The opening thought I’m going with for this article might be considered a little odd, but, I’m going to run it by you anyway to see what you make of it.
“The video game universe, as it has expanded and grown, has equally become a smaller place to explore.”
I warned you it was a slightly odd premise. But hear me out. Much like the world we live in, from the explorer’s perspective, this globe of land and sea has become a smaller place to dwell. The far reaches of the planet have been walked by mankind, the wilds are now tourist spots, off the beaten track is now a main road with a Burger King, and for the explorer the opportunity to venture into the unknown is getting slimmer by the day. And this, I believe, is being paralleled in our video games.
Back in the early days of the video game the genius creative minds had a vast expanse of unexplored digital wilderness before them. They weren’t already pre-tuned to what a game could or should be, they were free to roam unshackled, free to explore and free to experiment. With limited hardware they began to take the first steps on the long road to what we know today. The first platformers, first shoot-em-ups, first hack and slashers, top downers, isometrics, side scrollers, all these entered our consciousness. At every new turn there was a surprise to welcome the avid gamer keen to take the next step alongside the programmer. Despite the shortcomings of the hardware, it was a hell of a time to be alive.
And now we fast forward right up to modern day video gaming, and much like the shrinking nature of the planet, video games seem to be losing the ability to surprise us anymore.
There’s little we haven’t already seen and done, and few games offer a new take on playing. Much like the movies, we now get new stories to get lost in, but by and large they are built from the same foundations of so many games before them. These titles still have the power to enthral us and amaze us with looks, emotion driven storylines and crisp playability of course, and I love them for that, but I can’t remember the last time I found myself gaping in wonderful surprise at an approach a game was taking.
My personal favourites from the last few years have been the Telltale episodic series of games, in particular, The Walking Dead. Here we had games taking emotional play to entirely new levels and writing talent that I’ve yet to see bettered, but, nothing in the gameplay had me thinking, “Wow, that’s new!” It harks back to the inferior, Heavy Rain, that harks back to the superb, Fahrenheit. It’s basically a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ genre of its own and as wonderful as it is, this continued direction of choice by Telltale and others now alongside them, such as Square’s, Life is Strange, is quickly making it another over saturated genre.
It has me wondering have we already seen everything video games have to offer? Does the future simply hold new storylines woven into the fabric of old clothing? Or, god forbid, a continued rise in the latest habit of remastering old games.
One issue for me is that within the framework of a genre, most developers seem unable, or perhaps unwilling when so much is financially on the line, to break away from what is expected of the genre. As much as I enjoyed The Division beta it wasn’t anything particularly new. Open worlds sounded incredible before they arrived but now they generally deliver very, very similar experiences to one another. Change of character, change of scenery, same old gameplay, same old fetch and carry routines. And repeat for each genre. FPS is a particular repeat offender to the point where although I’ve avoided all contact with the new Doom game, I can pretty much imagine the experience in my head note for note.
Perhaps I’m just missing the little slices of surprise and genius that still inhabit the gaming world, maybe the triple A and well promoted titles have blinded me to the little guys still trying to push boundaries. I hope so, and I hope to stumble upon them soon if only to remind myself that gaming can still innovate and inspire.
But what do you think, is it time to accept that games creation has plateaued and the future is simply about enjoying the new stories and similar gameplay? Or, is innovation still alive and kicking? I’d love to hear your thoughts on why our beloved industry is either creating or stagnating.