Jump to content
rllmuk
Sign in to follow this  
Broker

Are Games Becoming Less Ambitious?

Recommended Posts

I remember a time when all this was fields. When Chocobos and Pikachus roamed free over vast, untamed landscapes and all any of us wanted to do was explore those horizons, and learn what was at the edge of them. A time of pushing at invisible boundaries, and when bigger was always better, when more was always the goal, when “you can go anywhere you can see” was the highest praise awarded to the more special of games. We don’t expect to ever be able to go anywhere we can see anymore, all those lush fields have been replaced by narrow corridors. But those restrictive hallways look utterly beautiful, and particularly when we pass a window we can see some amazing stuff out of it. But it’s just there to see, we can’t touch it because it has no corporeal form.

At the end of the last generation, people genuinely seemed worried that games might become too expansive and forget the possible benefits of linearity. For a long time, more had been better and the power of the PS2, Gamecube and Xbox had seen open world gaming flourish. One of the major criticisms of GTA: San Andreas was that there was just too much shoved into it, and that the graphics and draw distance had suffered for this ambition to be realised. People were starting to find the abundance of options overwhelming, and the old argument about games being unwelcoming for people not familiar with them was raising its head more and more.

Resident Evil 4 was seen, to a certain extent, as a breath of fresh air. An old fashioned, linear game which focused on doing a few things really well, instead of trying to do everything. It reminded us that linear, focused games had a lot to offer, and demonstrated that not every established franchise would benefit from endless, thoughtless expansion. But the last generation also saw a flurry of games that went bigger and better and pulled off the trick with aplomb. GTA, The Elder Scrolls, Zelda and Final Fantasy all expanded outwards in ways which hugely benefitted their gameplay and ability to tell stories, and many of these classic franchises either treaded brave new ground or finally achieved the things they had been promising to do for years.

I already mentioned GTA: San Andreas, but it’s always worth mentioning again. This game is, in some ways, the pinnacle of what the industry has achieved so far, a brilliantly written, ambitious, funny, interesting game which pushed at literally every boundary it saw. Aside from a few well documented graphical issues, and an odd adherence to the old idea that the world you play in is something you need to be rewarded with piece by piece, the game does pretty much everything right. It captures a time and place beautifully, but what it does really well is give you endless, boundless options. A central plot, a wealth of optional missions, a variety of mini and meta games to engage with. It throws old ideas out, letting us swim and skydive and it respects the player enough to provide a variety of tools and vehicles to experience the game through and in.

From managing gang territory so taking photos of a sunset, driving a hovercraft through the wilderness to getting your hair cut, throwing yourself from a plane to spraying graffiti, a game has never taken such a wide expanse of territory and filled it so comprehensively with interesting things to do. This is a game which isn’t scared to have one of its central areas change entirely when riots break out, it’s a game which includes push bikes just because it can. There is genuinely nothing else like it, despite there having been consoles with significantly more power than it used for nearly ten years. Everything is one route now, or it’s a vast, empty expanse which has no idea what to do with its scale. Just Cause 2 might be bigger than San Andreas geographically but it’s nowhere near as big of a game.

Contrasting this is GTA IV, a fine game in its own right, but one which takes a distinctly Resi 4 approach to updating the franchise. IV has some beautiful touches, whistling for a cab or accessing the internet, but it has been reined in. After San Andreas some people were expecting the geographical expansion to continue, with GTA IV featuring a whole continent. Some people believed that the game would stray further afield and mock different cultures and people, lifting the focus from America. When the game was revealed to be in one city I imagined unprecedented levels of interaction, environments with astounding levels or detail, not just visual, but in their interactivity. I imagined working systems of crime and law enforcement and being given the opportunity to find my place in these systems, wherever I chose it.

