READY FOR YOUR CLOSE-UP - May 1995
An anecdote, then. It's June of 1994, a beautiful summer month, blighted for me only by the fact that it was the last one I would spend as one of the mightiest beings ever to create a videogames magazine, preparing as I was to depart for my triumphant reign at Sensible Software (Cannon Fodder 2 - still in the Gallup Top Ten 19 MONTHS LATER, so UP YOURS). As we completed work on Issue 39 and sent the final few pages to the mysterious hellworld that is the printers, the phone rang and I picked it up. It was cuddly PR person Mark Blewitt from Psygnosis, enquiring as to the performance of the firm's three movie licence games of that month (Dracula, Cliffhanger and Last Action Hero) in our stylish and innovative Popcorn Triple Feature review. With the issue completed and sent away, we were able to furnish Mark with the information he required.
"So, how did we do score-wise, then?"
"Hang on, I'll just check. (Flick flick) You got 36 percent."
"Blimey, that's a bit stiff. Which one was that?"
"That was all of them put together."
Just another day on AMIGA POWER. Sigh. (The Dome, who'd been responsible for Last Action Hero (the worst of the three, notching a less-than-stellar 3%), sulked for months, and wouldn't even talk to me while they were employed by Virgin to convert CF2 onto the PC). But what can you do? Practically every film-licence video game ever written has been a foul abomination in the eyes of all civilised society (see the big list at the end if you want to check), and to pretend otherwise would be a sin. But why does it happen this way? Who is responsible? And can it really all be Ocean's fault? I determined to find out.
UNEXPECTEDLY EARLY CONCLUSION
As it turned out, this was a much less demanding task than it initially seemed. Indeed, I'd hardly begun to investigate when the answer fell on me like a big piano. And as it turns out, the answer was a slightly surprising one. Y'see, it's not the software industry's fault that things are this way. It's not the game designers' fault, or the programmers' fault. It's not even, strange as it may seem, Ocean's fault. It's yours. All of it. Your fault. Yes it is.
BUT STUART, THAT'S NOT FAIR
I hear you all now. "Don't be so stupid," you cry indignantly, "WE don't make all these terrible games." And you're right. You don't. You buy them, though, don't you? Nobody's making you, nobody's standing there with a gun at your head, but you still flock down to the shops and fork out money for the latest dull-witted Stallone action platformer (except it doesn't have Stallone in it, because that costs extra, and why bother when the dumb saps will buy a box of dismembered dog's organs as long as it's got the film poster on the box?) as soon as you see the nice pretty pictures on the nice glossy advert. Sounds bitter? You're not the ones who have to spend years ploughing through tragic letters from people going "Oh, I bought this game before I read any reviews and it's terrible! Woe is me!" Over and over and over again.
A famously controversial programmer turned game-design guru called Chris Crawford (he wrote classic Amiga wargame Balance Of Power before even your parents were born) recently expressed dismay at the fact that even the most successful games these days reach barely 1% of the potential market, ie the people who actually already own the computers/consoles. This compares to about 10% a decade ago. This is strange, when you consider the vastly increased profile of video gaming over the last 10 years. Until you think about it, that is. Because Chris Crawford's mistake is that he thinks this is a bad thing for the software industry. The software industry is dribbling down its ill-fitting Armani suits with joy about it.
Think - you're a software company. You spend half a million quid buying a big licence, about a quarter of that developing the actual game as quickly as you can to catch the promotional wave, and twice that much on shrewd and clever marketing. After all, all the clever creative people these days work in marketing. (You KNOW it's true.) So you flog your half-baked game on the back of the butterfly lifespan of the movie, and it's a big success, which is to say you've sold it to that maximum 1% of your potential installed userbase (still making plenty of money, of course, because you're charging 10 times as much as a decade ago). They, being stupid enough to fall for the hype but not COMPLETELY stupid, realise it's a pile of old arse and vow never to buy one of your shoddy games again. Disaster! Why, if that happens just another 99 times in succession (and no more gullible idiots buy a computer in the meantime), you'll really be in trouble...
Satire, there, for inattentive readers.
BORROW MY RAZOR?
