Genres: How am I doin'?

Okay, I just spent close to five minutes pondering whether the correct form of the title is “How am I” or “How I’m”…I still don’t get it, but I think I have the right grammar…

ahem

Imagine you are driving the video and computer game highway ('o Doom). You see cars and trucks in front of you with those weird “How’s my driving? Call Blah blah blah.” signs on them. Except they aren’t cars and trucks, but genres of videogames! And instead of driving, they ask you how their doing this generation, what would you say? What genres seem to be dwindling, or rising or coming back to the fore from the grave? Which ones seem to have an awfully high or low concentration of good games or trends you’re glad to see or wary of? Overall, with the genres you enjoy how is each one holding up in this generation (err, Dreamcast included and I guess you can define a generation however you want for computers).

Me?

Action - This oldest and most general of all old genres barely existed last generation, if you ask me, it was distilled into a bunch more subgenres than it ever has been before, that breathed and grew into their own genres (stealth, survival horror, FPS). Was there even one third person action game that was truly remarkable last generation? They were all either action RPGs or 2D. (Ew, no, not Tomb Raider.) Anyway, it seems like the genre in its purest form is back and I couldn’t be happier.

Pretty much resurrected completely by two huge games, Devil May Cry and GTAIII, they seem pretty split down these two paths, with minor divergences. On the Devil May Cry side you have games like Shinobi, Gungrave, Rygar, Otogi and Crimson Sea, hell even the new Castlevania and Altered Beast resemble DMC’s superb combo-mania. And on the GTAIII you have more crime knockoffs coming out than you can count. Furthermore, the beat 'em up, is having a lovely renaissance with Koei’s transcedently good (and an actual innovative take on the genre) Shin Sangoku Musou series, and its own knockoffs like The Two Towers, Mystic Heroes and Raging Bless. On top of that Breakdown looks truly NEAT and another psycho reinvention of the genre. Then you have those that don’t really fit into any category, but were more than decent entries into the genre, like Dead to Rights, Max Payne, Samurai, The Mark of Kri and PN03. And to top it all off a true mech action game (rather than a simulation) that does justice to the old days of glory with Thexder, Assault Suits Valken and Turrican: Zone of the Enders, well, at least the second one. All in all, the action is back and finally as good and fast in 3D as it was in 2D and to top it all off games like Gekido Advance, Rockman Zero and Metal Slug continue to forge great 2D trails. Even the future looks bright with Samurai 2, Return of the King, Kunoichi and Viewtiful Joe. All hail the return of (relatively) 3rd person mindless violence! Woo!

Fighters - Eh, despite being pretty much my favorite genre, I do think while many marvelous fighters, that will undoubtedly prove to the be most polished and exceptional date have been released during this generation, the only really exciting development has been the generation of a third subgenre with Smash Bros. type of fighter. There weren’t that many knockoffs of Nintendo’s rather ingenious idea before, but now there are plenty. And indeed we have Guilty Gear XX, Virtua Fighter 4, Soul Calibur, Third Strike and The King of Fighters 2002, as well as the Onimusha fighting game and SVC Chaos to look forward to, but there just isn’t much experimentation as there was last generation. We’ve yet to see anything like Psychic Force, Fighter’s Destiny, Bushido Blade, Virtual On or Tobal 2. Well, there was Tech Romancer. But the death of SNK (and hopeful rebirth) and the lack of any new blood from Sega and Namco make this a less exciting time for me. Still, the genre keeps chugging and its far, far from seeing its death. We still need a good PC fighter that can compete with the greats though, who’s gonna step up and do that? Hopefully somebody.

RPGs - Excellent! Couldn’t be happier. This genre is just rolling in no lack of great titles and there’s a lot of decent entries for different interests as well.

