Are games being too deliberate?

Half-Life 2 offers a very cinematic experience, but is it a step in the right direction?

Half-Life 2 offers a very cinematic experience, but is it a step in the right direction?

Here’s a question that I keep coming back to — Are Video Games too deliberate?

We’ve seen games evolve over time from simple closed systems in to cinematic experiences with sprawling stories and defined worlds… and I can’t help but think, isn’t this the wrong way to go?

Since multimedia has become exceptionally available with the invention of optical media (like CDs) we’ve seen games become increasingly inspired and shaped by movies. Which means they focus on telling us deliberate, scripted stories with increasing detail and specificity.

While this is cool (sometimes), it seems wrong. Games aren’t movies, and trying to make a game like a movie is not unlike making a movie like a book or a book like a painting. Sure, you can often capture the message of the other medium in the one you’ve chosen, but there are distinct differences that make these mediums unlike each other, irreconcilably. So why are we spending so much time trying to make games MORE like movies when they have so much more potential than that?

The reality is: games are still too new. Film has had since the mid 1800s to develop and grow separate from other mediums of story telling like writing and plays, which have been around for centuries longer. Games haven’t even had 50 years yet of growth. It’s hard to blame people for not understanding how to truly take advantage of a medium that we honestly don’t yet understand. Of course, the only way to learn is to experiment, and sadly games are often too expensive to produce, making them corporately (and thus profit) driven.

So let’s step back a second and look at what I’m asking again: Are games being too deliberate?

I contend that we got too ahead of ourselves, including multimedia in to our games, rather than learning how to create a media experience dynamically. For example; we once used synthesized audio for all our games, but once it became possible, we started using samples. Samples sound better, but they’re inflexible. Developers became happy to try and circumvent the inflexibility of samples by using more of them more cleverly, rather than trying to develop synthesizers to the point where they could emulate samples.

Again; we once used tiles to represent our game worlds. While not exactly accurate representation of the world, we could play with tiles in such a way that they were interactive and could represent our game worlds with a certain amount of realism. Once it became possible, we began using 3D models (and just previous to that, we briefly tried using video — oh 3DO, you tried so hard) which aren’t as flexible as 2D tiles, but look nicer. To this day, very few games even attempt to try and make their 3D models behave like 2D tiles could. Game worlds have become less destructible and less interactive than they have been historically. Most developers however, have spent more time trying to fake this interactivity than actually find a solution that allows the environment to be more interactive.

I think we’re starting to hit walls. Many people won’t notice, because they’re comparing their games to movies and don’t realize the limitations we’ve began to impose upon ourselves.

I believe that video games, as a medium, will only reach maturity when we have scenarios that surprise us, no matter how we play the game. We need to develop our games to the point where the stories they tell us are dynamic, where the game can veer off of any predefined path and in to numerous directions. Where things like speech can be synthesized on the fly. Where the environment the game takes place in is comprehensive and capable of reacting to any number of possible inputs.

We need to start by building up games as scenarios in simulations, and then expand on them over time. We need to realize that games are not movies; to truly evolve as a medium, we need to realize that we can’t be so deliberate, games have to be more than that.

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2 Responses to “Are games being too deliberate?”

  1. Paul Hunter Says:

    I think many games are being too deliberate, some successful, others not so much. It really depends on the ability of the game creator to craft a good story and weave the cutscenes and gameplay elements seemlessly. A good example of a nice transitions between the two happen in Metal Gear Solid 4, there are times in that game where you think the cutscene is still happening but suddenly realize it’s switched back to gameplay. The sheer graphic fidelity of the game blends this switch perfectly. In many other games though (a good example is Resident Evil 5) the deliberateness can be a little much. I especially cannot stand movie sequences that have quick time events. Uggg talk about making it a grind and completely removing the player from the story.

    • Greg Says:

      But at what point does a well crafted story become more than a story and becomes a game? Metal Gear Solid 4 is infamous for being as much cut-scene as it was interactive, even if those elements were blended perfectly. MGS as a series has tried quite hard to be very movie-like, and it may have succeeded in being movie-like, but is it a good game or a good movie, or can it only stand as a hybrid? If you were to make it all game or all movie, I don’t know that it would stand up as well, and that’s part of my point. As long as we’re still trying to tell movie-like stories and have movie-like experiences with games, our games will remain infantile as a medium.

      Also: I share you intense hate for QTE. There isn’t a single game with QTE that I can think of that I’d recommend.

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