Ever since this horrible Twitter business started with Jennifer Hepler of Bioware some of the comments have bemoaning her for having the audacity to suggest that games should feature an ability to skip combat. Now I donít want to get bogged down by how the horrible way she was treated nor do I want the twitter debacle to overshadow the points I want to make so Iíll treat her comment like it was in a vacuum. I actually agree with her idea but I think she should have taken it further, why should combat be the only aspect of gaming we could skip? In my opinion the ability to skip whole segments of a game would greatly benefit a wide range of gamers and Iíll try to explain why.
I have been stewing on this idea ever since Irish comedian and noted video games fan Dara ” Briain said Ďgames will deny you content if youíre not good enoughí, being a comedian there is the underline of humour there but he still makes a fair point. This is not the same industry we had ten years ago, with the advent of Facebook and IOS and those drawn to Call of Duty the variety of people being introduced to gaming has expanded. However, it isnít just the type of people that have expanded but the variety skill as well, so is it really that fair for games to deny the less skilled content that they paid for?
The term ĎCasualí has become an insult in gaming circles but a certain level of understanding is needed. The thing that many gamers forget is what separates the casual from the average gamer, experience. I think it is fair to say that each of us have years of experience behind us, we are used to game mechanics and controller layouts are part of our muscle memory. Casuals lack this and are basically coming to a medium that is dependent on interaction blind, imagine how confusing that would be, sure there are in game tutorials but they might as well be in another language when the person it is aimed at has no idea what shoulder buttons are. It takes time to learn how games work and through no fault of their own time is a luxury a lot of people simply do not have, especially when there are such responsibilities as children or demanding jobs. Not only that but as a person gets older it gets harder to learn and absorb knowledge, it is a sad fact of biology and it means that many will never truly Ďgetí some aspects of games. So when casual players come across sections of a game that require a player to using finesse or a poorly explained game mechanic a casual player will simply hit the wall and will likely quit the game all together out of frustration. But what if these players could simply skip the section they are stuck on go and move on to a section that they can do. You never know eventually they may replay the game and may even find that original challenge a breeze, but if not they can simply skip it again. The Games Industry risks alienating this new audience for being something they are not and I think that allowing them to artificially progress is the solution.
A situation like this can be overwhelming to the uninitiated
In fact I say this from experience; the original Shogun Total War was my first true introduction to the strategy genre and frankly I sucked at it, I had no idea what I was doing in combat and I would never last long enough to actually play the game. That was before I discovered the ability to automatically resolve combat, the option was a massive boon and it got to the point where for the first year of playing I would simply use that option to skip battles entirely and basically play the game like Risk. During that period I learnt the fundamentals of resource management, where to place my forces and how to use non-combat units; all of that knowledge not only helped me play that game better but I applied the fundamentals to future titles as well and I would never have learnt any of that if I had kept getting stuck on the combat. Having mastered one aspect of the game eventually I got the confidence to start fighting my battles and I could focus on improving. Now strategy gaming, especially grand strategy, has become my favourite genre but I would have never stuck with it if I couldnít skip certain aspects of it until I was ready. This is just one of many ways I envision skipping gameplay could work, allowing people to take games at their own pace rather than the game dictating a pace to them.
There is also the great little subsection of these new gamers that should be considered too, the elderly gamer. I think it is fair to say that many of us started this hobby as children but ever since the Brain Training craze and the family friendly Wii the games industry has been attracting a much older audience. For instance my Grandparents have always loved Nintendo products, in fact one of my earliest gaming memories is playing Yoshiís Safari on the SNES with my Granddad, but the Wii is their first console they have owned and while they play well they can also struggle. The main problems arrive with 3D platforming, especially the Mario Galaxy series; they simply lack the reflexes to pull off quick and precise jumps and tend to get stuck on levels, but if they could simply skip those levels then those jumps would stop holding them back, they still havenít finished the first game and I think that is unfair. Now while I donít doubt their ability to play I think the ability to skip ahead would make the more complex games far more accessible for them and I think that could apply to all elderly gamers.
