Are You Game: Part III

My last two posts have looked out games which have already been made. Today I’m going to look at games I think should be made.

The Concept

The game I propose is, thankfully, not another shooter. Much as I enjoy playing them, I’m going with a different franchise. Pokémon.

I know, I know. There are plenty of games in that franchise already. They have even announced their first ever 3D games, Pokémon X and Y. However, these games are only available for the Nintendo 3DS, and their graphics retain the anime-style of all previous games. But I think Nintendo are missing a trick by not utilizing the larger consoles such as the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360, as well as full HD graphics.

Imagine it, a full-length Pokémon game on your console in hi-def. I’ve listed below a few of the key points of my game proposal.

  • Completely open-world, in the style of Assassin’s Creed or Skyrim;
  • RPG elements to your character as well as your Pokémon;
  • The game focuses on the original 150 Pokémon;
  • You control your Pokémon during fights from their POV;
  • Online multiplayer gives players the chance to challenge other humans;
  • Players of a certain level or higher can assume Gym Leader positions on a server; and
  • Your Pokémon completely refuse your orders unless you have a gym badge above their level.

Taking the example of controlling your Pokémon during a battle – I think this could be accomplished by designating the X, A, B and Y buttons (that’s square, circle, X and triangle for PlayStation) for one attack each. Battles will not be turn based, with movement/evading attacks achieved by the analogue sticks.

The plot itself can be as simple as young man/woman ventures into the world for the first time to become the best Pokémon trainer. Or it can explore the idea of leaving home and the effect that has upon the protagonist’s character as they travel. The need to catch more Pokémon just to have sentient company and dialogue with other characters could be used to highlight the difficulties of leaving home.

The world around the characters can be further detailed by the small things, like evidence of Team Rocket’s wrong-doings, even if you don’t meet them until later in the game. Or chatter between NPCs about how they have dealt with being away from home, and their recent experiences in battles/gym fights.

Of course, there are still plenty of issues with this game, both in concept and in details, but it’s one that I would love to see developed.

A long time ago, in a game developer far, far away…

In other news, Disney announced yesterday that they are closing games development company LucasArts, after buying them in October 2012. LucasArts was behind every Star Wars and Indiana Jones game ever, the good and the bad, as well as other cult hits Day of the Tentacle and Monkey Island. Disney’s reasoning was this:

“After evaluating our position in the games market, we’ve decided to shift LucasArts from an internal development to a licensing model, minimizing the company’s risk while achieving a broader portfolio of quality Star Wars games.”

While many of their games received mixed critical reviews in recent years, LucasArts had somewhat reinvigorated the Star Wars Franchise with The Force Unleashed I and II. However, they were to prove the final gems in the franchise, with Star Wars Kinect failing, both critically and financially.

This closure means that Star Wars 1313, which was under development, has been put on hold. It is yet to be officially cancelled, but with this move, you have to wonder if 1313 will ever be completed.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about the closure. Obviously I feel sorry for the staff who have been made redundant. But on the other hand, the company had already tried outsourcing to other companies for some of their games, and their games since the ‘90s, with the exception of The Force Unleashed series, have been fairly generic. With LucasArts staff now no longer involved with the Star Wars games some fresh blood will be introduced. This could be exactly what is needed to improve the series. Of course, it could also turn out to be a disaster and ruin Star Wars games for a generation of gamers. Only time will tell.

So are there any games that you feel the world is missing? What are your thoughts on the LucasArts closure?

NK

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Are You Game: Part II

In my last post, I focused mostly on shooters and multiplayer, and how they are affecting our expectations. Today I’d like to look at gameplay and graphics.

Retro

I’m sure we’ve all at least heard of the games Pong, Pacman, Space Invaders or Snake, even if some haven’t played them. These games have been around decades. Pong was first brought out in 1972, Snake and Space Invaders in 1978 and Pacman in 1980. And I’m certain they will all still be around in another 40 years as well. But here is where everything I said in my last post is shot out of the water. None of them has a plot. Only Pacman has named characters. None have any dialogue or conflict. So what is the secret of their success?

When they were all brought out, these graphics were top-of-the-line. Now however, their graphics are completely outdated. So it isn’t their graphics which makes them so popular with today’s gamers. As I mentioned above, none of them have a plot, so it isn’t plot or characters which have made them successful. The only aspect of the game left is gameplay. These games are all simple-minded fun. You don’t have to invest anything other than time into them. The controls are easy to grasp, and the concepts are simple enough that anyone of any age can play and enjoy them.

