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A Pitch Too Far, a review in the form of a short story. This week, a marketing manager finds he has to deal with a strange figure on the ledge outside his office, intent on jumping. What could possibly be troubling him so greatly?
It was a cool Wednesday afternoon, as Jake Halliwell sat in his office, looking thoughtfully out of the window. He was musing his career to date. He wasn't really sure how he'd gotten into advertising; he seemed to have followed one opportunity after another and found himself... well, exactly "here". Occasionally he felt a little guilt for some of the aspirants he observed in the ranks below his. He'd never bowed, scraped, begged or murdered for his position. Jake had exercised a little judgement here and there and it never hurt to have a strategic sense of direction, but he couldn't shake the feeling that he had simply landed in a job that others were running themselves ragged to try to achieve. It was while he thought about these things when his attention was broken by movement outside his window. He blinked once, twice, even three times; but he was not mistaken. A terrified-looking figure in a stone-coloured suit was edging along the balcony outside. Jake simply sat and stared. He wasn't really sure what to do. Was it a thief, trying to find his way to a more secure part of the floor? What would they do that for? Jake didn't think there was much of intrinsic value anywhere in this part of the building. If it was industrial espionage -- trying to steal whatever new marketing ideas were in development -- then it seemed to Jake that it was a pretty unsophisticated attempt. Then a different thought occurred to him: The guy must be planning to jump. They were on the 43rd floor of this building, so if the guy really wanted to put an end to things he wasn't leaving much margin for error. Jake thought he had read something about the company having a "jumper" policy. There was a procedure that needed to be followed if a member of staff encountered a suspected jumper. Jake was about to search his cabinet for the documents -- long since filed. He was pretty sure the documents were given to him when the firm had relocated to this tower building. That was several years ago now. He found it, crumpled and bent underneath the guides "Bomb Alert! Be Vigilant!" and a flyer for a nutritional assessment specialist offering discounts to the agency. He picked up the phone on his desk and was about to call the number for building services, as instructed by the guide, when a further thought flashed into his mind. Jake felt that he was making quite an assumption about the strange figure's intentions. Perhaps just a check would be courteous? He thought to himself. He opened the window and leaned out, looking in the direction he had seen the figure moving. It was very windy outside and Jake squinted as a sudden gust of air blew into the office. The man had not travelled much further. There was some sort of trunking on the outer wall between Jake's window and the next offices which was impeding the figure's progress along the narrow balcony. He seemed to be trying to negotiate his way past it but struggling to find a safe route. It seemed incongruous to Jake that somebody planning to take their own life should be so concerned about falling. Perhaps he had been wrong after all. "I say," Jake called out to the man on the ledge, "do you mind if I ask you something?" There came no response from the figure, although he stopped very still, as if aware that he had been caught. His shoulders slumped and he looked down at the street below. Jake decided to press ahead; "do you mind if I ask if you are planning to jump?" he inquired further. The man turned to look at Jake suddenly, ashen-faced. "You can't stop me!" he declared, trying to edge a bit further away. "Oh," exclaimed Jake, "umm sorry I wasn't planning to. I was just trying to figure out if I'm supposed to follow the jumper policy. Am I supposed to stop you? The first step was to call building services, you see. I didn't get any further than that. I say, do you suppose it goes on to say I should talk you down?" The man on the balcony eyed Jake sharply, studying for some kind of psychological trickery; then, his face fell a little as he realised that Jake's polite protestation was entirely without artifice. This interloper had no intention of rescuing him -- he was just trying to work out which policy to follow. "Go away!" the man shouted at Jake. Jake obediently ducked his head back inside the office as instructed only to appear again a few seconds later. "It's just that I don't want to start off the whole emergency process thing if that's not what you're actually planning," he explained, reasonably. The figure on the balcony dropped his head to his chest sadly. "How did it come to this?" he mused plaintively. It seemed to Jake that this man was familiar. Something about the tone of voice, the demeanour made him sure that he'd seen this person before. "It's Albright isn't it?" Jake asked. The man nodded his head, "I'm Colin Albright. I'm one of the junior campaign managers down the hall from you." Jake let out a big "ahhhh! Right!" and continued, "funny that it took me a while to recall." Colin's sigh was lost in the wind, but he replied, "you won't know me. Nobody does. That's why I'm in this mess. I'm going to lose my job." Jake was surprised, "really?" he asked, "I'm not aware of any layoffs coming right now." Colin shook his head, "it's competency, not redundancy. My manager's told me that if I don't get my head above the parapet, make an impact and deliver one great campaign then