State of the Game: Evolution or De-Evolution of Games Part II

As we left off previously, Kickstarter has opened a new avenue previously unattainable by your average gamer. Obsidian Entertainment, announced in 2012 that it wanted to do a Baldur’s Gate/Icewind Dale type of spiritual successor. Did big publishing houses want this? No, gamers did, 700,000 of them fervently did. These fans raised millions and Obsidian releaseds Pillars of Eternity, much to the delight of the those 700,000+ gamers who were asking for it, and more. It’s an old school game on the surface with all several advances in graphics comparable to the advances you’d expect in a 2015 game. Result? A highly rated, critically acclaimed game that many gamers have enjoyed (and are expecting a big expansion pack releasing in the coming months). Why did it take so long to come around full circle?

The following 80 hours of awesome was brought to you by 700,000 gamers, because we know...
The following 80 hours of awesome was brought to you by 700,000 gamers, because we know…

Larian Studios announced back in 2012 it too wanted to do a throwback style isometric RPG, it begins a Kickstarter campaign that raises a million dollars, result? 500,000 copies sold in two months, their highest selling PC game. So much popularity and enhanced edition with a fleshed out story and other elements they wanted to add but their Publisher held them back is coming. FREE to those who already bought the game, and expanded for release PS4/Xbox One gamers. Divinity Original Sin comes onto the scene with superb captivating graphics, an ingenious turn based combat system, impressive effects and more – but it’s still your traditional mid 90s isometric role playing game. Is the genre dead? Not at all. Just ignored.

56. That's the number of underpants I soiled due to getting surprise choked by some crafty spy playing mind games with us.
56. That’s the number of underpants I soiled due to getting surprise choked by some crafty spy playing mind games with us.

Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow introduced something absolutely genius, asymmetrical multiplayer Spy versus Merc mode to the stealth action game genre. Now many gamers are familiar with this mode, but Ubisoft has always failed to recapture the magic of the first version of this (while they attempted to return to basics with Blacklist and did a good job it was still missing various key elements). SvM mode was something so thrilling we would stay up until 2-3am playing at times, wake up the next day with a Spinter Cell map editor up, drawing lines on the levels (must have gotten this idea from the old Rainbow Six games) for our strategies the next time we played. See once a game has you discussing possibilities and strategies with friends even when you are not playing, said game has transcended from mere game to “an experience” in my book, one that produces hundreds of fond memories I can recall at any given moment. Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow’s original SvM mode provided communication between the two mercs, and the two spies, with each other respectively, but not cross communication with the enemies EXCEPT with gadgets. Gadgets that provided false audio clues for the mercenaries having them chase noise ghosts all match. You could use something called a “spy bullet” that if you shot a merc you would be able to hear his communication until he died. Again seemingly small, but so many matches were won by hysterically outwitting enemy mercenaries and baiting the conversation they were already having “I think they’re in the warehouse!” … Well okay, let me make some noise near the warehouse, while my partner takes out our objective. Mercs also had numerous traps that would just leave you feeling absurdly stupid for falling into them, making merc trap placement and map knowledge a MUST but provided a satisfying experience when YOUR plan worked. It’s about the experience.

 

Shoot. Shoot. Shoot. Grenade. Get a shotgun. Shoot. Shoot. Shoot. During a time where every single shooter was the same thing, run up, shoot guys in the face, run more, Valve incorporated a Quake mod into its multiplayer fold, that game was called Team Fortress Classic. TFC started a revolution in thinking that fed TFCs popularity for over 15 years. It was more than just a shooter, even though all you really do is shoot and run and shoot more, sort of. This was game that for the first time introduced class based team warfare with an emphasis on more than just twitch reflexes. Who doesn’t remember spending 200 hours on 2_Fort capturing flags and trying to foil enemies from taking yours? Breaking your friends/teammates into the right balance of classes. The right number of engineers, pyros, and heavies to defend, and spies, snipers, scouts, and soldiers for the offensive? What about those great maps like The_Rock where you could release a gas that kills all the enemies as its main objective? Breaking into defenders with turret laying engineers, det. pack and explosive expert demomen holding down the map while soldiers, scouts, and heavies tried to vie control of the main yard. These maps had some real style and design. I remember getting online with a pack of friends laying out strategies for our “prison attack” like something out of the Dirty Dozen. The satisfying laughter and “Oh hell yeah” when we won. Luckily Valve kept TFC going with TF2, but there is still some serious elements missing in TF2 but not much, TF2 is still a great experience, and it is still going strong as the baseline team multiplayer game PC gamers go to. It’s not Call of Duty. It’s TF2.

