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We don’t need more sequels

I find it very surprising that this past summer movie season has seen a few good original ideas like Pacific Rim and Elysium, with that in mind it makes me wonder if I’ll ever be able to say the same about video games. This is an industry that is practically built on sequels, most of which do little more than rehash the first game. It pains me that old ideas continue to sell because there are plenty of sequels that don’t have any need to exist. Every video game has this apparent goal of selling well enough to justify making another one. Is making money the only thing that developers care about?

I’ve always believed that any story, be it a novel, movie, or a game should stand on its own. There are plenty of games I can think of shouldn’t have gotten a sequel, such as God of War, Bioshock and Dragon Age: Origins. These are all games that told a complete story and left little room for expansion. There was no need to continue, and the sequels to all three of these games do pretty much the same thing that the first games do. Games like Bioshock; Infinite are a different story as it does a lot of things differently with the original game in both gameplay and story (mind you I haven’t played it yet) , but that makes me wonder why it can’t be a completely different game entirely. Every single video game franchise, from Halo to Metal Gear Solid started with an original idea that was successful enough to merit a sequel.

Pictured: The most successful franchises in video game history, most of which shouldn’t even exist.

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Religion & Video Games

At last we have come to the end of February, and the end of concept month. Over the last four weeks I’ve discussed: Violence, RacismRomance and Politics; and how each of these issues relates to video games. To close it out, this week’s topic is Religion. It may not seem evident right away, but many video games have used aspects of religion, at least as a concept to enhance the player’s experience.

Last week, I mentioned that Skyrim featured a civil war and that it allowed to the player to express a political viewpoint. I also mentioned that this war was essentially a religious war, being fought over ban on worshipping a particular deity. This isn’t the only example of religion in Skyrim. There are a set of side-quests that allow the player to interact with some of the gods, there are even temples that allow the player to pray and receive blessings from these same gods. It may not be as fleshed out as the politics, but Skyrim affords players the opportunity to make a small religious statement. This example, however, is looking at religion from a mythological perspective. It looks at the gods and creatures as if they were real, it’s a perspective that both of God of War and Devil May Cry use effectively. This is a cool thing for video games to draw inspiration from, but it leaves out the most interesting aspect of religion; faith.

“Do you have a moment to talk about Jesus?”

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Reboots, Remakes and Remasters

In light of the news of Nintendo making a Wii U remake of the Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, today I will be discussing a recent trend in the industry, that being the High-Definition Remake. This trend caught fire last year with several remakes and reboots being released in 2012. This trend has never been more popular in the industry.  My question is simple, is this trend good or bad for the industry?

First, a bit of history, after all the remastered collection of older games is nothing new. Nintendo was doing it 20 years ago. Hell, even Sega made a Sonic CD game, but this wasn’t something that happened often. Jump forward to 2003, Square Enix (Squaresoft at the time) remasters the first two Final Fantasy games. Once again, this was an occasional thing but still nowhere near as frequent as they are now.  We did get an interesting precursor to this trend in 2007, with Valve’s The Orange Box.  Unprecedented at the time, it released five games for the price of one. It sold very well, and is partly responsible for the current trend.

It was in 2009 that this trend began. At the time, Sony Santa Monica was busy developing God of War 3; they had opened a thread on their website asking fans for suggestions for a “Collectors Edition.” Numerous requests were made for a PS3 port of the first two God of War games to be part of the collection. Instead a separate game would be released. Bluepoint Games were hired to remaster God of War & God of War 2, they released it as the God of War collection thus beginning the trend of HD remakes. Bluepoint games went on the make several other remasters, like the Shadow of C0lossus/ICO collection & Metal Gear Solid HD Collection. This trend however, extends beyond simple remasters; entire games have been remade, either graphically or from scratch. Not to mention the reboots.

Bluepoint Games’ cover artist must have been away that day, it’s two covers for the price of one!

