Every Dark Cloud has a Silver Lining
By Jake Forbes
Why is it that as video game technology gets better in leaps and bounds, I can't help but feel as if the games are getting worse? Am I missing something? Wandering around E3 this year, I witnessed a lot of excitement, but most of it was over sequels and remakes. There were only a handful of new, original games introduced, and most of these were overshadowed by the classic, sure-thing franchises. Has the gaming industry run out of ideas? For the time being, it looks that way.
Based on what game developers are packing into their upcoming games, here's a list of what video game fans must want:
1) More "gibbing," or monsters that explode on contact.
2) More licenses from has-been licenses! (Antz racing for PS2? Pa-lease!)
3) More "streamlined" gameplay for more "efficient" hack and slash adventures!
4) More variations of shotguns for players to wield!
5) More colored lighting, because alien death-mongers like rainbows!
6) More "boarding" mini-games!
7) More games about zombies!
8) More lens flare!
Hmm… I guess those things are all okay. But what about the qualities that make games FUN or ways to improve the imperfect genres that we have like:
1) Improved camera control so Lara Croft/ Claire Redfield won't run into walls any more.
2) More interactive environments where pushing/pulling/exploding things are a way of life instead of obvious puzzles.
3) Dynamic music and sound that take advantage of modern home theater setups (X-Box can do 5.1 sound on the fly, so do it!)
4) Realize that consoles are not PCs and make multi-player games that take advantage of the split screen requirement.
5) Blend genres in innovative ways.
6) Breath new life into dead/dying ones (rail shooters, adventure games, 2-D platform games don't need to die!)
7) More intuitive, environment-based ways to kill enemies-drop stuff on their heads, push them off cliffs, anything besides just shooting/hacking them.
8) Ignoring all the rules and creating a new game concept from scratch instead of starting off as being Tomb Raider, only in outer space, but with Tony Hawk style skateboarding thrown in and a soundtrack by Korn."
Fortunately there are a few designers out there inventing new genres that gamers will be sure to endorse. Perhaps the new genre of the year is the 3-D Platform Action/Puzzle Herding Game as embodied by Herdy Gerdy, Munch's Odyssey, and Pikmin. This genre actually made its debut with the overlooked Babe game for Game Boy Color, but only now are gamers ready to embrace the gaming innovation of Herding. Think of all the opportunities that Herding games will open! Activision's already got the hipster teen crowd with their Tony Hawk license so now they can finally get the farmbelt kids hooked with X-treme games like "Farmer John's eXtreme Pig Farming!" Conversely, Natsume's Harvest Moon franchise might sell better in the US if the superdeformed farmer boy could "grind" on something. In any case, herding is in!
Other game makers seem to have decided that gameplay reached its zenith fifteen years ago. Lucasarts gorgeous Rogue Squadron 2: Rogue Leader, is certainly the most beautiful Star Wars game ever and will sell many GameCubes at launch. Of course, playing the demo I couldn't help but notice that the gameplay is EXACTLY the same as the vector graphics Atari classic Star Wars arcade game. That version from almost 20 years ago even had the same voice samples! Think of all the other great classic games that would benefit from similar graphic updates. Burger Time is probably the single best hamburger assembly platform game in gaming history, but think of how much more fun it would be with photorealistic meat patties (or even Garden Burgers ®!). Midway, always the leader in quality arcade to console ports, realized that the biggest problem with games like Gauntlet and Rampage is that players have to keep plugging in quarter after quarter to get through the pleasantly redundant levels. There's nothing quite so rewarding as a six-hour stint of punching building or shooting arrows at grunts. Keep up the good work!
Having killed off Mega Man and Street Fighter after dozens of crappy sequels, Capcom has wizened up and found new franchises to exploit. Maximo is a great game, and a worthy follow-up to the 80's classic Ghosts and Goblins. Not wanting to be left behind, Konami and Namco are also releasing 3-D updates to old school classics with Frogger: the Great Quest and Pacman World 2. Does Frogger need a plot? Well, Konami sure thinks so, and who are we to argue. As long as Konami's bringing back old licenses, they better not forget Rush 'N Attack! It's been far too long since we've been able to blow up the Russians. Titus knows this-that's why they've put the new Top Gun game on the fast track. Watch out Moscow!
Why is it that certain licenses have such bad luck in game adaptations? Case in point: The Simpsons. Fox Interactive, hot on the trails of the festering masterpiece of The Simpsons Wrestling, is currently working on Simpsons Road Rage for X-Box and PS2. I guess they decided that they'll never come up with an original, good idea for the series so they ripped off Crazy Taxi and put on PSOne quality textures to create an embarrassingly square virtual Springfield for Homer to drive through. I played the demo and picked up Marge three times in a row at three different locations. 10 years of The Simpsons characters and they can't create a world that doesn't have two Marges on the screen at once? Well, the game will probably be the best Simpsons game since the family ripped off the Ninja Turtles 4-player arcade experience. Aliens vs. Predator is another Fox license that never lives up to expectations. Once again space marines will descend into Alien encrusted colonies to clean up xenomorph eggs, and once again the game will feature the same 2 dimensional, non-interactive, monochromatic levels that we saw on the Atari Jaguar.
At least there's one company we can always count on for quality titles: 3D0. In addition to creating blueprints for Microsoft on how to make an overpriced set-top computer that'll fall off the market in a few months, this gaming giant has created the most prolific franchise in gaming history: Army Men! 13 games in just over two years-they must be good! If history repeats itself, as it's bound to do, don't be surprised if Microsoft is reduced to making Ages of Empire spin-offs for eager eight-year olds. I'm already eagerly awaiting Caesar's Heroes Chariot Assault!