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It's A Secret to Everybody: Game Surprises in the Information Age

by Tom Malina - November 14, 2013, 4:25 am EST
Total comments: 11

Can we still be surprised by games in the internet era? Actually, for that matter, do we need to be?

Remember when you were younger and every video game was a surprise? In the modern day, there's nothing quite like those feelings of discovery and wonderment when you picked out a game based on its box art and eventually came to cherish it as one of your favorites. How we share and collect information just doesn't allow for it any more. But would you really want things to go back to the old ways? Can you honestly say that ignorance is bliss?

I've written in the past about my appreciation for the Nintendo Direct format, which is greatly superior to the days when it seemed like there was nothing to be excited about because of the almost year-long lack of communication from the House of Mario. There's no denying, though, that the presentations are far from perfect, usually in what they choose to talk about and how much, or in some cases how little, they show.

The most recent Direct broadcast told us about numerous upcoming Nintendo 3DS titles, Pikmin 3 DLC and the long-awaited cross-platform Nintendo Network ID update. However, all of that was overshadowed in the social media conversation afterwards by the unexpected video at the very end for Super Mario 3D World.

The trailer revealed 10 previously unknown features about the Wii U game du jour, including some secret content and post-game unlockables, and suddenly, a chorus of online viewers stirred a furore about spoilers and diminished excitement. (Don't worry, I'm not going to discuss any of the trailer in this article.)

Super Mario 3D World looks very promising. It shouldn't be passed up just because you are in the know.

There is some precedence for this with Nintendo Direct presentations. During the special showcase for The Wonderful 101, a similar incident occurred when the six-minute launch trailer at the end outlined a large portion of the game's storyline - suffice to say, the reaction on social networks was similarly incensed.

For me personally, I've come to accept that with the rise of widespread mainstream games media and advent of technologies like Facebook and Twitter, this is simply how things are now. If you, like me, spend upwards of an hour a day perusing news and reviews on the web, you find that details small and big about anything and everything video games get absorbed by osmosis, often when it's not intentional.

That's the nature of 24-hour press about unreleased entertainment products. It used to bug me, the fact that I knew so much about so many games before they launched. I compare my knowledge base of Super Mario Galaxy with that of Super Mario Galaxy 2 - in the three years between those two platformers, my habits of consuming news changed greatly, so while Galaxy was a bundle of unexpected mechanics, I more or less knew all the new additions to Galaxy 2 before I encountered them in the game.

But you know what? That didn't make Super Mario Galaxy 2 less fun or any less capable at capturing my imagination. So what that I knew about the Rock Suit and Cloud Suit from pre-release media? So what if I saw the awesome Flip-Swap level played out in a demonstration video? If anything, it made me more excited to find them in my play-through and try them out for myself.

Being more informed is good, and in my view, the whole premise of going on a media blackout in the weeks running up to a game's launch date is a fruitless exercise. At the top of this article, I referred to picking out games at a young age because of what cover art looked the best, and while I acquired some of my most treasured titles of all time through these means, there were plenty of times when the cool-looking box housed a real clunker of a game. I won't make those mistakes again, because I want to be informed.

The existence of the wall-merging ability in A Link Between Worlds is far more significant than it being unexpected.

That doesn't mean I don't like surprises, and yeah, I'll admit that it's somewhat sad that I haven't encountered nearly as many mind blowing shocks in the past couple of generations. However, it is important to maintain perspective. It is not the surprise that you should be looking forward to; it's the feature itself.

Does the knowledge that Mega Man will be in the next Smash Bros. mean that I'm not going to like it as much? Of course not. Does knowing about all the new gameplay mechanics in The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds mean that I'll have a negative outlook on the game because I saw it all coming? No chance; in fact, there would probably be a whole lot less of you interested in that game if you didn't know anything about it.

