I'm growing older all the time. It's getting to the point where it's embarrassing.
I think Dark Souls is a work of art that belongs in a museum. The Royal Ontario Museum disagrees, but I think I'm starting to wear them down.
When I was in grade 5 I went to school as Robin for Halloween. The costume was basically a pair of green lady tights and a tunic that had to be Velcroed at the crotch like a baby's onesie. My self esteem never fully recovered.
I believe Alan Wake was criminally under-appreciated. It's unclear if this notion stems from a legitimate love of the game, or my loyalty to any piece of media that is going to include tracks from Nick Cave, Poe, and Depeche Mode.
Some of my stuff has been front-paged. I'm super proud!
In the new generation of consoles, reboots and reinventions are in, and sequel numbers have become passe.
Chopping off the number at the end of the title and adding a colon or subtitled to a familiar name seems to be the hip thing all the cool games are doing. Take a look at the PS4 launch lineup – Infamous: Second Son and Killzone: Shadow Fall both lose their numeration, and Deep Down is heavily suspected to be a re-branding of Capcom's Dragon's Dogma. We've also got the recently leaked Black Flag and even a few contemporary examples such as DmC and Tomb Raider, games distancing themselves from their long and storied canons and or trappings while still retaining a recognizable face.
It makes a lot of sense from a business point of view. Why start from scratch if you don't have to? While many of these long time series have been played out about as far as they can go, they still capture our attention. Making a new IP is so risky these days, and I can only imagine it's even worse developing for the more demanding PS4 and next Xbox. So why not switch protagonists, change up the setting a bit, and (hopefully) introduce some new elements? It lets them make a game that has a chance of recouping it's costs without getting bogged down in too much history.
But I have to say, it's also a little disappointing. So far we're seeing a lot of games we basically expect to have sequels, more Killzone, more Assassins Creed. and the reinventions (so far) don't seem to stray far from comfortable territory. Shadow Fall will let us shoot Space-Nazis in a Gene Roddenberry future instead of a Ridley Scott one, big whoop. And more to the point, some of what we are seeing and hearing rumours about don't't seem to be using the next-generation's capabilities to its fullest potential. They seem like iterations on what we have, not leaps into the next-generation.
One of the great things about a new console launch is that if you put something out at launch, it will probably sell. It is a great time to take risks, to introduce new IPs and ideas. One of the most successful and exciting games for the Wii U has been Ubisoft's weird hardcore horror title ZombiU, it came out of nowhere to find an audience. If developers aren't willing to gamble on new IPs, the least they could do is salvage some more surprising ones.
I have my own fantasy launch line-up. A trio of forgotten games I think are not only due for a re-boot or re-invention, but could also be fantastic showcases for the new features and potential of the next-generation consoles.
Silent Storm -
Silent Storm pretty much killed a summer for me. It was an odd deviation from my standard diet of FPS, RPG, and action titles. A quirky little turn-based strategy game with a laundry list of flaws and foibles, it never seemed like something that would grab me, but it did. I spent a lot of time guiding my squads around Europe that summer, and even more time watching my brother while playing back-seat commander. If you never heard of Silent Storm, don't sweat it, a lot of people never did.
Released way back in 2003, Silent Storm was one of those weird little games that was years ahead of it's time. A WWII themed strategy game that put you in charge of a squad of persistent characters with branching XP trees operating under the constant threat of perma-death. It had a fairly decent physics engine that could support some neat building destruction and terrain deformation for the time. Not only did it look amazing to watch chunks of concrete rip out of walls and buildings collapse into match-sticks, it had a massive impact on the gameplay and the types of strategy you could employ. Would you send in a sneaky scout to slit the throats of every SS Officer hiding in the manor? Or send your engineer up to the front-door with a satchel of dynamite and blow the entire facade off the building?
Of course, all that complexity came at a price. Even using a more modern and powerful computer to run the game, Silent Storm can come to a grinding halt as the engine struggles to predict the effects of a grenade or process all the possible choices for the AI enemy. It was just made too damn early for what it was trying to do.
The next console generation, with all its beefy physics processing power, is a chance to see Silent Storm's unique take on turn-based action as it was intended.
I would love to see the free-form building destruction and terrain deformation of Silent Storm kicked up to an absurd degree. Not only to feed that destructive streak in me that craves a good scorched earth every now and then, but to show how the next-generation's power can expand the gameplay of the tried and true turn-based strategy genre.
Building and terrain destruction makes the battle feel so much more alive. Not only that, it also increases the types of strategy you can employ. While the original Silent Storm had great deformation for it's time, what they could do on the new systems would blow it out of the water. You could base a good amount of gameplay around shaping the battlefield to your needs.
