by Jarrod S. Lipshy
Video game developers and publishers aren’t like us. Before a game gets released it has to go down an intensive production pipeline for at least a year, not to mention the time spent concepting and going through red tape to even get the project off the ground. The games we play today are made with the technology from about two years ago, and took about as much time and TLC as any installment of The Hobbit.
But, for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that video games are like us, and that at this sentimental and self-reflective time of the year they evaluate all the missed opportunities and mistakes they have accrued, just like we do. In this scenario, games should join us in turning a new leaf, and set personal goals for the year. Goals like…
5. Lose Weight/Be More Active
Let’s face it: a lot of games released on the traditional market are starting to look a bit bloated. I remember playing Assassin’s Creed 3 at a friend’s house and being confused as to why five hours into the game I wasn’t playing as the character on the box. Arkham Origins likewise felt a bit heavy on cutscenes and tutorials that pad out time in between the mind-numbingly repetitive combat.
The fact is a lot of games have started coming up short on the “you play them” side and more so on the “you and it interact together” type thing. This was a great experience playing Seaman on the Dreamcast back in 2001, but the appeal of gimmicky games wears quite thin when you realize you bought an expensive toy that must be kept in its shiny packaging rather than taken out and played with.
Games like Portal, Shadow of the Colossus and Hotline Miami throw mud in the face of this concept . These games show that you can keep a player busy and provide new experiences without introducing a section dedicated to body gliding for exactly one level just to keep their attention. Instead, these games introduce new concepts gradually that extend from the old. Portal thrusts you into the simulated environment and has you jumping and shooting dimensionally-challenged hoops within minutes, as does Shadow of the Colossus have you climbing the body hair of the nearest freakishly-huge monster and stabbing him right in the internal organs immediately after teaching you to jump and climb with only two buttons. The challenge curve of these games adds nuance without making you learn something completely new every two hours. Instead, you learn more about what you thought you already knew and milk the mechanics introduced in the beginning of the game for all they’re worth.
I’m not saying there’s no place for the Grand Theft Auto Vs of the world who want to give the player a lot of goodies, eye candy, and room to explore, but I am saying that not every game should try to be GTA V. Cut out the fat and focus on what you’re good at. The players will thank you for not eating into their time.
4. Mind Their Own Business
For the last time WiiU, I DO NOT want my Facebook friends to know that I’ve died yet again in Resident Evil: Revelations! As far as I could tell this was a feature nobody really asked for. I could actually just tell my friends manually rather than have the developers do it for me.
Having a game request to “post on your behalf” was creepy enough when on the PC or mobile device, but when your Xbox 360 started to want to share the wonderful times you and it have had together with the world, the motives began to seem a bit suspect. Games now transform you into a mouthpiece expounding game’s virtues as a mandatory fee for entry, instead of this praise being a well-earned reward for developers. Also, a lot of people like me play games to escape from the day-to-day. Once a console starts sharing your private experiences (or repeatedly requesting to do so,) it blurs the line between private and public, not to mention confusing a consumer for an employee.
And while we’re on the subject, you don’t NEED to have my phone number, Xbox 360. I don’t care if someone might try to infiltrate my account. Considering that my credit card info is no longer current, they won’t be able to do anything but play Mega Man 10. Once I start sharing all my other personal information with you, though, that provides even more delicious data for hackers to make my life miserable with. So it’d be just great, game, if we could keep this whole thing strictly platonic without you feeling all insecure and overemphasizing how much fun we have together on social media, or getting jealous and paranoid and demanding me to unlock my phone.
3. Try Something New
Tried and true formulas can always be appreciated. That’s why I’ve sampled damn near every Zelda and loved them despite Nintendo essentially remaking the same game fourteen times. However, there’s something to be said for originality. Nintendo recently announced a game tentatively called Hyrule Warriors which is a Zelda spinoff that emphasizes fast melee combat against mobs of enemies or giant bosses.
