Sequel Soup

Legally Blonde - don't mock the filmies, it's probably also coming to a nauseatingly pink DS near you soon. Hara Kiri how-to guides on standby.

Amid the chaotic soup of life, bobbing among those things that your Nan insists are croutons, there are certainties…shreds of accepted order.  Few things alter the taste and texture of these globs but every once in a while, one is flipped upside down to reveal something unexpected.

To most folk, sequels equal shit.  In the world of film, sequels are often looked upon as something to be dreaded, bitched about, held up to the original and then tossed aside with a snort of contempt.  Even those that are enjoyed are rarely considered to have surpassed the original – an original which, as more films are churned out in a series, tends to become more and more sacred until it is placed on a marble pedestal under a veil which conveniently hides any flaws it may have once had.

Swing the gaze to gaming however and block out EA sports titles for convenience sake and it is the opposite…we can’t seem to get enough.  We love our sequels.  Rumours zip around the internet at warp speed over the slightest hint of a sequel to a popular game or venerable franchise.  Developer interviews are minutely dissected and the results pinned to message boards for further scrutiny – screenshots are devoured, videos poured over, and gossip spun on…just mention Elder Scrolls V, Crackdown 2, or Gears of War 3 and the internet will implode in a black hole of euphoric juices.  Even non-triple A titles such as Two Worlds 2 get sequel love.

No one ever got blisters on their hands thinking about the possibility of another Nightmare on Elm Street film or Legally Blonde 3, or even Look Who’s Still Fucking Talking.  On and offline, the gaming press and fan sites run endless, painstakingly detailed previews and speculative pieces from the most minute details on sequels to even unpopular games because there is always a hardcore of gamers who’re devoted to them.

Oh, there are obviously previews, rumour mongering, and gossip about film sequels, however gamers as a breed seem to want them more.  We don’t just look at a screenshot of a new game, and think, ‘we’ll have some of that’, we actively pursue sequels – expect them even.  Why?  Why is gaming different?  For a medium which seems, at times, to desperately want to emulate film, perhaps the gaming world should cut out the ‘grass is greener’ attitude and take a look at what they’re doing right because whatever it is, it’s working.

2010 is the year of sequel – we’ve either had or are waiting for Dead Rising 2, Crackdown 2, Fable 3, Fallout:New Vegas, Bioshock 2, Force Unleashed 2, Mass Effect 2, Dead Space 2, Yakuza 4, Mafia 2, Kane and Lynch 2, Gears of War 3, Mario Galaxy 2, and undoubtedly others which have slipped my caffeine deprived mind.  The most eagerly awaited announcements are for yet more: Hitman 5, Elder Scrolls V, anything with Lara Croft in it, Mirror’s Edge 2, Bioshock 3, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood to name but a few.

A brave Ezio preparing for the game's new 'Dysentery attack' after navigating the canal...

It is an odd thing…filmakers have budgets that could bludgeon a continent to death, yet they strive to milk franchises under a constant shroud of cynicism, dampened by the law of diminishing returns.  While some films do get hype over their promised sequels, there is a general negativity which seems to pervade…perhaps because, more often than not, their sequels are lacking.  Compare that to, say, Assassin’s Creed 2: the sequel went over and above what was a flawed but superb gem and blew the gaming world away with smooth mechanics, dynamic and diverse gameplay and improved story and visuals.  With comparably smaller teams and budgets, our developers create work which is pursued feverishly from inception to delivery, with an often ferocious hunger from the gaming community.

Of course, there will always be dissent – many gamers rightly fear anything which will ruin a beloved franchise…the new Lara Croft game for example had many choking on their Pringle sandwiches when the screenshots were released and the thought of multiplayer being hammered into the Dead Space sequel like a toddler tackling a jigsaw puzzle is a worrying, if not uncommon, fear; fuck only knows what Fable 3 will end up like, stripped of its RPG duds and forced to mate with Natal, but, for the most part it is the opposite of film.  We have an expectation that our sequels will be great because they so often are…with films, there is the weary suspicion that they won’t, that they’ll be crap – again, because they usually are.

Even this slab of gaming C-movie-esque cheese would no doubt get sequel love...

