Category: Staff Musings
I can’t recall the last time I read a game’s instruction manual out of necessity. It’s hard to remember that there once was an era of gaming where rules had to be learned and discussed before playing. Nowadays, titles usually either teach the player within the confines of the game or simply let them learn intuitively.
But there’s always another way to play a game. With strange, seemingly absurd, self-imposed rules, one can transform a well-known game into an entirely different experience.
Unlike modding, where players can physically create and/or modify a game, the action I describe is more metaphysical. Since there is no official word for playing a game with fan-made restrictions and rules, allow me to share some personal stories involving the craft. Below, I’ve listed the titles I’ve played in a unique way that I found challenging and fun.
For all of the bluster and fuss over “high brow” and “low brow” entertainment, books and videogames are not always so different from each other. Both can be vessels for detailed and highly engrossing narratives.
Many great games have drawn from a rich pool of literature, especially those of the East. The four great epics of China from which we have gotten Suikoden, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and the various adaptations of Journey to the West, all owe their inspiration to their famous source material.
In contrast, the Western canon seems like a well left untapped. Often a movie adaptation beats a game to the punch and we get a game that seems more like an afterthought than an actual faithful working of the source material. With that said, it’s high time we look to books if we are to look forward to some better games.
Here are several works from both classical and modern literature that could easily make for some killer titles.
Much like the duality between good and evil itself, gameplay based on moral decisions can either take the light or dark path in terms of its execution.
Though morality choices within games are nothing new, the feature itself seems to be a more modern trope. Series like Fallout, Infamous, and Fable have all advertised their moral choice system as a selling point. At their worst, moral choice systems remain just that: a selling point adhering to a fad.
At its best, the feature meshes with gameplay and challenges the player’s impulses. The best and most interesting problems never have one right way to solve them.
Since the launch of the Compact Disc in 1982, jewel cases and all cases thereafter always had one constant variable: the inserts, including the cover and/or instruction manual would be situated on the left and the disc would sit comfortably on the right.
We’re all used to opening our cases like this. It’s like second nature to us at this point. But then Microsoft decides to throw us for a loop with the Xbox One and revels against this long-standing status-quo.
Open up an Xbox One game case and you will instantly feel alienated. The scene you’re used to seeing has been totally flipped around. The disc now lays on the left side while any instruction manuals, codes or other papers are on the right.
What the hell, Microsoft?
Remember when launch games didn’t suck? The glorious days of Super Mario 64 and Halo are behind us and we’re left with a couple of good-but-not-great exclusives and a flood of multiplatform titles.
Heck, the SNES launched with Super Mario World, Pilotwings and even F-Zero. What happened to quality launches like that? Honestly, they’re probably gone forever but the reasons are hard to argue with.
The modern state of the gaming industry certainly takes part of the blame. As the money at stake piles up, the primary focus for most studios has shifted from creating a great game to creating a game that sells well. Sure bets like sequels have become the gold standard and innovation is largely left to the indie developers.
For the sake of everything we love, I think it’s time for something new.
A common critique of modern gaming deals with the absurd number of sequels that occupy today’s market. Almost every highly anticipated title is, in some way, related to a pre-existing franchise. There are direct sequels, sequels to sequels, remakes and reboots as far as the eye can see. Many series have stopped numbering their games altogether just to simply to avoid the embarrassment of releasing a title like Final Fantasy XIII-2.
Why now, when technology is at its finest and videogames are closer than ever to finding their artistic place in everyday culture, do we as consumers choose to repeat the past instead of moving forward? There are plenty of good sequels and franchises that are still going strong, but must we milk everything dry until every franchise resembles modern day Sonic?
This addition might sound like a no-brainer, but Nintendo has been a few steps behind on the whole online multiplayer scene. The company seems to be in favor of having players interact directly in person. One can see this just from the amount of StreetPass and friend code features on the 3DS.
I’m also in favor of direct interaction. My fondest memories of gaming are usually with a group of friends. Sometimes, however, it seems that Nintendo is so anti-competitive gaming that it eschews some online features that have come to be token in our modern era of gaming. I think of Super Smash Bros. Brawl and the disappointing lack of online leaderboards. While there were also many technical issues with that game’s online multiplayer, the absence of online rankings took some incentive away from even attempting to bother with it.
And this brings me to my point: if a game has competitive online multiplayer, it should always have some form of ranking system.
Now keep in mind, I am by no definition an intensely competitive player. With most games I usually fall into a no-man’s land of moderate skill. Still, even though most pro players ruin me, I enjoy seeing how I rank amongst the rest of the community. Even if I do nothing with the information, there is an unconscious benefit from it. You might not do anything with the coins from Super Mario Bros. but the game would feel emptier without that counter up on the top part of the screen.
The strange, cerebral joy I get from going up a rank in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 or simply seeing that I have the most success with Heavy in Team Fortress 2 is important to the overall experience of those games. Thankfully, X and Y have finally jumped on that bandwagon. Hopefully the new Super Smash Bros. will also follow suit with its online multiplayer.
After dozens of wrecked ships, and countless fallen crew, I am still playing FTL. But why does my heart continue to break after each failed voyage?
Is it the haunting thump of lasers hitting my soon-to-explode stealth cruiser? Perhaps it’s the sizzling, crunching fires of death plaguing my oxygen chamber? Or maybe it’s the imagined whispers of my Rockman crew-member, named Kevin Fish, floating lifelessly through cold and unloving space?
FTL belongs to a sub-genre of RPGs referred to as a roguelike. In these types of games, the player is usually faced with trudging through a dungeon full of randomly generated content. In addition to this chance-based gameplay, death is made permanent. Fatal Labyrinth for the Sega Genesis comes to mind.
Scary stories have seemingly been around for as long as humans have been able to concoct any sort of tale.
When used in entertainment, fear is often subjective. No more is this apparent than when discussing Japanese horror versus American horror. Why these two countries have come to capitalize on the horror genre is a discussion worth having. Nevertheless, it goes further than just “Americans like jump scares” or “Japanese people like long haired female ghosts.” Since art does not exist in a vacuum, there is are elements between two cultures that criss-cross, something you can see by comparing films like Paranormal Activity and The Ring.
But here is where Japan differs when it comes to scares and gaming. Ever since the early 90s, the visual/sound novel, a type of videogame that integrates music and graphics with narrative text, has been quite popular among Japanese gamers of all ages. Those of you who have played dating sims may be familiar with the genre; it’s basically a digital version of those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books that were popular when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Horror sound novels stand out as one of the most popular staples in that particular game genre.
Sound novels are immensely successful in Japan because they blur the line between gaming and writing, something I’ve talked about when discussing Christine Love’s highly engrossing Digital: A Love Story. If books can be games, a la the aforementioned Choose Your Own Adventure, then maybe the reverse could work out, too. For that to work, however, you’d need the appeal of a challenge.
And what’s more of a challenge than trying to overcome something fearful? Four entries in specific chart the evolution of the genre, from obscure Japanese SNES titles to games popular on the 3DS.
The history of gaming is a road that has been paved with failures (Virtual Boy), left-field success stories (Wii) and properties that have failed to attain the recognition they deserved (Dreamcast).
There have been great, ambitious games, such as Limbo, that have stewed in development hell for ages. And then there are games that catch the public interest only to fade away into obscurity, whether from corporate negligence, development issues or companies that failed to take a risk on their production.
The following is a brief list documenting the rise and fall of six titles that, for all the right reasons, looked incredible from the start and yet never had the chance to get off the ground.