The consumer pays the developer for the content, not for the possibility to create content

Lately I’ve been playing more games again across the platforms. There have been slew of gems I never had a lot of time to spend on, like RAF World on Famicom. You may know it better by the name Journey to Silius. I also tested out the Tomb Raider reboot, because it was less than 10€. After hearing all the negative commotion it had going on for it, I wanted to see how this high budget game done. I was disappointed.

The big budget games we had twenty years ago are now something anyone could do, at least when it comes to visuals. There are numerous high end programs that allow you to easily create and animate sprites, design stages and implement them into one game. Not only that, but the game industry itself has embraced user produced content further than before in official manner. Nintendo’s Mario Maker runs on user generated content, and pretty much on nothing else. As an idea it’s neat, but ultimately the consumer does not pay for stages another consumer builds. The consumer pays the game designers to do it for them, just like how a movie goes pays the directors and actors to make a movie.

RAF World doesn’t keep me playing it too much, I enjoy it in short burst for a life or two. I love how each time I get a little bit further and there’s a proper feeling of advancement with each stage that isn’t forced or artificial. In contrast, I spend three days on Tomb Raider’s reboot game, playing it few hours per day until I was done with it. Its progression felt forced with story unlocking some of your more advanced weaponry rather than player organically building it up. The reason why I finished Tomb Raider faster than RAF World is not because of RAF World being more difficult, but because Tomb Raider has no difficulty.

Tomb Raider’s problem is that it lacks gameplay. It is made to be a cinematic game, where you mostly slouch on your couch staring Lara’s ass wiggling in front of you and occasionally shooting an arrow to someone’s head to advance. There’s few very strong enemy characters that keep coming back despite being killed dozens of times before. Model reuse in this game is laughably bad. There are solid ideas, and yet none of them are implemented properly, starting from how Lara moves (there’s serious lack of precise control) to the combat system (you can straight up ignore any other weapon than the bow outside scripted fights) all the way to the worst part of the game; shakycam. For whatever reason somebody thought it was a good idea to implement movies’ shakycam in an action game. It made my head ache.

Anyone can make a game that looks like RAF World whereas not so many have the resources to make a game that looks like Tomb Raider. However, not many can make a game of high quality like RAF World. Its gameplay may be simpler than Tomb Raider’s, but it is on a completely different calibre, and the game industry hasn’t really advanced in regards of that. Things have gotten prettier and more cinematic, but the gameplay and assets have not evolved in the same manner.

Let’s get back to Mario Maker. When was the last time Nintendo renewed any gameplay elements with Super Mario? Super Mario 64 had to completely reinvent how it is played, which then affected the physics of 2D Mario games from New Super Mario Bros. onwards, and for the worse. Let’s be honest here, the modern 2D Mario games have far more looser and inaccurate controls than the sprite based games, which is what Tomb Raider’s reboot reflects as well. A lot of people still go back to Super Mario Bros.3 or Super Mario World, not because of the better gameplay, but because they have something better; better design.

The assets both SMB3 and SMW have are high calibre, even if the latter was rather hastily put together as the timeline came to a close. The reason people still bought these games in their numerous re-releases is because they bought into the quality of the product. I would be hesitant to use the term talent, but for the lack for any other properly descriptive term we’ll have to go with that. SMB3 and SMW were big budget games that had talent behind them and a drive to make the game sellable. It needed to sell, and mediocre game would not be enough. This has changed as the game industry seems to lack any talent to make as high calibre games for whatever reason as before. Rise of the Tomb Raider failed incredibly hard, and it’s not hard to see why when the previous game was this lacklustre. Even when looking at the original Tomb Raider, which was pretty good game, it’s rather worrying to see that the talent in the game industry has gone into making pretty and cinematic games with very little talent to make games with great gameplay and high quality assets.

We can then understand easily why the game industry has embraced all these user generated content games like Mario Maker. With assets becoming a commodity everyone can build something from, flooding the games’ scenes with less than stellar content, at what point will the game designer begin to make games where you need to build your own engine in order to build your own stages in order to play the game you paid 60€ for?

The consumer does not pay for a set of assets for an amateur to make a game from. It’s like buying a full meal and getting the ingredients on a platter for your friend to cook it for you.

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Depending how busy I am during the holidays, we may be skipping this weekend’s entry. On another note, I’ve been constantly updating the Dragon Slayer series chart, which is currently in its tenth revision. Do check it out if you haven’t seen it before.

When everything else fails, use nostalgia

Ducktales Remastered is a symptom of industry gone bad. The amount of HD remakes we’ve had is another. Remakes of old TV-series and films are another one, and the music industry has been suffering from the lack of variety for some time as well.

