Sunday, March 31

A Man Chooses, A Slave Obeys

2:30am in the morning and I'm watching Fanatic slowly strangle the life our of Against All Authority in the League of Legends LCS (with xPeke's super lame split pushing strategy). I don't really watch tv and I've never been interested in sports, but I love League of Legends and I really want to see eSports become a legitimate form of entertainment. These days it is safe to say that if I am not doing League of Legends fan art or playing League of Legends, I am watching LCS vods. My artwork is looking really good these days and I'm really gearing up to start shopping my folio around with the expectation of at least landing some freelance work. I've got my website up again (not quite running), Deviant Art, Twitter and this blog to make myself accessible AND appearances at PAX here in my hometown of Melbourne followed by a trip to USA including a visit to Riot Games and PAX Prime. It's pretty obvious that Riot is my dream client and one day I hope to live and work in Santa Monica, but in the meantime I will freelance where I can and keep pushing my love of LoL and skin design.

As I said this site is now a merger between my art and my games blogs, and right now I feel like talking games.

Thanks to the some Aussie public holidays here and there over the last few weeks I've had a chance to plough through more than a few new games. Halo 4, Dead Space 3, Tomb Raider, Year Walk and Bioshock: Infinite. Let me begin by just pulling the odd one out - Year Walk is a very short, very original iPad puzzle game that used the medium in interesting ways and rewarded the player with a satisfyingly chilling ending to a simple story. It costs a small amount of money and time and is very rewarding.

This leaves 4 big budget sequels. The only type of game that seems to be produced by large companies these days (I'll be playing SC2:Heart of the Swarm as soon as I get the chance and that's an expansion to a sequel). And while they appear to be very different games I can summarise them all with one sentence:

'The story is really interesting but the gameplay is stale: a weaker iteration of the original game.'

Bioshock in particular has a standout story but the gameplay feels like we never left Rapture. I've already mastered this gameplay, I wonder why they didn't just write a book. At the end of each of these sequels I felt the same way: I'm glad I played them for the story but got next to nothing out of the actual gameplay experience. Is this just the problem with making sequels in an age with little technological advancement? Where Gears of War 2 and 3 are released on the same console (on the same engine?) as the original and just look like more of the original rather than what we think of as a true sequel. I think it's more than that though - Tomb Raider feels like a bad version of Uncharted, except with LESS TOMB RAIDING. Dead Space 3 introduced ranged enemies in cover-based-Gears-of-War style areas that were probably there to appeal to a certain fan base but completely disrupted the atmosphere that the original game held so well. Combined with aliens and hungry evil moons the game was major suck. I bought Halo 4 for the multiplayer and even that didn't hold the charm of the almighty Halo3.

Perhaps they suffer the same problem as Mass Effect 2/3 and Crackdown 2 that, trying to follow up on a perfect game, change/add to the game just for the sake of it. It could be that as new games they feel pressure  to 'innovate' on the original no matter how perfect it might have been. Mass Effect 2 made some radical changes that were actually very fresh. I still prefer the original, but I think ME2 was much more of a success in something new than ME3 that fell somewhere between the first two. But is this '2.0' tweaking necessary? The Gears of War and God of War series change nothing and it works great, although they are strongly tied to the 3 act structure of the narrative. I realised this when I saw God of War 4 and Gears of War 4 at the store and felt no desire to play them. My feeling was that I have already closed those books and I can get no more satisfaction from the gameplay on offer.

Halo 4 suffered the same shortcomings as Halo Reach. The story was just terrible, with none of the charm of the original and this weird feeling of playing with characters that were supposed to be done with their 3 part storyline. It's like making a 4th Lord of the Rings where the same tired characters face a new, unfrelated, threat and it's sort of the same thing all over again. Perhaps we'll see this bizarre phenomenon with Star Wars VII? The real problem for me though is that the multiplayer is just weak. There are stacks of new weapons and they've gone for the stupid Reach abilities on top of everyone having sprint without any consideration for how all these extras simply dilute the pure PvP experience of the earlier games.

The original Tomb Raider was a huge hit. But over the years it's become stagnant and so they decided to give it the Batman Begins Dark Gritty Remake[TM]. Making a short list of the original's strengths it's difficult to figure out how they got it so wrong.

Witty, confident, wealthy female hero.
Travels to exotic locations and delves into ancient tombs.
Carries twin pistols for shooting wild animals.
Gameplay involves platforming to solve complex puzzles broken up by combat.

The new game has exactly zero of these award winning elements...

I find myself more frequently playing games on easy and knocking $100 titles over in a weekend, because they feel more like interactive books than real games. Darksiders could also fit on this list but I felt they had enough variety and gorgeous artwork to be a little more worthwhile. Perhaps I've just played too many games? If it really is interactive storytelling doesn't it make sense that a dominant method of interaction would be established? People don't read or watch films in different ways. It's not all bad though. Demon Souls and JRPG's like the Shin Megami Tensei series are reminding me why gameplay is crucial and really make a game stand out. Along with PvP games such as League of Legends, Team Fortress and Soul Calibur I still love playing games. But the big budget sequels are really starting to lose their charm, and when all they can do is add superfluous features as they do with sports games what will become of them?

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