Extra Credits: Spectacle Creep

This week, we discuss the increase in franchise scale and spectacle over time.

Episode video is on YouTube

Show Notes:

Be sure to check out the Extra Credits Store.

Would you like James to come speak at your school or organization?

For info, contact us at: kate@extra-credits.net

Apologies for any inconvenience, a better approach to new episodes will be live as soon as possible.

Recent Comments:

  • There's another term for this, Sorting Algorithm of Evil, while spectacle creep is probably, if not more politically correct, then a better term for being more generally inclusive of a singular idea.

    One question I've always had is, isn't Blizzard aware that this is neccessary? Going from fighting off a demonic invasion to an equivalent zombie appocolypse wouldn't have been as grand if the game before it wasn't setting up the mastermind of that zombie appocolypse to be a credible threat to all life on their world. Going from an ancient dragon god that threatened not only life, but the planet itself to we-weren't-entirely-sure-what-the-badguy-was-until-we-were-weeks-away-from-kicking-his-ass-to-oblivion. Seriously, what the hell were they thinking.

    I know what it was, they wanted more character drama in their games, but that doesn't excuse the need for a long term goal in sights.

    I'm not saying that Spectacle Creep or the Sorting Algorithm of Evil must always be obeyed. Imagine and compare Star Trek 1 and 2. Ignore the differences in quality and pacing, V'ger threatened Earth, Khan threatened one ship. Would Khan make a lesser rival than V'ger? Is the reason we think of him as a greater villain because he, at least for a moment, won?

    Now, let's talk about the Final Fantasy franchise. I'm pretty sure there hasn't been a more threatening villain in scope and ability since FF8, one more personal to the protagonist since FF7, and there hasn't been one so affably entertaining since FF6, yet the game franchise continues. Sure they've been flailing a LOT as of recent, but is it because they haven't stepped up the villains since the generally accepted glory days, or is it because as scope of a project increases, the amount of people working on it also increases, and the less singular a vision becomes.

    I know a lot of people have a better answer to these than I, but here's what I think: A series can take a step back, or backtrack a lot, as long as they don't walk off course. There are still comic books that have spiderman and batman taking on less than the full collapse of all reality evvaaaar without the franchises sinking or the comic dying. If you save the world, why is saving half of coastal North America any less important. Scope? Sure, but that doesn't mean that it's not still important. I understand that you wouldn't save the universe in chapter 3 of a game only to save a puppy at the climax, that's internal to one piece, so it's letting the air out of the plot's tires as it's rolling. People reset at night, franchises can reset between games, and enemies respawn when you're not looking.

    Also, anyone else laugh at how acceptable Objectivism is as a target that the child-friendly pokemon franchise tackled them, religious groups, and PETA before they had "Thinly Veiled Team Nazi."

  • Well thank goodness we've got Call of Duty: Ghosts showing us that a multimillion dollar game can still look like arse. So much for the whole "90% of budget goes into making games 5% prettier" nonsense.

    On topic:

    I've been trying to decide if the KotOR series is an example or aversion of spectacle creep. I'm thinking it's an aversion, and if so, the Black Isle/Obsidian team may be masters at this. (Consider Fallouts 1 and 2, then 3 and NV.)

    KotOR: The focus of the first game is to save (or conquer) the galaxy (and in doing so, finding yourself). The second game seems to flip that with a much more personal story, where the focus is to find yourself (and in doing so, saving or conquering the galaxy.) I'm still considering the MMO; if it should be considered a proper sequel for this discussion, and if so, whether or not it further averts the trope.

    Speaking of Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back showed us that you can still dial back the scale and scope of a sequel considerably and end up creating a franchise favourite. That went from saving the galaxy from a giant planet destroying weapon to being about a guy and a gal on the run from Imperial law and another guy getting training form a small green alien with bad grammar.
    And it ended up being considered the best of the series.