Whilst it might allow for a neat moment if I went in with a total blank slate and discovered these elements all for myself, what matters most is that they are in the game, not that they catch me unaware. So to those of you saying you no longer want to play Super Mario 3D World because all these components of the game have been "spoiled for you,” I say: if they are genuinely exciting and fun, they will stand on their own, surprise or not.

And you never know, there may still be a surprise or two waiting in the wings...


zenspathNovember 14, 2013

This is basically one of those issues that is impossible to please everyone with.  If they kept every single secret then all I would be hearing is the complaints that this is only a port of the 3DS title or "just another Mario game with nothing new".  But with showing these things they can change that...at least for SOME of the ones that will even listen.

And I really doubt these are the only secrets that will be in this game.  Some will open the moment you turn your game on depending on game saves you have, while others can help show who you can be which can help someone be interested if their favorite character is making an appearance (I was personally hoping for Nabbit lol). 

But in the end they still haven't shown much of the story because we don't know why or how this connects to previous games even though references abound...I for one want to know how this works out and look forward to playing it. 

xcwarriorNovember 14, 2013

If this helps other people, this is what I do to try and avoid at least some spoilers. When a game gets down to the final month or so, I try and stop reading stuff about it. I don't need to see a million trailers or read articles if I"m pretty sure I want it. So as long as I can avoid Tweet spoilers (thank you very much NIntendo of America Twitter for spoiling the hidden character yesterday) I usually can keep a few surprises for when I play the game.

I would never stop myself from buying a game b/c of a spoiler (unless I was on the fence and maybe the ending was spoiled) but I do like that feeling you get when you unlock a new mode or get a special character.

This is actually can still happen if you buy some games that are less hyped up. You unlock some cool characters from other games in Orochi 3 Warriors for Wii U, and b/c I read squat on that game leading up to it, those were pretty sweet surprises.

OK, I think I ranted long enough.

CericNovember 14, 2013

Seriously enough, anyone who post here and is reading this post right now.  More than likely you don't actually want to go in blind.  If you did you just look at the Wikipidia Release list, just go into the game store, or just go onto PSN/eShop/Whatever MS Is calling theirs right now.  They didn't do a campaign where you could accidentally see the spoilers like in a TV Commercial.

Ian SaneNovember 14, 2013

In the old days it was kind of nice for so many things to be legitimate surprises but if you got stuck you were pretty much screwed.  There was no Gamefaqs to get you out of an obtuse illogical puzzle (and those were also seemingly more common then).  Also with less sources for reviews you were more likely to get swindled by a lousy game because it looked cool on the box.  Overall we're better off in the internet age.

Still I think it should be pretty obvious that what is considered a SECRET in the game isn't something to be blabbed about beforehand.  It's not a fuckin' secret then, is it?  Major storyline spoilers should be obvious but so often marketing people get them wrong.  Does this ruin some surprise in the story?  Then don't reveal it.  DUH!  It's all about balance.  There is a certain amount of info that has to be revealed to generate interest and let potential customers get an idea if the game interests them or not.  The basic way the game plays isn't a spoiler.  Neither is the most basic plot description.  Neither is some essential gameplay mechanic that is introduced almost right away in the game.  In that Zelda example I'm sure Link's wall-merging is something that shows up early in the game and is an essential part of the gameplay.  It isn't some power-up you get in the last quarter of the game.  Something like that would be unnecessary.

Of course Nintendo has done this for a long time.  The TV commercial for the original Star Fox had the last boss in it.  Now Andross is this big polygon face that looked incredibly cool for the time and I can understand how showing that in the commercial would generate interest (it's the only gameplay footage from the ad I remember 20 years later).  But it was clear playing it that once you made it to Venom, which was clearly the last level on the map screen, you had not faced the big face from the commercial yet so you could deduce that it was probably the last boss.  In comparison I remember being blown away by the Banzai Bill in the Super Mario World ad.  That enemy appears in the very first level of the game.  Hardly a spoiler but still an impressive shot for the commercial.

