Saturday, May 17, 2014

Evolution of Video Games

I don't really read as much buzz about the video game market and trends as I used to, so I am unsure if this is a topic already being heavily discussed.

Anywho, this is a time of a lot of change in the video game market. Not only are people moving away from powerful PCs and towards mobile devices, there are vastly MORE people playing video games than ever before, due to accessability of games, variety, and and, frankly, ease of getting into games. The mobile market is not made for hardcore gamers, it is made to appeal to the widest audience possible. If you have a mobile device, you are the market.

But that is not the aspect I want to talk about, as that is heavily discussed currently, and in all honestly, I am not a fan of casual games. I am a hardcore gamer. Well, at least I used to be. I guess now I am more of a 'big kids games' gamer? Maybe? *quickly turns off phone to hide the SquareEnix card game I have been playing obsessively*


Anyways, that is another side tangent!

Mostly, this tangent is inspired by the 'Indie Game' documentary through Steam I saw the other day. I really understood what the creator of Braid was feeling, while many didn't seem to get it. His game was a hit! Why is he upset? What is he defending? It has great gameplay, which is where the industry has been focused since the beginning. It has great visual style, which is a more recent focus when computers and consoles started to become powerful enough to display beautiful games. It even had a great story, something in which the bar, in my opinion, has always been set quite low for in games until recently. And, finally, the part people were missing... it said something. It is a piece of art. It speaks. It combines all the elements to go beyond another pretty photo of something pleasant (i.e., where most people's 'taste' in art lies) and had an emotional level to it. How often does a game have complex emotions in it? How often do games make you feel more than just entertained or amused? There are common elements to the vast majority of video games and how they make you feel. They make us feel amused, sure, but also frustrated, angry, excited, proud, accomplished. Most stop there. That has never been enough for me. I have always sought out games that specifically have those special stories. The special characters. The complexity, not in gameplay, but in the writing and art is always what hooks me. Great voice acting with compelling characters make frustrating gameplay bearable. A story I want to uncover pushes me through boring mechanics and tedium.

Ah, Square (Enix). We are talking about you, amongst others. I am willing to stick with 80+ hours of gameplay in a Final Fantasy game because I LOVE the stories, the art, the deep characters. They are gorgeous, interactive books. Even the SNES games, to this day, are works of art. SIXTEEN EFFIN PIXELS. How much could YOU do with that?? What they pushed out of that system... masterpieces. The stories and characters, above all else, are unsurpassed by current titles. I can only imagine how amazing they would be if they had the space on those little cartridges as they do on the big digital discs to expand beyond.

But, I am fangirlgeeking here. It is about the art of video games. They are becoming a new medium for it. And there are gorgeous things coming out. But so much is caught in old thinking. So much pressure to be modern, innovative, to push the code.

Fuck the code. If you have something cool and innovative, great! Add it! If you need to write something new to accomidate your story, great! Add it! But there shouldn't be pressure to make shiny code that causes a great story or artwork to be overlooked. In all honesty, I would play an interactive storybook with very little or easy gameplay. You know, like Bioshock: Infinite.

Boy did Bioshock: Infinite get some undeserved bad reviews. The gameplay was solid. Nothing new needed to be said or done to tell the story. The purpose of that game was to TELL A STORY. It was a piece of art. Not a piece of entertainment. It wasn't built for the Call of Duty generation to blow each other up with fancy guns. It was a love letter to Bioshock fans. A gorgeous love letter. I was in awe the entire way through, smiling, absorbing every piece of story and every nook and cranny of Columbia. I talked to every NPC, listened to every conversation. Looked over the sides like a tourist. This game was made for people like me. The marketing pressure caused 2K to market it beyond me, to put a burly gun-wielding Booker on the front. They made it seem like a shooter. It was first person, and it had guns, but it wasn't a shooter. It was an interactive story. With guns. :)

I am seeing an evolution in 'hardcore' video games towards becoming standalone pieces of art. Without the need for stomping/ shooting/ punching 'bad guys'. While early puzzle games like Myst were widely popular early on with this idea of interactive storybooks, it is just now catching on. Powerful development tools are available to the masses, and indie games can be built to tell stories, not to follow standard gameplay rules.

Throw the rules out the window, tell your story! Don't feel weighed down by the pressure to create innovate gameplay. Take a solid engine, solid code, add a story and your characters, and create magic! I don't feel that there needs to be innovation for a game to be great. I only think it needs to be compelling, whether that is through gameplay, visuals, story, or characters. It is a new way of thinking about games, but one I feel is a very natural movement with as many games that are out now. We can be picky. We can play games that only have the stuff we like in them. There is no reason to shoot up alien hordes for a nugget of good story if we don't like shooting games. And I don't think developers should feel pressured to throw the kitchen sink into these things. Solid gold story with tried and truw mechanics is a solid gold game, in my mind. Demanding that everything is always the best of the best, the most innovative, the brightest, I think stymies really good games that are absolutely worth playing. That is a shame, and I hope this is on a path of change. I want to see more art in the game world!