Where Gaming Went

It’s been more than two months since my last opinion post. First off, I hope all have had a Merry Christmas and will have a Happy New Year. As one can see from the recent interviews from Ten Ton Hammer and Gamasutra, Red 5 will be announcing their project next year, something that makes me, shall we say, turbo-excited.

Now, this post is somewhat of a continuation of my last opinion post in that I will speak of common game ailments, but this post’s purpose has more to do with the present state of the video game.

I’m disappointed with 2008’s video games. Rather than go through a long-winded thing detailing why I’m upset with 2008’s video games, I’ll simply state that priorities are in the wrong places. With that said, I’ll go on to the gaming experiences I’m enjoying right now and what I’d like to see in the future.

I’ve been playing a lot of Counter-Strike 1.6 as of late. Perhaps my joy is being accented by other, poor gaming, but nonetheless, I enjoy everything about Counter-Strike: the clean UI, the simple and natural movement, the brains-and-brawn combat, the iconic and powerful-feeling weapons, the charming and nostalgic visuals, the ingenious maps (especially the player-made ones), and the simply complex game modes (including the player-made ones). When playing with players of similar skill level (as one should try to do with any competitive game), it is everything that is right with multiplayer gaming. That is to say, it bests all the Halos, the Call of Duties, the Gears of Wars, and the Battlefields.

Just look at what these games brought to the shooter genre: Halo brought accessible, online shooting to the consoles (the best achievement of those titles); Call of Duty introduced more realistic combat, something that could be considered neither inherently good nor bad; Gears of War brought a polished third-person-shooter experience; and Battlefield brought unpolished complexity. We are eight years ahead of Counter-Strike yet still behind it.

I view the 90’s as the strongest years for video games. We received the strongest, most revolutionary games in those years, from Super Mario World to Doom to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time to Starsiege: Tribes to Half-Life to EverQuest to StarCraft… the list goes on. And one of the things that made the PC games of these years so special was the player-base. Player-created content, from game modes to maps to communities to technologies to graphic alterations, made Half-Life, Tribes, Doom, EverQuest, and StarCraft among the greatest game experiences of all time.

From 2000 to the present day, communities of the same vitality have been scarcer. Certainly, Warcraft 3 and World of Warcraft have had their creative player-bases, but nothing of the same drastic nature (save for perhaps the Warcraft 3 mod, Defense of the Ancients) as the 90’s. So there is something missing in modern gaming that existed before, and thus I can come only to one conclusion: gaming has been sold out.

Gaming has been sold out to those who never cared about gaming. Gaming has been sold out to the jocks, to the yuppies, to the underachievers, to the egoists; to be broad, gaming as been sold out to the casuals.

We have drowned ourselves in accessibility. Of course, a degree of accessibility is needed if one wants to even get an audience in the first place, but we have completely forsaken depth and have packed our lungs and veins with the idea of ease. You see, the ideal gaming mix is to make the unnecessarily hard things easier and to make the unnecessarily easy things harder; so, a UI should be easy to interpret, but perhaps a combat situation shouldn’t be.

I’m not saying that gaming should punish the player; I’m saying that gaming should challenge the player. I always believed that to be the purpose of gaming: being presented with a challenge, learning to overcome that challenge, and then conquering that challenge. In a sense, I always thought gaming represented life. But now there are no challenges, there is no need to learn to overcome any challenge, and we never conquer any thing at all: we become immobile, and perhaps this actually represents our lazy, modern humanity.

I want developers to make strong cores, challenge the players, “Do better than us,” then give the players the ability to do better than them. Then we’d see a less empirical gaming industry; in fact, we would have a sort of gaming republic.

The only game released in 2008 that even slightly sates this desire is LittleBigPlanet, but unfortunately, that core is not particularly strong.

This is the one place I find myself in allegiance with indie game developers. I desire for more games made for the purpose of gaming. To make an insensitive comment, I liked video gaming when it wasn’t lucrative, when it was run more by developers, not businessmen. Although we cannot return to those times, we can rise up against the cold cogs of the economist machine, and replace product with art.

I don’t mean to say that money should never be a concern for game developers: such a thing would be imprudent. I only mean to say that money shouldn’t be the only concern, and that money can be found in almost reverse manners (that is, a non-focus on money can result in high income).