What we got was odd. A GTA game of unparalleled beauty, but with almost all of the interactivity stripped away. A very central story with little to do outside it, with the exception of answering your phone to your annoying brother and going to play a minigame with him. But these minigames felt simple and obvious, playing pool or darts is great in addition to all the other things GTA has done, but in place of them these ideas seem lazy. Getting drunk was a brilliant idea, hamstrung by the fact you stay drunk for all of 2 minutes and are then absolutely fine. And it mirrored one of San Andreas’ biggest failings, it cast us as a good guy, a man who wants to get out of the violence he’s always known and live a better life. This type of tortured protagonist may make for interesting cutscenes, but it jars heavily when you end a cutscene talking about how you just want to live a peaceful life and then set about clubbing an old lady to death with a brick for the fun of it. GTA III’s Claude was silent, able to be whatever the player imagined him to be. Vice City’s Tommy was a dangerous psychopath, prone to slipping into a violent rage at any moment. These are the protagonists a GTA game needs, and those two games did a great job of letting you tell the story, not forcing you to watch it.

The Elder Scrolls is another weird example, a game which at the end of the last generation was ignoring fantasy stereotypes, and presenting the player with vast expanses of world to explore, filling the game with tasks and systems which worked independently and allowing the player to be or play whatever they wanted. Very few games have the balls to drop you in at the start and just let you go, with barely any instruction whatsoever. It’s follow up games, Oblivion and Skyrim, are still extremely ambitious, beautiful and exciting games. They offer vast worlds in a time when this is a rarity and provide me with exactly what I desire, games which I can play in a variety of ways, games where I make my own stories. Yet, Oblivion takes place in the most generic fantasy environment ever designed, and both it and Skyrim contain more hand holding, more forced direction and less systemic complexity than Morrowind.

Final Fantasy XII is a brave, beautiful game. A gripping, engaging story is told of an ethereal, striking looking world by characters who act like real people. It has the courage to take almost everything which people associate with the franchise and throw it away, building a fresh new experience on the solid foundations of an old franchise. It fixes pretty much everything which was ever wrong with FF games, and provides the player with a battle system so engaging that it removes the “grinding” element of the RPG template by making the battles more fun than the story or exploration. Its sequel, Final Fantasy XIII, is a long walk down a very pretty hallway. The hallway doesn’t always look like a hallway, sometimes it looks like a giant cavern or a city in the sky made of glass of a walk through the heart of a giant squid, but it’s a single path which you follow rigidly, never allowed to explore, never given to opportunity to do anything except stare at the beautiful vista you can see from the window.

Most of these modern updates do something well. FFXIII has a brilliant battle system that you’re inexplicably denied access to for the first 25 hours. GTA IV has a well written, genuine and thoughtful plot, Skyrim is probably the most ambitious game of this generation. But they all do one or two things, they all fall short of the ambition of their forebears and they all narrowed the scope of their franchises. And it isn’t just sequels, all over the industry through this generation we’re seeing “cinematic” games, where you run down one path and things happen around you. From Uncharted to Modern Warfare, there is a lot of story being told, but very little being created. Those magical moments where you experiment with the game and its laws are becoming fewer and harder to find, and I miss them. Resident Evil 4 reminded us that linearity wasn’t always a bad idea, I wish someone would come along now and remind us than non-linearity has provided gaming with some of its strongest and most memorable experiences. Surely there’s room for both?

http://www.thegamerschallenge.com/tgc/the-loss-of-scale-are-games-becoming-less-ambitious/

Thoughts?

  • Upvote 3
  • Downvote 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Skyrim contain more hand holding, more forced direction and less systemic complexity than Morrowind.

This is what the writer is presumably believing is a bad thing. game more accessible to people than before is not something that games should aspire to? Or is this a case of, 'it was better before it sold out/OMG it's dumbed down to appease the sheeple'

  • Upvote 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Try Red Dead Redemption (whether you like westerns or not), then come back here.

Yeah, but it's got exactly the same 'problem' as GTA IV highlights above: beautiful open world, a well-written story and characters, a satisfying main game - but a lack of the optional side stuff that seemed more prevalent last gen.

That post is largely re-iterating the commentary that Rubber Johnny has famously been making here for yonks. And there's a lot of truth to it. I think my issue with the whole thing is that I prefer a smaller set of better-implemented game stuff, than a larger set of shitty minigame content, and this colours my view of the case studies.

