Delusions of Grandeur

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It is far too easy to look back upon past generations of games and game consoles with a patronising eye simply because they don’t possess the mind blazing, face melting processing power associated with nearly every current generation gaming console and gaming pc that would quite easily make the Washington Monument feel inadequate. This I simply believe is because it is far too easy to forget what was once the pinnacle of gaming since there is often quite a long amount of time between launches and generations, and during this time, the industry successfully coerces us to accept the current industry standards, and conditions us to discredit anything other than what is current and profitable to the industry. But this isn’t really the topic of my mad rantings, I think nostalgia was covered more than adequately in the previous blog entry. My issue is that the industry has conditioned us, against our knowledge and our will to accept a particular standard in gaming and game development that is single handedly making the notion of innovation, ambitious writing and experimental gameplay pursuits inaccessible and altogether undesirable to the mass public, whilst actively ignoring any advances previous generations made in these areas.

Throughout writing that first paragraph, I was thinking about how I intended to justify my point, but on the other hand I couldn’t stop thinking about Gears of War. To put it plainly Gears of War is an action shooter set in a generic sci-fi world filled with aliens that would have to wear several layers of clothing to be categorised as hideous and where you are denied your ability to live if you don’t possess a chin large enough to sink the Titanic. And that’s the issue, whilst the game may be a bit of mindless fun, I can’t help but feel it’s leeching the IQ points out of my skull whenever I have a game of it with a mate…but now I probably sound incredibly pretentious. Now Gears does have some credibility, and this is solely because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It realises that its story was shite, so it uses it solely as a vehicle for more Locust face chainsawing. Now while this may appeal to a pretty large consumer market, I can’t help but feel it is responsible for encouraging a lot of backwards thinking about acceptable standards in game production.

A trend I see emerging here is that, although the games industry may have learned a lot from the mad experiments of developers going past, they seem more than eager to ignore them simply because it’s easier. Now I brought up the Gears analogy earlier, but I think the root of all of this honestly started with Halo. From what everybody undoubtedly knows, Halo was probably one of the most critically and publically successful games of the 6th generation game consoles selling 5 million copies, followed by two hugely anticipated sequels both grossing around 8 million sales. Halo was an entertaining little shooter set in an interesting sci-fi world backed by gratuitous amounts of patriotism. To be honest, I think the first Halo was probably the best of the three because it was evident that they did some research in the visual design department, notably the very human worlds melded with some interesting alien architecture and technology. That and it once again didn’t take itself too seriously, it was a bit of fun, and it proved that the first person shooter could be profitable. Well right about now I can’t help but feel that I’m going to head off one some wild sequel tangent as opposed to talking about how the industry has ignored its root principles and is conditioning the public to endure creative stagnation, but bear with me. Halo 2 set the benchmark for consumer success. To be honest, I think it was a bit of an omen for the industry when they essentially tune up the gameplay mechanics, throw in a story so pretentious you couldn’t cut it with a chainsaw, and shiny up the graphics a bit. Now regardless of whether it was fun or not is irrelevant… I’m not some horrible person, I’m speaking for the industry, but what it really was doing was emphasising that it is ok to accept something that neither pushes any envelopes, pats us on the back and tells us in a soothing voice that everything is going to be ok, just buy my third instalment complete with cat helmet. Bam, Halo 3 came out, followed by a nice row of spinoffs. But now I’m getting into another impassioned sequel rant. What I am really trying to say is, and I’m sure that a lot of people would disagree with me, is that by consistently producing titles over the platforms that pretty well follow the same formula, it is inevitable that gamers will become accustomed to a particular way of thinking, and thus they will form a rigid list of expectations which will essentially govern their interests and in turn their influence in the games industry.

I guess you could say that upon a pretty general examination, this really has very little impact upon gamers or the industry, but as I feel like I’m a bit of an advocate for the independent industry, an industry that tends to strive for innovation and creativity, this kind of trend and expectation is quite damaging to part of the industry that blossomed due to troubling economic times because of low production costs and will quite possibly continue to create an even stronger presence in the industry.

Miles Newton – The Machination, Creative Director

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2 Responses to “Delusions of Grandeur”

  1. Clint Emsley Says:

    I think that’s a fair assessment, but I think it ignores the intelligence of the individual gamer. Most other entertainment industries follow this same format: Movies will thrive on crappy action movies and even crappier romantic comedies, and thriller novels with no real substance will continue to sell. However, for somebody who is interested in a specific format of entertainment (such as video games), there is a treasure trove of interesting and over-looked titles just below the surface.

    In other words, yes, the industry will continue to churn out uninspired, Halo-esque games, but there’s enough success to be had with weirder, more original games (see Portal, Little Big Planet, etc.) that those will ALSO be produced. In fact, I’d argue that as games become more prominent and successful, there is more opportunity for the little (and big) guy to innovate, while still making money.

  2. The Machination Says:

    Thanks for your comment Clint; And yes, you are right, I guess I have ignored a certain audience in expressing this opinion, but from what can be established from earlier posts is not so much that I intend to launch an assault upon the tastes of the market, I’m more trying to establish the mass market’s effect on the industry. But yes, it is fantastic to see more ambitions titles, like Portal and LittleBigPlanet, both games I happen to love, standing up and saying “Hey, I believe the industry may be able to expand its horizons and accept new and interesting things” and when something like this becomes a commercial success, it is indeed very satisfying.

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