Holy crap. Christmas is on Tuesday, and we ring in the new year a week after that. I can hardly believe it. Remember Twisted Metal? That release created quite a stir. How about Final Fantasy XIII-2? What about Mass Effect 3? Or Diablo III? Man. The release of those games feels like years ago.
Yes, this year has delivered us many titles. We've seen breakout hits, disappointments, surprises and everything in between.
But, in the midst of all the madness, what does it mean? What have we learned?
1) A Great Story Can Sell A Game
Case in Point: The Walking Dead
It seems the zombie craze won't be going away any time soon.
With a successful foray into almost every medium available, it was to be expected that The Walking Dead franchise would attempt to create a stake in the video game industry as well. What we didn't expect, however, was 1) an adventure game and 2) a good/fantastic/freaking mind-blowing adventure game.
Yes, The Walking Dead took us all by surprise. Telltale's adventure games have been decent at best, and are usually plagued with frame-rate issues that ruin the flow and enjoyment of a game (see: Jurassic Park: The Game and Back to the Future: The Game). On top this, their puzzles were simplistic, the story linear, and the quick-time events far too frequent. When I heard one of my favorite comics/TV shows was being adapted into a game by them, I held my breath and crossed my fingers. I hoped for the best.
If you've played all 5 episodes of the game, you'll understand where I'm coming from when I say the narrative deserves a spot in the top five video game stories of all time. What made The Walking Dead so much was fun the amount of weight dialogue had in the game's flow and story. Every decision was crucial and remembered; who's life do you save, and who's do you sacrifice? Who gets the last rations of your meager supply of food? Do you attempt to save a dying man, or kill him before he can turn on your group? All of these questions and more come up, and hardly any of them have easy answers.
Admittedly, between dialogue events there wasn't much to look forward to. The gameplay mainly consisted of not-very-challenging puzzles and quick-time events. Of course, this is to be expected of an adventure game, and, if the story wasn't very strong, it's unlikely this game would have sold as much as it did.
What The Walking Dead proved to us is that if a game's story is strong and the gameplay doesn't get in the way of enjoying it, it can and will sell. Throw in a ridiculously cheap price point ($20 for all 5 episodes or $5/ea., with the episodes going on sale many times through Steam, Amazon etc.) and you have a game that will be irresistible to many.
2) Hype Can Kill
Case in Point: Mass Effect 3, Diablo III
Hey, remember Mass Effect 3? I do. I was eagerly awaiting that game ever since a release date was put out for it. And you know what? It was a great game. Really. The gameplay was smooth, sharp, and fun. The characters were fully fleshed out, the decisions were hard, the art direction was phenomenal and everything just worked.
That is, until it ended.
For those who live under a rock, what makes Mass Effect 3 leave a bitter taste in many a fan's mouth is its initial (and, for many, even its extended) ending. It didn't change dramatically based on a player's past choices and, indeed, was extremely vague and didn't close up hardly any loose ends when it came to the fates of your squad, races, or even Shepard (that is, until the extended cut was released, but even then it felt a bit hollow).
Just. Just no.
After the extended cut, however, the ending was pretty satisfactory if you ignore the fact that the original one ever existed. Why do we still hate it, then?
The answer is simple: we expected too much.
That may sound like an excuse for Bioware, but what a lot of gamers (including myself) forgot to realize is that, regardless of how good the plot, characters, and gameplay was, Mass Effect 3 is still a game. It's still out there to make a profit, and, with such a rich universe, it's going to get another game made for it. The vagueness of the endings can be explained by one thing: there's gonna be a sequel. Or perhaps a prequel. Or perhaps a parallel story. Whatever it is, it's gonna be made, and without a definitive ending for all of the characters and races, Bioware was (and kind of still is) free to do whatever it wanted with the next game.
We hyped it up. We expected a spectacular ending that changed with every small decision we made, perhaps rightfully so, but in the end it wasn't just Bioware's fault that we didn't like the ending. It was our own, too.
Another example of death-by-hype is Diablo III. The game is not bad by any means. Indeed, it's a great dungeon-crawling action-RPG, but why were fans so upset?
I thought it was pretty fun, at least.
Perhaps the first flaw is that it took 10 years to release. Not only does that leave a lot of time for hype to die, but it also leaves a lot of time to just build it up, and, knowing Blizzard, that's what they did. I can remember reading news stories about the game in 2006; it's fair for gamers to believe that, after so long, the game would be one of the most incredible things on the market once it was released.
Gamers didn't get the ground-breaking game they wanted, but they did get a better version of Diablo II. Now, I never played that game, so it's possible I enjoyed the third installment because I didn't know how similar the second one is to it. I still haven't beaten it, but I enjoyed my time with it (possibly because I got it for free, too. World of Warcraft did that for me with its annual pass).
How much can a top-down action-RPG change, really? The mechanics remain basically the same because they work. There's not much room for flexibility in the formula and it more or less comes down to killing a ton of enemies to get loot, killing more enemies to get better loot, and then killing a big enemy for a loot pinata. It's been the same for years and will remain the same for years, and it's my belief that gamers were expecting something more, hence why the game's flame seems to have dwindled greatly since its release.
Too much hype can spoil a game, and these two games proved it.
3) The Video Game Industry Has Problems
Case in Point: #1reasonwhy
I'm going to get flamed really hard for this, but #1reasonwhy has a legitimate point, and I feel those who dissent against it either don't understand what it's there for, or just don't want to believe it's true. What #1reasonwhy isn't is a cry against sexism in video games themselves, it is a cry for reform in the way many game developers and companies treat their women. Kotaku posted a great image of a collection of tweets with the #1reasonwhy hashtag, and some of them are truly startling to read, you can read it here.
I was disgusted with many-a-gamer's response to this story. According to some, women don't belong in the industry. According to others, they're just making a big stink over nothing. My response to those people is this:
1) 40% of gamers are women, as proven here (ESRB is the source, too. I wouldn't doubt them). Therefore, they do have a right being in the industry, even if you believe they didn't before (which they did, because the industry does not belong to males). Women get women better than men do, simple as that.
2) If it was over nothing, it wouldn't have become as big as it did. In fact, if it was all a lie enacted by some woman (or man poised as a woman) wanting attention, it's more than likely it would have been shot down by women in the industry who would claim that they are treated wonderfully by their employers.
Now, this is not to say that all video game-related companies are sexist towards women. They don't, in fact, it's likely that a majority aren't. But the fact that so many women (and men, for that matter) tweeted #1reasonwhy so many times with so many stories proves that it's a problem even if it's only the minority that has to go through it.
And, for those who still believe women have no place in the industry and shouldn't be complaining about being harassed in it, Halo 4's lead director was a woman. Yeah. Men sure do love that game (myself included).
This post is becoming quite long, so I'll end it here. I'll be making a part 2 in the coming days, so I hope you enjoyed this one enough to come back and read the next one! Please feel free to comment on any of the points I made (and even to refute)!