Transparency is Overrated

Seventeen years in the game industry could turn anyone into a jaded, bitter, cynical bastard.  Imagine how much worse things get if you started out that way.

I suppose I should preface this by noting that I haven’t spoken on Bungie’s behalf in an official capacity for almost ten years (gulp!) so all of this is my own opinion and you should feel free to write it off as the bloviating claptrap it probably is.

When I see articles in the video game press complaining that Bungie’s reveal of their upcoming title Destiny was frustratingly light on details, I wonder why they care. If I had a quarter for every time the game press mangled quotes, described nonexistent product features, and confused internet speculation with fact-checked confirmation, I could melt all those quarters down and put in a new driveway made of solid copper.  People who write about games (not all of them, but more than enough) are light on details quite regularly. And that’s for the games they care about, the ones they write about themselves instead of just cutting-and-pasting from a press release.  Now Bungie throws a party and the game press can’t fill in all the blanks in their Mad Libs Game Journalism booklet right away, and you’d think some of them had been slapped.

Maybe they were — but not in the way they think.

In 1999, Bungie did a little teaser for Halo called The Cortana Letters.  I don’t remember, but I’d be shocked to see even one example of the mainstream gaming press who took notice of it at the time.  It wasn’t meant for them anyway.  It was for people who had played Bungie’s Marathon trilogy and might be interested to know that, after a few years of working on the Myth games, Bungie would be returning to stories about massive ships in outer space with helpful AIs guiding you around.  Bungie thought people who enjoyed their previous work in that vein might be interested.

Much of the stuff in The Cortana Letters ended up being not especially germane to the story of Halo as people experienced it in the final game.  That didn’t matter because the ultimate job of The Cortana Letters was not to carve important story elements in stone, but to reach out to Bungie fans and get them excited.  These were people who’d demonstrated they could root out any obscure reference and conjure up pages of thoughtful discussion about the subtlest of nuances.  The Cortana Letters were a message from Bungie to their fans, saying: We know you guys are smart, and we hope you’ll dig this new thing we’re making.

It wasn’t a purely cynical marketing exercise, and it damn sure wasn’t an ARG.  It was, in a sense, a mischievous bit of slap-and-tickle with the fans who had the sensibility to savor that sort of thing.

You like that, don’t you?

Sure you do, if you can appreciate the invitation to let your own imagination and emotions become part of the experience.

For years now, even before Destiny was a rumor, people have been calling for more transparency and less hype from Bungie.  If a few pieces of concept art and a YouTube video are “hype,” it’s only because Bungie’s process has made less feel like more.  They do not deluge the press or their fans in an antiseptic wash of tedious data.  Anyone can do that.  Bungie wants your entry into this world to be an experience unto itself. 

It’s the difference between the restaurant where you relax in a well-appointed dining room, talking with friends, basking in the ambiance and the aromas drifting in from the kitchen before anyone even arrives to take your order… and the lingering stink of melting plastic in your kitchen after you spend three minutes microwaving a frozen TV dinner and eating it over the sink.

It’s the difference between the jiggle-and-tease burlesque show and the pixelated GIF of porn stars fucking.

It’s showbiz.  It’s part of the experience.  This is the entertainment software industry and we are, whether or not we look the part, entertainers.  The men and women of Bungie follow in the footsteps of Alfred Hitchcock, who had the unmitigated audacity to introduce Psycho with a trailer that featured nothing but empty environments and lots of him talking.  No clips from the actual film, no major plot revelations…and that lady in the shower wasn’t even Janet Leigh!  (It was Vera Miles, who plays Leigh’s sister in the film.)  What a rip-off!  What a waste of his fans’ time!

What a surprise that it’s remembered fondly, decades later, as one of the greatest movie trailers ever.  It’s as if Hitchcock knew what he was doing.

People demanding all the details right now for a game with a projected 10-year life cycle are like people showing up at a concert and shouting for “Freebird” while the opening act is still setting up their gear.

When Chris Butcher, a man not given to hyperbole or delusions of grandeur, talks about what games in the future will be like, I pay attention.  When Jason Jones crawls out of his techno-Gollum cave to address the press at all, I pay attention.  How much hard data I come away with is almost immaterial.  What I know is that they are handing out invitations to the dance.  This time, they’re even handing them out to the press.  Not just the hardcore fanatics who went nuts over the Cortana letters nearly 15 years ago.

So the official reveal left you wanting more?

You’re waiting for your dinner in that fancy restaurant and you’re still hungry?

The striptease at the burlesque theater is over and you’re still horny?

The press event is over and you’re still looking for information about Destiny, even though all you got for your initial efforts was a flirtatious slap?

Sounds like someone knows what they’re doing.

And if all this “hype” is too much for you, you can always tune it out and do something else.  The freezer aisle in the grocery store is full of TV dinners.  This, right now, is not for you.  There will be other things for you later.

This is for the people who like to dance.

Get Out of My Way

It has come to my attention that some of you do not know how or when to get out of my way.

This isn’t rocket science. It’s not even the fake-ass Da Vinci Code.  It’s common sense and basic human decency.

