Gaming Innovation: The Dark Age of Gaming?
I’m a relatively hard core gamer. I’ve played video games for ages and have owned nearly every console ever made. I say nearly every console, but there are some I’ve chosen not to own. Specifically, the Vectrex, the Neo Geo and the Atari Jaguar, just to name a few. Basically, lesser consoles that really didn’t go anywhere. I digress.
Necessity is the mother of invention
Entertainment is a huge business. With music, movies, books and theater, it was inevitable that when electronic technology was invented, someone would find a way to use it for entertainment value. Enter Nolan Bushnell who created the first commercially sold arcade video game. Albeit, not the first coin operated video game. Needless to say, after that the race was on. Magnavox was the first to the home market with their Magnavox Odyssey console without sound and which included a game similar to the later Atari Pong.
These early video games sparked a revolution in home electronic entertainment that leads us up to video games we play today. From the widescreen hardcore franchises such as Call of Duty, Halo, Assassin’s Creed, Grand Theft Auto, Zelda and Need for Speed to the massively online multiplayer systems of World of Warcraft to the small screen games like Farmville and Angry Birds. We have tons of options for entertaining ourselves with video games. All of these games are massive leaps ahead of Pong, Space Invaders, Defender and Battle Zone of years long past.
I look fondly on these past video games for a lot of reasons. They were inventive and different. The developers were always trying to find a new way to bring their idea to that small 4:3 arcade screen. And ‘wow’ us they did with such inventive titles as Gauntlet, Paperboy, Battle Zone, Marble Madness, Joust, Sinistar, Dig Dug and even Donkey Kong. Simplistic games, yes, but challenging, unique and different. These were games that really defied categorization other than being ‘level based’, but just about every game today has levels. These spurred our imagination and let us meld into that video game world for a short time and then move to another one with a completely different concept. To take our minds off of whatever it was we were doing. Yes, these were all arcade games, but they were inventive, unique and different. In fact, during the arcade heyday, it was rare to find games copying each other.
Lack of Inventiveness
Gone are those unique inventive days where you could walk into an arcade and find something new, original and unique to play. Today, it’s all about the almighty buck. Well, 60 of them actually. It’s less about producing something inventive and more about producing something developers think kids will buy. Developers have lost their inventive edge.
Today, games are categorized into genres:
- First Person Shooter (FPS)
- Third Person Shooter (TPS)
- Rail Shooter
- Sports: Hockey, Football, Basketball, Snowboarding, Skateboarding, Surfing, Hunting/Fishing
- Online Multiplayer (MMO)
- Campaign based
- Button Masher (aka Fighting)
- Real Time Simulation (RTS)
- 2D side scroller
- Role Playing
- Open World (the most rare type of games)
There are rarely any games today that break or even attempt to break these molds. Occasionally, something comes along that tries to think different like Naughty Bear, Traxxpad or Rez. Or, games that try to combine genres like Grand Theft Auto (mission based with free roaming) in a unique way. But, these games are so few that you might not even see one per year.
I’m beginning to wonder what’s going on with developers. Are they really so adamant that the above genres is all there is? Have we lost our ability to invent new things? Are we moving into a new self-inflicted Dark Age? I’m not talking about not having entertainment, no. I’m talking about that we as a society have become so jaded, that we won’t accept any new ideas in games? Personally, I want to see more Pongs, Defenders and Marble Madnesses. Not specifically these games, but the idea that these games represent. That is, something new, unique and different.
Take Portal and Portal 2, for instance. These are a completely unique and different take on the first person shooter. This game has also become a commercial success in its own right. It’s a mostly non-violent game built on a relatively unique story, puzzles and lots of humor. The game itself involves challenging puzzles. These games are from Gabe Newell’s Valve. I’ve always found that Valve’s games tend to involve more unique ideas and less trying to fit molds. Valve, unfortunately, is mostly the odd-man-out. The development cycles are extremely long for games from Valve. It might take 5 years to release the next installment. But, I’m willing to wait 5 years to get a unique game experience that’s unlike anything else I’ve ever played.
Unfortunately, most game developers today just want to make the next quick buck instead of putting out award winning high quality unique gaming experiences. This leaves the gaming market fairly high, dry and devoid of unique games.
What’s left are the Batman Arkhams of the world which always inevitably come down to being a button masher after everything is said and done. Yes, they wrap the Batman games around a seemingly open world, but when it comes down to the final boss, it’s just another glorified fighting game. I don’t want yet another reason to get carpal tunnel. I want to have a unique gaming experience. I want to be challenged not by how fast I mash my thumb against a button, but how I can think strategically. How I can take down the final enemy on my own terms, not on the video game designer’s terms.
