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TheManchild avatar 12:15 PM on 10.06.2012  (server time)
The Replacement Sequels

The movie industry really sucks these days. Hardly anything groundbreaking ever comes out, and the odd film worth watching is usually ignored by the movie going public. Instead, sequels and remakes are relied upon to make some chump change, and that reasoning is why there are more Saw movies than volumes of the first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

That's right, more than three. I wasn't exaggerating.

It's kind of weird when it comes to games, though. At least for me. I am someone who is compelled by the idea of the "total package." The one game to rule them all, a game that will eat up so much of my time that I won't be able to do anything else except masturbate and eat hot dogs, a process (and it is indeed a process) which usually occurs simultaneously. I have been looking for this game forever, and finally found it; it was called Dwarf Fortress. But shortly after investing a small chunk of my life to learn the mechanics of that game, I realized I was wrong, and that there is no all encompassing experience out there. As humans, we get bored, and have to move on eventually, to find the next best thing. But a flaw in the sequel system, in our constant need to refresh our experiences, is that we can often forget what made the original thing so damn good in the first place.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is a pretty good example of this. The game came out to rave reviews, and most people seemed to really be sold by the quality of it. There was not much hate abound at that time; it was a fresh new thing that hadn't yet caught the attention of the mainstream "Mountain Dew" crowd (a term I made up because I imagine jocks who play video games also drink Mountain Dew because it sucks and fuck them) and was a great addition to an already long running series of solid first person shooters. The cinematic approach was kind of new at the time, there were some real shocker moments, and the multiplayer was strong across all platforms. It's still a strong game if you go back and play it now, although it loses a lot of it's value after one play through since it is so cinematically oriented; the gameplay is identical to the new games, however.

Now, no one talks about it. It sits on dusty shelves by the dozen in Gamestop stores employed by sneering children who spit upon each copy they have to stick a new, yellow "recycled game" sticker on. People hate it for what it "did to gaming", a commonly employed slander against anything that becomes too big too fast, and is eventually exploited in order to continue churning out a profit. Hell, when Modern Warfare 3 came out, I was sick of hearing about the series. A part of me which is annoyed by small things, the same part that wants to murder everyone in the neighborhood when I hear a dog barking at night, wanted it to die. Critics like Jim Sterling were absolutely raked across the coals for giving it a good rating; yet it sold a bajillion copies anyways, and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 5: Black Ops 2: The Sequel is coming out in short time, only to receive a similar treatment.

Apart from a few hold outs, the first game in that series and therefore the most important, is all but forgotten. It has been replaced by a fresh new thing; this is how Activision has chosen to treat the franchise, much like a new Madden game. You play the new one for a bit, but don't worry, another is well on the way. So be sure to trade in all your old copies of the series to get your due credit, which will be somewhere in the vicinity of a cent to the dollar on what you had payed originally.

This kind of sucks, and I feel like the potential is there for it to happen with a lot of other things, as well. Hell, even Mario titles these days feel like they are doing that. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is an infinitely better title than the already mind blowing Super Mario Galaxy; so much so that if I wanted a copy of the first, all it would cost is around ten dollars and a quick trip down to the mall, where my EB Games store has about fifty of them in stock. Mario Galaxy 2, however, still retails for around fifty bucks, and there isn't a used copy in sight. Because the sequel did everything better, without doing anything new, it acted as a complete replacement, an upgrade, and not as a unique, stand alone game. Even though the first is still as amazing as it was the day it came out, it has largely been forgotten. It was effectively replaced, and therefore functions now only as an inferior version of its successor.

This happens in the tabletop gaming world, as well. As soon as Wizards of the Coast got their hands on Dungeons & Dragons, they pumped out a new edition which was a welcome upgrade at the time to a dwindling 2nd Edition, which had been hurt by extreme modulation in the form of hundreds of products. The father company, TSR, simply couldn't support it's flagship game anymore, and closed shop. At the time, people thought the 3rd edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, simply called Dungeons & Dragons, would be around for at least another decade. But it wasn't long before a revamp of that system, called 3.5, as well as a whole new set of books came along to change things. Fans held up their hands, shook their heads, but went ahead and bit anyways, only to hear an announcement not long after that a fourth edition was in the works, and that it would drastically change the game and be completely incompatible with the third, thus acting as a total replacement for an entire product line. And D&D fans would once again be expected to get rid of their old materials, and embrace the new; although they would be two different games, they simply could not co-exist as 3.5 would no longer be recognized or supported by Wizards of the Coast.

Well a little company named Paizo called bullshit on this, and with their own game Pathfinder, decided to keep their beloved 3.5 rules alive. Today, they pump out an insane amount of content which is both compatible with their game and with the original 3.5 rules for Dungeons & Dragons, and they have built a massive consumer base, with many converts from the new, more controversial set of rules Wizards of Coast has provided the past few years. Now, a new version of Dungeons & Dragons called Dungeons & Dragons: Next is on the way, and it will once again be an overhaul of the system. Yet all the while, the 3.5 ruleset flourishes, not only in competition with the current D&D product line, but also co-existing alongside it; there are plenty of people out there who happily play both games. In fact, there is quite a sizable portion of people who recognized that the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules were good enough for them, and who create oodles of content to support that, too.

It's sort of funny to me then, that many companies these days act like supporting their old content will threaten the new stuff. Imagine if Wizards of the Coast had decided to continue support for every product line they have created up to this point, even if it was just putting out a new book here and there. With the problems they have faced profiting off of the fourth edition, this seems to be a problem they are looking to address with Next. In light of all that, seeing how profitable Paizo has been with their Pathfinder line, Wizards of the Coast released a reprint of their 3.5 core books just a month ago, along with a reprint of the very first edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons earlier this year. They wanted every new edition to completely obliterate the ones which came before it; they wanted it to be a full replacement, but people wouldn't stand for that. They loved their games, had invested so much time into them, that no new flashy rule was going to change that for them. The new thing didn't make the old one obsolete.

In my opinion, a sequel shouldn't just be "the next step", or an evolution of a formula, to the point where you put "Next" in the fucking title; It should do enough different that it becomes an experience all its own. That's why I usually stray away from big name franchises which are able to pump out game after game, year after year, all using a slightly modified version of their engine; or an engine which is often exactly the same. When you pump out a constant stream of titles, same as with endless sequels to a movie franchise, people get sick of it really quickly. They start to feel like they are paying for a mere upgrade rather than an entirely new package, and the old ones feel obsolete. There needs to be a reasonable gap in between each new title so that the attempt to cash in on success isn't so blatantly obvious. People treat some sequels to games like a full replacement because that is the way the companies behind said games treat them, and it tarnishes those really good experiences, and makes us forget their origins and why we liked them so much in the first place.

Go back and play your old games; pop in that copy of the first Super Mario Galaxy, pick up your old AD&D books once in awhile. Remember what brought you to the fourth edition of a tabletop RPG, or the tenth of a multiplayer military shooter, and you might be surprised at how fun the experience can still be, despite all of those changes and improvements brought to the formula over the years.

A sequel doesn't have to be a full replacement, just like buying a new cat when Mittens dies can't ever really replace her. Except if she shit on the floor all the time and scratched the back of your head whenever you sat on the couch. It's a bad analogy though, because I can't really think of any games which started out as abject shit and eventually turned into something good.


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