Friday, April 23, 2010

No Gaming For Old Men

I know this might sound like the complaints of a grumpy old* gamer (because they are :) ) but i feel like i haven't played a truly new game in ages.

I grew up in the 80's and 90's when "electronic" games were constantly reinvented and evolved, there was always something new coming out. some better, some worse but never boring.
Today gaming is a multi-gazillion dollar industry and despite this, very little happened in the past decade of gaming. Especially when we compare them to the 90's and the 80's. I think probably more major genres died then evolved in recent years. 

I don't know why, perhaps the developers are too far from the hardware, It's very easy to keep making first person shooters when you have all these great engines out there. But when ID did wolfenstine and then reinvented the genre with doom, they worked with the bits and bytes - they even invented special number for Quake 3. There is no doubt we tend to be limited by the tools we have. Sometimes having no tools means more freedom of thought and more wild experimentation. Perhaps its the very high cost of entering the game - there are some very powerful players in the market and perhaps its easier to make a well defined game in a well defined genre then to try something new..

I think most of all what bothers me is that i feel that there has been little or no evolution in any of my favorite genres, and in most cases there haven't even been any serious attempts to change anything. 
As i have some more details complaining to do, i thought i would direct my complaints at the individual genres.


Real Time Strategy

Many would disagree but frankly i feel that there haven't been anything new in RTS's since the genre was truly defined by westwood with dune 2 and to a lesser extent Blizzard with Warcraft.
What's even more depressing is that since Starcraft - which was nothing innovative, but simply a masterpiece of balance  - there have been no (interesting/worthwhile) developments in the genre. And from what i am reading Starcraft 2 doesn't seem to be bringing anything new to the table either. I think the only game to try and bring something new to the table was the bizarre Perimeter by CodeMasters. Sure, it was innovative for the genre - but it really didn't work. 


Role Playing Games

I love role playing games, i loved them since i first played Eye of The Beholder. Not only that, but i love most sub-genres of RPG's. My problem with this genre is that i feel it is loosing it's way recently. Western rpgs have been dying since around Gothic 2 (which together with Gothic 1 are at the top of my list). Bethesda created a beautiful game in Oblivion but was too lazy to bother with any Gameplay. Why do they leave those endless piles of crap in the game world i will never understand. I also don't see why they can't be bothered to balance their game before releasing it - If someone at Bethesda happens to read this, try to understand Auto Leveling means you never advance, which is the cornerstone of role playing gameplay. And no - your pathetic attempt at "capped" auto leveling in Fallout 3 was not "good". (but at least there was *some* point to leveling). A bigger problem is possibly that others began to follow - Boarderlands seems to use a similiar misguided system, and while it was fun to play it wasn't fun to power-play.
And last but certainly not least are Pirhana bytes, makers of the excellent but unjustifiably relatively-unknown Gothic and Gothic 2 (and inexcusably also Gothic 3 and Risen). Gothic (1&2 - i am not counting the dissapointing 3) was a wonderful series. It focused on a very simple and very clear damage system. This, along with interesting battles that truely required varied tactics for each creature, a class system that created truly separate gameplay (to the extent of changing some plot elements) and a perfectly balanced world where you really wanted to slay every possible enemy and gain every bit of experience you can. The system was so rewarding that you always tried to get every tiny bit of advantage while still keeping the gameplay challanging.
So gothic 3 was a disappointment - even if we disregard the crappy and crashing game engine, the gameplay which made the gothic series was gone. it seems to have been "simplified" for the unknown masses, and it lost the balance and challenge that made the previous games so great. Pirhana bytes moved on to create Risen, which is a pale unbalanced shadow of gothic with very little plot and far too easy Gameplay. 
Finally, there's the KOTOR series which was excellent and a fine example in the genre and i would love to play another title in that series. 


