I am an indie video game developer designing/arting/programming my own game.
A couple days ago I hung out with a friend and had a good talk about life and what not like we normally do. The topic of video games naturally came up like it always does. It was at this point my friend said a statement which was extremely metaphorically enlightening. He said "Video games are getting brawled." To most people this wouldn't mean much but to me it shot a spark in my head and made total sense. We actually continued to make statements about how the whole entire world is becoming "brawled" but I'll keep this article to video games since this is an indie blog.
So what does it mean that video games are becoming brawled? Well there's an amazing game out there called Super Smash Bros. One of the most creative fighting games I've ever played and generally one of my favorite games of all time. I played the Nintendo 64 version a lot in my childhood and it was a fantastic start to the series. Then Melee came out and it was one of the greatest continuations of a series I've ever seen. SSB became faster and more down to the wire. The complexity and skill required to be good at Melee is staggering. In order to truly understand how deep Melee is you have to know the tournament scene. My friend plays in Northern California tournaments frequently, which happens to house some of the best Players in the entire world and is generally considered the hub of the Melee tournament scene.
I've been to a couple of these tournaments and watched people play and it is one of the most ridiculous things ever. The speed and spatial calculations going on in the Player's heads is insane. Especially watching people play fast characters like Fox and Falco. There are even glitches in the game, which if well practiced, allow the Player to be even faster. These glitches are incredibly hard to master and implement into your playing if you haven't practiced them for a really long time. There's a glitch called L cancelling where if you press L right when your character lands, it cancels out their land animation and allows you to burst out right away and attack. On top of this is just the general tech skill that is required knowledge to be able to play at tournament levels, like wave dashing, juggling, short hopping, etc. Every single little tiny move and every pixel of space between you and your opponent is extremely important.
Now it's true that any game at tournament level is down to the wire and requires you to know every little thing about the game but Melee's depth is absolutely insane, if you don't know then just trust me. It's one fastest and most skill based games I have ever seen. Basically my point here is the brain power required to truly play Melee at masterful levels is crazy. Tournament level Melee doesn't even use items because it's not needed. Melee's depth without items is so staggering that items would just muddy that. It adds luck to the situation. "Aw damnit, a baseball bat just happened to spawn next to you. BAM! Now I'm out of the arena." Without items, it's 100% skill and allows Players to truly prove their worth.
So along comes Brawl, the next SSB in the series after Melee. What did they do to SSB with Brawl? They slowed all the characters way down, made it much more floaty, and made items a bigger deal. With this it becomes much less intense and down to the wire. In tournament Brawl, a lot of the time people use items. Why? Because Brawl is not as deep as Melee. All the speed, tiny glitches, and tech complexity is gone. This means items are needed to add that complexity back in. With this change in gameplay and play style is a subtraction in skill requirements to succeed at top level playing. It becomes more luck based and more beginner friendly. I can tell you that the Melee and Brawl tournament scenes don't mix that well.
What does this mean in general? Well it means it's much more family friendly and accessible. It's much more homogenized and less intense. Is this good or bad? I'm not sure but I personally don't like it. It takes the knife-like characteristics out of a game and turns it into a squishy pillow. It's a weird trend that is happening to the whole game industry. Everything is getting less deep and more homogenized in speed/intensity and game design wise. Everything feels much more surface level and less down to the wire.
This has been happening all around the map in the game industry. Another good example is Counter Strike 1.6 to Counter Strike Source. CS 1.6 is one of the fastest and most skill based first person shooters I've ever played. To be good at CS 1.6 means to be extremely skilled and a fast thinker. CS Source takes some of this away by making it slower and less intense. Now I wouldn't say CS 1.6 to CS Source is one of the worst offenders but it goes along with the trend I'm talking about. Diablo 2 to Diablo 3 is absolutely stupid, like I wrote in a previous article. Extra little complex gameplay features and choices are taken out in order to make the game simpler and more accessible. I've been alive and around games long enough that I can actually feel it happening to most games. There seems to be less threat everywhere.
