Wednesday, February 19, 2014

//VG SPCL: Why Video Game Developers Need To Stop Sniffing Fart

Because I'm an extremely busy person- I watched this gameplay/interview on Machinima covering 1886- a third person shooter/war game. At first I was intrigued by the computer generated world and the artistic gears-of-war-ish direction it was all leading towards. However, soon enough I actually started listening to the jibberish the Creative Director Mr. Weerasuriya had to say. It was at this point I stopped think 'Wow, this game might actually suck'.

If you got done watching and listening to all that then 1) Good job & 2) did you notice how irrelevant and incomprehensible the interviewee was? Typically, you watch an interview with the visionary of a video-game to learn the most essential thing about a video game: The gameplay. What results here is basically a tirade about the background of its title character. I'm not going to pretend to know anything about making video games (I'm purely a user...and a bad one at that) but I'll bet you any seasoned gamer will tell you that the most important element anyone wants to hear about is the actual gameplay- not the historical and fictional facts surrounding its world. Sure, environments are important- as any stoner-gamer will tell you- but still nowhere as make-or-break as the functioning mechanics of the actual game. To cut this game some slack, I embarked on a mission to find more about this colonial-steam-punk shooter...

...This is the result of looking at multiple videos and is, quite possibly, the closest we get to an actual breakdown of the gameplay....which there is none of. However, like the last video, there is a lot of talk about character development, engaging-storylines and all that jazz- but nothing really about the mechanics that make the gameplay work. If you are a person that prides him/herself on critical thinking you'll come to two possible reasons as to why this is: it is either they wanted to hide all this in order to shock the players with awesome gaming fluidity upon release or they just don't have much to say about it. For the most part, the latter is what it seems like. Not to dismiss story-lines in video games- not in the least. Gamers' picks of the last 10 years have, mostly, been story-driven (or at least I think so- research needed). But can you really pretend like we aren't used to fucked-up story-telling in video games anyway?

 Let's take games such as the Uncharted series for example. I am, after all these years, confident enough to say those games were as entertaining to me as two old dogs sniffing each others asses. With all the talk of a large production process, it was hard to see what the pay-off was. Sure, a fluid enough control dynamic along with interesting characters can go a long way- but not long enough for me not to turn the PlayStation off and pick up a book (an economics book at that, I loathe economics). Ironically, I have no problem with wasting hours watching someone else play the games- as I'm interested to see what happens next. But upon picking up the controller- I feel the divide between the story-line and a lackluster shooter. There is nothing that keeps this wet fart engaging enough beside an Indiana-Jones-esque story premise and some one-liners. Surely, Naughty Dog's attention was paid to taking the most advantage of PS3's graphical capabilities and not the freshness potential the hardware has to offer.

Think last-gen console games like Ghost Recon- Future Soldier. While the premise and the story-line might be as stale as the bread in my fridge, the gameplay was solid enough to keep me hooked for hours on end. Building on mechanics from older games- it easily transcended any tactical shooter at that time and dominated the spectrum between challenging controls and intense scenarios. The current-gen equivalent to this would have to be Watch Dogs - a game that seems like it will make the most out of the new hardware capabilities to deliver material geared towards those that want to interact with the world the game sets rather than watch unfolding exposition. In-fact, if you were to watch videos on the mentioned games (you do it, I'm too lazy to link you) you'll find that it's all the developers talk about: mechanics, mechanics and more mechanics. These are the the reasons why they have developed big followings. These are games made by established creative studios that understand where video games come from and not what they mean to the average lazy-as-fuck-controller-hoarder that's just not lazy enough to watch a movie but too lazy to play Tetris.

Fez (video game) cover art.png
Also, as a side note: a similar warning goes out to developers that seem to understand this but still chose to unwind their personal lives as a narrative to sport the game. No one cares about anything beside the final product (I'm looking at you Phil Fish). The lead developer on Fez, a simple and distinctively fresh game that restyles old platformers with 3-dimensional perspectives (proving that small-scale originality trumps big money), was involved in a butt-battle with a game-critic too irrelevant for me to mention. As consequence, Mr. Fish decided to shut down Fez's sequel project and, most possibly, run away to a North Korean brothel to snort heel-skin. This is the most famous example of something good decaying because of people's tendency to gaze, a little too closely, at celebrities who, otherwise, are just gorks that love building their own worlds. You'd assume these worlds, along with the interfaces allowing us to explore them, would stand alone away from their creators in order to influence. But this has proved to be untrue time and time again.

I grew up with sonic the hedgehog not knowing a damn thing beside the fact that he was fast and a fucking prick. That, along with sick gameplay, is all it took to keep me playing. The actual game said more about the characters than the complementing narrative ever did (I still don't know what those games are about). It is the essence of this that keeps pessimistic shithead gamers like me coming back to pick up a title or two and spend hours ignoring everyone and running through different areas. The gaming bubble that has resulted of money-spent-money-made in the industry has only distorted the potential of video games and, instead, served different-story-lines with the same mechanical diarrhea to try and get us involved. This is not working.

At the end of the day, all video games do is occupy that small time-gap between doing shit that actually matters and going to bed. the fact that the industry has been able to grow this much is jaw-dropping but not as astounding as the moment it will all collapse in on itself. Don't be fooled, this will happen as more and more people will become knowledgeable enough to create their own interactive-worlds at home.