So with the recent announcement that Microsoft isn’t selling enough X-Box Ones, er… I mean that X-Box One will have backward compatibility with 360 games, I decided that maybe it was finally time to buy one. Then I realized the bulk of the games I am playing right now are old-school games, or indie titles designed to look and feel like old-school ones. I do play a few current gen titles but they’re nothing revolutionary, a couple MMO’s and first-person shooters.
I find myself more excited by don’t-call-it-a-Mega-Man-reboot “Mighty No. 9” than anything else on the horizon. Don’t get me wrong, the new Batman looks great and I played the first two to 100% more than once, I can’t wait for the new Halo, I’m pretty excited about the announcement of Gears of War 4 and there’s a couple other future titles that really are next-gen that sound interesting. Still, I can’t help but notice that I get more enjoyment out of old, or old-school, games than I do most modern stuff. I just bought a Moga Bluetooth controller for my cell phone so I can play my 8 and 16 bit emulators. I’m currently engaged in a couple of dream projects, an ongoing hack of a SNES game and using Game Maker to build the Super Nintendo game I always wanted to play.
I recently made the comment on Facebook that I have no more interest in new games, regardless of the amazing new technology and what it’s capable of. I love epic shooters and action RPG’s and hack’n’slash games as much as the next guy, but excluding the recent stuff from FROM Software it just doesn’t feel like they’re doing anything new and interesting, they’re just making them look better. Perhaps I am wrong. The PC title Elite Dangerous and the upcoming PS4 game “No Man’s Sky” are using the massive output and memory of modern machines to make giant universes that you can inhabit and travel through and do just about anything you want, but it doesn’t feel like the same is being applied to other game types.
A recent Cracked.com article explained why Nintendo’s new “Splatoon” was such a great leap forward for shooters by describing how the game is able to expand what they can be by eschewing what games like Halo an Call of Duty focus on. This is all fine and dandy but as an adult who has particular tastes, a cartoony, paintball shooting game on a Nintendo system is about as far from what I’m looking to spend my money on as I can get. Just to be clear, it isn’t strictly the cartoony aspect, it’s not even the Nintendo aspect that turn me off of the game, it’s the fact that it is on a system that I will likely never own by a company that is still resistant to embracing online play. Aimed at me, my audience, or not, they missed me.
Recently there does seem to be a push to make shooters that truly do innovate. Valve’s Evolve pits four “normal” people against a single, overpowered individual. Epic’s next entry, Fortnite, looks to try and take shooters into the sandbox-survival realm but I’m talking about trying to use the amazing processing power of modern machines to give me a truly new experience. Still, I can’t help but think there is a sort of wall that giant corporate development companies have hit.
Judging by the stuff the indie market is currently producing, I’m probably not alone. A recent Steam purchase of mine was an RPG-esque title called “Evoland” that essentially walks you through the evolution of the genre from the days of the original desktop PC’s to today; each completed “quest” grants you a new feature, starting with things like color graphics and chiptune music, but eventually the game transforms from SNES to PlayStation 1 and beyond. It wasn’t a very deep experience but it was certainly memorable. On the reverse of that you have titles like Guacamelee and Oniken. The first is an obvious labor of love by the developers, an homage to 8 bit and 16 bit classics like Mega Man and Metroid, going so far to reference both titles directly through art and other assets, with a unique sense of humor and visual style that would only be possible on a system post the PlayStation at the very least. The second looks like an NES title that got lost on the way to Service Merchandise and instead got spit out by Steam 25 years later, this one a love-letter to run’n’gun shooters like Contra and Metal Slug and easily as hard. In fact, just go onto the Steam website and search “retro” if you really want to see the amount of old-school inspired titles. For me, what makes these titles even better is that the best of them do with their respective genres what it feels like the big boy developers should have done.
