Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 14, 2015

Email: On Sequels and reboots

The Nostalgia Critic did this video about how it seems like Hollywood at least as far as the blockbuster scene goes is all about sequels, reboots and adaptations and why they keep doing it as opposed to taking chances with new ideas.

In short, studios know that even if a movie’s crap, if it is based on something familiar or nostalgic, people will still go see it. For years now the movie industry has been divided up into big budget blockbusters usually based on a comic book, novel or toy and all the original ideas tend to be the smaller, indie films that not a lot of people care to see or catch on DVD or Netflix.

This is the parallel for the game industry. People love to say how Nintendo doesn’t make new IPs and they just keep cranking out Mario, Zelda and Pokémon but I could name a bunch of new IPs they did put out such as Steel Diver, Dillion’s Rolling Western, Pushmo, and we could count Wonderful 101 even though technically that’s Platinum and just published by Nintendo. But most of these (save for W101) were smaller projects mostly on the 3DS because gaming is risky business. Unlike movies that can always recoup from DVD or Netflix rereleases. But as the video points out, eventually people get tired of the same old stuff. I heard originally that Nintendo considered making Splatoon a Mario spinoff. I guess Super Mario Paintball but clearly making Splatoon a new IP shows that Nintendo is seeing that it’s audience is tired of the same old stuff. They’re tired of soulless 2D Mario and bizarre 3D Mario and tired of Anouma Zelda with stupid art styles and Pokémon mostly rides on being new to a new crop of kids who discover it for the first time though Minecraft is slowly stealing the kids away from Pokémon. So now we’re seeing Nintendo try some new IPs like Splatoon and Codename: STEAM. I hope these do well because the industry is drowing in a never ending glut of sequels, reboots and remakes.

What’s really sad though is there are new IPs coming out for PS4/X1, but they’re not really that fresh or new. I think Miyamoto made the point that anyone can say a game is a new IP but many times they take an existing game and just copy/paste a new skin on it. I recall back in the early 2000s that every game that came out was either knockoff of Halo or GTA. It was either a game about space marines fighting aliens with some gimmick thrown in or an open world crime sandbox game. It still goes on now though. Though a lot of folks loved Shadow of Mordor because it was the rare case of a good Lord of the Rings licensed game it basically just copied the formulas from the recent Batman and Assassin’s Creed games and used a Middle Earth setting. What’s really sad is seeing new game ideas that have potential to be really fun or interesting get ruined by industry logic. Case in point Evolve and The Order 1886 had great ideas but horrible execution. Evolve could’ve been a great multiplayer party game. One guy plays as a monster while the other four work to take him down but that one was ruined by being online only with no single player mode and cutting out content to have a whopping $136 of DLC most of it being stupid skins. The Order was this cool idea about a Steampunk England where you fight werewolves but that ended up being a six hour interactive movie just to show off all those pretty graphics. Of course both got enough hype that they’ll sell enough that first month to make publishers enough money to tease a sequel. Hell I know many hardcore gamers who flat out said “well I know this is crap but I’m going to buy it anyway” either because they bought into the pre order scam or they have to add it to their “collection” or are desperately trying to justify that expensive black box they bought last year that so far is just giving them remakes of games they already played. I’m glad I didn’t waste money on a PS4 or Xbox One yet.

Getting off topic, you know what I did start playing recently? Skyrim. I finally took your advice of waiting to see if people are still playing and talking about the game months or years after it comes out. To this day people still talk about, play and make mods for Skyrim and I was able to get a copy with all the DLC on the disc for $40 meanwhile dummy hardcore gamers paid $60 for either an online only game that held back content or a 6hr interactive movie with no replay value.

I really hope the game industry gets its head out of its ass and stops trying to be like Hollywood. The video actually mentions what happened with TV. I remember when it was really really bad. Everything was either a reality show or a crime drama and people did get tired and started cancelling their cable because they had Netflix, the internet and video games. Look what happened now we have some excellent dramas out there like Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, Walking Dead and so on. My hope is gaming sees this and realizes that the audience is getting fed up, moving away from consoles and full priced console games because they can play crappy stuff on their phones for less. Then maybe they’ll actually try again, but that could just be wishful thinking.

If we rewind the clock every ten years or so, we would hear similar complaints. In the NES era, the best selling games, aside from Mario, were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Simpson’s licensed games. The new IPs came from really good games. By good games, I do not mean ‘amazingly designed gameplay and supremely polished’ as how people think of ‘good game’ today. I mean the technical side of it was very good. The game was programmed well. Take Contra. Little flicker. And how did Konami program the NES to move independently while shooting in eight different directions so fluidly? Masterful programming. Rare NES games were also extremely well programmed. Gamers can ‘feel’ the technical work placed on a game. Gaming experience isn’t just gameplay, art, and music.

