As a parent, I rarely have to shrug and say “I don’t know.” I’m the dad. I have answers! How is this like that? I know about it. Where does so-and-so come from? I’ll tell you. As many “whys” as my son can throw at me, I’ve got answers. But I didn’t really have an answer for the seemingly most insignificant question: “where did all of our guys go?“
I still have no real answer. Not one that would satisfy a five year old.
When LEGO Marvel Super Heroes came out, I was excited. I was actually doubly-excited: for myself, since I’m a fan of comics and many of Marvel’s superheroes (referred from here on in this article as “super heroes” for inexplicable continuity). But I was also excited about LEGO Marvel Super Heroes for my son. He’s into LEGO brick sets, and has been loving the many Marvel sets that have found their way into our house lately.
I knew this game was going to be a hit. So I bought it for him for his birthday – the first real, retail video game I’d bought for my son. And he loved it. It was tough to keep us off of LEGO Marvel Super Heroes. We loved running around a digital New York and unlocking the game’s 115 characters. We oohed-and-aahed as we sunk hours into unlocking each of the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and tons of others.
As my son would unlock new characters in LEGO Marvel, I’d show those characters to him in other games – namely in my old obsession, Marvel Vs. Capcom 2, and its newer incarnation, MvC3. My son would even impress onlookers at the comic store when he’d shout from across the room, “look! Super Skrull! Look! Deadpool! Look! Nova!” But, you know, times 100. Marvel characters have become as familiar as our family members around here…
“Hey, grampa Magneto’s got a comic coming out next month – you wanna check it out with me?”
“Uncle Spider-man’s on TV again! Want to watch him?”
“Hey dude, I found your cousin Iron Man under the couch again.”
But see, here’s the thing about the LEGO Marvel Super Heroes video game: it’s got glitches. I know, because the first time that our Xbox 360 froze during gameplay, I immediately googled it. I found forums of people declaring that this is just how the LEGO games are. I found others saying that certain missions never appeared for them on the map. Some said that every time they’d get to certain places in the game, it’d freeze. Others saying that the game would just freeze at intervals during gameplay. You even see these kinds of messages on Marvel’s page.
For a game that’s so great – and it really is – I’m disappointed by its flaws. I’ve been playing games for years and have never had a video game that freezes so often, that your expectation is that the game will freeze before you’re done. And when it freezes, you’ve got to restart your whole system. Then you sit through the boot sequence, start the game up, wait for its intro screens, reload your game and get back to the action. And, well, you don’t know how long it’ll be before the game freezes again.
Despite this – we powered through LEGO Marvel Super Heroes. We unlocked 113 of 115 characters. We saved Marvel legend and figurehead Stan Lee 37 of 50 times. We collected 240 of 250 golden bricks. We’d beaten the core story and were crawling our way through each of the levels again, unlocking every secret and checking every corner for an achievement. My son’s ultimate goal: to unlock Deadpool, which is basically the last character you get in the game. Since he’s used in the game as part of the side missions, my son had been asking about when we could unlock him from day-one.
Now, if you’re a video gamer, you know the dreaded warning that every game gives you to not turn off the system while the game is saving or it will result in loss of data.
Well, what about when the game freezes while saving? That’s what happened to my son. “Froze again,” my son said – but when I looked at the screen, my heart sunk. I saw the saving icon in the corner of the screen, as frozen as the game. Without a breath in my lungs, I reset my system and restarted the game.
This all seems so petty to the average non-gamer. But just think – what if that thing you love to do with your kid was needlessly broken? What if the new swing at the park would be alright for a couple of minutes, but then dump you off of it as it came to a screeching halt? How many times would you get back onto it? What if you went to see a new movie, and 10 minutes into the movie, it just stopped – and the theater staff simply rewound it a little, played it for awhile longer, then stopped it again? And what if, for a small portion of the people in attendance, they’d just be removed from the theater and told that they’ll start the movie over completely (at their leisure!) – and that there’s no promise they won’t have to stutter-step through the movie (and possible start over) again? There’d be refunds, I’m guessing.
They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. But not to a kid. To my son, playing LEGO Marvel daily and expecting it not to freeze up again is hope. Hope that somehow, it’ll just work itself out. I watch my son reset the system, play again – and when it freezes, he shrugs and starts over. Sometimes, while the game restarts, he asks if we lost our progress again.
Look, making a video game is a complicated thing. I watched the credits for LEGO Marvel. There are literally hundreds of people that worked on the game. But I don’t know how a publisher could be told that the testers playing the 11th hour product encountered this many glitches and freezes, and still put the game on shelves for consumers to buy. Sometimes, it happens, I suppose. And these days, video game publishers can patch their games after release. But in LEGO Marvel, these glitches live on.
After that last game freeze, I told my son that we lost all of our stuff. “What stuff,” he asked. “Our guys, our gold bricks, all the levels we did,” I replied. And he asked, “where did all of our guys go?”
I had no real answer. I told him that sometimes, video games make mistakes. And all the freezing, it was the video game making mistakes. I didn’t know what else to say, so I started explaining how the game makes a save file and if the game freezes while adding to that file, it can mess up the file. I explained that there’s nothing we can do to get our stuff back – but we can play it all again. I sold that with the tone of my voice as an acceptable option.
He buried his face into my shirt because he didn’t want me to see him crying, but I felt him sniffle against me. It made me tear up also. I wasn’t sad about having to replay the game – that was probably the best part: the game was still here! All that fun we had unlocking guys and playing levels…we could do it again! But, I got tears in my eyes because I just didn’t have an answer for my son. I’m the dad, the one with all the answers, and I didn’t have a fix. Our “guys” didn’t go anywhere. The game just forgot we earned them. Maybe I should have just said that.
But all that freezing…we’d have that again too. And we wouldn’t know if the game would freeze while saving again and corrupt the save file. Again. The upside was that Microsoft offers a bit of cloud space, so we could keep a backup saved there just in case it happened again. But who wants to have to play, assuming that their game will implode on them and delete their progress? A backup’s a good option, but it’s an unprecedented need for me in the gaming world.
We started replaying the game. It’s still fun. But the first time we opened the character select screen, we stared at just under 115 empty slots. “Darn it, we don’t even have….him,” my son said as he hovered his cursor over one of the slots. His former excitement knowing all of the heroes’ names turned into a blank screen and a loss for words.
“Dad, we’re gonna unlock Deadpool,” my son tells me. This time, I hope we do.