I don't know if I'm alone here, and if I am, please feel free to let me know, but more often than not I find that the most enjoyable parts of a game are right at the beginning. When you have nothing to your name but some crap weapon, limited skills and the world against you. I much more enjoy that dynamic to the uber powered super warrior you inevitably become, or rather have to become to actually finish most games.
I recently watched a Rev Rant about how one of the most enjoyable moments in Arkham Asylum was right at the beginning when it was your wits and one batterang that had to get you through an armed mob of henchmen. By the end of that game, you have super pimp armour, an infared bluetooth bat face-melter and a nuke strapped to your dick, and it's just not as much fun. Yes, there are now many more ways you take on a room full of douchbags, and in some ways it is great to have options, but now I'm not required to think... at all. Where I originally had to use my brain, to actually pause for a second to think about how I was going to move forward, I'm now spoilt for choice. I suppose that means that I now have the option to select how difficult I want to make things; do I knock everyone out in an one efficient simple swoop, or should I try to startle each one and get a silent takedown whilst they're actually looking right at me? But with that said, even if I choose the difficult option and fail, that just means that I'm a dick, Batman wouldn't have been a dick, he would have taken the effective and easy option. That then in effect means that I've gone and broken the fourth wall by turning this whole affair into some sort of mini meta game. Now I'm an even bigger dick.
What I mean to say is, why don't we use the puzzle game formula in our action games? What if we never got an upgrade? What if instead of getting a bigger sword, we had to think of new ways to use our shitty dagger? To use our surroundings? To use our brains?
Take Portal for instance. You don't get a fucking uzi half way through that game. You just have to think of new ways to use the tools you already have.
Another example could be Oblivion. Say for instance you wanted to be an archer, in the caves at the beginning you find a crap bow and like 12 arrows. Now, as it is those 12 arrows are more than enough, as soon as you get out of the cave there are arrows made from everything from wood to asphalt at every fucking corner, but imagine if those first 12 arrows had to last you the entire game. If you fire an arrow at a tree or an enemy in Oblivion you can go and retrieve it, which is very cool, but it's also pointless because they're so common, but if all you ever had was 12, then you would make sure you could go get it. This immediately changes how you play the game, how you engage enemies and where you travel. If an enemy is on the other side of a ravine, even if it was an easy shot, you would still be less inclined to shoot him because it would mean loosing an arrow. Now you have to stop and think about whether it would be worth loosing an arrow to kill that enemy? How much more difficult would the rest of the game be with only 11 arrows? Is there any way I can back track later and get the arrow back? All of a sudden our hack and slash action RPG has a got a massive tactical element to it. Golly Gosh.
There was also a degree of this in Far Cry 2. A lot of people had a problem with the fact that your guns jammed and broke. I personally didn't. What I had a problem with was that once you bought a gun once, you could have as many brand new ones as you wanted. The fuck? What kind of fucking shop works that way? No wonder Africa has a balls economy if all you have to do if buy a product once to get unlimited access to it for the rest of your life! Why not have it so when my sniper rifle breaks the gun dude says tough shit, you broke it, buy a new one. Now do I buy the same gun? Buy a different one in the hope that its better? What if the new one is shit? I'll have wasted my cash and I'll have no gun. Little changes like this can give a game so much more depth.
What we need is a new genre. I say that because I'm certain that there will be people who hate these ideas I'm preaching. Some people love to finish a game with a rocket launcher and and helmet made out of a dragons ball bag, hell I love doing that in some games. That's cool. I get that. Keep that. It's awesome. What I'm saying is, why not have a new way of looking at things? Instead of just saying that this game is an FPS and therefore must be action orientated to the Nth degree, why not call it a tactical FPS? Or an RPFPS? I know it's a risk mixing things up (Mirrors Edge) and they may not work right away (Mirrors Edge) but it's these kinds of ideas that really hold promise in my opinion, and I think some major game developers would be surprised at how much most gamers would let a few trials slide so that we get what we want in the end (Mirrors fucking Edge).
My Birthday is on the 9th of March this year. It's tradition in my family that we try to celebrate my birthday on this day every year. It's nice. Besides Christmas, this is really the only date that I actually ever remember, all other anniversaries and memorable events get stored away in the same place as the names of all the people I met at that wedding that one time at... wherever.
The point I'm trying to make is that when I saw that Final Fantasy XIII was due to be released on the 9th of March, it stood out to me. It made me think of all the Final Fantasy games I had received as birthday presents... which is to say all of them from VII onward (not including XI which of course is not even a proper Final Fantasy because it has no main character with a troubled past and hair like the fucking bomb). So I thought, 'that's a nice gesture, someone at Square has obviously realised that I get these games as birthday presents and have adjusted the release date to suit, I'll send a inter-webs letter to 'nice person at Square' to say thanks'.
But then I thought, do I actually want this game? I mean, that's a stupid question, of course I want this game, but do I want this game to disappoint me? To raise me up like a loving father, promising the world to me, only to be dropped on my head and develop a nervous twitch that I'll have to carry through the rest of my life? Let me explain. On my eleventh birthday I opened FF VII. That game instantly became, and has remained to this day, my favourite game of all time. Does anyone remember the fist time they left Midgar? The very first time they saw the world map? That shit blew my fucking mind out of my ass. I'd been running around this city forever, thinking once I blow up the Shinra building then I'm good, game over, job well done. It never actually occurred to me that the other three disks in the box actually did anything... to be fair I was only eleven. There are so many things that can and should be praised about FF VII, but for me, the vast open world was the major one, a world of fantastic characters, unbelievable story and above all, choice. FF VII changed what I was allowed to expect from games, what I was allowed to demand from games. No longer could games just be fun, they had to be epic.
So FF VIII rolls around and I of course lap it up like some love sick fuck licking the face off the girlfriend he hasn't seen in about a month, and its amazing, it's incredible, it's superb, but it's not epic. Sure the world map is back, but it doesn't feel the same, it's not new anymore. Yeah, the combat has changed and the graphics are better but this isn't a life changing experience. Where is the feature that makes other game developers sit up and say 'shit, we need to gets us one of those in our games'? FF IX, FFX, roll by. Still good, still nothing. FF XI mixes it up a bit with it's online play sure, but... if its trying to change the way we look at how games should be made, then its just fallen short of the fail line. FFXII shouts “hey look, we've changed the whole method of combat”, to which we retort “it sucks”, followed by a sigh that echoes around the empty halls of our neglected expectations.
Which brings us here, to now, to the last few weeks before FF XIII hits us. The first FF developed for a next gen system, will this mean more than pretty pretty graphics? Will be see the next step in the revolution of gaming? Or is all we can expect from Square now a pretty decent game with stand out graphics?
You should know that I'm not trying to beat down on Square, I love Square, they release games for me on my birthday, and I hope to God that FF XIII is all the things that I know it can be, and perhaps the case may be that the JRPG scene called out much louder to the eleven year old I was than it does to the beaten twenty something you see before you now, but I can't help but feel about them the same way I feel about the whole of games as a medium.
What your doing is amazing, but you have the potential to be truly outstanding. We've seen glimpses of it, we know it's there. Just fucking have the courage to do it already.