Make (AAA) Video Games Great Again

Being a business-minded person (ironically majoring in English), it hurts to me to see the state of AAA titles, or titles that have major (designer) studios and massive budgets behind them. I’m not going to try to make this a nostalgic, grass is greener type of post, but there has been an undeniable decay in quality titles. I attribute this to a variety of factors, the foremost being the push of financial interests overwhelming any sense of artistry for designers and storytellers. Many famous studios since the seventh generation of consoles (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii) have become “sell-outs” pumping out sequel, after sequel each year, releasing incomplete, glitchy games and selling them for $60 a pop. Why, you might ask, do they have the audacity to release half-baked titles? Because the seventh generation of consoles introduced the ability to PATCH games. Patching means they essentially offer online updates that you download straight to your console. In its best use, it fixes gamebreaking bugs that play testers missed, at worst it allows developers to meet their deadlines on products and just update it later.

From a studio standpoint, tension has grown between “hey, we’ve got this $100 million dollar game brand that’s super valuable, lets leverage that and sell it again, slightly different, for the full price!” and “hey, lets create something new and original, and see where it goes!” The operative term for this phenomena is risk.

Risk has always been an important facet of success in game development, people conceptualize all kinds of unique, wacky ideas, and generally if their team was behind them, they would get to work. Now, most big conglomerate video game companies have acquired these studios and have essentially told them to take far less risk, and to design titles that encourage the customers to spend even more cash on downloadable content. My favorite example of taking a unique idea and injecting old fashioned corporate greed is Evolve. Evolve took a unique concept, one player plays as a massive powerful monster trying to evolve (lol) and destroy the planet or kill the hunters. 4 other players pick hunters, categorized by roles, in order to combat the titanic beasts. Sounds interesting right? Check out this cool screenshot:Image result for evolve

It’s a AAA title that had a lot of unique promise to it. But then, on day 1 (yes, ONE, UNO, EINS) of its release, it launched with approximately $136 in buyable, downloadable content for players in the form of new characters and monsters…

Developers all started out in the same place, getting into game development either out of the interest in the challenge, or true love of creating stories and entertaining the masses. As soon as the sixth generation of consoles, that is, the PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube era, each platform had incredible AAA products come out, these games were complete because they had to be, you couldn’t issue software updates to any game-breaking glitches. Releases had multi-year gaps between them, meaningful space to respect their current offerings, and to properly develop their newest titles. Now, we have this:COD.jpg

COD Youtube.png

You really gotta ask yourself: what’s going on?

-Tom

Pokemon GO(ing down)

This may or may not be another controversial comment on my part. Either way, they’re my opinions on why Pokemon GO has probably peaked and won’t see anywhere near their huge rates of play again.

First, the game was very much a beneficiary of the bandwagon effect. It easily would not have been as popular if it were just based on individuals taking to themselves, but with public spaces with multiple stops having from tens to hundreds of people hanging around, talking in groups about their Pokemon and what they were seeing, and some people getting into it having never played any Pokemon game before because their cousins, siblings, children were. But that’s a scary marker if you’re interested in longevity – crazes end fairly quickly, and Pokemon GO’s certainly has.

Second, the game is having trouble even with users who at least were fairly dedicated previously, as the lack of promised features like tracking make finding rare Pokemon much more difficult. The existence of PokeVision made life easier for a lot of people – they would be able to search their areas for the rare Pokemon they saw on the broken tracking feature, and then go out to find it. Yet Niantic has requested these third party groups to take down websites like these, to “prevent cheating.” Given there is no real high-risk/reward competition in Pokemon GO (the design of gyms causes them to change hands incredibly frequently), cheating is fairly irrelevant in any case.

My last point is that Niantic doesn’t seem as capable to efficiently handle these issues and push past their scheduled releases. The Buddy system was apparently released yesterday (though I don’t seem to have it active on my phone yet), but the majority of users are still without a tracking feature – something that has been an issue since two weeks out of the game’s release. Given that it’s been now two full months and they still haven’t implemented their fix universally, and have had the third party workarounds for it shut down, it almost feels like they don’t care. I won’t say that’s true, but with something that increased so much in size and was instantly profitable, it surprises me that they didn’t allocate more resources to have more timely releases for fixes, etc.

I won’t say that I don’t like the game. I do, and my hours and hours of play time can attest to that. I wouldn’t have gotten all the way to level 22 without enjoying it, but it is frustrating trying to be patient with a game that isn’t necessarily broken but is certainly not complete. When Niantic fixes the game, I’ll probably come back and put many more hours into it, but until then I’ll be another user that’s moving further and further from the game.

Gone Home

Earlier in class we had to play a game called “Gone Home.”  And it’s a bit of an interesting beast I would like to reflect more upon.  Once again, this is an independent game (I know, I have a bit of an obsession with them, but they always seem to turn out so amazing).  It’s developed by the Fullbright Company.  I would suggest that you play it before you read this blog post.  Seriously, it’s a beautiful, amazing game that deserves praise, and its developers deserve the money for creating this work of art.