What really bothers me the most is how badly programmed these Game Industry games are. You see, in the past of the 80s and early 90s of game consoles, there was not much room for error. A Gameboy game maker had to be a good programmer. A NES game maker had to be a good programmer. That had kilobytes to work with. Kilobytes!

Do you remember when CDs and then DVDs became prevalent in gaming? Suddenly, there was all this data. Therefore, game makers started to dump tons of shit on it. It wasn’t as lean as before. At first, they put in tons of movie video because they could. Now, it is filled with tons of junk.

The Sony/Microsoft console is just a dumbed down PC. Third party companies love these dumbed down PC consoles because it hides their sloppy programming. You don’t need this much processor speed or ram to make the game. Better programming skills do count. “But what about the PS3? OMG.” PS3 was just complicated, but like the dumbed down PC it gave much room for programming garbage.

When you align the hardware evolution to the second and third generations, the jumps Nintendo is making is normal. It is normal for a game console to be vastly underpowered in comparison to a modern PC. The game console is not modular and must sit in the living room. The handheld game console is even more restricted in its hardware due to being mobile and depending entirely on battery life. If you noticed, Nintendo could make a game console at the same hardware level as Microsoft and Sony in terms of output appearance and still be profitable. Sony and Microsoft heavily subsidized their hardware because they are big companies and can do so. But big companies are not efficient. There is a type of bloated feeling you get when you interact with those consoles. The Gamecube was a stronger machine than the PS2 and its visuals were on par with even the Xbox. With the seventh generation, Microsoft and Sony put out obscene consoles that cost a ton of money ($499 or $599 US dollars… Ridge Racer!!!!). All that ‘hardware’ was for a strategy to capture HD TV for the living room.

But they do not need this much hardware unless their programmers are lazy. Video games are getting more complicated, but this doesn’t excuse broken games or games that require patches to even run. Third parties like all this hardware bloat so they don’t have focus on skilled programming talent.

“We can’t compete with Nintendo games,” third parties say. But they did. Konami competed just fine against Nintendo. So did Capcom. So did Rare. So did Square. So did Enix. The companies that didn’t were companies who either didn’t have the programming talent or didn’t care. There is a reason why Nintendo had the five games per year rule for game companies. There is a reason why the 1983 crash happened.

Above: Well programmed NES games

Have you noticed that the only discussion in gaming today is about the ‘art’. Gone completely is the programming. Perhaps this is because the audience lacks the technical experience, but that does not matter. You do not need to be a technical expert to scream at Windows XP’s blue screen of death.

Wii Sports is a fantastic example of quality programming. Everyone bought a Wii assuming that Wii Sports marked the beginning of what one could do with motion controls. But motion controls require a ton of programming expertise. A button, after all, is binary. A 1 or 0. A motion control has tons of inputs. But as we can see from the Wii Era, there was little interest from non-Nintendo companies in quality programming.

I think the focus on IPs makes it seem like the problem is lack of creativity. I think the problem is technical talent. Quality games require quality control and programming. I think I shy away so much from ‘game industry’ games is because they attempt to hide the lackluster programming and controls with loud music and in your face pop-culture.

Take Minecraft.

I am not going to say the game is a good example of quality programming. But I will say it is quality programming in the way how the consumer interacts with it. I remember game developers in awe over the world generator in how it kept making terrain so interesting. The random world generator is the true star in Minecraft. Notch spent a ton of time programming it and tweaking it.

Gaming isn’t just a display of new IPS, music, and artwork. It also features programming advances in interactive entertainment. There was one game, Soldiers of Fortune I believe, that had its enemy soldiers react realistically when you hit them at a leg, or arm, or something. It was cool, but not cool enough to take away from Quake 3 or Unreal Tournament. Take RTS gaming. Programming wise, it relied on making a box with a mouse. It is that advance that allowed the RTS to exist.

Super Mario Brothers wasn’t just about Mario, Mushroom Land, and the art. It was about the programming. On its debut, very few games SCROLLED. Then, games could scroll anywhere. One big appeal of 3d gaming is that it requires a type of programming finesse that was a leap forward. Lately, though, it seems most of the programming leaps in gaming is interconnecting online and gaming.

When was the last time you said, “Wow,” to a game’s programming? When was the last time you said, “I had no idea the game and its hardware could do this”? All I see now are games on bloated hardware with HD skins. Where is the beef? Where is the programming finesse in terms of interactive entertainment?



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