The Regression of Video Games

Minecraft, a more casually oriented video game.

Video games are a curious thing. They bring people from different ethnicities, incomes, and geographical locations together to enjoy a single medium. They are much like music in that way. But video games suffer from high expectations of fans. You see, when a new album comes out, people enjoy it or hate it. If they like it, they have another group of songs to add to their playlists. If not, they still have all the earlier songs that are just as well now.

Video games are a little different though. When a new game comes out, it is intended to replace the earlier. This is typically achieved by taking the formula of the previous iteration and evolving it. Refining it. Adding new features such as vehicles, more weapons, tools that change the way one plays. But always retaining the roots. Keeping that which attracted fans to, what by this point, has become a series.
You will sometimes come across the game though that makes too radical of a change. Perhaps it added to many things? Or it is the same as the previous with a new coat of paint. Maybe features were removed to make it more accessible to a new audience. Ever rarer though is the game that completely removes what the previous was about. One that builds from the expectations of fans of the established series, yet completely redesigning it to appeal to a different group.

Dark Souls, the spiritual sequel to Demon’s Souls retains all the difficulty the previous did, while still added features to appeal to a larger audience.

However in recent days, that rarer game is becoming increasingly more common. Many publishers are seeing fit to either reboot the entire series, or to create a sequel that has only the slightest resemblance of the predecessor.
Electronic Arts started in 2010 with their sequel to the popular Command & Conquer series, Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight. The series had always been known for the construction of bases, training of soldiers, and gathering of resources. With the advent of Command & Conquer 4 however, those defining trademarks were scrapped. Instead the game became what could only be described as Real Time Tactics. A game of a predetermined set of units that the player was meant to win with. No longer did one have to manage their resources intelligently to prevail. No longer did one have to build the appropriate tool of destruction for a given situation. In the end it turned into an experience that let fans down, and brought nothing to the series.

Shortly before this another software giant brought that same disappointment to the Land of the Rising Sun, Japan. In december of 2009 Square Enix released the much-anticipated Final Fantasy XIII. A series that has, since its inception in 1987 revolved around exploring large world with a party of controllable characters. Since then the worlds had become more immersive. Towns dotted the landscapes. Worlds offered multiple forms of transportation be it rented cars or powerful airships. To the community’s chagrin, Final Fantasy XIII brought an end to these. The majority of the game involved running down a linear corridor with the occasional small branch in the path to pick up an item. Gone were sweeping towns and the giant overworld. It wasn’t until three-quarters of the way through the game that you were allowed a smidgen of freedom. A large field where you could hunt monster for bounty. Perhaps it is unneeded to say, but the outcry was enormous. Long time series fans likened the game to the average, linear, corridor, first person shooter.

The Elder Scrolls series suffers from becoming “more accessible” each subsequent release. Skyrim being the fifth release, as you can imagine is pretty dumbed down

More recently, nearing the end of 2012 a first person shooter was released. A sequel to one of the largest franchises to exist. On November 6 Halo 4 was released. What is often hailed as the most important part, the multiplayer, suffered the most. Entire gametypes that had existed in Halo since 2001 were scrapped. Other gametypes were changed to hardly recognize their progenitors. Game options used to tailor the user experience in player-made gametypes were removed. Firefight, a mode that tasked players with surviving rounds of customizable enemies, removed. The map editor of the game was crippled to the point that making maps are more of a frustration than even the first version introduced in 2007. What ignited the Halo community was the general direction the game took. Instead of focusing on the previously established fanbase or make some minor changes to appeal to a larger audience, the game went through a paradigm shift. Instead of the arena shooter it always had been, everyone starting with the same thing and finding powerups on map, it went the way of the class-based shooter. Players buy and equip new weapons and powerups as they level. Players that play longer receive advantages over those that play less. The game was redesigned to completely cater to those that have no desire to play to be good as previous Halos did.

In this day of video games developers are constantly seeing fit to alienate their current audience. Instead of offering a unique experience all their own, they opt to mirror the competition in hopes of attracting the audience of the competition. But when another game already is established and does what you are trying to mimic, so much better, why bother? You’re going to lose money from the playerbase you have, and make nothing from the people you are trying to attract as they are married to their series already.


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