My name's Marcus. I've been gaming for as long as I can remember, and it's the only thing that takes me away every time. I think a lot, and I can write even more. I'd love to get into video game journalism, so I'll be writing a lot to build up my repertoire.
The thing about the video game industry is that, like movies, there are many different types to choose from. With the industry being close to the $11 billion range*, many different companies have found their niche in in creating games of certain genres for players. Take EA Sports, the athletic division of EA Games. They have released a new sports game for football, soccer, basketball and other sports almost every year like clockwork. They have to; their consumer demands it. Another company, Ubisoft, has pooled many offices together to be able to release a new Assassin's Creed game every year. These companies know what their customer wants and continue to provide.
However, every gamer is different, and I think that that makes for an interesting introspective into what exactly you like in a game. In movies, the director only has a couple of hours to fully tell a story with all of the details he or she wants to include in it. Books can offer a lot more time and space to tell it, but they require much more patience from the reader in order to experience it. (Which, in my personal opinion, is why many people hate reading these days.) Games give so many different things in a much broader sense of time and effort, and they allow for mistakes to be made. So, when I think of a good game, I try to list what elements create a sort of template that those good games fall into. I came up with five different qualities that I find make a game worth purchasing.
Story: In a game, I have to be able to know what's going on. I admit that some games are about the gameplay, and the story sometimes suffers for it. I'll get into those in a bit. However, the games that stand out to me are the ones that get the player emotionally invested in the characters. RPGs, especially Japanese ones, are notorious for getting their stories on point and making the player become part of that world. Though the Final Fantasy series is an obvious example for me concerning this one, the most recent JRPG I played was Ni no Kuni. I was skeptical when I borrowed it from a friend, but he told me how amazing the whole game was. So I tried it and loved it. The characters were rich and original, and the plot was light-hearted and dynamic at the same time. Though I won't go into it more, since I already covered it in a previous post, The Last of Us is another prime pick in the story department for me. I can't even describe completely how this is so, because if you haven't played it yet, you certainly need to.
Gameplay: As I said, sometimes a game is allowed to suffer a bit in the story if the gameplay is an incredible experience. In fact, I think that the gameplay can sometimes be a story of its own; a way of guiding the player through experience rather than dialogue or plot. I think back a little to my PS2 days and remember playing the first Zone of the Enders. I barely remember the story part of it, though I don't think that it was that impactful. However, what I do remember is the powerful feeling of being in complete control of a mobile suit that moves very fast and attacks swiftly. The gameplay sent me further back to my elementary school years when I used to watch Gundam Wing on Cartoon Network. (Did anyone else watch Toonami in the afternoons after school?) That show was the epitome of mobile suit animation, and Zone of the Enders made me feel like I was a part of that genre. Other examples I can think of with strong gameplay are Vanquish, Devil May Cry (the original one) and One (this title is PS one title, in case you haven't heard of it.)
Replayability: Usually, one of the first questions that pop in my head has to do with the length and content of the game. If I think I can beat the game in five hours, I rarely buy it. That's what redbox is good for. If a game has enough content to last it a long time, I usually think about owning it. I mean, who wants to rent Grand Theft Auto V? If this same game gives me reasons to keep playing after I see the credits roll, then it gets a high mark in my mind. Games with replay value have a sort of Matrix trilogy level in my mind: every time I watch those movies I get something new out of it. I want my games to do that too. Going back to when I owned a PS One, I remember the concept Capcom used for Resident Evil 2. The idea, if you are unfamiliar with the original version of the game, was that you had to play it twice to see the real ending. The game was on two discs: one disc with the male lead, Leon, and the other with the female lead, Claire. You decide who you want to play as first and pop that disc in. Beat the game, and you get an ending. However, load your finished game on the other disc, and you play as the other person and experience what they went through while you played your first game, as opposed to the tactic back then of just selecting different characters that walked the same path. It was only by doing this that you got the true ending. That was really cool to me, and I'll never forget how that worked. Mass Effect is another solid replay choice due to its enormous choice system and how that relates to the story. I get lots of fun out of asking other players what choices they made and how it turned out for them.
Production Quality: I put this lower on the list because I think that the above-mentioned elements can make a game shine even if it doesn't quite look amazingly realistic. Granted, if a game is next-generation, it needs to look and feel that way. One thing that really bothers me is forced voice acting, or just terrible acting in general. If you're trying to create a compelling story, having the characters sound like they're working for $2 a day doesn't really help. I got that feeling when I recently replayed Rainbow Six: Vegas via the free Games with Gold promotion. I remember liking the game when I was younger, but playing through it now didn't go so well. The actors sounded terrible, and the graphics were glitchy.
