On the Dark Matter Incident

darkmatter3Inter Wave, an indie studio, recently released Dark Matter through Steam and GoG. The game was originally pitched through Kickstarter, but the fundraising effort failed. As a result, the studio had to lay off most of its employees.

Usually, when this happens, games go unreleased. Inter Wave decided to do something bold – release an incomplete game. With the funds acquired from the game’s release, they would go on to create additional chapters. This was met with an enormous backlash from the gaming community, which resulted in the game being pulled from Steam until the developers added a proper ending to the game, and with users who requested refunds getting them.

This may seem like a travesty – a studio releasing an incomplete game at a $15.00 price point, only to sell other parts of the game later on. However, we have seen similar (and worse) practices in the gaming community. Dreaded “Online Passes” aside (may you forever burn in hell, online passes), these past two years we have seen Telltale Games release several episodic games – Sam and Max, the Tale of Monkey Island. and most famously the award winning The Walking Dead are examples of this approach. Players buy one episode which finishes in a cliffhanger, then they buy the next episode. In consoles, we can trace this back to Shining Force III, an episodic narrative distributed through three different “scenario” discs. The game was well received in Japan, as well as in the U.S. by fans of the franchise. However, Sega decided to only release the first episode stateside (Sega, PLEASE, release the others in some collection disc PLEASE). Other major episodic games include Sonic the Hedgehog 4 (Episodes I and II), Half Life II Episodes I and II, and the Doctor Who adventure games.

If all these episodic games have been widely accepted, with some indeed winning awards and amassing enormous cult followings, why is Inter Wave’s Dark Matter the source of so much hatred? Because of the execution.

“The ending of the game consists of the player walking through a completely ordinary door and being greeted with a wall of white Helvetica text on a black background. The text reads:

With a weary sigh, the Ensign finally crosses into the pristine corridors of Endeavour’s laboratories. The mag-lock door slams closed behind her, locking away the Engineering section, and her dreams of rescue. Behind her, through bulkheads and containment walls, are the skittering hordes of Scavengers. Ahead, in the eerie glow of wrecked high tech equipment, move deeper shadows and more terrifying ghosts. The Companion lies ahead, begging for salvation. The Angels lie in wait, wielding their terrible light.

You have reached the end of the game, but there may be more left to explore. Click anywhere on this screen to be returned to the main menu.”

For your convenience, just look at the video below:

If there was ever a dissonance between two elements in a game (the game itself and the resolution – let’s call this resoludic dissonance, because it’s somehow cool to make up words), this is it. This is an example of poor and lazy design.

As I previously stated, the problem is not in the episodic nature, or even the abrupt  cliffhanger ending. Shining Force III Episode I had an ending whose cliffhanger (and the war continued) made this one seem robust by comparison. The problem is with sloppily thrown out text. Inter Weave could have added  some sort of a boss battle and added either visuals on top of the text, or maybe even a narrator saying the words as the game showed an FMV of the events happening. Then end with a splash screen that says “End of Episode I. To Be Continued.” The engine is already there. If it behaves anything like UDK, It would have taken at most a day of scripting. Coding? Maybe two weeks. I am, of course, being generous, as I have seen plenty of game developers make games from scratch in 24 or 48 hour jams. Just adding a bit of extra effort on their part, Inter Wave would have saved themselves a lot of bad PR.




Gaming Blend



About Quijano

Johansen Quijano is a professor of English in The University of Texas at Arlington, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Development focusing on TESOL, and a Master’s Degree in English Literature. He has published and presented on a variety of topics including video game studies, popular culture studies, education, teaching methodology, language acquisition, romantic poetry, and victorian literature. His research interests include the above-mentioned topics, narrative, interactivity, simulation, new media in general, and 18th century literature. He also enjoys creative writing (fiction, historical fiction, and poetry), and reading all kinds of epic literary works - from the Epic Poem of Gilgamesh to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

Posted on October 23, 2013, in Video Game Commentary and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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