Game makers: You're losing me as a gamer

My Current-Gen Game Collection
My Current-Gen Game Collection

I remembered in middle school, I would try my hardest to save my allowance just so I can buy a $29.99 game to feed my Nintendo Gameboy. In high school when I was working part-time at the SFUSD as a web designer, I would do the same thing and buy not some, but ALL Squaresoft (now Square Enix) game releases on the original PlayStation. Final Fantasy VII, Parasite Eve, Bushido Blade, Brave Fencer Musashi, Xenogears— you name it, I have it. Everything was so exciting for me and the creativity I found in videogames seemed limitless.

Fast forward to today when games are more accessible and affordable than ever, and I find myself lacking the motivation to even pick up the game controller. I’ve bought my fair share of games in the past twelve months, from Zelda: Skyward Sword to Dark Souls to Rayman Origins, yet the only game I have actually finished was Uncharted 3 back in December of last year.

Part of that reason is the overall direction of gaming. A medium that used to transport me to another world has become something I’ve seemingly played just eighteen months before, changed only by the edition or version printed on the cover. Slowly but surely, I find myself turning on my PS3 at the end of the work day only for Netflix and nothing else. Not even for a quick round of Street Fighter IV.

Games are now created with increasing production value, they are also taking less risk to ensure profitability. Assassin’s Creed II was amazing, but in what way were the next two follow-ups original? Resident Evil 4 was a complete turnaround for the series, but how successful did Capcom in taking Resident Evil 5 to the next level?

Walt Disney didn’t build his empire by creating Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and then follow-up with Snow White 2, Snow White 3, or even Snow White 3: Ultimate Remix Edition. So how can videogames possibly be mainstream (or otherwise be taken seriously by critics) when most games out there just look like a ripped-off Michael Bay movie? Alien first-person shooters in a post-apocalyptic setting, really?

That’s why I’m honestly more interested in an offbeat game like Rhythm Heaven Fever than Skyrim or Syndicate, just as I’m more interested in risk-taking game like Bastion than another generic modern war shooter. Videogames are created to inspire and introduce people to new experiences, so perhaps ideas should come from organic inspirations instead of market research data.

I’d happily play an original game with a distinctive message instead of a rinse-and-repeat game that offers little more than an upgraded weapon. Until then, I don’t mind using my PS3 as a glorified Netflix player.

❤ wins


Winson Shuen works at IGN but is not an editor. All opinions expressed here are solely his own and do not represent his employer by any means. You can follow him on Twitter @vdot90.

BioShock Infinite's unrealistic leap toward videogame progress

I’ve never played the original BioShock and I haven’t gotten past the first Big Sister in BioShock 2, but I can’t wait to get my hands on the new BioShock Infinite game coming out in late 2012.

I’m excited because I’m so drawn to the game’s graphical style. Unlike most western developers who constantly chase after the ultimate realism in videogames, Irrational Games’s Creative Director, Ken Levine, is steering BioShock Infinite into a whole new art direction.

The world in BioShock Infinite is vibrant and detailed but with a comic-book influence, in a way similar to a stylized cartoon in high definition. The characters, in particular the mysterious character Elizabeth, have exaggerated human features.

Elizabeth in BioShock Infinite
Elizabeth in BioShock Infinite

In an interview with Gamers With Jobs last year, Ken Levine explained that:

A movie uses photorealism quite often because it’s free. We don’t get a cost benefit for being photorealistic, it’s the same reason Pixar’s not photorealistic, you just end up creepy… There’s no need to be photorealistic and I think it’s kind of a cop out. I’d much rather play a game that’s stylized.

I love that. It’s not that I don’t appreciate realistic graphics in videogames, far from it, but I don’t think as gamers we should limit ourselves to a singular style of art.

Videogames are fundamentally different when comparing to other art forms, such as writing or photography, because there’s this constant need to be on the cutting edge of technology. Even when it comes to moviemaking where it’s socially acceptable to make no-frill romantic comedies, it’s often considered to be a sacrilege to create a videogame with outdated graphics. Can you imagine Mass Effect 3 with blocky textures from the Nintendo 64 era?

That’s why game designers tend to chase toward art styles that replicate reality. That way, they can show off their latest and greatest achievements by bragging about the quantitative, technical side of art. They start talking the game’s ability to run in 60 frames per second or the computer’s system requirement in order to replicate such reality smoothly. Realism is also something consumers are most familiar with, and why it’s a safety net for most game publishers.

But because of that, it becomes a risk for game designers to implement anything other than realistic graphics because that’s all consumers are familiar with. It would be like how the music industry would only focus on Pop because consumers are only exposed to Lady Gaga.

The thing is, artists shouldn’t produce art that are solely conformed by consumers’ expectations. Instead, artists should create things that represent their creativity, even if they happen to challenge consumers’ perceptions of what art should be. Otherwise, paintings would never move past Impressionism and music would still be consisted of four independent movements.

Legend of Zelda Wind Waker
Can you imagine Wind Waker any other way?

Just imagine games such as Animal Crossing, Borderlands, No More Heroes, or The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker without their distinctive art styles. Imagine if Anime characters are drawn with proportional human features, or if all of Pixar’s famous characters were created with ultra realism in mind. They may still be mind blowing, but in exchange they would’ve lost the sense of magic they are now known for.

BioShock Infinite is exciting partly because its art style is refreshing and it stands out from many of the videogames in the market today. Unlike the latest installments of Uncharted, Call of Duty, or Gears of War where I have clear ideas of what the final products may look like, I haven’t seen enough of BioShock Infinite to really know where (and how) Ken Levine will ultimately take us in the colorful, yet collapsing, air-city of Columbia. And that’s a good thing.

It’s a leap of faith, but one I’m happy to take. I’m intrigued from what I’ve seen so far to learning more about the game, even if Elizabeth does look like a character from Bratz.

Product cycles: Ain't age nothing but a number?

Mobile phones have always had short product cycles because consumers, especially those in Europe and Asia, are so used to changing their phones every six months.

And between the new Macbook Pros released late last week, and the anticipation for the upcoming iPad 2 in March on top of all the iPhone and iPod releases later this year, it seems that Apple is updating their products more often than ever.

But wait a minute. The same can’t be said with the videogame industry, right? With Nintendo DS pushing past its sixth year in November and the PS3 currently in its fifth year, game consoles seem to be immune to the ever-shortening product cycles compared to other consumer electronics.

I don’t know how Sony does it, but despite being in its fifth year the PS3 still feels very much like a new console to me. Likewise with the XBOX 360. The only console showing its age so far is the Nintendo Wii, and much of that is because of the difference in its graphic capabilities compared to the PS3 and XBOX 360 from the very beginning.

So what makes game consoles so uniquely different from other consumer electronics? Why are their product cycles acceptable to span well over five years when laptops, mobile phones, tablets, and other tech devices require product updates every eighteen months or less? Continue reading “Product cycles: Ain't age nothing but a number?”