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Posted on Wednesday, July 17 2013 @ 14:14:35 Eastern
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With all this “who ha” about next-gen hardware it seems that one fundamental aspect of gaming is being overlooked…the idea that certain game mechanics will be perfected in the next generation. Wait what, “perfected” game mechanics…what the hell does that mean…can a gaming mechanic be perfect…can perfect be considered relative?
I have been thinking about this for quite some time as the idea of graphical prowess simply doesn’t mean as much to me as a game being fun. Simply put, I understand that PCs are graphical beasts and using a high end PC to play Crysis 3 will put both the graphics of the PS4 and Xbox 1 to shame…this is fact…not arguable. Is a high-end PC going to be priced at $399.99? Nope! I understand that it’s a different beast altogether, but for the sake of seeing graphical potential all you need to do is go to a dedicated gaming café (if you have one in your area) and sample what is to be expected from PS5 and Xbox2 (but now)…so graphics-wise, for me, it is kind of like meh… I am not a PC gamer but I see the graphical potential and accept that I won’t be getting my hands on that level of pretty via console anytime soon. Well what am I left to be excited about?
I am excited about a fundamental aspect of game development that’s been around since the start of the industry the thing that makes you finish that “C”-rated game…that one novel or ideal use of a gaming mechanic that keeps us coming back for more. When we look at reviews, we tend to review the games as a whole yet we can’t help but identify certain features that just had us wanting to play more. For example, the first time I played Batman: Arkham Asylum, I thought the game was great, but the slick new fighting mechanic that I hadn’t experienced prior had me repeatedly going back to the arena mode to see how long of a combo I could string together uninterrupted. That’s what made that game even better in my opinion…a singular aspect.
One way to view this in retrospect is that I looked forward to how the next game in the “series” would push the envelope…man, I can’t wait until the next Batman comes out so that Rocksteady can expand on this mechanic…oh, that next Batman is going to be good one…are they going to add more character types, more combos?…oh the potential. Now, I think a lot of folks play a great game and can’t wait for the next iteration to expand on what made the prior iteration great, but after much thought and consideration, I became more interested in how other developers would tweak and implement this gaming mechanic. I haven’t seen a better version of this specific gaming mechanic yet, but using some alternative examples of recent releases, let’s get a better idea of how I define “perfected” for the purpose of this piece.
I recently played through the new Tomb Raider (TR) to completion, followed immediately thereafter by The Last of Us (TLoU) two great games in their own right. What made TR great to me was that it seemed as though the creators had played Uncharted meets Gears of War (with regard to the feeling that every move has weight to it, darker story, more visceral). Nathan Drake was a sprite fellow with a Disney vibe, while Lara was struggling to take every friggin step. The idea that the designers of TR took the parkour-esque environmental navigation mechanic found in Drake's, reduced it to a more realistic pace with a feeling of weight, and then paired the same type of adventure story with more mature themes made it better than Drake's in my opinion. Nothing novel… simply taking a tried and true mechanic and tweaking it in a way in which to me, became more significant and better executed than the source...which probably borrowed it from Prince of Persia or something.
I hear the outcries of lack of industry innovation but those cries are not coming from my corner…I don’t necessarily need a ton of innovation if you improve upon the things I value most in a specific game…note: I think developers get this…see Call of Duty’s ever increasing multiplayer focus. But it’s not so much how the incumbent uses the mechanic, but I guess the innovation stems from how others use it, rework it, and hopefully perfect it into something special.
TLoU received significant praise yet it wasn’t particularly novel. It reminded me of a more gamer-focused version of Heavy Rain which showed that games can have amazing stories to the level of cinematic quality…but gamers need a bit more interaction than what was given in Heavy Rain to keep them coming back for more, so it became a catalyst for more narrative emphasis by developers. TLoU seemed to find that balance between an engaging story and solid game mechanics…seemed a bit like they reworked “detective” vision introduced by Rocksteady, the weighty feeling and somber mood found in TR, and well those infected reminded of what…wait for it…the industry’s ever popular zombie or a rose by another name in this case "Infected".
One more example before I summarize the point I am trying to make is that the first GTA to let me jump out of a plane with a parachute was novel and fun… AAA titles at their best, but the best parachuting out of a plane mechanic actually came from a rather mediocre game some of you may have heard of: Just Cause 2. It simply added a tether/zipline mechanic to the traditional parachuting mechanic which led to all types of fun! We see the bastardization of some game mechanics (see GTA IV shooting mechanics...could have been so much more but the game as whole makes up for that in the opinion of many) while others in my opinion are perfected. GTA may have created the sandbox but games like Scarface and Mercenaries took that mechanic to another level even in the PS2 days. Of course, the latter iterations of GTA continued to push the envelope and by no means am I saying that Mercenaries or Scarface as a whole was better than GTA but in parts…definitely.
So the point I have been eluding to is that the next-gen hardware is great to get excited about, but the way in which some of our favorite gaming mechanics of this generation are further fleshed out, implemented, and perfected in games to come has me far more excited. GTAV’s character switching reminds me of a perfected and expanded version of Killer 7’s persona switch mechanic. This isn’t a matter of lack of innovation or laziness; it seems to be indicative of the fact that regardless of what studio you work for, the creators and developers are playing the same games we are Xbox, PS, or PC the inspiration comes from the idea not the brand. This point is reiterated by Hideo Kojima's awe but depression associated with his viewing of GTAV first gaming trailer. That story today was inspiring because it speaks directly to the point of what drives his standards and innovations...the ideas and innovations introduced by his peers.
So in conclusion before you get all riled up about which console will sell its first “X” million units, maybe take a moment and think about the last great game you played, what made it great, and how some of your favorite gaming mechanics may be incorporated not only into new IPs but to successor projects. The GTAs, Metal Gears, Halos, and Half-Lifes of the industry have the time and resources necessary to introduce phenomenal new gaming mechanics, but what gets me excited most about the new GTAV gameplay trailer is how others will expand on the aspects that make it great…see Vanquish as an example of another low-mid-level budget game that simply brought together solid game mechanics found in other games to make something that cost a fraction of a AAA title yet still was amazingly slick and fun to play.
Bring on the next gen and then bring on more of what made my favorite games of this generation my favorite. Your launch lineup, sales figures, and social media functionality do not elicit a Pavlovian effect in me, but man, just one solid game that plays like I like and I am drooling with the best of them!
The opinions expressed here does not necessarily reflect the views of Game Revolution, but we believe it's worthy of being featured on our site. This article has been lightly edited for grammar and image inclusion. It has been submitted for our monthly Vox Pop competition. You can find more Vox Pop articles here. ~Ed. Nick