Having said that, there's obviously a risk/investment/reward issue in the business at present.

  • Upvote 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

ah, it's a COD:MW-rant?

fucking LT-RT (L2-R2) aiming!

[edit]

No wait, they want to be able to GO INSIDE BUILDINGS!

Obvious now!

Edited by SeanR
  • Upvote 1
  • Downvote 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Anyone who describes the characters in FF XII as behaving like real people needs a lobotomy, frankly.

Am sure RubberJohnny will love this thread.

  • Upvote 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

that's the thing. What's the point in writing about a handful of (admittedly good/hyped/publicised) games, and complaining about what they do or don't offer, when there's a whole bunch of other games out there?

Don't like something, stop doing it, move on to something else

Fucking entitled generation!

  • Upvote 2
  • Downvote 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You're comparing games from the en of one generation to, largely, games from the beginning of th next. That's the answer.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've been saying this for years, and yes I think it's true. The big retail games have had to cut down on the amount of content, freedom and variety to keep up the graphical arms race - compare Oblivion and Skyrim to Morrowind or GTAV to GTASA, you'll barely find anyone that thinks it'll match in size, variety and feature set. These big games like the Witcher are where the changes are the most visible, a 6-8 hour scripted shooter is barely changed as it was never particularly ambitious in the first place.

I always thought about how cool games would be in the future, how new experiences would be enabled by technology, and how the stuff we had would be done bigger, better and more varied in future - and I've been lucky to have seen that in my lifetime, GTA is really the go-to for this, a new genre that mixed 3D gameplay from others in a way that couldn't be done in the past. But then you look at the last 8 years and we're utterly stagnant, we've crossed a tipping point where better graphics have become a limitation on variety and innovation via their effect on the economics of games. There's no new genres, everything is the same but prettier and often more limited, some genres have disappeared, or have been entirely relegated to optional tack-ons to action games (stealth I'm looking at you), and it's depressing. If someone entered gaming now, I'd want them to think of all the cool things that it'd do in the future - bigger, better and more varied, but really they won't see much change, everything'll be the same, except prettier and more limited and with loads more DLC and social tie-ins. Great.

You're comparing games from the en of one generation to, largely, games from the beginning of th next. That's the answer.

If you compare games from the end of both it's still evident.

This is what the writer is presumably believing is a bad thing. game more accessible to people than before is not something that games should aspire to? Or is this a case of, 'it was better before it sold out/OMG it's dumbed down to appease the sheeple'

No, games do cut down on freedom. To take an earlier example, in Morrowind the cities were open and you could fly around the world. In Oblivion, despite having far more power at their disposal, the cities were closed and movement options around the world were much constrained. Or take a look at GTA - you used to be able to set blockades in the roads or take out enemies quickly with a crafty RPG, but in GTAIV any blockades disappear, and you have to follow closely a completely invulnerable character as they follow their scripted chase route before coming to a point for a shootout. There's less freedom in how to tackle situations, and it's just bizarre, they built all these damage modelling systems in, and then effectively cut them out of the missions!

  • Upvote 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I want every game to be Demon's Souls.

Problem is games cost far too much to make, and no-one buys any apart from the likes of CoD and Fifa. Blame the masses.

I get sick when I see what MMOs have become after the imaginative masterpiece that is Ultima Online. Now they are all the same - pick a class and build, go here, kill 10 rats. No proper RPing, no user-led crafting, nothing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm bemused by the suggestion that this is a new development of the post-PS2 years, as opposed to a gradual decline since the massive open environments and exploratory gameplay (with developers unafraid to force players to discover how to actually succeed in the games back then, not just discover locations) of the 80s and 90s (the Ultimas, Elites, Mercenaries, Captain Bloods of the time). The complaint about Skyrim/Oblivion -> Morrowind is particularly amusing, as it completely ignores the even more massive drop in scale (and gain in polish/user-friendliness) between Daggerfall and Morrowind.

Doesn't invalidate the argument that game worlds are generally getting smaller as they trade up on polish, it's just that the author (and a certain Rubber individual) seem to have placed the start-point of this decline at the point at which they most enjoyed games, rather than at the beginning of the process.

