They’re not gimmicks, they’re experiments

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As a gamer and prospective game designer there are many observations I make when looking at trends in the industry. These trends come in many forms which can vary from simply what the gamers are demanding to what the industry is choosing to do, but my intentions aren’t to talk about trends in general today, but I am here to explain why the trends of the greater population of gamers is ruining the first person shooter.

This may have looked like a bit of a disjointed segue, but trust me, I’m not without purpose. Once again I found myself travelling down to Brisbane, and I was reading an article and PC Power Play that was talking about the freedom of indie games developers, and the ability they have to design games in ways that allow for the natural cycle of trial, error and experimentation to unfold within their branch of the industry. You would think that this formula would resonate with the industry as a whole, and to a degree it has. The industry has arrived at a point in which it is reasonably happy to rest its feet and play off the comfort of the player, but within I believe lays an inherent problem; if the industry stops taking risks, they how can innovation and change ever occur? This is a problem that is particularly prevalent within first person shooters; this may be because they have gradually sculpted an audience which expects certain things, and treats experimentation like some foreign object only deserving on blame and censure, and this is a problem.

Cast your memory back to 2000, the year when the critically acclaimed Deus Ex came out. Gaming was at a critical stage back then since today’s formalities and expectations had not been cemented into the minds of the obstinate and impressionable, and at this stage of technological advancement more experimental titles could be released due to the availability of increased memory and computing power. Deus Ex was a clever title insofar as it considered actually shooting things secondary, and focuses on an expansive array of tactics and character upgrades as a primary method of sculpting the game to the player’s style. This will probably sound like a simplistic synopsis of Deus Ex, but I hope it imparts a little bit of knowledge as to where I’m heading. It seems like these days, however, the roles have been reversed, and there was a long period (and it is still continuing) where gunplay has been pared down to a basic system, and additional features have been discarded completely. Let me state that this is not necessarily a bad thing; games, notably Call of Duty 4 made use of a very simple system, but strived in creating an engrossing and violent atmosphere, coupled with a simple, but decent story that propelled the game and came out as what I’d call “good”. But I wouldn’t make something like it. The main issue here is that with the continual change in game development tactics, games and in turn, gamers have come to expect titles that don’t take any risks because they know a formula works.
I know that it would be impossible to sway the minds of the masses, but I’d like to share a personally gripe, that was prefaced by my comment on the progression of indie games. My problem is that when gamers cry foul of developers when they developer tries something different in an attempt to take the critical risk in evolution. It’s fair enough for a game to be bad, this might not be wholly the developers fault, but I think that it is downright indecent of gamers to be so critical towards the developer when this happens, as opposed to being constructive and making clear just what exactly they didn’t like. The original “assaulting the developers standards” tact really gets nowhere because all it ultimately achieves is developers pulling in their heads and cutting their risks, the result is usually a mediocre title that preached great things, but was crushed by the creative stagnation the industry tends to suffer due to the lack of risks that are necessary in advancing design principals, and general thinking. The second tactic, which can be defined as the act of “supporting the industry through constructive criticism” is something that cannot necessarily be achieved by the gamers, but it is the responsibility of the journalists to justify their decisions and thoughts, an act that will reassure the developers, and an industry as a whole that what may have been a mistake was really just a step forward towards innovation and experimentation, creating a future where designers are more willing to take calculated risks, and observe the mistakes that have been made previously in order to enhance the gamers taste in games, and stimulate developers to expand their design capabilities.

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