ShyGuyNovember 14, 2013

I am responsible for avoiding spoilers, not the internet. SAY NO TO BEING A VICTIM

EnnerNovember 14, 2013

It depends between cases. I don't want to be spoiled on important narrative turns or all of the impressive latter levels. However, a tease of some of the craziness near the end of the game or a cool extra character? That happens in attracting attention.

For The Wonderful 101's long trailer, I think it helped to lay out the general plot of the game. Also, the thing had so many quick cuts that I don't think it spoiled too much.

For A Link Between Worlds, I have been avoiding recent trailers so I was a bit sad to see some snippets of cut scenes.

For Super Mario 3D World, the reveal of the 5th character was really exciting and brought much closer to buying the system and the game now than before I watched that trailer. Because I value the platforming experience of Mario games far more than their surprises, I didn't feel spoiled by the latest trailer. Rather, it has me much more excited for the game.

azekeNovember 14, 2013

Quote from: Enner

For The Wonderful 101's long trailer, I think it helped to lay out the general plot of the game. Also, the thing had so many quick cuts that I don't think it spoiled too much.

That trailer was NOT spoilerish in any way.

It was heavily re-edited from game's cutscenes and told completely different story than what was in the game. It wasn't even close in general way.

Luigi DudeNovember 14, 2013

Quote from: Ian

In comparison I remember being blown away by the Banzai Bill in the Super Mario World ad.  That enemy appears in the very first level of the game.  Hardly a spoiler but still an impressive shot for the commercial.

It's funny how you use that as a good example when the same commercial showed the final boss fight against Bowser as well.


Ian SaneNovember 15, 2013

Quote from: Luigi

Quote from: Ian

In comparison I remember being blown away by the Banzai Bill in the Super Mario World ad.  That enemy appears in the very first level of the game.  Hardly a spoiler but still an impressive shot for the commercial.

It's funny how you use that as a good example when the same commercial showed the final boss fight against Bowser as well.


I had no idea.  That's funny as hell.  Probably the same mook made both spoilerific commercials.

Ian SaneNovember 15, 2013

I just watched the commercial in full and it doesn't just have the boss fight, it has part of the ENDING!  Apparently our outrage has been overblown as Nintendo clearly is way better at not blowing spoilers now than it was back in 1991.

Mop it upNovember 15, 2013

The Internet is a gift and a curse. We can discover so much about games to help us decide if they're worth buying, and we can get all the help we need if we get stuck. But then we also learn so much about them that there may not be many surprises left once we play them. But there's a risk if we go in blind... it's a tough balancing act. Then there's the marketing department, they're trying to sell people on these games and movies so of course they want to show all the cool stuff within. Places could still stand to be more mindful of revealing things, but it's up to people to decide how much they want to see as it's all out there.

I'll never forget the first time I played The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. I had no idea the Dark World existed, and even after getting a glimpse of it before palace 3 I thought nothing of it. I figured it was just showing what the world would look like if you don't stop Aghanim. When I beat that dastardly wizard I thought that was the final boss... and then I find out I'm not even halfway done. The biggest surprise I've ever experienced. At this point in time most games were pretty short, so even just the Light World was a good amount of content for a game. Had this been the Internet age, the Dark World and all its secrets would be plastered all over the Internet, and its dungeons and everything would be seen in promotional material cooked up by the marketing department. The whole thing would have been completely ruined, and nothing will ever come close to being a surprise like that.

Another example is Final Fantasy VI (III). I was fortunate enough to play that game just when its cult status started building, so its surprises were unknown because hardly anyone played it. This game would be far less enjoyable and exciting if I knew what was coming, and I've seen people casually mentioned its twists and turns without any thought, so it probably has been spoiled for some who haven't played it yet. Heck, I recall looking at FAQs to find something extra I was missing on a replay, and the freakin' FAQ spoiled the big twist right before it happened. You can't even read a walkthrough in this day and age without seeing spoilers! A walkthrough!

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