SPOILERS BEGIN NOW

The game is a love story.  Simple as that.  It presents itself as a horror story at the beginning.  A hastily scrawled note on the door warning you not to search for your sister, a stormy night, and hints that the house might be haunted by a crazy and/or vengeful ghost.  Lights flicker, televisions are mysteriously turned on, and an intense loneliness permeates every single fiber of your being.  Yet, following your gaming instincts, you examine the first note you can interact with, and a soothing voice-over, that of your little sister, begins to calm you.  You continue to explore the house, following the plot-hook of what happened to your sister, in the hopes that perhaps this story will have a happy ending despite all of your senses yelling at you that “No, this does not have a happy ending!” And how could it?  You find hints that your family has fallen apart.  Your mom appears to be cheating on your father, their marriage seems to be falling apart, your sister is left alone and struggling with her burgeoning attraction to a girl in an age where that was even less accepted than it is today.  You are forced to assume that the worst possible action has occurred in that attic with the “keep out” sign and ominous red lights.  And yet it hasn’t.  Your mom never actually cheated, your parents went on a couple’s retreat to try and repair the divide between them, and your sister ran away with her girlfriend, hopefully finding some form of happy ending.

So what makes this game so great?  I know in my earlier blog post, I argued that gameplay and narrative should intertwine, yet how does it in this game?  This game is literally walking around a house and looking at notes.  Most people would argue that this doesn’t even constitute a game, let alone a great one.  And yet, it manages what most games never can.  It manages to make the player feel like they are living the story.  It allows the player to fully immerse themselves in the protagonist’s life.  You worry about the family as if they were your own, you root for them to overcome their demons, you explore the house hoping to find clues, you feel joy and apprehension when you discover the sister has run away to chase her happiness.  It uses the medium of video games to accomplish something that no other medium can.  No other medium can create the form of immersion that this particular story needs, and that is why video games need to be classified as an art form-  because of games like this; games that use their powers and limitations to do things that no other medium – literature, painting, film- cannot; games that make you feel and think and cry and reflect and hope.

~N. Edwards

Little Inferno, A Fiery Reflection

So, in class we had to do a report over a video.  We were supposed to play the game and analyze it and so on.  I was originally assigned Modern Warfare 2, a first-person shooter game that has done much to categorize an entire genre, and also has some very analysis-worthy moments (The airport section, I’m looking at you).  However, there was a distinct lack of Independent Games, which I felt was a great injustice to what is kind of my favorite group of games to talk about.   For the sake of this discussion, I’m going to assume any readers of this blog will know what an independent game is, or can at least utilize the magical search engine known only as “Google” for finding out.

                So, anyway, I decided to do my report over a wonderful game I had recently acquired. A little gem called “Little Inferno.”  To summarize the game quickly, it’s basically a virtual fireplace simulator.  Yes, a virtual fireplace simulator.  But that description does not do it justice.   Instead, it’s a far more varied piece of work; a piece of art I would even hazard to say. It deals with so many complex themes and ideas in a way that is both entertaining and informative and I just think that is great for a video game to be able to do.  In my presentation, my main argument was that the game is in fact a remediation of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.  However, which my professor pointed out, in my overzealousness to present the game, I presented what was simply a reading of a game, as an actual fact.  Which is true.  While this game has no actual evidence that points towards its “authorial intent” being an allegory of the cave remediation, it is possible to present a very convincing reading of it being that.  However, what I want to stress in this short blog post is how some of the strongest evidence for this reading comes from the gameplay rather than the overarching narrative.  The gameplay manages to enhance the narrative, rather than being a simple backbone for the narrative to be built upon.  And I think that is how video games should function.  Gameplay and narrative should intertwine rather than one simply existing to act as a simple support structure for the other.

~N. Edwards

Braid- A Perfect Experience.


Braid is an incredibly noteworthy gaming experience. The first thing that you are greeted to when you start the game for the first time is the beautiful water-color title screen- A city bathed in warm-yellow light. This magnificent art style persists throughout the game, but it is not what I will be focusing on within this post. What I would rather focus upon is the blending of rules and narrative the game employs.

In the game, you travel to six different worlds, each one with its own time-related gimmick. The game never explicitly tells you the rules for each world, or even the game really, beyond some basic controls- leaving the player to suss out the mechanics themselves. However, each mechanic is intrinsically tied to Tim’s(the player-character’s) story. Before each world, you enter a region known as “The Clouds,” within which you read books that relay Tim’s story to you. Within each story, the mechanic is presented as a concept- the weight of a ring, feeling as though you’re going in a different path from everyone else, the wish to erase your mistakes. By utilizing this blending of mechanics, Braid is able to create a beautiful and poignant narrative which subverts all of you expectations out of a genre, by having you, the player, be the villain, the monster. (And yes, I realize there is a second ‘true’ ending, but it requires you to absolutely violate the mechanics the game has taught you, and is overall a much less satisfying ending in every way- in fact, there is much to be said about an ending requiring the player to defy the rules set by the game, but I am trying to keep this post short).

Overall, Braid provided a wonderful experience. It blended narrative, rules, and your preconceived notions about how a story should progress to create a beautiful and poignant narrative about time, obsession, and mistakes.

Tim watches over the sleeping Princess

On a less analytical note, my experience playing with my partner, Amanda, was a great experience. Watching her play was fun, and she was very quick to learn (small analysis, this attests to the games strengths). Watching her play let me see the game through a new perspective.

-Nathanial Edwards