  • Upvote 7

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Blame EA. The 'play it safe' company from the moment it was formed. Eats developers, makes them play it safe too.

  • Upvote 1
  • Downvote 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Problem is games cost far too much to make, and no-one buys any apart from the likes of CoD and Fifa. Blame the masses.

The thing is games are for gameplay, I know you're using it as an example, but comments like this indicate their primary purpose is graphical, and as we get dragged along if we lose a few things - so what?

I mean, what does FIFA do that's so different from 15 years ago? Scripted shooters definitely don't require amazing tech to get their shallow gameplay across, that whole genre hasn't greatly changed since inception. Those games and franchises can exist and be popular regardless of tech level, and they have. If the costs for games at the moment don't enable the rest of them to innovate, or support varied gameplay, then what's the point? Why not choose a different level of fidelity, choose art styles that do enable that innovation and variety? It's not going to hurt the successes, and it'll help the rest of the industry. The graphics whores will kick up a fuss, but fuck em.

  • Upvote 1
  • Downvote 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I broadly agree with the general thrust of the article.

I would just add that the Final Fantasy series has been in decline for longer than since FFXII, but then I didn't like FFXII anyway. I'd say the linearity rot began with FFX (or even FFVII, but since I utterly adore VII, faults and all, I'm still laying the blame on X. :P).

Another genre not specifically mentioned in the article is point-and-click, or rather adventure games. I suppose it makes sense, but if you go back to text adventures, they were ridiculously ambitious.

When you start adding "graphics" to them, they become much simpler and more limited. As the graphics got better and more complex, the game design got simpler and more linear.

Not that it stops people from making text adventures (or other ambitious games) in 2012... I suppose I'm thankful there are viable outlets for a variety of tiers of development nowadays... not that I have time to sample all of it anyway.

  • Upvote 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Looking at E3 it's fair to say games lack ambition of any sort. When was the last time you played something new and invigorating? We've been in a rut for several years now. I'm not sure where the reinvigoration is going to come from either. Xbox 3 and PS4 will probably be more of the same with nicer graphics. Wii U has some nice ideas but isn't really doing anything unheard of.

Personally I'd like to see a Steam like scenario on console where indie developers can truely flourish. No doubt the big guns have been playing it safe for far too long.

  • Upvote 1
  • Downvote 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm bemused by the suggestion that this is a new development of the post-PS2 years, as opposed to a gradual decline since the massive open environments and exploratory gameplay (which weren't afraid to force you to discover how to actually succeed in the games back then, not just discover locations) of the 80s and 90s (the Ultimas, Elites, Mercenaries, Captain Bloods of the time). The complaint about Skyrim/Oblivion -> Morrowind is particularly amusing, as it completely ignores the even more massive drop in scale (and gain in polish/user-friendliness) between Daggerfall and Morrowind.

Doesn't invalidate the argument that game worlds are generally getting smaller as they trade up on polish, it's just that the author (and a certain Rubber individual) seem to have placed the start-point of this decline at the point at which they most enjoyed games, rather than at the beginning of the process.

Those early games you mention from the beginning of the industry becoming a mass market-sized concern should still be possible today, if people were willing to put up with wired frame or similar levels of imagery and barely populated locations in exchange for masses of randomly generated ones, the developer sizes back then were tiny, and with modern tools and computing power, even a single individual should be able to come up with something which could out Elite at its own game, but nobody seems interested in even trying to do that, I assume there is a reason why, as certain people are claiming the demand exists for such things.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

E3? There were at least three new kinds of stabbing on display, and a frickin'-laser-powered face-smash which was so amazing that even Hideo Kojima was blown away that anyone was able to do something that ambitious without taking control away from the player. Healthy!

:coffee:

  • Upvote 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The problem, as far as I can see it, is that the industry's got itself into a self-perpetuating, self-defeating cycle.

It's convinced itself that retail games should all retail at a set, high, price point. They see the rewards being reaped by the few huge AAA games, and convince themselves that you need to mimic that in order to make money.