We can also apply this to the other extreme, young gamers around six to ten year olds. The main problem I have with games that are aimed at children is that sometimes, whether due to things such as poor controls or obscure gameplay, the games are far too hard for their intended audiences. It really is shocking how poorly made the majority of these games are and that is a shame because these will likely be the first interaction children will have with gaming and usually it is a negative one. It is hard to buy for younger gamers because of this and often games will be discarded after a few hours of play, but if the children could skip the parts that frustrate them the experience would be far more enjoyable and the game itself would last a lot longer. Even if there is a worry that the child would abuse this system ultimately it would be their choice, it is their game after all and they should be given the choice of how they play their game.
The mechanic could also have applications that would appeal to the more Ďhardcoreí gamer. Think of the times you would hesitate to replay games simply because of one dreaded section, think Water Temple or the Fade, but if you could skip that section the replay value goes way up especially for longer games in the RPG genre. In fact Mods already exist for this very purpose so why canít the developers bite the bullet and think of a way to include it in-game? It could even be a way to ignore aspects of games that do not appeal to you, for example vehicle sections or escort missions, and in my view would make certain games flow better. It could even be used like I described before to skip difficult sections, because no matter how experienced gamers are eventually there will be a game out there that will beat you and skipping that part will feel like a godsend.
I know some of the counter arguments will be that skipping gameplay will stop games being games and I can see that point but I think the definition of gaming can be a lot more fluid than we think. But that is a discussion for another time, what I will say is that the question you should ask yourself is why do people play games? I think it is safe to say that everyone who picks up a game will do so because they enjoy them, whether that enjoyment comes from the challenge, playing with friends or competing against others it doesnít matter as long as the player has fun and getting stuck is simply not fun for some players. We should stop being selfish and acknowledge that there are gamers out there who would benefit from a game mechanic such as this. Video games arenít solely the realm of the hardcore anymore, there are people out there looking for different experiences and they are denied simply because the game is holding them back. Like it or not games are in the mainstream now and should be enjoyed by everybody no matter how skilled they are. We as gamers get annoyed when cut content becomes DLC but think of those who are denied the whole game simply because they arenít good enough, it is unfair and could be solved by giving players the option to skip gameplay.
Ever since the organised Ďprotestí of Half Life fans I have been reading opinion pieces about how this indicative of gamers becoming too entitled, now I hate when people dismiss movements out of hand without considering the point they are making but it is especially annoying in this case since these people in particular arenít entitled, they are devoted and thatís a huge difference. Iíll just briefly share my thoughts on the Half Life issue; this is a situation where a company is torn between marketing and its customers. It would cost nothing for Valve to simply inform fans that they are or are not working on a Half Life sequel and yet the PR department has to deal with marketing issues such as exclusivity rights to the announcement trailers for reveals at E3 or the Spike VGAs and so on. However the problem is that the longer Valve drags out an announcement the more manipulative it feels, so it is up to Valve how they will deal with this and if their fans accept it, time will tell I suppose. So back on point, why are organised movements against developers dismissed especially since movements against publishers are encouraged, do the developers really owe us anything?
Although this was just mean
Iíll start this off by saying that the relationship between customer and developer is almost symbiotic, the developers provide us with a product and we provide them with money. In fact developers need the customer far more especially with the market being overstuffed as it is, if one game fails there are most likely two others like it released that week, it isnít fair especially for the smaller developers, but sadly that is how the market has evolved. And yet the only things developers really owe us, the customers, is a working product as advertised and competent technical support but if they want to succeed developers need to do much more than that. So saying that what I think it comes down to is not what the developers owe but how they should treat their customers if they wish to succeed.
