Quite recently I was exploring a bit of r/gamedev, and came across this article from artifice that grabbed my attention.
The idea proposed by that article was pretty simple. Collectathon games are dying. They called it a genre of the past, an artifact that embodied the mechanics constrained by the technological limitations of the past. But that got me thinking.. Do game genres really die ? Or are they pieces that can be augmented with newer design principles?
This article takes look at 2 genres of games that were proposed to be dead , but are now far from that.
One moon , two stars , three coins …
Banjo Kazooie was one of the very first games that my dad bought. We imported our Nintendo 64 here to India after almost 4 years after it’s launch. While I spent most of my time playing Wolfenstien on my Windows 95, with no aim or goal, something about Banjo had me really interested. All the cartoonish voice work aside, I had an objective.
“ Collect jigsaw pieces ? ” I asked my dad all confused about the situation. No matter how silly it sounded, it was still an objective. An objective to search every inch of a 3D rendered platform/level to find all the possible jigsaw pieces and musical notes was inventive. But most importantly it was rewarding.
Then I got my copy of Mario 64 only to realize every game that came after it, were kick started by the groundwork laid by Nintendo.
Super Mario Odyssey is the living testament to prove the statement made in the title of this article. How is it that a game in a genre that was supposed to die, sell like hot cakes in a year when PUBG , and Fortnite truly caught the attention of mainstream media. How is it that Odyssey had the capability to rise from the shadow of open world RPG titles like Horizon ? After-all the game was nothing more than just collecting moons. Or was it .. ?
Sure, many people will attribute the success of the game to the return of our cute little plumber to an official 3D game after a long time, but we cannot let that judgement overshadow the level transformation in the way in which it delivered the experience to us.
Odyssey had its collectibles spread out in a variety of beautiful locations. This time however, it combined smaller puzzle like sections that super Mario galaxy was famous for in smaller, hidden room like sections and was open for exploration like Mario 64 and the now popular open world genre of gaming. Added to that is the new level of verticality provided by his buddy cappy. This not just spiced up the process of collecting and exploring but opened it’s door to a more versatile move set that allowed casual players to have oodles of fun and more constructive players newer ways to speed run and break the bounds of linear progression.
Slick and tight controls only added to an addictive loop constructed in the core of this game, that’s expected from the people who invented mainstream 3D platforming. But all that just adds the icing to an already delicious cake.
Around the same time came a game called Yooka Layelee came out. Developed by the same team as Banjo Kazooie ( atleast a small subset of the team that left Rare ) this game was destined to be the spiritual successor of Banjo , but something was off. While people called Mario Odyssey a monument of the current generation of gaming , Yooka Layelee was bombarded with reviews along the lines of —
Innovation is about being agile and iterative. An idea for a videogame never ages. It’s only the industry that grows older. And unlike us mortal beings, there is no limit to how long a good game design stays young.
Before the 1v1 me on Call Of Duty..
Times were simpler when the only objective in a multiplayer shooter was to kill and repeat, effectively. You were the only tool available, in the fight with speed and momentum on your side as you try to get your victory. Now I haven't had the opportunity to play some of the older, arena shooters, namely Quake 1, or even Unreal Tournament 1. I used to always stare at the computer screen as my elder cousin would turn his enemies into pulp. But my lack of hands on experience with the originals back then didn't stop me from getting into Arena shooters with later games like UT2 and Quake 3.
The novelty of such twitch shooters however has now died out with more tactical and methodical mechanisms of modern military shooters. Or at least that's what people who live with a broadband connection from 2006 sipping the CoD 4 special edition mountain dew would think.
These past few years saw a rise in hybrid shooters. Shooters that embraced the tactical nature of modern games today and augmented it with the urgency and responsiveness of the arena shooters of the past. While people who claim that Overwatch is a clone of team fortress 2, they fail to recognize how it’s gameplay loop revolves around the focused design borrowed from these arena shooters.
Verticality in both gameplay and map design that was the standard of arena shooters like Quake and UT, are now part of what we call hero shooters today. Power-ups and other pickups that were the standout mechanics of the older games have now transformed into hero specific special moves. These games are not much different from the ones in the past. They are transformative.
The hero aspect of hero shooters is a way to cater to a more tactical and personalized experience that gamers expect from modern shooters, while truly delivering the adrenaline rush of the games that topped the charts previously.
Funny enough , iD the guys who started the arena shooter revolution fell flat on their faces with their attempt at bringing back arena multiplayer as an element of Doom(2016 reboot). The multiplayer portion of doom didn't succeed only because it had nothing new to offer. They believed that packaging an arena shooter as it was before would sell well , but the results speak for itself. They learnt from their mistake however, making them shift their creative focus and redesigning the new Quake arena as a hero shooter.
Innovation here is understanding what the videogame medium can deliver today and offering the market what was given before, augmented with newer principles of modern gaming.
A genre in gaming ( or any medium for that matter ) is nothing more than an Idea/Concept. An Idea is only as good as it’s implementation and implementation design has no rules and bounds.
The problem with modern game design is the lack of realization and understanding of the fact that genres are conceptual.
We are all game developers. Not just the ones who sit in front of systems and code it. A gamer’s evolving needs and requirements translate into newer game designs that progress the already growing industry. We dictate how we want a concept to be delivered. It’s sad to see studios back out from projects because they feel a genre is dead.
Taking a quick look into what today’s successful projects really are, you realize that nothing has changed from the simplicity in the value it had to deliver before.
True craftsmanship in game genres comes from people who understand the essence of it’s intrinsic value and believe that the value can be delivered through any medium that enhances but preserves the said value.