So they all spend huge amounts on graphics and cut scenes and so on, and then are making a huge gamble. So they make it as safe and pedestrian as possible. Then, gamers don't buy them. So they have to drop the price soon after launch. And gradually, they train us to judge a game by its perceived quality and likely retail success, and buy it or not at full price. Which means the cycle gets ever tighter - only AAA games can support a AAA price, and AAA games will never be able to risk anything or push any envelopes.

Why the industry can't make a market for a second tier of retail games that has less money invested into it and can then sell for cheaper, I don't know. Make less sparkly games, that can have more attention paid to unusual ideas etc. I suspect you'd have to reduce the dominance of the trade-in market first? It seems crazy to me.

And I guess the problem will be if it continues like this for much longer, all the talented people will just head off and make quirky iOS titles instead.

  • Upvote 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Why the industry can't make a market for a second tier of retail games that has less money invested into it and can then sell for cheaper, I don't know. Make less sparkly games, that can have more attention paid to unusual ideas etc.

"The industry" has - it's just you don't see it much outside of PC development. Publishers like Paradox thrive on exactly that market.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The second tier games pretty much already exist as all those SEGA games that get amazing press reviews but no-one buys them, and which then drop to £10 a month after release.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The second tier games pretty much already exist as all those SEGA games that get amazing press reviews but no-one buys them, and which then drop to £10 a month after release.

Well yeah. That's my point. I assume they become a millstone? Are they costing as much as a first tier title to make? Spend less, charge less would be my business model. Perhaps.

Having it all on Steam only seems like a poor solution.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There are some fantastic games out there that dont treat you like an idiot only capable of performing QTE's and following an NPC that has FOLLOW written over his head from point a to point b.

Just take a look at the souls games, any of the s.t.a.l.k.e.r series, crysis, and some great indie stuff like amnesia, or even tho it wasnt my bag, that grimrock game that came out recently. Just look elsewhere than your average AAA Gears or God's of war's etc and youll find theres still plenty of creativity out there

  • Upvote 1
  • Downvote 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

XBLA/PSN/Steam is home to the more interesting or esoteric games nowadays. Retail has basically become a haven for your predictable blockbusters 95% of the time. There's still retail games I'm looking forward to like Dishonoured and Hitman, but I seem to be spending more and more of my time buying games on the digital platforms.

  • Upvote 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There are some fantastic games out there that dont treat you like an idiot only capable of performing QTE's and following an NPC that has FOLLOW written over his head from point a to point b.

Just take a look at the souls games, any of the s.t.a.l.k.e.r series, crysis, and some great indie stuff like amnesia, or even tho it wasnt my bag, that grimrock game that came out recently. Just look elsewhere than your average AAA Gears or God's of war's etc and youll find theres still plenty of creativity out there

As the moaning seems to revolve around games which do actually look nice and have more than 5pence spent on development, something must be problematic as those two game series are now officially dead, with S.T.A.L.K.E.R. having been reborn as an online MMO after the developer imploded (and that was a cheapo Eastern Euro effort) and Crysis following suit when Crytek stop retail game development and go F2P (which would entail a multiplayer focus going forward).

If you want this kind of thing, there are going to be trade offs, and it turns out, most people don't, otherwise this topic wouldn't exist.

The second tier games pretty much already exist as all those SEGA games that get amazing press reviews but no-one buys them, and which then drop to £10 a month after release.

As a result of this trend, the mid-game is disappearing, they don't cost fuckall to make, but also these days, make fuckall, unsustainable.

  • Upvote 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I wouldn't say they're becoming less ambitious, David Cage's games are still ambitious yet underwhelming, Braid was incredibly ambitious in it's storytelling, Minecraft gives you building blocks in infinite space and waves you off. I think instead games are smaller, but anybody who thinks smaller = less ambitious, or that the attempt in Skyrim and Oblivion to make a massive western singleplayer RPG more accessible than any before was less ambitious than just "more stuff", has forgotten what ambition is (it's not the same as content).

  • Upvote 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue. Use of this website is subject to our Privacy Policy, Terms of Use, and Guidelines.