Imagine fire that spread through an area every turn. A moving obstacle that you had to keep in mind while planning out your next move. Imagine setting off explosions to make ghetto-foxholes for emergency cover. Of being able to target cover spots and obstacles at will, before an enemy uses it to advance on you. These are all options with a physics engine and an AI smart enough to adapt to it. If Nivel Interactive could do a decent job of it back in 2003, I'm sure a modern dev could make it spectacular on the PS4 or next Xbox.
The time is right to take a risk on a turn-based stratedy game. XCOM: Enemy Unknown did a fantastic job reintroducing the idea to the masses last year, taking a supposedly "dead" genre and making GOTY lists all over the place. Hot on it's heels, we've seen the highly successful release of Fire Emblem this past month. These games have proven that strategy games still have a place in our hearts, even on the consoles. It would be nice to see the genre represented on the next-generation, adding a little variety to the glut of shooters, 3rd person action, and driving games that usually dominate a launch.
One thing I would love to see a next-gen Silent Storm game take from the original game is the fantastic support system. Where named unique characters can develop relationships and familiarities with each other both on and off the field.
While I absolutely loved the random customizable Joes of XCOM:EU and the organic stories they could organically tell (whether you left them default or edited them to represent members of your family and friends), I can't deny the charm of the Silent Storm way of things. A large cast of colourful squadmates that grow both as soldiers and people and form relationships with each other both on and off the field. I think that is more true to the previous Silent Storm games and their campy stereotypical characters.
I would love to see a follow up to Silent Storm change the scene from the very familiar WWII to a 10-minutes into the future modern/sci-fi vibe. Set up some fictional countries similar to Namco's Ace Combat series "strangereal" world of Estovakia and Eursean. Get it out of the trappings of WWII and avoid any kind of weird political messaging about contemporary nations. Let us see an elite team of multinational soldiers in a crazy cartoon version of our reality take on suicide missions together and grow and bond and blow up crazy Cobra Mountain style fortresses.
Some might say Skate can't be rebooted because it never left. I'm not one of those people.
The first Skate was a breath of fresh air. In a genre dominated by Tony Hawk's 1080 McTwists into 14 different flip tricks and grinds through a cartoon world where every structure was essentially a disguised ramp or rail of some kind, Skate was beautiful in it's simplicity. Focusing on a much more realistic depiction of skateboarding with tricks that could actually be replicated by humans and set in the openworld fictional city of San Vanelona, Skate nicely straddled the line between realistic skateboarding and arcade fun.
I had a lot of fun with the original Skate. There was something charming about tooling around the back of a convenience store parking lot practising the perfect gap between dumpsters, rather than the bodacious insanity of its competitors. It was a great sit-and-chill game. Sadly it's sequels pulled more to the Tony Hawk style of things, focusing more and more on cartoon stunts and extreme personalities.
I think the next-generation is a great chance for the series to get back to its roots, expanding on everything that made the original game great with next-gen features. It would be a great showcase for the PS4's new share feature and supposedly super fast network.
Skate was always about capturing a real skateboarding vibe, and a big part of that scene is the DIY spirit of creating your own skate videos. Using the PS4's Share function, and whatever equivalent the next Xbox is likely to include, they have a great opportunity to let players create, edit, and share skate videos with friends.
We don't really know anything about the Share function. Maybe it will only let you capture raw playback video, but if the tech is capable I would love to see more. A robust in-game editor that you could use to shoot the perfect skate clip. Get in tight, follow along, go into slow-motion, add your stereotypical fish-eye lens, and share your tragic bail with all your friends. It makes so much sense, I'd be surprised if we didn't see some game or another try something similar.
I would love to see Skate bring the communal spirit back to the skateboarding. Using the much touted networks of the near future, I think it would be amazing to see San Vanelona populated with random online skaters, sort of like Journey or the ghostly phantoms in Dark Souls. How cool would it be to just be tooling around and see some other skater jumping a staircase? To be able to play an ad hoc game of HORSE or just session the same area for a bit? Make the city feel alive, bring that spirit of shared fun and competition to the game.
If the next-gen is going to have a big push towards social functions, they'd better be ones gamers care about. Skate would be perfect for the style of ambient challenges and leaderboards we've seen in games like Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. I would love to be able to compare my score or tricks against my friends off any ledge or rail in the city, my time down a hill, the number of broken bones I've incurred, and so on.
Then there is that other next-gen feature that seems to raise a lot of eyebrows, the Kinect (and whatever Sony decides to call their version).
Well, I actually think the Kinect could be useful for a Skate game. NOT for any kind of "stand in your room and pretend to do a kick-flip" kind of junk. But if you could use your 3D camera to take a photo of your real life deck and scan that image onto a virtual copy in Skate, I think that would be pretty cool. In fact, let us scan our faces and plaster them onto our virtual skater selves. It isn't a huge thing, but it might finally be a use for the Kinect that doesn't make gamers want to tear their hair out.