Of course, with the machine now comprehensively dead (oh, wake UP), none of this really applies to the Amiga any more. To get an Amiga number 1, all you have to ensure is that your game is (a) about football, and (b) in the shops. (Top tip to Amiga developers: get in now! Plenty of shelf space!) There are actually enough copies of Mortal Kombat in the AMIGA POWER office right now to get it, in a reasonably quiet week, to number 11 or 12 in the Gallup chart if we were to go out and flog them all. I'm completely serious. None of that, however, alters the basic principle, which is that people are stupid and will buy any old crap as long as it's got a brand name on the box, and that magazines like this one, who try to make pointless qualititive judgements based on abstract principles of merit are (a) wasting our breath, time and effort banging our heads against a brick wall, and (b) hence ultimately as doomed as the Amiga itself. So now you know why we sound so grumpy all the time. But hey, let's end on a more upbeat note. Been quite sunny this week, hasn't it?
THE FUTURE OF FILM-LICENCE VIDEO GAMES
Things have been like this, of course, for as long as any of us care to remember. But with the rise of the super-consoles, the biggest sea-change in the history of film games is almost upon us. No longer will we have to suffer tedious, repetitive formulaic platform games where the only difference between Nightbreed and Total Recall is the colour of your character's shirt. Oh no. In the future, we'll all be able to play tedious, repetitive, formulaic Doom clones where the only difference between etc etc.
ON A MISSION FROM GOD
The Blues Brothers is practically the sole exception to nearly all of the rules about film-licence games. It came out years and years after the film, it bears not the slightest, most superficial resemblance to any part of the film, and it's a completely fantastic game. It makes you wonder, in fact, why Titus bothered paying out a load of cash for the licence at all. Until, of course, you realise that absolutely no-one would have bought it just because it was a good game (see Titus The Fox, an almost-identical game from the same firm, only bigger and better, but with a non-licence character, which was consequently far less successful), because they've never heard of Titus or seen them on the TV, then get a bit depressed and want to cry.
|MAKE YOUR OWN FILM-LICENCE AMIGA GAME
You will need:
(5) A great big truck to carry money to the bank in.
OCEAN - KINGS OF THE FILM LICENCE VIDEO GAME
Having been responsible for just under 42% of all the film-licence Amiga games in history, Manchester software giants Ocean are clearly the undisputed lords of the genre. Why, just check out this fantastic random selection of some of their hits, with original comments from Jonathan Davies' undeniably definitive guide book, The Official Guide To Every Amiga Game Ever (only £12.99, a few copies still available from AP Mail Order! Depending on how you define 'few'.)
BATMAN - THE CAPED CRUSADER
"An arcadey adventure that's so samey looking, you're never sure where you are or what you're meant to be doing."
"Dull platform game with lots of flaws, clumsy character control being the main one."
"The driving section is imaginative and fun, but everything else is hackneyed, licence-by-numbers rubbish. Not quite as bad as Total Recall or Nightbreed, but not very much better, either. The worst film game for quite some time."
"The control system can reduce some to tears. Try before you buy." (Oh dear.)
"We reviewed this a few months ago, and it's aged badly already."
"Technically unimpressive (to say the least), and there's very little to it."
NIGHTBREED - THE ACTION GAME
NIGHTBREED - THE INTERACTIVE MOVIE
"Really horrible adventure-ish thing with tons of disk swapping that isn't nearly worth the effort."
"Sadly lacking in gameplay."
"Worse than the movie, and that's saying something."
"Duff sub-games compete with terrible controls for the worst feature in this dismal film tie-in. As for good points, there aren't any, and the only reason it's got one star is because we can't give any less."
"Robocop moves tediously from left to right and shoots everything in his path. More like half man, half duff game, and very little to do with the movie."
"Great graphics, excellent presentation, awkward controls, infuriating gameplay traits."
"Only one of the sub-games has any real merit of its own, and the rest are even worse than the norm for this kind of thing."
Ocean - you've made them rich.
AS FAR AS WE CAN ASCERTAIN, EVERY AMIGA FILM-LICENCE GAME IN THE WORLD... EVER!
All games are by Ocean unless otherwise specified. All games are terrible unless otherwise specified. Nearly all games consist of about half-a-dozen half-baked sub-games you wouldn't want to play for more than four minutes on their own. Unless... otherwise... specified.
>>>Sue - probably a little small-print no-pictures box down one side of the page, unless you need to fill up some space or something. Unless you wanted to leave the space for artistic reasons, of course. Heck, who am I to tell you how to do your job? Just do what you like.
ADDAMS FAMILY - Decent Super Mario rip-off.
AKIRA (ICE) - Stupendously appalling sub-gamer.
ALADDIN (Virgin) - Pretty platformer.