  • How is Final Fantasy an example of spectacle creep? It is interesting that FFIX is compared to FFXIII as while FFXIII had more action sequences, FFIX had infinitely more explosions and more at stake.

  • You know, every time I watch this episode, and I'm almost reminded of Dragon Ball Z and most other Shonen Jump manga like it.

    In the beginning of those stories, the main-heroes are simple and down-to-earth, alongside the challenges they face. But then, as those stories progress, the scale grows so large that it's almost immeasurable. Dragon Ball, for example, started Goku off as a little boy who happened to have super-strength, but of a more down-to-earth kind. The majority of his childhood was spent traveling the world to increase his fighting capabilities, so that he could become the strongest martial-artist on Earth. As a result, the villains were also down-to-earth, from the more comedic Emperor Pilaf, to the Red Ribbon Army, and eventually a demon-king.

    But then, Dragon Ball Z comes out. We learn that Goku is actually a saiyan from the Planet Vegeta, and as a result has the power to dramatically increase his power-levels by going Super Saiyan. Because of his constantly increasing power, there was always a need for Akira Toriyama to create overpowered villains who can blow up entire planets with little effort. Unfortunately, even if Majin Buu is stronger than Cell, and Cell is stronger than Frieza, technically the whole "planet buster villain" idea goes from threatening to stagnant when overused like in DBZ, and there is eventually nowhere else to go from here.

    This was why, eventually during the late 80's and early 90's, comic book superheroes were given personal demons to overcome, and not just super-villains. You can learn more about it by watching this Nostalgia Critic episode in the link. Suffice it to say, superhero stories were originally shallow, one-dimensional escapist power-fantasies, where the legitimate threats have to be as over-the-top as humanly possible, just to match the heroes' gradually-developing strengths. But once the Comic Book Silver, Bronze, and Dark Ages came around, writers had to eventually scale down their superheroes from over-the-top power-fantasies, to relatable people overcoming their internal demons so that they could transform into better heroes.

    So really, in a way, we could summarize American comic-book heroes as scaling down to go forward, and Japanese shonen manga heroes as moving backwards by becoming more over-the-top.

    After all, when you write a save-the-world story, you have to come up with contrived ways to save it, like providing the hero with a convoluted MacGuffin. But, when you write a more small-scale story about a character learning, growing, and transforming into something better, whether physically, mentally, emotionally, or socially, you're not as limited as you would a large-scale save-the-world story.

  • After watching this video, I came to realize how much spectacle creep had been influencing my personal opinion about quite a few things. I just really disliked when a franchise would arbitrarily pick out a bigger/badder opponent for it's next installment just for the sake of it being bigger/badder. (especially if it is one that has an ongoing story throughout the franchise)

    My personal worst offender, which I didn't even know was this, was actually in the Star Trek TV series. In ST:TNG, we're introduced to the borg. They did a very good job in creating the new big threat as well as were smart enough to keep them menacing throughout that series. Skip ahead a series to Voyager. They finally enter borg space. The borg were menacing, but then they introduced a species that could destroy the borg! They must have thought it necessary to introduce something bigger despite the protagonists not even close to being able to deal with the current threat.

    But back to video games! A few examples of what I considered spectacle creep which stopped me from continuing in a franchise:

    Dead Space 3: In the first installment, the climactic end battle is against a large alien. In the second installment the climactic end battle is against the protagonists neurosis. In the third installment, the climactic end battle is against a moon. To quote the internet: "That escalated quickly!". And it felt forced too, that with the third game they had to go with the "save humanity" option.

    I'll also admit that I used to be a Halo fanboy, the first 3 games being the legendary hero fighting a losing war, but to eventually turn the tides at the end. However I couldn't bring myself to play Halo 4, or as I call it, "Halo: the search for more money", simply because it feels they went the route of "making a badder bad guy" from the get-go. Mind you not having played it, maybe it does tie in to the original story, who knows.

    I could go on for a bit, but I'll end now. Perhaps I just have a low threshold for spectacle creep heh.

Join The Discussion: