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Everyone likes an original concept. Everyone likes Tim Schafer. I mean, who wouldn’t? This is the guy who brought us some of the most classic adventures from the 90s. He gave us Psychonauts. He’s an all around nice guy, and we enjoyed talking to him about Brutal Legend earlier this year, amongst other things.

What seems to have occurred, sadly, is that poor Tim decided he was sick of making amazing games that the general public avoided and decided to create something accessible. What actually happened was a complete mess of marketing and hype; a tale of selling something that didn’t exist.

Brutal Legend will undoubtedly have a strong following for years to come. Tim Schafer is the classic design underdog. He’s friendly, accessible, and legitimately enjoys his craft as well as the gamers who indulge him. He has a ridiculously creative mind and his knowledge of gaming conventions are second to none. It’s no surprise, then, that BL looked to be that hack’n'slash (h’n's) adventure, full of humour and egocentricity of the heavy metal genre, we would enjoy.

The demo eased us in. The ark of Schafer doesn’t disappoint; the writing is funny, the voice acting, art style and animation are spot on. Nice touches, including giving players the option of “accepting” gore and profanity hinted at the clever design choices that only a seasoned designer could know. We mashed our way through some mobs, built a hotrod, and took down a boss. Intense.

But then something interesting happened. For the second time in a year, I was shocked at the different directions taken from a demo. Arkham Asylum‘s preview presented a relatively standard brawler with little differentiation from other licensed properties. What we received finally broke the “curse” and ended up as one of the standout games of the year. In Brutal Legend’s case, however, what was hidden inside the final product, presented a conundrum.

Those “RTS elements”, the significant portions of the game that have split critics and gamers alike, have cracked open the rotten egg, that is hype, and highlights the problems in relation to how a game should be marketed. In most minds, including our own review of BL, many people are happy with the game they received. But others feel not only disappointed, but even a little duped. Was this the game that was drip-fed into our throbbing veins of anticipation? No.

Criticism of the “Stage Battles” aside, it’s interesting to wonder who made the decision to push the title as a h’n's adventure in the vein of God of War. All of the many video spots, screenshots and interviews leading up to its release, provided a singular view of the gameplay. Tim was quoted as saying the game had “RTS influences,” but it was never mentioned more then once or twice, essentially making it a throwaway statement.

Tim’s come out recently, claiming that the game isn’t in fact an RTS, which is true – it’s not. But it’s not in the same way that Fallout 3 isn’t a First Person Shooter – it’s an RPG with FPS elements.  It’s one where many people would argue that the FPS “influence” is a pretty significant part of the game. The difference here is that Bethesda, the developers of Fallout 3, were very open and honest from the beginning of how the title would look and play. There were no unpleasant surprises for gamers on release; the game largely played in the way many expected it to.

It’s disingenuous to think that your audience, especially in the day and age of 24 hour coverage, wouldn’t be upset about being sold one thing and provided with another. If you purchased a hybrid car, but then realised when you got home that it was only a hybrid for six weeks before the batteries died, you’d want a refund. EA made sure that this was the case with Brutal Legend. All reviews were embargoed until the release date, the demo pushed the party line, and the hype train ran until the very end.

It might sound like I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill, but I can’t stress it enough that developers and publishers need to handle marketing their games properly. Hype is a very dangerous tool. It’s perfectly fine if you can live up to it. Spore, another EA title that provided disappointment, suffered from the same problem. The damage caused from miss-aligned promises and expectations is much harder to clean up than being honest and forthright from the beginning.

Some people like to call this disillusionment in relation to hype control and marketing the “Molyneux Rule”, where talking up your game to the point of insanity almost dooms it to complete failure. In Brutal Legend‘s case, I think what happened was a simple case of Bring the punters in for a rousing bout of decapitations, Jack Black style, then suddenly introduce them to your mashup of classic gaming conventions.

Designers like Tim should be applauded for taking risks and introducing new ways to play a story. But the key is being honest to your market. Tricking people into taking the same risks with their own money isn’t a method that tends to resonate well with any consumer. Call a spade a spade, and you’ll be surprised how many people will voluntarily come along for a ride.

Note: I still love you Tim, and if you ever find yourself in Brisbane, I will gladly buy you a beer and allow you punch me in the face if you so wish.
  1. Hired this game tonight, and although I’m an absolute Jack Black and Tim Schafer addict, I kept having to remind myself, “This is the same guy who gave us Day of the Tentacle.”

    Everyone is allowed a stuff-up. Hopefully this is Schafer’s last.

  2. Agreed. I was actually going to refund this game for Uncharted 2 today, but decided against it and instead wanted to see the storyline through.

    The main problem isn’t the hype machine for me. While everyone else was hyping this up to be mega-awesome, I never payed attention to the videos, the interviews, or the screenshots. I knew it was hyped, I knew it was getting attention, but I didn’t really want any part of it. Once I popped the disc in, I thought it was decent. It actually got better once the RTS elements came into play, as I wasn’t ‘expectating’ anything from Brutal Legend. The main problem with the game is actually the framerate stutters and ‘meh’ graphics — technical problems.

    Other than that, I actually think it’s an alright game. Great write-up though, I do feel a little sorry for those who were expecting something a little… different.

  3. @Jeff
    The hype was MUCH more apparent if you live in America.

    You can’t escape the commercials, or going to work and hearing “so, did you see Jack Black on Jimmy Fallon Live last night, promoting that new Brutal game?!”

