Baker’s Tirades: Today’s issue – Video game stagnation & the overall decline of the industry

Guess what? I’m pissed off! so what else is new?

Firstly, let me just say that this is my own two cents on the matter, if you have complaints about anything I bring up, please email me and we’ll hash it out like men, me with a baseball bat, and you with your hands covering your weak brittle body. this is my opinion, you don’t have to like it, but I’m going to say it anyway, because it needs to be said. Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s begin shall we?

The games industry is a funny thing, like all industries, it exists to generate profit, and the best way to achieve that you’d think would be to create great, enjoyable games, with rich stories, and endearing characters, that draw you in and suck all the life out of you until you come begging back for more, most of which can be shown by games like World of Warcraft, or the constant whipping boys, Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto, but with the recent closures of brilliant gaming developers such as Pandemic, responsible for the Star Wars Battlefront games, and Factor 5, responsible for the Rogue Squadron games on the Nintendo 64 and Gamecube, it seems that making good games doesn’t seem to cut it anymore. It seems that most developers are going with the sure thing of sequels to smash hit games which offer little variety and are often carbon copies with a little bit of a facelift, shown with the Call of Duty franchise and Modern Warfare 2, as well as Halo: Reach. These two examples are seen as the pinnacle of gaming at the moment, the near-enough to godlike and masterful(as IGN UK reported on Reach), but like most games of the First Person Shooter genre, are almost identical to their predecessors, with a few extra features like killstreaks, and more clantags.

Halo: Reach the next step in First Person Shooters, although not sure if it's forwards or backwards, or is it running on the spot?

I guess the questions I’m trying to solve “whether these games contributing to the decline of gaming?” are we seeing the first roots of the unending chain of sequels & rehashes, rebadged as another, with even more gimmicks than the last, and even more content axed before release date, only to be sold back at a premium as Downloadable Content. Is the constantly growing trend of every game shoehorning multiplayer into their mechanics going to influence the bottom line of the content, or worse will there need to be a larger focus on Digital Rights Management, which hurts the legitimate consumers more often than the pirates? I dunno man, but it keeps me up at night.

I guess the only real way to dissect this is to evaluate the parts of the gaming industry that are causing the most damage, that being the massive influx of sequels. I suppose that anyone can say that games have been ripping off other games since their inception. Arcade games were outright copied by their competitors in order to make a quick buck, with a pallete or sprite swap, nobody would know the difference, and back then, nobody really cared, because games were such a new thing, any escape from reality to test your mettle against robots or aliens was a welcome addition, the term DOOM clone meant just that.  Nintendo has been doing this for 25+ years, but most of their sequels have had smaller additions to make the game larger, more challenging or add in secrets that only the most wizard-like of gamers could achieve. Besides the odd New Super Mario Brothers, the Wii title, and Super Mario Galaxy 2, there has been a massive changeup in Mario’s gameplay elements, mostly bordering on platforming, but all with a twist, Sunshine added the F.L.U.D.D. which made up for Mario’s lack of certain abilities, whereas Galaxy added in the gravity defying elements of the planetoids, and brought back the suits from previous games. Even when Nintendo made Super Mario Galaxy 2, they were unabashed about saying that, it was the same game, just with more stuff! Sure it was an exact clone of the first game with a few more suits & yoshi, but the important thing was that we were told that it was going to be that. Nintendo told us basically “look, we had a dickload of ideas, but we weren’t able to fit them all in, here’s more of the same mechanics with new worlds, enjoy!” it was an expansion pack of sorts, but with the full price tag.

Now I’ve hit on the fact that sequels are more often than not more of the same with a few added tweaks, it’s time to jump on the real monster in the room and carve it’s guts up like a sow in a slaughterhouse, FPS Sameness. Sure most of the games don’t exist in the same universe, but the way they look and play, they may as well have been. Most if not all feature a generic, gruff, macho, roid-monkey space marine, with a five o’clock shadow, and a crew cut. All of them wear shoulder pads that would make Rob Liefeld cry out that it’s too much(actually, I’m half convinced that he’s on every one of the character design teams). To make matters worse, the stories are just as contrived as ever, although one could say that all stories are the same, when following the Hero’s Journey model:

  • Big Bad rises up to fuck over the generic space-city of who gives a fuck
  • shit gets real, the hero’s get shit canned because of some mission that goes wrong
  • group of tough as nails space marines battle to save the land

It’s their story of a struggle to rise from the ashes, wading through billions of enemies, whose only role is to slightly slow down the veritable tanks on legs, as they charge through 3 or more boss battles, sometimes less, to finally put a bullet in the head of the big bad, and lay him down to rest forever………..or do they?(cue shitty sequel pretext). Somebody kill me please.

Dear God man, his foot is larger than his head! Bodies are not meant to be modelled that way!

“But Baker you idiot, nobody plays those games for the single player, it’s all about the multiplayer man” I hear you say. you know what? Fuck you! If a game chooses to have a story in it, it should be done right, in new and exciting ways, with engaging fresh characters, not be the setting up for the next bloodbath in generic ruins or a space station nobody cares about. It’s come to the point where the story only exists to answer the question as to why the game has weapons of this era this time, and who are we going to kill this time? Sure this has existed since the dawn of time, but back then nobody really cared, as I said, games were something new, nowadays, the same thing just keeps happening, but it shouldn’t. We’ve grown from those days, the games should too. Another thing that pisses me off about multiplayer, is the fact that, all it exists for is for underage faggots to sharpen their e-peen over who has the highest Kill/Death ratio, or who got the most killstreaks that round, or even worse, “dude check out my clantag, it has a weed leaf on it, aren’t I edgy?” which leads me to my next point, being that a certain element is lost, when games start being about one-upmanship, and become a less team oriented approach.