If they wanted to get really crazy, they could have the camera pick up on basic hand gestures so players could communicate with other random skaters that meet in their world. Waving, pointing, and I'm sure I can think of one other hand gesture I'd love to give to certain XBL players...
Skate was a cool series, but it's drifted away from what made it unique. I think the next-gen is a great chance to get the series back on track while adding in a crazy new level of community and competition to the game.
Chromehounds came out seven long years ago, released only a few months after the launch of the Xbox360. Despite it's age and relative cult status, it's still considered one of the best mech combat games ever released. No other console mech game has ever approached the depth of customization options and the emphasis on role-based online team play before or since. Despite it's boasts, Chromehounds died an ignominious death after SEGA shutdown the servers in 2009. Four years dead, and recently released mech games like Hawken and Mechwarrior Online are being compared unfavourably to it's legacy.
Chromehounds was an amazing platform for displaying what made the Xbox360 cool. Demonstrating the power of Xbox Live online play and the scale of what the console was capable of. If the licence was given the chance, it could do it again for the next-gen systems; The power of these new consoles and their network could make a new Chromehounds title everything it once was and so much more.
One of the things that set Chromehounds apart from other mech games was it's emphasis on team dynamics and role combat. Each unit had it's own specific strengths and weaknesses and jobs on the field. I would love to see a Chromehounds sequel embrace and expand upon the idea and have multiplayer teams made up of heavily differentiated units. I would love to see stratified movement abilities - jump jetting scouts vs nearly immobile support fire units. It would be fun to see coordinated techniques that required units to work together, and an emphasis on information warfare (radar, communication, jamming, ect). Lots of units/gear that is super powerful when combined/used right but utterly useless on its own, forcing very careful consideration and planning when putting together mechs.
I would love for a game to come out and make a statement, that console multiplayer games can be just as sophisticated as ones on the PC. Despite great strides in the market, multiplayer on consoles is still looked down on in certain circles. Fine for the Call of Duty bunch that just want to run around lone wolf style, but the mythical PC crowd is where "true" teamplay exists.
I want to see the next-gen systems rise up and quash those stereotypes. If they want to make online play such a huge element of their titles and backbone, they need to stop being afraid of offering complex team driven experiences. I don't want to hear developers imply how they had to dumb down the experience for consoles ever again in the next-gen. It's time for console games to grow up and realize they can be just as complex and nuanced as PC titles. That there is a market out there for games that don't condescend the players. I hate to break out the Dark Souls example again but when the shoe fits, it fits. If you're willing to take the chance and make a demanding title, there is an audience out there that will buy it.
Hand in hand with the idea of deep role combat, I would love to see a Chromehounds that expanded on the persistent online gameplay of the first. The original featured an ongoing war for territory and domination between two factions that was blocked off into seasons. I'd love to see that idea expanded on. More than two factions, equipment and mech chassis that were exclusive to one team or another. The ability to align with one of those groups or strike out as a mercenary. Territory changing hands depending on the results of games. Weekly challenges, hotspots or areas or opportunity. The ability to form squads with friends, or drop into ad hoc games for personal glory and advancement.
The idea of Drive Club doesn't interested me. But Mech Club? Now that gives me goosebumps. That is something I would want to join in. The idea of a crack squad of Dtoiders dropping into battle together in specially configured war-machines designed to compliment and enhance each others abilities? Comparing stats between rival groups? Minor challenges and goals for the group to accomplish? That's my jam.
To go along with the online combat, it would be cool to see a steady stream of added content. The occasional new weapon or map introduced to the community to keep things interesting and shift around the meta-game.
This has less to do with my imaginary Chromehounds reboot and more with changes I would like to see in Sony, and particularly Microsoft's policies. With all the network hype being touted, I'm hoping devs will be able to pipe in minor modifications and changes without the need for a full title update. That not every update will cost the company money and have to be bundled into some piece of paid DLC. That we won't see the same kind of boondoggle that prevented the console versions of TF2 ever enjoying any of the updates the PC enjoy (although that also had to do with memory constraints I understand.)
It's tough because I can understand why those policies exist. The platform holders don't want devs releasing half-finished products and then issuing patch after patch to fix them. At the same time, we saw case after case of strict updating policies screwing over games and gamers. I don't want to get too bogged down dithering about what to do about it, but I'm hoping the next-gen consoles will provide a more elegant solution that allows devs to introduce the occasional update or new piece of mech-bling to a game without making it a massive (expensive) event.
The next-generation is ripe with potential. I'm not saying we need to reinvent the wheel or dump all our favourite IPs in the trash, but it would be nice to see some developers take chances. I hope in the coming months as the reveals and hype really take off, that we see some new IPs, or at least some new tricks for some old and forgotten dogs.