"Game of the Year"?! Conclusion
How did 5th Cell react to the hype for the game?
I've dished out a lot of blame to gaming journalists, with all those review snippets on the first day, as well as the few articles I chose to connect here yesterday, but I'll be honest, it wasn't all Kotaku's, IGN's, or any particular gaming journalist's fault that prerelease hype for Scribblenauts grew out of hand. Take a look at most of the "famous" Post #217 from the NeoGAF forums, and the impressions of Scribblenauts it contains, though be warned, there is a bit of foul language:
"Best game of E3? Without a fucking doubt. Anyone who says otherwise did not play Scribblenauts. Best game of all time? Jesus Christ, I don't know, maybe. It's a game that challenges your IMAGINATION. No other game has ever done that.
So listen to this story. I was in the early levels; I didn't quite have an idea of how ridiculously in-depth the database was. I was summoning things like ladders, glasses of water, rayguns, what have you. But I reached a level with zombie robots, and the zombie robots kept killing me. Rayguns didn't work, a torch didn't work, a pickaxe didn't work. In my frustration, I wrote in "Time Machine". And one popped up. What the fuck? A smile dawned on my face. I hopped in, and the option was given to me to either travel to the past or the future. I chose past. When I hopped out, there were fucking dinosaurs walking around. I clicked one, and realized I could RIDE THEM. So I hopped on a fucking DINOSAUR, traveled back to the present, and stomped the shit out of robot zombies. Did you just read that sentence? Did you really? I FUCKING TRAVELED THROUGH TIME AND JUMPED ON A DINOSAUR AND USED IT TO KILL MOTHERFUCKING ROBOT ZOMBIES. This game is unbelievable. Impossible. There's nothing you can't do.
Holy fucking shit."
No, Chessa didn't write that, but I can see how some would make that mistake. Regardless, the post shows precisely the essence of the game 5th Cell wanted to relay. To solve a puzzle or complete a stage, the player time-traveled, picked up a T-Rex, and destroyed robot zombies. This post contained the initial makings of a viral marketing campaign, intentional or not.
And so, when 5th Cell saw the post, and the fame it picked up, they ran with it.
I think it was brilliant, an absolutely brilliant move by 5th Cell to embrace the gaming community, and reporters, about this game. I fully believe that by utilizing internet memes, rendering up post #217 as a piece of the game's art, and encouraging focus on things like creature fights and the number of words is the top reason why hype was built up around the title the way it was. Before the game was released, few cared about actual gameplay, or controls. All most wanted to see was whether or not they could stump the game's dictionary, then summon a dragon to take on a knight, an astronaut, and God combined.
I could never confidently say that 5th Cell did this intentionally. It seems both genius and unintentional at the same time, and I do trust that they're a company that seems to genuinely want to create new ideas, and sell games based on merit, rather than their name or something similar. However, I believe 5th Cell's team did wind up getting in over their heads, and couldn't contain themselves in their responses to the unprecedented, especially for one of their titles, level of attention the game was receiving. For instance, when hackers took a look into the game just before its official release, found it recognized 22,802 words, Jeremy Slaczka responded saying there were more than that. Whether Scribblenauts has more words or not, and whether he's counting modifier words, like "big," which just get ignored, doesn't matter, because the important truth is that the number of objects is much lower, and multiple words are tied to single objects. Instead of showing the difference between words and objects, Slackza just disconfirms the word count found prior. I can't blame him for not noting the difference, but I can say if I were in PR or marketing, I would love his response. Addressing just what internet forumers and gaming journalists asked, and nothing more sold over a million copies of their game, despite broken controls and an engine that's entirely far more basic than what most perceive it to be.
I don't think there's much that remains to be said about reviews. Major problems in the upward-tilted reviews were foreshadowed in preview coverage. In other cases, reviews that awarded lower scores call out and make clear the controls are broken. I can say that IGN's review calls the controls "...something that almost kills a fantastic game." and says "...Maxwell's control is no small issue: it's a hindrance that you have to deal with throughout the Scribblenauts experience." yet IGN still gave the game a pretty hearty '8.7,' whatever that might mean. That's even with, or even higher than they scored the DS Pokemon Games, Rune Factory, Trauma Center, Phoenix Wright, as well as several other titles I think most would find more complete and more enjoyable than Scribblenauts, and it does leave me unsettled.
I suppose it's worth concluding that I too believe Scribblenauts's concept is remarkable. Perhaps I just find the execution misses the mark by such great distance that I'm one of a few who wouldn't like to see a straight-up sequel containing a few more words and more versatile or tighter control schemes. Instead, I'd like to see something with fewer words, actually. I'd like to see something where each word you type that spawns an object or creature creates something unique and something that behaves as one might intend, rather than resulting in wacky and wild combinations that wear thin in a few minutes. I'm not trying to hold Scribblenauts up to some impossible fantasy, but I'll admit it's difficult not to dream "...what if," especially when I read tag lines to reviews comparing the game to others that have grown to become far more revolutionary. I've seen some suggest that those who like Scribblenauts want games that offer free-range and few rules, and those who don't enjoy the game are the type who like to complete games, and play by the rules. However, I don't believe this is true in all circumstances. I simply believe that Scribblenauts is a game where the creation is truly too narrow, and the options are truly much more limited than one might perceive at first glance, and I simply find I don't wish to settle on Scribblenauts's limitations for anything close to "Game of the Year."