Friday, May 26, 2017

Needs More

Having watched some gameplay footage for the upcoming Middle-earth: Shadow of War, I've been pondering over the large number of video game developers who push their concepts out half-baked and, due to poor profit margins, never get the chance to improve on their ideas with a sequel.  I'm not just talking about buggy launch titles or the whole early access scene.  What I really mean is games that straight up need more to them.  Let me see if I can explain a bit further by picking out a few examples from this console generation.

Event[0], if you're not familiar with it, is a first-person adventure game in which you spend the majority of your time interacting with a computer A.I. via text inputs.  The two of you are stranded on a starship drifting aimlessly around Europa.  Over the course of the game it becomes apparent that the crew are all dead or gone, but, as a climatic ending twist, it turns out that one member of the crew uploaded their consciousness into the computer system and is constantly vying with the A.I. for control of the ship.  Throughout the game this dueling of personalities doesn't come to light except in the form of odd little glitches in the A.I.'s behavior.  Too me, it feels like a lost opportunity to inject some real tension into the game.  The player could be put on the spot as they try to unravel the mystery of what happened by forcing them to work with, and compromise between these two competing entities (a "friend triangle" if you will).  There could have been all kinds of tension, deception and outright lies going on, as well as a hefty dose of HAL9000 style paranoia.  Alas, what we ended up with was basically Dr. Sbaitso with better graphics and bit more story.
Another example is the Order 1886.  Critics have rightfully panned this game for it's relatively short playtime, bland cover-based shooting, and bog-standard (not to mention highly anachronistic) weaponry.  Where they really dropped the ball though is in the story department.  The setting allowed for an a lot of interesting possibilities, or at the very least some tongue-in-cheek humor.  Instead, we have a jumbled mess of inconsistencies, nonsense, and plot holes conveyed with the utmost severity - nowhere does anyone smile, or even try to crack a joke.  Ostensibly, the titular Order exists to fight the threat of werewolves (and possibly vampires), but aside from two quicktime event boss battles (the second of which is pretty much an exact repeat of the first) we shoot it out against a bunch of ordinary people packing guns.  Maybe if the game had more adventure elements, or some puzzles, it would have elevated itself above a glorified Gears of War copycat tech demo.

Last up is a double shot, or rather two games which individually are not good, but combined together might have been something special.  Specifically, I'm talking about No Man's Sky and Mass Effect: Andromeda.  The former has a severe deficit of story and player motivation, while the latter boasts it has a whole new galaxy to explore, but only allows the player to land on an handful of worlds.  If these two teams had been folded into one project they might have complemented each other.  The No Man's Sky team would have brought the breadth, while the Mass Effect team would have provided the depth.  As is, both lack what the other has...well, aside from a capable animation team..both were kind of lacking in that particular department...then again so is the Farm Simulator series...

A good perspective to take during the pre-production phase for any video game dev team would be from a place of interactivity.  If the answer to the question, "what do you do?" is ultimately "not much," then I think it would be wise to reconsider the approach.  After all if there isn't a lot of meaningful input from the player then why not just turn the game into a novel or movie instead?

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