There needs to be a distinction between the publisher and developer as one, even in the rare instances where developers self publish like Blizzard and Valve the distinction between the marketing and development teams should be noted. Due to the nature of their business model publishers do not need the single sale, they have many fingers in many pies and do not rely on single releases like the developer does. Developers on the other hand have the majority of their resources tied to a single product and need that product to succeed, every sale counts and in this economy if the product fails it could mean closure for the company. Publishers can make the decisions that hurt the customer; they can afford to ignore the boycotts and enraged fans because they have the monopoly here, all the money from mainstream gaming line their pockets and if one product fails they can write it off as a bad investment. But developers cannot afford to treat their customers in the same way; the relationship should be more intimate than that.
This is the crux of my argument, Iím not saying developers should worry about the single sale nor should they focus their attention on one fan at a time, what I am saying is that developers need to think of ways to get community support while simultaneously benefiting from their actions. These things do not even need to be huge gestures, it can be little things like free DLC, mod tools, community events, forums and even Twitter feeds, most of these cost next nothing and yet it endears the customer to the developer. This is an industry with business models that rely on franchises and DLC so games companies really need their customers to stick around long after their product is released, developers need to be forward thinking as a single devoted fan is a guaranteed sale for future every release that that company will make.
Team Fortress 2 is a great example of this idea in practice. Team Fortress already had an inbuilt community but there was still a risk of losing players, every game gets old and gradually loses support and a mulitplayer game without players is less than useless. Valve realised this and so devoted a section of its resources to give continuous support to both the game and its player base providing constant tweaks to gameplay, community events and constant communication on the forums. Now Valve is one of the strongest developers out there in terms of finance and so could afford to provide the game support and yet they didn't do anything extravagant. In fact I think the most important thing Valve did was to allow their players to determine how the community evolved, they trusted their community to meet them halfway and to take a degree of control in the aforementioned community events and forums. Valve trusted its community and it paid off immensely, especially now the game has grew to a free to play model and basically prints money for the developer.
But there are other ways a developer can benifit from the consumer base, with the most recent example being the Double Fine kickstarter drive. Publishers and developers are no doubt trying to figure out how to replicate a similar success but they should be not be thinking about the hows but instead should think about why it happened. Double Fine listened to their customers; they heard the repeated requests for a new Adventure game and took the time to explain why it would be difficult to develop a game like that in this financial climate in both a rational and funny manner and the community really responded to being treated as equals. Of course it helped having Tim Schafer as the face of Double Fine, he seems like a genuinely nice guy, we like him and that feeling extends to Double Fine and not only that but Double Fine has been viewed as the little guys for years, never getting the recognition fans believe they deserve as well as being constantly screwed by publishers, all of this resonates with the informed audience and contributed to the kickstarterís massive success.
By trusting their community Double Fine have all the resources they need to create a game that they canít help but benefit from. Now while I honestly believe Double Fine are doing this because they love the genre and want to give something to the community even if Double Fine releases the adventure game for free, which I doubt they will, they would still gain from the massive amounts of goodwill that would provide and a large number of forever loyal fans, this is a case Double Fine gambling on their audience and winning big. It will be interesting to see if Double Fine can keep its promises of working with the community but hopefully they will because maybe itíll show the industry what many indie developers already know, the community can be the best resource a developer can have as long as they are used in the right ways.
Developers donít owe the consumer anything itís true but they cannot afford to ignore them either, the relationship between consumer and developer is based around supply and demand but it could go so much further than that. One just needs to look at what Notch and his fanbase achieved during the Minecraft beta testing, not only did the community do the usual beta testing but they suggested key ideas that are still being implemented in to the game, by working with Notch they made a better game. While not every developer can have this kind of creative relationship companies like Valve and Blizzard show us that even minor involvements can be beneficial and it is up to the developers to learn how to use their community to fit their situation. Hopefully the Double Fine adventure game will be a success because it is a great example of the community in action and with the publicity surrounding the project it is an opportunity for other developers to take notice of the potential their audience holds. And hey, as a bonus we may even get a good game out of the deal.