This is where games like MAG and Counter Strike really shine. MAG, being a completely online multiplayer game, is about team building and working together to accomplish the goal of that round, working in a team is the only way to achieve that goal, otherwise prepare yourself for a lot of time at the spawn point while you wait for the counter to tick down. It’s a game where experience points matter, where teamwork garners respect amongst your clan and leadership is the only way to win the massive 256 player battles, where the voice chat option is used for communication rather than racial slurs and shit-talking. MAG is a game that takes it’s multiplayer experience seriously, it does everything to make the time spent playing worthwhile, where you complete objectives, not just whittle down the enemies ranks before they do. In a similar fashion, Counter-Strike began as a game based around the teamwork of counter-terrorists versus terrorists, but has evolved into so much more with the help of the modification scene. For every de_dust2 server, there will be hundreds of GunGame, DeathMatch, Surf, DeathRun, Build & Prison Break servers, providing a variety not seen in many other games, and while not necessarily about teamwork, these gametypes are a welcome change from the standard afforded in many other multiplayer games, most of which end up being ignored anyway for the option of kill everything that moves.

A typical Surf map in Counter-Strike Source, good luck figuring out where to go though...

The main problem with games being predominantly about their online capabilities & touting multiplayer as the biggest addition since sliced bread, is that the whole “you’ve never played a game like this before” schtick. Bullshit, I played it twelve times this year already, all with the same annoying enemies, the same annoying cheap shots, the same overpowered weapons and the same 12 year old kiddies who’ve moved on from the last hardcore game, something which WILL happen to Modern Warfare 2 when Black Ops is released, just like it happened to World At War. In fact the only thing keeping Modern Warfare 2 alive at present is the trickle of Downloadable Content, in the form of map packs, the same map packs you played over and over and over again, condensed and repackaged at a quarter of the price of a new game, so that you can play them again, only this time with even more broken weapons and gameplay mechanics.

Which leads me nicely into my next train of thought, Downloadable Content, or DLC as it’s referred to, the bastard child of the micro-transaction & the Expansion Pack. Back in the days of Windows 95, when the Playstation and Nintendo 64 were but fledglings in the field, games used to be epic adventures, with rich bountiful stories, which ended only when you wanted them to, and if you were lucky and the developer decided to be nice, an expansion pack was made, what was akin to more content, same engine, essentially a new game using the same realm & engine, for a budget price. during the rise of the digital age, and the upgrading of technology, it was found that these expansion packs could be transferred over the internet to many more people, previously unable to purchase, and this was fine, so long as the content continued to remain the same, but then came the greed. Fewer expansion packs were made for games, rather sequels were churned out instead for full price, where previously there was a reduced fee, or in some cases, for example Steam, for free. once it had been established that the consumers would buy anything if branded properly, the DLC floodgates were broken, and micro-transactions became the currency of the future. Micro$oft funbucks became the necessary means to afford that little extra map pack, and since they only came in a strict quantity, there was usually a certain amount left over, the same with Wii points, although that and the PSN could directly debit your card for the exact amount of cash, the Micro$oft fun bucks were in controlled amounts.

In the case of Grant Theft Auto IV, Downloadable Content was released on the Xbox before being released on the PS3 and PC respectively months later, in order to drive up sales of the "Exclusive Content"

With the movement for most games to be online, Micro$oft seized the opportunity to charge for online play, even when games did not even run on their servers, “who cares, you have to pay to be this cool” was the motto of the Xbox Defence Force, whereas the Playstation Network stayed free to play, and with the recent launch of the PSN+ offers more but is not mandatory. And the Wii? well, I don’t think they’ve even figured out how to connect up the dial-up yet. And even then, most of the games offered on the Wii are of the model that Online is just an option secondary to the main game, and DLC? what’s that? Sure the Virtual Console is a bit pricey,  but the fact that they are offering such a massive back catalogue of favourites and gems at all, but I digress. Online play began as free, and that’s how it should stay, I shouldn’t have to pay again and again to play the same game online with my friends, just as much as I shouldn’t be restricted by where I am when I play said game, which leads me nicely into DRM.

Digital Rights Management has been the cornerstone of all companies when they are concerned with confronting Piracy, but not all of the options that have been taken are the right ones. Sure some like the CD-key can be circumvented on offline games, but for online, it works, having that key tied to an account should be all that’s needed to keep track of all the games in circulation. The recent debacle with Modern Warfare 2 and the Ubisoft perpetual online to play offline games bullshit just makes me mad. Firstly, with, it’s purpose was to crack down on hackers and to reduce Piracy, fat lot of good that did, I guess they don’t know about, a pirate server mirror of the DRM software, which allows custom servers, different maptypes, different gametypes and many more additional features that were unable to be accessed in the final game due to fears of piracy. The Ubisoft perpetually online crap is a way of making sure that you are using a legitimate copy of the game at all times, in other words, if you can’t connect to the game server, you can’t play the game, to make matters worse, the server experienced massive problems when it was first launched, and continues to harm legitimate buyers of the game. Now when the means to protect these games are hurting them, the time has come to vote with your wallets and say, fuck off you cunts, let me play the game I payed for.

So that’s a little bit of what’s plaguing my mind at the moment. I’m sure this won’t be the end of it, I mean, Halo: Reach just launched, just imagine it, hundreds of teenagers waiting to get their hands on the next samey rip-off of Ringworld, it makes me sick, but enough talk, have at you.

About SolidBaker

Edward is the Australian Asshole of the group, you'll often find him bitching about censorship or the fact that he gets shafted on most video game releases. Solid has a penchant to rattle on about little niggling parts of games that he gets angry with and tends to get angry with them often. He owns most of the current systems and a lot of the older systems, and has a general distaste of most of the current generation of games, but that doesn't mean he can't enjoy them all the same.