December 6, 2007

Breaking the fourth wall in Jade Empire

Have you noticed "Jade Empire" has the same number of letters as "Mass Effect"? And "Baldur Gate"? And... "Neverwinte"? Back to the drawing board, guys.

Fortunately this post isn't about counting letters (that's the next post.) It is about something nearly as trivial. I'm lucky that the very end of Jade Empire isn't part of the game's fiction, so I can write about it without spoiling the game.

I don't know what game ever got this right: the "funny outtakes". It's hard to get right, of course, because it's an awful idea. Over Jade Empire's ending credits, the characters Dawn Star (voiced by Kim Mai Guest) and Sky (voiced by Cam Clarke) talk about their "experiences" making the game Jade Empire. So you have the fictional character Dawn Star blathering on about working with "the writers" at the real-life company BioWare. Now, it's not that I can only read this game strictly literally. I don't understand, however, what comedic potential is being realised by "Dawn Star" acting like she's on a real-world press junket. Reminds me of those interviews with fictional characters -- who on earth is interested in these things?

Nor do I understand why BioWare is so eager to violate the verisimilitude of their story. Thank you, I guess, for not doing it in the game proper, but when you don't commit to your somber mythology, guess what, neither do I. You don't even have the decency to make it an easter egg, unless you were thinking players might not sit through your nine minute (!) credit sequence.

And I don't understand why BioWare suddenly decided to cut loose at the very end of their dour, meaningless epic, and where, after Knights of the Old Republic, their sense of humour went. Jade Empire's outtakes follow a certain comedic style in which you emulate a form (in this case, press interviews and promotion) but forget to say anything funny, so that's just the joke, that it's a secret thing you found and it's kind of like they're on Entertainment Tonight. Yeah, there's a couple of jokes in there, but it's like open-mic night and BioWare's the last one to excitedly jump on stage and launch into their horrific comedy bit and then completely die. It's embarrassing.

If you couldn't tell, this really bothered me. Probably more than it should have. It was an unpleasant end to a lacklustre game.

Here's what I do understand: I've heard people say that the part of their work that's a big joke was the most fun to write but they don't realise that they're damning themselves. Of course it's more fun, because you don't care about it. It's easier to write because you're not trying to make it any good. You shouldn't be bragging about this.

(You can watch Jade Empire's credits here if you like.)


Anonymous said...

I don't know, I thought to stuff at the end was funny.
Well, at least the Hou part.

Maxwell Knight said...

Well, in KotOR, there was a secret ending in which you use the first controller and the 4th one to make them dance, ending the game.