Post­cards stcards From The e Clip­ping Plane

James Leach ach on why gaming tropes andnd clichés will en­dure

EDGE - - SECTIONS - JAMES LEACH James Leach is a BAFTA Award-win­ning free­lance writer whose work fea­tures in games and on tele­vi­sion and ra­dio

Oc­to­ber saw the UK in­fla­tion rate rise to 1.3 per cent. Yes, I’m aware that this is the worst sen­tence in his­tory with which to start a page about videogames. In fact, it’s the worst sen­tence in his­tory to start any­thing you’d like peo­ple to read. But one of the big fac­tors cited as caus­ing this is the pre-Christ­mas sales fig­ures of games.

We’re told time and time again what an im­por­tant in­dus­try we work in, and yet we’re still sur­prised when there’s ev­i­dence for this. And for a minute, we all stop think­ing about what we should be do­ing and won­der about the sheer dif­fer­ence we’re mak­ing to peo­ple’s lives. Not in a mean­ing­ful way, but sim­ply be­cause we’re all play­ing some­thing now. And if we’re not, we know ev­ery­one else is.

Big games are events now. When some­thing mas­sive gets launched, it makes the news. It goes to show that this stuff is se­ri­ous and needs to be taken se­ri­ously. Some­times, though, I get the feel­ing that it isn’t. Peo­ple in hood­ies queue for days to buy an ea­gerly an­tic­i­pated game, and we know that when they get it home, they’ll coo over the art, the physics and spine-tin­gling, re­ac­tionary mu­sic. But a year ago, when it was be­ing cre­ated, we were de­cid­ing how many FedEx-style de­liv­ery mis­sions we could get away with; whether the de­pend­able sec­ond-in-com­mand NPC dies a third of the way in, or two-thirds; and how to weigh the ex­change rates for gems and ar­mour ac­cord­ing to how far the player has to go to sell or buy them.

Do we stick to the same for­mu­las with th­ese things be­cause peo­ple want or ex­pect them? Or do they ex­pect them be­cause that’s what they al­ways get? Or do we do it sim­ply be­cause that’s what we al­ways do?

The movie in­dus­try. Yes, I’m go­ing to go there. Film­mak­ers don’t mind in the slight­est when their prod­ucts are de­scribed as rom­coms, or zom­bie movies. The pub­lic get it, and if they’re fans of the genre, they know what they can ex­pect. There just has to be a few twists and some new stuff some­where, and ev­ery­one’s happy. Games are the same,

No­body’s go­ing to cre­ate a game so dif­fer­ent it’s like dis­cov­er­ing a new colour or mu­si­cal note

surely? Run­ning be­tween a car and a bank while shoot­ing peo­ple in the face is the same as run­ning be­tween a parked space­ship and a tele­porter while shoot­ing peo­ple fa­cially. Shall we play cops and robbers to­day, or cow­boys and in­dige­nous Americans?

Surely all the truly dif­fer­ent stuff is, as it al­ways has been, com­ing from lit­tle indies and crazy break­away teams? You’d think. But even in those usu­ally mo­bile-based mar­kets, the same fa­mil­iar things ap­pear. You race around col­lect­ing things and avoid­ing bad guys. You build tow­ers along a path to fire at streams of march­ing en­e­mies. You race against time to squeeze through tighter and tighter gaps. It’s all the same un­der­neath, so it re­ally is style and pre­sen­ta­tion that make all the dif­fer­ence.

There have been de­fined gen­res ever since there has been more than one game, and within those games there have been clichés or memes or tropes. And it doesn’t mean lazy think­ing on be­half of the de­vel­op­ers. It’s sim­ply a way of pro­vid­ing things play­ers know and love in a new and, ide­ally, ex­cit­ing way. Take tower de­fence as an ex­am­ple: for some rea­son I love th­ese games and will play as many dif­fer­ent vari­a­tions of them as I can. Un­der­neath, they are the very def­i­ni­tion of ‘all the same’ but, hey, this one has ar­row tow­ers which set the en­e­mies on fire. I’ve never seen pre­cisely that be­fore, and I love it. Ooh, this tower sends the foe back to the start. I have seen that be­fore, but this time the robots/ trolls/mem­bers of U2 lose hit points as it hap­pens. I love it too! It’s just so novel!

So what have we learned? Per­haps we live in an age where no one’s do­ing vastly dif­fer­ent and in­no­va­tive stuff. Per­haps the in­dus­try is set­tling down and sim­ply pro­duc­ing bet­ter, neater ver­sions of things we all know and love. It might be a hard­ware thing – with greater pro­cess­ing power comes greater cre­ativ­ity. No, that’s not the case. We could make any­thing we wanted to right now. If we did, we’d do it bet­ter and more slickly in a few years, but un­like the movie rev­o­lu­tions – colour, sound, CGI and so on – noth­ing, not even VR, will change the fun­da­men­tal na­ture of the games we’re mak­ing. Things will just get big­ger, more real and more im­mer­sive. Of course, peo­ple will ex­per­i­ment, but no­body’s go­ing to cre­ate a game so dif­fer­ent it’s like dis­cov­er­ing a new colour or mu­si­cal note. That’s my cheer­ful pre­dic­tion for the fu­ture and my reg­u­lar reader knows I’m never wrong.

Right, I’m off to spend a few happy hours play­ing a wide va­ri­ety of dis­sim­i­lar games in which I have to col­lect gems to trade for slightly more pro­tec­tive ar­mour.

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