AAA Games Desperately Need an Editor
In order to fully realize the author's vision, this article contains spoilers for Prey (2017), BioShock Infinite, God of War (2018), Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and The Last of Us.
You have been warned.
Nobody enjoys reaching what they think is the end of a task or goal only to find it has been plucked and moved forward. Imagine hitting a homerun only to find God has reached down and moved the fence back several feet while telling you to, “Keep playing.” This goalpost moving occurs in many video games through the introduction of new information, or the removal of what you thought was the catalyst for the finale. In Prey, it is done by blocking your path to the key needed to destroy the Talos space station. In BioShock Infinite, it is by locking the door to Comstock House and forcing you to fight a ghost version of Elizabeth’s fake mother. In God of War, it is by continually complicating the way by which you access Jötunheimr. In Uncharted 4, it is by revealing a “final” clue that only points you in the direction of another final clue. In The Witcher 3, it is by building towards a culmination at Kaer Morhen, only to be given another to-do list before the actual final battle. In The Last of Us, the fireflies aren’t at the University like we thought, they’ve relocated to Salt Lake City.
Despite the narratives of these games potentially benefiting greatly from cut content, a studio can’t financially release a 10-hour single player game. These games need to offer 20 hours or more to the public or else they become something only worth playing when in the bargain bin or easily rentable from GameFly and RedBox. In addition, they need to be financially successful in order to justify the unending hours spent on rendering the most realistic world currently capable to a demanding public, even if their grip on high-end graphics is fleeting.
Because of this, we have bloated campaigns whose length undermines their ability to tell a story. As any good writer will tell you, a good editor who is willing and able to cut large swathes through your work only increases your quality. Video games lack this. Sony Santa Monica really needed someone to ask, “Does this boat section in Helheim really need to be this long?” Naughty Dog needed someone to challenge, “Why does the Scotland section exist?” Arkane Studios needed someone to point out, “Do we really need to place yet another obstacle in between the player and the ending?”
Sometimes goalpost moving is justified. In The Witcher 3, the goalpost is moved forward, but it spends the in-between time allowing the player to be with Ciri, whom you had been searching for multiple hours beforehand. Often, a goalpost being moved is just frustrating, such as in God of War, where even a disembodied head comments on how yet another obstacle has come between you and the conclusion. In each case, it is symbolic of the manufactured need for a $60 video game to deliver more than an 8 hour campaign. So long as that need exists, AAA games will continue to desperately require someone who is willing to make cuts for the overall benefit of the creation.