You're reading Reaction Time, a weekly column that claims to examine recent events, games and trends in the industry, but is really just looking for an excuse to use the word "zeitgeist." It debuts on Fridays in Engadget's digital magazine, Distro.

Psst. Hey, Final Fantasy Versus XIII. Are you dead? Don't answer that if you are.

The fate of Final Fantasy Versus XIII, which has rarely been seen outside of lavish computer-generated video since it was announced in 2007 2006, has been debated and doubted enough to push the game well into the realm of vaporware. Yoichi Wada, the CEO of Square Enix, took to Twitter this week to euthanize our latest, seemingly premature obituaries. "It seems someone is spreading a false rumor about Versus being canceled," he wrote. I hope he lets us know as soon as someone starts spreading the real one.

His comment, while without evidence, represented the first proper answer to come out of Square, which up until then had done nothing to mitigate the "false rumor." The games press would love nothing more than to quash or confirm the story, and it's one that shouldn't be simpler to resolve. Is your game still in development? Y/N.

The fact that such a binary choice can't make it out from behind the industry's ultra-starched curtain of secrecy is baffling – and becomes gradually less so the more times you see it happen. Either Versus is canceled, meaning we can all move on and pray that someone else makes a game about a young, androgynous guy with magical swords, or it's still in development, which is important news for people hoping to purchase it somewhere down the line. There's always lag and confusion between different parts of a company, only one of which is allowed to speak with true authority, but checking a pulse should be more primal than this.

Back in March 2011, journalists asked Konami whether a group of 3DS games from Hudson (which was eventually absorbed into Konami) was alive or dead. At the time, the reply was a vague, placating stream of words that didn't respond in the negative or the affirmative. Needless to say, nobody's seen or played Bonk or Bomberman 3DS since then, so we have to presume they've been tossed into the recycling bin.

With Versus XIII, we can imagine there's more happening than what we're privy to – maybe the design direction is changing, perhaps the engine is being altered for different platforms, or maybe Tetsuya Nomura wanted to go back and add a few more zippers. There's a spectrum of information that can be shared with the press at will, from the essential (is the game alive?) to the inessential (what happens at the end?). The problem is that the entire spectrum is treated with the same schtum, and it's because the overbearing, essential presence of marketing has imbued big games with a ridiculous level of secrecy. It can feel like the starting position on nearly any question, important or not, is that approval must be sought first.

You even see it with games that are (as far as I can tell) in no danger of being cancelled. When Halo 4 was first being shown off, I asked one of the developers whether you could sprint in the game. The answer? "We're not talking about that right now." Translation: That basic feature is being held for a later unveiling.

Have you ever seen Hollywood shooting down basic information on its films to the press? If someone asks, "Is Michael Caine in this movie?" and he's signed the contract, the studio will say, "Oh boy, is Michael Caine ever in this movie! His emotional speech will reduce you to a quivering, soggy outline of a human being! Oh, and we've got lots of other actors. Ask us what other actors we have!"

I think developers and producers have reason to be careful about what they say and when they say it (the press hardly has a flawless record when it comes to fairly disseminating quotes), but there's an inherent problem with the way games themselves are discussed now. They're shown off behind bars, piece by piece and according to a blueprint. Inquisitive, enthusiastic lines of questioning are shot down because they come at the wrong time, and spontaneous features might not ever find a spot in the grand scheme of things. We all just want to talk about the games, don't we?

I understand the value of a good secret and the reveal that goes with it, so I'm not suggesting an all-access free-for-all going forward. I am, however, wary of hard secrecy being the default, even when dealing with a simple rumor – hardly a matter of life or death.


Ludwig Kietzmann is the Editor-in-Chief of Joystiq.com. He's been writing about video games for over 10 years, and has been working on this self-referential blurb for about twice as long. He thinks it turned out pretty well. Follow him on Twitter @LudwigK.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.

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