Where Are My Games?

I’m watching a YouTube vid previewing upcoming games for late 2019 / early 2020.

And I’m bored.

There’s a slew of FPSes, some open-world, some not. There are some RPGs, there are some top-down tactical hoo-has.

And that’s it. It’s the blandest offering of blanditude I can remember in a good long time. There’s nothing that’s made me stop and look. Games seem to have become about as diverse as mainstream cinema. If you love the MCU, yaaay, if you don’t…. perhaps don’t go to the cinema, eh? Cos that’s all that’s on. There are no completely new, completely original SF or fantasy films that haven’t got a tie-in to some existing property because those are a risk, they don’t get financed.

Here, in no real rank order, are some of the games I love:

  • Bioshock Infinite
  • Crackdown
  • Jetset Radio
  • Defender
  • Impossible Mission II
  • Speed Devils
  • Grand Theft Auto IV
  • Dishonored
  • Heavenly Sword
  • Soulcalibur
  • Wipeout 2097
  • Horizon Zero Dawn
  • Parappa The Rapper
  • SSX Tricky
  • GoldenEye
  • Killzone 2
  • Resistance: Fall Of Man
  • Wizball
  • Mario Kart 64
  • Halo 3
  • Civilization Revolution

…. I could go on and on but I think you get the point. I’ve been playing video games since they were first invented in the late ’70s. That started off as huge Space Invaders cabinets in takeaways and ended up with sleek consoles sat next to my telly.

All the games above, whether they are the simplest sprite-chuckers or the latest in polygon-chugging engines, do one thing: they create an immersive world.

That may seem a bold claim for Defender but when I was playing it decades ago, that minimal, blocky display was everything. It was as engrossing and terrifying as the tiny proximity display they use in Alien to map how close the xenomorph is. We uprezzed the graphics in our minds.

Then you have Horizon Zero Dawn, a game which creates a world so gorgeous and detailed that I play the game just to escape, to look at the lush scenery and relax.

These worlds stay with you. Liberty City. Rokkaku-dai Heights. The Halo Array. Snowy banks lit by exploding fireworks. The echo of your footfalls down endless laboratory corridors…

But I feel like Big Games are getting worse at creating these worlds because the Big Game Developers all seem to be in a race to see who can reach the absolute nadir of consumer exploitation first.

Thus, we have the Newspeak that is ‘SURPRISE MECHANICS,’ EA using weasel words to justify milking anyone with a gambling addiction in its games.

Now, okay, EA have been wankers for decades, we all know that. This shift to evil isn’t a SUPRISE MECHANIC (heh, see what I did there?).

But I feel like the Big side of the industry has never been worse, has never been as nakedly, proudly evil. Now, obviously, we have the indie side which is crammed with lovely, lovely people who are games obsessives and want to create the kind of immersive experiences that we, the users, want to fall in love with. Hopefully, that side of the industry will never change and never sell out.

But GTA IV was not an indie game. It was huge. And I love it. I love it more than any previous or subsequent GTA. For me, it was the sweet spot. I mean, come on, even now, you could film the story of Serbian immigrant Niko and his travails in NY, er, Liberty City and people would love it. It’s a great STORY. Moreover, when you’re playing GTA IV, not only does the world around you look good, real, its *sounds* real. All those radio stations you can flick through, all those news snippets and op-eds you hear, they all cement you into that reality.

I miss that world. I miss Liberty City. And I miss all the other worlds other beautiful games have created. They could be as simple as Interphase or as complex as Detroit Become Human, the immersiveness doesn’t derive from polygon count.

It comes for the hearts of the people developing the games. When you play Horizon Zero Dawn, you know the developers didn’t skimp. They didn’t have a ‘will this do?’ attitude. You can see it in the firefly animations, you can hear it in the ridiculous ‘gobble gobble’ of a disturbed turkey as it legs it. These designers weren’t phoning it in. There is love in this game for the world they are creating.

It’s obvious the industry will not stop being evil. So, they need regulation. Hard regulation. It is not okay to exploit people who may be gambling addicts. Micro-transactions and lootboxes have made me avoid every major title in the last year or so.

Maybe a side-effect of banning these obvious money-grabs would be the creation of some stunning NEW worlds in which we could lose ourselves.