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Where did all the game genres go?

By: Bryan Pizzuti [12.04.01]

I remember the good old days. Back when PCs and video games were new, and our jaws gaped at the incredible graphics and gameplay of games like Space Quest and Donkey Kong. But when I look at gaming today, and compare it with the days of old, I wonder where the variety has gone.

Back in the old days, sure graphics were important, but gameplay was the ultimate determination of how good a game was. People invented all sorts of ways for a game to be played. Now, I see only a select few. I see many upon many first-person shooters; so many I wonder what the point of buying them is. True, I liked Wolfenstein 3D as much as anyone else, and it was a revolutionary game - many years ago. Certainly, the FPS has evolved, but it's also replaced what used to be called the "platform" game, which has all but disappeared. And those that remain still use FPS engines...they just place the character immediately in front of the camera.

"...I'm dreading the day when someone tries to release Chess as an RTS game..."

Then there are the strategy games. For many years, everything was turn-based. Then Blizzard came up with an interesting game concept called Warcraft. It certainly took strategy gaming to another level, but there are those that say that level REMOVED some of the strategy. And what has happened to turn-based strategy games now? The company that made the Jagged Alliance series is rumored to be going out of business. True, Fallout Tactics was released, but it defaults to a pseudo-real-time engine. Freedom Ridge, a turn-based strategy game which was a very ambitions project from the makers of X-Com, has been canceled (much to my dismay... I was waiting for that one), and the next X-Com game scheduled for release is a first person shooter. So where are the strategy games? We have many real-time strategy games being released on a monthly basis, but there are NO turn based strategy games of any kind on the horizon.

And what has happened to flight simulators? They used to be the hottest thing since sliced bread, and may even be considered as the predecessors to first person shooters. But now they're a rare jewel in a sea of releases. I remember the days when a new game brought a new, unique way of control. I remember when adventures could be text based or point and click. Now adventure games have all but disappeared. Some of their aspects have been included in first-person shooter engines or games, but the days of King's Quest are gone.

When I think about some of my favorite games, and try to imagine them being released today, it's horrifying. Ikari Warriors...Zelda...Space Quest...even Pac Man...they probably would have all used some FPS engine now. Probably something similar with Beyond Zork or Ultima. And I'm dreading the day when someone tries to release Chess as an RTS game. Monopoly already HAS been released as an RTS (Monopoly Tycoon). Where's the variety? Where's the uniqueness? Certainly we have enough skilled developers out there who could come up with something completely different, but the only one I've seen so far is Introversion.

They have some things to say about the gaming industry as it was, and as it is now. In a press statement released to hardCOREware.net, they state the following:

"For about six months I was working for a major independent games developer in the UK during the day, and Uplink [Introversion's game - review forthcoming] during the night. This was a placement from my University degree (designed for industrial experience) and I was working as a programmer on one of the most shameful publisher franchise cash-ins I have ever experienced. It felt wrong. I was working on the exact type of game that was pushing me away from the British games industry. I could see how the games world worked from the inside - producers who refer to the artists as numbered assets (Artist asset #213 will complete the model in 2 days), publishers who would make an EXACT COPY of their previous game in order to make more money (even going so far as canceling some potentially innovative games to pay for it) and programmers who are separated out from the artists because the two groups just don't get along together. It seemed like the worst possible way to create games, and it comes as no surprise to me that their final product is completely without even a drop of originality or creativity. I was increasingly starting to believe that the whole games world was being strangled by programmers with planet-sized egos and publishers with no care for the content they were funding....It seemed like an uphill struggle [for us to release our game] at best. Everybody knows the days of the bedroom programmer are long gone, never to return."

Introversion seems to be the only company taking as huge a risk as the following; they have harkened back to the days where games were written by one person, copied to a floppy disk, and put into a zipper-bag with some photocopied instructions and sold at a local store. They have released a "hacker-simulation" called Uplink without a publisher, and their only distribution is mail order through their website. They have NO advertising whatsoever. They claim that they are already seeing a great profit since their game's release, and foresee even more. Since they aren't marketing or advertising, then this can only be based on word-of-mouth, and the game's merits. Maybe they have the right idea...perhaps the gaming industry needs to go back in time a bit.

I have a personal wish-list for video games these days, and it's been unfulfilled for a while. I want more than anything else to see Jagged Alliance 3, or another turn-based strategy game of that type. I would love to see the Space Quest series revived WITHOUT using a Quake III engine interface. I like what Hasbro and Infogrames have been doing with games like Pac Man and Dig Dug...updating graphics, but keeping the same basic gameplay...but can they do enough of them?

Now, let me make this clear...I'm not calling for a return to old-style graphics. Instead, I'm asking for a return to old-style VALUES. The way games used to be designed...you took a game concept and wrapped some graphics around it. Nowadays, it seems that some people are rather taking some graphics or a game engine, and wrapping some concept around it. Lately, we have seen some of the highest-quality graphics released in games these days; truly stunning visuals. But in many of these cases, there doesn't seem to be much "game" to the game. So what happened?

Maybe it's just easier to get one's hands on a flashy graphics engine, and try to make some money releasing something that looks good. Then again, maybe we, as gamers are at fault, following the lure of flashy visuals, and just accepting mediocre or poor gameplay, and a lack of uniqueness as the status quo. But we, as gamers, can at least make our opinions known, and there's no better place to start than right here, and right now. Tell video game companies that you want to see uniqueness and variety, and not the same old games that are out there, just repackaged with different graphics.

There have been several games scheduled for release just this month (December, 2001) that have been canceled. Of these, 2 were RPG, one was a unique world-building game, 2 were 3D platform-style games, and one rather unique RTS game based on Tom Clancy's Bio-Strike seems to be MIA (though it hasn't been canceled yet, I haven't been able to find any information on it). But RTS games and first person shooters seem to be coming out on almost a weekly basis. And I know there are people who sit around complaining about "cookie-cutter" games, or a lack of originality. But sitting around complaining won't help either. You have to tell companies what you think. Tell them what you want. Most companies that are truly interested in making money (and make no mistake, that's what they're there for; otherwise they wouldn't be companies!) WILL listen to what their customers have to say. They know that to sell their games, they have to give their customers something they WANT to buy. Those that don't listen - well, some of them don't last very long.

Uniqueness CAN be brought back to video games... Even the desire and technical skill is there (Anyone will tell you that console games, particularly those developed in Japan, come in a wider variety than PC games for the most part). But the companies HAVE to know that we're interested. And it's our job as gamers to tell them.

A great place to start is our hardCOREware Forum

A thread and poll have been started in the forum on this topic, join the discussion!

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