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Date: August 30th, 2006
Article by: Karl van der Walt (Writer)
Edited by: Nathan Glentworth (Owner / Head Editor)


The PC Game Industry: What or should I say "where's" the story?

I am a working man with a family to support and not much time to devote to games. That is not to say I don’t like playing games, only that it rates low on my priority list. Being unemployed at the moment though, I have begun a project to create a “total conversion mod” for a game I enjoyed and played extensively when I was younger. With that in mind I began buying games and playing them again to see how the industry stands and what level of entertainment these new games hold. I have to say that I am disappointed in most of the games I have played of late. From a technical standpoint I was blown away by the visual quality of newer games but alas found them largely wanting in the immersion and entertainment department. Now this could just be because I am getting older and have become pickier but I don’t think that is the only reason. Many of the people in my age group have expressed similar dissatisfaction over the current state of PC games.

I posted a thread in a few of the forums I frequent stating that I felt that PC games had become stagnant and that they served little purpose now days other than modding. It was a post engineered to spark comment from the forum’s members and provoke a debate on the current state of PC games as a whole. Before the threads turned into veritable flaming fests I did manage to acquire some good points to both prove and disprove my statement.

The debate, as is usual with debates, fell into two groups: the more casual gamers and the hardcore gamers.

The majority of the casual gamers tended to agree that although games have evolved astoundingly in recent years they were finding less and less games enjoyable. Some claimed that it was probably due to age, when we were younger we played and enjoyed games that pale in comparison to new titles in all respects. This group’s largest complaint was the lack of passion in today's games. Games back-stories have always been the target of insult and complaint and this area, although improved, is still lacking in a lot of today's games. To be fair though, it is a fine line between a good story and a story being excessive to the exclusion of gameplay which is a line few games have walked successfully. Another factor is the time that developers have to complete a game. Deadlines and bottom margin figures are becoming ever more important to publishers than customer satisfaction. Game studios and publishers are pushing games onto the market at a rapid rate, often before the games are truly ready for launch. I don’t blame the guys making the games for having less passion than was once seen in games, because its really difficult to be passionate about something you just don’t have time to do the way you would like to. Many of the hardcore gamers told me I have not played enough games and were right in that assumption but people like myself are consumers too and our views should be just as important to publishers as those who play more games.

The more hardcore gamers claimed that the game industry was anything but stagnant and that $XX is a small price to pay for anywhere between five and twenty hours of entertainment. Technological advances in both hardware and software mean that whole new levels of reality and immersion are becoming possible. A lot of this technology is still very new and games are one of the first pieces of code to take advantage of these astounding advances. Some admitted that there has been a bit of a lull in the amount of good games of late but remained firm that this in no way meant the industry was stagnant. They stated that whilst good games are not as plentiful as they would like them to be, this only meant that the industry was taking up a learning curve and that a failure today was the basis for success tomorrow. As the saying goes, you have to break eggs to make an omelette. With the sheer amount of possibilities available to game designers today it’s easy to see how they can have a hard time finding the right balance for a good game. Gone are the days when things were limited and simple. With each failure a lesson is learned and with each lesson comes improvement.

What I would like to see.

What I would like to see is more effort being put into the “feel” of games. So much time and effort goes into the graphics and game code these days that a lot is neglected. I can’t count the amount of times I have heard an ambient sound and thought "that sounds familiar, didn’t they use that same sound in X?”. Likewise, even graphically I am getting sick of the stereotypical characters and models we see from game to game. If you are trying to make things look “real” then don’t forget the oddities, the fat girl or the short guy with the big nose, all these things build atmosphere. Sure fancy lighting and music help to a degree but where is the variety? Where is the good guy that looks like a mass murderer but isn’t or the bad guy with the baby face and innocent smile? It’s the irony in life that is interesting, not the norm. Where are all the ugly women in games? I am so tired of only seeing “Playmate of the year” characters in games, sure, I understand that its more fun modeling nice curves but come on. None of the things I have mentioned require uber game engines or insane amounts of work, just a little innovation and thought.

Storylines that have been around since the early 1990’s are still besmirching FPS games today. I may have found it fun blasting pixilated brains against the wall continually when that was the extent of what could be done but now, with all this new fancy tech, we are still seeing the same old stuff. Sure the pixilated brains are no longer pixilated and look cool but how long can you entertain yourself with only that and the hope of a bigger gun around the corner? RPG/FPS to me is the way of the future; give the player the option to interact with the story and different options that can affect the outcome of the game. The storyline does not have to be a novel, only engaging. Everyone hates excessive cut scenes but that is not the only way to incorporate the story. The game Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines incorporated the kind of story I like to see to some extent but alas it seems they did not have enough time to do it right. Newspaper headlines, radio broadcasts while you are stalking the enemy, conversations with NPCs in normal play mode, any of these can help push the story along without the necessity for a long boring cut scene.

Creativity is taking a back seat to profit and as a result we keep getting swamped with what the publishers THINK we want. Change is necessary for progress and I can only hope that at lest some of tomorrows upcoming titles will show some originality and style.

Wrapping it up......

To quote something I agree with “The stagnation of the game industry is dependant on the point of view of the individual”. A good point, no game can satisfy the entire demographic just the same way as even the best movies are not enjoyed by everyone.

I have to admit that after reading the views of different people I find it hard to agree with one side or the other. I will say that I don’t feel the games industry is truly stagnant, its just not producing many games that I personally enjoy. I feel that the market is cautious at this point with the eminent release of Windows Vista and DirectX X. No publisher wants to release a game when it may well be obsolete before it even hits the shelves. I think we will see a flood of new games once Vista and DirectX X are released and stable. Until then I believe games will remain much as they are. Stagnant? No, it’s the calm before the storm. The future of the industry looks bright and with a lot of hype about upcoming releases I think we are all in for some juicy new titles to sink our teeth into. We can only hope that the industry is in fact learning from mistakes and that the next wave of releases will utterly prove my original statement wrong.

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