The Sonic Adventure 2 LP series is behind me at long last. Thank. Merciful. Christ. This series taught me quite a bit about how I need to approach game selections going forward, especially requests.
This game was requested for part of the Talking Time fundraiser, which came with a not-exactly-small price tag attached to it, and so part of me felt really bad for disliking the game as intensely as I did. I record my LP videos long before I start uploading them, and so with this particular series I reached a point where I knew I’d be uploading something very negative for the benefit of one of the game’s fans. The question became what to do about it. As I saw it, I had four options:
1) Do nothing, and just release the videos as-is, regardless of how bad they were.
2) Scrap the videos I had and practice the game long enough that I could beat it without trouble, then record that run of the game.
3) Change the tone of the LP to something really fake and self-depricating, to try and hide my contempt for the game. (I doubt this would have fooled anyone, I couldn’t have kept it up for 30+ videos anyway.)
4) Contact the donator, explain the situation, and reach some compromise.
In retrospect #4 would have been the mature thing to do, but at the time it felt like it would be a weird cop-out. Not only had the poor guy donated to see this game played, but he bought me enough PSN points to buy the game in the first place. I wasn’t sure if it would be appropriate to go back and tell him to pick another game, or tell him I was only going to play one third of this one, considering the fundraiser was originally pitched as “Brick will play whatever you want.” I also reasoned that, as a long-time fan, he would both expect and appreciate my honest opinions of his selection, even if those opinions were disagreeable to him.
In the end I went with a mix of #1 and #2. Sonic Adventure 2 is split into three sections: Hero Story, Dark Story and Final Story. (I knew about Final Story at the time, but pretended I didn’t for comedic effect, though I doubt that fooled anyone, either.) I trashed the videos I had already recorded for the Hero Story and then played it off-camera, start to finish, venting my frustrations on Twitter along the way. That one pass of the game gave me enough experience to draw these two conclusions: 1) playing the Hero Story a second time would be a lot easier and make for much better video, and 2) I now had enough context to play Dark Story blind, as was my original intent.
It turns out the first conclusion was correct but the second one was way, way wrong. The Hero Story videos still weren’t pleasant, but they were brisk, and I was able to split my attention between playing the game and explaining coherently why I wasn’t enjoying it. The Dark Story, though, is much harder and throws a lot of really awful gameplay gimmicks at you. Partway through recording I realized I was having the same problem I had in the Hero Story: awful game is awful, and is making for some awful video.
This time, though, I didn’t have the will to junk what I had and learn the game. I just wanted it to be over and didn’t care how terrible the resulting videos were going to be. If my YouTube Analytics were to be believed this was a big mistake. During this time I was alternating between uploading really negative episodes of SA2‘s Dark Story and a really boring and unpopular playthrough of Halo 4. Viewer retention and new subscribers both took a huge hit. I don’t make a lot of money from my YouTube channel, but the loss of about 60% of my sandwich money sent a very clear message: “Wow, if I were doing this frr rllz, and I actually relied on this income, I wouldn’t be able to make my fucking rent this month.”
While these numbers were dropping I also started getting very strong and negative feedback in my comments on each new SA2 video. Inexplicably, this goddamn game is a fan favorite among the Sonic hardcore. This is something I really didn’t expect these people would be so numerous in my own viewership, but in retrospect I really should have. It’s still very, very hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that there is an entire generation of gamers behind me, who grew up during the Gamecube era rather than the NES era. I tend to think of games from that period of time as “grown-up games” because I, myself, was a grown-up when they were released. I had forgotten how strong an attachment kids can form even with bad games, and how strong that attachment remains into adulthood. A lot of their defense of the game was based on emotion, which is exactly how I defend the questionable design of Final Fantasy and Mega Man when I get into it with modern gamers.
(In particular, a lot of their ire came in the form of “Quit your bitching, the game isn’t hard or stupid if you know [some precise thing only veteran players would know]!” I catch myself using this same argument whenever people rage about grinding in Final Fantasy, or swinging mechanics in Bionic Commando, and sometimes it takes me a while to remember it’s a bullshit argument. So while I never agreed with the SA2 fans commenting on my videos, I empathized with their position quite a lot.)
So what were my final thoughts on Sonic Adventure 2? I’ll summarize for those of you who didn’t watch the videos (and I don’t blame you!). Rather than itemize my list of complaints, I’ll just focus on the really big one, since I feel all the smaller ones stem from it anyway: the game is way too ambitious for the meager resources it was designed with. There are more gameplay styles, stage gimmicks and combat options in this game than in any single Mario game I can name. The design philosophy of most Mario games (even Super Mario Sunshine, which I despise), is to take a very small list of ideas and mold them into a full-featured game. Sonic Team seems to have done the exact opposite with the Sonic Adventure games, and cram every single idea they had into the game no matter how unpolished, how inconsistent, or how little it offered in terms of fun gameplay.
To put a much finer point on it: we know Nintendo can make a fun platformer, and a fun combat system, and a fun kart racer, and a fun farming simulator, and a fun shooter, and a fun puzzler, and a fun adventure story. But they never tried to stuff all that into the same game. No design team has those kind of resources!
The result of trying to wear too many hats was that all of SA2‘s hats were unfinished, uncomfortable to wear, and run the risk of setting your hair on fire. All of the resources that should have gone towards designing and testing a working camera system instead went towads driving levels. All of the resources that should have gone to making fun, playable driving physics instead went towards shooter levels. All of the resources that should have been spent making a fun rail shooter instead went into the optional farming simulator.
And what did I learn about recording LPs? I really need to pay more attention to what I’m uploading, and when. Halo 4 finished up while SA2 was still going, and gave way to River City Ransom, which saw an immediate turnaround in my slumping numbers. That was happy news, and I really should not have been surprised. The original reason I started doing updating my LPs two at a time was so viewers who didn’t like one of them still had some reason to watch me. If you’re not into watching, say, Riven, that’s okay, because tomorrow I’ll update Kirby, or whatever. But I lost sight of that, and so for a long span of time all I was offering people was a crybaby SA2 series and a boring Halo 4 series. I really need to not do that again.
More importantly, though, I need to really work on my attitude towards games I dislike. This is something I’m really bad at, and really need to improve. It’s come up a lot during streams, too, where I get angry and frustrated at a game and just end up embarrassing myself. I know the angry, rage-a-holic gamer archetype is popular on the internet, but that’s not what I’m aiming for. It’s a really shallow form of entertainment and it’s just not what I want to do with my work. There are positive ways to react to bad or frustrating games, and I need to get better at exploring them. To that end I have another “game I hate but am playing anyway” project in the works, and it’s shaping up to be a lot more pleasant than SA2 was. I’m hoping that experiment goes well.
I’ll hedge my bets with it, though, and not upload it alongside a bland first person shooter.
Thanks for reading, and sorry for the bad LP!