Iíll try to put this as nice as I can; the EU gets screwed when it comes to release dates. As a fan of all things Atlus I was naturally excited for Catherine when it was released in North America in July last year and while it received a mixed critical reception it still looked like a game I would love, so I waited for it to be released here in jolly old England and I waited and I waited. Catherine was finally released on Friday the 10th of February in the EU. Let me just put that in perspective, that is six months after the NA release and, even worse, almost a whole year after the Japanese release date of February 17th 2011. I was resolved to buy this game, I had waited all that time after all, but just as I was going to reach for the box I stopped and said to myself Ďhey, I can wait a little longerí and it was at that point I could hear my already strained wallet thank games for teaching me a little patience.
I wasnít always this patient though; I would be the first to admit that I have terrible self control which can be very expensive when combined with a love of playing the most obscure games out there. I used to be at the mercy of an enterprising friend who sold pirated Dragon Ball Z games (donít judge, it was all the rage when I was a teenager) out of his schoolbag and I would pay him way more than these games were worth simply because I had no other option to get my hands on them. Luckily for me my friend's hold on me didnít last long due to the advent of emulators and shoddy fan translations. Finally I could play games that I hadnít even heard about before, games such as Super Robot Wars, Front Mission and, my favourites, the Shin Megami Tensei series. Although even the Emulation sites had its drawbacks; I canít tell you how many times my PC became infested with viruses from shady piracy sites but it was all worth it to play games that I would gladly have paid for.
Since then the market has expanded, it used to be that you had to go to a local independent games store to import games but with Ebay all it takes is a few clicks of a mouse to find even the most obscure of games, and yet the price hikes are still as wallet ruining as ever. I think it was trying to import Devil Survivor that soured me to this system. If you didnít know, despite the Shin Megami Tensei series gaining prominence in North American markets it has never really caught on in the EU and as a consequence it is a coin flip of whether these spin offs get released or not. So realising that these games would never be released here I basically paid twice the RRP to import a game that was in no way obscure or hard to find. But that is not the end of the story, not by a long shot, when the game finally did arrive it arrived in pieces, the box was battered, the cartridge cracked and the seller would not accept returns. I was angry but I swallowed my pride and ordered another copy from somebody else. It arrived and I loved every minute of it, all three hours of it, once again it was broken but in a way where it was playable until a certain point in the game, I was so close and yet so far. Sometimes all it takes is one bad experience to sour something that you life and that experience made me decide to never again import a game.
Based on my experiences Iím naturally against publishers withholding localisation, in fact I donít think there are any consumers who would agree with it. Iíve heard all of the arguments for region locks and none of them make sense to me, except for some of the finer legal issues which I canít even begin to comment on I honestly cannot see the point of withholding a product from a territory, especially a product that is not only already made but would cost a relatively small amount to produce and distribute. You see I point to the Disgaea series in how to do localisation right, Atlus recognises that the series has its fans but not enough to be a blockbuster so it keeps to modest distribution numbers and while I do think it could do with some advertising to entice new fans with these methods Atlus can keep its profit margins up which is really what other publishers should be paying attention to. But ultimately I can see why publishers do shy away from localisation as it can be a gamble but at the very least I think that in the future the big three should keep their consoles region free just for those people who do want to import games on their own expense, in fact while I may disagree with some of their business practices making PSP and the PS3 region free is one of the key reasons I give Sony the majority of my business.
With the issue of localisation so close to my heart I really do hope Operation Rainfall follows through with its promises because maybe then it will convince game publishers that they could make money from different territories especially when the translation work is already done, in fact I think that any game has the potential to find fans but first it needs to be readily available. I admire what Operation Rainfall has done because sadly here in the EU we lack strong voices when it comes to gaming and I donít think that will ever change. I say this because of two things; one is that because there are so many countries in the EU a cohesive movement with singular arguments would be extremely difficult to organise and two when it comes to the sales, analysts focus mainly on the US market and so games companies will naturally focus its attention there. It is a shame because if franchises like Disgaea can make a small foothold in the EU markets then I am certain other games could do so also, but this will never happen if the localisation never happens.