What I mean is these games feel like NES or SNES titles, but with minor innovations to gameplay that enhance the experience. Most of the time these features also feel very natural, almost obvious in their usefulness, the kinds of adjustments that make you say, “This is exactly what [Game Title] needed!” I could elaborate but the features themselves isn’t the point, it’s what they represent. They represent the intent of the indie developer himself/herself/themselves in that it’s obvious these people played video games back in the day and today and put a great deal of time and thought into their project. My favorite franchise from the last generation was the Darksiders games. While neither title in the series was incredibly original, it was what they represented that made them so excellent, to me. The first game basically gave us a Legend of Zelda game built with modern tools for modern machines, but it was the additional features that set it apart. While combat in every Legend of Zelda game consists of basic melee and ranged fighting mechanics, Darksiders protagonist was an expert combatant with multiple melee and ranged weapons. This made the combat just as deep as the puzzle solving mechanic, where combat in LoZ is typically just an obstruction that separates dungeons/puzzles. The makers were clearly LoZ fans too since many Darksiders’ weapons were nearly identical in functionality. The sequel took the giant world that opens up to you as your abilities grow and added the item and leveling system of an RPG. So just like in Elder Scrolls or Diablo where you’re continually obtaining items by random drops, you might receive a melee weapon with two more attacking power than the you have, or a helmet that protects better against ice and you are free to craft the protagonist that fits your play style, while still giving you access to the deep, skill-based combat and environmental puzzles of the first game. Additionally, the boss fights in both games excelled at encouraging the player to use both skill and savvy to defeat them, in the same way LoZ often did.
However, to my main point and the title of this entry, I find that regardless of how interesting any game is today, I find myself needing to play them dwindling. When I have the time and if they are available I will play them, but anymore I’m just as inclined to fill my free time with my kids, my wife, chores or other hobbies like reading and writing. I actually enjoy spending my time on making my yard a place the family wants to spend time or basic maintenance on my cars. I actually love assembling things, whether it’s my kids toys or build-it-yourself furniture. I love it so much that my wife has actually gone out of her way when she needs a particular item to find something that I can assemble over an already assembled product. On a side note, if you live near me and need something assembled, I’ll do it for you at very little cost to you, probably just a sugary, caffeinated beverage. When I do finally sit down to play a game, I have so many to choose from I spend a few minutes just trying to decide what I’m in the mood for, but if my son’s around I often end up playing Disney Infinity or a Lego game. Both of which, by the way, are probably some of the more innovative titles of recent memory, regardless of the fact that Infinity is an obvious cash grab, and if you didn’t know already Lego will be getting into very soon too with their very own game that uses physical, real-world figurines to affect the digital space, the difference being you assemble these yourself.
What I’m trying to say is that once, about 16 years ago, my dad told me that I would grow out of videogames, to which I responded, quietly so as to not actually let him hear me, that was very unlikely. On one hand, I think he might actually have been correct, although I figure it’s about 16 years later than he would have liked. On the other, I wonder if, and I’m sure I have plenty of friends who would probably agree, it’s simply a matter of prioritization. Here’s the thing, not that long ago I had a discussion with my dad about some things that I had learned and used to better myself through seeing a therapist twice a month. He explained to me that what I thought to be pretty big breakthroughs for myself and how I interact with people in my life he said was just “growing up” and signs of “maturity.” To him, they seemed like obvious lessons one learns in this life and more specifically things he felt as though he had imparted to me as he raised me. I asked him in return, “If that’s the case Dad, then why did it take medication and a therapist for me to figure them out.” He had no response though I actually do know the answer, it is irrelevant now. My dad likes some videogames, he used to play Commodore 64 games with us, back when game mechanics were nothing deeper than could be played with eight directions and a single button, and I know he had said he always liked Missile Command. Today he plays Angry Birds on the Roku box my parents use for Netflix. I know that his interest in these games is a pretty straightforward one, in each game the ultimate goal is simply the highest score possible, achieved by the most basic of in-game mechanics. What I find is that while the games I enjoy the most are still more complex than aiming and firing ICBM’s or avian BB’s, the enjoyment I get is also from the achievement of the highest score possible.
Which brings me back around to the three games mentioned above that I played the most, the Batman games (by Rocksteady only) and Darksiders. The challenge mode of the Batman games and the endless Crucible mode of Darksiders is about the most pure expression of the combat systems in both titles, and the ultimate goal is simply the highest score possible, achieved by executing the most complex of maneuvers with the least amont of interruption, yielding the greatest possible return. So I wonder, again, have I grown out of videogames or have my priorities changed? Maybe it’s both. Perhaps I’ve come to realize that videogames were just practice for the biggest game of all. What is almost everyone’s goal in life? I believe that working for a paycheck while continually striving to better myself along the way, progressing higher and higher in terms of responsibility and compensation could very easily be described as “executing the most complex of maneuvers with the least amount of interruption, yielding the best return.”