While TF2 has great art design and balance compared to TFC, it would be interesting to see if Valve can deepen classes, gameplay, and map designs, someday
While TF2 has great art design and balance compared to TFC, it would be interesting to see if Valve can deepen classes, gameplay, and map designs, someday

Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas are also highly popular, since their inception with DOTA, they have gained quite a following. They feature the same concepts TFC players are familiar with, you need the right balance of classes and actions to make your team shine. You need to manage “something” on your online match either by yourself, or with teammates.

Alongside with managing global lanes, there are side objectives that if gained help your teams’ cause. Additionally every kill or death improves your team’s monetary powers or weakens it. Those that do not subscribe to the team-first mentality become known as feeders, and are laughed out of the game much to the dismay of many a gamer parent who had such high hopes for little Timmy and a successful e-Sports champion ship career.

Gone is the classic top down static click-only gameplay in traditional MOBAs, in HiRez's Smite game strategy is blended with third person action, and heavy emphasis on team coordination for a new feel
Gone is the classic top down static click-only gameplay in traditional MOBAs, in HiRez’s Smite game strategy is blended with third person action, and heavy emphasis on team coordination for a new feel

However, since DOTA, there have been few changes to the same tried and true formula of minions in a lane and pushing towers. MOBAs are already falling into the same tried and proven rut. There are a few exceptions however like HiRez’s Smite that combines the perspective of third person action games that narrows your view of the field, emphasis skill shots, and throws in non-MOBA traditional modes to keep things interesting. Other future MOBAs like the upcoming Gigantic threaten to push the genre into new avenues. However, because of the popularity of League of Legends and DOTA2 and they pull they currently have amongst gamers, it is safe to worry and wonder if MOBAs will stay status quo for too long, or if they will dare to expand and innovate to keep gamers enticed and engaged.

Pixel Piracy may look like a classic NES Game, but it’s a recent release indie throwback game, also a Steam best seller

Pixel Piracy may look like a classic NES Game, but it’s a recent release indie throwback game, also a Steam best seller

In the last few years, so many PC games have been released based on “pixel graphics” a throwback to old era gaming, it has become a noticeable resurgence. It’s even a tag on the Steam store with hundreds of games in this style. Why? Mixed with some of these pixelated games, comes mixed in some of the witty writing, humorous moments, or intricate story lines of old. These indie game companies remember something, something that’s been missing in the big name game titles like Watch Dogs, Call of Duty Advanced Something Or Other, and Madden 20Samething. Gamers are screaming to companies “I don’t need fancy graphics, I need a great experience” over and over again. It’s dripping from the virtual online store shelves and oozing in your face and everyone acknowledges it, but where is it?

 

Where does that leave the state of our games in the present? Unknown. I see on the horizon games like Metal Gear poised to combine sandbox and stealth into a living world something my colleagues and I at GWTW discussed years ago at the release of Splinter Cell Chaos Theory, as perhaps a deep engaging experience. I wondered if Ubisoft’s The Division would transcend into the realm of life sucking mind altering experience, but multiple delays, and a track record of steadily ruining their credibility and exchanging depth for explosions, strategy for faster button mashing, has me concerned. Case and point: The lifeless Watch Dogs, and the current way they are urinating on the rotten corpse that is Assassin’s Creed, and you can’t even keep Michael Ironside as Sam Fisher oh come on! Ubisoft is currently pioneering the dumbed down games market which is alarming since they were once one of the most innovative companies until well, things got dumb.