Is our sequel love down to gamers becoming more immersed in their medium due to the level of interactivity?  Surely this would then mean that they would be more protective, wanting to ward off a sequel at all costs?  It seems not.  Are we so plugged in to what we play that we are unable or unwilling to just let old characters slip into the night, to let a game rest in peace as a lone masterpiece or respected trilogy?  Perhaps.  So it is greed then on our part or selfishness? Spoiled foot-stamping?  That doesn’t seem to fit either.  Childlike wonder then?  Never wanting an experience to end – wanting desperately to sustain those worlds and characters because if they don’t, they’ll be lost…after all, to play them is to make them live.  Possibly.

In film, the story and characters are everything – cliff-hanger endings and setups for sequels are there but loose ends and plot holes are less tolerated because all we can do is watch.  With a game, there seems to be more leeway: we interact, immerse ourselves, control and manipulate, becoming involved on a level that never happens in film.  Therefore, even if the story is weak or ends are left inexplicably dangling, there is often more than enough to make up for it – film doesn’t have that luxury.  As gamers, we know that our loose ends could well be the strands which are woven through the next game – if not?  Ah well, the gameplay was superb and that set piece with the Flamingo and the giant toaster was fucking awesome, now excuse me while I go and round up these few hundred collectables.  In short, games have a fallback.

Get the damn sequel out already, I can't take much more

Worlds, good characters, and concepts are ripe to be explored further, to be pulled apart and played the gamer’s own way depending on their preference – there is only one way to watch a film but there are many ways to play games.  The more invested gamers get, the further they want to delve and thus, a sequel is usually assured.

Thanks to this hunger for more, for whatever reason, gamers seem less predisposed to writing off sequels – even those that seem to offer little in the way of new gameplay such as Pokemon are awaited with impatience.  If the sequel does turn out to not be that great, it is churlish somehow to look upon something with contempt that you have been demanding  since the credits of the last game in the franchise were barely off the screen, so we just expect the next one to make up for it.

With more than a story to watch in a game, so much to consider, and gameplay being all important, developers seem to be more willing to hone and craft their sequels – the good ones looking at their first title, identifying the strengths and weaknesses, taking criticisms on the chin and constructing an even tighter, more impressive product.  While film isn’t alone in chucking out derivative, consistently weaker sequels, it seems, to me at least, to be far more common to the medium of film than gaming.

While studios are letting Michael Bay loose in the special effects department or hiring an aging star to wisecrack their way through generic script # 3 with stock sidekick # 2, the game devs are refining, rebuilding, or rebooting, lavishing care and attention, expanding mythologies, and paying lip service to devoted fans with in-jokes, Easter eggs, and rewarding plot twists, producing worlds so rich that they can almost be tasted.

Gaming seems to view films with a little brother type of envy, but I think that they are wrong.  I think that it is they who should envy us.  If only we would realise what we’re doing right and stop trying to dress to impress in big brother’s clothes…ours fit just fine.  We’re the underside of that weird thing in your Nan’s soup that you never expected.

...and just because I loved doing the image so much...




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12 Comments

  1. Pete says:

    Ah sequels…. in the world of film were there many before Lucas decided to make a trilogy?

    The most likely game to grab me at a sequel would be Need For Speed and I think Burnout Paradise :) Not sure why they appeal so much when the changes between issues are probably very slight :D Borderlands 2 is another I’d like to see realised but preferably with the level cap removed!

    Great write and great comparison! Now where do I find that Flamingo and giant toaster game? :D

  2. Iain says:

    I would pay good money to see Look Who’s Still Fucking Talking, the first two were amazing. I avoided the 3rd like it was a leper though.

    I think the main reason people want game sequels more than film is that movies have pretty much reached their peak in terms of technology., whereas games are constantly improving. You can’t make people look any more real than they actually are but games graphics are always getting better. We wait for sequels because we know it’ll look shinier and play smoother than the last because the dev tools have already had three overhauls in the time it took to complete the first game. I mean look at games like Gears of War, the plot is wafer thin and has very average ‘summer action movie’ scripting and voice-over work, but GoW2 looked a hell of a lot better than the first and added new things to shoot with/at.

  3. richie says:

    EDF is sweet, sweet butter. I’d come myself Argentian if a new one got announced but yeah, I know where you are coming from with this piece. I mean people are getting themselves into a lather about Dead Space 2, as if it’s going to be absolutely amazing, when the last one was a bit shit. You could say the same about the AssCreed as well. I sort of liked the first one but no way should it have led to as much expectation for AssCreed 2 but people were well up for that game.