Only two small complaints: ever since Baldur’s Gate, there hasn’t been much of any movement or innovation to further muck things up in the arena beside Neverwinter Nights and System Shock 2. Fable is just the Elder Scrolls ideal again, not that that’s bad, but its also not as revolutionary as I think its been proclaimed to be. Its not so bad though, since it all goes hand in hand with the thrust and trend of PC-style RPGs offering increasingly freer and larger worlds to interact with and plenty of wonderful gems have been released on the BG, Diablo or old Ultima template. MMORPGs are icky. Why is everybody and their brother developing one? Singleplayer is as it should remain! 90% of upcoming PC RPGs are MMO-based, even the independent or freeware ones! You’ll see you scurvy trend-humping developers! There isn’t room enough for gazillions of MMORPGs each to do well and what will gamers be able to return or discover for the first time, ten, twenty years from now? An empty world with nothing in it? What will Underdogs say when they archive you? “One of the most underrated RPGs of all time…oops can’t play it anymore, its outdated like milk.” Grrr, singleplayer should remain the main thrust, thank goodness for Sacred and Golden Land, Greyhawk and Lionheart (and I guess Mistmare, but I’ve heard bad things about that). Anyway, in the singleplayer, one just wishes a liiiittle more for the flexibilty of roleplaying systems and adventurousness in concept that console RPGs continue to show. But then, that’s one reason why the split between the two, when you get tired of one you can go back to the other. Console RPGs will generally probably never try to offer as the non-linearity and freedom of PC RPGs and the latter will probably never quite give you as unique and precisely defined roles as console RPGs, but in the mix between the two lies something for everyone. Some of this is starting to happen, which is nice, Harbinger, Prince of Qin and Throne of Darkness have much more refreshing settings, and even Gothic gets away somewhat from the norm of D&D or post-apocalyptic sci-fi. Its kind of disappointing to see that beside some real world NPCs and creative liberties much of Lionheart doesn’t seem to differ too much from standard fantasy, but Sea Dogs 2 is refreshing.

The second small complaint would be that more of the really good console RPGs shouldn’t stay in Japan: a frightening amount of great games are dying to be released elsewhere and its going back to the state it was before FFVII was released and that isn’t good. La Pucelle, Seven, Magical Vacation, Tomato Adventure, Snap Kids, Venus & Braves, Tales of the World: Narikiri Dungeon, Tales of Destiny II, even Giftpia and the sublime Shin Megami Tensei III don’t look too good for localization. Many of these games represent the best and most shining advancements and acheivements lately, so its a bit of a downer that no one outside Japan will get to play them. At least Fire Emblem is coming finally though. That’s a relief.

Mmmm, RPGs. Icewind Dale 1 and 2, Baldur’s Gate II, System Shock 2, Skies of Arcadia, Wild Card, Dragon Quest Monsters III, Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, Suikoden III, Dark Cloud 2, Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter, Divine Divinity, Nox, Gothic, there’s just been no shortage of awesome lately!

Adventure- its nice to Jane Jensen designing a game again, and a couple of companies, like The Adventure Company and Microids seem very committed to pursuing adventure games. And there’s more than just an endless parade of Myst-alikes too, if you follow the amateur community, there’s some incredible stuff brewing as well, not to mention the always superb writing and ideas of the interactive fiction group. I think its safe to say that the genre is going to see something of a small revival in the near future.

On the console side, Zelda dominates as it always has. Not much surprise there. I like Dual Hearts a lot better than Alundra, its too bad it didn’t attract any attention and isn’t surprising how well Kingdom Hearts did? I don’t think anyone expected that. In the “is it an adventure or an action RPG?” debate, the Dark Cloud and Castlevania games sure are pretty reminders of what detailed, dense gameplay will bring you. Dark Alliance was pretty neat as well, if you consider it in the same category… that is. Not much going on, not much to complain about. Pretty much as it always is. Adventures, yeah. Woo.

Oh yeah, Psychonauts looks cool. If only I could remember to anticipate it.

Platformers - The indestructible genre! STILL one of the most popular genres out there and lightning rod for attention, and still doing quite well for itself. Is there ever a given year when the genre dwindles at all? Its gotta be the most steady genre out there. I don’t think you can run out of ideas in this one, there’s just too many different devices you can implement for run, jump, get somewhere gameplay. Still trying new things (Jak & Daxter 2, Sly Cooper, Ape Escape 2, Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg, Sonic Heroes) still offering lots of classic, traditional action, and as a bonus, the return of the 2D platformer in all its unbridled glory and limitless potential offering new masterpieces like Klonoa 2, Legendary Starfi and Wario Land 4. All hail the Gameboy Advance and its 2D renaissance.