I think this has a lot to do with accessibility for profit margins. If a game is easier to deal with and understand at all levels for everyone, then everyone will buy it... Well I'm here to say that's a stupid attitude and won't evolve Players and therefore won't evolve the game industry. This has and will continue to turn the game industry into a robotic piece of plastic that has no intrinsic value. Life is extremely deep and complex, so why shouldn't games. Games should reflect our lives and what we deal with on a daily basis because life is a game. I think that games help people understand the complexity of situations that they deal with in the real world so why homogenize that? Why get rid of the realness which could be there? You're doing human brains a disservice. You're depriving them of mental skill development that could help them in their life.
I think there's a place for both styles of game design but I don't like that it is becoming an actual trend for most games. It is lacking in grip and guts. It feels plastic and boring. Just because a game allows for more detail, speed, and depth does not mean it'll sell less. Don't think in terms of accessibility, think in terms of a system which will bring out the brilliance of human beings. I almost would encourage putting little glitches in a game for extremely skilled players to be able to utilize so they can beat those who don't practice these glitches. When I say glitches I don't mean game breaking bugs, I mean little tiny quirks that allow for things to be faster if utilized correctly. Just remember little things like L canceling where a Player can cancel out an animation for speed. It makes SSB Melee way more intense and bad ass. It provides Players with more "OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHH!!!" moments. Not sitting around with homogeneous action that lends itself less interest in the moment.
Now, with this article, I'm not suggesting that games should all be harder. I'm just saying don't make them SIMPLER and SELF SIMILAR. Make them complex and varied. Just like life is. Make people smarter, not dumber and more robotic. Games have the power to change and develop people's minds. Do society a favor and use that to your advantage when designing a game. I know I will.
Disclaimer: I'm not necessarily talking about the fun level of these games. Brawl is still a fun game but it is definitely less competitive. Diablo 3 is still way less fun than Diablo 2. What a piece of crap.
I don't understand. I love video games. I've always loved video games. It is the greatest art medium of all time. You can do ANYTHING. You can imitate life itself. So why are a lot of games so boring now? Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of fun games to play with friends. I love playing the most recent Mortal Kombat and smashing my friend's skull into shattered pieces but it's a lot easier to make multiplayer fun. All you have to do is create a system in which two or more people can be even with each other. The humans in the system are doing a lot of the work. So I think this article will be more based on singleplayer.
Making singleplayer fun is more of an art-form. You have to engage a single person who would otherwise be bored by themselves. You have to create a map which brings the Player through an introspective experience. They have to be engaged by the actions and environment which exist around them that strictly came from the developer of the game. There isn't anyone else to help them be engaged.
I don't know what I like anymore. I'm frankly very lost right now. My favorite game of all time is The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. That game is absolutely insane. It is a piece of fine art and should be hung on museum walls with a TV that has a frame around it. It has surrealism and it has gameplay elements that are intertwined in a way that no other game has done before or since. Link must hurry through his adventures before the three days are up and the moon smashes into the world. Link must find and use a multitude of masks which completely change the gameplay when used. The game is a perfect balance between oddness, darkness, and beauty.
Another game which blew my mind is World of Warcraft. I stopped playing mid-way through Wrath of the Lich King because the game started losing it then and I had to get my life together by that point. I admit, I played that game more than I should have, I got a little addicted. The experience was insane. I was in a WORLD. I could go anywhere and do anything(felt like it). I could go into giant caverns of lava and crazy monsters with 39 other people(when WoW was at it's best) and perform a specific job in cooperation with these people from around the globe. I could fight along side my friends in epic battles with armies of people or with a couple other friends in an intense, down to the wire death match. It was a whole entire world that gave me tangible memories.
Super Mario 64....... Super Mario 64...... wow, what a game. You jump into paintings and experience a completely different world for each one. There's snow levels, lava levels, a clock level... There are hats which give Mario different powers. The creativity and variety is staggering. I would not be the same person I am now without it.
Where are these feelings? Where did my Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi flow go? I have no idea!! The game which spawned this article is Sword & Sworcery. It was a game I was SUPPOSED to enjoy. It's based off Zelda, the art direction is pretty awesome. It has some funniness in it. But the gameplay is super lacking. I don't feel the elements of the game tie together like they should. Why am I rubbing rainbows and randomly selecting trees to solve problems? These elements do not tie into the whole, they seem like haphazard kooky things in order to combat the rigidity of triple A games. You could say I maybe didn't enjoy it because it was 2d and the games I named previously are all 3d but this isn't true. There are plenty of 2d games I like, Braid being my favorite.