    Like you say a sequel to a cack film wouldn’t get any kind of expectation.

    Great read again Swearymary.

  4. Edward says:

    I think it always depends. Nowadays, a lot of games tend to have the opportunity to be expanded into a series or a bigger world, and there’s always a lot more depth in games that can be explored in sequels. A lot of film sequels have to take something away from the original in order to make it work, like writing out a character, or everything isn’t as wonderful in paradise as first thought, which then also takes away from the impact of the original.

    Films also tend to be a cynical addon which don’t understand what made the originals work, and tend to be cheaper efforts to make more profit than anything else.
    Games, I feel for the most part, tend to already know what worked (due to fan feedback, which is probably easier for gamers to give to companies than for film fans to give to filmmakers), and can use what they have already to maximise the experience, take out the flaws, and build on it to a much bigger degree.

  5. The Preacher says:

    It’s an interesting thing to consider. There are exceptions to the rule… some film sequels surpass their originals (Empire Strikes Back, Wrath of Khan, The Dark Knight, Godfather II), and some game sequels leave you wondering how it ever came to this (Final Fantasy XIII… actually, that’s all I have right now… sure there are others though).

    I think part of it must be that games have more to prove, in terms of general acceptance. Movie goers will flock to pay for a film even if it’s shit. Some films even get cult followings, because they’re so awful that people love them for it. Games don’t get that. If a game is bad and panned in reviews, it doesn’t sell… gamers are perhaps more vocal than cinema fans in showing their displeasure at a thing, and in refusing to support it. Also, there are less people who play games than who see films, so the more hardcore supporters of a franchise or series matter more. Not to mention, if a film is rubbish, you can witness how bad it is for yourself and lose only a couple of hours… games demand much more of a commitment in terms of time and effort from the audience.

    Good article. Raises some interesting points, there’s a whole series of things to debate here… so when can we expect the sequel? Heh.

  6. Lorna says:

    Thanks for the comments folks, much appreciated as always :) There are always, of course, exceptions to every rule, such as most of the superb films Preacher mentioned – Empire Strikes Back being my favourite of the Star Wars Trilogy (which wasn’t directed by Lucas, so perhaps that’s why), though I dislike gangster stuff, so can’t speak for Godfather, however, the exceptions aren’t what I was focusing on. I suppose it just occurred to me that for so long, games have looked up to film, run after them like a sibling wanting to be like a cool older child…but gaming gets a lot right.

    Ed hit it pretty much on the head I think in his exploration of why film sequels are often diminished shadows – some great analysis there. Unless the films have specifically woven hooks into the narrative, it is hard for them to make more without running into the problems mentioned unless the thing has specifically been geared already for a series.

    I think also that the gaming press and publishers place much more weight behind reviews than there average gamer. Many gamers try and rabble rouse about bad games or games they don’t want – L4D2 for example and then have to sheepishly back down because people will either play it regardless or it will turn out to be a fucking awesome game. While Preacher is right in that bad games don’t sell…they still get devoted followers and often sequels anyway (but then so do some films, I know! Cheesy horror flicks are a great example and these things tend to become cult like in their awfulness). Bad blockbusters aren’t so different…yes there will be people flocking to the box office but as soon as word gets out, ticket sales nosedive. Perhaps then, Preacher has touched upon the double edged sword…by doing something so well, there is always that weight of expectation and if the hungrily lusted after game turns out to have spat in our eye somehow, my god will someone hear about it.

    Great replies everyone…expect a sequel piece which completely takes it all back if Mirror’s Edge 2 ever gets released and butchered.

    @ Rich…I put EDF in just for you :D I want to actually be in your living room to hear the scream if they ever announce the sequel!

  7. Lorna says:

    Oh, and just so you know, the game with the Flamingo and giant toaster has yet to have a title agreed but we are hoping to land ‘Justbiglee’s Big Game Company’ as our publisher…

  8. MarkuzR says:

    I love your metaphors… big time. BUT, this isn’t a creative writing website so I won’t dwell.

    Sequels are interesting if done correctly but if they’re just a rehash of what came before then they’re not so interesting. When I played UFO: Terror From The Deep I hated it. I hated the palette, I hated that they hadn’t even attempted to improve on the game in any way from Enemy Unknown and I ultimately hated that they’d really only changed the graphics for the character uniforms and aliens but kept the gameplay exactly the same.