To relate this to Red 5 Studios, let’s look at what has been said about their creative and financial focuses. Mark Kern has stated that have given the business side of things to Webzen to handle so that Red 5 can focus on its game; Mark Kern has stated that the things that Red 5 crafts reflect the things that the developers, as gamers, want (at least a very large majority of Red 5 appears to be of core gamers); and various interviews have stated that the players will control important aspects of Red 5’s game. I believe Red 5 Studios to be one of the few studios that realizes how different the video gaming medium is from, say, the movie or music industries, that realizes the lost magic of video gaming, and that realizes what it must do to bring video games back to life. Here’s hoping.

– The Author

EDIT: The Community Manager position is open again.

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~ by reset3 on December 29, 2008.

7 Responses to “Where Gaming Went”

  1. If you aren’t aware of it, you should take a look at APB, a (hopefully) soon to be released MMO-FPS from Realtime Worlds studios. David Jones (creator of the original GTA series) has used counter-strike combat as the MMO model for it. (APB was being published by Webzen, until they bought themselves out of the Webzen contract)

  2. I completely agree with you about how the industry has lost its soul to big business and I also agree game MODs were essential to the creative growth of gaming.

    Unfortunately, we live in a society that worships money (ever see “They Live?” The dollar bills proclaimed “This is your God” when viewed with the special glasses). MODs have all but died out because publishers saw an opportunity to eek even more of a profit from their products by dipping their hands into that sector. The result: crippled production tools and enhanced legal strangleholds on game code. EULAs have more than doubled in length since the days of Quake III Arena and now Modders are at the mercy of crippled tools to “develop” their creative projects. Anyone else remember the abomination that was GMAX?

    Though I slightly disagree with your sentiment on retaining a hardcore focus over a more casual approach, I do understand that games need to gauge success from overcoming challenges rather than time investment (that’s why I despise most MMOGs: character advanced is measured in hours flushed down the time toilet, not applied skills).

    With the economy teetering on the edge of collapse, making a product that has enduring value is paramount now, more than ever. As the competition heats up for the dwindling resources (our money), companies will have no choice but to innovate or face the financial consequences. Risk aversion, a once safe measure used by publishers, is now its greatest adversary.

  3. jg, thanks for the comment. I am aware of APB and while it doesn’t strike me as particularly groundbreaking, I will keep an eye on it as it nears launch. When I praise Counter-Strike, however, I don’t mean to give the impression that I want more games to be like Counter-Strike in most facets. I only mean to use Counter-Strike as an example of proper focus, design, simplicity, and complexity.

    Resvrgam, I’m glad that we mostly share views in this area. In regards to the “hardcore focus,” again, I don’t mean to say that nothing should be done to make gaming more accessible; I simply think that, at some point, you’re catering to a completely different audience. For a sloppy analogy, imagine if basketball became turn-based in order to attract chess players: it would be missing the point.

    I agree with you on the matter of time investment in most MMOGs. Progression is definitely an area in need of a revamp.

  4. But if more people like turned-based basketball does it not deserve the spotlight?

  5. If a properly dedicated following for turned-based basketball could be established, then it would deserve some recognition. My point is that such a thing would be unlikely to receive a dedicated following.

    Relating it to casual gaming, a casual gamer might pick up a Wii, play some Wii Sports with their friends, then never touch the console for several months. For something like turn-based basketball and casual gaming, the audience being reached does not have the dedication of a core gamer.

    My prediction is that Wii Fit and Wii Sports (and titles like it) will lose their novelty soon, and such products will end up like Candyland to core gaming’s Chess.

  6. To pile on the sloppy analogy — Turn-based basketball = The strato-matic line of games. There is small but extremely hard-core cult-like following for these games. 🙂

    You’ve got a good blog here, Reset3, and my hopes for the Red5 game are entirely in line with yours. Should be some announcements later this year on setting and gameplay.

    Have you heard anything re: the Offset Engine and what that team is doing? They haven’t updated their page or made any announcements since Intel bought them.

  7. Thank you for the compliments, jg.

    I have looked into Project Offset and the Offset Engine. The Offset Engine looks splendid, although I do hope that it will be able to run swiftly on most machines. Project Offset itself, from what information I can gather, looks interesting, but my primary interest in the Offset team is the Offset Engine.

    In regards to recent activity on the Offset team’s part, I’m afraid I’m in the dark.

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