The homogenization of AAA gaming


#61

Hell yeah! Dawn of War 2 is pretty kickass. Cheap too!


#62

I already told you Myth was a real-time tactics game. That’s why it feels different. The end.


#63

People also keep calling X-COM a turn-based strategy game, when it’s not.


#64

It does a pretty damn good impression of one though.


#65

It turns out that getting people to invest millions of dollars on untested ideas is harder than it sounds.


#66

Myth may now be called real-time tactics, but it was sold as an RTS on the [rear of the] box, and evolved from the RTS model, and is an example of how games can build on a genre and not stagnate or feel samey, as the OP was opining. (ps The territory control mechanic of CoH is pretty much how Territories played out in multi-player Myth, 10 years earlier.)

When XCOM came out, people called it a strategy game. Which is fair since it has the strategic layer that for example, Jagged Alliance didn’t have. Another example of a game transcending it’s genre and again bucking the core complaint of the OP.

But yeah, these examples are clearly few and far between, for the obvious reason that innovating is hard, expensive, not understood, etc…


#67

I agree with you Spiffy.

CoH is clearly an RTS with a cover gimmick. Dunno how the heck that causes hostility. Guess they put a lot of hours into it.

Myth is a bit of a hybrid. It clearly has a strong RTS influence, resulting in an accessibility and fluency you tend not to encounter in tactics games.

It’s a shame it didn’t kick off a genre, but it relies heavily on getting the ‘feel’ right, which Bungie put to use in Halo.

It is a genre defying game that can only come about when a developer hoes their own road.


#68

But X-COM’s strategic layer was real-time, wasn’t it?


#69

This has been cropping up a lot recently on my YouTube suggestions after I had a Thief soundtrack binge a few weeks back. Hadn’t watched it until yesterday but it made me think of this thread.

While I don’t agree with some of the broader opinions expressed here, I think there’s plenty of interesting observations which tie in with @TurinTur’s original post. Of course, Thief and Thief II are some of my favourite games of all time so it’s always nice to hear someone expressing why they’re (still) so good, but it’s contrasting them with AAA gaming’s terrified design (in that it’s terrified of confusing, upsetting, forcing, discouraging, inconveniencing and ultimately losing the player–hardly surprising given the budgets and importance of return on investment) that made me realise why I’ve been mostly playing indie games for the last 10 years or so. Granted, plenty of indies are guilty of me-too design but for the most part it’s a much more exciting and interesting space if you want to venture off the beaten path and get a little lost in the dark.

The big problem I have is that as much as gamers make out they want something different, the truth is, when something different does come along they start dragging their expectations in from other games. They want this and they want that, regardless of what the game is aiming for. It’s a very selfish perspective. Miasmata is a perfect example to illustrate this point.

Miasmata had some divisive and much maligned mechanics but they all served a purpose and shaped the very structure and flow of the game, from the triangulation mapping system, the severe carry limit, your character’s unwieldy momentum and inertia, to the monster hunting you down, the piecing together of clues, the disease you had and the resulting need to stay hydrated. These things were not forgiving and you had to make concessions and plan around them. They were the essence of the game and defined the tough moment-to-moment decision making and memorable situations you found yourself in. Now head over to Steam and most of the negative reviews are people wanting backpacks, a traditional mapping system, a sturdy character, cooking and crafting, base-building… basically moaning because it’s not like other survival games. It’s infuriating and disappointing. Homogenization you say?

So yeah, as easy as it is to point the finger at suits and design committees, gamer expectations are a big problem in themselves. Where there’s a game doing something different, there’s legions of gamers wanting it to be like other games. There’s no wonder we end up with lots of games trying to be everything to everyone and resembling each other in the process.

To be clear, I’m not saying games should be different for the sake of being different or ‘good’ design practices should be ignored, but misunderstanding or overlooking or not engaging with the intent of a perfectly fine design and it being thrown under the bus of history because it didn’t resemble or behave like something we’re familiar with is just a shame and a waste.

This goes the other way too, carrying bad/lazy design practices forward, like GPS and Ubisnot objective markers being sneezed all over maps. It makes sense in some games, but Thief 4? I’m surprised it wasn’t panned more for that bollocks. And look at the praise for Breath of the Wild’s blank map and discovery-based play! I’m not a fan of BotW but I’m glad Nintendo are leading the charge out of those perfectly surveyed woods.

Perhaps not disappoints (at least in Prey’s case), but fails to shift units, which is all that matters really. But your point’s spot on. Everyone I know who’s played Prey has really enjoyed it, including @tomchick it seems. Looking forward to playing it myself at some point.


