Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Game Invader - The name of the game.

This article first appeared in my Game Invader column for the New Indian Express.

Divine Divinity. There's a game called Divine Divinity.

If you go by names alone, it should be horrible. It should convey supreme suckAge. But is doesn't, it's actually rather good.

Like good books that hide behind bad covers, there are plenty of good games that have names so bad, you don't ever want to fire them up. Every generation has some examples of these.

Look at coin-op classics like Donkey Kong or Pac Man. While they now sound sorta retro-cool, let's face it, they're plain silly. True, they may be translations from Japanese, but that's no excuse. The truly cool sounding names from the arcade generation were plenty – Space Invaders. Defender. Galaxian. And, oooh – Xevious. Xevious is my favourite – try saying it out loud a few times, and you'll instantly become a little cooler! But if I came across two machines, one named Tempest, and the other one named Donkey Kong, I'd go for the former every time. And miss out on one of the greatest games ever. Good thing that didn't happen.

A lot of games names, in fact, sound silly because they suffer when being translated from the Japanese. I've always thought Final Fantasy is an idiotic name that does nothing to describe, or even indicate, the quality of the great titles that bear it. Even Metal Gear Solid is a clunky, clumsy name that is only redeemed because the series protagonist Solid Snake is so damn awesome.

However, some Japanese titles actually seem to benefit, and become weirdly cool in English. 'Elite Beat Agents' sounds so much nicer than its Japanese equivalent Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! What's that? It doesn't? Well, it takes all kinds, I guess. Katamari Damacy is another bizarre yet appealing title that makes the transition.

My favoured genre, role-playing, is more liable than most to fall into naming cliches, both in the high-fantasy and science fiction settings. Bioware, the greatest developer of them all, has given us two of the clumsier names in Mass Effect and the unfortunately abbreviated Knights Of The Old Republic (KOTOR – try saying this aloud). They did give us the cooler sounding Jade Empire, though, which is ironically an inferior game to those earlier mentioned. And Neverwinter Nights. I also thought the Elder Scrolls games have got progressively worse from Daggerfall (strong, distinctive) to Morrowind (mysterious, enigmatic) to Oblivion (bland, unimaginative).

Blizzard rarely fails to come up with good ones. Warcraft (think about this, the craft of war) is almost the perfect game name. Diablo isn't too shabby either – the single word instantly conjuring up imagery and atmosphere that a less skilled writer would try and call 'The Dark Dungeons of Death and Demons' or something like that. Brilliant name, brilliant game.

Shooters of course, have given us perhaps the greatest game name of all time in DOOM. If I have to explain any further, you're too young or disconnected to understand. DOOM brought coolness to gaming. It made FPS hip. DOOM is a game that wears sunglasses and sips cocktails. Trust me. It spawned a genre that would give us more great monikers like Halo, or Bioshock, or Metroid Prime.

Which begs the question – why do game developers who spend millions on creating a high-quality videogame decide to dump on it by calling it something inane and predictable like 'Guild Wars' or 'Dragon Age' or 'Cyber Warrior' or whatever? I guess they're just trying to remind us that we must – all together now – 'Never judge a book by its cover'. Nice. Toffees for all.

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