Basically, give me open worlds to roam. Give me tools to use in that world. Let me level up as I gain experience in the world. Give me stores where I can buy things. Let me even buy the stores themselves. Let me earn money to spend. But don’t force me into a final boss sequence that requires me to follow a script. If you’re going to give me an open world, give it to me all the way. Let me make my own final boss choices. Let me decide how to deal with the final boss on my own terms. Give me the tools to deal with him or her as I see fit. If you provide cages and I choose to lock the boss in a cage and send that cage off to a prison, that’s my ending choice. If I choose to have a final button masher battle, my choice. If I choose a strategic battle systematically wiping out all of the boss’s advantages, my choice. If I choose to befriend them and go off with them into the sunset, my choice. Open world means open world and all that goes with that.
Choice is what we have in life. Taking that away in video games and forcing a contrived outcome during the final moments is just not inventive. It’s trite. It’s cliche. It’s frustrating. We’ve spent hours getting to that point only to find out that the final battle is basically a complete waste of time. That the ending is ‘stupid’.
No, simply provide the gaming tools. That’s all the game needs to do. Let the gamer choose the final outcome entirely. Sure, you can tie in some befitting movie ending dialog sequence, that’s fine. But, how I choose to end my game should be my choice, not some game developer’s choice who was sitting in a room miles away and months ago making that decision. Let me make my own decisions, my own choices which result in my own outcomes. I realize that games need to have some form of rules, so there are limits to what can be provided. But, within those limits, let me choose how to use them all. Don’t rope me into a small area, don’t take away all of my advantages that I earned, don’t throw 40 men at me and expect me to button mash them all out of existence in a few minutes. Again, I don’t need aching joints and to inflame the median nerve running down my hand. Give me strategic options. Let me utilize the tools I’ve spent hours obtaining through the game to my own full strategic advantage. Giving me all of those tools and then taking them all away only to force a 40 man fight is worthless, frustrating and not at all inventive.
Even Better Ideas?
Better, give me games that break FPS/TPS molds. Give me games where the idea is completely unique. There are many ways to devise video games in 3D worlds that don’t involve the tired FPS mold. I want new unique games. Games that involve strategic thinking, unique environments, unique character traits (super powers of my choice). As an example, how about a superhero role playing game? Let me choose my character’s traits, history, powers, good vs evil, etc. Let me choose the outcomes that unfolds. Let me write my own story and outcomes?
How about a game within a game? The gamer becomes a gamer within the game and who gets lost in that video game world only to work his/her way back out? There are lots of cool story ideas. It’s the stories here that matter, the gaming aspect is just the tool to get it there.
Basically, we need inventive new unique gaming experiences that do not presently exist. I want to see games that are today as inventive as Pong was back in its day. Games that inspire gamers to think, rather than blindly mash buttons. I like thinking and strategy games within an action framework. Not so much puzzles as in pulling ropes to open doors, but even more unique then that. Let’s get some new ideas flowing into the gaming world. It’s definitely time.
Where are all the games?
Unfortunately, there is a major game drought today. We have many many consoles today: PS3, Xbox, PS Vita, Wii U and even the iPad, yet we’re firmly stuck playing the ‘AA’ titles which are neither inventive nor unique. In fact, most of them are rehashes of rehashes. Things that we’ve both played before and will likely play again. I don’t want to play games I’ve already played. I want to play new unique games. Games that I look at and think, “Wow, this is cool. I’ve never played something like that”. I don’t want to get to the end only to find out that I’m trapped in the ever-so-familiar button masher. I want strategic choices to the outcomes. Games should actually reward players for the most unique ways to end the game.
Even though we have only just ended out 2012 and there were many titles released at the end of 2012, not many of them were truly imaginative titles. Yes, there were highlights in some games, but most of them are far too often been-there-done-that experiences.
Even though EA, Atari, Capcom and the other big gaming companies are out there working to produce new games, they’re just not providing quality original games. They’re providing, at best, copies of previously released and rehashed game ideas. Nearly every one of those big game company games is boring within the first day of play. It’s too easy to get stuck into a firm set of rules that force the player into silly and frustrating game play. If the bosses end up being simple button mashers only to provide the same enemies wave after wave, what makes development companies think that this is what gamers really want? After a while it just becomes mindless, monontonous and boring. The point to entertainment is to entertain. There is nothing entertaining about tedium, frustration and boredom. It’s no wonder I see a lot of gamers posting ‘I’m bored’ on forums even when they own games like Call of Duty. Yes, they are boring.
I suggest that by bringing back inventiveness, uniqueness and originality in games, a whole lot more people will become interested in games and we will become, once again, entertained.