Out With The Old

Written By mista sense on Friday, September 24, 2010 | 11:16 AM

Are you tired of it by now, how I have big gaps in blogging and then open my newest post with a statement about how busy I've been? Yes? Okay, then I'll skip that part.

Who's playing Halo: Reach? I must say, I've never been much of a Halo, player, which is to say I dabbled in Halo 2 (by "dabbling" I mean 'held the controller for approx 5 mins, watched someone else play for approx 15 mins, and wandered off') and never played the others at all.

But it's easy to see why, regardless of personal taste, the launch of the title has been a big deal from every angle.

Hello, Halo

There's the business aspect: Bungie's last game before it's officially independent, and the information it can offer about trends in packaged software sales. Those are declining, of course, but a launch of Reach's scale promises to offer some answers on whether the core gamer will still show up at retail for the right kind of game.

There's the scope of the tech and design, too; I'm told they rebuilt the engine from scratch and used a mocap studio because having a lifelike world was so important to the game's aim. There's the design angle -- how do you iterate on such a huge property and still please your core audience? And then, of course, there are numerous critical angles to explore, as Reach is arguably the most narrative-focused iteration in a franchise that no one would have ever called contemplative or narrative-driven in the past.

For someone like me, there were tons of brand-new angles to consider. So I attended the game's launch in Times Square and covered it for Gamasutra. I interviewed senior staff from Bungie and also from 343 Industries, Microsoft's internal division that will take the reins from here on out.

Are you worried about the future of the franchise now that it's effectively changing hands? Concerned by Microsoft's suggesting that it could decrease the time between installments and annualize the franchise more? You may or may not have noticed that the talented Chris Morris writes on current events for us at Gamasutra now -- he sees cause for concern about Halo's future.

Doesn't Anybody Stay In One Place Anymore?

Change is always hard, though -- particularly for gamers. Innovation and evolution seem especially difficult to achieve successfully in this space. If you change what fans are used to, they react poorly. But if you give them more of the same -- if, for example, a sequel doesn't change much over its predecessor -- they also react poorly.

This has been hard for game developers to keep pace with as it is, but now we're in a long console cycle where there's no new hardware on the horizon whereby tech advancements can refresh a property all by themselves. Notice an increasing number of franchise tangents, reimaginings, reboots under discussion? That's because it's so hard to sequelize in the current environment.

I'm impressed with the industry's approach to combating staleness. Lots of designers have told me later that a long console cycle means that development on the hardware itself -- you know, the basics -- are pretty well down pat, so they can increasingly focus on refining less tangible elements like story, gameplay, and the interplay between the two.

In order to make things evolve and keep gamers engaged, devs are going to have to try some things they've never done before, and while they won't always hit the mark, ultimately an environment of experimentation and learning is an excellent thing for games. It's pretty exciting, actually -- at this point in a long lifecycle you'd expect us all to be getting a little restless and bored, but the future's full of possibilities that I, for one, can't wait to check out.

But again, we're talking about gamers, here, and many of them freak and pre-judge when they see something different. Easy for me to say -- even I had a teeny episode of nerd rage when I saw the trailer for the new Devil May Cry reboot. If my reaction had been any more knee-jerk, my cat would have gone flying across the room.

So I decided to examine the deceptively complex situation in an in-depth analysis at Gamasutra. What a double-edged sword for Ninja Theory, appointed as the new steward of a beloved Japanese franchise. I don't really envy them at all. I admit, I don't like it much more than some of you guys do, but let's be optimistic, because one trailer is not at all enough information on which to create a judgment.

Part of my hesitation comes from the ways I don't like to see Japanese art and design trends so quickly sloughed away in the eagerness to "globalize." Certainly, something's gotta change over there, but I don't know if the reason Japanese games don't sell in the West as well as they used to can be fixed by exporting properties to European studios. We'll see, I suppose.

All Together Now!

All of the major interviews and coverage I've done in the past few weeks, in fact, seem to point to the theme I'm discussing here: Innovation, freshness, evolution and change. In case you have missed:

Interview: Atari GO Goes For Online, Social, Mobile Publishing Strategy -- The head of Atari's newest and largest online publishing initiative explains why being a true online publisher is a key survival strategy in the changing climate.

In-Depth: THQ's Farrell Thinks Outside The Old Hardware Lifecycle -- speaking to investors, THQ's CEO talks about our new climate and where publishers would be served to reallocate their attentions.

Interview: DeLoura On The Rapidly-Evolving Tools Space, New Divergence -- longtime tech strategist, most recently of Google (briefly), talks about changes in the development tools space that both respond to and influence changing business models and design paradigms. Similarly, they're both creating and reacting to a major gap between the AAA and the new mobile/social/indie space.

Interview: IGN Provides Free Office Space To Indies With New 'Open House' Program -- speaking of indies, IGN has a cool new no-strings-attached program to support and network with indie developers.
Interview: Building On BioShock 2 With Minerva's Den -- And pursuant to what I said on the narrative-building side, our friend Steve Gaynor talks challenges, opportunities and process in creating a compelling tangent to BioShock 2 and the world of Rapture with the new Minerva's Den DLC.

I Ain't Done, This Ain't The Chorus

I have written a satire of the Gizmodo-browsing, startup-starting, latte-drinking social media entrepreneur over at Thought Catalog. It is all intended in good fun, so please read How I Became A Social Media Millionaire In One Week.

Going to GDC Austin? Are you a student, aspiring student or recent grad? If not, does the sound of me standing behind a podium asking questions of teachers who are sitting at a table sound awesome to you? Did you answer 'yes' to any of the preceding questions? If so, have I got the panel for you.

My article on first-person shooters is in GamePro's October issue, which I think might still be on newsstands. I don't know! I forgot that I even wrote it! I'm sure I'm forgetting some other things here, but hey, this is enough for you guys, right?

So lastly, I want to thank everyone who has checked out Babycastles and made a donation to help their fundraising efforts. Since I pleaded for the support of the SVGL Army, fundraising has really ramped up, and we owe so much of that to you guys, and those of you who passed the word along. Thank you so much for believing in the ideas that are important to me and my friends. I can't say it enough.

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