I may just be spoiled. I am fortunate as I get to play a huge number of games each year. The trouble is, I am getting a bit bored of what is being offered up. Don’t get me wrong, there are great games being made. There are also not so great games that will get great scores being made as well – but hey, that’s the way of the games world.
My issue is that I am finding that I would rather watch a good film than play another blockbuster game. I would rather be passive if I am going to switch my brain off, not being guided through a series of scenarios where my actions do nothing more than push the narrative forward. A great example is Call of Duty: Black Ops. The story was really good. It would have made a wonderful film. I would have really enjoyed just watching the film and then playing the multiplayer game.
One of my favourite descriptions of a game comes from Sid Meiers (Creator of Civilisation for those who don’t know). He defines games as “A series of interesting choices”. This is misquoted often by many (myself included) as “A series of meaningful choices”. Either way, it implies that good games give you choices. Choices have outcomes. Different choices should have different outcomes.
When I play Walking Dead, I know that there are certain choices I can make that will have an effect on other parts of the game. Should I save the little boy, who will just slow us down, or the guy who saved my life. If I chooce one, a family will be grateful to me, however the father of the man who saved me will be most upset with me! In Heavy Rain, I knew that how I handled certain conversations or actions would dictate which ending I got to see.
Not all choices in games have to lead to totally different story outcomes. Choices can just be different ways to approach a situation in a game. Take a game like Hotline Miami. It looks like a game I played in the 80’s, but it plays like a pure slice of now. Whilst the outcome of each level may be the same no matter how you play (everyone dies), there are multiple ways to achieve your goal. Change your approach to get better scores. Besides looking amazing (to a retro head like myself), it is nice to know that how I play will change at least how I score – and a big fuss is made of that.
Playing a game like Call of Duty or Battlefield 3 or any of the other big scripted blockbusters; you don’t get any sense that what you are doing makes a difference. It doesn’t matter how you play the level, as long as you don’t die, all that happens is you move to the next level and the next level until you get to watch the epic conclusion to it all. Please don’t get me wrong, this can be very enjoyable. I just want more. If a game is always going to have a single outcome, I at least want that outcome to be something of a surprise. I want a journey that is worth the 40 quid I paid for it. LA Noire is a fine example of this. Yes, the outcome of the game is always the same, but choices made in the game define how easy or hard it is to get to the ending. More importantly, the story is full of amazing twists and turns. It is gripping for start to finish (well, the arson cases were a bit of a grind).
This isn’t new. As much as I and other 1st and 2nd generation gamers like to pretend it is, this is the way games have been for quite some time. I personally blame movie tie ins, but that is another story. The difference was, when I was young, pretty much all games were new in some way. The great developers of the day were coming up with ideas that had never been done before. Every few months a new game that did something totally unheard of would be released. That isn’t so easy now. New ideas are getting harder and harder to come up with. However, the really good games designers are still managing it.
Choose to give the player a series of meaningful and interesting choices. Choose to be more than a movie that requires regular button pressing on the funny shaped remote control. Choose to give the player an experience.