As a lifelong gamer, I’m always interested in seeing what developers have in their hoppers that they’re working on. While I’ll be the last to complain about the overall quantity and quality being put into the marketplace, I do have to say that I am somewhat dismayed when I don’t see more risks being taken. I understand that bills need to be paid and shareholders need to be placated, but are art and innovation being stifled at the hands of profitability?
It’s rare for me to see a completely new concept anymore. Don’t get me wrong, as a writer I’m in firm belief that there aren’t any truly unique concepts left, only artful mashups of things that have come before. Not that it’s a bad thing, mind you. But just as in literature, in my gaming I like to see variety. These days it seems to be all about sequels. If a game is published and receives a warm response and corresponding sales, chances are good that there will be a sequel. Some games are conceptualized in a trilogy type fashion from the outset, so as to have room to grow the mythos of the universe and keep the revenue stream coming in at regular intervals. I’m not against that. If a franchise is good, hell, give me more! I’m crestfallen that within the next year I will see what I believe will be the end of four of my most beloved franchises (in no particular order): Gears of War, Mass Effect, Resistance, and Uncharted.
I think that one of the things about those franchises that drew me to them is that while they might have all followed some sort of trope (which admittedly is nearly inescapable), they broke new ground and barriers in other ways. Gears introduced a cover mechanic and active reload that felt so natural it’s a wonder we didn’t have it 10 years ago. Mass Effect truly made me feel like the interactions I had with plot-important and ancillary NPCs mattered. I also really like the fact that BioWare made me make tough choices — Ashley or Kaidan? Which one will die? As well as giving me problems to solve that aren’t just black and white or that fall along the good/evil spectrum. There were many gray areas, and while I might’ve squirmed a little at some of the decisions/sacrifices that I made, I like that. It’s also important to point out that BioWare is at the forefront of non hetero-normative relationships in their games. Commander Shepard can be a male or female, and have a relationship with a number of crew members, even ones of the same sex. Reading what I have of BioWare and some of the press that’s been generated about the relationship choices in BioWare’s games, it never has occurred to me that they were trying to make a statement. They were simply not bringing in any biases or homophobic attitudes into their games, which allows the player to pursue the character they want. If they even want to pursue anyone, that is. And that’s the way it should be.
Resistance holds a special place for me because even though at its core it is still an FPS, Insomniac put enough care into it that it didn’t feel generic like I was simply playing this year’s iteration of CoD. The concept that World War II never happened because of the Chimera invasion is an intriguing one. That’s a perfect example of taking something that’s not original but completely making it your own. Not to mention that with the Chimeran threat, it opened up some really cool weapon options for the player to use. Uncharted took leaps forward in the action/platforming/adventure genres for sure, but it’s the development of two strong female characters that really drew me in. Both Elena and Chloe truly feel like they’re Drake’s equals, fighting right alongside him rather than playing the typical damsel trope.
I could make this a really long post about how the industry can take more chances and cite a myriad of specific examples, but I won’t. I do want to point out an (IMHO) underrated game that took a chance. Dante’s Inferno. Say what you will about EA’s marketing campaign or that the game is God of War for the 360 crowd (I know it’s also available for the PS3). To me, the fact that a developer took a piece of classic literature and adapted it for gaming is great. Think of the possibilities. Homer’s Odyssey, Ovid’s Metamorphosis, or the Canterbury Tales, just to name three off the top of my head. I don’t have sales or ROI numbers to be able to tell me if Dante’s Inferno made EA or Visceral Games a lot of money, but one thing I do know is that when smart, researched and cultivated innovation happens, we all win.
It’s up to us gamers to show the publishers what we want to see and support the chances that they take when they do take them. Do I want to see people buying crappy games just because they break pre-established tropes? Of course not. But innovation should be applauded and supported. Similarly, good games should be supported regardless of platform or genre. Just because a game is released on a mobile platform doesn’t make it any less significant than one developed for a PC or console.
I also want to encourage fellow gamers at every level to be vocal. Yes, voting with our money is the most prominent way of getting our point across, but with social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook and now Google+, there’s no excuse for not having your voice heard. Even more important than that, if there is a game you want to see made that isn’t being developed by someone else, make it yourself! With the Unreal Engine, the XNA, Cocos2D and Xcode, amazing things can be accomplished with little out of pocket expense and knowledge. YouTube has more tutorials than anyone could possibly watch. Who knows, this might be a way to get yourself noticed and hired into the game industry, should you so desire.
Support innovation, I promise you won’t be disappointed!