new challenger

I make games. I also play them. I talk about both activities here.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Alternate Routes to the Mass Market

I realized recently that my girlfriend is some sort of an observational genius, if there even exists such a thing. At the very least, when she and I look at the same thing, she perceives elements that I completely disregard or fail to interpret altogether (interesting, isn’t it, that I define genius as anything beyond my level of perception …). Her most recent proclamation occurred at this year’s E3, at which she assuredly declared, “There are too many fighting games.”

Note that when my girlfriend says “fighting games,” she doesn’t mean it in the traditional Street Fighter/Virtua Fighter terminology. In fact, she made this declaration in the midst of several futuristic (and props deserved – freakishly gorgeous) first-person shooters in the EA booth. Instead she refers to the act of people engaged in direct, harmful conflict with one another, typically resulting in injury and/or death. This definition encompasses fighting games, first-person shooters, action games, and virtually every other genre currently experiencing any sort of financial success on a videogame console, except of course for the perennially inexhaustible sports genres.

Of course, my girlfriend could have been simply expressing dissatisfaction at the lack of titles catering to her interests. While being nothing close to what I would consider a “gamer” in the traditional, somewhat condescending sense, she has a respectable arsenal of gaming experience stockpiled, having done recent time with several DS titles, including the very gamer-typical Mario Kart DS. Her most favorite games, at least as far as I can tell, are puzzle games. She still plays Puyo Pop Fever daily, and not too long ago she atypically went down to the local EB and placed a pre-order for Tetris DS. She counts Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario Bros. as two of her favorite videogame experiences ever, so she even flaunts some old-school credibility.

For whatever reason, though, her anti-fighting decree did not ring to me as sour grapes. Rather, what I heard sounded more like, “is that all there is?” Is this the pinnacle of our gaming expression? And for god sakes, don’t take this as either one: a rant about violence in videogames or two: another designer asking for games that make people cry. In fact, just about every single videogame I was eager to see at E3 this year featured violence as a main component. Instead, I’m raising the question, has videogame design really tapped into the most effective mechanics with which to reach our audience? In terms of premise, impetus, action, and response, are we really “next gen?”

A day or so before E3, a trailer for Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 hit the net. I admit with no shame that I am a huge fan of this series; maybe it’s the volleyball, I don’t know (I consider Beach Spikers to be among the best games on the Gamecube, so there’s at least evidence to support that hypothesis). A lot of the videogame press, in my opinion, rather hypocritically criticized the game for being gratuitous in its use of graphics - Team Ninja had the audacity to use great looking graphics to sell their game! I guess good graphics are alright so long as they’re used to create guys in spacesuits with guns and aliens, but beach volleyball should utilize nothing more than a text-based interface or something. Anyway, while watching this trailer, I was really impressed with the elements that Team Ninja has cobbled together into what will ultimately comprise this game. It seems as if the Dead or Alive girls have once again taken a break from their usual corporation-toppling hijinks to take a well-earned vacation, full of innocuous party-gaming and volleyball. If the trailer is to be believed, there’s even a bit of water park action to be had, as one of the girls was inner-tubing down a giant waterslide. Besides the pick-up games of volleyball, there’s nary a traditional videogame genre in sight. And yeah, it also has some really, really pretty graphics – hopefully pretty enough to attract some deserved attention in this technology-centric, gun-toting period in videogaming.

The one-two punch of my girlfriend’s observation and DOAX2 has really got me thinking. The fact of the matter is that a very specific type of game maker is making a very specific type of game for a very specific type of game player. This vicious cycle began accidentally, but now has become formula, as the videogame audience has reached a sufficient level to sustain videogame development’s rather myopic goals. Nevertheless, I’m going to spend some time in the near future developing different strategies with which to approach the creation of a successful, mass-market videogame that doesn’t rely on traditional “fighting” sensibilities. I think it’s a worthy endeavor, and at least my girlfriend will appreciate my efforts.

Thanks for reading.


  • At 12:42 AM, Blogger eric williams said…

    The lady that stole my DS has made the same comment more than once to me about the majority of video games. All I can say, 80's action movies!!!!! Hollywood had this issue and worked it out over time so I am sure we will get past this as well. Wednesday meetings seem to be in order again!

  • At 11:00 AM, Anonymous greyocto said…

    In my opinion, the limited variety of games is largely due to being so early in the new consoles lifespans. Where were the horor games? where were the action adventures? puzzle games? etc. etc.
    They'll get here, but this is all we have to show for now. 2 years from now I think we'll see the variety make a return

    A lot of the blandness I'm sure is also the result of the influence of certain recent sucessful games(god of war, halo, gta, RE4). Now we are stuck with a huge pile of derivations that companies probably feel pretty safe that they will see a return on.

    I was sad to see insomniac's resistance not appear to have any of the personality, character or animation that I hoped would make it a unique(I was picturing something like a superior timesplitters, when I first heard they were making a FPS)


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