he'll have to let me go." This amazed Jake, "well that doesn't sound worth throwing yourself off a building for! You've been handed a lifeline old man. All you need to do is put together a wizard campaign and let everyone know it was your doing and everything will be sorted." "You don't understand!" Colin shouted, "the project I've been given... I simply can't sell it. Nobody could! It's a trap! And it's a big property for a really important client!" Clapping his hands together, Jake argued, "nonsense, man! Tell you what, you tell me what you're struggling with and we'll throw a bunch of ideas at the wall and see what sticks, eh? What's the product?" Colin visibly withered, "Kirby's Epic Yarn" he told Jake, quietly. "Oh I've heard that's quite good," Jake responded. "Of course it's good!" Colin reacted angrily, "they've taken all the best bits from Paper Mario, left out all the crap bits like the repetitive back-tracking and repackaged it with Kirby at the helm!" Jake was confused. "So what's the problem, then? It sounds like a good product." In return for this, Jake was shot a venomous look by Colin, "the game is based on bloody wool! All the characters and scenes are made from wool and needlework stitching and even the plot is about a wool sorcerer gradually taking over the world! How can I sell a game to gamers based on the premise of wool!?" There was no response from Jake, while Colin was getting more and more agitated, "I know what sells as well as you do, Jake. Sex sells, we all know that! Even pictures of Princess Peach being carried off by Bowser for the eleven-hundredth time I could sell. Or, lifestyle sells... we show young, fit looking people in sportswear waving a Wii remote like they're Andre bloody Agassi and I could shift a game by the tonne. But wool?! Who on earth thought of trying to sell a game premise based on wool?! They might as well have called it Kirby's Epic Bingo and Crotchet Tales and been done with it for all the sex appeal I can give it. I'm telling you, even if it were the best game this year, nobody is going to take a second look at a game where all the characters are based on a knitting supplement." Jake considered this for a moment. "Isn't there any way the wool element could be down-played?" Colin shook his head, "if you'll forgive the rather obvious marketing pun, the wool gag is woven into every stitch of the game. Enemies are unwound, rather than killed while secret areas and objects are accessed by unzipping patches and unstitching fabric." Suddenly he cried aloud, "oh God it's hopeless!" "When is your boss back?" Jake asked. "In four weeks!" Colin replied, desperately, "and he's expected a killer campaign by the time he returns! I can't screw this up for Nintendo -- I know Kirby isn't the biggest name on their books but he's pretty beloved by the fans. What will I do?" Wracking his brains, Jake suggested, "what about the two-player local co-op? That's a pretty popular feature these days. Can't you emphasise the multiplayer angle?" Colin looked incredulous, "have you tried it? It's like trying to share a bath with a sumo wrestler! Neither of you can see what is coming as the camera always seems to sit between you; you tend to attack each other instead of the enemy, most of the timed jumps seem to be geared towards a lone player and the vehicle set pieces I tried were much less fun than going it alone. "It's just not fair! At it's heart it's a great game. The level design is interesting, the vehicle transformations inject some variety and the ability to customise a home location which unlocks additional modes is a great idea. They've even avoided shoe-horning too much unnecessary Wiimote waggling into it. Just good old-school platforming with the face buttons. But no-one will ever see what a good game Kirby's Epic Yarn is, because they'll be put off by the fact that it presents itself as a wool simulator! Even LittleBigPlanet, with bits of old tins, cardboard boxes and birthday candles had a kind of Blue Peter charm. I guarantee there is no material on earth as devoid of any excitement for gamers as wool." Colin seemed to be railing against the sky, shaking a fist, "Oh why did it have to be wool?!" Jake had been very silent during this outburst, contemplating the options. He felt his guilt returning, as he realised he'd never really faced a tricky sell like this. He'd promoted a few games before but he'd found the source material tended to sell itself, as long as the game was good. He'd never been faced with trying to promote a great game hidden under a difficult surface. More evidence that he had coasted into his current position. He asked Colin, "did you say that your boss will be expecting a campaign on his return -- in four weeks?" "Yes" Colin replied, dejectedly. "And you're going to throw yourself off this building today?" he continued. Colin looked unsure, "well, yes" he replied, eventually. Jake seemed to come to a conclusion. "Right," he declared and clambered out of the window and onto the balcony. He stood next to Colin and drew in a deep breath. "What are you doing?" Colin asked him, surprised. Jake explained, "I've realised that with your death, the project will pass to me. If you can't sell the idea of a videogame based on wool, then I sure as hell can't. Come on!" Jake grasped Colin by the hand, "we have more chance of surviving a fall from the 43rd Floor than we have of finding a way to make wool 'sexy'. Let's take our chances..." They gave each other a grim nod as they tightened their grip on each other's hands and stepped out into the sky, putting themselves into the hands of fate.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: