Letting go of your childhood
Posted on Wednesday, October 26 2011 @ 13:19:31 Eastern
I'm going to assume anyone who reads Game Revolution plays video games, I'm also going to assume some of you are either teenagers, or younger, as well as adults of all ages. This particular blog however targets the adults, as those of you who are younger have done no wrong. It's us, it's the adults, the big ones... we're the ones dragging down innovation, and clinging hopelessly to dead memories of games that we played 'back in the good old days.' Interestingly enough, I've discovered the good old days weren't so good after all. This blog will talk about several subjects, and all of them can be traced back to one idea: Let go of your childhood. Things we'll discuss: The myth of originality, innovation, and re-makes.
Originality... what makes something original? Does it have to be completely original, bursting at the seams with original ideas? Some of you seem to think so... but I ask, why? You know that originality is a myth? Whatever is done, has already been done. Originality died out a long time ago, it isn't going to come back, and I would argue, it never existed. It was a niche, a word to attach to someone who came up with the basic idea 'first.' I could stand here, and accuse Starcraft of ripping off Warhammer 40,000, or accuse Gears of War for doing the same. I could rant that Warcraft is a rip-off of Warhammer, or that Wolfenstein 3D was a re-textured Catacombs 3D with some extra bells and whistles and a new texture-pack and sounds. I could point out that in gaming past, originality wasn't really original, that ideas were copy and pasted worse than they are today. Doom II looks, and plays exactly like Doom I, with a few extra weapons and bosses, as well as some gameplay tweaks. Fallout 2 looks exactly like Fallout 1, graphically (excluding new models) it is the same game. Yet, we can't see that, we keep trying to search for originality where it doesn't exist in modern games, and my advice is to stop looking for it, you'll only find disappointment.
So why doesn't originality exist? Simple, we as consumers don't want it. We've proven that by throwing our money at them, and that isn't a bad thing. We buy what is familiar, we have a tendency to relate one thing to another, and only show our interest if it hits that sweet spot in our mind, that spot that says, 'Hey, Gears looks like Space Marines, neat, I'll have to give it a go.' It happens, even if you don't realize it does. Why did you buy Batman: AC? Or even Asylum? Because it had Batman, it had Mark H. as the Joker, and other nice touches, it was familiar. If you had seen a title sitting there on the store shelves with some jackass in a costume that looks vaguely like a Bat, would you have bought it? I think not, no matter how good the game is. To prove a point, let's use Bulletstorm, an original (as in, the first game in a theoretical series, not that the game is entirely original) game that while it was a great ride, did poorly in sales. Why is that? You could say lack of multiplayer, but look at Elder Scrolls, or Mass Effect or any of the other primarily Single-Player games out there, and they did fine. Sure, it honestly could be for any reason at all, but I'd be willing to bet its because it had nothing to compare it against. Yes, you could argue here that games like Bioshock where original and did well, but they weren't, they're very similar to System Shock. I won't spend all day pointing out that System Shock used a similar narrative structure of isolating you from the people around you, or that it had vaguely similar level-up mechanics and gameplay, but suffice to say, it wasn't original either. Call of Duty (before modern warfare) was a spin-off inspired by Medal of Honor, created by a studio which if I recall had worked on Medal of Honor, no originality there either. I'm sure Medal of Honor has an inspiration somewhere... and someone took it, changed it some, improved upon it, and sold it which brings me to my next phase in getting you to let go of your childhood... innovation.
