Originality In Gaming: An Observation Of The Industry Today

Right now if you were to ask me which game I thought would win game of the year 2010 my response would probably be a sequel of some kind. Things have become quite banal in games as of late. Personally, it seems like we just see one big shooter after another, with various tidbits of unique titles here and there. It’s the middle of July, meaning there are less days left in 2010 than there are days that have gone by. What fresh noteworthy game has come this year? As difficult as it might be, try to limit your response to non-sequel games also. You may find that the pickings are quite slim. For perspective, let’s reflect on what made 2009 a great year in gaming and explore whether or not there is still hope for the rest of this year.

Thrilling RTS Plants Vs Zombies was praised for its’ rock solid RTS mechanics. Vast RPG-FPS hybrid Borderlands debuted to commercial and critical success. Action/Adventure effort inFAMOUS established itself firmly as a strong new IP. Bioware’s newest RPG Dragon Age: Origins pleased fans of the genre immensely and the greatest platformer ever reinvented itself with New Super Mario Bros. Wii. The list goes on…

The Batman game Arkham Asylum that shocked everyone by delivering quality game play, the downloadable title Braid that won over critics everywhere, the PSN title flower that reached a new precedent in interactive entertainment are all examples of how original things were last year. Of course there was the surplus of high quality sequels: Assassins Creed 2, Street Fighter IV, Uncharted 2, but they did little to outshine the newcomers. All things considered 2009 was, in a way, the year of the new, the sleeper hit, the uncharted (no pun intended).

Fast forward to now, when two of the most hyped games of the year are the sixth Halo title and the seventh Call of Duty game. The fact that both of these are first person shooters helps further my point. There is also the anticipated FPS Killzone 3. Taking the same reflective look back at the past six and a half months is actually a little depressing. Not to imply, however, that there haven’t been a few noteworthy efforts.

The widely praised Bayonetta and Zelda inspired adventure title Darksiders make up two highlights. Interactive drama Heavy Rain attracted plenty of attention with its dedication to storytelling. The much hyped and overall disappointing Alan Wake made gamers wait five years for a rather flawed venture. The lauded Red Dead Redemption and much less than perfect Blur seem to make up the rest of this year’s unique games. Subpar shooters MAG and Section 8 cram even more monotony into the shooting genre while falling short to add all they were expected to contribute to the diluted design style.

So now we come to the sequels and our options multiply. God of War 3 is a contender for game of the year. Battlefield Bad Company 2 delivered FPS mechanics with a focus on team play. Skate 3 is considered a rather poor example of the skateboarding genre. Bioshock 2 failed before it could succeed, touting the name of its universally acclaimed prequel. Lost Planet 2 has been the target of many acidic opinions, most criticism aimed at its distinct focus on multi-player.

Mass Effect 2 makes up another GOTY contender. Sequels Crackdown 2, Puzzle Quest 2 and Ninety Nine Nights 2 appeal exclusively to fans of their original installations.  Just Cause 2 offers fresh sandbox game play and Iron Man 2 is quickly becoming one of the worst reviewed games of the year.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11, NCAA Football 11 and UFC Undisputed 2010 give players more of what they’ve become accustomed to with only slight improvements. Red Steel 2 and Sin and Punishment 2 help fill out the Wii’s sequels. Let’s not forget Super Mario Galaxy 2, yet another GOTY contender. Fans have been very excited about Fable 3 and Dead Space 2, which are planned for this year as well. Recent footage reveals Mortal Kombat 9. Will it be slated for this year also?

This month we will see the release of the long awaited StarCraft II and BlazBlue: Continuum Shift, sequel to last year’s fighting masterpiece. So what gives with all these part twos, threes, fours, fives, nines, thirteens, etcetera? At this point in the year, it wouldn’t be unfair to dub 2010 the “Year of the Sequels”.

Coming back to the first point, originality in games today, I would have to say things are not looking up. There is however, certainly hope for a 180. An epic turn of events that would permit us to say one year from now that the first half of 2010 was just sequels but that things really heated up after the second quarter. Here are a few of the reasons I haven’t lost faith in this year:

1.) The Tokyo Game Show: even though games that debut at TGS normally drop later in the States than in Japan, the event is exciting nonetheless. Huge publishers/developers like Square Enix, Namco Bandai, Capcom and even Nintendo keep aces up their sleeves for this industry event. Last year, we saw the reveal of Bayonetta, game-play from the still unreleased Gran Turismo 5, details on the coveted Dead Rising 2 and sought after footage from Final Fantasy XIII. While E3 may have been disappointing to some in its own right, TGS gives developers a redemption shot.