I'm conflicted, it is so hard to think of a way to vote with my wallet in this situation, on one hand I know I should support Catherine and I eventually will, but if the publishers think that I can wait a whole six months then I am sure they will be fine if I wait a little longer until I give them my business. If that makes me sound bitter and a little passive aggressive it's because I am, I hate when companies make these inane choices about localisation but as Iíve gotten older and money has gotten tighter I actually thank the games industry for making them because, and I honestly say that without any form of sarcasm or irony, it saves me from myself. Thinking about it logically, I can wait for the EU release dates and if these games are never released then that is fine too, there are hundreds of other games out there that equally deserve my money or maybe I could even go outside, god knows I havenít been there in a long time.
Warning some spoilers for Skyrim's Civil War and Dark Brotherhood questlines to follow
I used to struggle to come up with answers whenever I was asked why I played games, Iíve been playing games since I was young, my family played games so it was only natural that as soon as I was able that I started to play them too. But now Iím in my twenties itís become more of a question of why I keep coming back to games and that I can answer, I play games mostly for the chance to interact with fictional worlds. As much as I love books, TV and films, Video gaming is the only medium that you, the consumer, take an important role in the fictional world around you. I love the fact that the player can interact with the world itself and I love the fact that you are essential to moving these stories forward. So itís no surprise that I was highly anticipating Skyrim when it was announced.
However, when I finally got my hands on the game I found myself disappointed but I couldnít put my finger on why. I canít say it was a bad game nor was it badly made and yet the game left me completely cold emotionally; there was no anger or joy, I felt nothing and that is a huge problem. I hated Final Fantasy XIII but I would never say it was a wasted experience because at least it made me feel something but looking back at my time with Skyrim I honestly felt like I should have been doing something else. So where did it go wrong for me? Sadly it was the lack of immersion, both on a gameplay front and on a story level, not once did I feel I was a part of this world and while that may sound silly in a game where Dragons are trying to destroy the world Iíll try to explain what I mean.
the first thing that struck me was that there is an odd weightlessness to the player character, the ease at which the PC moves breaks the illusion that the player is a full bodied person in the game and instead made me realise that I was playing as a pair of floating arms attached to a camera everytime I picked up the controler. Compare this to Dark Souls where the types of armour affected play style, heavy armour made you a tank but the lack of speed made you vulnerable while light armour had the opposite effect. Skyrim on the other hand had virtually no penalties at all for the type of armour you wear, by endgame I was wearing the heaviest armour I could make and still I could jump and run at the same speeds as when I was wearing no armour at all. Not only that but the melee combat lacks feedback, enemies barely react when hit and there is very little variety in how weapons behave. For example a mace in reality is a heavy, unbalanced weapon and yet in Skyrim the PC wields it the same way they would a sword, in fact the only difference in weapons are appearance, stats and if you were generous the type of damage it causes. Now, one could argue that these are minor complaints but I see it as unwillingness on Bethesdaís part to think about how gameplay affects immersion and evolve, in fact despite the new perk system and a new UI the basic gameplay of Skyrim has changed very little since Oblivion and perhaps even Morrowind.
But the gameplay was not the only thing that broke immersion, for a game lauded for the freedom of choice it presents not once did I feel what I was doing mattered. One of the major plot points is the group known as Stormcloaks rebelling against the Empire, which despite being kind of derivative there was some interesting potential in the story. A lot could have been done about the Empire suppressing religion, the Stormcloaks racism and the suggestion that the Empire is not as strong as it appears; any of those hints could be used to give life to the conflict. But after a series of really repetitive and dull quests to capture forts one side was declared the winner and then nothing came out of it, there is no effect on Skyrim apart from the shallowest of changes and all I got as a player was an inferior piece of armour and a sense of apathy. Ultimately if it did not matter to the land of Skyrim then why did I waste 5 hours doing the questline? Somewhere along the way this civil war storyline with huge potential became nothing but filler. Bethesda could have made this feel like a true civil war with cities changing hands or maybe quests where the player had to get the mages and the guilds to pick sides. Instead everything seemed peripheral, almost like it was happening in another dimension, even when a city is besieged the only consequence was a change in Jarl and some minor damage to what looked to be a gazebo.
