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

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

-Tom

Braid: The convenient platformer

In most video games, especially platformers, the player’s character is able to be killed in some manner and then respawns at the beginning of the level. This requires the player to start the level over and do everything correctly in a single run in order to progress. In contrast, Braid incorporates a type of “rewind” mechanic that allows the player to rewind time. For example, if a player accidentally falls off a ledge to their death, they can conveniently “rewind” to the point right before they jumped off and choose a different path.

This rewind mechanic is in stark contrast to most video game mechanics and everyday life. For example, In Super Mario Bros., we are unable to rewind up to the point where we die to Bowser. We have to re-do much of the level. In everyday life, we unable to rewind and perhaps not say what we just said or do what we just did. Braid is a sort-of escape from the norm – a fantasy world (the aesthetics demonstrate this as well) where we can undo our previous mistakes and finish the level in “one” go.

Another interesting corollary to Braid’s rewind mechanic is that some things in the game world do not rewind with time. Their state persists, or they keep moving as if they are unaffected by time. This made me reflect on things in our life that are not affected by time or, in a fantasy world, “re-dos”. Even if we could rewind real life and undo our actions, what things would persist? Our temperament, personality, our genes – the very essence of who we are – would be unaffected by re-dos. No matter how often we would rewind time (if we could) we would still be the same person. This is the main take-away for me, personally. Sure, I may change what I like or where I live or who I call friends, but who I am will  persist throughout my time. I can’t change who I am (not that I want to, but if I did, I couldn’t). I must live with it and embrace it.

-Thomas