Written By mista sense on Thursday, April 7, 2011 | 6:21 AM
Everyone has a Really Great Idea For A Video Game. When I meet new people and tell them about my job, they sort of launch into their Really Great Idea as if they think there's something I can do to get it made (sometimes they even ask me to "tell Xbox about it" or something).
Back in the 80s and 90s, I can't imagine how many kids sent pencil-and-crayon "design docs" to game companies about the kinds of games they wanted to see made. I don't think I ever did that, but I hear from a lot of people who have, and I really hope the longstanding game companies kept those letters from kids. What a fun little gallery that would make, huh?
Cute kids aside, I actually don't think all that much of people who aren't game designers telling game designers what they should do, as they don't necessarily have the mind for systems and how they work in practice (not saying I do either, or anything). Even most indies don't seem to feel too strongly about their first game, and talk more of what it taught them than how it was a Really Great Idea. But seriously guys I had a Really Great Idea wait don't walk away --
Last night I dreamed I was playing this really sweet oldschool Resident Evil -- third person, wider-angle, where the challenge was more exploration than action. It was set in the Umbrella Mansion, except years later and in ruins after the Raccoon City incidents. And you can play as either Leon or Claire, just like RE2, probably like, mining the old site for information or cell cultures or something they only just now realized were left behind, like, trying to get it before Wesker does (let's make him not dead or let's set this before RE4 & 5 or something because u guys i totes <3 him).
The cool thing in my dream was if your character dies, you don't actually die, you become infected by whatever killed you, with different viral effects depending on the type of monster that bested you. You get different abilities, but with some trade-offs -- like, okay, now you have a sweet tentacle arm but you can't use your gun anymore. Maybe the abilities can give you advantages in the environmental puzzles, like you can jump higher and reach an area you couldn't otherwise, or break through a wall to a secret room.
And then to keep you from totally powergaming, you will die if you don't use antidotes on yourself, like you have a certain amount of time depending on the virus. And if you're killed as a zombie you are actually killed and have to try again.
Wow. Yeah. Sorry about that, I just HAD A DREAM ABOUT RESIDENT EVIL and got all excited for a second.
In all seriousness, though, the way the RE franchise has changed over the years is one of the things I grieve most (maybe even more than missing Sonic!) . Part of it might be the principle I wrote about at Kotaku yesterday -- that as we advance toward clarity, realism and direct versus abstract representations in games, they're becoming less immersive.
Another part of it is the "Westernization" of the franchise, according to how Capcom seems to perceive the West's tastes. And, honestly, based on what sells at retail and what the mainstream gamer seems to love, it could be naive of me to say "you don't have to make a first-person guns and muscles game to sell a lot of copies in the U.S." Numbers beg to differ, so what do I know.
People still make and buy niche JRPGs, but I think the survival horror genre has been the biggest casualty of the decline of the Japanese industry. The numbers may say I'm in the minority when I say this, but I don't find a sustained gameplay pattern of direct confrontation to be as satisfying as the mystery of exploration, the uncertainty of lurking spectres. I wrote, somewhat clumsily, about this in this ancient 2008 article where I wonder if the "survival horror" genre really still exists.
Again, it comes down to the literal versus abstract, the direct versus the implicit, the real versus the unreal, and I continue to believe that in an eagerness for accessibility and instant comprehension, we've sacrificed all the things that can really suck us into a game brand when we develop for the former rather than the latter.
On a related note, we continue to do The FFVII Letters over at Paste. We're at part six now, and I kick it off by talking about how concepts of "the map", or the world of an RPG, have evolved. Kirk and I've been overwhelmed by the positive response you all have given us for the letters; if you've been following along, thanks for joining us! We're having so much fun at it.
Finally, because it's so fun to revisit things from your past, I have also written 'Why You Should Watch Labyrinth Over Again.'
[Today's Good Song: Panda Bear, 'Last Night At The Jetty']