I am an indie video game developer designing/arting/programming my own game.
Posted by PsycheMac on Oct 27th, 2012
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.