    Ordinarily, this would be ok… like when I went from Morrowind to Oblivion, not that much changed in terms of gameplay although the graphics improved dramatically… but it was different people to meet, different areas to visit, different factions to consider, different weaponry to explore. It was just different. Exactly the same in some regards, but different enough to justify its existence. As the UFO games randomly terraformed anyway, you’d never play the same game twice and even every mission therein would be completely new… so UFO: TFTD was just another random terraform except this time it was blue/yellow in colour but nothing much to write home about, if anything. That’s just ME though, I’m sure others enjoyed it but I wanted more.

    Having said that, I have to take a hypocritical stance here and say that I’m hoping Fallout: New Vegas doesn’t change the gameplay from Fallout 3 because I want MORE. When it ended, I was sad. When I heard about NV coming out, I was happy. If it means being able to continue my traipsing through the Wasteland without having to learn new controls, new rules etc then I’ll be over the moon… because I want a Kill Bill 2, not a House III… I want to continue on my journey uninterrupted rather than have a whole new world in front of me where everything’s alien.

    When movies make sequels, their reasoning is very different from that of the gaming world. Movie sequels aren’t necessarily there to provide more chewable fodder for the fans, they exist primarily as cash cows for the studios – a safe bet that, while it may end up being the biggest pile of steaming shite, it’ll still bring them in enough to cover the plastic surgery for the actors, their exorbitant fees, the cost of blowing up several helicopters, the CGI fees and still have enough left over for a down payment on a new island for the director. When game sequels are made, they’re generally made to allow the gamers to fulfil that intrinsic desire for more… more time to play in the world they love, with the character they love, more time to enjoy the flora and fauna… before undoubtedly destroying it for a little extra XP… and less about milking another cash cow. I could be wrong. I hope not.

    I’m hoping that the sequels I’m looking forward to are close enough to the predecessor that I can slip in unnoticed, but different enough that I’m all agog once more.

  9. MrCuddleswick says:

    I’ve thought about this a lot.

    My take is that the development of a game (now more than ever) is generally far more complex than making a movie. It might not cost as much in many cases, but I see it as more complex.

    So, part of the reason why we can legitimately look forward to game sequels over film sequels is that developers can be so much more efficient second and third time out. This gives them greater opportunity to add value and quality.

    Assassin’s Creed II and Mass Effect 2 are two of the best examples in my view. The developers clearly had greater ambitions than resources granted in the originals, but for the sequels many of those ambitions could be realised as so many of the core assets, processes and focus were already in place.

  10. Kat says:

    Am I a bad gamer? I’ve rarely gotten mega-excited about sequels. Struggling to think and for me it was probably Ratchet and Clank. All I wanted was more of the same with a variety of different weapons. I didn’t want the familiarity of the same old levels and they delivered.

    The other one was Left 4 Dead 2. While 90% of the internet bitched and moaned about Valve doing a sequel so soon, I was peeing my zombie pants with excitement. While not perfect (I still think the characters suck compared to L4D1), it exceeded my expectations with new Infected, more weapons etc.

  11. [...] media, and why game sequels are better than film sequels…well, one of our writers actually touched on that subject themselves recently, so it isn’t just us who think games have a lot to be proud of in that [...]

  12. Rook says:

    I can spend many hours playing a game, but rarely give up 2 hours to watch a fillum. Getting so invested in a game and having the freedom to explore the world for as long as you want means that we can get a greater experience than just sitting back and watching. When you spend that much time (even if you play the game multiple times) the desire to want more is so compelling that we get so excited about the announcement of a sequel. I remember immediately sitting forward when I heard just the ping sound of the agility orbs when Crackdown 2 got mentioned at E3 2009.

    As often as you watch a movie, it’s always the same story, although you may notice things second time around; games can give you a different story, or at least a different route to the same end, follow the good/bad path or a bit of both. We just want more interactivity in the world we love.

    This may be the year of the sequel and a few of them not having lived up to the first game in my opinion. Games like Mass Effect 2 and Bioshock 2 just didn’t do enough to surpass the originals.

    And do you ever notice how you and Markuz mention EDF more than me, you guys love it so much, you want the sequel too.

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