Where’s the Joy in Pad Demos?

Those with a firmer, stronger grip on their joysticks might not have even noticed this development, but personally, I would rather like to know whatever happened to old-fashioned, mouse-powered gameplay demonstrations for first-person shooters? Over the past few years, I’ve found myself increasingly irritated with various PR departments’ keen intent on demonstrating their games on consoles and/or with gamepads only.

The key to successful gameplay exhibition, after all, is authentic exposition. While the generic idea of the trailer is to lure the player in, convince him or her of the game’s meritorious mechanisms, gameplay trailers are not as disconnected from actual gameplay as it would seem on the outset; Think of competitive play, for example, wherein even the most infinitesimal intricacies matter: DPI, polling rate, sensitivity, inversion, crosshairs, macros, bindings, et cetera et cetera. My primary question is, then, why are we not seeing these features in trailers?

A very recent example - one I’m sure most of you have seen by now - can be found in the form of the latest BioShock 2 multiplayer trailer, found below:

The footage above has been clearly recorded with the questionable aid of the gamepad: The first-person camera movement looks imprecise and tardy; most of the third-person action on display, then, consists of arrow-straight movement, sluggish posturing and general standing-about. Two more gameplay video analyses, of Resistance 2 and Singularity, after the jump.

Ultimately, finding issues such as the aforementioned in videos really does reflect rather poorly on my general understanding of the pacing, playability and the controls of a particular game. Should I perchance blame the video’s gameplay co-ordinator, its actors, the general unsuitability of the gamepad (blasphemous!) – or even the actual controls of the game?

An early Resistance 2 gameplay trailer, then, sought to illustrate the magnitude of the scenery and the Leviathan, but when I thought about it in context of this post, the only discernible feature of the trailer that I recalled – apart from its reliance on scripted sequences – was how more than half of the video consists of the demonstrator trying to awkwardly climb up and down several flights of stairs. See for yourself:

How is the player having a hard time with controls not adversary to both the video’s overall success and players’ overall expectations of the game? Is my bar simply set too high?

My final example is also the straw that broke the camel’s back: The latest Singularity walkthrough, which is presented in the form of the dreaded amusement park ghost train experience. Its first-person camera behaves as if scripted and running on rails, subsequently resulting in the demonstrator failing to elicit neither realistic action nor reaction such as taking cover, scanning the environment for vantage points, searching for pickups or objects, ultimately offering to us an unnaturally smooth gaming experience:

Why am I so gawrshdarnd allergic to this particular phenomenon, then? As much as I feel I’m making much ado about nothing, I really quite honestly can’t stand these pad videos. This is my attempt at explaining why: While viewing a gameplay demonstration, I would much rather be fully submerged into the environs and the gameplay, in the exact way I would were I playing the game myself. After all, as much as the gameplay demo is an advertisement, it also functions as a viable channel for us potential players to experience the act of playing a game well before its actual date of release.

Therefore, when a gameplay video fails to successfully illustrate the full range of motion normally presented to me via mouse controls, or display a certain pace or a tempo of movement I’ve long since grown used to having on the PC platform, the video becomes mechanistic and monotonous, as if the game was merely going through the motions. My suspension of disbelief - instantaneously damaged.