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The Failed IP

This past week I’ve thought a lot about new games that don’t sell well, ie; the failed IP (Intellectual Property). I’m talking about the AAA games that were widely marketed, and highly anticipated that seemed destined to turn into franchises, yet failed to meet commercial and critical expectations. Brink, Mirror’s Edge, the 2008 Prince of Persia, and Alan Wake were all heavily marketed, a game that prominent before it’s even released would natrually spawn a sequel yet these games failed to leave an impression. What baffles me is how certain games get a sequel despite these traits. There’s something wrong with the industry when Kane & Lynch gets a sequel, yet Mirror’s Edge doesn’t.

One of the biggest causes of this trend are gamers themselves. Let’s face it, most people who play video games have very specific tastes, some games get around this by adding elements from other genres but this doesn’t work for every game. (Mass Effect and Dead Rising pulled it off but could a cover system in a game like Skyrim?) Some games simply don’t have the genre appeal that others do. Let’s take Mirror’s Edge. For those who aren’t familiar Mirror’s Edge is a stylized first-person parkour-style platformer. How does one market a game like this? It’s not a shooter, but it’s also not a platformer. This unfortunate because Mirror’s Edge is quite unique (something that I don’t say nearly enough about video games), it didn’t sell very well, and that’s not anybody’s fault. It’s not fair to ask a customer to spend $70 on a product they’re not even sure about. The problem is more than just the audience, it’s the very infrastructure of the industry itself.

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Most Anticipated Game of 2013: Tomb Raider

Well the new year has rolled around, so to start things off I’m going to discuss the game that I am looking forward to the most in 2013. I’ll admit that this is a crowded category for me. There are many games to look forward to: Bioshock: Infinite, Beyond: Two Souls and the Last of Us. All of them look amazing, but  the one game I am looking forward to the most is the upcoming Tomb Raider reboot. It barely beats out The Last of Us (which I think is a potential Game-of-the-Year). I’m not anticipating Tomb Raider solely based on its potential quality, the deciding factor is that the success of Tomb Raider is more important for the video games industry than the success of other games. It will show how the industry has or hasn’t changed, depending on its quality. While I would always prefer a new game to sequel or a reboot, Tomb Raider will provide an opportunity to look back on the last two decades and show how much the industry has grown and hopefully, how it will continue to grow.

Lara Croft is perhaps the most iconic and recognizable female character in video game history. She was a female protagonist in an era when lead characters were exclusively men. Mostly due to her famous pair of assets, Lara was the first video game character to reach the status of a sex symbol. It’s easy to scoff at this but it represents an shift in how people see video game characters. By becoming a sex symbol, Lara Croft raised herself above a mere assortment of pixels and into something that closer to an real person. It was obvious pandering, but the fact that it worked was important for video games. Lara’s popularity kept growing. In 2001, a film adaptation was made starring Angelina Jolie and while it wasn’t horrible it does share the dubious honor along with Resident Evil, of starting a trend video-game-movies. Despite this, Lara Croft is a significant figure in the history of the industry.

Lara in Tomb Raider: Legend, seven years before she discovered pants.

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Best of 2012: Journey

I have counted down my top three games that I played in 2012. Slender: The Eight Pages and the Walking Dead were number 3 and 2 respectively, but now without further ado I present to you the best game that I played in 2012, Journey.

Journey is PS3-exclusive downloadable title that was made by thatgamecompany (that’s literally their name). It was recently released on disc along with thatgamecompany’s other two games: Flow and Flower. Journey is unlike any video game I’ve ever played. It is the strongest argument for video games being art in video game history.

Journey begins with a robed creature sitting in the desert. The player gains control of this person and makes their way towards a mountain looming in the distance. The player finds a magical scarf that allows them to briefly jump and float. The goal of the game is to reach the mountain. Almost every level features a wall of symbols (similar to hieroglyphics) that shows the player brief cut-scenes that vaguely depict the history of the land the player is passing through. This back-story mirrors the journey of the player  appropriate each level. The story of Journey is essentially a minimalist approach to the heroic journey that video games have preference for telling (Legend of Zelda being the most notable example). However, despite the common use of this trope among other video games, Journey is anything but cliché. There are no words of dialogue, and no lines of text. The story is told entirely through imagery, and it is up to the player to fill in the details.

Whether it’s alone or with a complete stranger, the trek to the distant mountain is a deceptively simple story.

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