Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Now You're Midway

[Game Design]

Midway Games. I still have fond memories of them.

I respected Midway once, in a long lost era. It was a time of hope and optimism, when there was an arcade on every corner and the Sega Genesis represented the epitome of console technology. In that golden age, that long-lost land of electronic wonderment, the vision of the Midway logo on your home television screen was a promise of raw, untainted entertainment.

They made Tron. They made Mortal Kombat. They made Rampage. They made NBA Jam.

So what the hell happened? When exactly during Midway's long and twisted saga of mergers and acquisitions did the fun fall out of the bucket?

Some friends and I have been playing the Gamecube Gauntlet: Dark Legacy over the last few weeks, and although we have a dogged determination to finish it, I have to say that it's a whole barrel of bad. The three separate occasions on which the game's bugged out and crashed are the least of the problems. Seeing that Midway logo floating as the game boots up has become a warning of near-inquisitorial levels of forthcoming pain.

It's the same deal over in their Mortal Kombat franchise. What was once an edgy yet tongue-in-cheek game filled with top-notch gameplay and buckets of secrets has degenerated into a shallow exercise in fan-service, re-served annually in new and exciting flavours of bland. (Gamespot describes the latest entry, Armageddon as "stiff and clunky" and adds that it "hasn't aged gracefully".)

Rampage is another betrayal. I played the Sega Master System version of the original Rampage to death. Never has smashing a building been so viscerally fun. And yet the best Midway can do with the franchise is to dress up the original game's corpse in new graphics and trot it out every couple of years a la Weekend at Bernie's.

It's the inevitable vicissitudes of time, I guess. If quality in game design lies anywhere, it's in the people, and the sad fact is that people get old, move on, and are run down by out of control buses. The Midway name doesn't carry any intrinsic value that can't be shortened by one postal employee in a crowded office.

So when all your past reputation can't help you make a game that doesn't induce brain aneurysms - congratulations! Now you're Midway.

When your entire creative output consists of remixed versions of your "classic" games - congratulations! Now you're Midway.

And when you're intent on digging up the corpses of 80s gaming classics and having oral sex with them in front of classes of traumatised schoolchildren?

Congratulations!

Now you're Midway.

3 comments:

GregT said...

Oh, and as much as I don't necessarily endorse GameWorld Network, they're on topic in the following August 17 article:

"The Failings of Midway"

Chris said...

Thank you so much for mentioning the 1982 Tron game. I loved this so much! :)

I too could not believe how buggy the GameCube version of Dark Legacy was - not to mention how much of a step backwards from the Dreamcast Gauntlet Legends it was. On the DC, I was able to introduce all manner of non-gaming friends to videogames with the easy-to-play Gauntlet Legends - I wouldn't show Dark Legacy to anyone except to show how bad it was. :(

How did Nintendo QA pass such a disaster?!

GregT said...

My hazy memory of the arcade game suggests that the Gamecube Dark Legacy was a fairly faithful port (bugs excepted, of course). But I could be very wrong, as I played the arcade for all of an hour total.

IMO, the real problems with Dark Legacy go beyond the dodgy graphics and questionable coding and into some of the basic gameplay. Admittedly, a good Gauntlet game should be nice and simple, but not to the point where you can be walk the controller into the next room during the boss fights and know you're fine as long as the rapid-fire is depressed (as one friend who's playing it with me has done at least once).