Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
Hybrid Multiplayer Mess

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 1 Mar 2011 12:00
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Isn't hybridizing things fun? Not always for the entities being hybridized, I suppose, but more specifically hybridizing gameplay mechanics and genres is one of the best ways to innovate. Trouble is, it can also be a bit of a crapshoot. Hybridizing flight sims and cover-based shooters in Dark Void worked quite nicely for me, as did hybridizing every bloody genre in the world for Deus Ex, but for every one of those you've got examples like Mindjack and Brutal Legend that try to mix things that don't belong together. With Mindjack, single player campaigns and multiplayer components, and with Brutal Legend, RTS and literally anything else.

Crucially, though, the fact that some mixtures don't work is something that can only really be determined with practice. It's like innovation in the games industry is this giant big-money game of Doodle God, grabbing two random things off the pile and pounding them together in your hands in the hope of finding something that people could actually be persuaded to blow money on, throwing everything else into the bin of obscurity forevermore.

But it's clearer than ever to me that the mainstream gaming environment is the worst possible environment in which to do this kind of experimentation. You see, in Doodle God, you are told instantly whether or not you're onto a good thing by mashing together rhythm games and flight simulators, but the development and release of Spitfire Hero for PS3 and 360 is going to be a year-long expensive slog that's difficult enough to justify even with absolute certainty of success. There are so many expectations heaped onto any idea just by being on current generation consoles that development is automatically crippled. It's like you want to bring a new kind of pony to the pony show, a pony with spliced lizard genes so it's covered in green scales and smells with its tongue, but they won't even let you in the door until your pony has been given a professionally-styled hairdo, a regulation jewel-encrusted bridle, a load of at least half a ton and been shot in the kneecap.

Before the current console generation I'd have said that the answer was to wait until what is currently considered top-of-the-range technology to become less expensive and more accessible to the less dwarf-scaringly huge communist-disgustingly wealthy developers. But that's no longer the issue. Now it's the fact that developing for PS3 or Xbox is just a shitload of work for a shitload of people with very specific skills. Designing a single high-definition model could be the best part of an artist's work day and if you don't have the resources to get all your animations mo-capped then you'd better scoot off back to the paddling pool before you drown, junior.

Mindjack looks like absolute arse, not for want of technology, but because it's trying to keep up with the big boys. I look at it and I can almost hear its knicker elastic straining with the effort of everything it's had to kill itself to include just so it can sit at the grown-ups table. Everything that players have just come to expect, like a dim, spoiled member of a royal family holding out their hand for another French fancy. The best graphics, minutely detailed, physics engines, particle effects, the whole package. The bare minimum of what a triple-A game is now mandated to have is such a greasy, bloated workload that there's nothing left for much else. Oh, for the days of the last console generation, when technology sat on the very agreeable fence between high-techitude and accessibility, when developers weren't so slow to ask themselves questions like "Strictly speaking do we really need a physics engine in a Championship Manager game? Is it so important that the league tables slide realistically down the screen?"

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