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.
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 Now however, their graphics are completely outdated.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.
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.
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.
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.