So for all that my friends said about preferring games with engaging plot and strong characters, the games which survived for the longest are those which lack exactly those features.

Modern

But what of modern games with easy gameplay?

Again, we come back to shooters, simply because shooters seem to have become the staple of all gamers and game companies. Yes there are sports or racing games. And much as some companies might like to reclassify their games as action or adventure, they still fall under the shooter genre. But the biggest and best promoted games of the past twenty years have all been shooters. I’ve split these up into three sub-categories for a little more detail. (For the purposes of this blog I’ve only included large franchises.) The graphics of all of these series are top of the line.

Firstly we have games with plot. The Halo and Gears of War series have both been meticulously planned out. Literally whole universes have been created just as backstory to the games. The characters are all given personalities and motivations.

Secondly comes games with little or no plot or backstory. The Call of Duty, Battlefield and Unreal Tournament series are some of the biggest around. These games are known as much for their online multiplayers as the single-player campaigns.

And finally there are games with, in my opinion, wonderful concepts. However, they failed to be successful because of issues with plot or gameplay. Resident Evil: Raccoon City and Assassin’s Creed 1 top this category.

Raccoon City was such an opportunity for Capcom to really make a game that stood out. For the first time, we were given control of a squad of the bad guys (the Umbrella Corporation) personal army. We broke into Raccoon City in the middle of a zombie outbreak that we had caused, with the objective of destroying any evidence or witnesses to Umbrella’s link to the viral outbreak. The game was brought out amidst franchise hype: two films in the Resident Evil franchise, one live-action, the other animated, were released within a month of the game. It should have been their best game yet.

Instead, the game was far too short, the storyline was poor and gameplay was completely different than the controls and gameplay from previous games in the franchise. That you are betrayed by Umbrella near the end should come as no surprise at all, yet the way that betrayal is delivered implies that it was supposed to be a shock. The characters certainly act as if it is, and yet they’ve been running around a city infested with the undead, killing anyone and destroying anything that could tie Umbrella to the outbreak. Ben Croshaw, better known as game reviewer Yahtzee for his Zero Punctuation videos for The Escapist magazine, has this to say about betrayal in games.

Good-[non-playable-character]-is-actually-bad-[non-playable-character] is not even shocking anymore. Even though a lot of game story writers can’t foreshadow to save their lives and merely pull the betrayal from some celestial arse whenever it’s needed, you can always tell when it’s coming. That look in their eyes and that tone in their voice when they come to meet you on the battlefield. The funny way they examine the maguffin in their hands after you pass it over. And, most tellingly, the fact that there’s still about an hour of gameplay time left.

Among these seven franchises, which do you think will still be around and popular in 40 years’ time?

In my opinion, none of them. They’re all generic games. They all do the exact same thing, just in slightly different ways. While they stand out because of their successes as a brand, none of the individual games do anything dozens of others haven’t already done in the past two decades alone.

Graphics

This leads me onto games which, ignoring the strength/lack of plot, have such wonderful design that they have been recommended to me simply on graphics alone.

  • Crysis 1
  • Red Dead Redemption
  • Metro 2033
  • Batman: Arkham City

The other thing these games all have in common? They’re all particularly strong for plot and gameplay. Batman: Arkham City in particular is a great example of engaging characters within a clearly defined world which we explore, with gameplay mechanics which have brought me back to replay it several times.

The Future

Going back to our retro games then. What is it then about these ‘70s and ‘80s games which makes them so popular?

Nostalgia maybe? These are the simple games that many adults played as teenagers, and many in my generation played because we saw our parents playing them. I remember stealing my dad’s old Nokia phone all the time just to play snake when I was younger.

Does this mean that in say twenty years’ time, the Halo series, or Call of Duty will inspire the same nostalgia in us as Space Invaders and Pacman did for our parents? Perhaps it is the simplest games which make us want to replay them. Side-scrolling platform games like Mario are hugely popular with all age-groups. The controls are simple as is the plot, with a core of four clearly-defined characters.

Jesse Schell of gamasutra.com writes “Are we going to have a Shakespeare of games? A game that was told so perfectly, and so well, that 200 years later people will insist we play it exactly as it was?”

For me, the only contenders will be the games from my parent’s generation, because they can be enjoyed by anyone, of any age, game preference and skill level.

NK

Are You Game: Part I

With video game graphics at their most impressive ever, and technology constantly improving, are game companies paying too little attention to other aspects? If graphics have been pushed to the very best they will be for the next few years, will game developers concentrate on story and character to ensure their games stand out in the ocean of mediocrity?

