Monday, June 11, 2007

Cry-baby Croal?

N'Gai Croal, blogger on Level Up (Newsweek) has posted what comes across as a rather "I don't wanna share my toys" complaint about changes to the computer games market that may follow the outstanding success of the Nintendo Wii console.

His complaint is that computer games publishers will suddenly think there's more money to be made from Wii-mote waggle enabled knock-offs of old games than from the development of "lengthy, in-depth [game] experiences". At the same time, he cites games like Halo, Gears of War and Metroid Prime as examples of those "experiences".

Like N'Gai, I've been playing computer games for many years (my first computer was a Sinclair Spectrum) and I've never come across a game that actually qualifies as "lengthy" or "in-depth". Some games are backed by a story that has more to it than the game (the Myst / Riven / Exile / Revelation / Uru / End of Ages franchise springs to mind), giving rise to fictional depth. Howeve, even the Myst franchise stories are second rate fantasy fiction at best.

As far as I'm concerned, mainstream computer games (especially ones focused on missions and killing beasties) don't make use of the narrative tools to tell a truly deep story. The Prince of Persia games are beginning to show some signs of the depth required, but that's taken four whole games: Prince of Persia 3D, Sands of Time, Warrior Within, and Two Thrones. I'm not counting the first two platformers - they barely had a skeletal character motivation for the principal characters, let alone a full-blown story. The trouble is that the story is only ever played out as cut-scenes between action sequences, and the same goes for every game I can think of. (Of course I haven't played every game out there).

We can look at this in one of two ways:

a) the player's actions are just a vehicle to get from cut-scene to cut-scene; or,
b) the cut-scenes just give reward for completeing the last action sequence, and light-weight motivation for the next.

The latter view appears to be the more common, simply because that involves the player in significant parts of the experience, and so sells more games - if us gamers wanted games that are mostly the first type, then we'd go to the movies!

Back to Mr "I don't wanna share my toys" Croal: welcome to the world of the adventure gamer. Ever since Castle Wolfenstein & Doom started the descent of computer games into the murky world of 3D FPSs (first-person-shooters), the calmer, more considered, more cerebral adventure game genre has taken a hit. And yet, we still have quality, 'lengthy, in-depth' adventure games - within the limitations of my earlier comments, of course.

Thankfully, a number of publishers have continued to see the adventure genre as a revenue source, despite a generation of twitch gamers like Mr Croal. I don't expect this to change anytime soon. Nor do I expect FPS games to suddenly stop selling, or being made, just because a few grannies like to bake cakes on their Wii.

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