Puzzles - Sadly, this seems to be left in the realm of independent or shareware releases. The big guys seem to be totally ignoring it and that’s a shame, both for the old Sokoban/Sentinel/Lolo/Solomon’s Key style of puzzle game and for the more Tetris-like variants. Pretty much the newest and brightest face is by far the Mr. Driller series which succeeds at being more addictive than crack and having incredibly deep and fun play strategies, as well as innovating a lot more than past series have. Otherwise, it seems any energy is only spent in porting and maintaining the classics, which is a shame. Imagine what a new Lost Vikings or an extension of the Panel de Pon concept might bring forth. Hell, I’d just like to see more stuff like Space Station Silicon Valley or Tetrisphere. Ah well, Yahoo Games and PopCap and their ilk don’t view these as “beneath” them as they don’t feature multimillion polygasmic glory visuals, but it lives on quietly in that form. (Its surprising how long you can entertain yourself dinking around Yahoo or playing Mummy Maze.)

Well, that’s mostly what I follow (I’m not really into FPSes or strategy games too much, so I wouldn’t know what to say). Overall, I’d say this generation is in danger of forgetting a few genres which could add much needed breadth and variety to company’s portfolios that they offer gamers and companies should see how stuff like the beat 'em up, PC adventure game and shmup are still viable and support their reincarnation. But overall, the thing I’m most glad to see is the return of the Contra-style action game, finally done well in 3D.

-Kitsune

“How’mI” would be perfectly acceptable. ‘How’mI doing?’ Just ask Koch.

I think FPSs are the strongest, mainly due to the advances in graphics made lately and the WWII popularity spawning imitators. This is the only genre where reality is a plus so any form of AI quality can go out the window if your game has ‘life-like loading and reloading action!!1’.

Fighters have gotten stagnant, no possible movie tie ins and no real innovation in years.

Action is of course very strong, movie franchises have helped this along nicely as well as the continued popularity of the high quality of the best games, and even slight quality of the worse games, it’s a hard genre to screw up.

RPGs are like fighters, nothing new going on, the latest ideas are along the line of ‘add more possible party members’ and ‘add more rules and call it the 5th edition’ blah.

O Captain my Captain,

:x What is this intercapping bullshit? “How’m I” is an acceptable contraction; “How’mI” is a sideshow freak. Let’s not mislead our friend Kitsune as he negotiates the nonsensical labyrinth of the English language.

O Captain my Captain,

:x What is this intercapping bullshit? “How’m I” is an acceptable contraction; “How’mI” is a sideshow freak. Let’s not mislead our friend Kitsune as he negotiates the nonsensical labyrinth of the English language.[/quote]
Well then I apologize, I was going by sound alone and I for one don’t hear the pause between the contraction and the ‘I’. It’s ackward to say it the way you describe.

I don’t much cotton to talk of ‘genres’ but I suppose they’re a fact of life when trying to communicate to your peers.

BTW, RPGs are played on tabletops. CRPGs have shortcuts on desktops.

Having not been around quite as long as many here it seems to me the best games are the ones that try to break out of tired molds rather than clinging to predesignated market categories. Is GTAIII an action game? Is it an arcade game? How much of it is sim lite? Is it a shooter? With the canned story/puzzle solving missions - isn’t it an adventure game? What the heck is The Sims? Is it a strategy game? Is it a simulation? Is ‘sandbox’ a category? Is ‘dollhouse’ a category? What about ‘ant farm’ or ‘dynamic soap opera’?

Now with some games, like flight sims, what it says it is is likely what it is but different stresses in design theory can deliver very, very different experiences. A stress on multi-player online will give very enemic dynamic singleplayer campaigns while a stress on those rich campaigns can give less attention to netcode or optimization. Games that focus on multiplayer also tend towards tighter and more detailed flight models (because the vs nature of these games demands systems that are reliable and can hold up under debate and scruitiny) but often are lacking in incidental effects and environmental variables that can really bring a setting to life rather than leaving it feeling like a test track for hardcore gearheads.

Okay, there’s nothing we can do about it but I for one think ‘genre-think’ has lead to some of the laziest reviewing, previewing, and critical thinking in gaming journalism out there. But how do you communicate without it especially if marketing hacks only know the ‘talking points’, including genre and buzzwords, to describe the products they’re hawking?