2020 Redux

2020 Redux
Kill Your Darlings

Gearoid Reidy | 11 Jul 2006 08:02
2020 Redux - RSS 2.0

Evolve or die. It's the basic lesson of life. Those that can adapt survive and thrive; those that can't wither and fade and eventually pass on. Gaming is no different.

Shigeru Miyamoto recently said that "it is time to break free from the stereotypical definition of what a gamer is, because until we do, we'll never be part of the national or worldwide culture."

But that's only part of it. If gaming in 2020 is still to have relevance, it must break free of the stereotypical image of what a game is.

In a genre that should be limitless, too many games are mere imitations of each other. The following are just a few common gaming elements - beloved traditions or lazy solutions - that, for the sake of gaming, must all die.

Undead pirates and the meaning of "realism"
The venue: Soul Calibur. The scene: a decaying church in Medieval Germany. Siegfried, a half-human monster with a demon eye in his sword, is locked in combat with Cervantes, an undead magic pirate zombie who can fly. At stake: nothing less than their immortal souls. Both are near their breaking point. On the ground after one vicious attack, the sun glints off Siegfried's armor, and as Cervantes approaches for the killing blow, Siegfried lashes out with his secret move: lamely kicking Cervantes very weakly in the ankles.

Cursing Siegfried's name, Cervantes collapses. How did he lose? Poisoned shoes? Cervantes' Achilles ankle? No, he discovered something even more fatal: the health bar.

In the topsy-turvy world of videogame logic, if a half-dead baby kitten weakly slapped Mike Tyson on the knees two dozen times, he'd eventually fall down. This was acceptable once upon a time - when all we had were a clump of pixels tossing poorly-animated fireballs at each other.

While fighting graphics have evolved to a state of near photo-realism (perhaps more so than any other genre), the gameplay has stagnated, and sales have dropped. The one-on-one fighter as a top-drawer genre is dying.

The skewed graphics-to-gameplay balance of fighters ultimately begs the question: Just what are developers trying to achieve by aiming for super-realism in their breasts and backgrounds, when what their avatars are doing is so unrealistic? When a giant German crushes your leg with a sword, isn't there a good chance that your leg might be, you know, sore?

Just as shooters have advanced from a basic system with no pinpoint aiming to the sniper rifle and headshot of today, it's well past the time the fighter looked seriously at itself and inherited the legacy of the before-its-time PS1 game Bushido Blade, which pioneered one-hit kills and lasting character damage and sold well enough to inspire a sequel, despite the fact its interface didn't include a health bar. We need more new ways to go mano a mano.

Tales of the Over-world Map
The common theme in most high fantasies from The Lord of the Rings down is the glory of the past - the world we live in is rotting, and we must restore ye greate olden dayes.

It stands to reason, then, that the fantasy-obsessed RPG genre also falls into this trap. So much so that when it comes to game design, they don't seem to realize that it's 2006 now, and we are not playing with 1980s rules anymore.

Even as RPGs pull out all the stops to immerse us in their artfully created artificial worlds, they also cling to traditional aspects that do just the opposite. The whole level-up, random battle, turn-based combat with warriors and wizards thing is a tapped out genre. It caters now only to its own fans, becoming ever more insular and obsessed with its own inherent RPG-ness, so much so that it forgets what it is trying to recreate: an adventure. Aren't adventures supposed to be fun?

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