2.) Motion Gaming 2.0: You knew I was going to say something about them; the new casual gaming peripherals that are all the rage, Move and Kinect. While I know little has been revealed for these new platforms, they bring with them the promise of a myriad of new gaming opportunities. Child of Eden for Kinect looks more original than any game I’ve seen recently, and Sorcery for the Move looks to tread new ground as well. Things will only improve; I am really excited to see what we’ll get for these in the second half of the year as well as 2011. I stand with the majority who believe there will be almost exclusively shovel-ware available at launch. However, with the arrival of the holiday season (see below) there is even more hope for the new add-ons.

3.) The Holiday Season: While most games that drop in the final quarter of the year have been announced before that time, there have been exceptions to this in the past. While its coming had been foretold, not much was said of 2009’s biggest game until the holiday season. I am referring of course, to Modern Warfare 2, which came from out of nowhere to compete with Uncharted 2 as the very best title of last year. It is arguable that the highest quality titles are put on standby until we enter quarter 4, and if the last few years are any indication, we have more ahead of us than behind us.

4.) Codename: KINGDOMS: Yes, I’m referring to the game revealed during the Xbox 360 conference at E3. It is exciting because of both how much and how little we know about it. We know that it will utilize the Crytek graphics engine and is supposedly a 360 exclusive. We don’t know…anything else about it, but there’s a solid chance that it will come out this year, which is even more exciting. The short teaser trailer revealed very little about it, but the unknown is always promising.

5.)    Vanquish: I have been calling Vanquish the TPS to end all TPSs. The ambience, the ambition, the prospect of a single player shooting game, the legendary lineage, the iron core development (past works include Bayonetta, which I’ll speak on in a moment) everything about the game is exciting. It looks to separate itself from the droves of shooting games available, and that’s a task I have to see to believe. In the sheer attempt they deserve an A for effort. This game exemplifies creativity in every frame I have seen of it. Without a doubt, Vanquish is one of the reasons there is still innovation to be found in gaming and I am thoroughly excited about it.

Hence, this year may not have brought many spectacular games yet (some, but not many) but it is certainly not too late to see this change. I hope to be pleasantly surprised by game releases for the rest of this year. Creativity is a waning element in video games today and the culprit is profit. Well known franchises and the concept of an endless series are best bets in the business of gaming. In this aspect, things are only going to get worse. With men like Bobby Kotick standing at the forefront of the industry, one really has to wonder, who will become the general demographic? Will the core, tried and true gamers be an afterthought in the tidal wave of franchise and sequel releases? Will we trade places with the casual gamer as the overt focus of the industry? It doesn’t seem too farfetched at this point. Why else would we see over a dozen major sequel and remake releases in only six months with tons to come? The art side of this industry is clearly in danger.

In spite of this, I don’t think that creativity in games will recede any further. There are still passionate developers like the famed Hideo Kojima working to create excellent games. We see so many shooters because they sell, and the reverse can be said about any kind of unique or innovative game. We don’t see them very much because they may not sell well. For a quick example, look no further than 2008’s gloriously slept on Mirrors Edge, one of my personal favorite games of all time. The gems we have received this year, while few, are still nothing to scoff at.

Bayonetta, perhaps one of the most creative and breakthrough games ever released, features a long haired witch with guns on her feet who slays angels. It’s arguable that this breakout, over-the-top attitude is to blame for the game’s less than amazing sales. Yet it is widely known by the true gaming community that sales say little about quality, and thus is this title’s case.  Red Dead Redemption mixes an old western ambience with fine tuned sandbox game-play to make for a gaming experience unlike anything else. Heavy Rain throws game-play depth to the wind for the reward of a narrative so strong, it separates it from all other games and carves its own genre. Alan Wake utilizes simple light and dark mechanics to place greater burden on the game’s horror aspects, and the result is a unique, if flawed, adventure title.

All of these games teem with innovation and creativity, effectively defining them in gaming history. From the moment you perform that first satisfying torture attack in Bayonetta, you will know that games are evolving and ascending to a euphoric level of entertainment. The corporate machine will only produce more and more uninspired shooters and sequels. Deep down inside, you know this and you also know that people will buy them. However, as long as there is still passion in the industry, there will still be marvelous games. So long as there are visionaries like David Cage and Hideki Kamiya in this industry, creativity in games is going nowhere fast so hold on to that last shred of hope and appreciate those original titles because they need your support more than you might know.

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Kenneth Richardson

Kenneth is a Graphics and Game Design student who's worked as an author for DualShockers.com since June of 2010. His favorite gaming genres are Fighting, Role Playing and Sadistic Action games like Ninja Gaiden and Bayonetta. In addition to gaming, he is also strongly interested in music, fashion, art, culture, literature, education, religion, cuisine, photography, architecture, philosophy, film, dance, and most forms of creative expression.

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