Simulation

My favorite genre in simulation is racing and i must say i have no complaints in this area - a good simulation game aspires to, well, simulate reality. Titles like Fortze Morotsport and Dirt and the first serious Need for Speed - Shift are excellent titles, the genre is constantly becoming more and more realistic with an incresingly accurate level of simulation. Sure, i can hope for some faster loading on the xbox 360  (in some titles loading time is proportional to racing time) but other then that - love it, keep up the good work.


First Person Shooters

Well, i could say that first persons shooters haven't really changed since the days of Wallenstein and doom, and in some respects that's true, but in most respects they are climbing my genre-preference ladder.
Games like Farcry (excellent gameplay and excellent AI), Call of Duty -  Modern Warfare (1&2)   - Bringing a truely cinematic experience to FPS gameplay. In a sense FPS's and simulation have a lot to do with technology, the level of detail and quality of graphics are the first and for many the most critical factors in FPS's. Call of duty demonstrated that a great plot is just as important. All in all the genre is doing what it has always done - keep pushing the limits of the hardware to show more realistic ways of simulating shooting people with a wide variety of weapons..


Quests (aka** Adventure games)

Quests are dying, and its a real shame. Actually, the genre is all but dead. Telltale games are the only ones that seem to be keeping the genre alive these days, and the success of their latest monkey island show that there are enough of us around to appreciate the genre (i also recommend Strong Bad's Cool Game For Attractive People, if you read this far - this game is definitely for you). As one of the most successful genres of the 90's its surprising that almost no one is still around. Lucas Arts moved on to other pastures and Sierra basically died...very sad.  Oh, and i just remembered there's also the excellent Machinarium by Amanita Design. 


Turn based Strategy/Managements

Nothing much to say there, its hard to talk about change or advancement in this genre. Graphics are slowly improving over time, and the notable titles (Say Civilization) are changing and tweaking the gameplay, but somehow nothing exciting happen there in years. Some new and interesting title would be good. I would also settle for ...actually, i would be really excited about bringing back say Master of Orion or Ascendancy.. You know, thinking about it i can't think of any worthwhile recent Turn based 4X game besides the Civilization series, and even that one has taken a turn for the worst with their latest "Civ Revolutions" (although civ 5 should be coming out soon, so at least they didn't abandon the fans).


Casual*** Gaming

I have a love-hate relationship with casual gaming. On the one hand this is one area of gaming where there is still a lot of innovation. there are many new kinds of addictive puzzle games,castle defense, tower defense and notably World Of Goo with other less-defined categories of casual gaming. On the other hand you have all those social games on Facebook and other platforms. It's not that i mind what people play, it's that i feel they are lowering the bar that game creators have worked so hard to raise all these years.   


MMORPGs

finally the last genre on my list - MMORPG - my nemesis. 
As i mentioned before - I Love RPG's and because of this i have never played an MMORPG and never will. 
So why have i never played an MMORPG? The simple answer is addiction.
When i started playing gothic 2 for the first time, i played it for about a week straight. 
By "a week straight" i mean that i barely ate and i slept when i could no longer concentrate on the game. I did almost nothing else. The reason i allowed myself to live with such  a level of addiction untreated is that its short-lived. Once every few years there's a title good enough to warrant this level of addiction, but the experience is bound to end after a very short time. Even the most search-every-corner-twice-and-then-go-back-to-make-sure gameplay of the most complex RPG will still end after 40-100 hours. MMORPG's never end - it's the whole point of them. I can't allow something to completely take over my life, so i can't even try them. 
Why are they my nemesis? because a lot of excellent titles in  my favorite genre are going MMO which is leaving less and less non-MMO titles for me to play...
Also i am pretty sure MMO's are the first phase in the evil plan of the machines to enslaves us by making us live in a virtual world.  

* - well - old in gamer terms
** - they are mostly known as Advanture games, but in israel we call them "Quests" (or questim in Hebrish) 
*** - how can anyone call spending 10 hours a day on farmville "casual"?