Well I think that's a gazebo anyway
But it wasnít the only storyline that left me cold. By the time I had finished the Dark Brotherhood quest Iíd supposedly assassinated the Empire and once again no one cared. I just killed the leader of the most powerful nation in the land, why was that not a bigger deal? The whole Dark Brotherhood storyline looked good on paper; killing the Emperor, the Dark Brotherhood being destroyed and the Brotherhood having lost its way but none of this mattered as it had no pay off. Killing the Emperor is and should be a massive deal in the world of the Elder Scrolls, Oblivion had its plot started by the assassination of Uriel Septum, but in Skyrim there was little mention of this Emperor's death long after the deed was done. While this could be written off by news not being spread that is a massive stretch and it is more likely that the questline was added because the writers thought it would be cool.
I have an idea that could lead to all of these issues being fixed but it may be a suggestion that will get dismissed out of hand. So here it goes; make the next Elder Scrolls much, much smaller. Iím not speaking just reduce the size of the country that the new game will be set in, Iím speaking of taking a cue from Assassins Creed II and just use one huge city and its outlying countryside and while there can still be dungeons the number of these need to be greatly reduced. Donít think that I am suggesting this because I think the series should go in a new direction however, what I am proposing is that for one game Bethesda should spend resources on the what needs to improve, namely the gameplay and the writing. Bethesda uses the size of its games as a crutch; it can excuse the failings of its game engines and the poor storytelling because consumers seem content with the amount of content the games provide.
By reducing the size of the game Bethesda could focus its resources on refining the basics. A smaller pool of characters to work with will allow for more frequent use of unique character models and dialogue. Less towns and villages will mean less copy and pasting of buildings and more distinct architecture. By reducing the amount of random dungeons we could forgo encountering the same groups of bandits and Draugr and perhaps bring in creatures unique to certain dungeons and even mini bosses that arenít just reskinned character models. Having a smaller world would allow Bethesda time to look at how the player character interacts with the world around them, adding a little a little weight to both the controls and the effect the player has on the world. And perhaps Bethesda could even think of a way to make the third person an actual viable play style.
Much like a bodybuilder obsessing over building one set of muscles Bethesda is currently focusing the majority of its resources on making bigger and bigger worlds while neglecting its other aspects and the series is starting to suffer because of that. Bethesda needs to get out of its comfort zone and return to a smaller scale. By doing this Bethesda could afford to take the risk and return to square one, spending time and resources figuring out how to improve its gameplay without having to worry about trying to provide enough content to fill an entire world. I trust that given time Bethesda could create an instalment of the Elder Scrolls where the gameplay is finally deserving of the worlds they can create and that, Ladies and Gentlemen could be something truly special.
Warning: All of this has been said before but needs to be said again
Itís both an exciting time and a depressing time for the games industry, never before have games been so widely accepted as a legitimate adult entertainment, with franchises such as Call of Duty and Gears of War being treated as blockbusters akin to major movie releases. And yet there is a dark side to modern gaming, expensive AAA development means that a single failure can be devastating leading to massive layoffs and the increasingly common practice of shutting down underperforming Developers, in fact just as I am writing this the news of Team Bondiís closure has been announced.
So even big name Publishers are in trouble and something needs to be done to save the industry, maybe the key is to create new big name franchises right? The Call of Duty franchise made billions so Publishers made the natural assumption that people must want modern day FPSs, but then came the reboot of Medal of Honour and that sold poorly, then came Homefront and that sold poorly and eventually it seemed that no one want FPSs anymore. Now the market oversaturated with these failed FPSs who failed to create a niche, so bad is it that not even a month after it was released the new Call of Juarez game had its price slashed almost by a half by most retailers. But why is this? In my opinion itís not the genreís fault for these failures but the current games market, $60 is far too high a price point for average gamers to take a chance on unproven franchises.
