Things are always changing. It’s important to know that’s not inherently a bad thing. It’s easy to give in to the pull of nostalgia and say that the old way is the best way and we should stick with that. I mean, let’s be honest, this category of posts is called “Old Man Musings.” That’s pretty damning evidence that I’m going to come down on the side of nostalgia. But there’s no inherent guarantee that older is actually better.
Games have changed a lot over the course of my being a gamer. We’re seeing two categories of games rocket off in terms of popularity/market saturation, and neither of them interest me. I don’t know if we need to go back to the way things were, but I would certainly enjoy if we remembered it as we create new games.
For the sake of simplicity, and in order to stay in the realm that I know the best, I’m going to focus on single player games. There are two realms that single player experiences seem to be heading down, and neither one holds any interest for me. One (which I’m going to mention here and then promptly save for a different post) is the mobile games market. I’m not just talking about games on mobile devices, I’m talking the mobile style of design. As I said, there will be another post about this. The second is the triple A big budget titles. Your Nathan Drakes, Just Causes, and Assassin’s Creeds. These are becoming a major facet of gaming, and it’s just not doing it for me.
There’s a homogeneity in the triple As that I can’t gain interest in. Similar control setups, tons of brown/grey realistic coloration, and a huge push towards realism (even the things that are fictional look so highly detailed as to attempt to be real). This lack of gameplay innovation and (generally) visual design leaves a lot more time and effort to be invested in the production of detailed and realistic visuals. In that games are designed to be a skill based experience, and not just an interactive experience, this is a problem of sorts. If all games require roughly the same skills, aren’t they roughly just the same game? That’s fine if you find that game fun, but not everyone does. It’s catering to the lowest common denominator – the largest mass of people that finds it fun enough to keep playing. We’re not talking about finely prepared food from all over the world that requires a willingness to experiment, sometimes be elated, and other times be disappointed. We’re talking fast food burgers made with mostly adequate ingredients.
We’ll leave the gameplay alone now. As I said, I don’t like that style of play, but maybe a lot of people really love average-third-person-over-the-shoulder-shooter-with-some-quick-time-events experience. I happen to prefer my experiences varied, exciting, new, and often weird. It doesn’t really matter, though. Some games are for some folks, others for others. I really shouldn’t judge (but please know that I do). Does having a weapon mapped to each direction on the D-pad, different actions mapped to the right face buttons, and a specific action assigned to every shoulder button excluding the R1 shoot really add to the experience? Maybe you could have some snappy, fast and fun play that only relies on two face buttons, a D-pad (or stick) and an L and R. I’ll be honest, I’m talking about the GBA. I think the gameplay on that system triumphed from the limited input options available. I’m a big believer that working under limitations causes smart decisions to be made and true creativity to blossom. Sure, you can throw in the kitchen sink, but if all you’re allowed is one segment of pipe how brilliant are you going to have to get with it?
I want games with one of two things: slow, methodical planning and play (see ever Final Fantasy up through 12), or something slick, crunchy, and not demanding that I know a million inputs. The Souls series keeps your primary combat concerns to a minimal number of buttons and does so in a highly intuitive (though counter to many other games’ inputs) way. Almost every action game on the Genesis and GBA qualify as well: limited buttons makes for limited input options, but allows for design where you’re not guaranteed to choose the right option because there are so few. Okay, now we’ll move on from the gameplay for real.
I think we have to dedicate a little time to talking about color. Specifically, I want to talk about brown, grey, and the GBA (yeah, it’ll keep coming back to the GBA here). I get to spend every day looking at brown dirt and grey roads and buildings. I want bright, vibrant, borderline ridiculous colors. Games give us a chance to see a world we can’t experience otherwise and interact with it. Limited color palettes and the need for clear contrast on relatively tiny screens leads to some beautiful colors in 16-bit systems. You can argue which is better all day gameplay-wise: Castlevania or Simon’s Quest, but from a visual design standpoint there’s no debate. Castlevania sacrificed a realistic color scheme for high-contrast areas, and was able to keep the design of a castle while also delivering a vivid and enjoyable visual experience.
Okay, one last thing before I wrap this up (it’s really just me rambling, so thanks if you’ve made it this far). I want creativity. Over a half dozen entries of the same thing isn’t doing it for me (looking at you, Ubisoft). I want guys with weird guns fighting crazy multi-segment robots and everyone’s name is a color. I want lawyers effectively stealing evidence while sneaking around the set of a super-hero TV series. I want Capcom assigning roll to the right trigger. I want a bounty hunter fighting her way through a hostile alien world while enhancing her suit. I want fun, colorful, exciting couch-coop (come on Squeenix, forget this Disney junk and give me some Mana or Crystal Chronicles). 16 bits was all gaming needed to produce some incredible experiences. I’ve already had so many of the old experiences. I want people to make new ones.
Okay, this post was all over the place. It was really just an excuse for me to vent about triple A trash and think whimsically about the Genesis, SNES, and GBA. Fortunately, judging from the games coming out of the indie scene, I’m not the only one feeling this way. Even as the bulk of gaming is splitting onto triple A or mobile, those things I so hope to see are coming into being. Public perception may focus on things I don’t care for, but my real gaming passions live on.