Let’s face it, in games like Call of Duty or Battlefield, plot isn’t the first thing which springs to mind. I’ve played several of them, and honestly, I couldn’t tell you the story. Go to location x. Shoot some enemies. Every now and then I may be graced with an escort mission, a vehicle section or a secondary objective to blow something up or retrieve intelligence. Yes the graphics are usually top notch, and the gameplay is smooth and easy, but the story, and anything that could make me empathize with the protagonist, is non-existent. And yet for their failings in story, these are two of the best-selling modern game franchises. So what makes them so popular?

Expectation

To answer that you’d have to first answer what makes any game “good”. This ultimately boils down to the expectations of each individual. Do they want to play alone, online multiplayer offline with family? What do they look for in a game before they purchase it?

For example, the Wii console caters more to social gamers. People who prefer to have a console which is fun for lots of people or younger children to play all at once. An Xbox 360 or a PlayStation on the other hand, are considered more serious consoles. The majority of all games are brought out for these platforms, and are the consoles most professional gamers will use. Those who prefer online multiplayer to single-player campaign would be less interested in the story more concerned with the gameplay mechanics.

I play games for the characters and story as much as for escapism and enjoyment. However, there will be others who only play for the fun of it, rather than any cathartic experience they may glean.

I asked several of my friends what they look for in games. The answers were more varied than I had been expecting, but the general consensus was much the same. Their favourite games all have:

  • Character-driven plot – player actions directly affect the world around them;
  • Detailed worlds which are fully discoverable;
  • Gameplay mechanics which encourage re-playing; and
  • Plot focused on atmosphere.

Ben Croshaw of The Escapist says this about the Resident Evil series:

…despite Resident Evil 6‘s best efforts to blow up the world for our amusement, it fails to unseat Resident Evil 4 from its position as The Only Good One. And part of why I like RE4, besides the gameplay shift and its campier approach, is that the story actually gets a whole lot narrower in scope than its predecessors. No fighting massive nebulous global corporations through entire zombified cities – Leon’s in the middle of bumfuck nowhere rescuing one girl from a nutty Lovecraftian cult run by a handful of kooky personalities. And the cult are trying so hard, God bless ’em. They’re working out of garden sheds and dressing up in burlap sacks and the leaders keep turning themselves into giant monsters out of desperation. Albert Wesker never looked like he was exerting himself at all and that’s why he’s a boring c*nt. The point is, the characters never got lost in the action.

Resident Evil 4 is one of my all-time favourite games, for exactly the reasons Croshaw points out. The characters are stronger than the action. The basic plot is simple enough to be understood, but the history and backstory of the series is still referenced, which allows for a deeper experience. It also helps that Leon, the protagonist, cracks jokes in all the right places, and the atmosphere of the game is genuinely scary in places.

Genre

Shooters are probably the most popular genre of games. Partly because friends will have heard about a game or own it already and recommend it. Partly because the gameplay mechanics are simple and the graphics are usually very strong. Shooters have seemingly become the staple of gamers of my generation. Sure, there will be games like Mario Kart or Wii Sports, but the vast majority of games belched from the corporate production lines are shooters.

Very few of these games have solid and engaging plots or characters whose flaws genuinely make gamers care about them. But they almost all have an online multiplayer system, which seems to be more and more important to gamers. Where once a game was judged solely upon its single-player campaign, it is increasingly the norm for games to be reviewed for both multiplayer and single-player.

The ability to play against another human, rather than an AI which can sometimes be as thick as two planks, is obviously an important one. Players can enjoy the challenge and judge themselves against strangers. Some games in recent years, to varying degrees of success, have tried to mix both multiplayer and single-player. Gamers can play through the campaign online with others, rather than alone.

While the latest games will always have a surge in their multiplayer traffic, big name shooters like COD, Halo and Battlefield have had fewer players on their online multiplayers in recent times. I think there is something of a chain-reaction behind this. Updated shooters are released. Players notice the lower numbers of competitors online and decide to change to a more popular game. Repeat with each new game that is released.

But these aren’t the only reasons. Perhaps gamers are growing tired of multiplayers being so similar. Perhaps we’re finally reaching the point where gamers will demand games, and shooters in particular, with engaging plot and characters with whom we can empathize.

Of course, that isn’t to say that games with a good writing are always more popular. One of the most popular games around, both single-player and online multiplayer, is Minecraft – a game with no backstory, characters, dialogue or conflict. You simply build whatever you wish.

Essentially, my point is this.

Are shooters, and the increasing focus on multiplayers, damaging our expectations of games by not providing us games with enough quality plot or characters?

NK