It’s something you’ve mentioned various times, but I think “Content Escalation” puts it best.
Super Mario Bros was an escalation of the content of Mario Bros. Super Mario Bros 3 was a further escalation. Super Mario World escalated it somewhat, but not enough, which is why it didn’t surpass 3 the way it should. Even in the handhelds, Super Mario Land 2 and 3 were content escalations. But then the escalation stopped. Yoshi’s Island not only doesn’t feel like a Mario game*, it didn’t really escalate the content. Even the 3D Marios could have done better after Mario 64 (if still not as well as 2D Mario) if they had also just escalated the content. But Sunshine just seemed more about expressing more creativity, and about the only growth was making the levels even more tedious. Galaxy, as you mentioned, had little coherence in the content (as well as made it a gameplay idea grab bag, when old Nintendo would have just made a dozen different games based on those different gameplay styles), so any escalation would have just made it more of a mess.
As for Zelda, you mentioned that the second game essentially made the first game just a small corner of that world. Definite escalation. A Link to the Past escalated a little, but it felt like that came mainly from including the Dark World. Ocarina tried to escalated, but the dungeons and cut scenes got in the way. After that, taking away the overworld** is just scaling back on the content. This is also something few Zelda-like games aspire to do anyway. Imagine if Okami had gone for a more conventional art style (doesn’t matter if it didn’t look as detailed as Twilight Princess), dropped the puzzles, and the game world was three times as large. I’d probably still be replaying it.
To me, an important missed opportunity in content escalation is the city of Esthar in Final Fantasy VIII. I mentioned in a previous email that I really wanted to explore that city. And I was actually hoping the PS2, Gamecube, and Xbox would use their greater specs to give us even more content, and in the 6th gen Final Fantasy games, I could explore even vaster worlds. What happened instead was less content, just making it more detailed. I STILL want my cool sci-fi city large-scale exploration game!*** Well GTA III let you explore a city, so it’s no wonder it became the breakout hit of that generation. It fulfilled the content escalation expectation of that generation. It’s when that escalation stopped with Liberty City Stories that the series stopped being a killer app series. GTA IV was also just less content (compared to San Andreas), that just looked more detailed. So did Resident Evil 5 over 4. Heck, most of the HD games could be described as spending more time and money for less content.
And there are the Ultima Games, which managed to escalate their content despite taking place on basically the same world. I can see how 8 tried to escalate the content to another world, but EA rushing it out dashed those plans, as well as 9 being forced to do less content due to the limitations 3D put upon it. I would say those hurt the last two games more than anything else.
Now escalating content probably sounds scary for developers, mainly because it’s work. I, on the other hand, relish learning how to make games, to see how much content I can make for each game, not about me being considered a creative genius (especially not with those who consider Heavy Rain to be anything close to the future of gaming).
* Due to it being a collect a thon instead of a platforming game. Yoshi having to save Mario as a kid could have worked had it otherwise played like a Mario game (including not making it a retcon that Mario was always in that world; perhaps this was just Mario’s first adventure there before the Yoshi’s sent him home).
** Twilight Princess was an exception, but it had all the signs of Aonuma trying to do as little of the overworld as he could.
*** I even got further teased in the opening for Star Ocean 3. It’s not a bad game, but it had this awesome FMV showing future Earth (just look it up on youtube), and you don’t get to explore that. What the hell!
It’s a sense of progression. Video game players like progression in the sense of lands, worlds, and realms. Video game players do not respond well to progression in the character sense.
“Will John and Martha get together? What will they be feeling? Will they undergo true love?” Hold up your hands if anyone cares about that? Anyone?
I don’t understand what went on with the Starcraft 2 story. Who the hell cares about Raynor’s “character”? And HOTS will be all about Kerrigan’s “character”. WHO CARES? No one CARES about these characters. We only care about them because of the world they represent.
No one wants to know Samus Aran’s feelings. We like Samus Aran because she represents the Metroid universe. Mario came before the Mushroom Kingdom. But no one cared about Mario until the Mushroom Kingdom. No one wants to hear about Mario’s feelings or ‘internal dialogues’. That’s just creepy. What we want is to explore a new world or kingdom we’ve never seen before.
“But Malstrom,” sniffs the Game Industry with a haughty motion. “We have talked to the experts in entertainment: Hollywood. They say we must have more characterization.” Hahahaha. Quiet, the Game Industry continues. “Even writers we talk to say we need to have more characterization.”
The reason why characterization never works in video games is because the customer isn’t the audience. The customer is the character. In movies and books, the customer is in the audience just watching. But in video games, the customer is not in the audience. He is on the stage performing.
I just don’t understand why this is so hard to understand. People like those at Blizzard or Sakamoto at Nintendo are intelligent people. Yet, why do they keep throwing ‘character’ at us when there was NONE of that in the earlier games? And then when EVERYONE COMPLAINS, THEY KEEP DOING MORE OF IT.
It is like the problem with the Final Fantasy franchise. The people who are in control of it believe they are to give interactive movies and not actually make a ‘game’ because the ‘game’ gets in the way of the storytelling. Can you believe that? The game getting in the way of the story! Of all things!
Since reason doesn’t seem to work with these people, we must try another tactic. I suggest ridicule. Constant ridicule of their stupid stories and make those story tellers into absolute laughingstocks.
For the moment, forget content. I’d be happy if we can get game makers to stop giving us ‘character’. I buy a video game to PLAY, not to suffer through your slush pile amateur writing.