Over the last couple years I've been in school and have unfortunately missed out on a few great titles that have come out. However, over the last few months I've had a great deal more time and have found myself catching up with some of the fantastic games that were absent from my library. Having such a leave of absence and then immersing myself in so many fantastic worlds and challenges has illuminated some particularly dazzling trends. As a result comes the following blog about some of my favourite developments in no hierarchical order. (Note: some of the following may not be super recent, think over the last year)
Choice Rather Than Morality
There have been many articles written on the subject of morality in games, and how it's frustrating to have things so black and white. Why is killing 30 people considered honourable, but stealing their pack of smokes a deed only dared by the devil. Thankfully such stark decisions are in decline, and in some games, being taken over by simple choice.
I'm a person that loves having the ability to influence the story. Bioware games have always been among my favourite, so I was thrilled to see Dragon Age: Origins completely ditch a morality system, but still keep the numerous opportunities to engage with the world. Sure, there are some choices which are blatantly good and bad, but many choices provide some ambiguity. I found it far more engaging to be in the world and decide for myself what was right wrong. The best example in the game is the decision of how you will approach the end. I found myself torn over how my choice would effect the world. And by keeping the game from telling which way was chivalrous and which corrupt, I felt all the more bewildered.
This is something that will get me to play a game far after I've grown weary of the main mechanics. Investing is when a game provides you with the ability to invest in a town or personal upgrades. Assassin's Creed 2 is a fantastic example of this. Early on in the game Ezio acquires a town, and as the warden of this villa, he can put his money into various financial endeavours. These mainly seem to provide him with more money, but the feeling of aiding the town into a thriving community is wonderful. I'd also like to say that this is greatly enforced by visual results. It's one thing to have a game tell you that they now live in houses made of gold, but it's another to see it.
Small Arcade Title from Big Studios
Double Fines release of Costume Quest and announcement of Stacking is mainly what spawned this point, though they certainly aren't the first to do this. Regardless, I'm glad to see this becoming an acceptable thing for two reasons.
First, it provides a place for studios who struggle at retail to be a little more efficient financially. With huge investments of time and money to make a blockbuster game, it can be astonishingly hard on a company who releases a poor selling game. It's nice to see XBLA and PSN provide a place that these developers can get back on their feet.
Secondly, smaller titles can sometimes be better than a full length game. Brutal Legend's quality seemed to subside as the game went on. However, with a smaller title, like Costume Quest, the serving size seems to be just right for slighter ideas. These titles can be like the short story in literature, sometimes you have an idea that can only be stretched out for a dozen or so pages.
Genre Blending That Doesn't Blend Something with an RPG
Genre Blending has been around for quite some time, and its a great way to provide variety to a game that may otherwise feel it repeating itself. A typical answer to alleviating such staleness has been throwing in a mini-game here and there. However, by adding a completely different style of gameplay, a new set of rules and mechanics are dolled out to the player, providing the fun of learning the systems of a new game. Even if such additions aren't the same level of quality offered by the rest of the game, they can provide a much needed break. Though some Mako
drivers may disagree with me.
The most popular concoction seems to be RPG and X genre. Although I don't mind seeing the RPG attachment in games, I'm glad to see other genres getting a chance. Especially when it's a game type that is rarely seen today. One of the more recent examples of using a different genre is Halo Reach. The flight levels have seemed to garner a mixed response, but I was happy to play something so different and especially something I so infrequently play.
Okay so in no way a new thing, but after a long hiatus the jet pack is back in style. I wasn't a PC gamer during the Tribes era, so Halo Reach is really the first game I've played where I've seen it's effect in competitive play. I love to see how it opens up a map and provide a quick way of getting back in the action. Major battle happening on a floor above you? Fly up and greet the party by landing on someone and assassinating them. Killzone 3 is also bolstering the armoury with the propelling partner, and with two titles making use of them, it should provide studios a solid idea of how to make jet packs work well in a game.
Game of the Year Editions
I debated whether I should add this or not, because at the end of the day, they exist solely to make companies more money, but that is why I like them. Developers often complain how in Hollywood you get two big money making periods, the theatrical release and the DVD release, but in the games industry, a company only has one solid release window. GOTY editions look to provide that second chance which can be good for struggling developers. The problem is that a lot of games that get these re-releases, have already done exceptionally well financially. Still, there are some studios that I'm all right seeing get a little more money for their hard work.
The first time I remember this happening was with the second Ratchet and Clank. The game let you import credits from the first game to give you some bonus funds. It really didn't matter that much, but did make you keep your save game. More recently it's been done in a much more elaborate fashion with Mass Effect 2. Mass Effect imports many of the decisions made in the first game and then organizes the world accordingly. Nothing was ever too explicitly different, the story had the same milestones regardless. However, it creates an association unlike anything I've seen before, and it's something that only video games are capable of.
By importing a Shepard from the previous game, it creates a much stronger tie between the character on screen and the player. Suddenly that Shepard is yours and to play anything else will feel foreign. If your a fan of the Mass Effect games and for some reason avoiding doing so, I'd by all means recommend playing through the two games. And don't just import a save you found because you miss the whole point of forming your own unique Shepard.
Bioware hopes to try it again with Dragon Age 2, though with a slightly different approach. Instead of having the character transferred, the world is reformed according to the player's decisions. This does seem to negate my praise for save game importing, but I still find myself look forward to seeing what resonance it will create. It would also be nice see it attempted by other developers, though understandably difficult.
All of these are fine mechanics and systems that I'd love to see refined and attempted by other studios. Or they could just go create more exciting ideas so I can write another list.