I’m going to point fingers and name names because clear and unequivocal communication is key if you’re to understand the situation and move forward. Or at least step to one side.

Tall Guy with Big Hair at the Concert: I don’t begrudge you for being tall. I don’t even begrudge your silly hair.  (Trust me, I’m in no position to mock anyone for silly hair.) But if putting your goddamn white-boy dreadlocks in a samurai topknot destroys your equilibrium, maybe it’s time to get a haircut. Or at least get out of my way so you can hop and sway like a drunk fighting to hold in three gallons of urine without forcing me to do it too. I came to see the show, not to dance the flamenco with the back of your goddamn skull.

Overly Cautious Driver: Nice long stretch of road we’re on. It’s what you might call a major artery. That’s why there aren’t stop signs at every intersection; it’s understood that the people on those side streets will need to wait for an opening before they merge with the flow of traffic. Sucks to be them. But not us! We can just put the pedal to the metal and keep on truckin’. So why do you come to a. full. stop. every. single. block. WHEN THERE ARE NO STOP SIGNS? This is the 21st century. Roads intersect now. You’re going to have to get used to it. If you can’t do that, get out of my way or let someone else drive.

OCD Purse Lady at the 7–11: You bought your cigarettes and Lotto tickets. Your transaction ended a while ago. The cashier is waiting for me to put my stuff on the counter so he can ring it up. But I can’t, because you’re still standing there, arranging the contents of your purse just so. You can’t just slap everything into your pocketbook and deal with it later, on your own time, when you’re not in my way. No, that would be too considerate. You need to put that change in the coin pocket on the outside of the wallet right now, except for the two pennies with gunk on them, those go in the separate coin purse for dirty coins that lives somewhere at the bottom of the bag, and the Lotto tickets need to go in the inside pocket on the other side of the wallet with the cancelled checks and the receipts from the last six years of gas station visits, and then the wallet goes inside the purse next to the hairbrush and hand sanitizer and hair gel and moisturizing lotion, while the cigarettes need to be in the outside pocket of the purse underneath the newspaper but above the keys and the lipstick and the maxi-pads and the sunglasses, and the iPhone goes on top of all that, and there’s really no way of fitting it all in there properly without taking it all out and reloading the bag one item at a time FUCK YOU FUCK YOU GET OUT OF MY WAY. Go deal with your pack rat issues anywhere else. NB: Lest anyone think I am unfairly castigating one gender here — guys do this too, and it’s just as annoying. But the ubiquitous purse acts as an enabler in a way that most men’s wallets cannot.

The Consumer Patriarch: I don’t mind that you brought your wife and all six of your kids and your corpulent in-laws and their matching Rascal scooters to the store with you. But when you’re standing statue-still in front of the one exit door with the whole herd of them milling slowly around you like dazed goldfish, yawning and chatting and checking your goddamn email on your goddamn cell phones as you wait for the one straggler in your party, I BEGIN TO MIND VERY FUCKING MUCH. I also mind when you pull this shit in front of the bathroom, or the escalator, or the fire escape. What the fuck is wrong with you people that you find the one choke point in the whole goddamn place and form a human blockade? Well, perhaps “human” is a stretch. More like lowing cattle just begging to be culled.

Neighbors Catching Up in the Grocery Store: I thought this was the Cereal aisle, not the Tableau-Vivant-of-Two-Assholes-Talking-About-Their-Tedious-Lives aisle. If the store isn’t paying you morons to set up random shopping cart roadblocks so other customers have to endure the agonizing tales of your son’s Little League team, and the transmission on the Ford going out again, and you thought Maurice was gonna be different but he’s just like all the rest, then get out of my way. I have my own problems. Whatever bullshit you’re dealing with right now is meaningless compared to my household’s utter lack of Puffed Wheat. Yeah, that’s right. All the trials and tribulations in your world don’t matter as much as a three-dollar box of Quisp does in mine.  Why can’t you head over to the liquor aisle and self-medicate like everybody else?

He Who Gradually Expands To Fill The Entire Warehouse: There you are in the warehouse club, buying socks and crab legs and snow tires in bulk.  Never know when you’re going to need a 5‑gallon tub of pencil erasers, right?  You’re staring at a four-pack of toasters — at last, your family can make toast in the kitchen, both bathrooms, and your garage simultaneously!  Keeping up with the Joneses doesn’t get any easier!  There’s a pallet of them on the ground in front of you. Another pallet of them on the shelf above.  And on the shelf above that, pallets of identical boxes stacked to the rafters. And you stand there in the middle of the aisle, one hand pushing your extra-large shopping cart just far enough to block the whole aisle for the duration of your extended stay.  Did I mention you are staring at pallets of the same item as though you are using X‑ray vision to figure out which one has the Golden Ticket inside? When in reality they are all exactly alike, and you should just grab one, put it in your cart, and get the goddamn shitting fuck out of the fucking way for fuck’s sake you imbecile. It’s a good thing they only stock one model of toaster or we’d be here all week.

This post is titled “Get Out of My Way” and if I could summarize it in a single sentence, that sentence would be: GET OUT OF MY WAY.

At some point I’m going to stop being so nice about it.