What FIFA can learn from Discworld Noir
This post will be about football (soccer). Eventually. But I’d like to start somewhere else: point-and-click adventures.
Do you remember the game Discworld Noir? It will not be unexpected if you don’t. The game was released only in Europe and Australia back in 1999 and it hasn’t been patched so newer machines are likely to have trouble playing it.
It is one of the most memorable games that I’ve played.
The game is a parody of the film noir genre in the same way most of Terry Pratchett’s work is a parody of the fantasy genre. It features a lot of familiar characters and locales from the Discworld series but also introduces new (and quite likeable) ones. I’m not sure what Pratchett’s actual involvement with the project was but the plot and dialogs, even if not written by himself, captured the charm of the Discworld books quite well.
As a game though, it was terrible. The puzzles were absurd and to solve them it was often required that you try and match every single item in your inventory with every other item or with points of interest in the environment, or with notes in your diary. Also, at certain points, a new inventory would be introduced (of smells, of colours, etc), multiplying the available combinations.
Vanya and I played Discworld Noir in a hot-seat setup over three or four days during a Christmas break in the early 2000s. We had this ancient dial-up connection at home that worked with pre-paid vouchers and we were all out of minutes for the holidays, so we could not go online and check out a walkthrough. We were alone against the cruelty of Dicworld Noir’s designers.
I can’t tell you how many times we rage-quit the game over the course of those few days, swearing we would never boot it up again, only for one of us to return to it a couple of hours later and draw the other one back in.
Anger, frustration, disbelief, helplessness. I believe that it was those strong, albeit negative, emotions that made Discworld Noir such a memorable experience. Did we enjoy feeling them? Of course not. But we both seem to have fond memories of that game, nevertheless. I certainly remember it better than other, better designed games I’ve played since.
Which brings me to the actual, non-videogame-related topic of this post: instant video replays. This has been an issue in football lately. It is generally held that they will eliminate the possibility of a referee mistake influencing the outcome of a game and that that is a good thing. FIFA, football’s governing body, has so far been reluctant to introduce them but with elections for FIFA president upcoming, the issue is set to take centre stage.
While I have no doubt that instant replays will make football a fairer game, I am very worried about the impact they may have on the beautiful game’s potential to create memorable experiences.
The Hand of God goal scored by Maradona against England in the 1986 FIFA World Cup quarter-final is probably the most controversial goal ever scored and the match itself is one of football’s greatest classics. Would that have been the case if they had instant replays back then? Would Maradona have went on to score the Goal of the Century just four minutes later if his confidence hadn’t been boosted and England’s diminished by the first one?
There cannot be definitive answers but I feel pretty sure that this game, not even a final, would have been long forgotten if it weren’t for the controversy created by that legendary handball. Football lore would now be missing one of its most prominent and stirring tales if there were video replays back in 1986.
I think inFamous, say, is a much better, but not nearly as memorable, a title as Discworld Noir. I reckon football with instant replays will be a better, but far less emotional, game.