Most companies fail to consider that there are people behind sales statistics. Sure these are people who enjoy Call of Duty but these are also people who have bills to pay, these are people with partners and children and when you have these responsibilities buying brand new titles every week or fortnight becomes unjustifiable so people stick to proven franchises because they know for $60 they are guaranteed to be entertained. Now this seems like an obvious point to make but itís a point Publishers continue to fail to understand.
Review scores are also a major contributing factor in the failure of these AAA titles but again the studios fail to understand why, even journalists fail to see the big picture. Often I hear journalists say that people are wrong for ignoring games that score less than 8 out of 10 and I would love to agree but they donít have worry about paying for these games, at $60 I think itís perfectly understandable for people to ignore these games. And yet many journalists blame consumers when a game fails when they should be complaining about the Publishers and the ridiculous price points. How many times do you read in comments section Ďthis looks good but now I guess Iíll wait until itís on saleí? These arenít people being snobs, these are people on budgets
But putting aside physical sales for a moment, there must be some other way to increase cash flow maybe by changing the very way we buy games? It has become increasingly common for Publishers and Developers to say that Digital Distribution is the future, they say this because they assume that by going digital not only will it cut out the middle man and get the whole $60 to themselves but cut out the apparent scourge of pre-owned games that cost them millions of theoretical dollars.
Now the obvious model they wish to emulate is Steam, and I concede that Steam has virtually saved modern PC gaming but Publishers seem to ignore the main appeal of Steam; impulse buying. Steam has built itself around these sales and itís there that games we would never consider buying before get a second chance at life, for instance Mount and Blade is one of my favourite titles of lasts year and yet I would have never considered buying it full price. In fact I believe if digital distribution is to happen on consoles these kinds of sales must happen if it is to work but somehow I donít think this will happen, you just have to look at games on demand on the Xbox 360 to see that price cuts are rare if they happen at all. Again companies need to make cuts if they want to see a major return on their investments.
But what about handhelds, the DS did amazingly well considering its slow start and Iphone developers are making millions off of games that only cost $1, so it only makes sense for Publishers to look towards the 3DS for a share of that handheld cash. Well no, Nintendo have only just realised their brand will only go so far in terms of sales. Baffling mistakes have been made in the bungled 3DS launch, never before have I seen a company act so wilfully stupid and behind the times that they fail to understand that 3DS games are dying virtually on their price point alone. We are spoilt when it comes to portable gaming, especially with the Iphone offering cheap replayable games no one wants to spend more than $10 on a handheld game. Nintendo understood that the price of the 3DS was too high so why keep the games at the far too expensive $40 is beyond me.
To prove my point letís look at two new IPs that has found success, Demonís Souls and Dead Space. It took time but these new franchises did so well because they had three things going for them; a good idea, good word of mouth and, most important of all, a low price at online retailers. It took time for them to create a niche for themselves and while it seems Atlus was counting on this to happen to Demonís Souls, EA seemed surprised this happened for Dead Space. So what was the difference? Well maybe itís that Atlus is a far smaller company than EA and so can afford to take risks accepting that investments may take time to see a return, while EA has the pressures of a multi-billion dollar company so any game with a substantial amount of money behind it or else EA must answer to the share holders, it is this impatience and money pinching that leads to layoffs and studio closures. So can EA learn from Atlus? Well maybe, itís not a simple yes or no as EA is in another league in terms of money, but what they do need to recognise is that no matter how money you put behind a game not every game will be a hit, if they have patience and act a little more conservative then new IPs can build a foundation for themselves, a foundation that a sequel can launch itself towards Dead Space 2 sales numbers .
Iím not totally ignorant to development costs, any kind of game development can get expensive through no fault of the Developer or Publisher but when I sat through Deus Ex Human Revolutionís 5 minutes or so of credits itís hard not to think that AAA game development has become rather bloated. Publishers could easily cut costs too; advertising matters but simply having an advertising campaign is not enough, my best example is the campaign for Homefront. The campaign included an overproduced advert where real actors played out a scene set in the gameís universe, there was no game footage and the only time the game itself was mentioned was right at the end so unless you saw the end of the ad an average person would assume it was an ad for a TV show or a film. That advert alone must have cost a fair amount of money to create and yet it failed to properly advertise the game, you simply canít waste money on a new IP like that and the Publisher should have known better.
