Games Past and Present: Where Did We Go Wrong?

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In every art form there are conventions created by past master pieces that act as a rigid framework for how artists create a work of art. In the case of arts and crafts, people willingly follow the rules of the past in order to create a pretty picture, or sometimes an awesome one, if we’re talking your favourite CD cover design. In fine arts people knowingly attempt to challenge the traditional way of doing things for better or worse.

Video games have, in our lifetimes, exploded into the mainstream. No longer are they considered something to hide away in your closet lest your soccer-playing friends deem you to be a nerd. The entire industry is swamped in money and there is plenty of available artistic talent on the market. Like other forms of art, video games tell stories and, in some cases, are encoded with messages and symbols about today’s society.

Golden Axe

I had the privilege of playing some great classics recently: The Golden Axe series for Sega Genesis, Golden Eye for the N64 and Spawn on Super Nintendo were amongst them. I have also been playing FarCry 3 on Xbox 360 and Borderlands 2 on PC. The evolution of games graphically in such a short span of time astounds me every day, but what interests me is that the older games I played seemed to be based in completely different worlds and time periods from one another and have varied storylines. Sure, a lot of them were side scrolling Beat-Em’-Ups and Fpses, but each game took a unique set of characters and, with limited pixel art and button space, assigned different stories, powers and aims each time.

Now, don’t get me wrong FarCry 3 and Borderlands are also worlds apart, both literally and figuratively. Each takes place in its own fictitious dimension. Graphically they are also different. FarCry 3 focuses on imitating reality and insanity simultaneously, while Borderlands focuses on the Post-Apocalyptic on-goings of a Sci-Fi world that includes advanced weaponry and seems based in an almost cartoon universe because of its visual appearance. And both games are insanely fun, playable and master pieces in their own rights, but when I stop and think about it I can’t help but come back to the game’s raw fundamentals.

Both games are First Person Shooters (obviously, right?), but they also include very similar game dynamics. Sure, in FarCry 3 you can wrestle with a crocodile and in Borderlands weak gravity means that jumping from a cliff is as painless as a walk in the park (depending on where you live). Yet, in both games you shoot enemies with guns, lob grenades at NPCs and can complete side tasks but mainly engage in an epic, pre-written story. In FarCry 3 you pull bullets out of your arm and inject yourself with medication to heal yourself, while in Borderlands you are additionally protected by rechargeable shields, but if we strip away the graphic differences and subtle differences like this would they be the same game?

Far Cry 3

I mean in Golden Axe III for example you could be a half-cat-half-man character and ride a half-ostrich-half-lizard creature that spits a ball and chain from its mouth. In the Lion King game it ranged from dodging creatures and solving puzzles as Simba the cub, to full on fighting as an adult lion. Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero started to take the whole premise of Mortal Kombat beyond being just a fighting game in its platform format. You could take on the roles of mutants in Toxic Crusaders, Bomber man, the Tick or the Berenstain Bears. Games ranged from fighting the Terminator as Robocop to strategy games like the Lost Vikings in which you had to use the powers of three different characters in order to solve puzzles. There was significant variety in terms of characters’ abilities and in the narratives and settings of these games.

Nowadays, games appear to have taken a more serious tone. Maybe it’s the recession or World War 3 (as I call it) going on in most of the world, but most games seem like simulations of war. In most of them you are thrown into combat and forced to survive gunfire. I mean, to sound paranoid, who’s pulling the strings here? The same guys that brought you Heretic and Hexen are essentially re-producing the same games (with a better engine and story of course) time after time again. Even Diablo III mildly disappointed me with its strive to be tamer and more of a ‘Follow the Yellow Brick Road’. But then again these things tend to happen when money and popularity are involved.

Diablo III

These days it is mainly up to indie game developers to continue to develop games that are mechanically and graphically unconventional. They are like some sort of side-lined art movement whose strength lie in their determination to push the boundaries of games beyond their accepted formats. Don’t mistake my meaning I thoroughly enjoy the games I’ve discussed above, but can I get something that doesn’t end in a 3, or 4, or rather isn’t a sequel with a different name. Do 3D artists and programmers still have souls, or have they all been stolen by corporate Satan? I guess I’ll have to wait and see, but none the less it looks to be an exciting year for gaming ahead, so I might well be choking on my own words by next month.

Academic, Game Artist and Word Weaver Extraordinaire.

  • Trebzz

    Great article dude :)

    • Darryl Linington

      He actually did a really good job on this one.

      • Trebzz

        Yeah of course and its really great to read these sort of articles on the site now :)

        • Darryl Linington