself at the folly of the buyer who clearly believed the hype.
Buy the sequel......not in a million years.

Rowdy Rob
Rowdy Rob's picture
Offline
Joined: 09/04/2006
I had this game!!! (And some counter-arguments)

This was a collectors item!?!? How much does it go for on Ebay? I definitely had (and played) this game several years ago. I have no idea where it is now; I must have given it to somebody....

Matt Barton wrote:

However, to be fair, the reviewers back then were saying pretty much the same thing about that game. Here's Gamespot: "While you'll undoubtedly enjoy the imaginative artwork, you might end up disappointed with just how straightforward the underlying game really is." Hm.

Yeah, that sounds like a pretty fair review, although the game was a reasonably enjoyable romp for a while. It was a rather linear platformer/3rd-person-shooter, somewhere in between "Tomb Raider" and "Mario 64" in gameplay mechanics. I wasn't aware of any of the hype when I bought it, it just looked like a "dark humor" game based in the "Alice in Wonderland" setting. To be honest, I only have vague memories of the gameplay, and I set the game aside after I came across a level I couldn't beat. It was an underwater swimming level, following a rabbit... wow, that sounds bizarre, now that I typed that.

Matt Barton wrote:

But back to the point. I think what these games might be striving for (at least, I'd like to think) were some kind of artsy fartsy aesthetic value. I can imagine the designers saying, "The gameplay isn't the point. This is something beautiful to behold."

I don't know about the new "Alice" game (and in fact this is the first I've heard of the new game), but the original didn't come across as "artsy" at all, just a rather straight-forward platformer/shooter with some decent graphics and a "Wonderland" setting. And as such, it wasn't just "something beautiful to behold," it was actually a slick, competently-produced game that was very playable and fun (until I gave up). I don't consider it a classic though, as my vague memory of the game demonstrates.

Matt Barton wrote:

I was reminded of this a few days ago at a wedding party. The couple had a registry, and on it they had placed some Waterford crystal drinking goblets of some sort. I won't get into details, but these were what I'd consider very expensive. Now, they were fantastic and beautiful. But I have to say, given the choice I'd rather have a Styrofoam cup and spend my money on, I don't know, a new TV? I mean, how often are you going to break out those glasses; maybe once a year? A TV is something I'd watch everyday, at least until my legs atrophied. Oh, wait, then I'd watch it more.

This is kind of how I feel about "trinkets" included with many of the old-school games, and even some of the newer ones. Hey, I got a cool key chain with my copy of "Darwinia!" Ummm, now what? What am I supposed to do with that? Am I supposed to actually put my keys on it? If I do, then it will get worn out, and I won't be able to sell it to some collector for crazy money in a few years.

I seem to recall Bill saying that one of the classic games (I think it was "Autoduel") came with a working tool set. Um.... did Bill use these tools to fix his sink or something?!? Heck no, he's not that stupid! It's just a cool trinket that added nothing to the game. Luckily, "Autoduel" was a great game, but these trinkets should be after-market items rather than included in the cost of the game (which, make no mistake, you're PAYING for these trinkets). These trinkets drive the games costs UP, when I think they should be coming DOWN.

Matt Barton wrote:

One of my favorite Lewis Carroll quotes is that "sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." Here's my six for this morning:

I'll play "devil's advocate" here and counter some of your arguments.

Matt Barton wrote:

1. Game designers will stop focusing on graphics and start focusing on gameplay.

But people EXPECT great graphics now! Look at the reviews "Duke Nukem Forever" is getting! Amongst the many criticisms, the graphics are scolded as being "outdated" and "old-school," even though they are obviously light-years ahead of the original Duke Nukem 3D! Players want great graphics now; it's definitely a selling point.

Matt Barton wrote:

2. Game developers will base their development on the high-end platform (ahem, the PC) and port to boondoggles. Oops, I meant to say consoles.

A high-end platform costs high-end money, beyond the means of many families today. If gameplay is to be concentrated on over audio/visuals, then games shouldn't have to rely on the latest (and soon to be outdated) state-of-the-art. Since developing for the PC market is like trying to hit a smaller, multi-headed moving target, it makes more sense to concentrate on a more stable, locked-in, and widespread market like a console. Plus, the piracy is far less prevalent on the consoles, meaning less risk.

Matt Barton wrote:

3. Game publishers will stop forcing developers to make sequels, remakes, and suck-pods just because game X has an established fanbase.

People want sequels. People expect sequels. People demand sequels! "Hey, when's the next 'Mario' coming out?" If you think about it, every episode of a TV show is a sequel! People enjoy the format presented (story, gameplay, characters, etc.) and want more of the same. If you overdo it, you run into the "Guitar Hero" fiasco, with people becoming bored with the property. But sales trends confirm that people want sequels, and will pay good money to play them. Hence, we have the buildup of hype over "Duke Nukem Forever!" If nobody wanted it, it would have never been in development hell for 14 years, much less released.

Matt Barton wrote:

4. EA will give a free download code to PC gamers who buy this at the store.

I can't come up with any counter-argument here. This point just makes sense, from both the conumer and the business standpoint.

Matt Barton wrote:

5. Developers will stop thinking "DLC" and go back to putting all those extras into the original games like they used to...

Downloadable content allows some "breathing room" for the developers, and if it were a thing back in the day, perhaps "Duke Nukem Forever" might have been released sooner (for better or worse). It also is smart business, keeping the consumers' interest in the property high while they develop the clamored-for sequel.

Matt Barton wrote:

6. Publishers will realize that DRM is a stupid idea and never use it again.

Not going to happen, unless people stop pirating the publishers' games.

Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969
Degrees
Rowdy Rob wrote:

I seem to recall Bill saying that one of the classic games (I think it was "Autoduel") came with a working tool set. Um.... did Bill use these tools to fix his sink or something?!? Heck no, he's not that stupid! It's just a cool trinket that added nothing to the game. Luckily, "Autoduel" was a great game, but these trinkets should be after-market items rather than included in the cost of the game (which, make no mistake, you're PAYING for these trinkets). These trinkets drive the games costs UP, when I think they should be coming DOWN.

Actually, it was a quite usable mini-toolset (I think I broke one of the items from use), at least the screwdriver part, but your point is well taken. While it's understandable that fancy maps, trinkets, etc., add to the cost of the game, in quantity it's at the most an extra dollar or two (and in many cases, much less), which really is not that much for something that a decent percentage of players value/remember/get a kick out of. For instance, going back to AutoDuel, while the mini toolset was probably unnecessary (or, more precisely, hard to argue it was necessary), the fold-out map (like those glove-box maps pre-GPS era) was very useful to the game. Sure, it could have just been a printed sheet of paper, but honestly, making it like a real world glove-box map really did add to the immersiveness of what is after all a role-playing game.

I think the problem is is that once gamers accepted the death of premium packaging (in that, sales didn't suffer) and those kinds of feelies were no longer effective as piracy retardents (due to quality scanners, for instance), it kind of opened the floodgates for today's rather unacceptable complete lack of instructions. In other words, it opened the door for companies like EA to literally give you the game box (a DVD-style keepcase) and the disc, and that's it, all in the guise of being "environmentally friendly". Of course there's no mention of what that does for their bottom line, particularly since they still charge the same amount as always.

n/a

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