There is, I believe, a failure that has formed in the gaming world. A runaway train that has consistently produced poorer and poorer follow ups to previous titles. This has been masked well by the main cause of the problem but under a somewhat objective placement of content you’ll find that games today in many fields are no more innovative than titles from the mid to late nineties.
Graphically games have come a long way, from simple square ping pong balls to the now 16x Anti Aliased bump mapped bloomed towering steroid monstrosities that are the FPS Genre hero. I’m not here today to bash the hollow nature of these characters, far from it, there is a market for mindless slaughter and it would behoove any smart business to tap it. I am instead here to examine the affect graphics have had on gameplay in the very least since I’ve been old enough to pay attention.
The initial race for graphics made a lot of sense, games were lacking much of the graphical power needed to convey certain messages to the general public. Some, like myself, to enjoy a bout of make believe but in the end something solid is much easier to toy with than something intangible.
The ultimate example of Graphics Vs. Gameplay is a title that recently released called “Final Fantasy XIII”. I will begin by saying that I am a huge fan of Final Fantasy, short of their excursion into the MMO universe I haven’t truly played one that upset me. They have been the perfect blend of optional grinding, fantasy story, and emotional drama. They have a uniquely Japanese feel to them in story and context that always brings me back. I haven’t notice any dramatic shift in linearity in the titles, while there have been rather crafty ways of directing the players in the past you could indeed find the invisible walls.
Final Fantasy XIII however jumped on the train of Graphics. It stripped the gameplay aspect of the title to the molten core (Link entirely irrelevant). This is an RPG on rails, a title so linear it is nearly 2 dimensional. Where I once found 11 remarkable titles (each with glaring flaws but enough to make up for them) I now was looking at the most gorgeous atrocity to ever be released.
So as a perfect example of stripping gameplay to the bone, you have Final Fantasy XIII. There are other titles that went entirely into the realm of Graphics and sacrificed immense amounts of cash that could have been used on solid, or possibly innovative, gameplay. Crysis and Vanguard are two titles that immediately come to mind.
Quickly I might answer the question “Is there anything wrong with this change in video game development?” Which is a difficult question to answer. If, one was to assume, that change was merely a new market opening up alongside the modern gaming market I’d say it is a fantastic thing. However it does appear that instead it has enveloped the market. These titles are known as “AAA” titles and almost ironically so. They lack fundamentally just about anything new and quite often perform tasks, that were accomplished fairly well a decade ago, in manners that are enraging or downright pathetic.
Gaming is evolving as are game companies. I would not be the least bit surprised if the major gaming companies that exist today will be quickly overshadowed by and large by other companies that are currently considered Indie or small time developers. Just as companies today were once tiny organisms trying to make it in the world. The only thing slowing this change is the rather vicious consumption of smaller successful companies (and the following butchering of any titles thereafter). However we are getting off topic.
So, I’ve in a very eclectic manner provided a few quick examples of titles today that are pretty but hollow. I’d like to also follow that up with the point that frames per second, and all other manners of power enhancements to modern gaming fall under graphics. The game “Perfect Dark” for the N64 would utterly destroy most modern games if it was re-released with updated graphics and a higher frame rate, quite literally without any other changes. It did what most companies now are just now starting to do. Although Rare was, much like other companies at that time, producing some pretty solid games.
It would be remiss of me to go off on what has become a rant about Graphics without mentioning a few game titles that have solid gameplay but aren’t spending millions on graphics. I’ll also follow up after that with why this is the better model to follow.
http://minecraft.net/ – This title is made by a single Swedish man known online as “Notch”. This title in its Alpha stage shows more promise than most released AAA titles. The amount of amazing things that can be made and the sheer addictive nature of the gameplay all stem from the workings of a single person listening to their fans as well as following the simple rule that games should be fun.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_of_Goo – I link to Wikipedia because the website is down at the moment. World of Goo is a simple looking title that again has very solid gameplay mechanics. This was envisioned by two ex electronic arts developers. This title was designed in Coffee shops. It cost them somewhere around 10,000 dollars. By Comparison FF13 has been reported to have costed 60,000,000 dollars.
http://www.bay12games.com/dwarves/ – This may go down as the most complicated and thorough game in history and is, of the three titles I’ve presented, the most extreme example of Gameplay over graphics. I will admit that even THIS title is a little too extreme. Think of this as the ultimate example. This title has only one programmer on it much like Minecraft has only one person.
Which is it! These titles have teams of one or two. Modern graphically intense titles have a teams of 450 people or more (that number not pulled from my ass but the actual staff count for Crytek the people behind Crysis last I checked). One would assume that 450 people means 200-400 times the quality of these smaller titles.
Graphically they might be right. However content wise modern titles seem to be getting shallower and shallower, giving players less and less control, and overall providing less actual content for your buck. If you want to see something graphically astounding, I might instead suggest watching a movie. Or even going outside. But again these are just my thoughts.
Imagine how unnecessary DRM would be if game titles didn’t cost 60 million dollars to produce. Or imagine how astounding a game like Dwarf Fortress or Minecraft would be with 60 million dollars behind it. Then again, is there such thing as too much money?
We have as a market gone far beyond our abilities graphically, the amount of money necessary to achieve what we are aiming for is far too great. Once it is as cheap to produce a game of modern graphics as it is to produce an indie title, that is when those levels of graphics will be a truly reasonable option. Until then it appears that many developers, reviewers, and players are stuck on a run away train.
Coming this Week on TheIOS:
Rico Examines “The Beauty of Mathematics.”
ADIOS: The King of Spes: Votum.
IIWP (If I was President): Taxation