In finding games with high quality production, I look for what the game is doing and how it does in comparison to other titles in its released year. I think that's one reason why I loved Final Fantasy VIII so much, even though it took my RPG V-card all the way back in the 4th grade. Yes, VII was amazing for its time, being the first CD-based FF title. However, with VIII I saw what amounted to real people in that game. They stood tall, were able to look right at the player and even had certain gestures that looked human. No voices, of course, but that was the standard for the day. Fast forwarding to today, you need a lot more in your production quality. I admire and respect Hideo Kojima, creator of the Metal Gear series, for how much time and effort he puts into story, visuals, music and voice acting. His newest title, Metal Gear Solid V, is created using its own graphics engine. He's also bringing in Hollywood talent to voice his characters, such as Kiefer Sutherland. Finally, he is continuing to work with composer Harry Gregson-Williams to score the game. These things are those little details that put a game over the top in my mind.
Multiplayer/Co-Op: Now, I'll admit that I am not the most competitive in video games. I enjoy playing the single player immensely. The MP is just an added bonus that I try out to see how it works. If a game ties in the MP experience with single player, I become intrigued. I applaud the efforts of the team at BioWare for using Mass Effect 3's MP to help aid your single player war efforts. Also, The Last of Us uses a sort of meta-game objective of collecting and maintaining a surviving camp as the driving reason for playing the MP. And, I think I'll skip past the painfully-obvious example of Call of Duty. That's a dead horse right there.
I think another good example would be anything that Rockstar does. Their Social Club experience brings players together over multiple titles, a sort of meeting place you find friends with in each of the Rockstar titles you play. Though I haven't attempted the GTA Online fun yet, I spent a lot of time doing multiplayer in Max Payne 3. Abilities to create clans or groups that stay with you from one title to another is an alluring and smart move on Rockstar's part. It also helps create friends to play and connect with, and I need friends. (That sounds kinda depressing, but I wouldn't mind having more PSN friends. Look me up: MogwaiOfOwnage.) Anyways, I'm always interested in a new kind of multiplayer experience.
Also, co-op is huge with me. My friend and I bought Dead Space 3 within the first week of its release for the soul purpose of playing it together. The story was created with two players in mind, and that's how it should be experienced. Getting more content and gameplay through co-op is what partly drives that whole experience, I think. Another example is any of the Army of Two games. The only thing that suffers about those is that you kinda lose a little bit of the fun by playing them alone; you really have to play those games with two people. You just feel cooler that way. Splinter Cell: Blacklist has a great new co-op feature that helps everyone in their single player campaign.
So, that's my criteria for a good game. I'm sure that I skipped over some genres, including sports. (I enjoy a few sports games, but they're really not my thing.) However, these are just my opinions. Many gamers probably have different standards for what they consider a good game. That's the great thing about the video game industry: in the community of all things games, there are so many different reasons to play.
*Info taken from http://www.esrb.org/about/video-game-industry-statistics.jsp
When I was a kid, I had two different types of video game experiences: the console games I had in my room, and the games that I shared with my mother on the old IBM we had in the study. Everything that I played on the computer was a whole new breed from what was controlled on a D-pad and geometrically-signed buttons. We played adventures on it; moving tales that brought you the story at your pace and made your mind work. I suppose my question to the world now is, Where have these games gone?
Now, before you think back to what you played on a PC, let me clarify. The games I played didn't have much to do with over-the-top scrolling of a character as they move throughout the world. These were the games where you clicked a spot and made the character move. You clicked an image or an item and dragged it into your inventory or where you needed it to go. Sometimes the games were animated, and sometimes they were live action. Most of the mechanics involved solving puzzles and exploration. In fact, some of the puzzles and levels in these games were so challenging that telephone hot-lines were created for players to call in for hints. I think the biggest thing about these games that I remember was that they were accessible to adults in a time when video games were wrapped for kids during birthdays and Christmas. I was allowed to skip bed time a lot due to the combined brain power and efforts of my mom and I during a particularly tough quest. I miss that experience.