Innovation, a word that almost means an original idea, or at least the introduction of something new. However, it has a more common meaning in todays world, it means taking something, improving it, and seeing if it will work, and yet for all we throw our money at un-original titles (again not a bad thing), we despise innovation. We want change, yet we ***** about it when it happens. Let us examine a prime canditate for this arguement, Fallout. Ah, Fallout, most people enjoy the title, some don't. Fallout 1 and 2 were amazing titles, and between the two games, showed little graphical or conceptual change. The humor was the same, the icons for the most part, and what happened... it died, didn't it? Fallout vanished, and what came after were titles that tried to do the formula differently, because Fallout sales were dying after Fallout 2, due to, you guessed it, lack of innovation. They tried to make it a Tactics game, a sort of take on tactical combat by exploiting the fairly interesting turn-based combat system. This produced Fallout: Tactics. Then, they tried (and succesfully, at least, as far as enjoyment goes) to make it into a top-down loot-fest game, Brotherhood of Steel. So the series stagnated, and instead of letting it die, Bethesda bought the Fallout license, and decided to make a new game. "BLASPHEMY!" we yell almost immediately, suspecting an Oblivion with guns. We didn't wait for the previews, we didn't want for screenshots or information, instead of waiting to play the game, we lunged at them, and said some very not nice things... Websites like No Mutants Allowed, actively tried to dissuade people from buying the game, despite having no experience with the game. They lashed out, tooth and nail, before it even released. I'm not going to go into detail here, and explain what happened after release (suffice to say they still hate it anyway), but they were against it from the beginning, as were other fans.
It just seems as if they didn't want Fallout 3 to change what Fallout 1 and 2 had established, they wanted it to stagnate, and cling to old childhood memories of "What was fun." Look, perspective is everything, time changes perspective. Back in the day, playing baseball was the ****, as was simple wooden dolls to play with. Now, we think that kind of stuff it boring, sure there are always exceptions to everything, some might still enjoy that stuff, but we as a society and a subculture have moved on. We're not that interested, despite what you may claim, in turn-based top-down isometric games set in a post-1950s universe. It would not have done well, it would have been a game we've all played before but with 3D graphics (Though, if those clinging to their memories would have their way, it would have been 2D again). I'm sorry, but there isn't a market for those, and frankly, I don't -want- to see the return of things like that. The market for those kind of games are downloadable games for handheld systems or xbox arcade titles. I do want to see series moving forward, and breaking free of their manacles, and shattering expectations. I want to play the new Syndicate, I want to check out Mass Effect's multiplayer, I want to see the upcoming X-Com, oh and don't get me started on the X-Com fans. Things need to move forward, or they die.
Re-makes, good old re-makes, how we love them, because we do, you know that right? We love the familiar, as I pointed out earlier. We are driven to enjoy that with which we have a comparison. A re-make in game-terms is often a re-imaginging of the game while it tries to keep to the 'core' gameplay. I'll use X-Com as an example. The old game had saturday morning cartoon purple aliens who looked absolutely childish, blowing away futuristic soldiers who also looked like saturday morning cartoon villians. It had character progression in the form of leveling up your squad, it had items, squad-loadouts, and research, as well as a turn-based system. Alright, so, fast forward to the modern era. Honestly, do you -want- them to make a top-down isometric game with purple-skinned aliens still? I think not, sure there are exceptions, some people might want that for some unknown reason, but most don't, including me. It isn't relavent anymore, we aren't watching saturday morning cartoons anymore, we aren't watching Prime kick Megatron in the head, with cheesy dialogue. We aren't watching the Turtles fight ludicrous villians, and kick back to some pizza... and that means we don't want villians in our games that look straight out of a childrens cartoon. What are the center of most of todays alien races in both Hollywood, novels and comics? Machine-men, living robots, and guess what the enemy is in the newest X-Com? Just pointing out that games follow popular opinion, as an another example, just when you, as gamers, cried out that games were becoming sterile and very samey(sic), the boom of indie-titles surfaced, just check PSN or X-Box live arcade, all kinds of indie-titles are there.
The new X-Com has a lot more in common with the old series than you give it credit for, I've seen the gameplay videos. Theres squad-management, research, side-missions, hotspots, and even a Fallout-style active pause, with the action points of the old game replaced by Time Units. So, what isn't X-Com about it? It's an FPS now? So what? Good on them I say, for trying something new, but haters are going to hate, no matter what.
In closing, I'd like to urge you to let go of your childhood memories. That's all they are, memories, they are stopping you from experiencing some great innovations in the industry. They're turning you into the very old bastards we used to mock as children. Those adults who couldn't keep up with the times, we insulted them when we were young... and now, you're one of them. Just play video games, man, and enjoy 'em for all they're worth. As my favorite gunslinger says, "Peace and love!" So peace out, buddies, and lets look forward to the next big thing!
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