Purge your backlog: we'll talk you out of that game
#70

Thief 1/2 are prime examples of what I wish we had more, games focused in a single thing, but excelling at it, instead of ocean-wide games (open world! action! shooting! stealth! crafting! cinematic script! rpg loot!) but with puddle-level depth on them.


#71

Honestly, the stealth mechanics of modern games are just about as good as OG Thief’s, but now they also have other options, which is a huge improvement. I’d rather play Dishonored or MGSV and challenge myself not to get caught than play the one-note Thief.


#72

I agree. I loved Thief, but I love that in modern stealth games, if I fail at the stealth, I actually have an alternative, a chance to improvise and possibly live instead of being forced to reload from a saved game.


#73

Which the Thief series did. I fondly remember many a frantic dash (“stop, thief!”) and jump to find a place to hide (“I’ll find you, Taffer…”) while the guards tried to suss me out.


#74

Agreed. The best moments in Thief 2 for me were enacting a carefully planned ambush (Brother Cavador) or escaping from a sticky situation when I’d walked around a corner at the wrong moment or been slightly less stealthy than intended.

One of the things Thief 1/2 did really well is that the player doesn’t get noticeably more powerful as the game progresses. Sure you get a bit more health and some more gadgets, but mostly the enemies get more dangerous / numerous faster than you gain advantages.

This gives a sense of the difficulty ramping up as the stakes (in the story) do and rewards the player for getting better at the game.

Compare Dishonoured, where you get to choose from a number of superpowers, many of which render combat or stealth extremely easy. Much of the early challenge of getting used to the game systems naturally disappears and isn’t really replaced other than by intentionally limiting yourself.


#75

But you didn’t have to do that in Thief. You weren’t killed for being spotted, or didn’t instantly fail; it was only ever a setback. You could throw a flash bomb or run and hide and try not to buckle under the pressure of being caught by the guard feet away from you. You could even hide at the top of a rope arrow in the rafters, cloaked in darkness. Noisemakers were an excellent distraction (and even deflected off walls!), as were cups, plates, stones and other detritus. It was a good habit to save but it wasn’t a game that ended your session when you were caught.

That moment in the video above when he’s lockpicking a door as a searching guard is approaching him down the corridor is… god, the tension made me wriggle in my seat just watching it. That kind of thing is borne out of being caught (and lockpicking doors with full first-person control so you could do both at the same time–so good).

I’ll never forget knocking the servant out in Assassins. He was carrying a tray of food to Lord Ramirez and, of course, if you knock him out his tray hits the floor with a loud clatter and alerts nearby guards. Genius! That was a moment to savour, not reload!


#76

Yeah, I agree with that, or at least wish that there was more room for both types of games to coexist a little more comfortably. Seems like AAA games these days have to be everything to everyone in order to earn back their budget.


#77

Hah hah not even close.

First, ‘mixed’ games lots of times lack the proper challenge for a stealth game, as they also are designed to play in a ‘loud’ way. Or the level design isn’t up to the task. Most actual games don’t have the granularity of lightning/shadow detection of Thief, nor tools specifically designed for stealth (like moss arrows), or in the other hand they have them but they are too powerful (here, have a grenade that makes 3 or 4 guards fall asleep, or a always-recharging energy bar to knock people out without effort). And 100% of them don’t have the sound detection of Thief (where it was different to walk in tiles, metal, wood, carpet, etc).


#78

I was surprised to see Breath of the Wild doing this kind of thing actually. A Thief element in an open world sandbox. One of the first things I did was walk around on different surfaces paying close attention to the sound meter, then running around on them. Unfortunately this detail never really amounted to anything of interest in the time I spent with BotW because, well, it’s a mushy open world game so there’s no focus or structure there to make good use of it–you can do anything you want so feel free to ignore sound! That’s my problem with these everything to everyone games: they’re shapeshifters so they’ve got no real form or identity. Y’know, Jack of all trades etc.

Yeah, I think that’s pretty much it. Omit things at your peril.


#79

Thief I/II were too intense for me. I couldn’t finish them due to stress levels.


#80

I remember thinking something along that lines, while playing Thief 2 (which I only played years later after release). It was an interesting experience. I finished it, but I remember I usually delayed the moment of doing a playing session with it, I would prefer to to do other, less intense/stressing stuff, even if when I moved my ass to play it finally in some nights, I enjoyed it a lot, too.