When an industry is facing hard times, it will fall back to nostalgia. It’s not only an easy way to make money, but it’s also a way to produce something the easy way. When I heard of Ducktales Remastered, my initial reaction was nothing short of Oh… and nothing more. I had to ask myself Why does this exist? Ducktales has not been a relevant product for years and is remembered mostly by older consumers. An example of this came out yesterday, when I mentioned the Remastered version to a younger friend, his reaction was There’s a Ducktales game?  According to an interview, both Disney and CAPCOM have been wanting to remake Ducktales for years now. I would have liked to see a new Ducktales game rather than a remake, but what do I know, I’m just the person they expect to pay for this product.

Nostalgia is a cozy thing really. I admit that I revel in it from time to time, but nostalgia is the thing that holds a lot of products back. New things sell. People are both afraid and intrigued by something new. It’s the stuff they don’t understand what scares them, and designing around this is easy enough. However, designing new things is hard and asks people to actually use their gray brain cells in order to put up a proper product, be it an event or a film. Falling back on nostalgia seems to be a way to throw away any desires to make anything new and actually worthwhile. We all can be Warhols and copy/paste stuff around. Becoming a Da Vinci is where the challenge is.

It’s good to have nostalgia now and then, but nostalgia seems to be taking more and more power, especially in the game industry. This is because more and more developers who have been only experiencing games are getting into the higher positions. Experiences are things that anyone needs when producing something special. Not everybody can make a game like Ultima, direct a movie like Citizen Kane or make Thriller. The three examples are not peaks of creativity, but carefully planned and designed intents. Everything starts from a point where one wants to eclipse something that already exists with his own work, but one can’t eclipse something that already is by remaking it.

I love how West got the better deal of the Super Mario Trilogy on the NES. Super Mario Bros. was great. Super Mario Bros. 2 was different and a great game as well. Super Mario Bros. 3 was everything the two first were and then truckloads more. Japan had their own SMB2, which we know as the Lost Levels. It’s not a good game, to be honest. It’s only SMB1 with different levels and harder bullshit difficulty. That’s what falling on nostalgia is. Super Mario 3 is when the producers decide to outdo themselves and do their damn job. Incidentally, Super Mario Bros. 3 is still seen as the shining of example of video games for this reason; it’s just that good.

However, when a product like SMB3 happens, then the competition is suddenly just that much harder. Too easily a product tries to be like the one it tries to overcome rather than beating it. Super Mario World tried to be SMB3 with updated graphics, but lacked the finesse SMB3 had. It was too much too fast. While the same principles of development apply to any platform, the fact is that SMW didn’t hit the right spot. It’s just not as good as SMB3 because it was based on same ideals as Lost Levels. SNES didn’t start getting really hot until Donkey King Country stepped in. It was something new, something wild, something that people understood and wanted to get their hands on. Naturally Miyamoto stated it to show how customers don’t recognize great games and only value graphics. His pride got a hit that it never really recovered from.

Enter modern 2D Super Mario, that is stagnant because of the developers not wanting to make a better game than SMB3, but SMB3 with 3D Mario physics. No wonder they don’t sell as much as they could, but even then they sell more than most current games.

This is what the problem is with Ducktales Remastered; it isn’t a new game. It’s still the same game with a new lick of paint and new frames. Nintendo could do Super Mario Bros. 3 HD and it would sell insanely well, but not because it’s a new game, but because it would be SMB3 HD. It’s an alarming issue when a game like this causes massive uproar on the Internet and becomes the most hyped game of upcoming summer.
I do not want to see games as good as Super Mario Bros 3 or Donkey Kong Country again. I want to see better games that leave those two biting dust. I want to see movies that do not recycle same things over and over again just because they work, I want to see movies that are good simply because they’re made that good. I want to hear music that isn’t homogenous; I want music that can stand on its own again. I want events that evolve from year to year, always making the past one seem like a gray memory.

Video games are the one region where we haven’t reached a ceiling when it comes to design. Industrial design has been stagnant for a long time (we really need to move outer space or deep sea, where new design is required.) Music has a lot of untapped places, but nobody is exploring them, and the same applies to films. Load of event organizers seem to think that shit rolls uphill because they say so. Well, shit can roll uphill, but you need to expel it with enough force to do so, and that requires a lot of work… But video games are still a young medium that needs to be explored even more and with courage. The variation in games we have now is smaller than what it used to be, and the amount of variation we have now is just measly compared the potential games have as a whole, but the developers are ignoring the new could be made and simply fall back on nostalgia.

And nostalgia only carries so far. It’s only a one-time solution. What then when nostalgia doesn’t sell any more and the creators are not producing anything that’s new?

Have you ever noticed how emulation is an often talked topic when there’s no good games being released? Incidentally, piracy and emulation have been a topic for more than ten years now…

I did like the Darkwing Duck game on the NES, even when it is an uninspired ripoff of Mega Man. Well, that’s exactly why I liked it. At least it had better music than Ducktales

You might want to get this glimpse of hope

We’re entering sad and dark times, my dear reader. To uplift your spirit, please do read this. It might help you to overcome the sadness the next game generations brings upon us.

Also, these nice Japanese sirs playing their instruments in gentlemanly manner.