ALIEN 3 (Acclaim) - Okay shoot-'em-up.
BACK TO THE FUTURE 2 (Mirrorsoft) - Hideous formula crap.
BACK TO THE FUTURE 3 (Mirrorsoft) - Nice formula crap.
BATMAN RETURNS (Gametek) - Crap crappy crap.
BATMAN THE CAPED CRUSADER - Weird comic-strip idea.
BATMAN THE MOVIE - A better movie than Batman Forever. AND IT'S NOT EVEN A MOVIE.
BEVERLY HILLS COP (Tynesoft) - Fantastic, subtle, innovative. Just three of the words never found in reviews of Beverly Hills Cop.
BLUES BROTHERS (Titus) - See ON A MISSION FROM GOD
COOL WORLD - Crap World, more like.
CLIFFHANGER (Psygnosis) - Craphanger, more like.
DARKMAN - Crapman... more... like.
DRACULA (Psygnosis) - Er... Crapula? *(Stop now. - Ed)*
ELVIRA - MISTRESS OF THE DARK (Accolade) - Dull zillion-disk adventure.
ELVIRA - THE JAWS OF CEREBUS (Accolade) - The same, but with more disks.
THE GODFATHER (US Gold) - An offer you could refuse REALLY EASILY.
HARE RAISING HAVOC (Disney) - Hard-drive-only cartoon drivel with Roger Rabbit.
HOME ALONE (Accolade) - Oh go on, YOU work it out.
HOOK - So-so Lucasarts adventure clone.
HUDSON HAWK - Only two letters away from being an anagram of SHODDY WANK.
INDIANA JONES ADVENTURE (US Gold) - Enjoyable Lucasarts number.
INDIANA JONES FATE OF ATLANTIS - THE ADVENTURE (US Gold) - Another one.
INDIANA JONES FATE OF ATLANTIS - THE ACTION GAME (US Gold) - Stinky clunker.
INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (US Gold) - Another one.
JURASSIC PARK - Nice 3D bits, dismal maze bits.
JUNGLE BOOK (Monkey Business) - Ancient, horrible budget game with 'educational' undertones.
KARATE KID 2 (Microdeal) - No idea what this one was about at all.
LAST ACTION HERO (Psygnosis) - If only.
LETHAL WEAPON - Another film licence game failing to feature the characters from the film. Stinking cheapskates.
LICENCE TO KILL (Domark) - Attention Americans! Buy a dictionary, for Christ's sake.
THE LION KING (Virgin) - Vicious, bloodthirsty 3D shoot-'em-up with some controversial sex scenes.
LIVE AND LET DIE (Domark) - *(You can't leave that lie on there. - Ed)*
NAVY S.E.A.L.S - *(That's not a lion, that's a S.E.A.L.! Boom bloody boom. - Peter Sellers)*
NIGHTBREED - THE ACTION GAME - Hideous maze tedium.
NIGHTBREED - THE INTERACTIVE MOVIE - Could this be the first documented use of the term "interactive movie"? Do write in and tell us.
PLATOON - Quite nice war-is-hell-'em-up.
PREDATOR - And sure enough, there *was* a sequel.
PREDATOR 2 (Image Works) - Came after the first one, confusingly.
RAMBO 3 - The guy downstairs has been banging on his wall with a big hammer since 8.15 this morning. It's now half past three. I'm going to go down there and twat him in a minute.
RED HEAT - Only three letters away from being an anagram of ARSE HEAD.
ROBOCOP - Like the Gameboy and Spectrum versions, but without the lovely intro music. Did you know the Gameboy version was later used in a washing machine advert, recorded straight from the little handheld with no alterations? DID YOU?
ROBOCOP 2 - Status Quo, 25 years in the Business. More like.
ROBOCOP 3 - The good one. Relatively speaking. Nothing to do with the film it predated by some years.
THE RUNNING MAN (Domark) - Even in this company, remarkably horrible.
THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (Domark) - Cool Spy Hunter-ish game with tiny graphics.
TERMINATOR 2 - The second-worst Ocean film licence game starting with "T" in the world... ever!
T2 THE ARCADE GAME (Virgin) - Sloppy Operation Wolf antics.
TOTAL RECALL - I remember this one. Possibly the nadir of the film platform game.
20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (Infogrames) - No, really. Mostly, you just watched.
THE UNTOUCHABLES - Stylish and likeable sub-games job.
WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (Infogrames) - He's got a drill out now. Right, that's it.