It’s a good start, but it’d be nice if Nintendo… oh, I don’t know… came up with a new original franchise, maybe? Possibly one that emphasizes the unique control attributes of the console they released and that encourage other developers to utilize? The company that brought video games back from the dead with radical new ideas has been a bit conservative lately, and like any good GOP member, they are reluctant to surprise their constituency with anything out of character. I believe, though, that there is more than enough talent within the minds of the Nintendo development team to come up with some fresh ideas and characters that put a spin on the way we play games, just as Pokemon did for RPGs and Pikmin did for Real Time Strategies.
Other companies should likewise try to break the rut they’ve found themselves in. Assassin’s Creed IV apparently mixed up the elements available to the series, why can’t Call of Duty? First Person Shooters feel like they haven’t evolved much since the now-prophetically named Halo: Combat Evolved came out in 2001. Call of Duty upped the ante on recycling the same formula once they made eight asstons of money with the first three games. As I said of GTA V, though, not every game needs to be Call of Duty.
What happens when you ignore this fact is called “saturating the market” and it makes people get pissed-off when you release Angry Birds: Star Wars on a console two years after the mobile version for double the price. Instead, some fresh, bold ideas are always welcome, and while there is always risk there is certainly reward. Katamari Damacy seemed ridiculous until I picked it up and played it… for hours.
2. Be More Frugal
The new console gen is here, and apparently we’re all supposed to rush out and buy one because games are now, uh, prettier. That’s it. I feel like in some ways we’ve hit a wall with complexity; gamers and developers don’t want to invest more time into learning something that feels more like a NASA shuttle simulator than a FPS, so instead game-makers feel the need to focus on window dressing and hiring more artists.
Stop doing this. Playing Arkham Asylum for the first time many years ago I was impressed by the production values of the game, but got so bored with the repetitive backtracking and combat that I didn’t bother finishing it. Yet the character models are gorgeous and I swear to Cthulu on high that I did not see a single repeated environment asset. Games like Dust Force do nothing but recycle tiled art assets, but still manage to offer incredibly deep and rewarding game mechanics with deviously clever level design.
The canary in the coalmine should be the new RYSE: Son of Rome for the Xbox One that has been received lukewarmly by critics. One even maligned it as “a shallow and unambitious tech demo”. Beautiful skin textures, particle effects, and environments don’t matter for diddly if your game is boring and repetitive. Like the first resolution, this one is all about including only what is necessary to make your game fun, challenging, or unique.
Some are touting ever-swelling blockbuster budgets as the inevitable demise of traditional video game production – just as Lucas and Spielberg said of film recently. Games don’t need to sink more than 100 million into production unless there’s a product that can justify it. Mild sales receptions to the umpteenth Call of Duty and Resident Evil iterations can vouch for this.
1. Make New Friends
Everyone likes video games. Some people just don’t know it yet – or at least they won’t admit it. The goal of the industry this year should be to try to reach out to these people and get them to express themselves virtually in the same way that the veteran gamer does.
The thing I love about games is how they tap into parts of my subconscious in a way that no other art medium does. Unlike shows, films, or even books the game experience (at least in good games) is dictated entirely by the player and can lead to some serendipitous moments of self-discovery. Consumers who aren’t drawn to games are missing out on this personal outlet, not to mention a buttload of gorgeous art, engrossing stories, and rewarding self-mastery.
Developers need to find ways to bring more people into the fold. The Wii was a great start, as were games like Angry Birds and Candy Crush Saga. Anyone who has played Wii Sports for more than an hour owes it to themselves, though, to experience the fun of a Telltale Games adventure, or a sweat-inducing Geometry Wars session. Game publishers have gotten very good at attracting repeat customers, but going back to the same trough can provide diminishing returns.
It’d be amazing if, instead, games this year could get a little more people on board. Nothing’s more awkward than trying to convince someone who considers themselves a “non-gamer” that your intense Minecraft conversations with coworkers are only tedious from the outside. The alternative is that joyous moment when you come home, and realize that your significant other has been attached to the controller for several hours along with that look of extreme concentration. Bringing the obsession to the masses, without bloat, or unnecessary social media integration, or recycling, or budgets that could feed a small country, that should be the true and ultimate resolution for games this year. Here’s hoping we can hold them to it! Have a Happy New Year, everyone!