    The people I feel terrible for are the general public. All they saw in the demo, and on TV was a “wacky crazy action game starring Jack Black, with old songs you remember from your childhood, like Judas Priest, and a content filter/easy mode so the whole family can enjoy it!” Then they dropped $60 on it, and it turned into part RTS out of nowhere.

  4. This was a great read James.

    While I understand where you are coming from, I myself have not felt “duped” by the marketing campaign or by the final product itself. That’s because I’ve known for months now that the game included heavy amounts of RTS elements.

    Almost every website out there has been reporting on this since Double Fine invited journalists to try out the multiplayer mode months ago. Since then it’s been talked about in magazines, on websites, and on blog spaces. Considering most gamers stay extremely connected to the online video games universe, I don’t see how they could have missed this.

    This being the case, the only people who shouldn’t know Brutal Legend is an RTS are those who only pay attention to the marketing campaign. Now can you blame the marketing group for not marketing this game as an RTS?

    We all know that the RTS genre gets pathetic sales on home consoles. With the exception of Halo Wars, it’s almost impossible to launch a succesful RTS game. I’m sure the Brutal Legend marketing group knew this and decided to surge forward with a campaign that specifically highlighted attributes it knew would sell.

    Now I understand you are argueing that we were “duped” and lied to, but they didn’t really lie to us. They just didn’t tell us the whole truth. Is this morally correct? no! Is this good marketing sense in situations like this? Most likely yes!

  5. It must just be me, but I remember being told it would have RTS elements when watching an official press release, in fact I watched some being played through 6 weeks or so ago.

  6. Mr. Schafer,

    When you punch James in the face, please videotape it and send it to us here at Gamer Limit.

  7. As surprising as this is going to sound, I live in the States and I didn’t hear too much about Brutal Legend before it arrived. I may be able to attest that to having a particularly busy few weeks at the time, though.

  8. avatar Some Guy

    I’m so tired of people bitching about the RTS elements. Yes, it’s different than what you expected. OH THE TRAGEDY! I for one, was pleasantly surprised. Hack n’ Slash wears thin VERY quickly and is highly overrated. I loved this game because of the variety it provided.

  9. @Some Guy

    I don’t think that it’s just that it’s different that what was expected. If you market a product as being something specific, and it turns out that your product is NOT the same as you’ve presented it, it’s natural for people to be angry. Imagine if, somehow (bear with me here), watching the trailer for a movie that presented itself to be a comedy. The name of the movie? Oh, I dunno…Schindler’s List. Then, you go and watch Schindler’s List, thinking “oh hahaha this is gonna be sooo funny”, but what you get instead is a drama. …An EXCELLENT drama, but naturally, you’re going to be a little pissed off if you went to see it expecting a comedy movie.

    It’s not the best analogy – in fact, it’s pretty bad; I blame the fact that it’s almost 4 AM – but do you get the idea? THAT is what people are mad about. We were presented one thing and got something else instead.

  10. avatar Flappybat

    The only problem I have with the RTS parts is how it tends to be a bit repetitive when they really should only do an introduction then a single fight for each of the three sides and gone for more traditional action sections to keep things varied.

    I was more bothered with how the game feels like a third was chopped out of it and it just suddenly pushes you into a finale.

  11. (Yes, I actually logged in to post this)

    Brutal Legend was the casualty of two things; Hype and being Opportunistic. Anyone who follows my blog on Destructoid knows that the Activision-to-EA tug of war with Brutal Legend, and the fan outcry that followed, completely turned me off to the title. However after giving a little play through the game, I agree with everything in this post. I believed BL was pretty much a hack and slasher with very light elements from other areas… kind of like a hamburger with a few spices thrown on it. Not a hack and slasher with significant RTS backdrop that completely changes the flavor, like a cheeseburger.

    The opportunism side of this comes from basically the ‘style’ BL goes after. You can preach to me all day about how long ago Tim had the idea for BL, and how it got shot down initially. But you -cant- tell me with a straight face that Brutal Legend getting pitched had anything to do with the rise of the music game industry (Rock Band, Guitar Hero, etc). considering how entwined music and games are lately BL from day one seemed like it was trying to suck in a little bit of that same magic by saying “Our game has all of this sweet metal in it that you can rock out in too”.

    In short, Brutal Legend really should have taken a Psychonauts approach.

  12. avatar Bekay

    Note: I designed the AC Transit pole sucedhle printed above. (If you’d rather have an electronic version of the artwork, let me know.)Yes, if your destination is on two or more lines, it’s a lot better to have them all on one big list. But what if your destination is somewhere else? For example, if you’re trying to get to University Village in Albany, you can take the 52L, but not the other lines on the sign. Interleaving the 52L times with the 51 times would make it harder to find the 52L times; you’d have to go through each time, saying is this for the right line ? That’s going to lead to errors.Moreover, differentiating the lines is difficult to do in a clean way. The Indian multi-line sucedhle printed here is deficient in that it differentiates the different lines only by color. In the best conditions, a substantial percentage of people (somewhere between 4-5%) cannot see color, so we cannot differentiate information only in this way. (In low-light conditions, even more people would have trouble seeing the color differences.)So we would have to put some kind of footnote on, or use a different type style, or something. That would tend to clutter up the sign and make it harder to understand.Breaking the times down by hours does take up less space (since less information is repeated), but I’m not at all convinced that people who aren’t experienced using the sucedhles find them comprehensible. The way people are used to seeing times is as a single number 5:30 . Separating hours and minutes is not going to be immediately comprehensible to most people.Our signs are designed to be comprehensible to people who are not (yet) experienced with transit. It is probable that we could make further improvements, and we hope to do so. But I’m not convinced that a more complicated system will make it easier for us to attract new riders.

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