Maybe Iím making my own false assumptions and Iím completely wrong about these points but when I see the increasingly common practice of closing down studios due to failures something drastic will have to happen otherwise we will see an implosion in the industry. Companies like EA and Blizzard are big enough to take these hits now but they only need to look in the direction of SquareEnix and the financial problems they are in to see that eventually the bubble can and most likely will burst unless something drastic is done.
Deus Ex the Human Revolution is a great game, and easily a contender for GOTY. However despite the gameplay being solid and level design on par with the original itís the story is what has left the biggest impression on me but sadly itís to the gameís detriment, what started out as a promising tale turned in to a perfect example of wasted potential.
The game starts with focused character driven Ghost in the Shell-esque plot with some potentially interesting sub plots including corporate warfare and the social impact of massive technological leaps. As you progress you feel like you are actually investigating the attack on Sarif Industries and getting closer to the culprits, but then you meet the head of Tai Yong Medical and Jensen finds out that the Illuminati are trying to monopolise augmentation among other things. Suddenly the plot losses itís urgency and becomes muddled, just dropping the Illuminatiís name brings the game to a halt. We canít investigate or do anything to the Illuminati because they are protected by canon, not only that but Adam Jenson just plain ignores their existence almost as if he has a mental block preventing him from acknowledging their existence. Then the game completely losses its shit with a hackneyed plot about mind control, biochips and zombies.
Now imagine if the game didnít have the shadow of the Illuminati and Bob Page hanging over it? Corporate warfare is an underused plot device in my opinion and I think along with the theme of human controlled evolution Edios could have created a unique and groundbreaking plot.
Go away Bob, you're not helping.
Sticking with the idea of themes and ideology, the biggest disappointment for me was the wasted potential of the Eliza Cassan character who is revealed to be an AI used by the Illuminati to control information flow. Now several questions popped in my head when this was revealed; where did the AI come from, is it the first of its kind and how human is it? None of these questions where addressed and after moving the plot along she had no further interactions with Adam Jensen until the very end. Ultimately she was so unimportant to the story that I got the distinct impression that the only reason an AI was included in the story was because the original Deus Ex and Invisible War had AIs and so one was shoehorned in.
With all the talk of humanity playing god with augmentations the existence of an AI could have been an interesting plot development with humanity accidentally or purposely achieving a form of godhood by creating an actual consciousness. But instead it was just another wasted call-back to the original games just like Bob Pageís distracting cameo at the beginning of the game (who, on a side note, should have been saved for the post credit sequence if used at all).
Hopefully we'll see more of her in the sequel.
But thatís just the tip of the wasted potential iceberg that is Human Revolution. If the Deux Ex storyline was so damaged after Invisible War (something I donít agree is true) that a drastic change was needed, a reboot or a reimagining would have been far more freeing than a straight prequel. The thing is game prequels barely work because not only has the overarching conflicts been resolved elsewhere but unless the writers get creative Adam Jensen can have no impact on the original gameís world. If you think Iím wrong just go back and look at Human Revolutionís unsatisfying endings again, each one of them are just five minutes of non committal drivel.
Ultimately for me RPGs should be a blend of story and gameplay, what you do ingame should resonate with the world around you. In an RPG you are the centre of the universe and you should choose how the story ends. So what does this have to do with Deus Ex? Simple, itís impossible to make a difference in Human Revolution because the future is already written. Edios, Iíll give you a bit of advice; RPG players are egomaniacs, we want our actions to have meaning so please donít stick us in a world where our actions are futile not because of some dramatic irony but because you wrote yourselves into a corner. Deus Ex: Human Revolution sadly won't be remembered for its story and I can't help but feel that this may not have been the case if it was treated as a reboot instead of a prequel.