We have seen all kinds of stealth games, and all kinds of sandbox third person shooters. But FoxEngine, and Hideo Kojima are poised to shake the poop out of your socks with Metal Gear Phantom Pain and Ground Zeroes by combining both genres into one, with intelligent submissions, and rewarding exploration, and a myriad of approach options
We have seen all kinds of stealth games, and all kinds of sandbox third person shooters. But FoxEngine, and Hideo Kojima are poised to shake the poop out of your socks with Metal Gear Phantom Pain and Ground Zeroes by combining both genres into one, with intelligent submissions, and rewarding exploration, and a myriad of approach options

I watch as Neocore Games releases little gems that combined their tried and true isometric view hack and slash action games with tower defense in Deathtrap, and smile. I see games like Divinity and Pillars taking off and hoping beloved series like Skyrim and Fallout perhaps opting for a deeper much more intricate experience than a focus on free-roaming game, but that’s a hope, nothing concrete has formed, but the proof is THERE, gamers haven’t changed. Publishers have. Developers have. They have become convinced that gamers want only a quick fix, splashy graphics, booming soundtrack game in their face for $60 a pop (I’m looking at you console gamers).

This is the best little game no one's playing right now. Deathtrap. Get it. Nao.
This is the best little game no one’s playing right now. Deathtrap. Get it. Nao.

Yes quick fix games are fun, and needed, yes graphics are awesome to look at, but companies are so wrong with their approach to what gamers REALLY want. What are you focusing your development time on? Making smoke, smokier (thanks Batman)? Making shadows, shadowier? Depth. Gameplay. Strategy. Intelligent Design. Clever AI. Multiplayer complexity. These are things that lift a game from something you mash and never think of to something you talk about over and over again with fellow game loving friends. Those are the titles you blog about endlessly.

Damnit Ubisoft, please don't suck, please don't suck, please don't suck...
Damnit Ubisoft, please don’t suck, please don’t suck, please don’t suck…

Those are the stories that live in your mind. This current game resurgence, has given me hope that someone with bigger resources can craft the game we’ve all been dreaming off together. That drop games on our heads like Valve dropped Half Life 2 on the world, a game people STILL play, and its numerous Source Engine spinoffs are feverishly played by HUNDREDS of thousands of people still (TF2, Portal, Garry’s Mod, and Counter Strike I’m looking at you). That companies like Ubisoft and EA stop stripping games down to “cool moments monsieur” and focus on a complete “great experience” in their titles. Meanwhile pioneer companies like Valve and CD Projekt Red build on their game sale success with game distribution platforms, have not only lifted PC sales from the gutter but also ensured a link to the past, by maintaining and keeping ancient but legendary games from defunct publishers playable into the present, while advancing the spotlight to indie games, alternate games, movies about games, better PC hardware, and more. Companies like these know their roots and have managed to tie together the past, with the present, while heralding the future to showcase the largest game library of any platform on Earth (what’s backwards compatibility mean to a PC gamer anyway?). While this might not be “new”, or pushing the genre to new heights, there’s no denying that their approach to the game world has kept ALL games interesting, relevant, and almost like a constant never ending treasure hunt for gems of any nature, and in this game sphere smaller developers and indie game houses have room to be ingenious, and develop the kinds of games the could redefine genres and innovate repetitive game design tactics for another ten years.

GOG Galaxy and Steam continue to push PC game sales into the stratosphere, while maintaining a constant link to the legendary games of old
GOG Galaxy and Steam continue to push PC game sales into the stratosphere, while maintaining a constant link to the legendary games of old

This is where we are today. The hardware in most PCs these days is not being taxed. PC gaming is poised to enter another “golden age” of fandom and revolutionary experiences thanks to wide adoption, and high scalability of present games. So what will game developers do next? What are they going to push for in their next game? I don’t mean in games making a gun looking gunlier, I am talking about designing worlds that destroy the nostalgic days of gaming. Eliminate the tried and overdone, and experiment with cross genre mechanics, game scales that never existed before, AI that truly feels like AI and not robotic McDonald’s burger flipping drones, I am talkign about creating experiences that define this generation of gaming like the ones that shaped mine.