Open letter: Dear Sierra, don’t screw up Ghostbusters

225_ghostbusters.jpgInfendo writer Derek has a chip on his shoulder this evening in this open letter to Sierra. The subject? Ghostbusters, what else?

Dear Sierra:I had to slap myself last week.

You think I’m lying, but the swollen red hand-print across my face says otherwise. I’m also having a hard time chewing with that side of my mouth now, so my food is only being half-processed before I swallow, which I’m sure will cause a whole new slate of problems.

But you know, I really don’t mind. In fact, I needed that slap to remind me that what I was experiencing was real and that I wasn’t lost in a cruel dream. You know the kind; those dreams in which all the things we’ve ever loved gather for a few moments of fictional bliss, and even after we’ve awakened, we squeeze our eyelids shut in a fleeting attempt to recapture it.

Desperately…for just one more second.

So as much as that slap hurt, it was a necessary evil. And it must’ve happened at some point after my marathon session with Super Mario Galaxy and before my hour-long observance of the devastating handheld dominance shown by my roommate in the hideously nostalgic Contra 4.

Yes, it must’ve happened somewhere in the middle. Because that was also the time when I read the news regarding the new Ghostbusters game you will be publishing for the Wii in 2008.

I was playing a Mario game, watching a Contra game and anticipating a new Ghostbusters from Aykroyd, Murray and Ramis. So actually, to say I thought I was lost in a dream would be false. In fact, I was convinced someone had covertly installed a Flux Capacitor in my car and that I had traveled back to those cherished days of my childhood.

Ah, those wonderful 1980s. I distinctly remember them. They were simpler and, in many ways, better times. We didn’t have to worry about disappointing movies, because every year or so, a Rocky or a Back To The Future or a Star Wars would appear, as if from Heaven, to appease us. Reality shows hadn’t been invented yet, so even television was great. And most importantly, a chubby little Italian plumber popped out of a green pipe and fire-balled Atari to death, so bad video games were becoming less of an issue.

Bad video games. That’s where you come in, Sierra.

Ghostbusters is one of those special things that comes around once every few millennia; take the best minds in comedy, give them proton-spewing backpacks and put them in the middle of a haunted New York City. It seems one would have to actively pursue “suckage” to screw up that formula, and considering how revered the Ghostbusters are, our expectations are high.

Let’s cut to the chase. I’m not entirely fond of you, Sierra. You’ve knocked a few out of the park, most notably with Half-Life and more recently with Geometry Wars: Galaxies on Wii, but even the worst hitters in baseball are likely to whack a few homeruns a year. Particularly on the console side of things, you haven’t faired as well. Spyro the Dragon? Scarface?

Suffice it to say, I’m not entirely impressed.

But my relative lack of faith in your console software doesn’t mean I have given up on your Ghostbusters project. In fact, aside from Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. Brawl and a few others, your Ghostbusters title is one of my most anticipated titles for next year. But being a Wii owner and critic in particular, my expectations go beyond pretty visuals and funny dialogue. Nintendo’s new console gives software the potential to be truly inspiring, innovative and groundbreaking. Despite the attitude some third-parties seem to be taking toward Wii, it is still a revolutionary console at its core.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be a gaming revolution, but there is no reason for the Wii version of Ghostbusters to be anything but spectacular.

I noticed in your press release that there are two teams working on your Ghostbusters games; developer Terminal Reality is working on the 360, PS3 and PC builds of the game, while Red Fly Studios is handling the Wii, DS and PS2 versions. This little tidbit was the glaring siren, the falling bomb that called into question my euphoric excitement. With so many developers taking a “port the PS2 version with motion controls” attitude toward Wii software, and the results being anything but the revolutionary gaming experiences Wii is capable of, I would say my causes for alarm are justified.

But given your success with Geometry Wars: Galaxies, which is one of the best games to hit Wii this year, and considering that Red Fly Studios is also working on an ambitious 2008 title called Mushroom Men dedicated to Wii, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say your Wii team actually gives a damn about perfecting their build of the game.

Given that – which is still a presumption, mind you – let’s talk Ghostbusters expectations.

If there is any singular aspect of the Ghostbusters universe best suited for implementation into a video game, it is obviously proton-blasting, ghost-busting action. And if there is any singular gameplay aspect Wii has perfected, it is IR aiming with the Wii remote. Games like Metroid Prime 3 and Medal of Honor: Heroes 2 have set a new standard for first-person aiming on a console, so the precedent is clear. And if you choose to implement a third-person view for the game, look no further than Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition for an already solid blueprint upon which to build. Quite simply, perfecting the aiming mechanisms for this game should be a no-brainer.

The Wii offers motion control, but the best games on the console have implemented it in unobtrusive, intuitive ways. There is no reason to force motion control into your software, and speaking of your own work, Geometry Wars: Galaxies is a terrific example of that. But for Ghostbusters, there is tremendous potential for tasteful implementation of some motion controls. Operating the Containment Unit and all its levers could be done similarly to how Metroid brilliantly handled mechanic interaction. Or perhaps flicking the nunchuk forward to cast out the trap?

Certainly, the potential for a very engrossing control experience is there. Factor in the wonderful ergonomic design of the nunchuk and its analog stick, and the Wii version should provide a tighter, more precise degree of control than any of the other versions.

And, of course, it should be unspeakably fun in the process.

But controls aside, even the most hardened Nintendo fan would concede that the Wii version will likely be inferior in one major regard: visuals. This has led developers to take a disappointing approach to the graphics of the Wii software, often settling for games that would be considered ugly even last generation. The Wii may not have the horsepower of the 360 and PS3, but it certainly has a lot more to work with than the PS2. Metroid Prime 3 hinted at it, and Super Mario Galaxy has proven it. Wii is more than capable of providing lighting of all sorts from proton beams and glowing ghosts, particle effects from blasting spirits and even mapping textures for massive bosses. There is no reason for the Wii version to not look substantially better than the PS2 version.

And what of WiiConnect24, the WiFi abilities and even Weather Channel integration? How cool would it be if New York City’s real life weather matched that of the game as you played?

By no means am I a game designer or developer of any sorts. I am merely a critic, and I certainly don’t mean to make demands contrary to your own vision for the game. After all, I wouldn’t be writing you, Sierra, if I didn’t have at least a glimmer of faith in you. I wouldn’t waste my time if I didn’t think you capable of a terrific Ghostbusters experience on Wii. My concern is not your capabilities, but your intentions; is the Wii version merely meant to cash in on the system, or has some real effort and budget gone into it?

The precedent has been set. We’ve seen the proof; Wii games don’t have to look like PS2 games, and they don’t have to force players into needless waggle. The Wii has more distinct attributes and features than simply a magic wand for a controller, and those features are still largely untapped. And despite Zelda, Metroid and even Mario, software on Wii can look and play even better than the best of what we’ve seen since last November.

You can bet Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray and Harold Ramis will do their job flawlessly. The rest is on you, Sierra. So please, don’t break my ghost-busting heart.