On Nostalgia And Mediocrity

I’ve elaborated on innovation in its various forms more than a few times. I think that it is one of the pillars of the video game industry, one that must be sturdy enough to support the future of this medium. However if you look close enough, you can spot some red herrings that might indicate that innovation is failing to keep up with the rest of the world. Seriously, what is going on here? Why are we the gamer obsessing over remakes and ports of older games when the technology at our fingertips deserves so much more. What does it say about the state of the industry when money is flowing to the old-busted, instead of the new-hotness? Do you really believe a philosophy of ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ is going to motivate developers in the future?

I have to admit, the news of Marvel vs. Capcom 2 coming to PSN and XBLA gave me mixed emotions. On one hand, I love that game. My college roommates and I spent weekends in front of my crappy 13″ tv in our dorm room playing that game. What isn’t to love about a seizure inducing game featuring a metric ton of characters. Breaking out 100 hit super-mega-uber-redonkulous combos never felt so good. And any game that features Gambit AND Omega Red is an instant win in my book. But it makes me wonder, what is being released is merely a port of a Dreamcast game, nothing more. Hopefully it will be a sound port, and gamers will likely rejoice in the fact that it is staying true to the fond memories of this game we hold so close. But the issue still remains that this is a port. Nothing really new is resulting from this game coming out.

Cue that classic movie trailer voice: In a world where companies are moving towards serialization, where will gamers turn for something fresh and unique? Where are the fresh ideas? I’ll see your inFamous and raise you a Lego Rockband. I’ll counter your Heavy Rain with Call of Duty 7. The ever-exploited “Hero” franchise is being stretched beyond belief. I’m sure next year we will see a new (Peripheral) Hero game every month. Why not, they continue to make Acti-Blizz money. All of the data and statistics point to more sequels and remakes. Let’s face it, we’re all in serious trouble.

Now I know I’m not being entirely fair to the games that do exceed expectations as far as sequels are concerned. Games like God of War, and the Halo franchise have done very well, I think part of that is simply because we are not forced to consume another iteration year after year. Games like Uncharted 2 and Mass Effect 2 are certainly on my radar but I’m still wary of their ability to distinguish themselves amongst the mediocrity that apparently is able to sell to uninformed consumer in ridiculous quantities. If Mario Party n outsells Mass Effect 2, upgrade to Defcon-1 and run for the hatch.

I do believe that innovation and creativity are more likely to be discovered through XBLA and PSN. Relatively speaking, the downloadable games market has a much lower barrier to entry into the market compared to retail disc games. Of course, that means that there is a lot more mediocrity to filter through. But it’s there. If you’re willing to look for it. If you’re willing to support it. And that’s not to say that fresh and new still isn’t available on a game disc. But the cost of bringing a new game to market involves great risk. Since business exist to make money, logically speaking you can’t blame them for going to the well while there’s still water in it. Given these troubled times (drink!) it’s not surprising to see the plethora of games with a number attached to the end. I do have my heart set on the two open world fun-fests that are inFamous and Prototype. Heavy Rain also has $60 reserved in my bank account and I’m still a card-carrying member of “The Conduit” Express, but are there enough new experiences coming to console to drown out the noise being made by the remakes and old-school ports?

I hear all the clamoring for these older games to be re-released on PSN, XBLA or WiiWare and I wonder if that says more about the state of gaming back then, or the state of gaming right now. When gamers are more vocal about games of the past than the future, it makes me very worried for the state of the industry. If we are getting excited for a game nearly 10 years old, what does that say about the status of game development today? Is nostalgia strong enough to hold creativity back? When we are willing to settle for the past, how can we move into the future?

To be clear, I don’t think announcements like Marvel vs. Capcom 2 are the end of the world. The fact that the publishers are potentially listening to their consumers and giving them what they want is promising. But let’s be honest here…if Final Fantasy 13 and Final Fantasy 7 HD came out on the same day, which one would you be foaming at the mouth to buy?

Per the code of Awesome, this article has been featured on Talking About Games

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