One of my favorite PC adventures was called Torin's Passage. In here, the player controlled Torin, a simple farmer with royal blood, who has to travel to the center of his world, where different types of worlds lie in between the top crust and the center. Each world offered a new type of people or challenge, and the player had to figure out what tools and tasks were necessary to travel deeper into the planet. There was something so satisfying about finally solving the puzzle that moved one on to the next challenge. I loved it.
Perhaps one of the more well-known PC adventure games was Myst, a first-person title that involved an unnamed player (you) being transported to a new world through a book. In this game, the player explores the abandoned island of Myst and travels to other places through the magical books they find. Again, the player clicks to move and picks up items they find. There aren't any enemies to fight here; the only adversary is the challenge of figuring out how things work in these places. Myst turned out to be a huge success, by the way.
One last example that I remember is The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery. A supernatural thriller, the player controlled investigator and hunter Gabriel Knight as he traveled around Europe researching a potential werewolf threat. This game was almost completely live action, allowing the player to explore the European landscape and cities as they searched for clues to solve the mystery. Each chapter brought suspense and accomplishment with it, keeping me and players around the country in front of the screen for hours at a time.
So, why aren't there games like this anymore? Well, that's up to how you interpret the idea of an adventure game in the 21st century. Examples such as Uncharted, Journey, Brothers and others still satisfy some of the qualifications in that there is puzzle solving and exploration. However, I think adventure games had to become more marketable for the newer generation of gamers, so action had to be slowly added in to make them more appealing. Take Fable for instance. 20 years ago, Fable could have been a purely adventure title, where you explore, make money and build a life for yourself. Of course, that may be hard to perceive as fun now, considering that Fable has an action core to it. But that's just one example.
I think that adventure games can still be created and made fun for the public. In fact, some may even become a breath of fresh air for the gaming community. It all depends on how one is made and whether or not a company chooses to use "retro" as a platform for the future titles. I certainly wouldn't mind a new edition of King's Quest, that's for sure.
What's the last game you played that didn't come from a disc or online version of a disc game? For some, that's an easy question to others. But, if you're like me, then you may have to think for a bit. It's very easy to get caught up in the AAA games that headline review and news websites. However, sometimes a player needs to take a step back, or rather deeper, into the network marketplaces of their consoles to find some real treasures of games.
Some may be surprised to find just how many options one has to get a game on the Xbox Live Arcade or the Playstation Network. These sites, along with Steam, have become lush playgrounds for upcoming game developers to make their ideas come to life, but these iterations sometimes get overlooked in comparison to big names such as EA and Ubisoft. Even in the indie game circle, some titles get much recognition, while others become small titles that a minority of people discover. These titles should be explored by more than just the serious gamer.
Take Journey, for example. Winning many awards, this simple game from thatgamecompany involves nothing more than a simple run and jump mechanic. But, through stunning visuals and a moving soundtrack, the developers create atmosphere, and this drives the gameplay forward.
In a much more action-based setting, Dead Nation, a zombie shooter developed by Housemarque, offers a fluid, third-person view of a single survivor in a zombie apocalypse. Like Journey, this game does not have much in the way of complicated game mechanics. It just offers players a satisfying time of killing the undead without having to be good at it.
These are but a few examples of indie games that offer much in the way of experience, and that's one advantage of playing these games. You get a certain gameplay feeling that can be different from the normal console games released monthly. Also, one gets value in their purchase, both in the kind of game it is and the price it costs. Many of these smaller titles cost about as much as a hearty meal at McDonald's. Trust me, you'll get more satisfaction out of the game than the food.
Finally, you are getting one more thing out of the game, and this may be the most important part of it all. You're getting the chance to critique, to analyze and to help out developers. Upcoming game creators need experience just as much as they need funding or ideas. Even if you end up hating the game, give it a review somewhere. You could go one step further and make this review on the developer's website or blog. Knowing where one's weaknesses are can make the next project so much better, if given the chance.
With big titles like Call of Duty: Ghosts and Destiny being released soon, much focus is spent on the next big thing to buy, especially with the holiday season fast approaching. But, what if you took the time to explore the little games too? I challenge you to find one or two in the next month and try them out. Most of these games have demos, so you don't have to pay anything at all. Discover something new, play it and critique it. Also, if you wondering what to get a gamer for a birthday or Christmas gift, get them gift cards to the PSN or XBLA, but make the amounts small enough so that they can't buy a brand new game online. They may find something big that comes in a small package.
Check out sites like Gamespot and IGN for info on release dates for independent games. Enjoy!!