Now a lot of people reading this article could say, "well you're just nostalgic". But that is dumb. Nostalgia comes from greatness. Nostalgia comes from something grabbing your soul and bringing it for a ride. And don't get me wrong, there are plenty of more recent games I like, but there aren't as many as there should be. I could write an essay on this topic but I don't feel like it. This article is more of an outlet for me than anything. I already feel a little better, pheeeeew.
What I've just talked about has been something that has been tearing me apart for a couple years now. I'm not trying to be cool, I'm not trying to necessarily convince anybody of anything. I'm just speaking from the heart and trying to figure out what is going on with a huge aspect of my life.
I'll say this, currently I'm waaaaaaaaaaaaaay more interested in making games than playing them. We'll see where that goes...
Here are a list of games that look like they will make me less of a pretentious jerk:
-antichamber -fez -voxatron -kairo -unfinished swan -miegakure -monaco -catherine
Yes I know they are all indie games, I'm a hipster. God help me...
Edit: I realize WoW is a multiplayer game and I said this would be about singleplayer but I think I got my point across so whatever.
The two characters in the shots above look eerily similar, as if it's the same character who is time traveling between past and present. This is Lara Croft from the upcoming Tomb Raider and Leah from Diablo 3 side by side. The similarity of these two characters mirrors the similarity of the blandness of the games they come from. I have not played the new Tomb Raider as it is set to release in 2013 but I probably won't anyway. Seeing it played in E3 made me saddened as it became evident games are turning into Hollywood movies.
When they demoed it on the show floor, it seemed every two feet Lara moved there was a cut scene. There was barely any actual playing going on. Games should be games! If you're going to have cut scenes every 10 seconds, make it interactive with the character. Make it matter, make it a game. Tomb Raider did seem to have slight control in some cut sequences but there was no real give and take in it. It was just a straight forward path that anyone could take. A game is meant to immerse the Player because of it's full interactivity, not strictly it's cinematic sense of "realism".
Diablo 3 was a major disappointment. Never have I seen such a dramatic drop in quality from one game to it's sequel. Diablo 2 is one of my favorite games. It had a bleak atmosphere, you could sprint but not too far, Players could choose their character's stats, items made sense for what stats were on them, items had to be identified and portals had to be created with bought tomes, there were charms to get stats from your inventory, inventory space was taken up more by larger items like javelins, etc. It had a feel and it had game mechanics to go along with it! I felt like I was a character and things were going on that were hampering my character and causing me to think of ways to go around them. This all created more immersion and more of a unique atmosphere that can only come from Diablo.
Diablo 3 does not have this. The mechanics I listed out are all gone. Instead we are left with an autopilot farm fest that makes Blizzard money from real money auction houses. The story is sub-par, the character dialog and voice overs are hilariously forced and fake, and a ton of the game mechanics are lost that made Diablo have real weight to it. Diablo 3 almost felt like a movie because of how autopilot and straightforward/boring it was. I'm not calling movies boring but I'm saying that I never felt like I was actually playing a real game.
Don't strip away game mechanics that make a game have a feeling! Put things in the game that bring the Player along through an experience and provides an atmosphere. This will be the movie that Player's will want to play. Movies are great because they make us feel a certain way but games are not movies!! In games you are a character, it's not someone you're watching. They are meant to be fully interactive experiences which make the Player feel what the character that they are playing is feeling.
Both games hugely use scripted events. You're supposed to knockdown meticulously set-up barrels or light oil on the ground on fire to kill enemies. This in and of itself is fine but when coupled with the blandness of these two games, it brings the movie-ness to full effect. What is the Player really deciding? Everything is set up for them, there's no real choice and intelligence required. A game is a series of interesting choices not a series of scripted action shots.
It's eerie how two games with such a lack of soul and true gaming quality have such similar looking main characters in these shots. It's almost a metaphor for themselves and what is going on with the game industry in general. If the game industry wants to stop losing money then MAKE REAL GAMES!